The Biblyon Broadsheet

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons
Biblyon, Highland
Friday, April 26, 1985
Jerry Stratton, Ed.
Skin a Module 2: The Fell Pass becomes Mansio Solis—Saturday, April 25th, 2015
The Claws of Heaven

One of the most surprising moments for me when reading through the Dragon Magazine CD-ROM collection was an adventure in issue 32, The Fell Pass, written by a San Diegan named Karl Merris. I have never met Karl Merris, and the issue was slightly before my time, but I had been through an adventure called Fell Pass and it had been run by a San Diegan. It was in college, too many decades ago, and I was playing a cleric of Ra named Praxos.1

Our Fell Pass resembled Karl Merris’s only in that it was a short cut through a mountain populated with strange creatures. But since our college DM was someone I still gamed with, I asked, and sure enough he knew the guy.

So I determined to run that adventure relatively straight. The chance came when the player characters boarded a train, and the line ended at a chasm in front of a mountain. I needed a mountain with a desert on one side and a jungle on the other, along an old road known as Highway 49. The Fell Pass became an old way station along that road from a culture steeped in the divine and the technological.

If this sounds a bit like Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, it freaks me out a bit, too. While I had read the first book in the series before creating the world of Highland, Sai King had taken forever to get the others out, and they are the ones The Road resembles. Even now, reading The Wind Through the Keyhole with its forest of gigantic trees and swampland abutting an ancient bridge over a chasm with tentacles reaching up, and the old way station on the other side I wonder what common source we are obviously stealing from. Mind you, my bridge went through what I call the abyss, but King has that covered too: he’d call it a thinny, and no doubt after the world moves on from young Tim’s time, that chasm will get a thinny.

But, back to reskinning The Fell Pass. This is the most extensive reskin I’ve done, mainly because this was a complicated adventure with warring factions, and I needed reminders of who related to what. The hardest to deal with was the Beholder. Beholders are powerful enough as is, but with minions they’re a real pain. One of the things I did to help was draw a diagram of the Beholder and the area of effect of each of its eyes.

First, The Fell Pass became The Station of the Sun (PDF File, 2.3 MB), or, in the original language of the City, Mansio Solis. You can see that I’ve expanded a bit on the area of the road before the original module.

Three ways to skin a module 1: from Chagmat to Dowanthal Peak—Saturday, April 18th, 2015
Sakmat sigil

Beware the octagon!

I have always enjoyed modifying adventures for cross-genre and cross-campaign use. My second article for Dragon Magazine back in January of 1991 was on reskinning adventures for cross-genre purposes. The basic idea is simple: identify the central characters, names, and items, and replace them with meaningful genre-specific replacements from your own campaign. The same works when using adventures in your own campaign that aren’t cross-genre. Most of the time, you can do this by printing out the PDF and scribbling in the margins (or, if you’re really old-school, by scribbling in the margins of the original).

In our last campaign, I re-used three adventures that were major enough to involve a serious reskinning: Chagmat, The Fell Pass, and The Caverns of Thracia. I re-used these as Dowanthal Peak, The Broken Road, and The Lost City.

Larry DiTillio’s original Chagmat was set in the town of Byr. In Dowanthal Peak (PDF File, 786.1 KB) I replaced Byr with Weaving, to add to the spider-motif. And it is right next to Michael Malone’s The Wandering Trees, which is now set in the weaving wood, also playing on the name.

Because I’m skinning this adventure specifically for my group, it also uses player character names when appropriate—Alvin is the warrior of the group, and the obviously big man.

I’ve converted the language in the original to match the language of the underground in our game. This paid off in spades later, when the mage’s player took the time to decipher the code based on learning a similar language. He recognized that the symbols matched those from a different language, replaced the symbols phonetically, and successfully deduced the trigger words for the Belt of Walking! You can see more of this language in The World of Highland Guidebook.

Drinking from the campaign firehose—Wednesday, April 15th, 2015
Chariot of the Sun

This looks more like the chariot of the moon to me, Giulio.

Here’s a neat variation for The Vale of the Azure Sun based on a trick from Josh Gregal: for characters who take a ride with the Blue Sun, rather than a perception roll to know any answer, give them thirty seconds with all of your campaign notes: the Blue Sun adventure itself, all of the adventures they’ve already run through, whatever world notes or book you use, and all of the adventures you’re thinking of running. If you keep a campaign diary, include that as well.

In Josh’s game, this was the result of “releasing hundreds of years of magical witch smoke at once” by “[boiling] the tent of a powerful witch in order to make an ingredient of Milk of the Crone”.

…the cauldron they were using grew a face, arms and legs, stood up, started screaming “oh no!” and busting through walls. Since I figured they would chase it down to subdue it, I prepared a random table to determine what happens when somebody gets the cauldron’s liquid on them. I stole an idea from The Dungeon Dozen by Jason Sholtis and let a player peruse all of my notes (campaign binder, a tablet with all my stuff in Evernote, and the pocket notebook I carry with me) for 30 seconds after some fluid got in her character’s mouth.

The effect was like drinking from a firehose and I don't think she actually gleaned any info!

The point here is to emulate dangerous cosmic insight by inundating them with far too much stuff in far too little time. If some of your notes are handwritten and your handwriting sucks, all the better!

Bronto burgers for everyone!—Sunday, April 12th, 2015
Grinning Brontosaurus

Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

In my article “The Yellow Forest” for Fight On! issue 9, one of the encounters under the dinosaur breakout table was d6 brontosauri. The editors changed this to d6 apatosauri, keeping the faux-plural but using the generally-accepted replacement of the great thundering brontosaurus with the deceptive apatosaurus.

It’s a disappointment I’ve learned to live with. Ever since discovering that the brontosaurus, the great thunder lizard, never existed, I’ve refused to believe it, refused to replace it in my childish thoughts with the deceptive lizard.

Now I have been vindicated:

After spending more than a century dismissed as a mislabeled Apatosaurus, Brontosaurus may be getting its identity back… The original Brontosaurus excelsus (meaning “thunder lizard”) was named in 1879. But in 1903, paleontologists decided that Brontosaurus excelsus was so similar to species in the Apatosaurus genus that it belonged there as well.

A small number of paleontologists have been campaigning for the dinosaur’s restoration since the 1990s, says Mossbrucker. “I certainly agree with the analysis that Brontosaurus excelsus deserves to be recognized as its own genus.”

The paleontologists pored over 81 skeletons of diplodocids and related dinosaurs, comparing more than 400 features in the animals’ bones. Instead of taking any species for granted, the team tallied up similarities between individual specimens.

“We can see which specimens group together and have particular characteristics that help identify them as a species,” says study coauthor Emanuel Tschopp, a paleontologist at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Monte de Caparica, Portugal. In most cases, the original designations about species held true, he said.

But the original Brontosaurus was distinct enough to deserve its own genus separate from Apatosaurus.

I’ve stuck with the old name because brontosaurus is so much richer a name than apatosaurus. Even its derivation evokes the image of great monsters thundering across the prehistoric world. The derivation of apatosaurus just confirms that scientists are easily confused.

So welcome back, brontosaurus. I knew you had it in you. It is somewhat ironic that this news comes out just a few days after I picked up a “definitive” guide to prehistoric life. In science, a few days is the difference between definitive and overturned.

Prehistoric life: The Definitive Visual History of Life on Earth—Thursday, April 9th, 2015
Opabinia

The opabinia, an invertebrate from the Cambrian, looks impressive here but was only a few inches long. No reason to tell your players that, however.

I remember devouring the dinosaur books in the local library while waiting for my parents to pick me up after school. When I got into D&D they formed a third of the triumvirate of go-to monsters in my adventures: skeletons, spiders, and dinosaurs.

I think one of the reasons I loved Larry DiTillio’s Chagmat from Dragon 63 is the unwritten assumption that the bonesnapper came from some underground lost world beneath the mountains (which, in my reskin, became an underground world ruled by intelligent spiders).

So I’ve been on the lookout for a good dinosaur compendium for a while, no longer having access to the books in that long-ago childhood hangout.

I found Prehistoric life at the Barnes & Noble for DePaul University while wandering Chicago a few weeks ago. At $12.98 it was a no-brainer to pick it up. It’s huge, and lavishly illustrated. And while I have no idea if the strange illustrations match prehistoric reality, they’re perfect for mysterious and dangerous fantasy monsters.

The book is organized by time period, with a short description of the era’s climate, and a drawing of the shape of the continents. Both plants and animals are covered: within each era, the sections are plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates. Some lovely 10–20 meter tall ferns from the Carboniferous are described, for example.

Some of the names ought to inspire some unrelated fantasy creatures, for example, the “Serpent Rock” formed by the Carboniferous coral Siphonophyllia. That’s just the name of one of the fossils, but I can feel my subconscious already trying to churn out a monster called a serpent rock.

The description themselves are fairly sparse. Size is given, for example, but not mass. There is often a comparative silhouette next to a human to give a visual idea of a vertebrate’s size.

Searchable spell list and new Arcane Lore, and contest!—Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

I’ve finally updated Arcane Lore to use the new format, which means it now has more linkable HTML and better PDFs. As part of that, I converted all of the spells to a database, and have made that database searchable on Sorceror spells.

Since sorcerors collect their spells in books, as opposed to prophets who categorize them by spirits, I have plans to add the ability to remember and then save spell books, and possibly add the ability to use the database offline. That’s a long ways into the future, however, certainly not until I get Arcane Lore up again on Lulu.

The resources file for Arcane Lore remains basically the same, gaining only a sword photo. Specialties have been made more readable by putting them into two columns though they’ll certainly get further formatting changes to make them stand apart more.

Because the online spell database is searchable by level, I’ve made the printed spell list purely alphabetical, to make it easier to find spells by name during a game, without having to know the level or school.

To celebrate the database, I have added two spells to the list: Wizard’s Eye and Wizard’s Hand.

Contest! I have over the years acquired extra copies of several issues of the old Judges Guild magazine Pegasus. If you have made your own spells and are willing to give them away for nothing, add your best to the comments below for me to add to the database and to Arcane Lore.

Since February is already almost over, on March 31 I will choose one submitter at random to get issue 121. Besides the many wonders that Judges Guild products have to offer, this issue includes the spells Minor Waldo, which inspired me to create the Wizard’s Eye, Wizard’s Ear, and Wizard’s Hand spells just now; and Disbelieve Reality which is one of my favorite spells from the old-school era. It has already inspired a Gods & Monsters spell.

Sorceror spells—Thursday, January 22nd, 2015
Search sorceror spells, and make a list of all of the spells your sorceror can research.
DriveThruRPG: satire not appropriate for current events?—Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Steve Wieck of OneBookShelf.com (the parent of DriveThruRPG) wrote this to publishers, as part of a longer message informing them of their action removing the Gamergate card game from their site:

The title in question is a card game whose theme is the Gamergate issue. The game attempted to present the issue in a satirical manner.

Normally satirical works would be welcome on our marketplaces. However, we feel that there are situations where satire is inappropriate. For example, we do not think that a game released today that satirizes police killings of minorities in the USA would be appropriate. Regardless of how one feels about an issue like that, we feel that it is too current, too emotionally charged on both sides, and too related to real-world violence or death to make it an appropriate matter for satire.

Similarly, no matter how one feels about Gamergate, it is likewise too current, too emotionally fraught, and too related to violence to be an appropriate subject for satire. Additionally, we considered that the violent element of the Gamergate issue has a basis in misogyny. For these reasons, we felt that this card game title was not welcome for sale on our site.

It’s pretty offensive to minorities to compare the actual deaths and real oppression of police killings, and to women to compare the violence that women still face today, with the first-world problems of modern game designers, but I’ll let someone else handle that. Nor is it surprising that this justification is honored more in the breach than as a regular rule (see, for example, the Prison B*tch card game, Schoolyard Bullies, and The Edgy Designer, which appears to take only the anti-gamergate side1).

The big issue, as a person who writes satire, is what the hell does DriveThruRPG think satire is for if not for current, emotionally-charged issues? Is satire only appropriate for old and bland issues?

Would DriveThruRPG caution Saturday Night Live to ignore current events and examine only issues long past and which everyone already agrees on? That they should ignore modern-day Republicans and Democrats and focus on, say, the Salem witch trials and Tammany Hall? Perhaps not even Tammany Hall; there’s apparently still disagreement on the issue, and certainly the Salem witch trials involved far too much real-world violence and death.

Would they charge The Onion and its focus on current events with inappropriately subjecting real-world violence and death to satire?

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