Biblyon the Great

This zine is dedicated to articles about the fantasy role-playing game Gods & Monsters, and other random musings.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons
Biblyon, Highland
Saturday, April 11, 1987
Jerry Stratton, Ed.
How I handle adventure logs—Saturday, July 16th, 2016
Lost City adventure notes

Here’s an example of what won’t be useful three months down the line.

Having recently read the old TSR Adventure Logs AD&D accessory for tracking game sessions, I’ve been thinking about what I do to remember old adventures and keep up-to-date on what’s about to happen.

I keep it pretty simple. I type it up in a word processor—in my case, Nisus Writer Pro. It’s important to use a tool that makes it easy not only to write1, or to search, but also to organize. For me, this means a word processor that supports the-document-is-the-outline. Microsoft Word does this, too, but I find that Nisus is easier to navigate and faster to write with.

The outline ends up looking like:

  • Year
    • Adventure 1
      • Session 1
      • Session 2
    • Adventure 2
  • Year

For example, since they started in the year 991 and investigated Illustrious Castle2, my notes on the last campaign look like this:

  • 991
    • Illustrious Castle
      • Illustrious Castle April 17, 2004
      • Illustrious Castle April 24, 2004
    • Valley of the Blue Sun
      • Valley of the Blue Sun December 18, 2004
      • Valley of the Blue Sun December 24, 2004
  • 992
    • Weaving
      • Road to Weaving April 23, 2005
      • Weaving May 7, 2005
    • Dowanthal Peak
      • Dowanthal Peak June 18, 2005
      • etc.

Having the outline makes it very easy to drill down to a particular session according to when we held it. I’m not sure, but if I were to do it again I might instead use the in-game date instead of the session date. As it is, I have the in-game year at the top level, and then the real session date for each entry.

On the other hand, in-game dates don’t always change per session, so perhaps I’d leave it be.

Each entry basically has three parts: what I expected to need to remember, which I wrote before the session, and then what happened during the session, which I wrote up the day after. Finally, from what happened I made a list of experience-laden events.

Sailing the high seas—Saturday, November 14th, 2015
Galleon over earth horizon

See my earlier article, Silver sail and gold, above a dappled sea, for non-numerical details on the politics and excitement of driftwood ships in the space above Highland.

The summary is that ships ride the gravity flow with driftwood. They catch the solar wind with sailcloth.

Building a driftwood ship

The first step in building a driftwood ship is acquiring the driftwood. Driftwood blocks the gravitational attraction of large bodies, thus making it possible to not fall back to a planet in a spectacular crash. Driftwood grows in rocky, cold environments with thin atmospheres. It grows best on Mars, but can also be grown on high mountaintops on Earth or similar planets.

Driftwood should be cured before use. Uncured driftwood reduces maneuverability by 5. Each year of curing reduces that penalty by 1, up to a maximum of five years curing on-planet. Driftwood can be cured more quickly or more efficiently in space. Driftwood cured in space reduces the maneuverability penalty by 1.5 per year, to a maximum of 7—that is, ships made from driftwood cured for five years in space will have +2 maneuverability.

Space is big. It is very easy to lose track of curing stacks when curing in space.

After curing, the wood should be coated with a varnish of wood resin to preserve the cure. The best resin is driftwood resin. This provides a +1 to maneuverability. Other wood resins do not affect maneuverability, and non-wood mineral oils reduce maneuverability by 1, while tar oils reduce maneuverability by 2.

Without varnish, the wood may become infected and eaten away by insects or other creatures.

Adjustments to ship cost and maneuverability:

Technique Maneuverability Cost Movement
Planet Curing +1/year +10%/year
Space curing +1.5/year +15%/year
Driftwood resin +1 +25% +1
Mineral oils –1 –5%
Tar oils –2 –10% –1

Weaving sailcloth sails

Unlike driftwood, which grows best on Mars but can grow in other places, the sailmoth only produces thread on Mars, and only in the Martian highlands.

Currency and economic policy in the middle ages—Saturday, August 29th, 2015
Edict on Maximum Prices

Emperor Diocletian’s 301 AD edict setting maximum prices.

We live within an abundant and ubiquitous market. From specialist boutiques to supermarkets to sprawling shopping centers, we can easily travel to acquire our hearts desire, or, Acme-like, send a note into the ether and have it delivered to us—sometimes in twenty-four hours. We no longer even need to carry money or the one-to-one representations of it: a credit card will give us the ransom of kings. But if we do want money there is an ATM at the corner 7-Eleven that will dispense what we need. There is no need to go to the banker, the banker is always with us and always ready to say yes. There is no need to negotiate how much of our wheat we must trade for however much butter we need. We sell our time for paper and then trade that paper credit at known prices for what we need and want.

If we don’t like the price on our heart’s desire, someone else makes a different model at a different price. In the best parts of our world, all economic transactions are beneficial to both sides, because both sides are free to take it or leave it, and thus only take it when the trade is at a price they are willing to pay or accept.

This was not always the case, and even today you can travel to places where you are forced to sell or to purchase at prices not of your own choosing1, or where the value of money changes with the corrupt political wind.

Price controls

There are two basic rules of economics:

  • People will trade what they are willing to trade.
  • If there is a profit to be made, someone will find that profit.

These basic rules mean that:

  • Any barriers—natural or artificial—to desired trades increase the profit of those willing to surmount those barriers.

These are laws of nature, just like the laws of gravity. Laws and social pressures can get in their way, but it’s likely to hurt: in reduced quality, increased prices, or hidden costs. They apply to goods, services, and currencies. People will pay the price they are willing to pay, and accept the price they are willing to accept.

Adults, age ten and up—Saturday, July 18th, 2015
Basic D&D

“…for 3 or More Adults, Ages 10 and Up”

I started gaming with the Eric Holmes blue book (in the GM’s hands only), the AD&D Players Handbook, and the Tom Moldvay boxed Basic Set. Because the purple Moldvay box was the first complete version of D&D I owned and read, it is demonstrably superior.

I never even saw the original three OD&D books until years later, after college, when I scored one off of the then-vibrant Usenet gaming groups.

Going over the Holmes and Moldvay versions right now—I keep them in the same box—I noticed something I’d never really paid attention to in the introduction to the two rules sets.

Moldvay box:

The Original Fantasy Role Playing Game for 3 or More Adults, Ages 10 and Up

Dungeons & Dragons® Fantasy Adventure Game (“D&D® Game” for short) is a role playing adventure game for persons 10 years and older.

Holmes blue book1:

The Original Adult Fantasy Role-Playing Game For 3 or More Players

Dungeons & Dragons is a fantastic, exciting and imaginative game of role playing for adults 12 years and up.

Adults 12 and over. Adults 10 and over. There really is a sense in those books that we were entering a world where we had responsibilities, that we were going to take these tools and make our own way at something very new and very much completely under our control. We could do anything, and we had the responsibility that came with such power.

Most of the games of that era, as far as I can tell, didn’t even mention an age range. OD&D, 1st and 2nd edition AD&D, Traveller, don’t seem to have anything about it in their introductions.

The domestication of frozen water—Wednesday, June 17th, 2015
Changnyeong seokbinggo

An ice house in South Korea.

If there is any one modern innovation that would be both perfectly understandable to the medieval visitor yet completely amazing in spite of it, it is the ubiquity of ice.

Sure, matches are cool, but they’re really just fancy tinder kits. And the educated among our medieval ancestors would certainly know of the wonders of Rome’s waterways. But ice? Ice has never served man so well as it does today.

My grandfather worked, as a teenager, in an icehouse. He hated it. Ice blocks had to be big, or they’d melt. Water is heavy enough in small quantities; carrying those ice blocks to people’s trucks was a very strenuous task.

From there people could purchase it for their own iceboxes (the immediate predecessor to the refrigerator) or their own insulated or basement ice house. Or they could buy it when they needed it for a party and use it until it melted. But it was cheap only compared to what it cost the advent of ice houses, which is to say, compared to a near impossibility.

The ice “factory” my grandfather worked at didn’t create the ice: it kept ice from the winter when the lake froze over. Ice from the lake was cut into blocks and stored in a warehouse, then covered in insulators such as straw and sawdust to keep the heat out. The blocks were big enough that, properly insulated, they could keep for months, long enough to last through the summer until the lake froze again.

This also meant that ice could be transported in ships to climates that had no winter.

Storing ice became popular only when it became easy to cut ice, transport it, and keep it stored in bulk through the summer. A relatively wealthy market was also necessary for icehouses to become viable. Persia did it, when Persia was the center of civilization, and it was common enough in the United States as average wealth began to rise. But even then, ice was bulky and difficult to work with, and required year-long planning.

Simply popping water into a kitchen storage unit and waiting an hour? Incredible! The stuff is so cheap now we even toss it in chunks to kids to keep them quiet and amused. Ice is so cheap that soda—itself so cheap that it usually comes with free unlimited refills—is always cut with ice in restaurants. Think about that: this thing that was usually impossible at any price is now filler in sugared water.

Ice is everywhere today. Many modern refrigerators come with icemakers built in, but if not you can pop some water in a tray, put it in your freezer and have ice readily available in an hour.

If you have an abundance of water, you can make a limited refrigerator pretty easily. Evaporative cooling works on the simple principle that when water evaporates, it takes energy to do so. As long as the evaporated water leaves the area before it re-condenses, the area around the evaporation will be cooled.

The well of life: the revolution of reliable water—Saturday, May 23rd, 2015
Fréjus aqueduct arches

Impressive. If you didn’t know what it was for and you lived in medieval times, what stories would you create around these arches?

Outside of oxygen, water is probably the most necessary ingredient to human life. You can go without food for three weeks or more, though you’ll be weak at the end of it; if you run out of water you’ll die in three to five days, and you’ll be too disabled to survive after two. In hot or arid environments, you can die in less than a day.

Locating sources of safe water has been part of the human condition for our entire history. In a world without tap water, finding water and making it safe to drink often consumed our lives.

Kathy Jesperson, in the Summer 1996 OnTap for the National Drinking Water Clearinghouse, quotes from The Quest for Pure Water: The History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century about water treatment from 4,000 years ago:

The Sus’ruta Samhita, Sanskrit writings about medical concerns, dates from approximately 2000 B.C. and offers evidence that water treatment may well be as ancient as humans are. The writings declare that “impure water should be purified by being boiled over a fire, or being heated in the sun, or by dipping a heated iron into it, or it may be purified by filtration through sand and coarse gravel and then allowed to cool.”

As long as you’re going to the trouble to boil your water, you might as well make it more interesting by adding barley or other grains to it. This turns it into a very simple beer. Beer has been part of our daily diet since the time of the Egyptians. From the beginning of recorded history to the Middle Ages, brewing beer was a part of the homemaker’s chores. In the Middle Ages hops were used to keep it fresh during transport. As brewers learned more about hopped beer, beer lasted longer, and a trade in beer became possible.

In A world lit only by fire: the medieval mind and the Renaissance, William Manchester describes how common beer and wine were:

Archery contest—Saturday, May 9th, 2015
Woman with a bow

While our group was in Biblyon preparing for a foray into some ruins, we had a player character compete in an archery contest. Upon discovering that Biblyon ran an archery contest every autumn, the player decided that their character needed to take part, and they postponed the adventure a few game-world days so as to stay in town for the contest.

How difficult is it to hit a target in Gods & Monsters? A real target, the kind attached to hay bales?

The first thing to note is that this is not a conflict. It’s a contest, not just in name but in game rules. So it’s going to be an ability roll, against agility. Hitting a small but unmoving target is very easy, so the bonus will be +4. Range, however, is going to make a difference, and in this case the obstacle size will be the range of the bow used, 20 yards for a normal bow. If it’s twenty yards or more, there’s a penalty of one; forty or more, a penalty of two, 80 or more, a penalty of three, and so on.

For warriors, their Fighting Arts field will apply one way or another. A third-level warrior with a 10 agility shooting at a small target 40 yards away will need 10+4–2+3, or 15 or less, to hit.

Players will likely want their character to take some time, going for the +1 for waiting. It is, of course, very impressive to not wait if the shot is successful.

At these high numbers, bonuses to hit make a big difference. The difference between 19 or less and 20 or less is the difference between “might fail” and “won’t fail”. Because of this, higher level warriors and agile characters will be much better at archery contests.

A quality weapon can make a difference, too: bows with longer ranges will gain penalties more slowly.

Because this is not a conflict, but rather a contest, skill at it won’t be limited to warriors. Warriors can, of course, use their Fighting Arts field either with the appropriate bow skill or the weapon fluency skill. But non-warriors may well have an archery skill in Athletic Arts. Their archery skill is worthless in combat, but will help them in sporting events.

This is likely part of the appeal of impromptu jousts among warriors: those early tourneys involved real combat and thus separated the warrior from the dilettante.

Contests are pretty freeform in the Gods & Monsters rules, leaving the details up to you to tailor to the contest in question. I can think of two obvious ways to model an archery contest.

Automatically roll subtables—Saturday, April 5th, 2014

Now that the “random” script handles percentage tables for wandering encounters, it’s very close to being able to handle the hierarchical encounter charts I use in Gods & Monsters. All that remains is for it to detect that an entry on the table is itself another table.

In order to do this, we need to be able to detect whether an entry matches a table file. We already have a function, tableFactory, that returns a table based on the filename; currently, however, it fails if the filename does not exist as a file. What we can do is make it return “no file” if the file doesn’t exist. In Python terms, we want it to return None instead of returning a Table object.

Before the “open” line in “def tableFactory(name):”, check to see that the filepath exists:

[toggle code]

  • #load the table into the appropriate class
  • def tableFactory(name):
    • filename = name + '.txt'
    • filepath = filename
    • if options.locale:
      • localepath = os.path.join(options.locale, filename)
      • if os.path.exists(localepath):
        • filepath = localepath
    • if not os.path.exists(filepath):
      • return None
    • items = open(filepath).read()
    • if "\t" in items:
      • table = PercentTable(items)
    • else:
      • table = SimpleTable(items)
    • return table

If the path represented by the filepath variable does not exist, the function returns None. This means we can use it for checking to see if a table file exists. Currently, if there is no “number appearing”, the system assumes “1”. Let’s change it to assume nothing. Change “appearing = '1'” to:

  • #generate the number appearing
  • appearing = ''

Now, we can detect this on making our random choice:

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