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

The tablets of Enki

Jerry Stratton, February 12, 2011

The Ark of the Covenant

When Ishtar left Enki, drunken and spent in his castle beneath the waves, she loaded to her vessel the nine stones of enlightenment. These stones she brought to shore and displayed in the market of the City, and the City flourished in their light.

From the tablet of war the people of the City learned to defend themselves against the servants of Tifá. From the tablet of crafts they learned all manner of woodworking, pottery, and weaving. From the tablet of fire they learned to smelt metals from the mountains, and to work that metal into tools for the advancement of war and craft. From the tablet of words they learned the one tongue of the road, and traded their crafts through the cities of the road.

From the tablet of gardens they learned to grow food and flower for the nourishment of body and soul. From the tablet of animals they learned the hunt and the herd. From the tablet of music they learned all arts to move mind and mountain. From the tablet of law they learned the government of themselves.

From the tablet of faith they learned the lore of the gods and the wisdom of a servant’s heart.

Ishtar left the tablets in the City’s care with this command: the tablets must be displayed to the tree; thus their light illuminates the city. Hoard them, and they will be stolen. Hide their light, and they will be lost.

Before the first city the gods were at war. The gods who hoarded knowledge wished to withhold that knowledge from mortals. One god sided with mortals and stole the tablets of knowledge. The tablets brought on a golden age in the first city, but the tablets were eventually stolen again, and scattered to the corners of the worlds. Thus, every land speaks a different language, and worships different gods, and knows different crafts.

The tablets are not magical; they are divine artifacts. Possession of a tablet grants great skill in the areas that the tablet covers. They are in the first language that everyone can read, if they can read at all, as if it were the reader’s native tongue. The tablets have a tendency to disappear once found.

Anyone reading a relevant tablet gains a bonus of 4 to any rolls covering the tablet’s field of knowledge. For studying, a tablet is a never-depleting mojo resource for study in its field of knowledge. Wisdom is required to effectively use the tablets, though anyone can use them to some extent: the tablet is treated as a mojo resource of ten times the reader’s wisdom.

However, the concentrated wisdom found in a tablet is dangerous. Anyone successfully using a tablet on a roll or to gain a field, field bonus, or skill must make a Willpower roll (or their archetypal reaction roll if the tablet pertains directly to their archetype). On a failed reaction, they gain d3 injuries if they were making an individual roll or d6 injuries if they were gaining a field bonus, field, or skill.

The tablets have a bulk of 40. They’re about 31 inches by 20 inches by 1 inch and made of stone, clay, or petrified wood. Their form can change depending on the culture in which they reside.

There are nine tablets. Tablets in the city influence all of the worlds of the tree. The domains of tablets that are not in the city are fragmented. Thus, no one today speaks the language of the city; all languages have fragmented. And everyone worships echoes of the original gods. The tablet of animals is gone, and so there are monsters and the insect mesh. Off of the road, the tablet influences the area around the tablet. One tablet, the tablet of war, was once in Highland; this is why war was used even to solve scholarly disputes.

Within a place of power, such as the ancient temple of Apuiporo, the tablets grant special facility within the place of power. It is easy to learn languages at Apuiporo because the tablet resides there, even though no one knows about it.

The language of the tablets is a proto-language, the language of the city, both a written and a spoken language. It is not Latin, but it once was.

TabletTeachesLocationIf this tablet is in the city, what happens?
warwarrior arts, justiceunknownThe cities of the road are secure against the dark, if they choose to defend themselves. Justice prevails for those who choose it.
craftswoodwork, potteryunknownCraftsmanship advances to its apex, and the tools of the craftsman spread through the road.
firemining, smelting, metalworkLost Dwarven mineTechnology advances in conjunction with magic or the divine.
languagelanguages, speaking, communicationLibrary at ApuiporoEveryone speaks a common language. Trade flourishes.
gardensfarming, botany, gardeningLibrary at ApuiporoA “garden of Eden”. Trees awaken, and the great tree speaks everywhere.
animalsherding, breeding, biologyCartorilMonsters scatter and eventually fade.
musicinspiration and the arts: magicLuputac, the lost cityArt is magic; all magic is art; dreams are real; muses are free.
lawgovernment, civilizationElven undergroundDemocracy flourishes across the worlds.
faithlore of the gods and worship of the divineCircusEveryone worships common gods, with one Lord, one Tree, as the font of all. Gods live among us in the manner of Olympus and the antediluvian world.

Sample mythology

The tablets of Gustave Doré

Most cultures have myths of the passing of knowledge from the gods (or animals) to men. Many also tie these myths to trees or to trickery. Prometheus, Ishtar, Pandora, Odin, and Eve are all about stolen knowledge. Coyote tricked Moon into throwing its bag of words to Earth that the people might speak. Any prophets in the party must have their mythology tied in some way to the tablets: someone has taken knowledge for the benefit of the world, and someone else is waiting to take it back.

Moses

The tablets of the law are, obviously, a story of Enki’s tablets. Moses climbed Mount Sinai during a great storm to return with the tablets of the law.

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain, and I will give you tablets of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them to Israel.”

Moses and Joshua went up the mountain. A storm covered it, and the glory of the Lord flashed on Mount Sinai.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall not murder. You shall not deal falsely with your neighbor. You shall not covet thy neighbor’s house. You shall bow to none but the God of the Burning Tree, God of the High Mountain, and God of the vast waters. You shall observe the festival of the first fruits of the tree.”

The glory of the Lord looked as a devouring fire atop the mountain. When the Lord finished speaking to Moses, he gave him the two tablets of the law; inscribed front and back by the finger of God.

Moses turned and went down the mountain, carrying the tablets of law before him. They approached the camp and saw a golden calf, and the elders of Israel dancing around it. His anger burned, and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf and burned it in the fire; he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and he made the Israelites to drink of their iniquity.

The Lord then said to Moses, “carve for me two stone tablets like the ones I gave to you, and I will write on them the words of the law, which you shattered.”

So Moses carved two stone tablets and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning. Moses walked with the Lord forty days and nights without bread or water. And the Lord inscribed again upon the tablets the word of the law. When Moses came down from the mountain his face was radiant with the light of God, and he veiled his face from the people until he saw the Lord again.

The Israelites made an ark of makaci wood to house the tablets, according to God’s instructions, overlaid with gold inside and out, and upon it a crown of gold, with four golden rings in the corners and again on the sides. Into the rings were staves of makaci wood, covered in gold. The testimony of God was laid therein. Upon the ark they lay a mercy seat of golden cherubim for the Lord to speak. Before it they placed a table of makaci wood, golden laid and crowned, and with four rings of gold in the corners, and golden staves of makaci wood with which to bear the table. Upon the table were dishes of gold, and candlesticks of a trunk and six branches, and flowers, and seven lamps upon the candlestick of seven lamps. And the ark was placed behind ten curtains of linen, blue, purple, and scarlet.

Ishtar

Ishtar is the prometheus, the lore-bringer. She tricked Enki into giving her the tablets of civilization, the knowledge of truth, weaving, prostitution, and all crafts and sciences. She plied him with strong beer and left in her sailboat at night while he slept. When he sobered, he sent the regents of Tifá after her boat as it sailed the great ocean; but she escaped the dragons and brought the stone tablets of civilization to the first city on the shore. Enki’s dragons yet follow down the waters of the abyss. When they reach the city they will retake the tablets.

The tower of Babylon was built to store the tablets that Ishtar stole from Enki. The tablet of language and the tablet of faith were stolen as they were carried to the top of the finished tower to be hidden away for safekeeping that the city might remain strong.

Arthur the king

The stone of Arthur was one of the tablets of Enki, and it granted him the art of war and a desire for civilization. The sword was the knowledge of war. When Arthur pulled the sword from the stone, he drew the art of war from the ancient tablets.

Tane and Maui

When formless Atea divided into Heaven and Earth, the two gods mated, and stayed together for the sake of the children. The children weren’t too happy about this: there wasn’t even enough room between Earth and Sky to walk upright. The offspring of Atea held council and discussed three options. Tawhiri wanted things to stay the same. Tu wanted to kill their parents. Tane’s solution was to push their parents apart. He did so without the consent of his brothers, and a long war raged afterward. Tawhiri and Tangaroa sent great winds from across the sea, and great waves across the lands. Tu stood against Tawhiri, using secret spells, and stole all of Tane’s birds and all of Tangaroa’s fish. Tu sent Tawhiri back to the ocean, and Tane finally vanquished Tu. When he did, he took Tu’s spells and made them his own; and these spells taught men to fish, and to weave, and to build.

During the war, earth was broken into several pieces, and these islands were spread far apart. But with Tane’s new knowledge, people were able to navigate from island to island, and were able to catch fish for food and grow taro to eat.

But still earth and sky long to be together, Tawhiri waits out in the ocean to return with the storm, Tangaroa waits with him, and eats the canoes of Tane’s fishermen with his tentacles, and Tu plots to regain his mako’i spell tablets.

The tablets of Tu are written on mako’i wood from the sacred grove on the great island. They are hidden in Tane’s secret tiki house on a great island of plentiful fruit and trees.

The tablets and Highland

One tablet, the tablet of war, was once in Highland; this is why war was used even to solve scholarly disputes. The goblin wars were an attempt by the hooded mage to acquire the stone obelisk from wherever it was hidden. By starting a war, the hooded one hoped to draw out the bearer of the stone; whether he succeeded or not is unknown, but it does appear that the stone is no longer in Highland.

In our game, little is known about the stone1, which goes under the name of the Stone of Clanricarde:

Fingol, after prodding Alvin Clenriquen about his name, told us of the Stone of Clanricarde, a tale very much like our snipe-hunts. Don Kith prophesized that the stone would vanish, to reappear when needed. The stone vanished from Dungarvin, and will be found between the plough of Benbulben and the triple wells of Bridget (healing wells).

The plough of Benbulben is a day’s travel west of the eastern mountains. To find it, go to Sneem, then follow the road north to Dungarvin. From Dungarvin there is a road that leads east around the Burren to Benbulben just above the Unicorn Pass.

Which means that “between the plough of Benbulben and the Springs of Bridget” is the same as saying “in the Celtic lands”. Possibly, somewhere in the Burren.

The adventure

The creation of James Tissot

Obviously, one use of the tablets is as a full campaign to restore all tablets to the first city. On the other end of the scale, one of the tablets could be in the horde of some ancient and powerful creature, used as a single magic item in an unrelated campaign.

In the middle, adventures could also be built on individual tablets. An evil overlord discovers the tablet of war and either searches for it or actually does retrieve it, and the adventure is to foil the overlord.

Or Enki wants the tablet of languages back, that the roads fall into darkness; Ishtar wants it restored to the Tower of Babylon. If the player characters include a prophet of Ishtar, Tane, Odin, Oghma, Moses, or Prometheus, they can be tasked with the tablet’s retrieval.

Inspiration

Obviously, the main inspiration is the story of Ishtar and Enki, which I ran into looking for ancient gods for the first city of man. When I had the idea that the stone of the sword in the stone was one of the tablets, their purpose and history began to really fall into place. Embarrassingly, I didn’t come up with the idea that stealing tablets from the city fractures that domain on my own: I got it while reading Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

Know then that all those exercises that men call arts, and all wisdom and all knowledge, are but humble branches of that worthy study that is justly named the Art. — Lord Dunsany (The Charwoman’s Shadow)

  1. I didn’t run this part of our adventures, although I will, probably, finish it.

  1. <- Heisenberg’s Module
  2. Random tables ->