The Biblyon Broadsheet

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons
Biblyon, Highland
Sunday, May 9, 1993
Jerry Stratton, Ed.
Island Book 1 and old-school tables—Wednesday, April 26th, 2023
Sheryl England’s Sinbad vs. Conan: Back cover illustration by Sheryl England for the Judges Guild Island Book 1.; Judges Guild; Inspirational fantasy art; Sheryl England

Sheryl England’s cover art is also a draw.

I managed to acquire a copy of Judges Guild’s Islands Book 1 a few weeks ago. Like most Judges Guild books, it is very interesting and very strange, and very much a product of the old school enthusiasm that permeated its era. It was published in 1978, which is still pretty early. As late as 1976, Judges Guild was still selling books from the trunk of Bill Owen’s Mustang.

It’s titled “Island Book 1”, but I can find no evidence of an “Island Book 2”. It’s a lot like their three Treasure Maps books, two Castle Book books, and Temple Book1. It’s a collection of island maps, with no keys. Some features are marked, but for the most part you’re expected to either draw your own features and keys directly on the maps, or photocopy them and draw on the copy.

You could, presumably, also use some of the included tables to generate items to correspond to the features marked on some of the maps.

They’re all filled with hexes, numbered for your amusement, part of the Judges Guild “Campaign Hexagon System”.

The cover artwork is by Sheryl England, great evocations of island-hopping adventure. The back cover is basically Sinbad vs. Conan, a great choice for sailing fantasy.

But the real draw for me is the utterly gonzo three pages of island generation tables. As soon as I saw them, I knew I wanted to make a script to generate islands.

The tables are interwoven; some results seem to indicate further rolls on other tables. This is conjecture, however: how the tables interweave is never mentioned. There are no instructions for using them. Not only are there no instructions for how to use subtables, there are barely instructions for how to use individual tables.

For example, the main table, for type of island, has a numeric range after some of the islands, such as 1-3 or 2-12. They have to be die rolls, because they correspond to the most common ranges for die rolls. But die rolls for what? For the number of islands in the chain, or for number of features that follow?

Every such entry has a list of features, such as volcanoes, mountains, hills, traps, what kinds of provisions can be scrounged on the island, and so on. I’m assuming that they are possible features, and that an entry such as “Sandy Isle (1-6) MHCT” means that this is a sandy island (that much I’m pretty sure about) that contains d6 features; those features include mountains, hills, creatures, and traps.

Other interpretations are easily imagined.

A Kolchak Christmas at North Texas 2023—Tuesday, February 28th, 2023
Carl Kolchak: Kolchak, holding a microphone and his signature portable tape recorder in Las Vegas.; Kolchak: The Night Stalker; Darren McGavin

They say the only perfect murder is the random murder. It’s the Christmas season in Chicago, and police are certainly stymied by the seemingly random killings the press has dubbed “The Christmas Murders”. Will Kolchak and his loose band of night stalkers solve the mystery? Choose a pregen from many of the guest stars who appeared on the Kolchak: The Night Stalker television series.

I’ll be cracking open Daredevils again for The North Texas RPG Con in 2023. This year’s adventure is “The Wrong Goodbye” and takes place over Christmas of 1976. It’s currently scheduled for Saturday morning at nine.

Here’s the TV Guide version:

Carl Kolchak and guest stars investigate Chicago’s 1976 Christmas murders.

All the old favorite guest stars and regulars will be available. Kolchak himself, of course, and if you’ve ever felt like letting loose a barrage of abuse at an abusive reporter who can’t understand why nobody believes him, Tony Vincenzo is also available.

A lot of the fun with a game like this is roleplaying the television roles: Vincenzo, or Pepe Torres, or Paula Griffin, or Kolchak himself. The Kolchak television series is often rerun by oldies television stations. In my area it’s currently running on MeTV. It looks like you can also stream it free on NBC. The two movies, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler are harder to find.

Here are the current pregens:

Three OGLs walk into a bar: The Return of Gruumsh—Wednesday, January 25th, 2023
TSR and rights: Larry Smith: I think only when TSR is forced to defend its real and legitimate rights it won’t have time to defend the ones it made up.; TSR; gaming copyright

This quote comes from 1996 or earlier. The TSR/WotC/Hasbro war on gamers is not a new one.

Hasbro’s messing with the OGL has been in the gaming news now for several weeks. I’ve generally stayed out of it. This is not a fun way to celebrate the 49th anniversary of D&D (observed).1

I hope we find a better way to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary next year.

I long ago decided that the OGL was pointless for most of the things people use it for, and certainly for anything that I would use it for. The OGL adds severe restrictions on what you can do with otherwise free content; it gave nothing in return. Its sole purpose seems to have been to dump everything that you can do legally, without permission, under the umbrella of “product identity”.

“Product identity” is not a term in copyright law; it is a made-up term meant to sound like “intellectual property”. If you agree to use the OGL, “product identity” restricts you in ways that don’t normally exist under copyright or other intellectual property laws. The OGL seems designed solely to deny game writers what they would have the legal right to do if they ignored the OGL.

One of the first series I wrote on this blog was on gaming copyright and what makes a good open license for an RPG. The OGL failed on almost every point.2 So I never used it, even for my own D&D-like game which came out about the same time as the OGL—and was a lot more like D&D when I first published it (see below).

Rob Conley recently called for stripping OGL language from your gaming materials:

I would urge everyone involved in D&D design or content creation to strip out all OGL language and ensure your rules/content is open source and fair use or whatever the appropriate terms are for gaming.

How fast did early D&Ders advance their characters?—Monday, January 23rd, 2023

“There are a few semi-secondary sources that give estimates for advancement rates—and it’s rather remarkable how widely they differ. This is even though they all date from a time post-OD&D-Supplement-I, when in they’re all using basically the same monster XP chart and treasure tables.”

Basic D&D

When I wrote Experience and Advancement in Role-Playing Games, I focused on the mechanical elements of character advancement. That says nothing about the player perspective of how characters advance.

In his latest blog post, Delta collects three statements—two from actual rulebooks—about how quickly Gygax, Holmes, and Moldvay each expected players to see their characters go up in level. Advancement from first to second level, for example, varies between 2-½ adventures (Moldvay) to 9 adventures (Holmes). That’s a pretty big difference.

These differences will reflect more than just a difference in each writer’s vision of how quickly players should see their characters advance. They’re going to reflect different visions about all sorts of aspects of early gaming culture: how often players gamed, how long each session took, even what the definition of an adventure was vs. what a session was!

Spotlight on: The Saurian—Wednesday, August 10th, 2022
Isle of Mordol Pylon control panel: A pylon control panel from the Isle of Mordol.; Isle of Mordol; Land of the Lost

If you’ve seen Land of the Lost, this is obviously a simplified version of a pylon control panel. I wanted something that the players could actually use.

You’re eight feet tall. Your tongue forks in and out as your bulbous eyes dart left and right behind translucent membranes. Your scales reflect aquamarine in the sunlight as you drop to all fours…

I’ve been a fan of the saurian ever since Land of the Lost in the seventies. If you look at my first “dungeon”, The Isle of Mordol, there’s an entire sublevel devoted to dinosaurs and dimensional-portal pylons.

My Yellow Forest from Fight On 9 is also heavily influenced by that show. I described saurians in the Yellow Forest encounter list as:

…bipedal lizards with long forking tongues, bulbous eyes, and ears behind eye-lid-like membranes. Their iridescent scales shine green and blue in sunlight, making them appear wet or slimy even when dry. They eat plants and animals, but insects are a delicacy. They farm them in their swampy lairs or hunt giant ones. They can see in the dark, regrow lost arms, legs, and tails, and can move on all fours at movement 15.

The Yellow Forest is part of The Road, and we used the saurians far more extensively than that little blurb would imply. It’s a player character race in Gods & Monsters.1 Some of them are chameleon, and some have prehensile tails—both specialties open only to the Saurian. Disease Immunity is also open to the Saurian.

The saurians of the Yellow Forest live in Angkor-like ruins. The cities of the Angwat are described in detail in The Road.

Kolchak: The Montique Fantom (A Daredevils adventure)—Wednesday, June 1st, 2022
Kolchak: The Montique Fantom (title): Title screen for the Daredevils/Night Stalker adventure The Montique Fantom.; Daredevils RPG; Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Daredevils is the perfect ruleset for a Kolchak game. I ran it last year at North Texas, using The Body Vanishes from Daredevil Adventures 3: Supernatural Thrillers. It’s a classic Kolchak-style mystery. Daredevils works great for noir, and Kolchak is a noir throwback.

Despite, and possibly because of, their lack of structure and detail, the short adventures in DA 3 are a really nice choice for a new Daredevils GM to learn the ropes of the game. While they’re not overly detailed or overly structured, they have just enough of a structure to hang a player-centric narrative onto.

The Body Vanishes is especially nice because the two endings allow for cutting the game short if necessary. It worked well for a 4-hour game without the extended ending, and would have worked even better for a 5-hour session with the extended ending.

Because the television series ended in 1975, I set the game in 1976. And because it was 1976, I set it over the July 4 weekend. This helped make some of the assumptions in the 1920s-based The Body Vanishes still work out in the seventies. It required a lot less technical ability on the part of the police, and by setting it around a major celebration I was able to get that.

Otherwise, for the most part I ran the adventure straight. What I’ve got here is a very thin skin over the original. Locations on a map of Chicago, a new timeline centered around July 4, 1976, and a few NPC replacements.

The biggest change from the television series is that this is an ensemble game. The players can choose from playing Carl Kolchak, the other series regulars, and several guest stars. The assumption is that after the series ended Kolchak has enough people convinced of strange things happening that he can assemble a team of night stalkers when necessary.

Era background

The inflation between 1921/1929 and 1976 was $3.18 through $3.39. So multiply prices by three or four as a rough guide, remembering that a lot of stuff in the Daredevils price list is illegal in 1976 Chicago. Inflation between 1976 and 2022 makes a 2022 dollar worth about $5.05 in 1976. So divide prices by five from now as a rough guide, remembering that very little technology from today is available in 1976. Phones are attached to buildings, for example, and computers are buildings.

Critical (fantasy) race theory—Wednesday, April 20th, 2022
Talk about Critical Race Theory: Evil wizard: Let’s talk about your racism…; sorcerors; wizards, magic-users; memes; racial hatred; critical race theory

I created this blog specifically to segregate my political and other (currently, vintage food and vintage computer) blogging from my game blogging. Sadly, some very egregious politics has been blundering around in gaming over the last several years and it’s starting to come to a head. I’m crossposting this on my main blog because it’s as much about the resurgence of virulent racism as it is about gaming.

One of the things that has always interested me and seems never to be explored in games is how having real, definite races of people would affect the imaginary differences we’ve made up in the real world. It seems as though having truly different fantasy races ought to make it obvious how ridiculous man’s tribal hatreds are today. The same ought to be true of the discovery of truly alien races.1

I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently Shadowrun 2E handles inter-human racism the same way I do in Highland: the new creatures are so obviously different that humans in these worlds no longer view each other as different. Inter-human racism is gone. In Highland, there’s the added change that the cataclysm jumbled up cultures so drastically that cultures are no longer associated with skin color.

In reality, I suspect that this is wishful thinking. It is easy to be disappointed by the resilience of such racism in the real world, and it’s hard to say that it would not remain resilient even in worlds like that of D&D or Shadowrun. When self-described anti-racists make claims that are right at home among slavers, it’s difficult to be optimistic about any impending end of racism.

This is especially true when people complain about it being “racist” to name a player character’s fantasy race. There has long been a weirdly racist attempt to analogize human races to fantasy races. But in games such as Dungeons and Dragons where the rules of the game make it abundantly clear that fantasy races really are superior and inferior in various ways, this conflation of real-world and fantasy is blatantly racist. Players and pundits who make this equivalence are accepting the racist belief that some human races are superior and some are inferior.

Kolchak is back, baby! At North Texas 2022—Sunday, March 27th, 2022
Carl Kolchak: Kolchak, holding a microphone and his signature portable tape recorder in Las Vegas.; Kolchak: The Night Stalker; Darren McGavin

“Now, here, are the true facts.”

It’s the fall semester at Illinois State Technical College. Carl Kolchak and his loose band of night stalkers investigate strange happenings as the school’s sports team breaks record after record. Choose a pregen from many of the guest stars who appeared on the Kolchak: The Night Stalker television series.

I’ll be cracking open Daredevils again for The North Texas RPG Con on Thursday morning of 2022’s convention. This year’s adventure is “The Big Creep” and takes place at Illinois State Technical College in the fall semester of 1976.

Sign up is live starting Friday evening, April 15, at 8PM Texas time! Note that it currently says the game uses the “RPG” rules. That’s because Tabletop Events doesn’t have Daredevils in their system yet.1

Here’s the TV Guide version:

Carl Kolchak and guest stars investigate strange happenings at Illinois State Technical College.

If you’re a Kolchak fan you may remember ISTC from the Demon in Lace episode. Both student journalist Rosalind Winters (“You hear about that kind of thing all the time. There’s probably a hundred of those tablets around.”) and Professor of Archaeology Dr. C. Evan Spate (“It seems to be some sort of religious rite, or maybe even a form of recipe.”) will be available as pregens.

As well, of course, as all the old favorite guest stars and regulars. Kolchak himself is available, and if you’ve ever felt like letting loose a barrage of abuse at an abusive reporter who can’t understand why nobody believes him, Tony Vincenzo is also available.

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