Biblyon Broadsides

Gods & Monsters news and old-school gaming notes.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons
Biblyon, Highland
Wednesday, March 28, 1990
Jerry Stratton, Ed.
First Level Magic-Users are Useless—Thursday, January 16th, 2020

“That betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how early editions of the game are played. Basic, 1E, and to some extent 2E emphasized the problem-solving skills of the player, over the in-game-power skills of the character.”

Believing that once a character’s special abilities on the character sheet are done, there’s nothing left to do, is a very modern attitude and ultimately alien to the original aesthetic of the game. — Greyhawk Grognard (First Level Magic-Users are Useless)

Great tips for game masters—Thursday, January 9th, 2020

“… if there are no stakes, then there’s no real victory… The best campaigns are based on the players interacting with the environment, and if they have no real choice, then there’s no real interaction.”

These are great tips for any game master, not just Dungeon Masters. Regarding the first tip, “don’t fudge”, I’ve long come to the point where I prefer not to use a shield to hide die rolls. It’s both a lot harder to fudge die rolls when the players know what they were, and it’s a lot more exciting to see how close the monster came to succeeding or failing.

House on Crane Hill at North Texas 2019—Wednesday, February 13th, 2019
Belle Grove through cypress

The sky is grey toward the sea. The water beats steadily against the high grass, and a low mist rolls across the waves toward you.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:

Recently, you have each been contacted by Dr. Jean deMontagne, some of you directly, some of you after a friend recommended you, to take a seaside vacation at Delarosa Manor, which the locals call Crane House, forty miles up the coast from Crosspoint between King’s Head and Jackson Village. You should set out on Monday, November 2, and thus arrive on November 3 or 4.

This is a working vacation. Dr. deMontagne asks that you search the house for a small, brass coffer once owned by Louis Merrikitt and marked with two strange symbols. He offers you ten shillings each to compensate you for that small task, and he offers another hundred for the coffer, should you find it. He tells you that the manor is yours for the month of November as you wish, although the actual task should take no more than a day or two.

House on Crane Hill is a haunted house adventure inspired not just by Shirley Jackson’s amazing story but also by her many imitators1, some good, some bad, and some horrorble. I have been fascinated by haunted house stories ever since I read the Hell House rip-off in Werewolf by Night back in the seventies—a comic I still read from time to time. These stories don’t just hint at a fundamental weakness in reality. They shove it down our throats. It took a long time for me to get around to reading the source for them all, but once I read The Haunting of Hill House I was hooked on Shirley Jackson, too.

Was table-top gaming inevitable?—Monday, October 22nd, 2018
Runequest cover

Today, Gods & Monsters in its public form turned 18. On October 22, 2000, I posted a link to “The Game” on rec.games.frp.misc asking for Blues Brothers-style constructive criticism. Eighteen, of course, is only significant in gaming terms or adulthood, and in the former case only for those games that use 3d6 for stats. Combined with a sad event from two weeks ago, it has me thinking again about role-playing history and how lucky we are to have had Dungeons & Dragons in particular and tabletop fantasy roleplaying in general.

The other event is that Greg Stafford died on October 12. He founded the Chaosium in 1975 to publish his fantasy board game. Through it he published, in 1978, the highly influential RuneQuest game, set in the highly influential Glorantha world, which used the same world that his earlier board game did.

It is hard for someone who wasn’t quite there—I started gaming in 1981—to describe just how influential Glorantha and RuneQuest was, the idea of basing the rules on the setting.

In his tribute to Stafford, Zenopus relates a fascinating and telling story about how Greg Stafford was introduced to D&D:

I used to work for Bergamot Brass Works, a belt buckle company out of Lake Geneva, WI after high school. Real hippy job. I'd take buckles, hitch hike around and sell them to shops, etc. After a while, though, I moved to California. My friend of the time remained there, selling buckles (we were called Buckle-itis).

Through various circumstances I'd decided to publish my first boardgame, White Bear & Red Moon, on my own. As I was finishing up work on it, I got a package in the mail from my old partner Jeff. His cover letter said, "I was picking up my catalogues from the printer the other day and there was this guy waiting for his stuff. I asked what it was, and he said it was a fantasy game. I said, 'Hey, my buddy in California is doing one too! Can I buy one from ya?'"

Of course the guy was happy to, and so Jeff sent me this strange little booklet called Dungeons & Dragons.

Well-behaved deities seldom make history—Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

I was inspired a few weeks ago to make a Gods & Monsters t-shirt out of Doré’s engraving of Moses breaking the tablets of the law. After a minor issue with the first batch, they are ready. I have one in white and one in ash grey.

It looks nice enough that it inspired me to finally open the Zazzle store I started back when I first published Gods & Monsters back in 2000. This means you can also purchase an “I survived Illustrious Castle” with the completely esoteric symbol of Eliazu on the front. I made up those shirts for the first group to go through Illustrious Castle in its Gods & Monsters form. I also made up shirts that said “I died in Illustrious Castle”. I don’t know what happened to them.

This page should automatically update with the latest Zazzle products, should there be any more.

Well-behaved deities (ash)
Well-behaved deities seldom make history, a t-shirt in ash.
Well-behaved deities (white)
Well-behaved deities seldom make history. A t-shirt in white.
I survived Illustrious Castle t-shirt
From the time capsule, a never-before-released shirt from 2000 or so. I distributed these to the first players who went through Illustrious Castle (and survived).
Can I legally use Gary Gygax’s name for my son?—Saturday, April 1st, 2017
Too Much of the Stupid

There may not be such a thing as a stupid question, but the world is awash in stupid answers. (R.K. Milholland)

My wife and I are going to have a son in May, and since we met while playing Dungeons and Dragons, we’d like to name him Gary. Is that legal? Can we do this?

First, congratulations on the successful character creation process. It can take a long time, but it’s also a lot of fun and very rewarding.

The short version is that names like Gary and Dave appear to be available for use, but tread carefully. This is a very gray area. Before you name your child anything, you should talk to a lawyer. And I don’t mean a rules lawyer!

The name “Gary” may be so common that it’s difficult to defend, but you could always use a similar name, such as Garry. The extra ‘r’ makes it look archaic, and a lot of people would get the wink-wink-nudge-nudge true source of the name. Even though the name is nearly identical, Hasbro might consider it small enough that it isn’t worth acting on the infringement. The usual advice I give, however, is that if you’re not certain, avoid the issue. Some other common name ought to be in the clear1, but copying D&D’s creator, while a very light shade of gray, means you’ll be dealing with Hasbro lawyers.

It’s always in your best interest to avoid encounters with the dreaded 12 HD Lawyer Dragon!

Short of talking to a lawyer (which is always a good idea when worrying about legal issues such as naming your child) it might be helpful to look at what other people have done. Paul Francis Gladd named himself Gary around the same time that Gary Gygax wrote Dungeons and Dragons with Dave Arneson. But he suffered legally from 1997 on. A city in Indiana capitalized on its nearness to D&D’s Gencon conference by naming itself “Gary”, but the city’s population has dropped precipitously since Dungeons & Dragons’ popularity rose. After several lawsuits, they’ve nearly gone broke.

Gary Gilmore ended up going to court and was shot by a firing squad just three years after D&D was published. The punishments courts can levy for copyright infringement are often severe, and I’m sure you’d agree you don’t want to inflict them on your son.

Your safest course of action would be to choose a completely different name, but if your heart is set on honoring the D&D founder, you might try a homonym such as Gharee, Garrie, or Gayri. Bearing a unique name will also give doughty young Gayri the respect of his classmates when he reaches school age.

North Texas RPG Con Event: House on Crane Hill—Tuesday, March 21st, 2017
Belle Grove through cypress

Welcome to Delarosa Manor. Some houses were born evil…

If you can make it to the North Texas RPG Convention on Saturday, June 3, I’ll be running a game of Gods & Monsters. The event is “House on Crane Hill”. As I write this, there are three earlybird tickets available, and there will be four free tickets available on April 15 at midnight.

Assuming you have an account on the NTRPGC sign-up site and are logged in, here’s the event page.

The adventure will use pre-gens at first level. Bring dice, pencils, and your Barrett’s Electromagnetic Field Generator.

Crane House is an idea I’ve been working on for quite a while now. Tell me if you’ve heard this story: a hand-selected research group is chosen to spend a week investigating an abandoned house known for its supernatural activities. But this is no ordinary haunting.

No living organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Thus Shirley Jackson began The Haunting of Hill House. Many movies and books about malleable haunted houses and malleable realities have inspired this adventure. The first such story I read was in issues 34 to 37 of Werewolf by Night in Marcosa House (available in Essential Werewolf by Night, volume 2). Doug Moench’s Marcosa House was heavily influenced by Richard Matheson’s Hell House (and the movie,

Later, in college, I saw Phantasm, which was very influential on movies of this type. Stephen King has written several evil buildings, including The Shining (Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation is also inspirational), the short story 1408 (made into a great movie with John Cusack), and the Rose Red TV movie. There’s also A Nightmare on Elm Street

Several years ago I toured the Winchester house in California, an odd bit of architecture which to some degree inspired Rose Red. There have been attempts at other-worldly houses in adventure gaming, including the sample adventure in Ron Edwards’s Sorcerer, the Judges Guild adventure Tegel Manor, and the D&D adventure Palace of the Silver Princess. But I think this will be a unique and very old-school take on the genre.

So if you’re looking for a haunted house adventure this June, sign up now!

Nothing will be restrained from them, which they imagine to do—Saturday, December 24th, 2016
Basic D&D

Merry Christmas from 1981!

A while back, Erik Bader wrote on Google+:

I finally dug out my beat up old 1st ed PHB for a decades-later reread and I was surprised to realize most of the rules to actually play the game aren’t in there! You can’t really roll up a character (the instructions it says are in the DMG) and you can’t hit a monster (again, in the DMG).

Now, the DMG didn’t come out for what… a year or more later, correct? What the heck did players in 1978 do with this book in the meantime? 

As I recall, the only piece of information really necessary from the DMG for creating characters was how to roll stats, and I expect players in 1978 just continued to roll stats however they rolled them before, probably without evening noticing it was missing. I know I had trouble separating “what we did” with “what the rules were” back then whenever playing in a new game group.

I came a little after 1978, but had a limited budget. So our group used Holmes (our DM, who introduced us to the game, already had it) and the PHB1, and never noticed anything odd with that. At the time, we were overcome by a spirit of discovery and creation. It was all about “what can we do next”, not “what’s holding us back.” We barely if at all noticed anything holding us back.

It wasn’t just us in our little gaming subculture that people felt that way; it was in many ways a spirit of the times. Many of my friends were out in their garages forcing their cars to do things the manufacturers never intended them to do. In Ham Radio and CB Radio no rig was complete without some customization to take it up to 11.

And, closer to home, it was very much a programmer’s perspective, and of course many of us were also amateur programmers at the time, on a TRS-80 Model I, Apple ][, Atari 400, Commodore 64, TI99/4 or so on. Those computers really couldn’t do much, but that’s not the way we looked at them. We were always on the lookout for what more can we do? It’s absolutely amazing the kind of video game clones we got on those old computers. The TRS-80 Model I was black and white, with 128x48 “pixels”—that’s like playing a game on a four-tenths-inch by one-tench-inch square of my current mobile phone—and yet we managed to have fun playing Pac-Man clones, Armored Patrol clones, Space Invaders, and much more.

The text adventure craze came about because it provided great game play beyond the limits of the actual hardware of the time. If the computer’s graphics didn’t match what our brains expected, we would harness our brains to create what graphics we wanted.

Which is, of course, a lot like tabletop roleplaying.

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