The Frogs: Dionysus & Xanthias’ Bogus Journey

Of the 5 plays in the Aristophanes comp I just finished, really the Frogs is the only one that lends itself out and out to a dungeon-crawl module. Sure, you could use Lysistrata as a set-piece for your characters to puzzle over, arriving in some town only to find that scantily-clad women have barred entry to the local government offices. The Clouds might lend for some interesting NPC ideas in a town, namely an old guy who is doing anything imaginable to escape his debts, leading to a mad grudge against a local sage, but there’s not really an adventure there. There is an adventure in the Birds, but it would be some stupid high-level Mentzer crap, and could probably turn really ugly really quick. The Frogs, however, lends itself for an interesting non-hack & slash adventure into the underworld. Okay, I started out saying “dungeon-crawl”, and that may be incompatible with “interesting non-hack & slash”, but I think there’s potential in the setup.

For those who aren’t familiar, the setup of the Frogs is as follows:
Dionysus, the god of festivals & Hedonism, is bored and misses seeing plays by Euripides, who is dead. So, he does what any bored god/adventurer does; he decides to go into hell and bring his favorite playwright back.

First, there’s the matter of getting there:
Dionysus hasn’t been to Tartarus, apparently, but he knows someone who has: Heracles. The god shows up at the temple of Heracles with his buttmonkey slave, and finally gets Heracles, after much prying, to tell him how to get into hell.

Second, there’s the headache of getting into hell proper:
Gotta bribe the boatman, gotta hear the singing frogs, gotta put up with the idiot slave, gotta put up with all of the local demagogues who’ve made a name for themselves in hell as much as in life. Lastly, there’s the animal keeper of hell who’s still miffed about the whole Cerberus/Heracles incident.

Third, there’s finding the Playwright:
If you’re running this as an adventure, the characters are probably in the employ of some god, catering to his whim. So, there are a number of ways you could go about having to find the Playwright in hell.

Lastly, the contest:
In the case of the Frogs, there’s a power-struggle going on between the dead playwrights for the privilege of who is the best tragic poet in hell. Sophocles, being a decent and humble dude, is totally okay with being number 2. The problem is, Euripides has gotten a bunch of hell-churls to back his claim and desire to supplant Aeschylus as the number 1 tragic poet. What ensues is a competition, Judged by Dionysis and presided over by Pluto, between the two dead playwrights, in a criticism of older high-tragedy vs. newer low-tragedy. Being a political and cultural conservative, Aristophanes, by way of Dionysus, eventually declares the high-tragedy of Aeschylus the winner, and there is a big feast in hell before Dionysus and his new favorite return to earth, Sophocles is proclaimed #1 dead playwright, and Euripides is forever excoriated.

All of this lends to a pretty cool scenario that could be put together and run with a little bit of work. To avoid railroading, you can put the players in charge of judging the works of the poets and have the opportunity to bring back their favorite into the world of the living. The consequences of this journey into hell can be an excellent jumping-off point for future adventures.

The Greeks!

Almost done with my little folio of Aristophanes, which is rather deceptive in its size; despite being no more than 3/4 of an inch thick, hardcover included, it’s well over 300 pages.  Compact little sucker.  Though I’ve been enjoying it, I feel that this particular translation is missing something. It’s been about 13 years since I first read Aristophanes’ The Birds in highschool, and I don’t know… that translation was funnier? The annotations in this version are far more extensive, and there are parts where the charm shines through the slightly obtuse and formal emulation ‘high’ English Theatre (it’s not Shakespearean, but definitely more archaic than the vernacular speech contemporary with its 1948 publication date) but something just feels missing in these. Now, I’m no Greek scholar, and it would be preposterous for me to try to weigh the choice of language against the original, but compared to the other translation I read once upon a time, this one seems to dance around innuendo a bit more and loses something in the process. Oh, well.

Anyway, I’d mentioned I’d been reading some Aristophanes to my Dad, so he just loaned me his annotated Thucydides. Yay! I feel like I might need to do a bit of prep-work, first, though, before I dive into the History of the Peloponnesian Wars. Really, though, I probably should’ve done that first, read Thucydides, and THEN tackled Aristophanes. In some ways, reading Aristophanes is like someone from the year 4,000 AD watching the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Addendum:
I hope that you, guy who happened upon my blog while searching for “bs economics hard”, found what you were looking for.

The Ultimate Quantum Slash Paradox

This: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gamesbyplaydate/slash-romance-without-boundaries

Reminds me of this: http://d20darkages.blogspot.com/2013/07/elric-vs-elminster-whod-win-best-answer.html

And makes me wonder this: If Elric and Kenshiro went on and adventure together, which one of them die and which one would hold the other’s dying body while tearfully proclaiming what a true friend and companion he had been? Or does this pairing break the universe like dropping dark matter into a white hole?

Hell, someone (definitely not me) could donate $175 to their kickstarter and ensure that this is an in-game posibility

(And thanks to Sarah Darkmagic for bringing it to my attention).

Whatever Happened to Tracey Alley?

Y’know, I’d been wondering what happened with that whole Tracey Alley thing awhile back, so thought I’d do some digging. Again, I’m not going to do any linking, since I was one of the people opposed to publicly shaming and harassing this lady for using a map of the Known World with some of the place names re-arranged, but I’ll admit that I was curious about how things turned out.

Well, it involved a lot of Bruce Heard, Tim Brannan, Frank Mentzer and a lot of other dudes on the internet yelling at her. She probably got off lucky, though, since I can’t find anything about WotC dropping the hammer on her. Which is strange to me, since Rusty & Co. was almost shut down for having a character named Yuan-Tiffany, which, while part of their “product identity”, clearly fell under fair use for parody. But I guess WotC just REALLY doesn’t give two shits about Mystara.

I guess I find it interesting that Rules and Systems cannot be copyrighted and therefore can be used or recreated as desired, but fantasy maps and location names are taboo. Ironically, I’d say that the latter are far easier to come up with, yet it makes them no less valuable while at the same time makes borrowing them almost inexcusable.  Moral outrage when one steals a map, celebration when one copies a table.  “This is the best copy-paste job of B/X tables I’ve every come across!  It’s so much like the old thing that I might as well be playing the old thing!”

Anyway, Alley apparently quasi-apologetically re-edited her books, pulled the maps and renamed the places, but has probably wrecked what little credibility and viability she had as a self-pub author.

The lesson here is don’t be lazy with your fantasy world. It’s not too terribly hard to come up with your own setting, or at least if you’re going to steal (cuz let’s face it, how many fantasy worlds are just middle earth with a handful of locations shifted around?) do a better job of covering your tracks.  There’s nothing worse than having nerds pissed off at you.