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.

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


Reminds me of this:

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.

Fantastic Economics

Congratulations! Your party just extracted a giant hoard of treasure from the ancient depths, but in your ignorance, you pulled a Mansa Musa and plunged the world’s gold-based economy into a depression.

There have been a lot of interesting posts lately about in-game economics. RPG economies are riddled problems, imbalances and out and out bs, because the DM is only one person, and one person cannot be reasonably expected to keep track of the flow of goods and capital in something as complicated as a functioning economy. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Economics can’t be that complex, Paul Krugman is the dumbest son of a bitch to walk the earth and even he managed to be a Nobel Prize winning economist!” Well, some economic concepts are easy to grasp and explain (even if you ARE from the evil goatee mirror universe as our friend Paul is), but that’s not quite what we’re talking about here.

No, what we’re talking about is a giant unholy spreadsheet or SQL Database recording the some total of wealth by NPC, location, item type and value, and liquid currency, all expected to be tracked by the DM for the sake of realism. Good god! If you’re only dealing with some little vale or hamlet of a dozen or so people, it’s not hard to determine and track certain economic factors. Each individual owns a fixed number of items, each with a fixed value, has an oh-hand amount of cash, and produces a fixed (for game purposes) amount of new wealth through labor, by means of agriculture, artisanry, or service. The total cash in the locale represents the total liquid wealth of the region. This can be adjusted as people buy and sell goods; for simplicity sake, let this occur at regular intervals, monthly(rough), seasonally(not as rough) or annually(least rough). At these intervals, people have the opportunity to have sold their belongings or labors or wares or have purchased new goods or commissioned new services. This creates a trade deficit or surplus that either negatively or positively affects the amount of on-hand cash in the village.

While you may be able to reasonably track this economic exchange in a small area with a small population, god help you if you are trying to compute it for an actual city. And this is why we have so much hand-waving when it comes to what items are available and what items can be sold in a city.

Campaign Mastery, in their typical fashion of writing Doctoral Theses disguised as gaming blog posts, has tackled the issue of RPG economics at far greater length and detail that I could possibly fathom.

Over at Age of Ruin there was some complaining about how the Pathfinder rules treat towns and what items should be available. Unfortunately, the example is more along the lines of the above paragraph, where a vale of 20 mud-farmers should, for some reason, have a certain amount of wealth in the form of adventuring items available for sale to the heroes. My immediate solution would be to tell any player trying to sell a magic item to a mud-farmer to quit being stupid, the mud-farmer couldn’t possibly have the on-hand cash to purchase anything, nor would they just happen to have some sort of magic item to sell to the party. If they did, they’d have probably sold it already so they could take up some trade other than mud-farming.

Now, I like the way that Morrowind handled this sort of thing. You might come across a person who was a “merchant” in that they had 5 globs of muck, a sack of rice, half a dozen squashed bugs, some clay bowls, a bottle of cheap liquor, a handkerchief and 20 pieces of gold. Now, if you want, you COULD sell him your magic demon armor, but the best deal you’re going to get for it is 5 globs of muck, a sack of rice, half a dozen squashed bugs, some clay bowls, a bottle of cheap liquor, a handkerchief and 20 pieces of gold, and you’d better believe he’s gonna put that sucker on and show it off to all his friends.

Another thing I liked in Morrowind was it allowed for something of a “gem” economy. While no one had the on-hand cash for a lot of really nice stuff you might have had, you could make up the difference by “buying” gems (though really you were engaging in barter; “I’ll sell you my 5000 gold item to you for 1000 gold and eight gems worth 500 gold each”). But you were never going to get enough stuff from trinket sellers with their items on a blanket in the dirt to make it worthwhile to sell in towns with a weak economy.

Ultimately, in your game, you’re just going to need to use some common sense when it comes to who can buy and sell what where. Don’t use something in the manual that says “players can buy whatever they want anywhere at any time because they’re special little snowflakes who need to survive to the end of the story”, use your brain.  You are not John Bunyan and your Campaign is not Pilgrim’s Progress.

Lastly, Dungeon’s Master had a fun idea about coinage, values, and certain currencies not being accepted. Now, this makes for a great adventure hook, but also undermines some of how the system treats coins. It would not be problematic if coins were not only used as a unit of currency but as a measure of weight and as a standard unit of XP. 1 gold coin = 1 ounce/whatever = 1 XP. By changing the sizes and values of coins, you’d be seriously rocking the boat. Characters would need a way to quickly figure the weight of their coins and the XP worth of their coins. A lord’s seigniorage could mean a drastic reduction in party XP! Now, what could make a really interesting plot hook would be if someone introduced a fiat currency.


Diirdec is a Dawnsea port town at the mouth of the Sabrio River. Established originally as a supply depot by the imperial fleet’s marine detachment sent to fight against the Kingdom of Sabrio, the city of Diirdec is now one of the premier ports of the Empire and Paelnor’s only harbor.

Some less scrupulous historians have claimed that the city was built on the ruins of another Sabrian city that had been at the mouth of the river. While it is true that the Kingdom of Sabrio did have an established settlement in the delta, that community was largely on the north side of the river in modern Karkuras. The original depot, though now long gone, was established along a beachhead many miles south of the Sabrio. Extensive jungles still covered much of the region at that time, which have since been clear-cut, so the original site must have been exceptionally isolated in respect to the old Sabrian port town.

From this base of operations, the imperial forces were able to receive a steady supply food, weapons, troops and money from Korsha, which were crucial for the war effort against the Sabrians. The legions stationed in Diirdec in coordination with the legions and forces of Prince Athdaelda in Karkuras served as hammer and anvil, crushing the Kingdom of Sabrio and isolating them from any succor to be found from the caravans of Kieab. Adding to this the naval blocade set up between Diirdec and Korsha, no outside aide could reach Sabrio or be sent for. Divers today often vainly search for sunken treasure near the river’s mouth; most notable wrecks, however, would surely be found deeper in the bay, off the coast.

Today, Diirdec remains a minor center of trade, largely receiving goods on their way to Athdaelda that were sent neither overland nor to Corineaus or from the heart of Paelnor to the Riverlands. Most Ortian traders opt to sail directly to Korsha if shipping to Cirsova. Deforestation of Sabrio Valley has proven problematic, as little timber is nearby for construction, though some of the primal forests remain further upriver; these, when felled, may be sent down the river as barges, where they are sold for assorted purposes in Diirdec. The people of Diirdec, however, often bemoan the mistakes of deforestation and building too closely to the river-banks, especially during the rainy seasons. Though there are no historical documents or artifacts to prove the claim, citizens bandy about the idea that the old Sabrian city just north of the river never suffered the same floods, as it was built on higher ground. The imperial decree stating that no settlements be built on Sabrian ruins is pointed to as particularly unfair in this case.


(The first actual Cirsova post in like a month.  Yes, you were  all breathlessly awaiting this day, I know.)