Die d20 in Ptolemaic Greece and thoughts on Philippine AD&D adventure

The icosahedron dice d20 in the Ptolemaic era

The icosahedron dice d20 in the Ptolemaic era

CNET featured an artifact that players of Dungeons and Dragons know by heart–the iconic d20:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns what may be the world’s oldest d20 die. It’s made out of serpentine and looks to be in remarkably good shape for its age. The die is a little over an inch tall. The symbols carved into the die appear to be of Greek origin, in keeping with it coming from the Ptolemaic Period.

I never really played this game in a group, except for two or three instances. I was not happy with the rules.  I want to know why the rules were designed that way.  What is the physics behind those rules?  Is magic really akin to memories on the brain that is wiped out once the spell is cast, as Gary Gygax theorized in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D)?  So in the process of asking about the deeper questions, I ended up designing my own combat rules.  For example, combat probabilities of hitting and damage depends on the ratios of strength, size, dexterity, weapon speed factor, etc.  I already have a handle on weapon speed factor: they are related somehow to moment of inertia. But I still do not know how to handle weapon vs armor or weapon vs. weapon or weapon vs. body. Somehow, I need materials science to do this. There are different kinds of hardness for metals.  The +1, +2, +3, and +4 magic weapons are too crude for me.  I want exact metal types, strength of materials, and ballistics.  Mapping in AD&D is really an exercise in vector addition.  But when you go to 3D aerial combat, you have to worry about flight classes.  So I also want to study aerodynamics.  As you can see, this is not the best way to play AD&D.

My main goal before is to make an AD&D adventure in Philippine setting, with Spanish conquistadores as the fighters, friars as clerics (but nonfighting), natives as the barbarians. I’ll drop all the orcs, dwarves, hobbits, and elves, for humans are interesting enough (this is already the Fourth Age in Middle Earth–the rule of men). Foreigners such as Chinese and Japanese would add enough color to the campaigns. For monsters, I bought Maximo Ramos’ “Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology“.  I learned about tyanaks, kapres, aswangs, and other spirits. I wish to make a Philippine Monster’s Manual, but I have no more energy to do it. I bought contour maps from NAMRIA (National Mapping Resource Information Agency), hoping that mapping would be easier–it is not, for you have to worry about slopes of incline and design how slopes affect rate of speed and fatigue of characters depending on their constitution. I read most of the Philippine epics in the library of Ateneo de Manila, particularly the multivolume “Darangen” of the Maranos. There magic is mediated by unseen spirits called the “tonongs”.

Then I went deeper into magic, because a Dungeon Master must master all spells. I studied the occult. I read about psionic powers. So there I was reading to and fro everything that I can find.  I felt like Saruman ever thirsty for knowledge who uses the  stone of Orthanc to see  beyond the borders.  But in the end Saruman was caught by Sauron, and the knowledge that he gained became a liability. In a similary way, like Saruman I was also thirsty for knowledge of the occult until I was caught by the allure of the New Age, with its promise of divinity without the help of God: “you shall be like Gods knowing good and evil.”

But God took pity on my soul and converted me through Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Now, I think it is still possible to create an AD&D adventure in the Philippine setting, but infused with Christianity. Somehow, magic must be banished in such campaign or at least placed out of reach by player characters.  It is a very difficult project, but maybe I’ll start by writing a novel.

About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: