Delian Book Of The Dead, Part VIII
Literary References Galore!
Samuel Coleridge, Natty Bumppo, and Obi-Wan Kenobi Walk Into A Bar In Babylon…
OK, it’s been a while… even for me, this has updated sporadically. Three months since the last of this series, with only a scattering of articles otherwise. For those joining us late, this is the eighth part of my readthrough/analysis/random digression on The Delian Book of the Dead, published by Dragon Tree Press in the mid 1980s, and while it is not an official Arduin supplement, it is, uhm, Arduin-adjacent. The first part is here, and you can probably figure out how to find the rest.
In our prior installment, we started exploring assorted alternate planes, and I promised we’d pick up with The Plane of The Shilii.
Verily, ‘Tis A Shilii Place
This is a thick jungle (1/3 travel pace), that seems to be inhabited by snakes, (the Shilii) but the snakes are actually Dream Elementals. If bitten, you will sleep, but as long as you’re within the region you won’t wake from this, and eventually you die-ish and reincorporate back in the Plane of Shadows, as noted in the prior article. I wish to point out that anyone claiming that modern RPGs are too “video-gamey” that back in 1986 you had an afterlife full of PvPers, where death caused you to go back to a distant spawn point.
“The Plane of the Shilii is bordered by the Sea of Tears beyond which one enters the Plane of Dreams and the Land of Xanadu.” Man, you read that, and you hear sitar music in the background and see the shadows of lava lamps on the walls and your buddy’s Grateful Dead posters glowing under black light and have you ever looked at your hand? I mean, really looked at your hand?
The Sea of Tears
The Sea of Tears is, as you might guess, very salty. Also, unswimmable. You go in, you drown, you respawn as noted above. Unless you are a very pious paladin or cleric. Then you can do the whole Jesus thing. If this is the case, you can carry one of your less-noble allies. You can also use “The Horn of the Waters” to part the sea, if you happen to have one handy. It only takes a half hour to cross the Sea of Tears (or an hour if you’ve got the thief on your back), so it’s more like “The Medium Sized Lake of Tears”.
The Plane of Dreams
This is a popular tourist attraction (really, it says that) but can be dangerous due to the random encounters with said other visitors and “the stuff of dreams and nightmares”, the latter of which will be tailored to the individual’s personal hopes and fears. Moving on, we have…
No, sorry, that’s about it. The entire “Plane of Dreams” is dispatched in a small paragraph. So, again, moving on, we…
Yes, it does seem like the film is speeding up the closer we get to the end, like they realized they had a fixed page count allotted and it was coming up fast.
But, moving on, we have…
The Sunless Sea
Where a stately pleasure dome did Kubla Khan decree, as Yoda might say. The “Sunless Sea” is about 4000 yards across, so, again, “Sunless Really More Of A Largish Pond Or Smallish Lake” would be a more accurate name.
Anyway, across the Sunless Not-Really-Much-Of-A-Sea is a shore of ice, that quickly grows into cliffs of ice, which contains the Horn the PCs have been seeking if you’re playing the adventure instead of using this as a sourcebook.
And The Rest…
In slightly annoying fashion, we then get treated to a bunch of single-paragraph descriptions of planes that could easily merit entire sourcebooks, or at least more information.
The Great Rivers: Travel the Mississippi by steamboat w/Mark Twain, until you reach the Nile and ride past the pyramids on your way to the Amazon, where you can buy a lot of books and see what people who bought this also bought. Naturally, this plane containing all the great rivers of reality and legend eventually leads to…
The Plane Of The Seas: Not to be confused with the Not-A-Sea Of Tears or the Sunless Not-A-Sea, this plane contains all the great seas and oceans of the world, conjoined. “Here Ulysses sails from Troy, Nemo explores the depths,” says the text. It “contains all times, all worlds” as a place for those who called the sea home. Including, one assumes, Cthulhu. Huh. Nemo vs. Cthulhu. Hmmmm….
But, as the book notes, all seas have a shore, leading to…
The Plane Of The Cities: This is, well, see for yourself:
This concept is one I’ve worked on constantly for a long time and use something slightly similar as a basis for many of my campaigns. It merits a sourcebook, and more, but is once again relegated to barely a mention. And, to digress (No!), I’d be happy if the whole section was a collection of these 1-2 paragraph snippets, the entire thing intended as a set of idea prompts, but, it’s not. It’s a mix of relatively detailed coverage of some areas (that aren’t as interesting as they could be) followed by sparse coverage of the best concepts. It’s an odd design choice, to say the least. It would be like the old AD&D Manual of the Planes spending three pages on the Quasi Elemental Plane of Ash and then two paragraphs on the Nine Hells.
The Aerial Planes: These include the vast majesty of the 747 Plane, the brute toughness and endurance of the A-10 Plane, and the rapid descent of the Boeing Max Plane. Get it? “Aerial Planes”? “Air Planes”? That’s a joke, son. Admit it, I’m too fast for ya. Cough. Ahem. Sorry.
Actually, this is one of the cooler areas, where “ribbons of land” from all across the multiverse arch through the sky, “at all possible angles and orientations”. It provides access to most other planes by foot, though this is “tedious” as one must wander endless miles of land-ribbon and cross, somehow, from world to world. But, why walk when you can fly? Leaving aside my little (“Very little”, says the peanut gallery, adding “Microscopic. You invented the nano-joke. Go, you.”) joke above, this realm is filled with all of the great aerial craft and aviators of legend and reality: DaVinci, the Wright Brothers, Daedalus, Robur. This is an interesting idea that’s rarely seen in RPG material. While “metaplanes” joining up rivers, oceans, or cities are fairly common, there are few dedicated to sky in this manner. (“Elemental planes of air”, yes, but lacking the concept such regions would be filled with great aviators and exotic flying craft drawn from history and fiction.)
You Encounter Butch Cassidy And Obi-Wan Kenobi
The next section is about 1.5 pages of “Personalities of the Planes”, in which we learn that Natty Bumppo is CF (Combat Factor) 20 and has +15 with a flintlock, which still doesn’t justify the flaws noted here, that Emma Peel is CF 17 and +7 w/Unarmed Combat, and that Fu Manchu is a 12th level thief, 9th level illusionist, and 7th level alchemist. And to continue beating a dead horse until it respawns, this is something that merits more than a sentence or two. Arguably, as these are mostly figures from history and literature, an interested GM could do their own research and provide fuller stats.
Constructs of the Planes
The Well of Worlds: Pretty much what it says on the tin. This is an infinitely deep pit, with entrances scattered all around the planes. Those who fall in will fall forever, unless they can maneuver to one of the countless windows on the sides of the “well” and escape into an unknown world.
The City Of Towers: You’ve done that bit already!
And In Conclusion
That is, surprisingly, it, at least in terms of what I want to cover. There’s a few final pages on the “Horn of Herne” adventure, which was also interwoven into the setting/descriptive text of the planes, as covered in the prior part. As you can see if you read back through everything, this book covered a huge range of topics, some of which whose connection to “death” is tentative at best. The Planes section suffered from a common issue with Old School Games: Highly Variable Detail. It was common for a lot of semi-pro supplements “for use with any role-playing game, as long as it’s D&D” to have 3 pages of rules and formulae for, I dunno, caloric needs of riding animals that included modifiers for its weight in pounds, the weight it was carrying, the terrain, the temperature, the humidity, and the length of the day at a given time of year, and then, 2 sentences about training dragons. (“Feed them fish and hold your hand out while orchestral music swells in the background.“)
Unsure. I am inclined towards the Dragon Tree Spell Book, but who knows?