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Creature Crucible – Top Ballista

Basic Dungeons and Dragons

  • Publisher: TSR
  • Rules: Dungeons & Dragons BECMI
  • Developer:
  • Reference: PC2
0e-pc-02 pc2 - Top Ballista
0e-pc-02 pc2 – Top Ballista

Blue Fox, scramble. Red Dragon at 5 o’clock!

The Realms of the Sky belongs to Serraine, the incredible Flying City of the gnomes. They know no borders, and fear no monsters. From the far reaches of Alphatia to the mysterious lands of Arypt, their neverending quest is for the magical fuel.that will keep them flying!

Top Ballista describes the City of Serraine and its facetious inhabitants. You will learn to play gnomes, gremlins, pegataurs, nagpas, and other fantastic creatures as Player Characters. Join the famous Top Ballista flying squadron, and become an ace and a hero.

Top Ballista is the second in the Creature Crucible series that completes the Gazetteer series. It is also fully adaptable to the Advanced DUNGEONS & DRAGONS 2nd Edition game.

Top Ballista includes

  • A complete description of Serraine, its people, and a large, color map of the city;
  • Separate background and adventure booklets;
  • Complete rules on how to create and play skygnomes, gremlins, harpies, and others;
  • New rules on air combat, spellcasting, and magical items.

Product History

PC2: “Top Ballista” (1989), by Carl Sargent, is the second “PC” Player Creature / Creature Crucible supplement. It was published in November 1989.

Origins: The Return of Creatures. The “GAZ” Gazetteer series of modules (1987-1991) was published very quickly in its early days, with new supplements coming out every quarter. Now, TSR was replicating that with its new “PC” books: PC2: “Top Ballista” (1989) trailed PC1: “Tall Tales of the Wee Folk” (1989) by just two months!

Like its predecessor, “Top Ballista” was a new sort of supplement for the Known World, with a focus on creature classes and adventures; geography was just a (relatively) small part of the whole. Surprisingly, this book of technological and flying races was not on Bruce Heard’s original list of book possibilities, which included “Woodland Beings, the Sea People, Giantkind, Dragons and Lizards, Swamp Things, etc.” PC3: “The Sea People” (1990), out three months later, would more obviously draw from that list.

Expanding D&D. The races of “Top Ballista” aren’t as intuitive of a grouping of races as those in any of the other “PC” books. That’s because they aren’t a biological grouping, but instead a social one: “Top Ballista” covers the races that inhabit the gnomish flying city of Serraine. It thus includes rules for eight new race-classes: faenare, gnomes, gremlins, harpies, nagpa, pegataurs, sphinxes, and tabi. Like “Tall Tales” it balances the racial powers of these classes through negative XP and through experience charts that require massive gains to reach new levels.

As with most of the later Basic D&D books, this one contains several pages of rules for skills. Among them are an extensive set of rules for gnome constructions, which assesses what’s being built, how much it costs … and whether it works.

Adventure Tropes. The adventure book of “Tall Tales” was organized around a series of lair-like adventures, with a longer adventure to fill things out. “Top Ballista” takes a different tack, offering two short-ish adventures and one longer one. The lengthier one, “Heart of Darkness”, makes central use of the city of Serraine and its inhabitants. It’s a nicely open adventure of investigation, full of possibilities for the PCs, but still containing plenty of possible reactions by the NPCs. Placed amidst this are a manor crawl, a basement crawl, and a tower crawl. Overall, it’s a fine example of an adventure built on a strong story that avoids railroading (other than the requirement that the PCs not catch the main villain too soon).

Exploring the Known World. Bruce Heard’s plan for the “PC” series was to depict minor geographical areas that were small parts of the lands detailed in the existing Gazetteers. Carl Sargent nicely sidesteps this limitation by imagining Serraine, a flying city that could be anywhereSerraine then gets a fairly extensive description.

Monsters of Note. The most notable monsters of “Top Ballista” are the gnomes, who appear here as both the more traditional surface gnomes, and the previously unknown skygnomes. They’re the newest incarnation of the “tinker gnome” archetype, which first appeared in the Dragonlance Saga (1984-1986), particularly DL8: “Dragons of War” (1985). They were swiftly becoming the core D&D gnome of the ’90s, simultaneously appearing in Spelljammer (1989).

Many of the other monstrous races of “Top Ballista” are quite obscure. For example, the faenare, an elf-like race of birdmen, debuted here and have never returned. A few of the races had appeared in previous adventures, and were presumably used here to highlight some of the unique races of the Known World. The pegataurs came from M2: “Vengeance of Alphaks” (1986), while both the vulture-headed nagpa and the catlike tabi originated in X4: “master of the Desert Nomads” (1983).

About the Creators. Sargent got his start in game design working on books like “Warhammer City” (1987) for Games Workshop. In 1989, he made a big move to D&D, working on almost a half-dozen products. Most of them were for the Basic D&D line, but he also contributed to The City of Greyhawk (1989).

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons – a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

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Content Updates

  • 2020-12-18 – Title changed from pc2 to 0e-pc-02.
Library Overview Page

D&D BECMI (0e)

D&D 3rd Edition (3rd Party Products)

D&D 5th Edition (5e)

d20 OGL (3eogl)

  • Mongoose Publishing (3eogl-mgp): cyb, spk

Fate

  • Dresden Files (fate-df): v1, v2, v3
  • Fate Accelerate (fae): fcb, dfa

Pathfinder 1st Edition

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Babylon 5:

Super Heroes:

  • Sentinels Comics (hs-sc): cr, sk

Star Wars Fantasy Flight Games

Online Resources (web): dWiki, pWiki, sWiki, vop

Library of Books

B5, d20 System, Pathfinder, SW

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By thedarkelf007

I am a long term gamer, I run 6 RPG's a fortnight, host board game, card game and LANs each about once a quarter and have an addiction to buying more games. Games I am currently running are Pathfinder (1st and 2nd Edition) and Dungeons and Dragons (5th Edition).

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