Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave (Work in Progress)

test
Detail from the draft map for The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave

This is the start of a new series where I will post drafts of a short adventure that I am working on. These posts will be subject to revision as the series progresses.

The coda to the Sample Dungeon (aka the Ruined Tower of Zenopus) poses several unanswered questions that are meant to inspire avenues for the new DM to expand the adventure. One of these asks, "Do the pirates have other treasure troves hidden in the sea caves?", referring to the group in Room M. I used this as the basis of Rumor #13 in the d20 Portown Rumors (also included in the Ruined Tower of Zenopus conversion). Below is one sea cave system that can be used for such a sea cave.

THE FORGOTTEN SMUGGLERS' CAVE

BACKGROUND: Years ago, this natural cave system was the preferred route for smuggling goods into Portown, because it leads from the sea all the way into the town proper. This changed on the night of magical destruction of the Tower of Zenopus, an event which shook the land enough to collapse both the cliff face over the entrance to the smugglers' cave and a section of the main passage through the tunnel. This rendered it unsuitable for smuggling, although it is still possible to traverse the system with some difficulty. After the town knocked down the remains of the tower of Zenopus, the smugglers eventually began using the caves there instead.

LOCATION: This sea cave is located at the base of the sea cliff to the west of Portown, to the south of the Zenopus dungeon.

Encounter Areas:

1. SEA CAVE MOUTH: What remains of the opening is barely visible at the top of a pile of boulders, coated in barnacles and seaweed, that rises from the water line. At low tide, 10 feet of rock is exposed, at mid-tide, 5 feet, and at high tide, the entrance is just below the surface. 

A boat can be rowed alongside the slippery pile without too much difficulty, but climbing up it will require some dexterity, with a slip dropping a character into 5 (low tide) to 10 feet (mid-tide) of choppy sea water. One person at a time can fit through the narrow entrance by scooting sideways while on their belly.

2. SEA CAVE TUNNEL: Once inside, there is a less slippery scramble down to the sea water covering the floor of the cave tunnel, which is of similar depth to the water on the outside, depending on the tide. The cave tunnel is about 10 feet wide, and runs east-west two hundred feet, with the eastern end leading into the water in a grotto (Area 3). The water of the tunnel is filled with numerous large (2' long), trapped fish. These will bump into anyone walking through the water of the tunnel in an alarming but harmless manner.

To be continued...

Monday, September 21, 2020

Grognardia interviews Chris Holmes


If you missed it, the newly resurrected Grognardia blog posted a new interview with Chris Holmes this past Friday. Chris answers ten questions, with lots of stories about discovering D&D in the mid-'70s.

Chris also recently guested on the Save for Half podcast, Episode 26.5: North Texas RPG Con, and back in the spring was on the Appendix N Book Club podcast, Episode 67 Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan At the Earth's Core


Interview: Chris Holmes

Today's interview was a real treat for me. Chris Holmes, son of Dr J. Eric Holmes, kindly agreed to answer my questions about his own experiences with roleplaying, as well as the life and works of his father, whose Basic Set was the very first RPG I ever owned. 1.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Holmes Basic in Sunny Rolls the Dice




Sunny Rolls the Dice (2019) is the third in a series of graphic novels about Sunny, a teen growing up in suburban Pennsylvania in the 1970s. It is co-created by Jennifer L. Holm, a Newberry Honor author, and her brother Matthew Holm, an illustrator, and is semi-autobiographical, inspired by the Holms' own childhood, particularly Jennifer's.

The first two books in the series are Sunny Side Up (2015) and Swing It Sunny (2017), and a fourth, Sunny Makes a Splash, is in production. I've currently read the first and third ones and greatly enjoyed both of them, but 
Sunny Rolls the Dice is a particular favorite for its loving treatment of Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s. The series starts in 1976 and proceeds chronologically, so with the third book starting in mid-1977, it's the right time for Holmes Basic, and sure enough that's what Sunny encounters when she first plays D&D with kids in her neighborhood, appropriately in her family's newly finished basement rec room:




The Holms take pains to include details faithful to the era in which the series is set, and I'm impressed that here they appropriately show an early edition of the Holmes set that includes a Monster & Treasure Assortment Set 1: Levels 1-3 and a set of five polyhedral dice. In a minor nitpick that only an early D&D fan will notice, the colors of the accessories are off (the M&T Set 1 should be yellow - Set 3 was blue - and the dice are the wrong colors), but the illustrations are spot on, including a d20 showing a "0" instead of a "10" or "20".

The story also heavily features the original Monster Manual, and the back of the book includes a photo of a young Holm with her own copy. I get this; learning about monsters was what originally attracted me to D&D.

The appearance of D&D in this story is not just period window-dressing; the game is a pivotal part of the plot, as you may have guessed from the title of the book.

To hear the author herself talking about this book and her experiences with D&D growing up, listen to this recent Save or Die interview with Jennifer Holm. A big thank you to DM Carl at Save or Die for letting me know that Holmes Basic was featured in this book.

You can preview the first section of the book, up to the beginning of Sunny's first D&D game, over at Amazon:



(All product links include Amazon or DMsGuild/DrivthruRPG affiliate #s)

Friday, September 11, 2020

Blood of Prokopius: Towards a Holmesian Dungeon

Attention Holmes True Believers,

Interesting post alert! 

Today, the blog Blood of Prokopius has a post, Towards a Holmesian Dungeon, that is well worth your time:

Towards a Holmesian Dungeon

What follows is not anything particularly new. Many of these ideas have been present within the hobby and explored throughout the years I have been maintaining this blog. My interest here is codifying what I consider to be the characteristics of a dungeon that can truly be called Holmesian - by which I mean a dungeon that puts into practice what the Holmes Basic Edition presents as Dungeon.

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Sea-Changed (New Monster)

Ariel's Song from the Tempest as illustrated by Virgil Finlay

A new monster for your Portown, Saltmarsh or other coastal D&D campaign, inspired by this thread on ODD74which shows a photo of a skull undergoing a "sea change". As a bit of further explanation, the modern expression "sea change" originates in Shakespeare's The Tempest (click on the image above to enlarge it so you can read the full quote), which was memorably referenced by Gary Gygax in the Example of Play in the original AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. I've taken it one step further by using it as the basis for a monster.

The Sea-changed

Move: 60 feet/turn
Hit Dice: 1 + 1
Armor Class: 5
Treasure Type: special
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d6

Sailors whisper that a corpse that comes to rest in the brine may undergo a mysterious and sinister transformation, rising again in a calcified skeletal form known as "the sea-changed". 

The sea-changed seek to spread their animating force to the living by touch of calciferous claws or an equally mineralized weapon or tool used during life such as a cutlass, harpoon or even anchor.

A hit with such will, in addition to inflicting damage, encrust the area of the wound with the sea-change unless a successful saving throw versus poison is made. Failure results results in the loss of one point of dexterity per day as the calcification spreads. Once dexterity reaches zero, the victim will be transformed into one of the sea-changed.

The spread can be kept at bay, but not cured, through daily application of vinegar. It is rumored among sailors that the merfolk know the secret of how to reverse the sea-change.

Each sea-changed has a 1 in 10 chance of having pearlescent eyes (roll on the gem table for value).

The sea-changed are subject to turning as zombies.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Original Printing of The Maze of Peril on Amazon

The cover of The Maze of Peril (1986)
Updates:
9/18: The seller has continued to add new copies as the listed ones sell out; 3 available right now.

8/15: 5 copies in stock right now.

8/9: It sold out yesterday and then was back in stock today, and then sold out again. I suggest checking back each morning to see if it has been relisted. 

8/8: It's back in stock. The price is $9.95 which is $3 higher than before. 3 copies are listed as being available as of the time of this update.

8/7: Apparently there was a fair bit of interest in this and only a limited number listed on Amazon, which are now sold out. I'm hoping they have more stock available and will relist it soon. I'll update this post again if they do.

The Maze of Peril, J. Eric Holmes' 1986 fantasy novel, is now available for convenient order via Amazon from the original publisher, Space & Time Books. Follow this link to find itThe Maze of Peril (Amazon Associate link) or click on this image:


(Amazon Associate link)

For the uninitiated, this novel details the meeting of Boinger the Halfling and Zereth the Elf and their first grand adventure. They had previously appeared in three short stories in Dragon magazine, and before that in several campaign stories in the Alarums & Excursions D&D APAzine. 

This new retail outlet was brought to my attention via a thread on Dragonsfoot, and a commenter there that purchased the book confirmed with photos that this is remaining stock from the original 1986 printing

The cost via Amazon is just $6.95, which is the original cover price, plus shipping & tax. This is the same price I ordered my copy from them via check almost twenty years ago. Tavis of the Mule Abides reported back in 2008 that 1,000 copies were originally printed and about half had been sold at the time.

The novel has since been reprinted in Tales of Peril by Black Blade Publishing (click here for ordering information) along with the short stories and other writings of J. Eric Holmes.
Despite the reprint, I still have a fondness for the original printing. Reading this book kickstarted my interest in the work of Holmes which eventually led to this blog. 

The original printing is zine-sized, with shiny cardstock covers and 147 pages plus endpapers. It has a few features not found in the reprint, including the pastel blue cover art by Dan Day (echoing the Holmes Basic rulebook color?) and a frontispiece illustration by Gregario Montejo. There are two excerpts from the story before the frontispiece, and another on the back cover (which you can see in the Dragonsfoot thread linked above). There is also an author bio for Holmes along with each of the artists.

Several reviews of the book:
Dragonsfoot review (2006) - by myself, points out the many similarities with Holmes Basic
Carjacked Seraphim review (2010)
Delta's D&D Hotspot review (2011)

And a few years ago I began a Tales of Peril Book Club and made it through most of the first chapter of the Maze of Peril (warning, spoilers abound). I hope to return to this series eventually.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Combining OD&D Attack & Saving Throw Tables

Attack Matrix I annotated with the Saving Throw Categories

Above is a hypothetical format for combining two tables in OD&D: Attack Matrix I, which is used for PCs when they attack, and the Saving Throw Matrix

It's easy to do this because both rely on d20 rolls, and both tables advance the classes in the groups of levels (3 levels for Fighters, 4 levels for Clerics, 5 levels for Magic-Users). 

A 1st level fighter needs the same score (12) to Save Versus Poison as to hit AC 7, and the other saving throw categories likewise correspond to AC6 to AC3; i.e., Wands = AC6, Stone = AC5, Breath = AC4, Spell = AC3, as annotated above.

The higher levels match well enough. There is a bit of discrepancy in the spots where the Saving Throw table jumps differently. 

But a Fighter 10-12 saves 9/8/7/6/5 in the combined table versus 10/8/8/7/6 on the Saving Throw table. That's not more than a 5% difference between any two rolls.

In order to retain the relative saving throw bonus/penalties between classes, the following adjustments would also be used:


Magic-Users get a -1 to Poison, Wands and Breath, and a +1 to Stone at all levels, plus a +1 to Spells for each rank they are in (+1 at 1-5, +2 at 6-10, +3 at 11-15 etc). 
Clerics get a -1 to Spell & Breath, a +1 to Wands at all levels, and a +1 to Poison for each rank they are in (+1 at 1-4, +2 at 5-8, +3 at 9-12 etc).

This table can also be used to adjust the saving throw values. Poison by default would be AC7, but you could have weak poison (AC9) or a strong poison (AC5). One could also add a new easier category, like "Falling" at AC8, perhaps increasing the "AC" for every additional 10' fallen.

This is similar to using difficulty class (DC) values in 5E. To illustrate this, here is a further modified version with Descending AC replaced by Ascending AC/Difficulty Class:




Looking at OD&D in terms of 5E, one would view the saving throws in terms of Difficulty Class (DC), with Poison having a DC12, Wands having a DC13, Turned to Stone having a DC14, Dragon Breath having a DC15, and Spells having a DC16.

The table at the top of this post could also be used with Holmes Basic, which uses the OD&D tables, but with the addition of a Normal Man column prior to the Level 1-3 column (this was an addition to Holmes' manuscript by Gygax/TSR).

(Adapted from several posts in this recent thread in ODD74)