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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

M1 Blizzard Pass: Dungeon Design

Today, Grognardia has a retrospective on the module M1 Blizzard Pass by Zeb Cook.

This brought back some of my memories of this module, which was released in 1983. I remember buying it at Kay-Bee Toys in the mall on the same day my sister got the Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle game for our Colecovision.

I enjoyed the solo module, but what I really found fascinating was the "group adventure" at the end, which describes the dungeon (consisting of the single map shown above) in less than three full pages. Not only is it an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the solo adventure, but it is also a rare example of a TSR "mini-dungeon"; i.e., an adventure consisting of a single dungeon page with just a few pages of description. In the early days, we really on saw this kind of short adventure as the sample dungeons in rulebooks (e.g., Holmes Basic or Moldvay Basic). I think it also reminded me of those because it was also in the back of the booklet. One reason I liked this kind of short adventure is that it was closer to the single map-page dungeons I was making myself at the time. Even the adventures that had been published in Dragon magazine were usually longer than this, with at least two different map pages. 

(Warning, below are some spoilers if you plan to play through the dungeon)

As is obvious from the name, the setting for Blizzard Pass is a snowy mountain pass, which immediately gives the dungeon a feel that differentiates from typical sample dungeons. A few of the elements tie into this "icy" setting; for example, the ogre guard at the beginning hides in the snow and then hurls "snowballs" at the party (balls of ice). And there are Snow Apes, a new monster.

According to the ten types of Scenarios outlined in Moldvay Basic, the adventure is #8, Rescuing Prisoners - the same as the The Haunted Keep sample dungeon. 

The dungeon itself is more linear than the one in Holmes Basic, but it makes sense as a defensible lair. It has some neat twists that make the linear design more interesting. Two of these criss-cross over each other, making the map more eye-catching (see above).

The map makes good use of the dungeon features key shown on page B58, which was one of the ways the Moldvay Basic advanced dungeon design over that of the dungeon of Holmes Basic, as I outlined here. It also has a clever and thematic compass rose that uses the head of troglodyte, one of the monsters in the dungeon.

Besides the main entrance, there are two other exits from the dungeon. One of these is via a branch point that leads to a red-herring mini-labyrinth in a second part of the dungeon; the other is the requisite secret escape route for the evil cleric, which is a motif that Gygax used several times (in that post, jump to the section "Evil Human Lair with Escape Route" near the bottom).

It has a few interesting features of verticality; parts of the dungeon are higher than others, which is something also seen in the Caves of Chaos. 

This allows for a chute that leads from one area to another, something that Gygax suggested back in OD&D, Vol 3 (e.g., "mouths of chutes" and "a slide to a lower level"), but didn't turn up that often in published dungeons. This also involves a weird statue/idol, a motif seen repeatedly in early D&D adventures; there's one in each of the Holmes and Moldvay Sample Dungeons, and Gygax provided several examples in the "Trick and Traps: (Additions)" section of the Greyhawk Supplement.

And there is also vertical passage in the dungeon that can only be traversed by climbing; this lets a thief use their climb walls ability (the solo adventure itself is written for a thief character). This is shown via a cross-section inset on the map, and leads to the second section of the dungeon. This part is set off visually from the first by use of half-tone dots, labeled on the key as "Higher Area", also perhaps reinforcing that the temperature is different in this part of the cave system.

Plus it's got pulpy weird toads and apes as the new monsters: the hypnotic Rock Toad (also called Cave Toad) and the Snow Ape.

Rock Toad by Jim Holloway

I like this dungeon enough that I included when I started an annual kids' campaign about five years ago. IIRC, this was the fourth adventure they went through (Holmes Sample Dungeon -  Mentzer Sample Dungeon - Quest for the Silver Sword - Blizzard Pass).

If you'd like to see this mini-dungeon yourself, Blizzard Pass is available on DMs Guild (note: affiliate link), and  with all of the solo entries filled in within the appropriate text so you can actually play through it without the invisible ink pen.

Read the Grognardia retrospective here:

Retrospective: Blizzard Pass

Yesterday's post about solo wargames reminded me of something that I had almost forgotten: that, in 1983, TSR published the first of two solo adventure modules for Dungeons & Dragons. Entitled Blizzard Pass and written by David Cook, this module is, in broad outline, not all that different from a Fighting Fantasy book like The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

Monday, November 23, 2020

The "Come Visit My Dungeon" Sticker


The Come Visit My Dungeon sticker is a bit of early TSR ephemera that I have written about once before, way back in 2012. It was brought to my attention again recently when Ernie Gygax joined Twitter and pinned a post with the above photo, which is the highest resolution version of it that I have seen. The writing on the sign to the right is visible as:

"Lasciate ogni speranza Voi Ch'Entrate"

Which is from Dante's Divine Comedy, and is well known in translation as:

"All hope abandon, ye who enter in!"

The sticker art appears to be unsigned, and I haven't heard anywhere else who the artist is; I'll update this post if I learn this.

The sticker is associated with the Dungeon Hobby Shop. Per Ernie: "We had stacks of [this sticker] in our Shipping Dept of the Dungeon Distributors. I do not remember why we had them though. I think it is from the 772 Main St days rather than the earlier 723 Williams St." Elsewhere, Ernie indicated that the sticker was given out with purchases of a D&D set. 

However, the sticker may date back further than that, as TSR moved to 772 Main Street in the later '70s; the earliest date I've found in Dragon for that address is in The Dragon #20, November 1978. But there are several examples of the sticker attached to an early "woodgrain" OD&D set. One example can be seen in my earlier post, and was owned by Dave Arneson himself; it also has an address label with his name on the cover. Reportedly, he didn't care for the art on the cover. On the Acaeum, another copy was said to have had the sticker placed inside the box lid by Gary Gygax when bought from his basement.

There is also a roughly contemporary TSR T-shirt with the same Come Visit My Dungeon slogan on the front, under the art also used on the cover of the first issue of The Dragon. The back features Greg Bell's Lizardman art from the inside cover of Greyhawk, also used as TSR's "Lizard Logo". You can see a great photo of this T-shirt here, and another of Rob Kuntz wearing it here.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus: Updated!

Attention all: The Ruined Tower of Zenopus has been updated!

Today, I uploaded a revised version (designated Version 2.0) to DMs Guild. As with the last update, the updated pdf should be available to anyone who previously purchased the adventure. In fact, DMs Guild should have sent you a notification that the product has been updated.

Two pages have been added, bringing the total to 20 pages. The new pages are:

(1) A full-page illustration by J. Eric Holmes' son, Chris Holmes...!

I commissioned this fantastic new work from Chris (who has his own website here) and it depicts the octopus from Room M battling a party in one of the pirate rowboats. Here is a thumbnail sneak-peak; see the adventure for the full-sized illustration:

(2) A Printer-Friendly Dungeon Map. Back in May, I added two separate dungeon map files to the product, drawn using the application Gridmapper by Alex Schroeder. I have now revised the PDF itself to include a version of this DM's Map. I removed the black background and redid the lettering to improve legibility. Again, just a sneak peek here:

Find the updated adventure here:

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild

Click here to read reviews of the RTOZ by various bloggers

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Veterans Day 2020

This blog is endebted to the work of J. Eric Holmes, and today on Veterans Day 2020 I highlight his military service in the US Marine Corp, which included two years in Korea. The above photo is in the J. Eric Holmes Photo Gallery, and originally ran with the biographical sketch accompanying Holmes' first published short story, "Beachhead on the Moon", in Blue Book magazine, February 1951, which mentions that he "joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1948, and has served two summers as a reserve officer candidate at Quantico, Virginia. He expects to receive a second lieutenant's commission in June."

This is a photo of his gravestone at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, (source) and is also in the Photo Gallery. Next to his stone is the one of his father, Wilfred Holmes, who served as a intelligence officer in the Navy during WWII, and who later wrote a book about his work, Double-Edged Secrets (1979).

My father had a version of this poster in his office den for decades

More personally, today I remember my late father, who served as an officer in the Navy, including two years as a Seabee in Vietnam during the war and as a reservist for many years after; his uncle "Fritzi", who was killed during fighting in the Pacific in WWII; my maternal grandfather who served in the Army in the Pacific during WWII; and my late father-in-law who served also served as an officer in the Navy, on a destroyer during the Korean War.

And a big thank you to all of the readers of the blog who have served!

(Modified from earlier posts made in 2012 and 2016).

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Danse Macabre Filmstrip (1963)

A re-post from 2017, and 2013 before that:

For Halloween, here's something haunting that I remember watching in music class in late elementary school, around the same time I discovered D&D (1982). It's a 1963 educational filmstrip with fantastic watercolors by Harold Dexter Hoopes, set to the eerie music of Danse Macabre by Saint-Saens. It was unavailable on the web until a few years ago but now there are multiple versions on YouTube, one of which has better colors but includes a loud "filmstrip advance" beep throughout. There isn't much info available on the internet about the artist Hoopes. There was even a blog dedicated to restoring the individual frames of this filmstrip but it seems to have stalled out at frame 20.

There's also a later second edition of the filmstrip done in the mid-80s with art by David Prebenna, later an illustrator of Sesame Street/Muppet toddler books. It's cartoony and less haunting, but also worth watching.

Memories of this filmstrip led me to include "Danse Macabre" in my One Hit Point Monsters.

Happy All Hallow's Evening!

2020 Update:

Re-posted with an improved video now available on YT.

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #6: Bat Cave (aka Bloody Mess)

This is an installment of The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, which starts here.

6. BAT CAVE (aka BLOODY MESS): The only entrance to this cave is the tunnel from Area 5 to the south, a narrow (single-file only), winding, and rubble-filled passage. Moving north through this passage, characters will note increasing humidity, a strong acrid smell, and reddish guano on the floor. 

The cave itself is oval, about 20 ft. east-west and 30 ft. north-south, with many stalactites, some dripping water. The floor is covered in bloody red guano-covered rubble, making it slippery and difficult to traverse (all attacks by characters are made at -4, with a modified 1 on the attack indicating the attacker has slipped). The area is pitch black during the day due to the winding passage blocking light from the south.

Bats. A large colony of vampire bats has taken up residence here, exiting to the surface through the chimney in Area 5. Unless already awakened by noise to the south (see Area 5), during the day they will be asleep on the ceiling, hidden among the stalactites. Characters moving about this room have a 1 in 6 chance of waking them per person in the room, per round (i.e., 2 in 6 for two, 3 in 6 for three, etc), at which point they will begin flying about, hungry for blood. If awakened here, 1d8 of the bats will begin attacking each round.

Vampire Bats21-40 (20 + 1d20): DX 18, AC 3 (9 while attached), HD 1/8, hp 1 each, AT 1 bite for 1 point damage, attaches on a successful hit and then automatically drains 1 hp per round for two rounds, at which point it is full and will detach and fly away.

Vampire Bat from "The Handy Natural History" (1910), by Ernest Protheroe. Source: Wikimedia

Old Well. In the northeast corner of the room, there is a 3'-wide hole in the floor where water dripping from the ceiling and running across the floor pools 8 ft. down. A rusted chain is fixed to a piton near the edge, and hangs down into the water. The chain is about 12 ft long, and a metal bucket is attached to the end of the chain, below the surface of the water. If the bucket is pulled up it will be filled with bloody-looking water (fouled by the guano). Etched on the bottom of the bucket is a rough map showing Areas 5-7, including the secret passage in Area 7.

The only exit from this room is back to the south. Follow the link on the above map.

To be continued...

Trivia: As I mentioned back in the One Hit Point Monster post, in the Combat section of the Basic rulebook, Holmes provides a vampire bat as an example of "a small fast creature" that would have a lower armor class (AC3) than one would expect based solely its natural armor.

Friday, October 16, 2020

"Frontiers in Brain Research": Audio of Holmes' Neurology Lecture at Worldcon in 1978

Flyer for World Con 36 aka Iguanacon. Click for a larger view.

Here's a forgotten artifact that has just resurfaced
an audio recording of a lecture given by J. Eric Holmes at Worldcon 36 in 1978 (aka Iguanacon; each one has a unique name). It's titled "Frontiers in Brain Research"  Holmes was a professor of neurology at USC — and is almost hour and half in length! 

A direct link to the recording, which you can download & listen to like a podcast:

Frontiers in Brain Research

(214.5 MB mp3, length 1:29:22)

The recording starts with announcement identifying it as a product of Cassette Communications Corporation, a company that made recordings at the con and then offered them on sale for $6 a tape to con-goers. Here is their flyer from World Con 36:

Click on the image for a larger view

Per the flyer, if you ordered six tapes ($30), you received received a bonus "custom album" holder; I found a picture of one of these from an old Ebay auction of Harlan Ellison recordings:

There are a few technical glitches in the recording: Holmes was already speaking when the recoding began, so there is no introduction, although it is still clearly near the beginning where he is outlining what he will be talking about. There is also a break in his speech not too far in where the recording seems to have been stopped and started again. And there is some background hiss, not unexpected for those of us that remember audio cassette recordings.

But overall this is a real treat: we get to hear Holmes speaking clearly (the first time I have heard his voice!) and at length on a topic that he knows extremely well. He keeps it light with periodic jokes and the audience is very enthusiastic, asking many questions; the last half-hour or so is a Q&A following the lecture.

The recording is hosted on AZFandom (Arizona Fandom), "a site dedicated to Arizona fandom from its beginnings in the late 1960s to its future in the years to come", which has a page for conventions held in Arizona, including one for Worldcon 36, which includes a section of audio recordings.

The Sci-Fi & Fantasy Fan preservation site Fanac also has a page with a wealth of documentation of Worldcon 38 / Iguanacon.

Per the Pocket Program, Holmes gave his lecture from 11:30 am to 12:45 pm on Saturday, September 2nd, 1978 in the Phoenix Room of the Hyatt Regency, shown here: 

Sketch of the Hyatt from the convention program

I asked Chris Holmes about this, and he recalls attending this convention with his father but no other details. To put this in context, t
his was less than a month after they had attended Gen Con XI (Aug 17-20), where J. Eric Holmes was a Guest of Honor, gave a lecture on "Fantasy Literature, Fantasy Art & Fantasy Gaming", and ran two D&D games, D&D For Beginners and D&D on Barsoom.

Chris (left) and J. Eric Holmes (right) at Gen Con XI. Source: Dragon #20

Full page ad for Gen Con XI that mentions Holmes, which ran in Dragon #15 and #16.

Holmes had a history of presenting research in his area of study for the science fiction fan, having written several science articles for the magazine Analog Science Fact and Fiction, including:

He later went on to co-author, with David F. Lindsley, a college textbook titled Basic Human Neurophysiologywhich was published in 1984 by Elsevier: