Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Draw Your Own Floor Plan, III

Lava Pool Dungeon, click for a larger view

This is a belated follow-up to two posts I made back in 2013, where I scanned maps from my youth drawn on photocopies of the "Draw Your Own Floor Plan" sheet in the back of the module B2.

Again, there's no surviving key for this map, but I'll note a few features:

As previously, black squares are pits and yellow squares are falling ceiling blocks.
2: Stairs lead down to a lower room, shown in outline. I'm not sure about the zigzag.
6: End of the corridor is the mouth of a monster! Note the little eyes and arms.
7: Ramp sliding down to a pit.
9: Bridge over part of the underground river influenced by the river in the Sample Dungeon.
12: Trap where pressure plates at each end trigger the spiked walls to crush together.
13: Magic Pool. Not sure how the tiny area to the south was supposed to be accessed.
14: East side of room is cavern, with a secret door in one crevice.
15: Trap door in floor leads to tunnel under river and on to room 16.
16: The trap to the north of the room is a falling net. 
17: Waterfall, drawn falling down the edge of the map.
18: Crevasse in the middle of the corridor. The style of the crevasse is from the map features Key in Moldvay Basic, page B58.
20: Platform/Altar on the edge of a lava pool. The black spot in the lava may be a rock, or some sort of monster.

See also Drawn Your Own Floor Plan I and Part II. I just updated Part I when I realized that many of my friend's trap features were influenced by the Traps list in Moldvay Basic.

The Zenopus Archives website has a gallery with all of these maps in one place.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Beyond the Door to Monster Mountain

Screenshot of Beyond the Door to Monster Mountain - click for a larger preview

Click here to download Beyond the Door to Monster Mountain

Here's something I finally had a chance to finish up. I turned the Monster Mountain micro-dungeon I posted here last year into a one-page pdf. It's written up for Holmes Basic, using the stat block from the original B2 Keep on the Borderlands - DX stat included. However, you should be able to use with any old D&D without changing anything.

It's modified a bit from the original write-up. I added one of my favorite monsters - stirges - to room 3 to explain the gem stuck in the crack in the floor. In Holmes Basic, stirges are treasure type Q, which is Gems or Jewelry only. I interpret this as a fondness for gems.

It's an intended as an introductory adventure for new players, especially kids. The dungeon is a simple puzzle, and relies on text adventure type solutions - most rooms have an obstacle that can be overcome using an item found in a different room, although this being D&D other solutions are certainly possible, as determined by the DM.

The dungeon was built out of Lego Heroica, the sadly discontinued Lego game series from a few years back. If you have a few Lego Heroica sets you could recreate the dungeon build yourself. Otherwise it should be simple to recreate with dungeon tiles or for player(s) to map.

I ran this dungeon for a child running a single 4th level fighter, but it should work for four 1st level characters. So I'd call it an introductory adventure for 3-5 character levels. 

I've also added it to the resources on the Holmes Ref page.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Part 49: "Will Drop on Unwary Adventurers"

Part 49 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 42 of your 'Blue Book' (page 43 for the 1st edition) and follow along... 

For reference, here's a side-by-side view of the rooms we'll be covering in this part:

Room J: The spider room. Holmes describes it as 60 by 50 feet with doors in all of the walls, and this is accurately rendered on the published map. The original has the doors centered in the walls (as with most rooms), while the published map moves the east and west doors up a bit, and the north door to the right. In the original the south door does not lead anywhere; to correct this the published map adds a new a empty room ('E') in this space. This
results in the map spelling out J-E-H vertically, perhaps unintentionally.

The stated height of this room, 35 five feet, is much higher than the rest of the dungeon. The stair from the surface (at "START") goes down 25 feet, and the corridors are 10 feet high per Room C. Probably Holmes made this room higher just to give the spider a hiding place. But to fit in the geography of the area Room J must be beneath a higher part of the hills/sea cliffs than the ruins of the tower of Zenopus.

Here is Holmes' original version of the spider:

A "giant spider" with 1 HD may seem surprising, but remember that at this time most giant animals in D&D did not have a fixed set of stats. I discussed this in Part 25 in the "Giant Animals and Insects" entry in the Monster List. In the entry Holmes suggested adjusting the hit die to the dungeon level, so it makes sense here that he places a 1 HD giant spider on the first level of the dungeon. Holmes used giant spiders with these same stats (AC3, 1 HD, poison bite) in the Second Example of combat; see Part 18 of this series.

As published, this spider's strength was increased enormously (literally). The 1st printing has: "An enormous spider lurks in the darkness of the roof, thirty-five feet above. He will drop on unwary adventurers. He is armor class 3 (plate mail), has 6 hit dice (31 hit points), and his bite causes 1-8 points of damage and is poisonous (-1 on saving throw dice because it is so strong)."

So, the plate-like armor was kept but the spider reclassified from "giant" to "enormous", with 6 HD. There was still no standard "Giant Spider" at this point; the 1st-3rd printings of the rulebook do not contain an entry for Spider in the Monster List.

The Monster Manual was first published in late 1977, about six months after Holmes Basic, and it finally contained a standard entry for Spider. This was eventually ported back to Basic, in the 2nd edition of the rulebook (Nov 1978), which contains a new entry for Spider, including Giant Spider. At the same time Room J was updated to change "enormous" back to "giant", reduce the HD & HP to 4+4 and 21, change the bite to 2-8 points, and remove the poison modifier. We can still use Gygax's original 'enormous spider' for a larger variety of the beast. 

In the last paragraph Holmes details how the spider makes a surprise attack :
-The spider randomly selects one character to attack.
-If the spider misses, it lands beside the character and "the battle proceeds from there"; it isn't mentioned, but presumably whoever has the higher dexterity would get the next attack.
-If the spider hits, it automatically knocks the character down and gets to attack again. Then the knocked down character attacks at -2 for one round, and then normally after that. 

This is interesting because the standard surprise roll is not mentioned, so it's not clear whether the DM should first roll for surprise. This would have been a good place to remind  a new DM of the surprise rules.

Holmes' original entry ends with, "There is no treasure in this room". The published rulebook adds a further clause describing a +1 dagger embedded in the spider. This strikes me as a very Gygaxian hidden treasure, particularly the aside that it is "evidently a souvenir from some previous battle". Presumably he thought the increase in encounter difficulty warranted a treasure. 

DM Guidance
-In Holmes' original, this provides an example of a "Giant Animal or Insect".
-Example of hidden monster, and as revised, a hidden treasure. The room hides the monster, the monster hides the treasure. 
-Rules additions for overhead attacks and knock downs.

Room K: This is the first of three cave rooms in the dungeon, and the second room traversed by the underground river, after Room H. There's not much to Room K other than being a location where "flotsam" (i.e. characters) swept away by the river in Room H ends up. This room is completely dark, so characters deposited here are in for some mucking about.

The original map has only a western shore for the room, but the published map adds a small shore on the eastern side as well. No changes to the text as published. 

Room L: The giant crab cave. This is the second cave room, and the third room with the river. Unlike room K, this room is lit by "phosphorescent fungus", which in the real world is also known as foxfire. Margaret St Clair's The Shadow People, an Appendix N book that I read and enjoyed, has an extensive worldwide underworld lit by foxfire, but I don't know whether Holmes was familiar with this book. Holmes used a similar concept in several other stories, including The Maze of Peril (pages 14 and 93; "caverns of glowing rock"), The Adventure of the Giant Chameleon ("there's some sort of glowing lichen on the rocks"), and The Sorcerer's Jewel ("The light, Boinger saw, came from a yellowish-green fungus that clung to the dark stone walls"). I hereby declare that all Holmes Basic dungeons should have an area lit by phosphorescent fungus.

In the manuscript, the giant crab has 1 HD, similar to the giant spider. In the published version, the crab is increased to 2 HD. The other stats (Move,  AC, and two attacks) are unchanged. Giant Crabs were originally in OD&D, Vol 3, in the "Special Suggestions for Monsters in Naval Adventures", where they are mentioned as being "a peril only near beaches", traveling 6" per turn, "attacking twice, once for each pincer", and having 3 HD, all of which all fits the Room L crab except for the HD. Later printings of the Basic rulebook specify that each hit does 2-12 points of damage, which comes straight from the varying attacks/damage table from the Greyhawk Supplement.

In The Maze of Peril, Boinger and Zereth encounter a giant crab, similarly hiding in the sand on the beach of an underground body of water. I wrote up a Monster List type entry for Holmes' giant crab here.

In the manuscript the description of the room ends with a single sentence, "There is no treasure in the cave". This sentence was deleted from the published version for unknown reasons.

DM Guidance:
-In the manuscript, the giant crab provides another example of a "Giant Animal or Insect". As published, it provides an example of a 'new monster' not in the Monster List.
-Another example of a hidden monster. Again, no mention of surprise rules.
-The phosphoresecent fungus is an example of variable lighting in the dungeon.

Room M: The pirate hideout. The description is one of the longest entries in the dungeon, and a centerpiece along with the thaumaturgist. These two encounters are linked via a charmed smuggler controlled by the magic-user. The cave that Holmes drew on the original map is faithfully rendered in the published version, including the details (two boats, direction to the sea), although a bit smaller than the original in relation to the other dungeon rooms, such as Room A.

There are no changes as published to the first paragraph, which describes the cave and the exit to the west. The sea cave provides an alternate (though dangerous) exit in and out of the dungeon. The entrance is about 500 feet to the west, which on the published map places the ruins of the tower of Zenopus about 1000 feet from the sea.

The second paragraph describes the pirates. Here is Holmes' original version:

In the published version, the "three pirates" per boat in the second and last sentence sentences are changed to "four" and "2-5", respectively. Their hit dice is changed from "first level (1 hit die)" to "normal men (1 6-sided hit die)". As I described earlier, Holmes included pirates in the Monster List in the manuscript, and the details here match that entry, including 1 HD, leather armor, carrying 2-12 gold pieces each, and taking prisoners (i.e., Lemunda). Gygax deleted the Pirate entry from the Monster List, and correspondingly changed this entry to make the pirates "normal men". He also added the "Normal Man" entry to the attack and saving throw tables, although nowhere else are they described. In fact, this is the only location in the rulebook where we learn that normal men have a d6 hit die rather than the standard d8 in the published rulebook.

The next paragraph describes the pirate's prisoner, the memorable NPC Lemunda. Unlike the two NPCs in Room F, Holmes' stat block for her does not include her actual hit points, just "Level 2, Hit Dice 2", and it was left this way for publication. There are no changes to Lemunda as published. The reference to Lemunda's father being a powerful lord in town gives us another detail about the Portown setting.

Next the pirates' treasure is described. Holmes' originally had 2000 and 1000 gold pieces plus the 12 gems worth 100 gp each. Gygax reduces the value of the treasure by changing the coins to 2000 silver and 1000 electrum pieces.

The final paragraph describes a hazard to be encountered if the PCs attempt to row out of the dungeon. In Holmes' original it is described as a "giant octopus", and has 2 HD. Gygax changes the name to "large octopus" and ups the HD to 3. Back in OD&D Volume 3, in the section for "Naval Adventures", Gygax described Giant Octopi as having 4 HD. Later in the Monster Manual he raised this to 8 HD. This explains why he changed the name of the Sample Dungeon to "large octopus"; it's not as big. Gygax also adds a new sentence at the end of the paragraph clarifying that the "octopus gets 6 attacks per melee round!", which was a detail in their description in OD&D, Vol 3.

Holmes previously used an octopus-like creature hiding in an underground river in his novel, Mahars of Pellucidar (1976).

DM Guidance:
-The pirates are an example of a group of 'normal men' adversaries.
-Lemunda is an example of a friendly NPC who can assist the party.
-As with the crab, this provides another example of a "Giant Animal or Insect" (manuscript) or a new monster (as published)
-Provides an example of a guardian for a secondary dungeon exit. 

Go Back to Part 48: "The Shadow on the Gnomon"
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sutherland Dragon in LEGO

Eric Harshbarger, a puzzle & game designer and professional LEGO sculptor, has re-created Dave Sutherland's original art for the cover of Holmes Basic Set as a LEGO mosaic. And at a very impressive size: 7½ x 6¼ feet! Follow this link to his website where you can read more about the project and view larger photos of the mosaic:

There Be Dragons...

Monday, April 27, 2015

Tales of Peril - Teaser

I've been authorized to share the following teaser for an exciting compilation 
to be released in a few months:


Tales of Peril - The Complete Boinger and Zereth Stories of John Eric

Holmes - edited by Allan T. Grohe Jr. 

Tales of Peril is Black Blade’s first foray into publishing fiction,
and collects all of the Boinger and Zereth dungeon adventure stories
written by John Eric Holmes (best known for editing the first Basic
Set in 1977). Featuring the novella The Maze of Peril, eight other
short stories, and Holmes’ seminal article “Confessions of a Dungeon
Master”. Allan Grohe, Chris Holmes, and Zach Howard contribute
introductions and the annotated Holmes bibliography. Coming in June

(From the back cover of Black Blade Publishing's reprint of 
Rob Kuntz's module CAS2 Tower of Blood)

More info to follow in the upcoming weeks

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

First Level Pre-gen Party

Screenshot of 1st Level Pre-Gens. Click pic for a larger view

Above is a new Holmes Ref sheet, a pre-generated party of seven 1st level characters, including Fighter, Cleric, M-U, Thief, Dwarf Fighter, Elf MU/Fighter and Hobbit Thief. For reference, the sheet also includes To-Hit and Saving Throw tables for 1st levelers.

I used two rules from OD&D. The Strength-based To-Hit bonus for Fighters, and Thief rules for Hobbits (mentioned by Holmes, but not further explained). Both rules are from Supplement I, Greyhawk, which means that the party is also compatible with OD&D plus Greyhawk. 

Since there is only one type of each character, rather than rolling random stats, I used the 'standard array' from 5th edition D&D: 15 14 13 12 10 8. This means no character has more than a +1 for any stat-based modifier. So the Strength bonus for the Fighters is just a +1 to hit for Str 13-15.

Equipment is based on 110 gp for each character, similar to my earlier Equipment Packs. The MU spent 100 gp on a 1st level scroll per the Holmes rules, but the Elf bought Chain Mail and couldn't afford a scroll.

Hit points are based on the average for each class, plus any Con bonus.

The only additional info that needs to be added is a name (perhaps using the Holmesian Random Name Generator in the upper right corner of this blog), and alignment. I left out languages due to lack of space; most TSR-era pre-gens don't include this.

For more variety in the human characters, simply add a Background.

Use this sheet in a variety of ways:
-Convention games, one-shots or quick-starts with new players.
-Give each player an entire sheet, and have them pick a character or two. Or have them pick three or four characters and run the game as a Funnel ala DCC.
-Or cut up one or more sheets and give out one character to each player.
-For DMs, use this sheet for NPCs: rival party, henchmen, rescued prisoners, etc.
-Use as a reference for typical Equipment for character creation or NPCs.

Update 3/26: Corrected the sheet to include a +10% XP for the MU. The screenshot still shows the original version but the download link goes to the corrected version.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Part 48: "The Shadow on the Gnomon"

Part 48 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 41 of your 'Blue Book' (page 40 for the 1st edition) and follow along...

Room F: As Holmes puts it plainly, "This is a magic-user's room"; he is essentially the "boss monster" of this level. This room is essential to breathing life into the dungeon as it ties together elements from other rooms, including the M-U's tower and the sea caves.

In the manuscript Holmes describes the M-U as an "evil fourth leveler" (first paragraph) and a "theurgist" (third paragraph). "Theurgist" is the correct title for a fourth level magic-user in OD&D, Vol 1. Gygax or someone else at TSR mistakenly changed this to "thaumaturgist" in both locations, which is the title for fifth level. The exact changes are:

" evil fourth leveler who has been trying to take over the dungeons"
" evil thaumaturgist (fourth level) who has been trying to take over the dungeon level"
(Note Holmes' use of "dungeons" in the original, implying a larger area)

"The theurgist is a 4th level magic-user. He can do six spells..."
"The thaumaturgist (4th level magic-user) knows six spells..."

The room is described as 50 by 60 feet, which is accurately rendered on the published map. Holmes' original map shows the work bench in the southwest corner and three statues (petrified men), and these are also shown on the published map. However, another door has gone missing in the north wall. This door is shown on the original map and referred to in the text.

The charmed fighter originally had 8 "Hits" but this was upped to 11, possibly to make for a more formidable opponent. His other ability scores are unchanged, as is the high value (1000 GP) of his ruby belt.

The M-U's list of spells includes "Protection from Good" with the aside "(he is evil)". This was changed to "(he is lawful evil)" to fit the revised 5-point alignment scheme. Note that only "Protection from Evil" is explicitly described in the M-U spell lists in the rulebook. His spells and scroll are otherwise unchanged.

Holmes gives the M-U a +1 on this saving throws because "his saving throw is better than that of magic-users of the third level". This doesn't match OD&D, Vol 1, where M-Us do not get a saving throw increase until 6th level. It does go up by 3 at that point, so perhaps Holmes was using some kind of table that smoothed out the progression? This oddity wasn't changed for the published rulebook.

The M-U's stats are changed slightly, with his wisdom being decreased from 12 to 9 for reasons unknown, and his "Hits" going up from 7 to 9.

The M-Us "wand" is changed to a "special wand", presumably because it is not found on the standard Treasure Table.

Finally, the published version adds a new sentence at the end: "He will use the wand on anybody entering his hideway". Since the "hideway" and wand are up in his tower, I picture the M-U dragging statues from the tower down to this room for decoration. One idea I've had is to have one of the statues in this room be Zenopus himself.

DM Guidance
-NPCs are given a stat block with a full set of ability scores, level and "Hits"
-NPC behavior for the M-U and charmed Fighter
-Random rule: the M-U has a 50% chance of dropping his scroll while fleeing

ROOM G: This is the now-standard room filled with trash and giant rats. Is this is its first appearance in a TSR adventure?

Holmes had the room written as "Room G - is dark and gloomy". TSR changes this to "Room G - Gloomy", which fits the room's letter code better. "Garbage" might be a better descriptor, given that the floor is covered with rocks and rubbish "four feet high".

Once again, the published map is missing a door (in the south wall) shown on the original map and mentioned in the text. I'll have to put together an errata list for these.

The big change here is that Holmes' original has but a single giant rat with 1 HD, which Gygax changes to 2-8 giant rats with 2 hit points each. In the published version the text still refers to "its nest", a clue that it originally referred to just a single rat. The change follows the general trend - Holmes' original dungeon was gentler, for smaller groups, and Gygax increased the difficulty of many of the encounters.

At the time Holmes wrote this, there wasn't a separate monster entry for a "Giant Rat". Instead they fell under the "Giant Animals and Insects" entry that Holmes included in the manuscript. These creatures don't have set stats except that hit dice generally match the dungeon level, which explains why Holmes gave this rat 1 HD. Gygax deleted the entry for "Giant Animals and Insects", which left these giant rats stranded without any hit dice, though with 2 hit points it's easy to figure out they should attack as under 1 HD. The second edition of the rulebook finally revised the Monster List to include giant rats with 1/2 HD, ported back from the Monster Manual. These also do only 1-3 points of damage per hit, whereas Holmes' original would deal the default 1-6. Still, with an average of 5 rats in the room, the encounter is made more challenging.

The treasure is changed in two ways. The silver dagger originally had no value, and Gygax adds "50 gp". (This can be used as a general value for silver daggers, which are missing from the equipment list). In the original, the bag contains 50 gold pieces, which Gygax changes to electrum pieces. Holmes left copper, electrum and platinum out of the manuscript, but Gygax added these back, and put each in the Sample Dungeon.

DM Guidance:
-In Holmes' original version, this provided an example of a "Giant Animal or Insect"
-An example of hidden treasure, takes 1 turn of searching the garbage to find
-An xample of an 'improvised rule' as suggested by Holmes on page 40: the small size and abundant garbage allows the rats to hide in the shadows, but "An elf or a dwarf might spot them (on a roll of say 1 or 2 on a six-sided die)" - presumably due to infravision

ROOM H: This room introduces an underground river that ties together rooms H, K, L and M. The room is described as 80 by 50 feet with a 50-foot wide river and a 15-foot bank on each side. The map as published has the room the right size, but shows the river as only about 25 feet wide. The text describes a 20-foot ceiling, whereas earlier corridors were stated to be 10 feet high. The staircase into the dungeon is 25 feet high, so either the surface is five feet above this room or the ground above is higher here.

This room contains neither monster nor treasure, so its not surprising that there are no changes at all from the manuscript to the published rulebook.

DM Guidance:
-An example of a dangerous obstacle to be surmounted or circumvented.
-More "stealth bonuses" for high stats (as in Room A), known only to the DM - high strength (15+) prevents being swept away by the current, high constitution (12+) prevents damage from being swept away
-Some rules for swimming; if you are wearing armor you will sink unless you shed armor which takes 1 turn. Drowning damage is 1 die per turn. Room M later refers back to these as "information on drowning" and says "assume that all characters known how to swim"

ROOM I: This is the room with the bronze sundial and mask. Again, another room without monster or treasure with no changes as published.

The talking "bronze mask" resembles a "Brazen Head" of medieval times. 
See the Brazen Head of Zenopus.

DM Guidance:
An example of a puzzle room, where the characters gain a boon if it is solved

Go Back to Part 47: "The Occupants Are Goblins"
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript