Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Part 53: "The Room Contains a Giant Snake"

Part 53 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 45 of your 'Blue Book' (page 44 for the 1st edition) and follow along...

The final part of the Sample Dungeon is the 3-part tower of the evil magic-user, who also frequents Room F where he is first described. In this part I'll cover Rooms S and S1, leaving S2 for the next post.

Room S - Spiral Staircase
This is the only part of this area actually shown on the map; the other two rooms (S1 and S2) are situated directly above it and are accessed by a staircase. Room S is part of the dungeon and is the only circular room in the dungeon. Does it date back to the time of Zenopus who excavated in his cellars or did the evil magic-user, who is trying "to take over the dungeons", dig it under his tower? On the published map, we can estimate that the thaumaturgist's tower is only about 300 feet from the ruins of Zenopus' tower. The roof of the room is 25 feet above, which is the same height as the entrance stairs at the start of the adventure, so this tower is either on the same hill as the ruins, or a nearby hill of similar height.

As you can see above, Room S on Holmes' original map is larger in relation to the other rooms of the dungeon. For example, Room S is larger than Room F. The published map puts it only about 40 feet across, but is should probably be more like 50 or 60 feet.

The room has four entrances/exits, including doors to the north and south, a secret door "opened by pressing a hidden catch" under the stairs and leading to a tunnel to Room F, and a trap door on the ceiling accessed by a spiral staircase going around the wall. The staircase is said to start at the north wall and make one full turn, which would place the trap door directly above the north door to the room. So the map only shows part of the staircase.

While the room can be accessed from other rooms in the dungeon, the evil wizard has a suitably hideous guardian for his tower - a giant snake. This is the only other thing in the room besides the staircase. 

Serpents of unusual size are fairly common in pulp fiction. Conan in particular encountered them on several times, including some associated with wizards. For example, in the Scarlet Citadel (1933), Conan is trapped with a giant snake in "the tunnels and dungeons wherein Tsotha [the wizard] performed horrible experiments with beings human, bestial, and, it was whispered, demoniac, tampering blasphemously with the naked basic elements of life itself".

Conan Chained by Frank Frazetta, used for the cover of Conan the Usurper (1967), a collection which includes The Scarlet Citadel
This being an introductory adventure, the snake here is not terribly difficult. Holmes gives it 2 HD, AC 6 (explicitly described as "leather and shield") and a move of 100 feet / turn. It would also have the default 1 attack for 1d6 damage. There are no giant snakes in the Holmes Basic Monster List, so this is another example of the "Giant Animals or Insects" from the Monster List in the manuscript, which was deleted by Gygax. 

There are no snakes in Chainmail, but OD&D Vol 2 mentions "snakes" in the description of "Insects or Small Animals", which are creatures with 1 hit point to 1 HD, AC 8. The entry for "Large Insects or Animals" covers "giant ants and prehistoric monsters" having 2 to 20 HD, so one might interpret this as covering giant snakes. OD&D Vol 3 lists Giants Snakes on Monster Level 3 (pg 10), suggesting about 3 HD, and on the Swimmer table. The extra descriptions of Aquatic Monsters on page 35 include Giant Snakes, but these have 6 HD.

The Greyhawk Supplement included Giant Snake in the list of "Attacks and Damage by Monster Type" (i.e., variable monster damage), but we don't see that information included here, of course, since Holmes didn't include that information in the Monster List - it was added by Gygax during editing.

Moldvay Basic and the AD&D Monster Manual each include a differing assortment of Giant Snakes, none of them close to the snake here. In those books, the lower HD snakes are poisonous, and the constrictors are much larger, having 5-6 HD.

As published, the only changes to this room are to add the snake's hit points (13) and change trap door to "trap doors". This seems to be a mistake since the first paragraph still refers to a single "trap door".

Rooom S1 - Ground Floor

This is the "ground floor of the magician's tower", and with S2 above, the only "rooms" that are part of a building in Portown rather than the dungeon. The description indicates there is a street to the north of the tower, which would be between this tower and the ruins of Zenopus. Another spiral staircase leads up to a trap door to the next floor. There's a brief description of the contents, all mudane: a fireplace (suggesting the tower has a chimney), cooking utensils and a few chairs. As you might guess, since it's all basically descriptive there are no changes to this room as published.

Go Back to Part 52: "No End to the Rats"
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript


  1. So... The copy of Holmes I'm referencing (3rd Printing, Dec 1979) has S, S1 and S2 on page 45... But you're citing page 44 (or 43 for the 1st printing).


  2. added the giant snake to my Castle Zenopus...PC's find a small room with a tiny snake and are shrunk down to an inch and Dimension doomed to the centre of a room with a now 8HD giant snake.

  3. I've saved a copy of the page that you linked here, because they've declared a plan to shut down those forums for the last time tomorrow (Feb-1, 2016). If it's important you might do the same or I could send you my copy.