This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club, indexed here.
This is the first scene in the novel that takes place outside of the Green Dragon. The story skips ahead past "three days of tromping through the wilderness", as Zereth puts it, and shows how the party finally locates the entrance to the Underworld that Murray has heard of. As Holmes wrote in the Basic rulebook, "Many gamesters start with a trip across country to get to the entrance to the dungeon" (Personally, I'd love if we all started using the term "gamesters" more often).
The scene begins in a forest clearing on a cold, misty morning, where the party has resumed their so-far fruitless search. In addition to Boinger, Zereth, Bardan, and Murray, the party includes two "hired men-at-arms" (see descriptions below), horses and a pack mule carrying tools, including a shovel (a tool not found in the OD&D/Holmes equipment lists, but which we could add). These additions are the results of the planning at the Green Dragon in the previous scene, where "horse power" and "mercenary men-at-arms" were discussed, among other topics. Holmes' first-ever published D&D article described his rules for generating such men-at-arms; see "Warrior-for-Hire", which appeared Alarums & Excursions in early 1976. Also, in the introduction to the Zenopus dungeon in the Basic rulebook, Holmes recommends that a small party employ "one or more men-at-arms".
Here we see Murray in action for the first time; at the Green Dragon he was an unseen observer. The first impression is of a prickly personality. Murray grumbles about the weather, snaps at his companions, and grunts an angry reply at Zereth when teased.
The party works together well to find the entrance. Murray identifies the clearing to search, a man-at-arms finds a stone of interest, Boinger locates a stone slab under the soil, the men-at-arms clear a ten-foot-square area off this slab, Bardan identifies a hollow beneath the stone, and finally Zereth finds a door in the slab.
We learn that Boinger wears sandals in town "to protect his feet from the grime and much of the town roads", but not in the forest where he likes to feel the leaves under his bare toes. Barefoot, he works "his way through the brush", feeling "a change in the consistency of the ground underfoot", which he describes as "hard and smooth just under the dirt". This speaks to an otherwise undescribed ability for halflings in D&D: detection by foot. I'm giving this skill to all halflings from now on.
Bardan identifies a hollow space under the granite, in line with the standard dwarven abilities given in OD&D Vol 1, which include noting "slanting passages, traps, shifting walls and new construction in underground settings". There's a similar dwarf-elf 1-2 in the Example of Play in the Holmes Basic rulebook, where the dwarf says, "There's a hollow space under the floor here somewhere", and then the elf is sent to check for a trap door.
Zereth examines the slab intently, as if performing a standard D&D check for secret doors, but he also has a "faint blue glow" emanating from his palms. It's unclear whether he has cast a spell (Knock or some sort of Detection?) or if this is just Holmes' way of describing the innate elvish ability to find secret doors (which in OD&D is twice as often as humans). In the first scene of this chapter we saw a similar blue glow emanate from Zereth's hand when he heated Boinger's drink to demonstrate his magical powers.
While Zereth searches Boinger and Bardan whisper wagers on which disturbed earthworm will re-bury itself first; this is a nice moment showing the camaraderie between the two.
Eventually Zereth touches an "individual depression" and the stone splits and opens to reveal a ten-foot hole, exposing a stone stair leading down. An entrance to the Underworld, as promised by the chapter title, "Entrances".
The scene ends with Murray urging everyone to "prepare for the descent". In the next scene, the party will finally enter the legendary Underworld.
Murray: Wears a blue robe, which is the same color as the wizard on the cover of the Holmes Basic set. He has a four foot long staff that he keeps in a "duffle" while riding his horse.
Men-At-Arms: Both are brawny, at least one is tall, and one is named Olaf. More on that name later.
Boinger: As noted above, he wears sandals in town or on roads, but goes barefoot in the forest.