Friday, June 7, 2019

NTRPGCon Bound

I'll be making a short visit to North Texas RPG Con this year, from midday Fri until Sun morning. I'm not running a game myself, as I wasn't sure of my attendance by the submission deadline, but I'm signed up for some fantastic-sounding games:
A 1975 Castle Greyhawk "deep level" by Rob Kuntz: an OD&D game with 10th+ level characters run by Paul Stormberg of the Collector's Trove and Legends of Wargaming at Gary Con each year. 
"Wow! A chance to play in a high level Dungeons & Dragons adventure by Rob Kuntz in 1975! One of the deepest levels of Greyhawk Castle!"

Zenopus - 40 years later: This is Steve Muchow's sequel to the Zenopus dungeon, which he invited me to play last year. This is his second year running it at the con.
"It's been 40 years since the dungeon of Zenopus has been cleansed. But a new evil arises and Portown seeks brave adventurers to save the town."

* * * * *
The Queen of Elfland's Son: a Goodman DCC module run by Jonathan Perkel, who started the Holmes FB group & played Boinger in my game last year.
"This quest will take the heroes to the very borders of Elfland and pit them against the cruelty of the Unseelie Court of Faerie. Will the heroes overcome the machinations of the Queen of Elfland or will they fall victim to the glamours and wiles of Elfland’s malicious nobility?"

80's Heroes vs Monsters Costume Party Chaos: a non-D&D game designed & run by Chris Holmes!
"You are invited to a mysterious costume party with a costume of your favorite hero from Movies-Comics-T.V. Your white limo arrives. ------- You will be playing a new set of combat rules. It will be fun."

Ruins of Mistamere: A sequel/re-imagining of the group adventure from the Mentzer Basic Set using AD&D 1e rules, run by Lloyd Metcalf.
"The long lost lord Gygar from castle Mistamere is said to have left behind great treasure and magic, along with the a great reward has been offered for the capture of Bargle who murdered the beloved Aleena.

* * * * *

Also of note in the realm of Holmes Basic, Carl Heyl (DM Carl of Save or Die) is running two sessions of his Discos & Dragons game, which I played in last year at NTRPGCon and again in drop-in form this past March at Gary Con. It's a Holmes/OD&D hexcrawl on the Outdoor Survival board using only minis, dice & other game pieces from the 1970s!
"Good King Gary is being held prisoner in the kingdom to the north. Bad Baron Bart is doing nothing to save him. Join the ranks of Gary's Crusaders to travel the world of AHOS (Avalon Hill Outdoor Survival board) and delve domino dungeons to gather the treasure to pay the ransom and have Good King Gary take back his kingdom!"

Update: I forgot to mention one other Holmes-related game at the con this year, the Necropolis of Nuromen. This was a Blueholme game using a module published for those rules. This game was also run by Jonathan Perkel.

"You have been drawn to the area by rumours of Nuromen the Necromancer and his vast treasure hoard, lost since the fall of his domain of Law’s End."

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Tower of Zenopus in Ghosts of Saltmarsh

Ghosts of Saltmarsh alternate cover by N.C. Winters. I like this one more.

Way back in the mists of 2006, on Dragonsfoot I wrote that:
Another dungeon that could be fit into such a combined setting would be the Zenopus dungeon in the Holmes basic book. It's set in Portown on the coast and also has pirates/sea caves, so I've often thought of having Portown and Saltmarsh be the same. Neither town is described, though, so Restenford could be used for details. (Though I guess it could be a bit much to have one small town with both a haunted house and a ruined wizard's tower.)
I'm certainly not the only one who has had the idea of merging Portown and Saltmarsh. The similar coastal setting and lack of a full description for either town make them a natural fit. While Saltmarsh being described as a "small south-coast English fishing town of the 14th Century and with a population about 2,000" does feel smaller than Portown, a "small but busy city linking the caravan routes from the south to the merchant ships" plying the Northern Sea, it's still an easy merge for the DM building a coastal sandbox setting. In fact, I have run each of these adventures in the last few years in my kids game, and while I kept Saltmarsh separate, I still had it nearby on the same coast as Portown.

Now the Wizards of the Coast have themselves taken advantage of this. Yesterday an eagle-eyed member of the Holmes Basic community over on MeWe, Chris H., reported that he'd spotted the Tower of Zenopus in a flip-thru review of the forthcoming Ghosts of Saltmarsh...! This is the latest hardcover 5E adventure from WOTC, a compilation of conversions of the original AD&D modules U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh*, U2 The Danger at Dunwater, and U3 The Final Enemy** (the pdfs are also available as a discounted bundle), plus four later adventures from Dungeon magazine.

In addition to the obvious similarities between Portown and Saltmarsh, I'm also not surprised to see Zenopus turn up in this product because Mike Mearls is credited as one of the co-Lead Designers (along with Kate Welch, interviewed here), and he ran a Return to the Tower of Zenopus this past March at Gary Con, and also tweeted this map, so it was certainly on his radar at the right time.

After looking into the previews myself, the area map for Saltmarsh --- drawn by Dyson Logos --- shows the town on the mouth of a river emptying into the Azure Sea. Yes, that's right, they've preserved the Greyhawk location names from the originals! Across this river on a peninsula is a location marked "Tower of Zenopus". Per the map compass, this places the tower generally to the west of Saltmarsh, which fits with Holmes' original description (albeit without an intervening river). The U1 Haunted House is in the other direction along the coast, east of Saltmarsh. 

On the page facing this map is a four-paragraph section titled "Tower of Zenopus", which gives the background for the location --- condensed from the original --- and some brief ideas for encounters found therein. It's much more of an adventure hook than a fleshed out location, and it acknowledges as much by concluding that the details are left for the DM to determine. It would be fairly simple to use a direct 5E conversion of the original dungeon (perhaps adapting my list of Portown rumors to get the PCs over there?). 

As far as I can recall, this is the first time TSR or Wizards has recycled any of the Zenopus content in a later product, and also the first time it has been officially placed in Greyhawk. Also significant is that they've titled it the "Tower of Zenopus", as over the years this has been the most frequently used colloquial name for the originally unnamed adventure. In the new version, just the like original, the tower is a complete ruin and the actual adventure is in the dungeons beneath. As I've written before, this follows the naming convention of Castle Greyhawk, where the dungeons are referred to by the name of the ruined edifice. 

In addition to the Azure Sea, the area map also includes the Hool Marshes to the east of Saltmarsh and the Dreadwood to north, clearly placing it on the original Darlene map from the World of Greyhawk folio or boxed set. Also, the "Geographic Features" section following the Tower of Zenopus mentions the "Kingdom of Keoland", a location going all the way back to the proto-Greyhawk Great Kingdom map.

After some further delving, I realized that this area map in Ghosts of Saltmarsh is simply a direct update of the area map from U2 Danger at Dunwater. All of the major geographical features and even the hexes lines on the map match the placement on the original. 
The original even gave hex numbers for the World of Greyhawk map, with Saltmarsh being located in hex U4-123. So while the new adventure may not be specifically identified as being in Greyhawk, it is easily placeable and usable with that campaign world.

In the image below I've annotated the original U2 map with the new location for the Tower:

*All Drivethrurpg links include my affiliate number.

**I've long suspected that this title is a sneaky pun (spoiler: The Enemy with Fins; i.e. the Sahuagin). I even asked Gygax about it once on DF, and while he claimed no knowledge, we did exchange some fintastic puns.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Delta's D&D Hotspot: Tomb of Ra-Hotep

The map of The Tomb of Ra-Hotep. Source: Paul's Gameblog

Delta has a report on running the Tomb of Ra-Hotep, the OD&D dungeon by Alan Lucien that inspired Gygax's Tomb of Horrors (and Necropolis, it seems). It was included as an extra in the reprint of the original tournament version of Tomb of Horrors, which was itself an extra with the Special Edition of last year's Art & Arcana.

HelgaCon: Tomb of Ra-Hotep

Continuing the Helgacon wrap-up this year. For the first time I also ran: The Lost Tomb of Ra-Hotep Originally written by Mr. Alan Luc...

See also: 
Mystical Trash Heap: Art & Arcana First Impressions

Paul's Gameblog: Credit Where Credit's Due

Locations for the Tomb of Horrors on the Great Kingdom Map 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Dungeoneers Syndicate: Sutherland Dragon Mini

Where's my humongous pile of gold?

The latest post at the Dungeoneers Syndicate blog showcases a number of photos of the author's newly painted Sutherland Dragon, posing with the Holmes Basic rulebook and a bunch of '70s rulebooks and dice:

My David C. Sutherland III inspired Dragon miniature

I happened upon this Reaper Bones "Great Dragon" a while looking mini! Then the wheels started turning...I could paint this dragon to look like the one on the Holmes Blue Basic Box set cover! I had to hone my painting skills first...bought a bunch of smaller minis & studied the interwebs for tips & "how to" videos on Youtube.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Thongor Fights the Pirates of Tarakus (1970)

We're going to need a bigger boat, mateys...

Yesterday's used bookstore find: Thongor Fights the Pirates of Tarakus, the sixth and last novel in Lin Carter's Thongor series. This series is Appendix N-adjacent, as Carter is called out in the list but only for his later Warrior at the World's End (1974).

Carter is probably best known for his pastiche work with L. Sprague de Camp on the Lancer/Ace editions of Conan, but he also edited seminal '70s fantasy series such as Ballantine Adult Fantasy and Flashing Swords, works that helped popularize the fantasy genre in the '60s & '70s. Years ago I read his very early (1969) book on Tolkien's work, A Look Behind the Lord of the Rings

Carter also helped get the Cthulhu Mythos into D&D by way of J. Eric Holmes; Holmes cited Carter's "H.P. Lovecraft: The Gods", in The Shuttered Room and Other Pieces (1959), as one of his sources for his “Lovecraftian Mythos in D&D” article in Dragon #12 in 1978. See my post The Cthulhu Mythos in D&D in the 1970s.

Thongor is a "Clonan", with the above cover specifically calling out Howard's character: "Sorcery and seafighting - and mortal peril for the mightiest warrior-hero CONAN". The author's note situates the series on "the Lost Continent of Lemuria" (drawing from Lemuria in popular culture), which is Carter's Hyborian Age analog.

The particular paperback I found is stated as the third printing, published by Berkely Medallion in 1976, with a fantastic cover by Vincent DiFate, different than the 1970 original.

I'm not sure when I'll get to reading this, but I'll try to update this post when I do. Possibly the pirates in this book will inspire some background details for the pirates in the sea cave in the Sample Dungeon.

See also "Ochre Jelly Inspiration?" which discusses a Carter & de Camp Conan story.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Monster Faces 042519

I'm constantly drawing faces in margins, but I haven't made a more concerted drawing in a while. Here's a quick one I made recently, a new small addition to my line of Monster Faces:

Friday, April 26, 2019

#MyFirstRPG: Holmes Basic

#MyFirstRPG has been trending on Twitter. I've been collecting the ones referring to Holmes by retweeting them. Check out my profile over there to read them all:

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Cave of the Dice Chucker: The Party vs. The Caller

The Cro-Magnon Archivist strikes again with a True Crime report! 

What really happened to that party in the Example of Play in the Holmes Basic rulebook?

Rogues Gallery: Fighter and the case of the Incompetent Caller

What follows is a transcript from the court case of The Party vs. The Caller, recorded at the Adventurers Guild Chancery in the Spring of 1977. J. Eric Holmes used the typewritten transcript the Prosecuting Attorney submits as evidence as the Example of play on page 40 of the blue Dungeons and Dragons Rulebook.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Third Point of Singularity: Dice of Generations

Here's a great story by Mister Nizz on the Third Point of Singularity blog about his original set of low-impact D&D dice. From 2017, but I missed it the first time around:

The Dice of Generations

When it comes to geek "cred," you either have it or you don't have it. When I was a kid, there was no such thing as "geek cred".

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Master's Lair, a Play Report

Battling the Master in his laboratory

The PCs, who were all new 1st level:

Axebit the Ranger with pet War Dog
Voltra the Illusionist with pet Genie
Luna the Flame Wizard with pet Winged Cat
Zengar the Vermling Mindthief (from Gloomhaven) / Tinker with two pet Rat Swarms

Session notes:

— As background, I referenced an adventure some of them had started a few months ago, one from Dungeon magazine that involves a search for a missing faerie dragon. Only one PC was the same, but kids don't care about such details. I scrapped the rest of that adventure, and just had them start at a dungeon entrance.

— The game took place over several short sessions. At first the dungeon was improvised, but in between sessions I came up with an idea for the overall setting. For visuals, I used WOTC dungeon tiles with Dwarven Forge doors and assorted minis. The PC minis were mostly Wardlings, which each come with a pet. The monster minis were all plastic, some Reaper Bones, some Dungeon Command.

— Rules were basically "D&D from Memory", Holmes-ish but using whatever other rules I felt like including. Monsters were improvised variants of what I could remember and generally did 1d6 damage per hit. Natural 20s did double damage, natural 1s a fumble - drop a weapon, fall down, lose control of your rat swarm, etc; often equaling "lose a turn".

— Spellcasters each had a single spell that they could cast repeatedly, but had to roll a d6 each time to see if it tired them out (1-3 = could cast again, 4-6 = taxed, could not cast again for a while). The Illusionist could make illusions, the Flame Wizard a flame bolt, the Mindthief could attempt mental trickery.

— Initiative was in order by Dexterity, although I often let whoever said they were acting to go before starting an actual "round".

Play Report:

They tracked the captor of the missing faerie dragon to a cave with a wooden door with a broken hole in it. Peering through, they saw a hallway with a portcullis at the end and two doors part way down, each with a barred window. Entering, they noted footprints in the dust heading to the portcullis and into the room to the west. They proceeded to the east door, and looked through the window, seeing a treasure chest in center of the far wall. The door was locked, but Voltra easily picked the lock with a bobby pin from her hair. Examining the chest, they found it unlocked, but when they tried to open it a mouth appeared. The Vermling recognized it as a mimic, and Voltra fed it an apple, and then more fruit which it happily munched. It began following them, hopping along.

They went down the hall and looked through the portcullis. The room beyond was filled with hot coals, with just a small ledge running around the edge. No other exits were visible. They backtracked to the other door, which had a similar barred window. In the middle of this room was a statue on a circular pedestal. After some poking and prodding they determined the statue swiveled, but without apparent effect. Returning to the portcullis, they tried lifting it and succeeded with three PCs working together, but then didn't know what to do about the hot coals in the room. Eventually they tried the statue again, and figured out that turning it raised the portcullis, vanished the hot coals, and opened a narrow passage at the far end. They hurried down this passage when they heard the statue swiveling back on its own, fearing return of the hot coals. The Flame Wizard was particularly scared. 

The passage opened to a large room. As they went in, six skeletons came towards them from different directions, two wielding bows, two swords & shields, two polearms. Their eyes flickered orange-red in the torchlight. They battled the skeletons until destroyed, with only a few injuries. Luna's cat used a once-a-day power to turn into a "battlecat". The mimic aided them when it saw Voltra being injured. After the battle the eyes of the skeletons were revealed to be fire opals, 12 total.

Zengar found a secret door to the west. Pushing split the wall in to two doors opening into an apparently empty room with a door to the north. Axebit threw a rock in, causing the room to fill with blue light and a swirling wind. He then threw the remains of one of the skeletons in and it swirled around in the vortex, banging into the walls until dashed to bits. 

Everyone continued searching the skeleton room, until Luna found another secret door of similar design on the east wall. Another empty room lay beyond, also with a door on the north wall. Axebit threw another rock, but with no effect. Walking in, the entire floor dropped out beneath him —  a pit. He failed a Dex check and fell ten feet, taking 4 points of damage. To escape he threw his grappling hook up to the door ledge on the north wall, and pulled himself up. He tried to throw his rope back to the others to make a tightrope to walk across, but there was nowhere they could attach it. Instead they figured out other ways across — the Vermling and rats climbed down the wall and up the far side. The pet cat and genie flew across, carrying the war dog. The other two hung off the edge and then dropped down since it was only 10 feet deep. The mimic continued to follow them, hopping across the gap.

Beyond the door lay another portcullis, this one with a carved face above the bars which spoke, telling them "The Master is out, go away". After some conversation where they failed to trick the face, Zengar used his mind control power to cloud its mind and make it think he was the master and it opened the gate for them — "Welcome home, Master!".

Heading around the corner they found a solid iron door with a lock in the center. Luna used her flame to melt the lock. Beyond, another room, with a circle on the floor in which stood a gigantic four-armed skeleton wielding four swords. Voltra tricked it with the illusion of a party member running to the corner. The skeleton followed it over, and then the party members attacked it from behind. It fought with four swords, but each time it was damaged for 5 HP, one arm was removed. After the battle they took the large curved swords, which were finely made and looked valuable.

Heading through the south door they found a laboratory with a large bench covered with all sorts of equipment and fizzling liquids in containers. As Axebit went up to the table, a bookcase at the back of the room swung outward and a figure in black robes entered — the Master! He hit Axebit with a magic missile. Axebit in turn, threw one of the fizzling liquids on him, but it gave the Master the power of a Speed potion (I rolled randomly on the DMG Potion table). He then charmed Axebit, who moved over to his side of the table. Zengar then threw another liquid, which had the power of Oil of Etherealness, sending Master to the Ethereal Plane. This broke the charm, and the Master was like a spirit who could still talk to them but no longer touch anything on the Material Plane.

After the Battle with the Master's "Children"

The ethereal Master drifted through them to the north and then east through a door they had not yet entered, to a room with four large coffins. They heard him call out, "Arise my children!", and out of the coffins came a Ghost, a Zombie Dog and two big Zombies [these, along with the Master and the four-armed skeleton were from the Dungeon Command set the Curse of Undeath]. The PCs retreated south past the bookcase to make a stand at the door of what turned out to be the Master's bedroom. The Ghost was fastest and on them first. Luna hit the Ghost with fire for just a single point, but then hit it with her dagger for double damage (natural 20) in the next round and destroyed it. Then they battled the other Zombies, defeating them one-by-one. At this point the Master  still ethereal  fled to take revenge another day. 

Searching the Master's room they found a cage with the missing faerie dragon, who was happy to be rescued. They also found a trap door under the bed, which led to a narrow escape tunnel. They realized that the Master was actually out but had returned, and realizing there were intruders, had snuck in through the back way to confront them. Searching the Master's rooms they found potions, scrolls and money, the exact nature of which were to be determined later — it was bedtime.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Forsaken Peak cross-section

The beautiful cross-section above immediately brings to mind Skull Mountain. It's from The Secret of Forsaken Peak, a forthcoming 5E D&D Adventure that I heard about today. The creators are Dave Hamrick and Justin David Russell (who does the cartography).

You can read more about it here:

The Secret of Forsaken Peak is a dark fantasy/horror adventure for characters of level 5-15 using Fifth Edition rules. In addition to the 30+ map adventure offering over 750 areas, chambers, and other places of interest, the book boasts over 100 new original monsters, more than 30 new magic items, new player options introducing subclasses, feats, and backgrounds, full-color illustrations and a whole lot more.

The first part of the adventure, Goblin Mine, will be part of the first issue of a magazine Broadsword that the authors are kickstarting right now.

The Secret of Forsaken Peak Resources

Last Updated: 1/2/2018 What is the Secret of Forsaken Peak? A shadow falls across The Graywood Forest, cast by the titanic, lonely mountain known as The Forsaken Peak. Its jagged, snow-capped peaks hide many secrets and equally as many terrors. For years, the mountain has been at the heart of multiple mysteries.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Holmes Basic G+ Community Archive

...or how I created another blog with over 2000 posts:

The Holmes Basic G+ Community Archive

What is this Archive?

The top post explains what the archive is, and I've copied the intro over from there:

This archive [which is a new Blogger blog] preserves most of the posts made to the Holmes Basic D&D Community on the late G+. I created this Community in late 2012, not long after Communities were added, and it existed through April 2nd 2019, when G+ was shutdown for non-commercial users. By the end there were over 600 members. While most were not active, there was always a core group of commenters to keep things interesting.

There are over 2100 posts included, made by myself and various members of the community, each accompanied by its original comments. While a number of posts (~500?) are shares and thus duplicative of posts on the Zenopus Archives blog, these have been saved because they include different comments. The other ~1600 posts fall into two broad categories. I often used G+ for quick shares of images and links of interest to the community, material often not posted to the ZA blog. And then there are the many posts by other members of the community. A big thank you to everyone who participated!

Some highlights include (to be updated):

Michael Thomas providing updates on the progress of his retroclone Blueholme

Jon Wilson organizing contributions for two issues of the Holmes-art inspired zine, FEI

Chris Holmes joining in 2016 and becoming an active commentator

Tony Rowe with scans of Holmes' & other D&D magazine articles

Tristan Tanner with a fun series of new monsters (cryptids, movie monsters and later edition conversions) for Holmes Basic throughout the later half 2018

Weresharks and Skull Mountains

[The post continues with some technical information about the posts, labels and images]

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Wayne's Books: Sutherland Dragons

Now that G+ is gone, I'm going to post more quick re-shares of links of interest here.

Wayne's Books has a nice pic (with commentary) showing the Sutherland Dragon in three different sources side-by-side, with a link back to an earlier post here:

D&D: David C. Sutherland's Red Dragon

Photo shows David C. Sutherland's Red Dragon on the Holmes Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (1978), AD&D Monster Manual (1978) entry, and AD&D Monster Card (1981). Zenopus Archives says that the Monster Card art was redone by Jim Roslof. TSR was hit-n-miss when it came to artistic consistency in monster depictions.

Friday, April 12, 2019

In Memoriam: OSR blogger James Smith

James' profile photo from the Underdark Gazette

James Smith, well known among the OSR for his blog Dreams of Mythic Fantasy (and in an earlier incarnation as the Underdark Gazette), passed away on Wednesday per posts made by his family to his blog and his account on Facebook

His obituary can be found on this memorial page set up by his family: James A. Smith Jr (1968-2019). Tributes, Stories and Photos can be left there. 

His blog will be well-remembered for its long-running series of detailed OSR News updates, the most recent of which was posted on March 23rd of this year. His love of this hobby we share is evident in this work and as related by his family in his obituary: "James was a loving father who enjoyed “old school gaming”, internet blogging, reading, and listening to classic rock. His favorite pastime was playing Dungeons and Dragons with his son."

And I recall that for years he had the following graphic on the sidebar of his blog: 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Clarissa's Further Career

It's Smitin' Time! (Source)

Our favorite Neanderthalian RPG scholar Timrod recently unthawed again to share a series on the further careers of beloved example characters from those old rulebooks we spend so much time with. Here Tim reports on what Priestess Clarissa ("Clarissa the Cleric" in the Holmes Manuscript) got up to after she smashed that giant spider with her mace.

P.S. I finally learned how to use Embedly.

Rogues gallery: Clarissa the Cleric, Spider Crusher

Back in the Holmes Basic Set, Clarissa the Cleric famously avenged the death of Bruno the Battler by staving in with one mighty swing of her mace the nasty giant spider that poisoned poor Bruno. This was a life-changing moment for Clarissa; her first time swinging her mace in combat met with such satisfying success.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Return to Gary Con: Day Two, Part One

Zenopus game. Source: Larry Hamilton of Follow Me and Die!

This is a continuation of my Gary Con XI report. The previous installment is here.

Friday was my first full day at the con, and I started it off by running the first scheduled session of my game, In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus. This was the third time I I've run it, the priors being a playtest with my local group, and then a session at North Texas RPG Con in June 2018. That game had nine players (including Chris Holmes!), but this one had ten, making it the first with every single pre-gen in play. Also new was that I made "minis" to represent the pre-gens:

Reference photo of my tokens for the game. Source: me

The discs are real wood, ordered from a woodcraft company in Arkansas, 1" in diameter (& 1/16" thick), so they fit the squares on standard battle mats or dungeon tiles. I used them during the game for marching order and larger battles. While the pictures may look woodburnt, they were actually drawn with a Micron .05 black ink pen. I considered a paint pen, but I tried this first and it worked well enough. I started out puting a letter on each to help with recognition, but dropped that part way through as unnecessary. The back of each was labeled with the PC name + "Gary Con XI". After the game I gave them out to the respective players to keep as a memento. I also painted other tokens with different colors for opposing forces.

In the center are:
Boinger, Hobbit, 4th Level Fighter
Zereth, Elf, 4th level Fighter/3rd level Magic-User

Around them, clockwise from left are:
Lady Hortensa, Human (Amazon background), 6th level Fighter
Sir Geoffrey, Human, 4th level Paladin [with a Prince Valiant haircut]
Brother Ambrose, Human, 5th level Cleric
Murray the Mage, 5th level Magic-User
Olaf & Haldor, 2nd level Fighters (both controlled by a single player)
Maximillian, Centaur, 3rd level Fighter (I gave him a weird human-horse hybrid face)
Bardan, Dwarf, 4th Level Fighter
Sunna, Human, 4th Level Thief

I always like fold-up "id cards" (aka "table tents") during con games so I can tell who the other players are quickly. At North Texas I wrote some out beforehand, but since I'm running this repeatedly I decided to type up a sheet I could repeatedly print out and cut up. 

The font is a faux medieval font I found call Blackwood Castle, more readable than actual Olde English fonts. Futura is of course even more readable but has less flavor. 

I was so wrapped up in running the game that I forgot to take any pictures, but luckily one of the players, Larry of Follow Me an Die!, took several shots including the one at the top of this post. I had just given out the character sheets so everyone is studying them intently. Here's a shot showing Larry's set up, including his id card, character sheet, and the players map:

Larry of Follow Me an Die!

I started the session with some background on Basic D&D, how J. Eric Holmes came to edit it, introducing each pre-gen, and the background for the Zenopus dungeon. Due to the time limits, I started the PCs right at the dungeon entrance. As the con description indicated, "Murray the Magic-user has located a previously unknown means of entry to the old dungeons and has gathered you all in hopes of finding the legendary brazen head of Zenopus, a mask reputed to have the power of speech."

I'm not going to write up the entire game to avoid spoilers, as I plan to run this again, and also make it available for others to run (hopefully with art by Chris!). But the session was great fun, with enthusiastic players and some memorable incidents. It plays out differently each time I run it, which is what I was hoping for. There is actually enough material for several sessions if time allowed.

Here is another picture Larry took of the minis in action, which I cropped this to hide their opponents.

Larry of Follow Me an Die!

Some of the specific rules I used for this game:

-Dexterity for initiative. I made a list of the pre-gens, ordered by initiative, and simply went through the list each round of combat. I gave all of the Monsters dexterity scores prior to the game, so they simply went at the appropriate spot in the list.

-All weapons did d6 damage, except two-handed weapons were +1 to hit and damage. Some large HD monsters did 2d6 or 3d6 damage per blow.

-Fighter classes could make one attack per level against "ordinaries" - normal humans or humanoids. This is mentioned in OD&D volume 2 for monsters, and then more clearly described for players by Gygax in the OD&D FAQ in Strategic Review #2.

Finally, a big thank you to everyone who played in the game. It was great to meet & game with you! Cory (Boinger), Clint (Sunna), Demos (Zereth), Eugene (Geoffrey), Ioan (Max), Jeffrey (Murray), Jesse (Ambrose), Larry (Olaf & Haldor), Steve (Hortensa), and Wade (Bardan)

Next up, Day Two continued: En Garde and Discovery of the Unknown.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Return to Gary Con: Day One

I drew a Skull Mountain on the back of my badge since half the time it would flip around

So I made it back to Gary Con!

The first time I went, two years ago, I had great fun playing in games run by former TSR employees or associates (Merle Rasmussen, Dave Megarry, Tom Wham, Dave Wesely) and attending events (Horticultural Hall reception, Charity Auction). This time I leveled up to GM, signing up to run two sessions of my Zenopus Dungeon sequel, In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus. 

I arrived one day earlier this time, on Thursday, flying into the Milwaukee airport. MKE is a nice small airport, and the only one I've ever been to with a used bookstore, and a good one at that, with a bunch of shelves of old SF/Fantasy paperbacks, including many Appendix N authors. I didn't have time to stop there on the way in, but I did on the way out (I'll show what I bought later).

After picking up my rental car, I drove west to Lake Geneva, a pleasant trip on the highway once you get out of the area around the airport. Snow was everywhere unlike two years ago when it was held in late March. As I neared the town on a country road I stopped at a random deli, Shavers, for a sandwich. I looked for cheese curds in the fridge but didn't buy them since I wasn't sure when I would be able to get into the room I was sharing (smart move, as it turned out to be after midnight).

Once at the hotel I checked in to Gary Con registration (behind Erol Otus...!) and picked up my GM folder and black GM cup. This year's cup design features a stylized Aboleth, a Lovecraftian monster that first appeared in I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City:

Gary Con XI cups. Source: Gary Con FB group?

My first event was a card game, Jasmine: Battle for the Mid-Realm, run by its creator Darlene, perhaps best known in D&D circles for drawing the legendary World of Greyhawk maps. She did all illustrations for this criminally overlooked game herself, and released it in 1982. I featured one of the cards on my blog last summer. The story elements of the game tie into her comic strip of the same name that ran in Dragon magazine.

Playing Jasmine: Battle for the Mid-Realm 

Darlene is still has original copies of the game for sale, and I picked one up from her last June at at the North Texas RPG Con, but hadn't had a chance to play it, so I
 thought this would be a nice way to learn the game. The game is for 2-4 players and has four factions, and I chose the one for Jasmine:

The Jasmine Faction. Source: BGG, photo by Hawklord

Each turn you can rearrange your faction cards between battlefield and fortress stacks, and they stay there until your next turn. You draw a random card from the deck and then take an action, which can involve playing a card or attacking another player the cards in your battlefield stack. It was quite fun, and our game featured lots of twists and turns. Despite losing Jasmine to death near the beginning of the game, I managed to bring her back and somehow ended up winning the game...!

Also playing in this game was Paleologos who I've corresponded with for years on Dragonsfoot and by email. Astute readers may remember that he designed my go to map for Portown. We also played in each other games and generally had a great time chatting throughout the weekend.

The Harrison Ford lineup. Source: me

After dinner I missed my scheduled evening game due to a time mix-up on my part, but was luckily able to jump into my pal Scott's Savage Worlds game. Scott always comes up with great concepts for his con games, and this one did not disappoint. In "Harrison Ford's Theatre", every player takes on the role of a Harrison Ford character from a different movie. I was Richard Kimble and joined Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Rick Deckard, Jack Ryan and the Air Force One president as we traveled from scene to scene from the movies trying to figure out why were all together (edit: for this game, since we had an extra player he added Alexei Vostrikov, the captain from K-19: The Widowmaker). It was a lot of fun, with a great group of players who got into character (one wore an Indiana Jones fedora). If you are wondering about the cards in the pictures, they are used for initiative in Savage Worlds. 

The Harrison Fords in the Death Star Detention Block! Source: me

Next up --- Day Two, Part One: first Zenopus game!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Gary Con XI Bound!

Later this week I'll be attending Gary Con XI in Lake Geneva, WI. I'm scheduled to run two sessions of In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus (formerly known as Return to the Tower of Zenopus, see teaser below), once on Friday morning at 9, and once Saturday evening at 7. Each session is currently full. I ran this last summer at North Texas RPG Con; this will be its first appearance at Gary Con.

I've also signed up to play a number of RPGs: Call of Cthulhu, En Garde, AD&D, Boot Hill and Empire of the Petal Throne.

The Gary Con XI Event Guide can be downloaded here on the GC site. 124 pages (!).

Among much other info, the Event Guide includes the following Holmesiana:

*The "Pioneers Who Have Passed" section includes J. Eric Holmes (page 5).

*The "Why We Are Here" tribute to Gary Gygax includes a quote from his Preface to the Holmes Basic rulebook, along with a thumbnail of the blue rulebook cover (Lizard Logo printing) (page 7).

*Pat Kilbane ("Bizarro Kramer" on Seinfeld), who is one of the guests of honor and is working on a documentary about Gary Gygax, started with Holmes Basic in 1979 (page 24).

*The 2nd annual Legends Tournament on Friday night is a sequel to B1 In Search of the Unknown written by Mike Carr and Paul Stormberg, 40 years after the original (page 44). I'm signed up to play in one of the teams competing in this!

*There's a full-page advertisement for Tales of Peril on page 52. And the book will be available for purchase at the Black Blade Publishing booth during the con.

*Thursday afternoon from 3-7 PM, Mike Mearls of WOTC is running his own game titled Return to the Tower of Zenopus, with the teaser: "Long ago, a band of adventurers dispatched by the mysterious sage Jeric D’Holmes plunged into the tunnels beneath the ruined tower of Zenopus. The dungeons beneath the tower were long thought empty, but now ghouls, goblins, and worse plague the small city of Portown by night. Could the source of this evil be found in this supposedly abandoned dungeon?" (page 64)

*A Blueholme game, "A Tale of Two Temples" is being run twice, Fri 9-1 PM and Fri 7-11 PM: "Deep under a long abandoned temple of Law, a Temple of Chaos thrives and with it a sanctuary for outlaws and exiles. This knaves’ haven now harbors the most famous thief in the known world, and the King has chosen you and your friends to bring him to justice. We’ll be using Blueholme rules for a 70’s style dungeon crawl, so bring your iron spikes, holy water, and ten foot pole"

*The blurb for my game appears on pages 74 and 105:
"Meet at the Green Dragon Inn and return to the dungeon under the ruined tower of the doomed wizard Zenopus to search for his legendary talking mask, forty years after adventurers first braved the passages. Play as Boinger, Zereth, Murray, or another character from J. Eric Holmes’ stories. This adventure from the Zenopus Archives celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Holmes Basic D&D set"