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.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this. I saved your map in case I get to play one day again :)

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  2. Update: I just found out the Dyson Logos did the area map of Saltmarsh! I revised the post above to note this.

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  3. Nice discussion -- if I ever run Ghosts of Saltmarsh I'll definitely be including the Holmes dungeon!

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  4. If anyone is interested, the 3.5 book DMG II had a complete Saltmarsh write up. I've never read it so I can't comment on its quality but it appears to be a complete flashing out of the town.

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