Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Holmes Day 2020

I didn't have time to post over the weekend, but Sunday was the 90th anniversary of the birth of J. Eric Holmes on Feb 16th, 1930. In previous years, I've bumped a Holmes Basic Testimonial post, but the comment section for that is getting long, so here's a new post.

For me, some of the Holmes Basic-related highlights of the past year were:

Returning to Gary Con for the second time and running In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus twice, and among many other highlights, playing in Carl Heyl's all-day drop-in Discos & Dragons game where I met his version of Zenopus.

Following the demise of the great G+, compiling the Holmes Basic G+ Community Archive, a collection in blog format of 7 years of posts to the community.

Running a kids' game, the Master's Lair (hope to turn this into a dungeon to share).

Returning to North Texas RPG Con for the third time and playing in Steve Muchow's sequel Zenopus dungeon; playing in Chris Holmes' game; and making a guest appearance as Zenopus himself in another session of Carl's Discos & Dragons game.

Writing up d12 Hauntings for the Zenopus Dungeon.

Continuing my long-running annual kids' game, this time with N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God.

Being a guest on the Save or Die podcast for the second time, in Episode #154: Holmes Basic.

Writing about Holmes' 1946 Letter to a Pulp Magazine.

Facilitating the re-publication of Holmes' 1983 review of Call of Cthulhu RPG in the second issue of Jared Smith's Bayt al Azif zine.

Running the original Zenopus dungeon for the Scrum Club at a special session the weekend following Thanksgiving. Rich McKee transcribed the events of the game, which I apparently forgot to post here but appears on the Third Point of Singularity.

Releasing the Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild, a 5E D&D Conversion of the original Zenopus Dungeon 

And a special shout-out to Thom Hall for running my Beyond the Door to Monster Mountain at DunDraCon 44 this past Saturday, as he has previous years (2017, 2018):

And I'm looking forward to the following in the next few months:

Helping to put on Scrum Con 2020 with the Second Saturday Scrum Club in less than two weeks (Feb 29th), and running a session of the aforementioned Brazen Head game.

Appearing on the Wandering DMs live video chat on Sunday, March 1st at 1 PM EST.

Returning to Gary Con XII at the end of March and for the first time running two different scenarios at a con, the Brazen Head and a new scenario, Expedition to Skull Stack Crater.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Gygaxian Two-Way Secret Doors

Gygaxian Two-Way Secret Door from the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (1979)

Over on Facebook, in the Sages of Greyhawk group, James Ward (author of Metamorphosis Alpha and co-author of Gamma World) has been sharing anecdotes about his early games with Gary Gygax. In the first of these he mentioned:
"It wasn't until years later that I found out that sometimes Gary had two chambers connected to one secret door. Depending on if you pressed the right or left side of the door was the chamber you were allowed to enter."
Like many of Gary's favorite dungeon tricks, we were actually warned about these in the original Dungeons & Dragons rules (1974). Specifically, one appears as area onH the "SAMPLE LEVEL" map in Vol 3, The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures. The corresponding key on the map shows that the standard secret door symbol with a "V" above it refers to a "secret door with two possible ways to open":

The descriptive text for the dungeon level further explains that:
"Point "H" is a two-way secret door. On a die roll of odd, let us suppose, it opens on a room to the west. Otherwise it opens on a passage south."
So this example differs slightly from the version described by Ward in that it opens randomly in two directions, versus opening in two different directions depending on how it is manipulated.

At least two other variations on these doors appear in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (1979). The first is in the Sample Dungeon (pages 95-96), which describes one where the alternate opening is accessed through use of a key hidden in Room 2:
"Clutched in the bony fingers is the special key which will allow the secret door at location 28. to open to the treasury room (29.) rather than to the steps which lead down to the caverns (steps down at 30.)."
In this situation, if the characters don't find the key they are much more likely to end up in the (presumably) more dangerous second level caverns rather than finding the abbey treasury containing the rumored fire opal.

This secret door is shown in the excerpt of the dungeon map included at the top of this page. There, the secret door is indicated by a standard "S" with a line drawn through it indicating the wall between the two different passages it opens onto.

The second example is in APPENDIX H: TRICKS:
"DOOR, SECRET: This pivoting stone portal will always swing open to the left, giving egress to an area guarded by a basilisk. However, if a second hidden stud is found (1% chance), then it will pivot to the right and allow entry to a chamber containing a magical fountain."
It's a bit unclear here if the DM is simply supposed to roll for the 1% chance when the party is making its first secret door check or whether that is the chance if continued searching is made.

Offhand, I can't think of any others, and a quick search of the Gygax modules didn't turn up anything else. Let me know if you know of any others.

See also:
Gygax's Dungeon Delving Level from the Hall of Many Panes, where I look at a number of his other early dungeon traps and tricks.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus reviewed by Erik Jensen

Erik Jensen took the time to write out a nice review of the Ruined Tower of Zenopus in a series of tweets (also copied below).

Erik is the writer of the Wampus Country blog, organizer of Tridentcon, and GM on the schedule for Scrum Con this year and has a "Lumberlands" zine forthcoming. I've met Erik at Tridentcon and  Charm City Game Day several times; in fact, the first time I played 5E was in a game he ran at CCGD.

It's hard to get reviews for new products, so I want to thank Erik for taking the time for this:
Finally had the time to read The Ruined Tower of Zenopus: dmsguild.com/product/301308
has done an AMAZING job with this 5e update of the Holmes sample dungeon, and now I'm going to tell you why.
It's a solid dungeon using the classic map, but it's more than that. It's a great campaign starter for 5e with old-school sensibilities and trappings. It has new 5e monsters and items. Zach gives us 1st-level pregens.
Tips for situating the thing as part of 'Ghosts of Saltmarsh' to turn the beginning of that campaign into a sandbox. You want old-school? A nice rumor table. A delineation of the factions in the dungeon. A list of classic AppN stories that probably inspired Holmes' dungeon. 
'The Ruined Tower of Zenopus' is, stunningly, only $1.99. If you're a 5e DM, pick it up and put it in your go bag. If you're an old-school DM, pick it up and see what Zach did with this baby, you'll appreciate it. Strongly recommended, looking forward to using it myself. 

Get the Ruined Tower of Zenopus here on DMs Guild!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Tom Wham art on Gary Con XII Cups

Gary Con XII cup featuring Wham's Awful Green Things From Outer Space

Luke Gygax recently revealed the designs for the "Gary Con Collectible Stadium Cups" for this year's upcoming event. There are five designs, all featuring art by Tom Wham, most well-known for his self-illustrated board games, but also one of the three artists for the Holmes Basic rulebook. Wham was responsible for three pieces of art in the rulebook, including the famous Skull Mountain. Wham is a regular at Gary Con (scheduled to run four games this year) and a few years back I played in a session of Dragon Lairds (co-designed by Jim Ward) that he refereed, after which he signed the Skull Dungeon in one of my Basic rulebooks! While I didn't know he drew that until a few years ago, I've been a fan of his work since the '80s when I bought a Steve Jackson Games pocket box edition of his classic Awful Green Things From Outer Space, which I still have.

There are five (!) cup designs this year: four for purchase (two "Bright Green Beer" and two "Bright Blue Soda" cups), which give beer or soda discounts, and one white cup that you get if you are a GM, which combines both discounts.

The green cup shown above features the three life stages (egg, baby and adult) of the deadly aliens from Awful Green Things. Their look has varied slightly over the years, but the adults appear similar to those on the cover of the 1979 TSR version, which you can see on his website.

The white GM cup also features art from Awful Green Things, namely the steadfast Znutar robot, Leadfoot. Similar Leadfoot art appears on Wham's website here.

The other green cup features a group of Penguins. This art is more mysterious, but I came across it on his website with the caption, "Penguins of Destiny". This led me to a Worthpoint page archiving an Ebay auction for the original art (images included below), which says: 

Offered for auction is a piece of original art from the great Tom Wham plus a piece of rpg gaming history from Jim Ward. The Penguins of Destiny was an rpg event created by Jim Ward back in the day, and the players got a small penguin figure signed by Jim Ward at the event. Recreated in a piece of original art by Tom Wham for the Gen Con auction in 2013, both are being offered together.

Wham's game File 13: the Game Inventor's Game in Dragon #72 (August 1983) includes the "Penguins of Destiny - the Jim Ward life story game" in the list of invented games.

This blue cup features a running Snit from his other fondly remembered TSR game Snit's Revenge. This snit has distinctive bird-like feet, and I found it on one of the game tokens from the first boxed version from 1978:

Finally, the other blue cup features a flying dragon from Wham's more recent game, Feudality (2011). The dragon shows up on the cover of the game and on this page on his website (scroll to the bottom of the page).

See you at the con, hopefully with a Wham cup in hand! I'll be there and am scheduled to run two game sessions.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Fen Orc on "The Master of Dungeons"

Brubo the Hooded. Read to the end of Fen Orc's post to find out who he is.

Awesome post alert!

The Master of Dungeons

In this post the Fen Orc (formerly known as RPG Forge; I featured two of their posts previously) sets forth a new concept, "The Master of Dungeons", that could be added to any D&D dungeon near a city/town/domain setting. It will create more interactivity between the surface and dungeon elements, and interject all kinds of fun conflict and chaos. The post does an great job laying out the concept and then illustrating with a specific example designed for the Zenopus sample dungeon; I was enthralled as I read it.

The Master of Dungeons

I was reflecting the other day about what a valuable resource 'dungeons' are and how odd it is that, in most campaigns, they don't seem to be owned by anybody. Which is peculiar, really, because dungeons are a powerful economic resource. Not only are they full of treasure, but magic items too.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Delta on the Monsters & Treasures of the Dungeon of Zenopus

As part of a continuing Subterrane Surveys series, Delta's D&D Hotspot has two posts up that look in detail at the monsters and treasures of the Dungeon of Zenopus, and the resultant experience point totals. The first one covers Holmes' original version as seen in the Holmes Manuscript, and the second one looks at the dungeon as published, which includes a number of changes made by Gygax.

Subterrane Surveys: Dungeon of Zenopus (per Holmes)

Today we're looking at the sample dungeon from the first-ever D&D Basic Set, edited by Eric Holmes (1979) -- what many of us now call the "Dungeon of Zenopus". This has been very influential over the years -- and just last week, our friend Zenopus Archives published a 5E conversion on DM's Guild.

Subterrane Surveys: Dungeon of Zenopus (per Gygax)

Today we're again looking at the sample dungeon in the first Basic D&D set (1979), the "Dungeon of Zenopus". Last time we looked at Eric Holmes' original unpublished draft. But after Holmes submitted that work, Gary Gygax took an editorial pass at it, changing many items on a line-by-line basis.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus goes Silver!

Today the Ruined Tower of Zenopus has reached Silver Best Seller on DMs Guild...!

A big thank you to all of you who have purchased it. Please help get the word out by sharing its release, particularly with 5e communities that I am not so plugged into.

The link to it is here on DMs Guild:
The Ruined Tower of Zenopus

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus reviewed on oldschoolfrp Tumblr

Old School FRP is one of my favorite Tumblr accounts --- I've had them in the sidebar here for years; see the section called "Crystal Ball" --- and they consistently post great old school art from TSR and other FRPG products. Yesterday they posted a review of The Ruined Tower of Zenopus:

"I bought this and gave it a first read-through.  It is an excellent conversion of one of my favorite classic low level adventures, updated for 5e.  There are some new monster stat blocks and minor magic items, a little town map on a peninsula (which makes it easier to locate the town on almost any coastline), options for expanding some areas, notes on factions, rumors, and ways to tie Portown to Saltmarsh, plus even 4 pre-gen PCs. Check it out."

The Ruined Tower is available on DMs Guild

Old School FRP

zenopusarchives: This is a 5E conversion of the original Zenopus dungeon that I wrote and is now up on DMsGuild. Read more on the blog: https://zenopusarchives.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-ruined-tower-of-zenopus-5e-on.html I bought this and gave it a first read-through. It is an excellent conversion of one of my favorite classic low level adventures, updated for 5e.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus 5E on DMs Guild

Screenshot of the cover of The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMsGuild

I'm pleased to announce that the previously threatened 5E D&D conversion of Holmes' Sample Dungeon is finally available on the DMs Guild as a 18-page pdf for $1.99:

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus (DMs Guild link)

For use with the conversion a free pdf of the original dungeon, which includes the dungeon map, can be found on the Wizards website. (The Holmes Basic rulebook is still not available on DMs Guild).

In the time since I first announced it, I had my friend Scott review & edit it (particularly for 5E compatibility), I added a sample Portown area map, expanded two areas with additional content, added a list for "Further Reading" and basically tweaked it endlessly. 

Introduction, page 2
The Setting, page 3 (Includes a sample map of Portown & Environs)
About the Dungeon, page 4 (Includes a table of Wandering Monsters)
Areas of the Dungeon, pages 5-11 (Includes two expanded areas)
Appendix A: Further Reading, page 11
Appendix B: Dungeon Factions, page 12
Appendix C: Portown Rumors, pages 13-15
Appendix D: Use with Ghosts of Saltmarsh, page 16-17
Appendix E: Pre-generated 1st level characters, page 18 (four 1st level characters)

Includes the following new monsters, NPCs, and Magic Items for 5E: Cleaning Cube, Veteran Smuggler, Thaumaturgist, Monstrous Sand Crab, Lemunda, Monstrous Rat, Brazen Head of Zenopus, Verminslayer Longsword, Lesser Wand of Petrification, Scroll of Stone to Flesh

Original Dungeon: J. Eric Holmes
Conversion & Additional Content: Zach Howard
Content Review/Editing: Scott McKinley
Format: Derived from "Adventure Template for Open Office/LibreOffice” by Dale Robbins
Cover Art: "Italian Coast Scene with Ruined Tower" by Thomas Cole, 1838. Open Access Image from the National Gallery of Art at images.nga.gov
Portown & Environs Map: Zach Howard

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

"Until the Last Ship Sets Sail Into the West"

Christopher Tolkien reads from the end of the Lord of the Rings

I was saddened to learn that J.R.R. Tolkien's son Christoper Tolkien passed away on January 16th at the age of 95. Christopher's older brothers, John and Michael, predeceased him; his younger sister Priscilla survives him, as well as his children and grandchildren. Of his siblings, Christopher was by far the most involved in father's writing, having edited around twenty volumes of his father's unpublished manuscripts. He was the best positioned to do so, having become an academic at Oxford like this father.

Christopher was heavily involved in Middle-Earth throughout his life, from hearing the Bilbo stories that became The Hobbit as a child to drawing the beautiful maps for the Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien passed away in 1973, and the first posthumous product was The Silmarillion (with the help of Guy Gavriel Kay) in 15 September 1977, just a few months after both Holmes Basic D&D and the Tolkien-derivative The Sword of Shannara, and the same fall that the animated Hobbit was released. This was all part of the late '70s cultural stew that lead up to the early '80s fantasy/sword & sorcery fad, which included D&D's first round of wide-spread popularity (we are in the second round now).

Christopher was around 55 when the Silmarillion came out and it kicked off a publishing era that did not end until the Fall of Gondolin in August 2018, when he was nearly 94! In a way this work was a continuation of his participation in the Inklings, the literary club at Oxford that would listen to and critique each other's writings. Christopher participated in this with his father, and I read somewhere in the past few days that Christopher was the last surviving Inkling. Thus, his passing truly marks the end of an age - the last ship setting sail into the West.

I have a shelf or two full of his books myself, including the entire HOME series (History of Middle-Earth). AI've noted previously, my blog series on the Holmes Manuscript owes something to his style of text analysis.

The other night I started re-watching the Tolkien biopic - I saw it in the theatre when it was released - and it is just as enjoyable on second viewing. I need to dig out and listen to my J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection that includes Christopher reading selections from the Silmarillion. Above I've posted a link to a clip of Christopher reading from the ending of The Lord of the Rings.

Namárië, Christopher.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Dicebreaker Article About OD&D Players

Today Matt Finch (of Uncle Matt's Blog) posted a link to this Dicebreaker article on OD&D: 

Meet the Original Dungeons & Dragons diehards still playing by '70s rules

I'm not familiar with Dicebreaker or the author Steven T. Wright, but the article is a decent primer/intro to OD&D for a modern D&D audience. Smartly, the author talked to Matt and Delta (of Delta's D&D Hotspot) and much of the article reads as a conversation with them. 

Nice to see general interest attention on OD&D, though sadly the article mentions Dragonsfoot but not the OD&D Discussion forumI left a comment thanking the author and providing a link there.

Meet the Original Dungeons & Dragons diehards still playing by '70s rules

Refusing to roll with the times. Most tabletop fans have thrown a rolled a d20 or two in their time - especially now, thanks to the unprecedented popularity of Dungeons & Dragons 5E - but we all have our own opinions about what edition of the RPG rules them all.