Thursday, March 26, 2020

Gary Con XII Goes Virtual!

Gary Con XII has gone virtual due to COVID-19! 

It starts today, March 26th and runs through Sunday March 29th. 

Tabletop Events has a completely separate site for Virtual Gary Con, and badges are free to all, even if you weren't signed up for the physical con. There are over 650 events on the schedule (mostly RPG, but also including seminars and other group events), and at least 230 of those still have seats available. And you can still sign up for games. The Gary Con Facebook Group is probably the most active site to check in to see what's going on during the con. 

Before last weekend, I had never played on-line, let alone GM'd a game, so I didn't feel comfortable signing up to run one of my previously scheduled games for VGC. But I am signed up to play in a bunch of games using a variety of formats (Roll20, Astral Tabletop, Zoom, Discord, Google Hangouts, Skype), so I am using this as opportunity to learn so I will be able run a game this way in the future.

Last Saturday night I played in a game in Roll20 for the first time. This was run by Scott of my local group, playtesting a game for Virtual Gary Con, "Scooby Doo and the Ghost of Vault 74", a Scooby/Fallout mashup run using Savage Worlds rules. I played Scoob himself. I had to learn a lot of Roll20 technical details, but overall I found it worked very well and enjoyed the session. Scott put a lot of effort into making a fun map for us to interact with. We used the audio/video in the game rather than a separate program, which worked well enough for me. The screenshot below is the welcome screen (from post-session, I didn't think to capture a shot during the game and I wouldn't want to spoil any of it anyway).

See you at the con!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus Adaptation by An Abominable Fancy

Joel Priddy over at An Abominable Fancy has a great series of posts on his adaptation of The Ruined Tower of Zenopus to his own game world! 

Here is an excerpt:

"Portown becomes Bandar Arzoo, an outpost of Parsas, the pseudo-Persia of my campaign. Built on the ruins of an ancient city, the base of most of the buildings are large blocks of milky-white rock, fitted without mortar, remnants from the ruin. The town's master is a badly-mutilated Rakshasa in magical disguise, bidding his time being devilishly charming and enjoying what luxuries his position affords until he is sufficiently recovered to cause some real trouble.
The Green Dragon Inn becomes Tennin Ad-ham, which serves a spiked wine called The Mother of All Evils.
Zenopus' tower is called Tabah, the ruin, by those who don't recall the story of Zenopus, and the Thaumaturgist's tower is Beda-At, the new tower."

Here are links to the six parts; the last also has links back to all of them:

Nutshell Review & Prep Notes Part One: Room A

Part Two: Rooms B-E

Part Three: Rooms F & G

Part Four: Rooms H-M

Part Five: Rooms N-S3

Part Six: Wandering Monsters

Thank you, Joel!

Product Link:
The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild

Monday, March 16, 2020

In Search of the Brazen Head of Scrum Con

Brazen Head illustration by John Sears of the 1000 Foot General

In seems incredible that Scrum Con 2020 was only two-and-half-weeks ago, in those halcyon pre-pandemic days.

In my Post-Op report I said I would write more about the game I ran, which was a session of In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus. The con program listing is shown above, with great Brazen Head art by John of the of the 1000 Foot General. It was scheduled to be at Table 14 in the Spring Room, but the game was actually ran in the upstairs Fenton room at the Civic Center; see the "dungeon map" of the site in this post.

This scenario is a sequel to the original Zenopus dungeon, set forty years later and using Holmes' characters from the Maze of Peril as pre-gens. 

IIRC, this was the fifth time that I have run this scenario. The four earlier occasions were: an initial playtest with my Local Group; a first con run at North Texas RPG Con in 2018 (with Chris Holmes playing!; pictures by players are here (Allan G.) and here (Noah G.)), and two sessions last year at Gary Con X; the first of which is written up here. I was supposed to run it again at Gary Con this year but the physical event has been canceled. I'd like to run it as part of Virtual Gary Con (badges and seats in available games are free to all!) but I have no experience with on-line games. I will play in at least one game at VGC in order to start gaining some experience in that milieu.

For Scrum Con, the game had a full table of players; with all of the pre-gens in play: Boinger, Zereth, Murray, Lady Hortensa, Sir Geoffrey, Brother Ambrose, Bardan, Olaf & Haldor (played together), Maximillian the Centaur and Sunna. I think this has happened only once before, in the first game I ran at Gary Con last year.

Olaf & Haldor character sheet and "table tent", photo by Ellen Levy

I'd like to share a full run-down of the game, but I'm still keeping the details secret to preserve certain surprises. So that will have to wait until some point in the future, perhaps after I publish it in some form.

I will say the Scrum Con group played their characters strategically. David H., playing Boinger, made an extremely innovative use of a found magic item, which made for a very memorable encounter. This group was also the first group to enter a certain part of the dungeon, so it was fun to get to playtest that area for the first time. Here is another photo of the game, different from the one I posted in my earlier post:

Running In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus, photo by Ellen Levy

The group included at least four folks who are members of the Holmes Basic Facebook Group, none of whom I had met in person before. Thanks to everyone who participated; it was great to meet and game with you!

If you would like to see more photos of the con, there are over 400 (!) here in a post on the blog Scrum in Miniature, written by our prime motivator, Joe.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus goes Electrum!

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus hit Electrum Best Seller status on DMs Guild last week! I've updated the image on the product page to include the Electrum badge; this is shown above but won't show up on the actual purchased pdf.

It's currently on sale for $1.79 as part of the site-wide sale for DM's Day (March 4th, the anniversary of the passing of Gary Gygax), which runs through the 15th.

Again, a big thank you to everyone who has purchased it, plus an even bigger thank you to those who have taken the time to write out a review it, including:

Old School Tumblr
Erik Jensen via Twitter
Noah at the Hapless Henchmen
Joel at the Abominable Fancy 

And any others I'm forgetting at the moment!

If you have purchased and have a moment, it could use more Ratings and short Reviews on the DMs Guild site itself.

If you missed it, I was recently on the Wandering DMs chatting live about the Ruined Tower, and it is was recorded.

Product Link:
The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild

Monday, March 9, 2020

Wandering DMs Live Chat Recording

I had a great time chatting with the Wandering DMs yesterday! We focused on the Ruined Tower of Zenopus and the original Sample Dungeon but naturally the conversation ranged to other Holmes-related & old school D&D topics.

The archive video recording of our conversation can now be found on their YT channel here:

Wandering DMs Season 02 Episode 10

There are also a podcast versions (no video) available in various places: Wandering DMs site Spotify Apple Podcasts Stitcher Listen Notes

Thank you to Dan & Paul for having me on their show!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

I will be a guest on Wandering DMs live chat tomorrow

FYI, I will be a guest on the Wandering DMs live chat tomorrow at 1 PM EST with hosts Delta & Paul!

They are fellow bloggers at Delta's DND Hotspot and Paul's Gameblog, respectively.

Their YT channel is here:

The twitter promo is here:
"Set your clocks right, because we've got Zach from @ZenopusArchives on the show tomorrow to talk about his smash-hit Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DM's Guild, and his unmatched knowledge of Holmes Basic #DnD (1 PM Sunday)"

Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Scrum Con Ad for the Ruined Tower of Zenopus

This is the advertisement for The Ruined Tower of Zenopus that was printed in the program for Scrum Con 2020! This sharp design was created by Second Saturday Scrum Club member John, who blogs at the 1000 Foot General. Read more about the adventure module in my earlier post.

The link in the ad ( goes to the DMs Guild page for the product. Coincidentally, they are having a 20% off sale for DM's Day, so the pdf is now only $1.79.

The entire Scrum Con program can now be viewed on Facebook here. There is also an ad for the second issue of Bayt Al Azif, edited by Jared Smith, which among lots of fantastic Call of Cthulhu scenarios includes a reprint of Holmes' 1983 review of the Call of Cthulhu, along with notes by myself. Read more about this here.

John also did illustrations and layout for the program book, which is a thing of beauty, including this neat dungeon map of the convention center. The editor of the program is Joe Procopio who blogs at Scrum in Miniature, and the photography is by Ellen Levy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Scrum Con 2020 Post-Op

Scrum Con 2020 Program designed by the 1000 Foot General

Scrum Con 2020 was a resounding success! 

A big thank you to the organizers (the Scrum Club), the hard-working GMs, the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society (HMGS), who supported the con with a grant, and all of the attendees who came out and played in the games.

Guest of Honor Zeb Cook running Star Frontiers. Source: the FB Album

A large number of photos are up in a album on the Scrum Con Facebook page
Most of the games at the con are represented, and most are annotated with the names of the GM, scenario and rules system. So you can click through the gallery and see and read about what was played. There were two sessions, morning (10-2) and afternoon (3:30-7:30), with a few shorter sessions starting at other times. The games were an even split between Miniatures and RPGs. Update: there are now over 400 photos in a post on the Scrum in Miniature.

A familiar fiend appeared in Noah G's Dungeon Hack+ game

I've also re-tweeted a bunch of photos from the day, adding the #scrumcon2020 tag.

And there is another con report by John at the 1000 Foot General, a member of the Scrum Club who also ran a session of his Star Schlock game and also designed an impressive program for the con (photo above).

Registration Desk after the morning rush

The games were spread across three rooms in the new venue, the Silver Spring Civic Center which everyone seemed to like. Being a member of the Scrum Club, I helped out around the registration desk in the morning, while my son played in Dragon Hunt, a Blood & Swash miniatures game run by Eric Schlegel of the HAWKS (Harford Area Weekly Kriegspielers). 

The Flea Market was popular all day, with items coming and going, including an extra copy of Dragon Strike (TSR, 1993) that I sold, and a beautiful original Monster Manual that I picked up. Thank you to the Scrum Club members and auxiliaries who manned the fort there.

Food options were plentiful around the site; Cava was basically the closest, which is where we had lunch. After the con a number of us went to McGinty's Public House for dinner, a short walk up the block.

Me (in Sauron cap) running the Brazen Head

In the afternoon I ran In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus in the upstairs Fenton room. I'll write more about it in another blog post. 

At the same time my son played in A Dead Man in Deptford, a wild miniatures (Frostgrave) game set in an alternate reality Elizabethan London, where he was William Shakespeare! This was run by Jeff Wasileski. Below are a few shots I took of this game. The first shows the view my son had sitting at the table; he felt like he was actually in a town.


The picture below was taken just after his party recovered "a work of magical dramaturgy that would open the door to another dimension" in an attic and leapt out the window to escape a demon, leaving one injured and doomed member of their party behind to guard the exit. Nearby is a model representing the Globe Theatre!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Scrum Con 2020 is this Saturday!

The second annual Scrum Con is this Saturday, and you may want to attend if you are in DC Metro area. This year it has moved over to the Silver Spring Civic Building in Silver Spring, MD, just north of DC. The general info page for the con is here: Scrum Con 2020.

Tickets are $15 each, and there are are two sessions of games, from 10-2 and 3:30-7:30. Doors open at 9 AM.

The game sessions are evenly split between RPGs and Miniature Wargames. This close to the event most seats are taken, but there are a few open due to cancellations in the last week. For the latest availability, check the Events Schedule on Tabletop Events. As I write this, there are:

1 seat in Dragon Hunt (Miniatures) from 10-2
1 seat in WaT a Nice Village (Miniatures) from 10-2
2 seats in Incident at Space Station Accipiter (Miniatures) from 11-1 (2 hour game)
1 seat in B8 Journey the Rock (B/X RPG) from 3:30-7:30

I will be running a session of In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus in the afternoon, but the seats are all filled currently.

In the morning I will be helping to give out badges to attendees. If you attend, make sure to say hello! 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Playing at the World on Identifying Dice of the 1970s

C. P. dice (front) versus Holmes Basic dice (back). Source: Playing at the World

Jon Peterson has a new video on YT up looking at the dice that were available for sale in the 1970s, and how to identify them:

It's a great video, rich with information, examples and period photos. There's an accompanying blog post with more photos and dice maps. See embedded link below.

In the video the Holmes Basic dice feature prominently as a starting point for Jon to look at the other less common dice of the '70s. I did not know that the Creative Publications dice set sold by TSR, seen here in their original packaging, can be distinguished from the later set shipped with Holmes Basic. The most prominent distinguishing feature is the color of the d6, pink in the CP set and orange-red in the Holmes set. I had previously attributed the color variations to lighting in photos.

Identifying the Dice of the 1970s

How can you recognize a polyhedral gaming die made in the 1970s? The video above gives my tips for collectors and researchers who want to roll old school. After the cut, I give a quick reference guide to identifying these dice.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Gary Con XII games I'm running

Gary Con XII general event registration opens up tomorrow at 12 PM Central Time; this is also known as Silver registration and includes the vast majority of badge holders, approximately 2000 in number. Due to the new staggered release of seats for registration, there will be at least one more seat available tomorrow for every game at the con.

This year I'm DMing two different games, each a Holmes + OD&D game. This will be the first time I've run two different scenarios at one con.

Expedition to Skull Stack Crater is on Fri morning from 8 AM to 12 PM. The event listing can be found be found here. This is a "new" scenario; I wrote it a few years ago and ran it as part of my continuing annual kids' campaign.
Join an expedition to Skull Stack Crater to recover the legendary Spear of Decree, stolen from the Realm years ago by skull-masked raiders who then vanished from history. Your party has followed an old map to their hidden lair on an island in a water-filled volcanic crater. This 3rd level adventure from the Zenopus Archives celebrates the 40+ years of the Holmes Basic D&D set. Characters provided. 
In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus is scheduled for Sat night from 7-11 PM. The event listing can be found here; currently, 3 seats remain out of 8. This is the same scenario I ran twice last year, including once in the same time slot:
"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 40+ years of the Holmes Basic D&D set." 

Other Gary Con links of interest:
Gary Con website
Gary Con Forums General Discussion
Badge Registration
Full Schedule of Events (searchable)
Grand Geneva Resort website
Facebook Group

OD&D Discussion thread
Dragonsfoot thread
Knights & Knaves Alehouse thread

According to the Events schedule, there are 24 games listed as OD&D, including mine.

Other GMs on this list include paleologos of the OSR Grimoire blog (2 sessions), Paul Stormberg (3 sessions) and Chicagowiz (1 session), plus 4 from Tim Kask and 1 from Mike Mornard. And Muddy at OD&D Discussion is running three Blueholme games.

Are any other readers of this blog going?

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus reviewed at the Hapless Henchmen

Last week Noah S. over at the Hapless Henchman blog wrote many words about the Ruined Tower of Zenopus (as well the Dungeons & Dragons vs Rick & Morty set...!). Here's an excerpt:
"...What do you get for the price? A literal jumping off point for hours and hours of fun with friends, and of course some tropes that are as warm and comfortable as a bubble-bath. Zach has lovingly taken a 40-odd year old thing and made it readily accessible for current audiences and users of the system..."
Thank you, Noah!

Read the rest over here:

Weview Wednesday - DIY Zenopus vs Sleek Corporate IP Rick

Hey fam! Been off the blogging train for a bit, trying to get my brain in order. Frankly, since the Death of Google Plus and the Great Migration, I haven't been nearly as involved in an online RPG community as I previously was, although I wish that I could be.

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus is on DMs Guild!

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:
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!