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.