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Monday, April 19, 2021

Scrum Con 2021: online April 24-25

This coming weekend, Scrum Con returns for the third time! This year's con will be solely virtual due to the ongoing pandemic; we hope to in-person gaming next year.

Going virtual allows us to expand to two days of games & more on Saturday, April 24th and Sunday, April 25th. Register for the con at our new website,; the cost is $5, and there is currently no limit on the number of games you can register for. 

The following games and seminars currently have open seats:

Sat 10 AM-2 PM:

"Battle on the Borderland", a CHAINMAIL fantasy miniatures game run on a real sandtable.

Sat 2:30-6:30 PM:

"The Counterattack: Elves against the Dark Emperor", a Ral Partha Chaos Wars (2016 revived) miniatures scenario.

Sat 7-11 PM:

"The Garnet Town Gambit", a RIFTS Savage Worlds Adventure Game.

"Star Schlock - Battle for Verdo Prime": a tabletop miniatures skirmish game, based on 1980s Sci-fi Movies. See more here at the website for the game: Star Schlock.

Sun 11 AM-3 PM:

"Into the Dragon's Lair", a 5E D&D game for kids ages 9-14, run by a kid of like age (this one is free)

"Stringbags Out of Darkness", a "heavily modified Torpedo Raiders" WWII wargame scenario.

"Wampus Country: Into the Lumberlands", a Moldvay Basic D&D (aka B/X) game run by Erik Jensen of the Wampus Country blog (I'm signed up for this game).

Sun 1 PM:

Interview and Q&A with Jon Peterson, author of Playing at the World and The Elusive Shift.

Sun 3:30-7:30 PM:

"Ambush in Provence", a WWII tank-combat miniatures game run using the What a Tanker rules.

"In Deep Trouble", a fantasy miniatures skirmish game run using Crawlcraft, a custom system that blends D&D, Warcraft and MTG.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Aggroach: New Monster

A new monster for the Forgotten Smugglers' Cave adventure, which starts here.

Illustration by Lore Suto


Least Large Huge Giant (Adult)
Move 150 feet/turn 120 feet/turn 90 feet/turn 60 feet/turn,
30 feet flying
Hit Dice 1 hp 1/2 1 2
Armor Class 7 6 5 4
Treasure Type nil nil nil nil
Attacks 1 1 1 1
Damage 1 hp 1d4 1d6 1d8

A large, aggressive cockroach that has recently invaded the region of Portown, likely brought in with smuggled goods from afar. The earliest encountered specimens were only one foot long (the least aggroach*), but unfortunately these were merely the earliest instar (stage) after hatching. The most numerous of the forms, these are, luckily, often eaten by those hardy predators that can stomach them, like giant rats. The survivors, however, grow and toughen with each molt, until finally transforming into the adult form, the winged giant aggroach, which is as long as a halfling is tall.

An omnivorous hunter, an aggroach will attack by rearing up on its hindlegs and then lashing out with the razor sharp spines on its forelegs. Like their smaller kin, they are somewhat social, hunting in packs with similarly-sized members (e.g., 2d6 least, 1d10 large, 1d6 huge, 1d4 adults). 

When killed, an aggroach will release a "death stench" to warn away other members of its species (make a morale check or flee). This smell is revolting to humans and their kin, and thus anyone who delivers a killing melee blow to one must make a save vs poison or attack at -2 for 1d6 turns (save at +1 for the least, and -1 for the giant). It is rumored that various wizards in the area are now paying for intact larger specimens so that they might study the stench-producing glands in order to determine if they have any practical application in magical research.

Friday, March 5, 2021

The Forgotten Smugglers Cave #8: Reef Cavern

This is an installment of The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, which starts at Area 1.

Area 3

Area 9

8. REEF CAVERN: The tunnel south from from Area 3 (Grotto) slopes gently down to this area. Any thief passing through it will recognize faint markings in smugglers' code indicating danger in the water. The passage opens up to a rocky beach, smaller than the one in the Grotto, on the edge of a much larger water-filled cavern (roughly oval-shaped, 200' east-west, 100' north-south).

The cavern is dimly lit by weird purple and green lights shimmering beneath the surface of the clear, gently-rippling water, the source of the light being an expansive cold-water reef of glowing, strangely-shaped corals, among which dart a variety of creepy but harmless fish. From the shore, the bottom rapidly drops off to a depth of about 15 feet. To the east, a hundred feet across the water, is a darker area where it looks like there may be an exit. The water is cold and brackish, being a mix of fresh water coming from the east and sea water entering through unseen underwater passages. 

The rowboat from Area 3 will travel 10' per round with 1 or 2 people with improvised paddles, or 20' with 3 or 4 paddling. However, unless it has been re-waterproofed, such as with the pine pitch in Area 7, it will leak and sink within 5 rounds, or 10 rounds if 2 or more characters continuously bail. The empty barrels from Area 7 can be paddled at only 5' per round, but will not leak. If anyone enters the chilly water, purposefully or not, assume they can swim adequately in normal clothing (10' per round) or leather armor (5' per round), but sink in metal armor, with a 50% chance each round to remove it, or take 1d6 points of damage from drowning (these rules are adapted from those in the Sample Dungeon).

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changesScattered about the reef are a dozen of the the Sea-Changed (link goes to the full write-up for this new monster; abbreviated stats are below), ordinarily quiescent. However, any activity that disturbs the water may attract their attention; throwing rocks only has a 1 in 12 chance, but each round of boating or swimming has a 1 in 6 chance. If so, 1d4 of the Sea-Changed will rise to the surface and attempt to inflict "the sea-change" on the living (which happens on a successful hit followed by a failed save versus poison). Once a character is inflicted, no more attacks will be made on them; if all characters are so affected, the Sea-Changed will return to the bottom. The change causes the loss of one point of dexterity per day as the calcification spreads, and upon reaching zero, the victim will be transformed into one of the Sea-Changed, and then drawn back to the reef.

The Sea-Changed (12): DX 6, AC 5, HD 1+1, AT 1 claws or weapon, D: 1d6 + save vs poison or inflict calcification (lose 1 point of dexterity per day until transformed into one of the Sea-Changed), undead (turned as zombie; any that are successfully turned will return to quiescence in the reef); 1 in 10 have pearlescent eyes (roll on the gem table for value).

The Sea-Changed by Lore Suto

Crusty Bones Locker.  Barely visible in the middle of the coral reef is an ornate, padlocked chest, so covered in calcifications that it has become an immovable part of the reef. Even if unlocked, the lid will not open; the only way to get at the contents is to smash through the top. Inside is a mixture of 500 gold coins (500 g.p.) and 50 small pearls (10 g.p.), one of which is a red pearl (heals 10 HP once per day; fighters only; from the Blackmoor Supplement).

There are two exits from this area, north and east, which can be found by following the links on the above map; if there is no link, the area is not yet posted. 

Chronologically on this blog, the previous post installment was Area 7 and the next posted installment will be Area 9.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Holmes Day 2021

Today marks the 91st anniversary of the birth of J. Eric Holmes in 1930. Above is a picture that Chris Holmes sent me a while back for the J. Eric Holmes Photo Gallery, which I will be adding to it shortly. Chris doesn't have a specific date but thinks it is from the late '50s or early '60s.

Some "Holmesian Highlights" of the past year for me, in roughly chronological order:

On Leap Day, just before the pandemic hit, helping the Scrum Club put on its second Scrum Con, including running a session In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus. A bit of new news: Scrum Con may return later this year in virtual form!

Being a guest on the Wandering DMs Chat show on YT, talking about the original Sample Dungeon and my 5E conversion.

Releasing three new reference sheets for Holmes Ref, including an Equipment Sheet, "Rolling Up An Adventurer" and a Dungeoneering Reference Sheet.

Chris Holmes being a guest on the Appendix N podcast and being interviewed by the newly resurgent Grognardia.

In the summer, running an all too brief series of D&D games for my kids, exploring B1. To be continued?

The publisher of The Maze of Peril starting to sell copies from the original 1986 printing on Amazon, making it much easier to obtain a copy.

Reviewing Sunny Rolls the Dice
 by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (no relation to J. Eric Holmes), the most recent installment in a coming-of-age series of graphic novels, and one that prominently features D&D and Holmes Basic.

Discovering that an audio recording of "Frontiers in Brain Research", a lecture that Holmes gave at Worldcon 36 in 1978 (aka IguanaCon) was available for download on the internet. This is a real treat if you missed it at the time!

Watching the success of The Ruined Tower of Zenopus, my first "commercial" project, on DMs Guild over the year, as it earned a Platinum badge. A big thank you to everyone who took the time to review it

"Octopus Attack" by Chris Holmes for The Ruined Tower of Zenopus

Updating the RTOZ adventure twice during the year, first to add a map file for Roll20/VTT (essential during the pandemic), and then to add a printer-friendly map, and best of all, a commissioned illustration by Chris Holmes.

Being interviewed by Bart Carroll for the D&D Classics Column in issue #32 of Dragon+, the on-line successor to Dragon Magazine!

The Lurker in the Grotto by Lore Suto

Trying something new on the blog: writing an adventure, The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, in installments, area-by-area. I've been lucky to have a talented artist, Lore Suto, volunteer to provide art for the series. This is still in the progress, with Area #7 being posted last week, and the next one coming soon!

Please leave comments below on anything of interest from the past year or that you are looking forward to: Holmesian games you've run or played in, or are planning to; stories of starting D&D with Holmes Basic; etc

See also: Holmes Day 2020

Sunday, February 7, 2021

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #7: Dry Storage

This is an installment of The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, which starts at Area 1.

Area X
Area 5

The squares show the niches described below

A large cavern, and very dark; entering from the west with a light source will reveal a circular space with irregular walls, a dry stone floor, and scattered rubble, the largest of which is an immense fallen stalactite in the center of the room
. No other exits are clearly visible, although the rough walls create many shadowed areas (which hide a number of niches; see below). Rusted torch sconces are attached to the wall on each side of the entrance to the room.

Fallen Stalactite. Lying on its side in a northwest (base, 5 feet wide) to southeast (tip, 3 feet wide) direction, this massive cylindrical rock is roughly 10 feet long. The chamber is sufficiently large to walk all of the away around it. On the far side from the entrance, a pair of skeletal legs wearing cavalier boots protrude from beneath the stalactite --- apparently those of someone who was caught underneath when it fell. The legs point out toward the shadowed niche in the northeast corner (see below).

The stalactite can be lifted just enough to pull the skeleton out by several characters with a combined strength of 60 (e.g., four each with 15 or greater strength), or by any two characters of average strength (11 or greater), each using a lever (see the north niche below) placed on a suitable fulcrum (e.g., a piece of rubble). The upper torso of the skeleton remains somewhat intact due to a slight depression in the floor, and looped around the neck is a silver chain (value 100 gp) with an iron key that will open a chest in Area ? (to be updated).

Niches. Closer examination of the walls will reveal a number of niches, which were used by the smugglers to store supplies. There are a total of seven large niches (marked by squares on the map above) in locations roughly corresponding to the following compass points: 

NW, N, NE, E, SE, S, SW
(click to jump to the description of each below)

    a. Northwest. The niche in this direction is at floor level and large enough to walk into, but after five feet the back slopes down for about ten more feet before ending, and this area is filled with the discarded remains of crates, bins, jars and jugs, which once held various supplies of food and drink. A search of the junk for one turn will yield one intact and tightly-sealed jug of vinegar (formerly apple cider).

    b. North. This shelf-like niche is about two feet off the ground, and on the shelf lies a row of iron tools, all rusty but usable, including an adze (for shaping wood), an auger (for drilling holes), two hammers, a maul and three 5' long digging bars, which could be used for levering up the fallen stalactite (see above).

        Beyond the tools, the niche continues for 5 feet and then narrows to a tunnel large enough for a human to crawl through, one person at a time, but ending in rubble after 15 feet. The rubble can be cleared out in 1d4 turns, but doing so will only reveal a dead end of solid rock.

    c. Northeast. This large niche is just a few inches above floor-level, and holds large pile of mouldering ropes and a bunched-up canvas sail. Hiding in the folds of the sail is a Giant Centipede. If disturbed, the centipede will attempt to scurry to the back of the niche, where it will hide among the rubble ten feet back (see below), and then bite at anyone who bothers it there.

        Giant Centipede: DX 15, AC 9, HD 1/4, hp 1, AT 1 poisonous bite, save at +4

        Beneath the sail are a ladle and four sealed clay pots, each filled with pine pitch. There is sufficient pitch to re-waterproof the old rowboat in Area 3 (this will take two pots) and/or the four barrels in the southwest niche (this will take one pot). The pitch must be heated over a fire before application; any character familiar with ships, or even having lived near a coast, will know this.

        Past the piles, the niche narrows as above for the north niche, and reaches rubble after 10 feet, but here there is just enough space for an unarmored human to squeeze past, and each turn spent clearing has a 2 in 6 chance of enlarging the tunnel enough for an armored character. Beyond this, the tunnel soon turns east and continues to Area X (to be updated). 

    d. East. In this direction, the niche is about fifteen feet above the floor, and the wall leading up to it is smooth and not easily climbed by non-thieves (normal chance for thieves). The niche is only about 5 feet tall and deep, and is empty with several cracks in the back wall. Deep in one crack is wedged a flat unholy symbol of Dagon depicting a humanoid shark, and made of mother-of-pearl (worth 500 gp):

    e. Southeast. This is the largest niche, located at floor level and 10 feet high and deep. A low moaning sound will be heard by anyone standing at the mouth. If a light is shone towards the back, it will reveal that the moaning is emanating from a ten-foot tall figure in a dark grey robe wrapped in ropes, arms raised, standing against the back wall. However, this figure is unmoving, and closer inspection will reveal it to be a statue wrapped in an oilskin canvas, and the moaning to be a trick of wind filtering through tiny cracks in the back of the niche.

        The statue is a warrior sea goddess, made of a finely carved and exquisitely painted wood (cedar), worth 10,000 GP to the right buyer in Portown. The statue is too large to fit through the sea cave entrance (Area 1) or even up the chimney in Area 5. However, being made of cedar means that it is buoyant, and thus could be floated through Areas 8 and 9 and then hauled the rest of the way through the caves to Portown.

    f. South. Another shelf-like niche, similar to the north niche, but about 3 feet off the ground and with a horizontal cast-iron rack lying on it, holding six rusted cutlasses. Five are usable but have a 1 in 6 chance of breaking with each successful hit. The sixth appears similar to the others, but on closer inspection the grip will be noted to be engraved with a pattern of waves. This cutlass of the high tide has magical powers that are activated by immersing it in, or anointing it with, fresh sea water. If such is done, it will become a +1 weapon, +3 versus sea creatures, as well as functioning as a +1 ring of protection. These powers will last for one day, after which it must be dowsed with fresh sea water to activate it again. 

    The back of this niche narrows to a blocked tunnel, similar to the north niche (see above).

    g. Southwest. Another large niche at floor level containing four empty barrels (once holding water, long since evaporated), a few wooden cups, and a rusted ladle. The barrels remain in fair shape and could be used to float through Areas 8 and 9; each will hold a single person.

The only apparent exit from this room is back to the west (the northeast niche conceals a crawlable tunnel that heads east). Follow the links on the above map; if there is no link, the area is not yet posted.

To be continued...

Chronologically on this blog, the previous posted installment was Area 6 and the next posted installment was Area 8.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Chainmail Announcement from Domesday Book #9

Above is an early (perhaps the first) announcement for Chainmail, from the Domesday Book periodical, issue #9. While referred to simply as "Medieval Miniatures rules", they are by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren, include a Fantasy Supplement, and are sold by Lowrys Hobbies, so there's no mistaking what it is for.

This excerpted image was posted by Rob Kuntz here on EnWorld in 2019, and its existence was earlier noted in Playing at the World, both the book (page 42) and the blog ("this issue contains the first notice of the publication of Chainmail in the Domesday Book"). I'd thought I'd share it here because I don't think a lot of folks have seen it.

For search-engine posterity, here is the transcribed text:

"Announcing a completely revised set of Medieval Miniatures rules, with a large         fantasy suppliment for fighting Tolkien-type battles, by Gary Gygax and Jeff                   Perren (of course!). For this and your wargaming needs it's                                     LOWRYS HOBBIES, Box 1123, Evansville, Indiana 47713 Giant Catalog - 50¢"

Lowrys Hobbies was the previously established Evansville-based mail-order business of Don Lowry, who in 1971 founded Guidon Games to publish Chainmail and other games; in 1972 he moved both to Belfast, Maine. Here's the cover of a 1972 Lowrys catalog still showing the Evansville address:

The "(of course!)" aside presumably refers to the fact that Perren & Gygax had published their medieval rules in an earlier issue of the Domesday Book (#4, July 1970), titled "The LGTSA Miniatures Rules". You can read more about these rules, which did not yet include a Fantasy Supplement, here on the Playing at the World blog.

The Acaeum page for the Domesday Book has issue #9 as "Date Unknown" (indicated here as "undated"), but dates the next issue as "April 1971", which would place issue #9 as earlier that that. However, this April date seems to be taken from the date of the one of the articles ("Ancients Society Report, Last Issue, 4/30/71"), which since this is at the very end of April might mean that #10 was actually published later. Playing at the World indicates that issues #8-11 came out "roughly quarterly" (page 634).

Over on the mostly defunct but still useful Tome of Treasures forum, poster scribe wrote that the April 1971 issue of International Wargamer has a full-page advertisement for Guidon Games that includes Chainmail: International Wargamer April 1971 listing at ToT.

Domesday Book #9 also contained the first map of the Great Kingdom, which eventually led to the settings for both Arneson's Blackmoor and Gygax's Greyhawk campaign. An auspicious publication!

The cover of Domesday Book #9 as shown on the Acaeum

(The above material is revised from my posts on the EnWorld thread link above).

Thursday, January 28, 2021

"D&D and Fantasy Fiction: Giants in the Oerth": a talk by John Rateliff

On 1/28/21 there was a online talk, open to the public, titled "D&D and Fantasy Fiction: Giants in the Oerth", given by John D. Rateliff, who is both a Tolkien scholar (author of the History of the Hobbit) & a former TSR employee (author of the Return to the Keep on the Borderlands module among others). The talk was recorded and is now available here:

I watched the talk & enjoyed it, particularly Rateliff's concluding "fantasy crossroads" image  from the last issue of the Strategic Review. Knowing that Rateliff had written his doctoral dissertation on Lord Dunsany, I asked a question about his influence on D&D, having been listed in Appendix N of the Dungeon Masters Guide.

The talk was co-hosted by the University of Glasgow Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic , which has a page for the talk here:

Rateliff blogs regularly at Sacnoth's Scriptorium:

(Updated 1/29)