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Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #17: Holding Area

This is an installment of a new dungeon adventure set in the Portown milieu, which I'm writing for Holmes Basic D&D. You can find the Introduction to the dungeon here: Area 1.

Each entry includes part of a "pointcrawl" map showing the area & any exits, which include links allowing you to navigate the dungeon:

Area 21
  Area  16  B    
      17. Holding Area         
  === Area 19
Area 18

17. HOLDING AREA. Here the long east-west tunnel running from Area 16 to Area 19 widens, creating a chamber about 20 feet north-south and 40 feet east-west. This space was once used by the smugglers for storing goods brought up from the sea cave. However, at some point in the years after the ceiling of the tunnel collapsed (see Area 15), this chamber was bricked off from the rest of the tunnel. This brick wall is in the center of the west wall, and blocks exit to Area 16 (unless broken through previously by PCs). 

Extending out from the brick wall is a pair of rails, which terminate about 1/3 of the way into the room. At the end of these rails rests a metal "minecart", four feet wide and high, and six feet long (96 cubic feet capacity). Unlike the one in Area 15, this one is empty, but again the wheels are rusted and will not turn unless oiled.

In the north wall is a rusted iron door, which appears to have not been opened for decades. It is locked, but can be unlocked with the key found on the skeleton in Area 7, or by a thief picking the lock, but the hinges are rusted and the door will not swing open unless thoroughly oiled. Beyond the door to the north is Area 21. 

To the east, the space again narrows to a tunnel that is 10' wide, which leads to Area 19. 

In the south wall is an opening to a passage heading south, which is blocked by a metal gate, but this can be opened with a simple latching system. Beyond this gate can be seen a tunnel, which heads south to Area 18.

The corners of the room contain wooden crates (with dimensions of 4' x 2' x 2'). There are 24 crates (6 in each corner, stacked in various configurations). Opening them will take 1d6 rounds per crate. Many are empty, as all valuable goods were removed from here long ago, but a few still hold items of low value. When a crate is opened, roll 1d12 for the contents, and then cross that item off the table for future rolls:

1-6. Empty.

7. Nest of Least Aggroaches (10d4). (DX 15, AC 7, HD 1/8, 1 hp, AT 1 bite for 1 point; SD "death stench" when slain). When the crate is opened, these will swarm out and start biting.

8. Conch shells (2d20): most are worth 10 sp, but one is a rare deepwater specimen that will fetch 100 gp from one collector in Portown.

9. Mouldering books (2d20): These outdated nautical books are now worthless, but sealed inside the binding of one is a magic-user scroll with two spells (clairaudience and clairvoyance). If books are inspected closely, make a secret door check to notice.

10. Bottles of Rotgut (2d20): Wax-sealed small bottles of poor-quality moonshine. Drinking one will temporarily boost hit points by 1d4, but the imbiber must save versus poison or be debilitated until sleeping for 10 hours (-1 on all attacks). 

11. Marbles (1d100). Stone marbles of adequate quality, worth one copper piece each.

12. Sneezum in sealed opaque jars (2d20): A tiny pinch of this powder, imported by caravans from the south, is a delicious spice but larger quantities will induce fits of sneezing. If a jar is not opened carefully, the opener must save versus poison or begin violent, uncontrollable sneezing for 1 round, automatically dropping whatever is in their hands, including the jar, which will then require anyone within 10' feet to also save. (The PCs could probably find a way to use this in combat). Each jar is worth 1 gp.

Chronologically on this blog, the previous post installment was Areas 14-16 and the next posted installment will be Area 18.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Where To Find Me

Spurred by the potential for Twitter melting down, I've created a profile at Where to Find Me, listing the main social media sites that I frequent:

Listed sites currently include this blog, the associated site, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and a bunch of RPG forums: OD&D Discussion, Dragonsfoot, the Acaeum, Knights & Knaves Alehouse, The Piazza, RPG Pub, RPGnet and EnWorld.

Monday, November 7, 2022

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #14-16: Rail Tunnel

This is an installment of a new dungeon adventure set in the Portown milieu, which I'm writing for Holmes Basic D&D. You can find the Introduction to the dungeon here: Area 1.

Each entry includes part of a "pointcrawl" map showing the area & any exits, which include links allowing you to navigate the dungeon:

  Area 15 ===   
      14. Rail Tunnel       
  === Area 16
Area 13

14. RAIL TUNNEL. This is a long tunnel, 10 feet wide and high, that extends a few hundred feet east and west, terminating at Areas 15 and 16 (see above). At the midpoint, it can be entered from the Twisty Tunnels to the south (Area 13).

Running along the center of the tunnel for its full length, is a rusted pair of rails which are 4 feet wide and obviously made for wheeled cart, like a minecart, to be roll on (although there is no cart here right now). The walls and floor show occasional signs of being worked to widen and smooth the passage, and old timbers shore up the ceiling every 20 feet. Every so often an odd bit of timber, rope or metal, or empty rum bottle lies discarded at one side or the other of the tunnel.

    15. The Other End           of the Line       
  === Area 14

15. THE OTHER END OF THE LINE. Here a mass of collapsed rubble and timbers covers the rails and completely blocks the way further west. (This is the other side of the collapsed material found blocking the tunnel in Area 4). Beginning 20 feet before the blockage, the floor is covered with large chunks of rubble, all of which is slick with moisture from rainwater that has dripped down from cracks in the ceiling, and coated with a slimy pink growth (harmless) fed by the water.

Water-filled Metal Cart. A few feet past the start of the rubble, still resting on the rails, is a sturdy metal "minecart", four feet wide and high, and six feet long (96 cubic feet capacity). Scattered around it, among the slimy rubble, are a number of bones, some human, some from a giant lizard. (At the time of the tunnel collapse, the smugglers were using the lizard to pull a cart back to the sea cave entrance). 

The cart is filled to the brim with murky water that has dripped from above, and the outside of the cart is coated with pink slime (again, harmless). Under the water is some rubble, and beneath one piece is the remains of wooden box. The wood is rotten, but inside is an assortment of gems (10, roll for each on the Gems table in the Holmes Basic rulebook) and jewelry (6 pieces, roll the value for each using the standard in the rulebook; i.e., 3d6 x 100 gp). One of these appears to be simply a silver brooch set with a large diamond, but in actuality is a magical brooch of reverse level drain, which if worn, will turn the tables on an energy-draining undead, allowing the wearer to take one energy level from the undead creature. This will give the wearer one extra HD, lasting for one week. Furthermore, the character can even bestow the energy level to another PC that has lost a level. The brooch will function 5 times before the diamond shatters.

The cart itself remains fully intact, but the wheels are so rusted that they no longer spin freely. However, with sufficient oil (1 quart) they could be restored sufficiently to spin again, allowing it to roll along the rails.

  Area 14 ===   
      16. Brick Wall       
  B    Area 17
(B = Brick Wall)

16. BRICK WALL. Here the passage and rails end at a sturdy-looking brick wall that extends from floor-to-ceiling, completely blocking further passage to the east. The rails go right into the wall, as if it was built over them. 

Beyond this wall is Area 17, but the only way to get there from here is to make a hole in the wall. Using chunks of rock, a hole large enough for a person to step through could be made in 12 turns,  although this will make a great deal of noise; check for a Random Encounter each turn. There are no hammers here, but if each character that uses one will reduce this time by 2 turns, down to a minimum of 3 turns.

Alternately, if the the metal cart from Area 15 is restored by oiling, such that the cart is able to move freely again, and is pushed swiftly along the rails by at least three characters, it could be used as battering ram to knock a hole in the wall in one round. 

Chronologically on this blog, the previous installment was Area 13 and the next posted installment will be Area 17.

Friday, November 4, 2022

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #13: Twisty Passages

This is an installment of a new dungeon adventure set in the Portown milieu, which I'm writing for Holmes Basic D&D. You can find the Introduction to the dungeon here: Area 1.

Each entry includes part of a "pointcrawl" map showing the area & any exits, which include links allowing you to navigate the dungeon:

Area 14 

  13. Twisty Passages  
Area 11

13. TWISTY PASSAGES. This is a natural labyrinth of narrow, winding passages that is supernaturally challenging to navigate due to the effects of a dying smuggler's curse. This area can be entered from either the stream tunnel to the south (Area 11) or from the north (Area 14, to be described).

Movement. Due to the disorientation, movement in the Twisty Passages is handled differently than standard movement. Each turn, roll 2d6 and add the total number of turns the party has spent in the area (i.e., add 1 on the first turn; add 2 on the second turn, etc), and then consult the following table:

Encounters in the Twisty Passages (2d6 roll + turn number):

3-4. Nothing. The party wanders aimlessly.

5. An Item. A piece of equipment, showing signs of age and disrepair, is found on the floor of the tunnel (roll on the "Equipping the Adventurer" reference sheet; re-roll if the result doesn't make sense; e.g., a horse).

6-8. Cursed Doubloon. A double-sized platinum coin (worth 10 gp) lies on the tunnel floor. If any character handles it, note this, as they will suffer a penalty on a save made when leaving the area (see below).

9. Eerie Noise. The party hears one of the following noises echoing through the tunnels (roll 1d6): 1. Coins Jingling; 2. Scraping; 3. Thudding Footsteps; 4. Crunching & Cracking; 5-6. Ghostly Whispering. If the party moves towards the noise, there is a 3 in 6 chance that the next turn will be either #11-12 below (for noises 1-4) or #13-14 (for noises 5-6). 

10. Skeletal Remains. Human bones, scattered about, along with 1-2 items per #5 above. If a platinum doubloon is brought into the area, the bones will begin scraping themselves together, which after 1d4 rounds form into a partial skeleton (treat as a skeletal torso below in #11-12), and inexorably move towards the doubloon. 

11-12. Undead Smuggler. The animated remains of a smuggler, now cursed to search the tunnels endlessly for platinum doubloons. They will move inexorably towards and attack any character carrying a doubloon, but will depart if given all doubloons possessed by the party. (The ghost periodically steals the doubloons back and scatters them throughout the tunnels). 

Form (roll 1d6):

1. Skeletal Torso (DX 3, AC 9, HD 1/8, 1 hp, AT 1 claws for 1 point, turned as skeleton with a +2 on the roll), and wears/carries 1-2 items per #5 above. This is the upper half of a skeleton, and pulls itself across the floor with its arms.

2. Skeletal Legs (DX 12, AC 9, HD 1/8, 1 hp, AT 1 kick for 1 point, turned as skeletal torso). This is the lower half of a skeleton (pelvis and legs).

3. Skeleton (DX 12, AC 7, HD 1/2, 2 hp, AT 1 claws for 1d6). Carries 1-2 items per #5 above, and 0-2 (1d4-2) doubloons.

4. Skeletal Duelist (DX 15, AC 6, HD 1, 5 hp, AT 2 weapons; turned as zombie). Wears leather armor and wields sword & dagger (2 attacks/round), and has 0-3 (1d4-1) doubloons.

5. Zombie (DX 6, AC 7, HD 2, 9 hp, AT 1 claws for 1d8). Wears leather armor and a backpack with 1d4 items per #5 above, and has 0-3 (1d4-1) doubloons.

6. Big Zombie (DX 4, AC 5, HD 3, 14 hp, AT 2 bones for 1d6; turned as a ghoul). Wears chainmail and wields two large bones.

13-14. Mysterious Figure. Just visible down one tunnel stands the silhouette of a short figure. If approached, it withdraws into the darkness. If followed, it will lead them to the Ghost's Resting Place in the next turn (see below); otherwise, roll again as normal.

15-16. Ghostly Thief. A random party member must save versus spells or have a random piece of small equipment or treasure (preferentially a magic item) spirited away to #17-18 below.

17-18. Ghost's Resting Place. This area appears as #10 Skeletal Remains (see above). However, a narrow niche in one wall conceals a small hiding space (5' diameter, 5' height). This is difficult to find; treat as a secret door unless led here by the Mysterious Figure above. Inside the space, a skeleton sits against a locked chest holding roughly 1,000 platinum doubloons (value 10,000 gp), as well any items of characters that were stolen. Opening the chest will cause the ghost to materialize before the party. 

The Ghost. The characters hear a whisper that the ghost, Ness Sentra, was once the leader of the "importers" operating in these caves. They operated successful for decades, until she executed a heist of platinum doubloons from the wizard Zenopus. This proved her downfall, as her second-in-command, Mot Daxor, grew obsessed with the coins, and led a faction in mutiny against her. She slew Daxor in a duel but was backstabbed by one of his cronies. Mortally wounded, she fled here, and before dying swore that all who came for the treasure would be doomed to search for it forever.

Lifting the Curse. The characters will sense that the curse can be lifted placing the remains of Sentra in her rightful place in a sarcophagi in the Smugglers' Crypt (Area 24), where Mot Daxor was instead entombed, and that the coins will then be theirs.

19+. An Exit. Roll the d12 again, on 1-6: exit to the south (Area 12); on 7-12: exit to the north (Area 14). When attempting to leave the area, each character must save versus spells, with a -1 on the roll for every 5 doubloons handled. On a failed save, the character will feel compelled to continue searching the caves for doubloons, and will lose one point of wisdom for each day spent outside the caves. This loss is permanent until the curse is lifted.

Chronologically on this blog, the previous post installment was Area 12 and the next posted installment will be Area 14.


The name and description are inspired by the "maze of twisty little passages, all alike" in the original text adventure game, Adventure (aka Colossal Cave), which I played once on a memorable evening in the early '80s, and then more extensively in its cloned form in Infocom's Zork I on my home computer. (The pointcrawl map format that I am using for these drafts is also inspired by the hand-drawn maps that players would make for navigating these games). And then, obviously, having a pirate (Adventure) or thief (Zork) in the maze that steals stuff is also inspired by those games.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Fear of a Black Dragon podcast: Tower of Zenopus


Fear of a Black Dragon is a long-running podcast covering FRPG adventures and settings, with a focus on both the old school and the modern. The latest episode is dedicated to none other than the Tower of Zenopus, aka the Sample Dungeon from the Holmes Basic rulebook. Find it here:

Fear of a Black Dragon: The Tower of Zenopus

I've listened to the episode & enjoyed it; they do a great job covering why the adventure has remained a fan favorite among old school D&D enthusiasts. The second half is directed to what elements to include in a sample adventure in a RPG rulebook, so may be of more general interest.

The Zenopus Archives itself gets a shout-out near the end of the show as "weirdly obsessively fascinating", which suggests I am doing something right thing here. In that vein, I left two comments on the page for the episode, and I will add a few more here:

  • The podcast mentions that Gygax toned down the spider in the dungeon in the 1978 version of the rulebook (which is the 2nd edition). While this is true, it happened only after an initial ratcheting up of the spider's lethality. In Holmes' manuscript, the giant spider has but a single HD, which was changed to 6 HD (!) for the first publication in July 1977. The revised version in 1978 scales this back to 4+4 HD, in line with the Monster Manual, which had come out in the intervening year. You can read about this in more detail in Part 49 of the Holmes Manuscript series. 

  • The podcast also mentions the dagger hidden in the abdomen of the spider. This is not in Holmes' manuscript, so was added to the published version, presumably by Gygax, who was fond of concealed treasures.

You can find other recordings of interest, mostly audio but a few video, on the Zenopus Archives site here.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Slurry (New Monster)


Move: 30 feet/turn on land, 180 feet/turn in water
Hit Dice: 2
Armor Class: 2
Treasure Type: Q (gems only)
Alignment: neutral
Attacks: 1 blast of sandy water
Damage: 1d6

It is rumored that grizzled beachcombers search on forlorn shores for springs that bubble forth from the sand, because some such springs, if fed certain metals and a rough gem, will return the gem in expertly polished ovoid form.

Sages speculate that such springs are the temporary dwelling of a slurry, a small elemental haling from the Plane of Water, which has opened a gate from that plane in order to visit the Prime Material Plane in search of rare minerals to feed on. Being composed of primarily of water, but with an admixture of gritty sand, their natural form is amorphous and allows them to take on a variety of small watery shapes, be it sandy bubbling pool, eddy or spout.

Each turn that a creature is within the vicinity of such a spring has a 1 in 6 chance of drawing the attention of the slurry, unless it is fed as outlined below. The slurry will surface in the center of the waters and begin spraying the intruder with concentrated blasts of sandy water, once per round, until they retreat out of range (which is equivalent to a long bow). As with other elementals, a slurry can only be hit by magical weapons, and if it is destroyed, the gate will close in 1d6 rounds.

Living creatures that enter the churning waters of the spring will be able to swim, but will take 1 point of damage per round from the abrasive force of the sand in the water, unless they have a natural AC equivalent to chain mail or better.

Anything non-buoyant, yet lighter than fifteen pounds, dropped into the waters will bubble back to the surface in 1d6 rounds (1-9 in 10) or pass through the gate to the Plane of Water (on a 10). A gem treated in such a manner that resurfaces has a 1 in 6 chance of returning at the next higher value on the Gems table. Adding gold or platinum (10 GP worth) increases the churning of the pool as the slurry feeds on the metals, raising to 4 in 6 the chance of the gem increasing in value, but only once per day, and there is a 1 in 6 chance each day that it is fed that the slurry will be sated and depart to its home plane, closing the gate behind it.

Anything heavier than fifteen pounds that sinks into the waters has a lower chance of being ejected (1-8 in 10) passing to the Plane of Water (9 or 10 in 10). Furthermore, such an object will have a 3 in 6 chance of causing the slurry to surface in the middle of the pool and attack as outlined above.


(1) A slurry appears in Area 12 of the Forgotten Smugglers' Cave adventure.

(2) Inspiration for this monster comes from my childhood. A beach on a river near where I grew up had a spring that produced a tiny patch of bubbling sand several feet from the shore. We would push our plastic animals and dinosaurs several inches down into the bubbling waters (which we called "The Bubbly") and wait for them to be pushed back to the surface.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #12: The Bubbly

This is an installment of a new dungeon adventure set in the Portown milieu that I'm writing for Holmes Basic D&D. You can find the Introduction to the dungeon here: Area 1.

Each entry in the series includes part of a "pointcrawl" map showing the area & any exits, which include links. Thus, you can navigate the dungeon by following the links on the map:

Area 11 ===   12. The Bubbly 
 D==  E.P.W.

12. THE BUBBLY. This area consists of a large natural cavern with a floor of sand and stones from which bubbles forth the source of the water for the stream of Area #11 and the waterfall of Area #9.

The Cavern. A large roughly circular space, about 100 feet in diameter, and dimly lit by phosphorescent fungus growing on the rock walls, which arch to a point about 50 feet above the floor, which is covered in deep, dark grey sand intermixed with a variety of pebbles.

The Bubbly.  The stream exiting via the west wall leads up to pool of churning water and sand  with a diameter of 10 feet, fed by water continuously bubbling up from beneath. The output from this forms a stream which exits the room through the western wall to Area #11.

The Source. 30 feet beneath the surface of the bubbling pool is a nexus with the Elemental Plane of Water. At this nexus dwells a slurry, a minor elemental composed of a mixture of water and sand, which dwells here, feeding on precious metals found on the Prime Material Plane.

Slurry (DX 15, AC 2, HD 2, HP 9, #AT 1 blast of watery sand for 1d6, SD immune to normal weapons). A full write-up for this new monster can now be found here.

Anything heavy that is thrown or dropped into the churning water will sink and then either be ejected in 1d6 rounds (1-9 in 10) or pass through the nexus to the Elemental Plane of Water (on a 10). This will have a 3 in 6 chance of causing the slurry to surface in the middle of the pool, and begin spraying anyone in the area with a concentrated blast of sandy water until they leave.

If a character enters directly into the churning water, they will take 1 point of damage per round from the abrasive force of the sand in the water.

If the elemental is destroyed, the nexus to the Elemental Plane of Water will close, causing the water flow to diminish to a trickle.

Star Quartz. The churning watery created by the slurry acts like a rock tumbler, polishing quartz stones found naturally in the sand, producing the round star quartz found in the area and downstream. Searching the sand around the pool for a turn gives a 1 in 6 chance of uncovering such a gem (roll on the Gems table for value), but also a 1 in 6 chance of disturbing the elemental.

A gem dropped into the pool has a 1 in 6 chance of resurfacing at the next higher value on the Gems table. Adding gold or platinum (10 GP worth) will increase this chance to 4 in 6, but only once per day.

Exits. Click here to jump up to the map. The cavern can be exited via the stream flowing out of the cavern to the tunnel to the west (Area 11), or possibly down to the Elemental Plane of Water...

Chronologically on this blog, the previous post installment was Area 11 and the next posted installment will be Area 13.