This is the blog. Click here to go to the Zenopus Archives website.

Note: Many older posts on this blog are missing images, but can be viewed at the corresponding page in the Internet Archive


The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave: Index of Posts

An index of posts describing the Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, an adventure for Holmes Basic characters levels 2-4.                    ...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Warehouse in Wisconsin where TSR kept its Archives

Zarak the Half-Orc (and friends) Halloween costume mentioned in the article

Interesting new article today:

A Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard column by Shelly Mazzanoble

"As it turned out, there was a lot more of this stuff. Apparently it all came from a warehouse in Wisconsin where TSR kept its archives. Recently we had it all sent here and, well, let’s just say . . . wow. People, within those walls were miles and miles of D&D memories from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Books, magazines, minis, action figures, and computer and analog games. The items at my desk barely scratched the surface of what other boxes around the rest of the office held."

"Now, there is a plan for a large chunk of this treasure trove, and you’ll find out about that soon. But as for the duplicates, well, R&D had other ideas. Apparently later that day, anyone who wanted to add these little gems to their home collections could enter their name into a draft. At a designated time, they’d run down the order, taking turns picking until everything was spoken for. This had “awesome” written all over it."

What's the secret plan - an exhibit? A museum? Using the books to make high quality scans for new pdfs or reprints for sale? Something for the 40th anniversary of OD&D (1974)?

Thanks to Contrarian for posting a link to this on the Acaeum.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Monster Ability Scores

     D&D Next gives each monster type a full set of six ability scores, necessary because saving throws (in addition to other stat checks) are based on these scores. Monster ability scores are not generally used in old-school D&D, but are also not entirely antithetical - particularly in Holmes Basic. The very module from which the playtest scenario was derived, B2 Keep on the Borderlands, is the only TSR module to include a DX (dexterity) score in the stat block for each monster. This was because initiative in Holmes Basic went in order of dexterity. In the rulebook, Holmes simply suggested rolling the dexterity of each monster on the spot; In B2, Gygax sped this up for novice DMs by including the stat for each monster. Most of the monsters in B2 have the same DX score for each type, allowing extrapolation of Gygaxian typical DX scores for these monsters. Here's a breakdown of the DX scores for the Caves of  Chaos monsters in Holmes Basic vs D&D Next:

     Most monsters have from 1-3 points added from Holmes Basic to D&D Next, while a few remain exactly the same (Ogre, Minotaur) and a number of others have 6 or 7 points added (stirge, giant rat, wight, gelatinous cube, bugbear). Only a single monster, giant centipede, is 1 point slower in D&D Next. Dexterity inflation!

     Another section of Holmes that implies monster ability scores is the Charm Person spell, which allows new saves based on intelligence for all persons, including various humanoids. The INT scores for humanoids are not specified, but it could be inferred from the suggestion for dexterity that the referee should roll for these monsters. Furthermore, the table ends with "18 or higher", suggesting higher than human INT scores exist. This was furthered in the AD&D Monster Manual, which provided an Intelligence rating for each monster entry, which were correlated to character INT ranges in the introduction. The Monster Manual also has a few residual mentions of monster dexterity scores (e.g. the Brownie has an 18 dexterity). In Holmes, the Gauntlets of Ogre Power refer to "an ogre (18 strength)", suggesting ogres have 18 strength. Strength scores for humanoids were elaborated in the 1E Dungeon Master's Guide (1979, pg 15), which also listed ogre strength as 18.

     The DM of the group I play in (1E/2E hybrid, currently going through T1-4) uses roll-under d6 stat checks. 2d6 if really easy, 3d6 average, 4d6 hard, 5d6 extremely difficult etc. He'll sometimes require a 3d6+1 or 3d6+2 as a modifier to make it a bit harder. As a player, it's fun to roll a handful of dice (despite the fact it means you are more likely to fail). These are more often used for players than monsters. I asked on OD&D Discussion where this system originated, and 3d6 (Bruno's Demise) replied that he first saw it in The Halls of Beoll-Dur module in Dragon #41 (Sep 1980), which has:

     "[T]here is an original procedure for saving throws which is used in some locations... roll 3, 4 or 5d6 (the number of dice varies) and subtract one point from the dice roll for every two levels of experience the character has attained. Compare the resulting number to a specified ability (this also varies), and if the adjusted dice roll is less than the character's score for the ability in question, the saving throw is considered made" (page M1).

     Looking through the module, these are used for "new" forms of stat checks rather than replacing the traditional saving throws, and would generally only be used for characters in the adventure rather than monsters.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Next Caves of Chaos...are here!

The D&D Next (5E) playtest materials are now available from WOTC, and as predicted, the playtest scenario is the Caves of Chaos from B2. The scenario is not a "reimagining" like the 4th edition version (2010); instead it's a straight conversion of the original to the playtest rule set. Here are the credits:

Dungeon Module B2
The Caves of Chaos
By Gary Gygax
Revision by Robert J. Schwalb and Bruce R. Cordell
Revision Developed by Chris Sims and Matt Sernett
An Adventure for Character Levels 1-3.

It's good to see the Gygax credit included. The cover page re-uses a painting by Michael Komarck titled "Caves of Chaos (2005)" - originally used as an interior illustration in the 3.5E Players Handbook II. This is the only artwork included in the playtest module other than a scan of the pale blue Caves map from the inside cover of the original B2. While I'll always prefer the original blue maps, you could also use the "modernized" CoC maps by Weem for the playtest, which I believe are large enough to print for use as battle mats.

The playtest was adapted from the original Holmes version of B2, rather than the revised B/X version, because the minotaur's treasure includes potions of strength and delusionary healing, rather than potions of growth and healing (spoiler alert, highlight to see).
     There are many small changes with respect to the original Holmes version, so even if you know the Caves very well there will still be small surprises. The only significant addition is a list of five different possible backstories to use - reasons why the evil humanoids are grouped in the Caves. Each is a paragraph in length, and could be used with the original version. Any DM could come up with their own version that is just as good but these are interesting and might inspire you to take a different approach.
Rob Conley at Bat in the Attic wrote the following about the playtest scenario:
     "Despite the differences in mechanics it works out about the same way you expect if you ran it with Mentzer rules ... 
      I am optimistic at this point mainly because of the format ... the fact it works as is in actual play and that it is the full caves and not some stripped down version ...
     The Cave of Chaos adventure is almost as verbatim copy of the original and it uses ONE line stats blocks that are useful in actual play. If this format continues to be used this means that it is highly likely that D&D Adventures, Settings, and maybe supplements would be of some use to the OSR. Much in the same way that Swords and Wizardry gamers find material useful that was written for OSRIC."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

D&D Next Basic

The long arm of Basic D&D:

Gilsdorf: Can you talk about which older editions were most inspirational and what about them did you like or try to incorporate into D&D Next?
Mearls: Basic D&D, the version released in 1981 and assembled by Tom Moldvay, is a big inspiration. It’s a complete game in 64 pages and covers the essence of D&D in a compact package. The original game [OD&D] has the basic concept of an RPG, with the idea of the DM as a combination world builder, storyteller, and umpire. AD&D added more flexibility to characters, 3e created a logical framework of rules, and 4e created a math framework for the game. All of those things are steps forward for D&D and every edition has contributed to this new iteration.

Also note:
Mearls: "...I think D&D is at its best when the game is about the DM’s rulings rather than the actual rules."

Has he been reading Mythmere's Quick Primer for Old School Gaming?

These are from yesterday's Geek Dad interview with Mike Mearls. Thanks to Kesher on OD&D Discussion for pointing it out.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cave of the Unknown map by Druvas

Map by Druvas. Click here for the full-size version
     Dragonsfoot member Druvas has posted a nice map of the Cave of the Unknown (a DIY area in B2 Keep on the Borderlands) that he crafted using GIMP. He hasn't fully stocked it (in progress), but he mentions a few features in the thread, including:
  • Area 1 is the entrance, through "a sinkhole about 30' deep"
  • Area 8 and 9 are connected by "iron rungs, sort of like monkey bars, set in the river cavern ceiling. One could be old and rusty if you want to send a player for a swim".
  • Area 44 "leads to the Caves of Chaos".
     Druvas previously created the free Dragonsfoot AD&D module S7 The Howling Hills, which is a "false tomb" of Acererak found in "the highest hill on the Plains of Iuz", one of the suggested locations for the Tomb of Horrors in the original module (see page 2 of ToH).
Download it here.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Heroic Fantasy! Basic Set Ad


     This Holmes Basic Set advertisement is new to me. I found it thanks to the blog 5 Stone Games posting a link to a tumblr called Old School FRP, where this ad is on the second page. The OSF tumblr blogger started D&D with Holmes - see their very first post, which shows the Holmes set cover.

    The advertisement above is a variation of a few others that I've seen before. Below is one that has the same photo (2nd edition Holmes set with 5 dice and the then new B1 module, also found on the bottom of the boxed set itself), and same paragraph of text. I need a better pic/scan if anyone comes across one.

     Here's a similar ad from Model Retailer, a trade magazine. Same photo & also touts the new module now found in the set (the 1st edition had Geomorphs and a Monster & Treasure Assortment):

     To see more Holmes Basic Set advertisements, see this thread on OD&D Discussion. I plan to eventually organize these better on the actual Zenopus Archives site. Most of the ads that I have are posted in that thread, so if you know of one that is not there, please let me know.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

5E Caves of Chaos, part III

     Over on OD&D Discussion, member Azafuse summarized the D&D Next live chat that took place yesterday. A full transcript is posted here.

     To quote Azafuse (with some editing for compactness):
  • Playtest pack focuses on core rules & has 5 pregens (fighter, 2 clerics, wizard, rogue) + Caves of Chaos adventure + CoC bestiary + DM/Player rules; monsters have short stat block in adventure, extended stats/fluff in bestiary
  • Pregen characters have Themes & Backgrounds, which give at-will powers; Themes give Skills & Backgrounds give Feats
  • Classic four races (halfling, human, elf, dwarf); future options for sub-races
  • Rules are made to give any class the chance to shine
  • Cleric "domains"; one playtest is classic (mace + armor), the other more mystic
  • Fighters have maneuvers (alternative to feats but with more options)
  • Wizards have cantrips (at-will useful in and off combat) but also vancian magic
  • Spell point & power systems differentiate sorcerer, warlock & wizard
  • Rogues have "schemes" (distinguishing features)
  • No Prestige Classes for the moment
     I can't say that any of the above sounds very encouraging. They've gotten pretty far from the statements back in January about "the idea to create an edition of Dungeons & Dragons that encompasses all previous editions". They also seem to have great fear of not having enough "options" even in the core.

   They continue to use the Caves of Chaos from B2 as they playtesting scenario. If you are new to this blog, Gygax wrote B2 in 1979 specifically as an introductory module for the Holmes Basic Set (replacing B1).

    See pt II linked below for a pic of what the cover of this scenario may look like. This "Fifth Column" post talks more about the earlier playtest, and mentions some of the Caves features: "rim of the ravine", "tribe of kobolds", "complex full of orcs", ogre, higher level caves being more difficult. Sounds like the Caves we know. Looks like they were using the original maps too.

    See also:
    5E Caves of Chaos, pt I - pt II

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Following Blogs Made More Difficult by Google

I noticed recently that the "Follow" link/button no longer appears at the top left of my Blogger page when I visit a new blog. This isn't a glitch - Google recently removed this option, as discussed here.

This was how I normally started following new blogs, so it wasn't immediately apparent that I could still follow a blog. Poking around, I found there are still two ways to follow a blog, neither of which is as easy as the old way.

1. Go to your Blogger Dashboard, where there's a button right below "Reading List" that says "Add". Once clicked, it brings up a window to paste in an url to follow:

 2. If the blog has a Followers Gadget click "Join this Site with Google Friend Connect":

I never tried this before today, because I'd never used Google Friend Connect. It requires a login, even if you are already logged into your blog. Select Google, and login, and then it will give you options for following the blog.

I suspect this change is somehow tied in trying to get everyone to join Google+.

I found a way you can make it easier for someone to follow your site, basically by creating your own custom link to replace the missing "Follow" link/button.

To do this, you need to create you own Follower Gadget with a html link. I have one now in at the top of the right column. Instructions are here, although slightly out of date.

What I did was go to the Dashboard, click Layout, and then Add a Gadget. 
In the window that opens, I pasted the following HTML text into the Content section


<p><a href="" target="_blank">Click here </a></p></data:post.body>

In place of ###, I put in my blogID number, which can be found at the top of the dashboard page in the url for the blog.

This seemed to work when I tested it using a different account.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Scroll Spellbook

Scroll by David C Sutherland III from Monster & Treasure Assortment Set One: Levels One-Three (1977)

     Yesterday I suggested a new optional rule for Holmes Basic:

     "...a Holmes DM could simply allow for re-memorization from scrolls. These could be bundled to create a dungeon-ready magic book (dungeon book). In B2, a blank vellum book costs 20 gp (at the Bank in the Keep). Adding a known spell to the dungeon book requires the same cost/time as constructing a scroll. In a pinch a spell can be cast directly from the book as a scroll, but it then disappears and the magic-user must once again return home to his magic books to learn the spell. Furthermore, due to the cost and time for enchantment, the scroll or dungeon book acts an a mnemonic enhancer and allows memorization after a night's sleep rather than requiring a full day of study."

     Here's an example of how this would work. The 1st level M-U, Malchor, has learned and copied six spells into his book of first level spells. He rolled 120 gp for starting money, and purchased about 100 gp worth of equipment (pg 9), leaving him with 20 gp - not enough to make a scroll. His party explores the tunnels under the ruined tower of Zenopus. The fighter Bruno bashes through a door and fights a big goblin while Malchor puts the rest of the goblins to sleep using his single memorized spell. The party finds 500 sp and 2000 cp (90 gp per Holmes) and returns to the surface. They decide he should invest in a scroll, so he  prepares a scroll of sleep using the treasure and his personal funds (100 gp + 1 week). The party re-enters the dungeon and has an encounter with a wandering group of large spiders; Malchor puts four of the six to sleep. One spider is felled with arrows; Bruno is poisoned by the other before it is defeated by Mogo the Mighty and Priestess Clarissa. They try to leave the dungeon but cannot get back through the locked doors in a room with a large statue. While looking for a safe room to spend the night, they encounter a group of pirates in a sea cave. Does Malchor use his scroll spell of sleep on them, or save it for re-memorization?

     This is why I like the idea of using scrolls as an add-on for re-memorization in Holmes. A new 1st level M-U won't be able re-memorize in the dungeon if he can't afford a scroll. Once he gets 100 gp, he can make a single scroll of his favored spell. He can then bring this to the dungeon, and re-memorize this single spell if a safe resting place is found. Or he can use his scroll as needed, but won't be able to re-memorize after that until he returns home. As he gets more money, he can carry more scrolls and have more versatility in memorization while traveling. The "scroll spell book" becomes part of resource management - there will always be the decision of whether to use that last scroll or not in combat.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Magic Books in Holmes

     Let's look at how spell books are handled in Holmes Basic. First, note they are never referred to as "spell books" per se - instead they are called "magic books":

     "The magic-user acquires books containing the spells, the study of which allows him to memorize a spell for use ... More important, as the spell is recited it fades from the spell-caster's mind and he can not use it again! He must go back to his study and re-learn the spell. This takes at least 1 day. Magic-users can not bring their magic books into the dungeon with them. Always assume that more than 1 day has passed between expeditions, so that a magic-user who leaves the dungeon and goes home may start a new game with all his spells ready, but the appropriate time lag must be carefully noted" (pg 13).

     From this we also learn:
     -M-Us can't bring their spell books into the dungeon
     -It takes an entire day to re-learn spells (i.e., not just after a night's sleep)
     -The use of the plural "books" is because M-Us have one book for each level of spells. The lists of spells are called "Book of First Level Spells", "Book of Second Level Spells" etc. This is from OD&D, Vol 1, which states: "Characters who employ spells are assumed to acquire books containing the spells they can use, one book for each level" (pg 34)

     The 4th level M-U in the Sample Dungeon has "two giant volumes of his magic spells" (pg 45) - presumably one for 1st and one for 2nd level spells. The size explains why they  can't be carried in the dungeon. I'm not sure where Holmes picked up this rule. In the OD&D FAQ in Strategic Review #2 (Summer 1975), Gygax states that a M-U "can use a given spell but once during any given day, even if he is carrying his books with him", which indicates he let M-Us bring their books with them. OD&D also provides costs for replacing spell books.

     Holmes provide generous scroll rules to compensate for the inability to memorize spells in the dungeon: a scroll can be made of any spell the M-U "knows" (has in his book) at a cost of 100 gp and 1 week per spell level (i.e., 2nd level spell = 200 gp + 1 week). It's unclear if multiple scrolls can be made during the required time period. Understanding a scroll normally requires Read Magic, so scroll creation could be limited to M-Us that know this spell, though perhaps this isn't meant to apply to a magic-user's own scrolls.

     The spell books are also mentioned under the rules for spell research and for learning spells. Successfully researched spells are written in the book. A new M-U must successfully copy spells from the "Book of First Level Spells" into the personal spell book. All of the standard 1st level spells are available to be learned by new M-Us, but chance of learning and number learned is dependent on INT.

     In Dragon #52, Holmes reviewed the new Moldvay Basic Set and wrote: "Magic and spells: the new rules specify that if an adventure lasts longer than a day, the Magic-User can get his or her spells back through a period of rest and concentration. I'm glad to see this securely placed in the rules. All of us who act as Dungeon Masters have had to allow this on longer adventures. Actually the "spell book" is often a needless complication and can be dispensed with. Of course, a particular DM can make spell books a vital part of the game - suppose evil Magic-Users hired a high level Thief to steal the player characters' books?"

     To solve this problem, a Holmes DM could simply allow for re-memorization from scrolls. These could be bundled to create a dungeon-ready magic book (dungeon book). In B2, a blank vellum book costs 20 gp (at the Bank in the Keep). Adding a known spell to the dungeon book requires the same cost/time as constructing a scroll. In a pinch a spell can be cast directly from the book as a scroll, but it then disappears and the magic-user must once again return home to his magic books to learn the spell. Furthermore, due to the cost and time for enchantment, the scroll or dungeon book acts an a mnemonic enhancer and allows memorization after a night's sleep rather than requiring a full day of study.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Stonefast Stocked (updated)

Map of Stonefast from the 1991-1996 Basic Sets

Dragonsfoot member Odinist has prepared a stocked version of the Stonefast dungeon that appeared in the 1991 ("The New Easy to Master D&D Game") and 1994/1996 ("The Classic D&D Game") Basic Sets. I'm not overly familiar with these sets, but I do have the reference sheets and maps from the 1991 version. These sheets include a fully described introductory scenario, Escape from Zanzer's Dungeon, and a map of the follow-up Stonefast (above) with one page of suggestions for stocking it. Thus Stonefast is the part of the lineage of D&D Sample Dungeons, in particular those from the various Basic Sets.

Update: I just compared Odinist's version with the notes from the 1991 set for stocking the dungeon, and he incorporated them for the most part. The section "History" at the beginning of the pdf is straight from the notes, as are Kamro's description, stats and treasure, and the dwarven treasure hoard in room 20. He didn't use the suggestion for room 25, instead replacing it with a room guarded by Dwarf Armor Golems (Armor Golems also appear in two of the Thunder Rift modules that followed the 1991 Basic Set).

Here's the original suggestion for Room 25:

Room 25: In this room are 100 treasure chests, each lock and trapped. If any chest is opened (by picking or breaking the lock) without first successively finding and removing traps, it fills the room with a cloud of gas. Everybody in the room must roll a successful Saving Throw vs. Poison or fall unconcious for 1d4 turns. Each chest contains 100 copper pieces. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Come Visit Arneson's Dungeon

A personalized copy of D&D from the Dave Arneson collection

Some highlights:

“About 30% of the items are what I call product: published games, game accessories, periodicals, and books.” The remaining 70% of the collection is “non-product”: all those letters and scribbled notes, maps, objects, and personal and family items".

"Among the highlights: unpublished manuscripts that did not make it into the final draft of Dungeons & Dragons that date as far back as 1973. There are even older items from 1971 and 1972 “dealing with the Blackmoor campaign and the Castle itself,” Stormberg said. These may reveal secrets about the game’s origins."

"There are also runs of Gygax’s Castle & Crusade Society and Domesday Book newsletters, and Arneson’s Corner of the Table newsletter which discusses his various campaigns, including his Blackmoor exploits. Stormberg said the Domesday Book newsletters “are among the rarest and highly sought after” D&D collectibles. “These newsletters were produced by Gary Gygax in 1970-72 to support his Medieval military enthusiast club, the Castle & Crusade Society. These early pages show the kernels of ideas that would eventually lead Dave Arneson to create Blackmoor. Indeed, the famed fantasy campaign is detailed in one of the later issues of the Domesday Book.”"

"Dave 'improved' the cover artwork on his set with this sticker that states 'Come Visit My Dungeon'." (see above). Note also the address label on the upper right corner with his name.

I found a few references to the "Come Visit My Dungeon" sticker on the Acaeum in the lengthy "Interesting Items Formerly on Ebay" thread. In 2008, another woodgrain set was for-sale with this sticker affixed to the cover. One member, spades1013, also reported having an unattached copy of the same sticker. Is it a strange coincidence that there were two copies like this or is there some connection? There was speculation that the sticker was from the Dungeon Hobby Shop, but nothing definite was mentioned. Anybody else remember this sticker?

Update: Thanks to Allan Grohe (grodog), we have some more info on the sticker from Ernie Gygax, who at one point managed the Dungeon Hobby Shop:

"We had stacks of them in our Shipping Dept of the Dungeon Distributors. I do not remember why we had them though. I think it is from the 772 Main St days rather than the earlier 723 Williams St."

Also, according to bombadil on the Acaeum, the other copy had the sticker inside the lid rather than on the cover:

"I bought it from the original owner through Dragonstrove. The owner bought the woodgrain from EGG in his basement, and said Gygax had attached the sticker himself."

Avengers as Adventuring Party

MHAC2 AVENGERS Assembled! (1984) for the MSH RPG by TSR

     I saw the new Avengers movie Friday afternoon, deliberately in non-3D, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd seen the two Iron Man movies but not Cap or Thor (yet).

During the battling I started thinking of the Avengers in the movie as an adventuring party:

Captain America: Paladin
Hulk: Berserker Were-creature
Thor: Cleric (non-edged weapon, power of the gods)
Hawkeye: Ranger
Black Widow: Thief or Assassin
Iron Man: F/M-U (magic missiles & flying, but also wears armor)