Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave (Work in Progress)

Detail from the draft map for The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave

This is the start of a new series where I will post drafts of a short adventure that I am working on. These posts will be subject to revision as the series progresses.

The coda to the Sample Dungeon (aka the Ruined Tower of Zenopus) poses several unanswered questions that are meant to inspire avenues for the new DM to expand the adventure. One of these asks, "Do the pirates have other treasure troves hidden in the sea caves?", referring to the group in Room M. I used this as the basis of Rumor #13 in the d20 Portown Rumors (also included in the Ruined Tower of Zenopus conversion). Below is one sea cave system that can be used for such a sea cave.


BACKGROUND: Years ago, this natural cave system was the preferred route for smuggling goods into Portown, because it leads from the sea all the way into the town proper. This changed on the night of magical destruction of the Tower of Zenopus, an event which shook the land enough to collapse both the cliff face over the entrance to the smugglers' cave and a section of the main passage through the tunnel. This rendered it unsuitable for smuggling, although it is still possible to traverse the system with some difficulty. After the town knocked down the remains of the tower of Zenopus, the smugglers eventually began using the caves there instead.

LOCATION: This sea cave is located at the base of the sea cliff to the west of Portown, to the south of the Zenopus dungeon.

Encounter Areas:

1. SEA CAVE MOUTH: What remains of the opening is barely visible at the top of a pile of boulders, coated in barnacles and seaweed, that rises from the water line. At low tide, 10 feet of rock is exposed, at mid-tide, 5 feet, and at high tide, the entrance is just below the surface. 

A boat can be rowed alongside the slippery pile without too much difficulty, but climbing up it will require some dexterity, with a slip dropping a character into 5 (low tide) to 10 feet (mid-tide) of choppy sea water. One person at a time can fit through the narrow entrance by scooting sideways while on their belly.

2. SEA CAVE TUNNEL: Once inside, there is a less slippery scramble down to the sea water covering the floor of the cave tunnel, which is of similar depth to the water on the outside, depending on the tide. The cave tunnel is about 10 feet wide, and runs east-west two hundred feet, with the eastern end leading into the water in a grotto (Area 3). The water of the tunnel is filled with numerous large (2' long), trapped fish. These will bump into anyone walking through the water of the tunnel in an alarming but harmless manner.

To be continued...

Monday, September 21, 2020

Grognardia interviews Chris Holmes

If you missed it, the newly resurrected Grognardia blog posted a new interview with Chris Holmes this past Friday. Chris answers ten questions, with lots of stories about discovering D&D in the mid-'70s.

Chris also recently guested on the Save for Half podcast, Episode 26.5: North Texas RPG Con, and back in the spring was on the Appendix N Book Club podcast, Episode 67 Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan At the Earth's Core

Interview: Chris Holmes

Today's interview was a real treat for me. Chris Holmes, son of Dr J. Eric Holmes, kindly agreed to answer my questions about his own experiences with roleplaying, as well as the life and works of his father, whose Basic Set was the very first RPG I ever owned. 1.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Holmes Basic in Sunny Rolls the Dice

Sunny Rolls the Dice (2019) is the third in a series of graphic novels about Sunny, a teen growing up in suburban Pennsylvania in the 1970s. It is co-created by Jennifer L. Holm, a Newberry Honor author, and her brother Matthew Holm, an illustrator, and is semi-autobiographical, inspired by the Holms' own childhood, particularly Jennifer's.

The first two books in the series are Sunny Side Up (2015) and Swing It Sunny (2017), and a fourth, Sunny Makes a Splash, is in production. I've currently read the first and third ones and greatly enjoyed both of them, but 
Sunny Rolls the Dice is a particular favorite for its loving treatment of Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s. The series starts in 1976 and proceeds chronologically, so with the third book starting in mid-1977, it's the right time for Holmes Basic, and sure enough that's what Sunny encounters when she first plays D&D with kids in her neighborhood, appropriately in her family's newly finished basement rec room:

The Holms take pains to include details faithful to the era in which the series is set, and I'm impressed that here they appropriately show an early edition of the Holmes set that includes a Monster & Treasure Assortment Set 1: Levels 1-3 and a set of five polyhedral dice. In a minor nitpick that only an early D&D fan will notice, the colors of the accessories are off (the M&T Set 1 should be yellow - Set 3 was blue - and the dice are the wrong colors), but the illustrations are spot on, including a d20 showing a "0" instead of a "10" or "20".

The story also heavily features the original Monster Manual, and the back of the book includes a photo of a young Holm with her own copy. I get this; learning about monsters was what originally attracted me to D&D.

The appearance of D&D in this story is not just period window-dressing; the game is a pivotal part of the plot, as you may have guessed from the title of the book.

To hear the author herself talking about this book and her experiences with D&D growing up, listen to this recent Save or Die interview with Jennifer Holm. A big thank you to DM Carl at Save or Die for letting me know that Holmes Basic was featured in this book.

You can preview the first section of the book, up to the beginning of Sunny's first D&D game, over at Amazon:

(All product links include Amazon or DMsGuild/DrivthruRPG affiliate #s)

Friday, September 11, 2020

Blood of Prokopius: Towards a Holmesian Dungeon

Attention Holmes True Believers,

Interesting post alert! 

Today, the blog Blood of Prokopius has a post, Towards a Holmesian Dungeon, that is well worth your time:

Towards a Holmesian Dungeon

What follows is not anything particularly new. Many of these ideas have been present within the hobby and explored throughout the years I have been maintaining this blog. My interest here is codifying what I consider to be the characteristics of a dungeon that can truly be called Holmesian - by which I mean a dungeon that puts into practice what the Holmes Basic Edition presents as Dungeon.

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Sea-Changed (New Monster)

Ariel's Song from the Tempest as illustrated by Virgil Finlay

A new monster for your Portown, Saltmarsh or other coastal D&D campaign, inspired by this thread on ODD74which shows a photo of a skull undergoing a "sea change". As a bit of further explanation, the modern expression "sea change" originates in Shakespeare's The Tempest (click on the image above to enlarge it so you can read the full quote), which was memorably referenced by Gary Gygax in the Example of Play in the original AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. I've taken it one step further by using it as the basis for a monster.

The Sea-changed

Move: 60 feet/turn
Hit Dice: 1 + 1
Armor Class: 5
Treasure Type: special
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d6

Sailors whisper that a corpse that comes to rest in the brine may undergo a mysterious and sinister transformation, rising again in a calcified skeletal form known as "the sea-changed". 

The sea-changed seek to spread their animating force to the living by touch of calciferous claws or an equally mineralized weapon or tool used during life such as a cutlass, harpoon or even anchor.

A hit with such will, in addition to inflicting damage, encrust the area of the wound with the sea-change unless a successful saving throw versus poison is made. Failure results results in the loss of one point of dexterity per day as the calcification spreads. Once dexterity reaches zero, the victim will be transformed into one of the sea-changed.

The spread can be kept at bay, but not cured, through daily application of vinegar. It is rumored among sailors that the merfolk know the secret of how to reverse the sea-change.

Each sea-changed has a 1 in 10 chance of having pearlescent eyes (roll on the gem table for value).

The sea-changed are subject to turning as zombies.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Original Printing of The Maze of Peril on Amazon

The cover of The Maze of Peril (1986)
9/18: The seller has continued to add new copies as the listed ones sell out; 3 available right now.

8/15: 5 copies in stock right now.

8/9: It sold out yesterday and then was back in stock today, and then sold out again. I suggest checking back each morning to see if it has been relisted. 

8/8: It's back in stock. The price is $9.95 which is $3 higher than before. 3 copies are listed as being available as of the time of this update.

8/7: Apparently there was a fair bit of interest in this and only a limited number listed on Amazon, which are now sold out. I'm hoping they have more stock available and will relist it soon. I'll update this post again if they do.

The Maze of Peril, J. Eric Holmes' 1986 fantasy novel, is now available for convenient order via Amazon from the original publisher, Space & Time Books. Follow this link to find itThe Maze of Peril (Amazon Associate link) or click on this image:

(Amazon Associate link)

For the uninitiated, this novel details the meeting of Boinger the Halfling and Zereth the Elf and their first grand adventure. They had previously appeared in three short stories in Dragon magazine, and before that in several campaign stories in the Alarums & Excursions D&D APAzine. 

This new retail outlet was brought to my attention via a thread on Dragonsfoot, and a commenter there that purchased the book confirmed with photos that this is remaining stock from the original 1986 printing

The cost via Amazon is just $6.95, which is the original cover price, plus shipping & tax. This is the same price I ordered my copy from them via check almost twenty years ago. Tavis of the Mule Abides reported back in 2008 that 1,000 copies were originally printed and about half had been sold at the time.

The novel has since been reprinted in Tales of Peril by Black Blade Publishing (click here for ordering information) along with the short stories and other writings of J. Eric Holmes.
Despite the reprint, I still have a fondness for the original printing. Reading this book kickstarted my interest in the work of Holmes which eventually led to this blog. 

The original printing is zine-sized, with shiny cardstock covers and 147 pages plus endpapers. It has a few features not found in the reprint, including the pastel blue cover art by Dan Day (echoing the Holmes Basic rulebook color?) and a frontispiece illustration by Gregario Montejo. There are two excerpts from the story before the frontispiece, and another on the back cover (which you can see in the Dragonsfoot thread linked above). There is also an author bio for Holmes along with each of the artists.

Several reviews of the book:
Dragonsfoot review (2006) - by myself, points out the many similarities with Holmes Basic
Carjacked Seraphim review (2010)
Delta's D&D Hotspot review (2011)

And a few years ago I began a Tales of Peril Book Club and made it through most of the first chapter of the Maze of Peril (warning, spoilers abound). I hope to return to this series eventually.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Combining OD&D Attack & Saving Throw Tables

Attack Matrix I annotated with the Saving Throw Categories

Above is a hypothetical format for combining two tables in OD&D: Attack Matrix I, which is used for PCs when they attack, and the Saving Throw Matrix

It's easy to do this because both rely on d20 rolls, and both tables advance the classes in the groups of levels (3 levels for Fighters, 4 levels for Clerics, 5 levels for Magic-Users). 

A 1st level fighter needs the same score (12) to Save Versus Poison as to hit AC 7, and the other saving throw categories likewise correspond to AC6 to AC3; i.e., Wands = AC6, Stone = AC5, Breath = AC4, Spell = AC3, as annotated above.

The higher levels match well enough. There is a bit of discrepancy in the spots where the Saving Throw table jumps differently. 

But a Fighter 10-12 saves 9/8/7/6/5 in the combined table versus 10/8/8/7/6 on the Saving Throw table. That's not more than a 5% difference between any two rolls.

In order to retain the relative saving throw bonus/penalties between classes, the following adjustments would also be used:

Magic-Users get a -1 to Poison, Wands and Breath, and a +1 to Stone at all levels, plus a +1 to Spells for each rank they are in (+1 at 1-5, +2 at 6-10, +3 at 11-15 etc). 
Clerics get a -1 to Spell & Breath, a +1 to Wands at all levels, and a +1 to Poison for each rank they are in (+1 at 1-4, +2 at 5-8, +3 at 9-12 etc).

This table can also be used to adjust the saving throw values. Poison by default would be AC7, but you could have weak poison (AC9) or a strong poison (AC5). One could also add a new easier category, like "Falling" at AC8, perhaps increasing the "AC" for every additional 10' fallen.

This is similar to using difficulty class (DC) values in 5E. To illustrate this, here is a further modified version with Descending AC replaced by Ascending AC/Difficulty Class:

Looking at OD&D in terms of 5E, one would view the saving throws in terms of Difficulty Class (DC), with Poison having a DC12, Wands having a DC13, Turned to Stone having a DC14, Dragon Breath having a DC15, and Spells having a DC16.

The table at the top of this post could also be used with Holmes Basic, which uses the OD&D tables, but with the addition of a Normal Man column prior to the Level 1-3 column (this was an addition to Holmes' manuscript by Gygax/TSR).

(Adapted from several posts in this recent thread in ODD74)

Monday, July 27, 2020

First Adventures in Dungeoneering: 1976 Gygax article

Gary Gygax Day by Jim Wampler

For Gary Gygax Day 2020I'd like to share "First Adventures in Dungeoneering", a heretofore mostly forgotten article that Gygax wrote for the Europa zine, issue #12-13 (Feb/Mar 1976). This was one of his follow-ups to his now fairly well known 1975 article to the same zine called "How To Set Up Your Dungeons & Dragons Campaign" (issue #6-8), which you can find a link to here on GrognardiaMany thanks to Allan Grohe of From Kuroth's Quill and Black Blade Publishing for discovering this article and making a transcript that he posted here in a thread over at the OD&D Discussion forum last year.

Being published in early 1976, this article is still firmly in the era of OD&D; the AD&D Players Handbook was still about two years off. This was during the era when Gygax was promoting/explaining D&D through articles & letters sent to various gaming publications. Allan has a list of many of these on his website here. Since the field of role-playing games was still in its infancy, many these publications were related to wargaming or Diplomacy, including Europa (published in Europe as suggested by the name) as seen the description in issue #6-8: 

The article is a gem because it contains an otherwise unpublished "Example of Play" for OD&D, written up in part as a dialogue between the DM and players in a manner similar to the original one in OD&D, Vol 3 and the later examples in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. I've always greatly enjoyed Gygax's play examples not only for their entertainment value but also for insight into how he ran games and for the bits of his designs that are shown. Holmes and Moldvay continued this tradition by writing new Examples of Play for their respective Basic rulebooks.

The bolded, bracketed numbers below correspond to notes I've added following the article. I've grouped them at the end of the relevant paragraphs to make them less distracting.


You have been thoroughly hooked on Dungeons & Dragon (D&D), and during the last few days every spare moment has been spent happily preparing several dungeon levels. Great care and thought have been employed to do things just so - and of course you have spent a bit of time laughing fiendishly at the thought of what the hapless dungeoneers will encounter in choice areas! Actually, you certainly don't want your players to get killed, for then they'd miss seeing just how cleverly you've set them up! They don't want to buy the farm either (unless the dice were unkind indeed). Think about that. 
A good referee does not wish to deliberately set his players up for certain death in the game - although there are sometimes one or two players who... Anyway, by the same token you should not set out to aid them either. The whole purpose of the game is for the players THEMSELVES to face the challenge presented by the dungeonmaster's maze, to defeat it, or be defeated by it without help or hindrance. If they are clever they should survive and gain great rewards, and if they are stupid they should finish themselves off rapidly. This implies that you have located and numbered monsters carefully, so that the players can usually fight them on even terms, outwit them, or run like hell, i.e., one doesn't put invisible stalkers on the first level. If there are errors they will quickly be spotted on the first adventure, and they should be corrected before the next! In fact that is why I urge that a separate key listing monsters and treasure be kept for each level, rather than writing the information right on the map. With all this in mind, let's move on to the actual game. 
Several players are gathered in some secluded place, and you have a good spot set up where they cannot see your dice rolls or map. It is a good plan to give them at least a half an hour to get everything together. Magic-Users will have to decide what spell they are going to take. Everyone will be selecting basic equipment, figuring costs and encumbrance. Although spell selection always takes a bit of time, we have pretty much settled upon the following as 'standard equipment':
dagger, 50' rope, 10' pole, 12 iron spike, small sack, leather back pack, water/win skin, lantern, 3 flasks oil, holy water/vial, quart wine, iron rations.[1] 
Your players can simply compute the price of what they set out as standard and save much time and effort. Additional items and encumbrances can then be noted aside as additions to the standard. 
Your players will also have to appoint their leader and mapper. At this point everything is all ready for the first descent into the deepest dungeon! So let us move on to a typical account of a first trip, assuming that the players have moved outdoors to a ruined city which is reputed to have dungeons beneath it. The ‘dungeonmaster’ will be indicated as ‘D’, the party of the players as ‘P’. 
D: “You have found the ruins of the deserted city of Detresed. You can see that there are streets going northeast, northwest, and north. Most of the ruins are nondescripts, but due north you note that there are several larger structures, one or two of which are in less disrepair than the others.” [2]
After going northwards a few hundred feet, and getting complete descriptions of the ruined edifices visible to them, the party selects a ruined structure which appears to have been a temple, and they enter cautiously. After thorough exploration they decide to ignore a set of steps they have located, for a vast stone idol hid a narrow shaft penetrating very deep beneath the temple. The latter would not normally have been located, but careful checking and perseverance found a secret door in the idol’s back. The party descends some 40’ into a large, circular arched chamber. It is 30’ in diameter and has eight doors. [3-5] 
P: “There is no sense debating, let’s take the door to the west, for it seemed that there were more ruins above in that direction than in any other direction. One member of the party will carefully try the door to see if it will open normally. All others will have their weapons drawn and ready in case there is someone or something behind it!” 
D: “Door opens normally (without ANY sound, in fact), and beyond you see a 10’ wide corridor going north.” 
P: “The door didn’t make ANY noise when we opened it?! Hmmmm. Examine the hinges.” 
D: “They were oiled – greased lock.” [6] 
P: “Oh, oh! Watch out! These doors are USED. Helmets off, everyone. Listen at all of the other doors.” [7] 
After some time spent so listening, noise is detected behind the door to the east and that to the southeast. And meanwhile the dungeonmaster has checked, but the party is lucky and no wandering monster has happened along during the interim. The brave adventurers ready themselves, creep close to the eastern door, and ready an attack. Two of the six will watch the southeast, one will open the east door, and the three with bows will have their weapons ready as the door is flung wide. 
P: “We are set. Open the door!” 
D: “You see, ahh ((die roll)) 4 hobgoblins attending some sort of cleric. They are dressed in black and blood red garments. Now, did you surprise them? ((die roll of 3)) NO! Initiative check – you are at plus 1 because you prepared. ((The check shows that the party is able to attack before the cleric and his servitors will be able to react at all.)) The enemy is approximately 15’ away, by the by.” [8-10]
P: “Loose arrows, drop bows, draw swords, and charge. If I can manage to cast a Sleep Spell during all this I’ll do so, but I will be careful not to cast it so as to include our men in its effect. The two watching the other door will maintain position.” 
The dungeonmaster now checks to see which arrows score hits, whom the hits are scored upon, and how much damage is done. Simultaneously, he determines if the magic-user who opened the door will be able to get a spell prepared and cast – about equal odd for and against due to preparation and positioning. It is successful, and 4 of the hobgoblins fall to the floor snoring. The cleric was not named as a specific target, and as he is a 4th level (Evil Priest)  the general area spell doesn’t affect him. He shouts loudly, points, and an attacker is struck by a Light Wound Spell. Undaunted they press on, eager to close with the cleric and slay him. The next melee turn is spent by the party closing, with the cleric backing and raising his finger to deliver another Light Wound. Just as the party is about to hack and slew this evil opponent they hear shouts from the chamber without: “Beware! HOBGOBLINS! There are more who serve this priest…” [11-13]
P: “Two of the fighters will finish the cleric off as quickly as possible. I will go to the door we just entered, with the other fighter, to help the rest of the party, but while he goes directly to aid them, I’ll stop and kill the sleeping hobgoblins here.” 
A general melee now ensues in the chamber and in the room where the cleric fights on. Seeing that the party’s two fighters and cleric are seemingly holding their own against 6 hobgoblins, the magic-user creeps up behind the badly wounded Evil Priest and delivers the ‘Coup de grâce’. This frees them all for immediate attack upon the remaining hobgoblins. Good thing, too! One fighter and the cleric are down, and there are three hobgoblins attacking the remaining man. After a long round of attacks and counters the party finally wins, although only three remain alive – the magic-user leading it, an elven fighter, and a fighting man. 
P: “Well, let’s quickly check the bodies and the rooms for any treasure. The priest’s quarters will be searched especially well by the elf.” 
D: “You find some silver pieces in the pockets of the hobgoblins ((a dice roll determines how many for each)), and in the robes of the cleric you find a pouch with 100 gold pieces. Nothing else is found.” 
P: “Let’s all go check out that room some more… I am not satisfied that we’ve located everything. But to be on the safe side, let’s spike the door shut good and tight, and the fighter will keep an eye on it also just in case.” 
Several turns are spent in this manner, and finally a small trap door in the floor is discovered. It is lifted to reveal a hidden trove – an alabaster idol worth not less than 500 gold pieces. As the party is in bad shape, they elect to return immediately to the surface. Their comrades are buried, their own wound treated, and before passing on the idol to some merchant, they minutely examine it. It too reveals a small magical compartment, and after several days the magic-user manages to open it. Therein lies a map to a temple on the 4th level – a place veritably stuffed with treasure, but strongly guarded by many hobgoblins and powerful men and monsters. Better still, there are some very valuable gems hidden in the compartment too! When the survivors share the wealth and experience, they are all well-pleased and rewarded, all going up a level. Time now for them to seek some powerful allies and many met-at-arms for a special expedition to that temple… [14-15]
The above may not be exactly typical, for many first adventures are spent trying to figure out where the party is, for mapping CAN be a difficult task until you get the hang of it. Also, many first-timers take on monsters too powerful for them, or don’t use ‘hit-and-run’ tactics as they should. Again, I have had first time parties who had adventures just about like the one above. 
This should enable you to ready your dungeons. How about a questions and comments section from all of you next time? And I’ll try to answer in the next…

  1. Gygax's "Standard Equipment" could serve as an "Equipment Pack" for OD&D, with a price of 69 gold pieces: dagger (3) + 50' rope (1) + 12 spikes (1) + small sack (1) + backpack (5) + water/wine skin (1) + lantern (10) + 3 flasks oil (6) + holy water/vial (25) + quart wine (1) + iron rations (15). Characters rolling 30-60 gold won't be able to afford this, but dropping the holy water would bring it down to 45. Clerics could switch out the dagger for a mace, for a total of 71 gp. Notably, this pack doesn't include other armor/weapons. Since Holmes uses the same costs, we could also use this in Holmes without change, except perhaps adding a Tinderbox (3) --- the only "new" equipment in the Holmes price list. OD&D encumbrance would be dagger (20) + "Miscellaneous Equipment (rope, spikes, bags, etc)" (80) = 100, plus armor and any additional weapons.
  2. Allan notes that the name of the ruin "Detresed" is "deserted" spelled backwards, a trademark Gygax name-pun. 
  3. The ruined city brings to mind the never released Outdoor Geomorphs Set Three: Ruin. And the "lost, ruined city of the Old Suloise" that "is said to be hidden somewhere in the Suss forest..." (World of Greyhawk folio, pg 26), the same forest where, in the novel Artifact of Evil, Gord & company explore a "three-tiered structure ... a large building, probably a temple of some sort".
  4. The vast stone idol naturally recalls the cover of the AD&D Players Handbook.
  5. The circular 8-door room is a bit like the octagonal entrance room in the Delving Deeper level from Hall of Many Panes, but with twice as many exits. He used a similar shaped room in Castle Greyhawk and in the Dungeon Geomorphs (where the room is circular); see the linked post for images.
  6. Here it is interesting to see an example of an OD&D dungeon door that is *not* stuck because it is in regular use. This edges away from the OD&D idea that all dungeon doors open for monsters but not players.
  7. The rules for listening at doors in OD&D Vol 3 do not specifically require that helmets are taken off, but this does appear later in the Dungeon Masters Guide.
  8. Gygax also used an evil cleric (3rd level) plus hobgoblins in the DMG Sample Dungeon (in areas 35-37, but only mentioned in the Wandering Monster table for the Crypt Areas). There's also the evil Adept (2nd level) with a Gnoll guard on the first level of the Greyhawk dungeon, who has one spell: Cause Light Wounds, much like the priest here. And in the Moathouse dungeon in T1 The Village of Hommlet module, there is Lareth (a 5th level cleric) with his Gnolls, Bugbears and Ogre.
  9. Allan notes that "the hobgoblins wear red and black, which corresponds with their description in the MM---"Hobgoblins favor bright, bloody colors and black leather"; this also matches the red shields of the Hobgoblins of the Pomarj heraldy from the Greyhawk folio and boxed set". I add that the Evil Priest in B2 has his room decorated in the same colors: "a red carpet, furniture of black wood with velvet upholstery of scarlet, and a large bed covered with silken covers of black and red cushions and pillows".
  10. The +1 to initiative for "being prepared" given here is an interesting addition. The OD&D FAQ in Strategic Review #2 (Summer 1975) that first describes initiative mentions giving a bonus for dexterity, but not for preparation.
  11. The note "4th level (Evil Priest)" is consistent with the level titles for Anti-Clerics in OD&D Vol 1, either page 34 or 35 depending on the printing.
  12. The priest's method of casting the "Light Wound Spell" from a distance is very interesting & quite different than Cause Light Wounds in AD&D, which requires touch. The pointing is reminiscent of "Finger of Death", making the spells seem like low/high level versions of the same power. It should be noted that "Cure Light Wounds" in OD&D Vol 1 doesn't include any mention of requiring touch, so it is possible at this point that neither Cure nor Cause Light Wounds required touch. The "Light Wound Spell" spell also doesn't require the "course of one full turn" listed for Cure Light Wounds in OD&D Vol 1, although that reference is possibly just be inconsistent terminology for "one full round".
  13. The "enemy" is only 15' away, but the party has to spend a "melee turn" (presumably meaning melee round) closing with the priest, who is "backing" and casting.
  14. B2 The Keep on the Borderlands also has two alabaster statues. One of alabaster & gold (3000 gp) in the Loan Bank in the Keep, and a 30 lb one of alabaster & ivory (200 gp) in the Bugbear Chieftain's Room. This later one is also hidden (in a chest on a hidden high ledge), but lacks any secret magical compartments.
  15. The "map to a temple on the 4th level – a place veritably stuffed with treasure, but strongly guarded by many hobgoblins and powerful men and monsters" is a good example of OD&D Treasure Map.

Friday, July 24, 2020

A Chronology of D&D Sample Dungeons: The Haunted Keep by Tom Moldvay (1981)

The Haunted Keep cross-section by Erol Otus. Source: Old School FRP tumblr

This is material I recently wrote for the Chronology of Sample Dungeons section of the Zenopus Archives site. Think of it as a first draft as I will likely revise/add to it over time.

This is the sample dungeon from the 1981 revision of the D&D Basic rulebook, which was edited by Tom Moldvay. As with the Holmes Basic rulebook, the job of editor involved a significant amount of original writing, including an entire sample dungeon level. While the Zenopus Dungeon from Holmes Basic has no formal name other than "Sample Dungeon", Moldvay specifically refers to his scenario as "THE HAUNTED KEEP" (top left of page B55).

Holmes pioneered the inclusion of an introductory sample dungeon in the Basic rulebook, taking the sample level concept from OD&D Vol 3, which is essentially a collection of examples, mainly tricks and traps, and adding narrative cohesion and gearing it towards beginners. Moldvay takes his cues from Holmes' structure, similarly providing an evocative background in several concise paragraphs (page B55) followed by a single fully described dungeon level (page B56-B57), and with suggestions for expansion.

Moldvay's background echoes that of the Zenopus Dungeon in several respects. The occupants have mysteriously disappeared, leaving the structure housing the dungeon abandoned. The structure is said to be haunted; "[s]trange lights and sounds are often seen and heard in the ruins by the passing townspeople", which recalls the Zenopus Dungeon's bit about the neighbors complaining about ghostly lights and ghastly screams. The Haunted Keep is ruined like Zenopus' tower, although not to the same extent, and thus Moldvay's sample dungeon level is actually above ground in the only remaining floor of the East Tower.  Because the dungeon is named The Haunted Keep, it's not usually remembered that the sample level is actually of the East Tower of this structure (see map below), and there is a perhaps a trace of Holmes' ruined tower concept in Moldvay's likewise ruined tower. 

Moldvay advances the concept of an introductory sample dungeon in a number of significant ways. These changes suggest why Moldvay chose to write a new level rather than just revising Holmes' dungeon.

1. Several of the paragraphs of the background are in quotes, with a suggestion that this could be read to players (pg B55); this seems to be a step in the evolution of TSR's "boxed text" that would shortly become standard in modules. The first modules for the revised Basic Set, such as B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (originally by Jean Wells alone, with Moldvay as a co-author on the revised version) and B4 The Lost City (by Moldvay) were among the first TSR modules to include boxed text.

2. Moldvay provides a motivation for exploring the dungeon beyond simply looking for treasure. On page B51, he lists out ten different "Scenarios", of which the "Haunted Keep" is described as an example of #8, "Rescuing Prisoners".

3. There is the significant addition of a "step-by-step" how-to section that shows how the dungeon was constructed (pages B55-B56), with the dungeon level being the example of the output. This guidance is integrated with Moldvay's instructions for stocking dungeons on pages B51-B52; both sections include steps A-F.

4. The dungeon map (pg B57) includes more room features than the Zenopus dungeon, and these correspond to a separate key of standard dungeon map features (pg B58).

Maps for the Haunted Keep from page B57. Source: Marks Roll Dice 

5. There is a second map showing the outside structure of the dungeon below the dungeon map (shown above). This serves as a bit of a location map, showing a north-south road running through the gatehouse of the ruined keep, as well as suggestion another area for expansion: the West Tower. The introduction also indicates that the "interior of the gatehouse will be similar to the towers, though there will be fewer rooms", although the map does not shown a blank interior area where these rooms would be located in the Gate House.

6. The sample cross-section (of B58) drawn by Erol Otus (shown at the top of the page) is linked to the sample dungeon level rather than being an unrelated cross-section like Skull Mountain in Holmes Basic. This cross-section shows second and third levels of the dungeon, corresponding to Moldvay's instructions for expanding the dungeon. These three levels match the three levels of Basic play, which refer to both character levels and dungeon levels. This was a design decision first implemented by Holmes, who included Wandering Monsters for the first three dungeon levels. Holmes had also intended for his rulebook to include a cross-section of a dungeon with just three levels, but TSR replaced this with the much more extensive Skull Mountain cross-section.

7. The Example of Play (page B59) is also linked to the sample dungeon rather than having it be an unrelated example like in Holmes Basic. The Example starts at end of the first level of the dungeon at the entrance to the second level, and is thus able to continue the description of the dungeon a bit further. This Example of Play is also linked to the Example of Combat earlier in the book (B28), which continues directly from the Example of Play. 

8. Holmes gave some brief suggestions for expanding the dungeon. Moldvay expands on this by giving more detailed instructions for what the DM should include when designing the 2nd and 3rd level of the dungeon (pg B55).

The extra material noted above does mean that the dungeon itself is greatly reduced in size from Holmes' example, with the first level of the Haunted Keep having just 9 rooms described in a little over half a column of text, as compared to Holmes' 15+ rooms described over 3 full pages. This provides less ready-to-go material for the DM, but this was perhaps less of a concern as the Basic Set now included a full module. When the Holmes Basic set debuted, it was packaged with Monster & Treasure Assortments, but these were replaced in 1978 with B1 In Search of the Unknown, and then again in early 1980 with B2 Keep on the Borderlands, which was then retained in revised format for the Moldvay Basic set.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

July Sale at DMs Guild and DrivethruRPG

DMs Guild and DrivethruRPG are having a big Christmas in July sale, with many products 25% off.

This means that The Ruined Tower of Zenopus is on sale for $1.49 until the end of July!

Get it here:

If you missed the announcement previously, it now includes a Roll20/VTT-friendly file of the Zenopus dungeon, which previous purchasers can go back and get.

Most of the classic TSR titles are included in the sale, at least in PDF format. Most of the in-print stuff is not, although I note that the Rules Cyclopedia in print is $21 instead of $25.

Friday, July 10, 2020

A Dagger in the Boot: Gygax's Location-Based Encumbrance of the 1970s

Location-based Encumbrance in the Lost Caverns of Tsojconth

Encumbrance, while often ignored, has been part of D&D since the first published rules.

An entire page of OD&D Vol 1 (Men & Magic) is given over to item weights and how this affects movement. Instead of detailing every item of Equipment, this list focuses mostly on specific weights for armor, weapons and gold pieces, with "Miscellaneous Equipment (ropes, spikes, bags, etc)" being equivalent to 80 gold pieces (8 lbs). A few other treasures are also given weights such as scrolls, jewelry, gems, potions, wands & staves. 

Even a simplified system like this is easily ignored during actual play, which may be why Holmes left this list out of the manuscript for Basic D&D, only including "fully armored" or "heavily loaded" (left undefined) as categories in the Movement table. Gygax apparently did not want to go this far, as he added in a section titled "Encumbrance" to the rulebook as published. Even so, Gygax left out the specific weights that had appeared in OD&D. Instead he just references the "miscellaneous equipment" (giving it as 75 pounds minimum here), and then outlines what is essentially an alternate system where the only weight that is tracked is that of coins (600 coins / 60 lbs being "heavily loaded"), together with suggesting that each PC list where other items would be carried:

As you can see, this adds some nice flavor to a character's list of equipment, such as Malchor's hidden dagger and purse. It also fixes the locations of these items, making it easier for the DM to judge how quickly an item can be used in melee. And the right and left hand notations fit nicely with the rule in Holmes Basic (taken from OD&D) that a surprised character has a 1 in 6 chance of dropping a held item when surprised. 

Gygax didn't use this location-based system only in Basic. His pre-generated characters in Lost Caverns of Tsojconth, the 1976 tournament version of S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, have equipment written up in a similar format. The picture at the top of this post shows the items for the first pre-gen, and here is the second:

We can see from the three above examples that Gygax favored a small sack slung over the shoulder, holding holy water, oil and/or potions of healing, presumably at-hand for quick use during melee.

This system is also suggested by the 1977 D&D character sheets, published the same year as Holmes Basic. These sheets are ostensibly for OD&D but contain some proto-AD&Disms, such as ten armor classes (ACs). The top of the flip side of the sheet contains space to list the "Distribution of All Items Carried". There's no dedicated space for recording items weights, just location carried, but the bottom of the page does ask for "Total Extra Weight Able to Carry" at normal or encumbered movements, and an adjustment for Strength, per the table in Supplement I: Greyhawk. So the implication here is that both the location and the weight of items would be recorded:

AD&D was slow to elaborate its rules for Encumbrance. The Players Handbook (1978) contains weights for weapons, but nothing else, and a very short section on Encumbrance on page 101-102 mostly indicating how weight would affect movement. 

When the Dungeon Masters Guide was first published, in August 1979, the further rules  for encumbrance were limited to types of armor in the section "Types of Armor & Encumbrance"; for more on these, see my post on Gygaxian Armor

The weights for other items didn't appear until the end of that year, when a revised DMG appeared (labeled "Revised Printing - December 1979"), including a new "Appendix O: Encumbrance of Standard Items". This section harkens back to OD&D by providing a list of items and their equivalent weight in gold pieces. It mostly leaves out weapons and armor, as they were detailed elsewhere, but does include a few more of these items such as bows and helmets. The list covers most of the Miscellaneous Items from the Equipment list in the PHB, and even adds a few items not otherwise explained the AD&D rules such as caltrops and the grapnel (aka grappling hook), a fan favorite of D&D players over the years.

In addition, the accompanying text provides an example describing how two adventurers, Dimwall and Drudge, carry their equipment in a manner similar to that of the Tsojconth and Holmes Basic, except that it is written out descriptively rather than as a list.

Also out in 1979 was the set of AD&D Player Character Record Sheets, which followed the earlier sheets including a section, again at the top of the reverse, noting where each item was carried, but also including a dedicated space for each item this time. So again, the implication here is that both methods would be used, weight and location.

AD&D Player Character Record Sheet, reverse side. Source: Ebay

When the new Moldvay-edited Basic Set was released in 1981, it returned to the weight-based Encumbrance system of OD&D (page B20), but with no mention of Gygax's alternate or supplemental location-based system. The 1980 PC record sheets that went along with this set also lacked any dedicated spaces for noting item location or weight. 

Overall, it seems that this system of listing out item locations is mostly forgotten or overlooked because it featured prominently only in the Holmes Basic. In OD&D, it only appeared on late-appearing character sheets; in AD&D, it was relegated to several dense paragraphs in an appendix and the back of character sheets that players only occasionally used; and in B/X it was left out entirely.

[I started writing this post last year & just finished it up! --- Z]

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Tower of Zenopus in Dragon+ Issue 32!

Wander over to the Wizards site, where you will find that the latest issue of Dragon+ features the Tower of Zenopus, both old and new:

...And There Be Snowy Owlbears!

This electronic publication is the successor to Dragon magazine, and runs a regular column by Bart Carroll called "D&D Classics", who has written history pieces for WOTC for years, including a few mentioned on this blog previously (here and here). It uses the earliest masthead for "The Dragon" as a header (see the image up top).

This month's installment of "D&D Classics" has three parts: "Color Me Adventurous", "The Green Dragon Inn" and the "Tower of Zenopus". The first relates to the 1979 AD&D Coloring Album and the second to the Greyhawk version of the Green Dragon Inn (rather than Holmes' version), and with a tie-in to the Green Dragon in the "Maps of the Month" column.

The "Tower of Zenopus" section includes links to two free pdfs: the original dungeon (the same available on their website since 2008), and an excerpt of the section of Ghosts of Saltmarsh that briefly describes the Tower of Zenopus adventure site. 

It also plugs The Ruined Tower of Zenopus at DMs Guild, and for new content features an interview with me, where I answer six questions posed by Bart Carroll! A thank you to Bart for asking me to do this. The kid in me is geeking out a bit on finally getting into Dragon...

Click here to read "D&D Classics" in Dragon+ #32

Click here to see the full Table of Contents for Dragon+ #32

Click here to find The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild

Click below on the "RTOZ review" label to find reviews of the Ruined Tower of Zenopus