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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.                    ...

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave: Vampire Bats by Lore Suto


Artist Lore Suto (@loresuto on Twitter) has provided us with this terrifically frightening illustration of the Vampire Bats that dwell in The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, an Holmes/OD&D adventure that I have been serializing on this blog, starting here

This illustration would make a great visual to show to the players if the bats are attracted by noise to the former Smugglers' Bunk (Area 5), or if they are stirred up in their lair (Area 6).

My most recent post in this series was back in October, but I have been working on it again recently, and will soon be posting the next installment, Area #7: Dry Storage.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Holmes for the Holidays 2020

Back for the pandemic, it's "Holmes for the Holidays"!

For this year, I've got an extra copy of Dragon #58 (February 1982), which features the Boinger and Zereth story, "In the Bag"The condition isn't the best: while the front cover looks like fine (see above), the back cover has a tear 2/3rds of the way across (it could be taped pretty easily), and the "Spellminders" counters from the center of the magazine are missing. Buy hey, it's free!

"In the Bag" was the last of Holmes' three Boinger and Zereth stories to appear in Dragon, and also the last of his writing of any kind for the magazine. Chronologically, it is set after "The Sorcerer's Jewel", as Boinger mentions that adventure, which had appeared one year earlier in Dragon #46 (February 1981). Murray and Olaf from The Maze of Peril also return in this story, and there are also references to Amazons and Dagon from that story (which at the time of this story, had been written but not yet been published).

The story is delightfully illustrated throughout by Donna Barr, an artist I'm not otherwise familiar with, but per wikipedia she illustrated other RPG products and comics books. While the Tales of Peril compilation includes "In the Bag", it does not include Barr's illustrations, which means this issue retains some draw for the Holmes collector.

The cover of Dragon #58 is by Clyde Caldwell - his second for the magazine - and features a castle with a skull-shaped gate reminiscent of Skull Mountain or Castle Greyskull (although Caldwell's painting is dated 1981 and it says here that the first He-Man toys were released in 1982). And to me, the lizard-riding, spear-wielding dwarf also recalls the lizard rider image featured at the top of this blog. 

The issue also include an article by the late Lenard Lakofka, "Beefing up the cleric", that details a bunch of new "official" cleric spells, which were later compiled in Unearthed Arcana. The article is introduced by Gary Gygax, who writes "All readers should be aware that Len Lakofka has been of considerable aid and assistance in formulating the whole of the AD&D game system".

* * * * *

For the give-away I will use the same system as before: 

If interested, leave a comment in reply to this post within the next two days, before automated moderation kicks in on this post. After two days, I will treat the list of comments as a table and roll randomly for the winner, using dice from a Holmes Basic set.

I'll cover postage (media mail) for any U.S. address. I can ship to other countries but I ask that you cover the difference (any amount over $4) in shipping by PayPal; so if you are overseas please only participate if you have a PayPal account and willing to chip in the extra. I'll estimate the exact shipping by weight and refund the difference if I overcharge.

Please note that due to the date I'm starting this that I probably won't get it in the mail until after Christmas.

* * * * * 

12/29 Update, including the Results:

I recruited two dice elves to make the rolls. There were less than 20 comments, so we used a Holmes white 20-sided die (numbered 0-9 twice) and an orange 6-sided die as the control die (1-3 = 1-10, 4-6 = 11-20).

After warming up the dice, we made the official roll...

...which indicates that number 7 is the winner! (the control die being a "1" means that it's "7" instead of 17). That's The Great Khan! 

Thanks to all who commented, and hopefully 2021 will be a better year for all.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus: Running it Retro II

Sarcophagus Skeletons by David Sutherland. An illustration for Room N,
although with a bit of artistic license as there is only one sarcophagus with an animated skeleton

This is the second post in a series of notes for running The Ruined Tower of Zenopus using old school D&D rules. It continues from the first post here. This post focuses on a roster of monster stats for the dungeon rooms.

Page 5: Printer-Friendly dungeon map. Usable as-is with any ruleset.

Pages 4-13: Areas of the Dungeon. Here is a Roster of Monsters:

Room A. Goblins: MV 60, AC 6, HD 1-1, AT 1 weapon for 1d6. For 1-3 PCs: 3 goblins; 4-5 PCs: 5 goblins; 6+ PCs, 7-8 goblins

Room B. 4 skeletons: MV 120, AC 8, HD 1/2, AT 1 claws for 1d6

Room F. The veteran smuggler: MV 60, AC 5 (chain), F2, hp 11, AT 1 sword+1 for 1d6, Str 12, Int 10, Wis 9, Con 13, Dex 10, Cha 12

The thaumaturgist: MV 120, AC 9, MU4, hp 9, AT 1 spell or 1 dagger for 1d6, Str 9, Int 16, Wis 9, Con 10, Dex 11, Cha 12. Spells: Read Magic, Charm Person, Magic Missile, Protection from Good, Wizard Lock, Web

Room G. 2d4 giant rats: MV 120, AC 7, HD 1/2, hp 2, AT 1 bite for 1d3 + 5% chance of disease

Room J. 1 giant spider (Holmes manuscript): MV 60, AC 3, HD 1, hp 4, AT 1 bite for 1d6 + save vs. poison

1 enormous spider (1st edition rulebook): MV 20 (100 in web), AC 3, HD 6, hp 31, AT 1 bite for 1d8 + save vs. poison at -1

1 giant spider (2nd edition rulebook): MV 30 (120 in web), AC 4, HD 4+4, hp 21, AT 1 bite for 2d4 + save vs. poison

Spider attack rules: 

1st round: If the room is entered incautiously, roll a die to select a PC, and then roll for the spider's attack on them. On a hit, the PC is knocked down (the original does not indicate whether this causes damage; it could be interpreted as a standard d6 of damage), and may not return a blow. Continue with rounds 2-4 below. On a miss, the next round instead switches to normal combat.

2nd round: If there was a knockdown, the spider gets an attack on the PC, who gets no return attack. Others may join combat now and attack the spider. 

3rd round: Spider gets an attack on the PC, who may attack at -2 while getting up.

4th round and after: Normal attacks on both sides.

Room L. 1 monstrous sand crab: MV 60, AC 3, HD 2, AT 2 pinchers for 2d6 each

Room M. 4 smugglers: MV 120, AC 7, HD NH, hp 4, AT 1 cutlass for 1d6

Lemunda: MV 120, AC 9, F2, hp 11, AT 1 dagger for 1d6, Str 10, Int 14, Wis 12, Con 15, Dex 12, Cha 17

1 giant octopus: MV 120 (swimming), AC 7, HD 3, hp 16, AT 6 tentacles for 0 + drag underwater

Room N. Endless giant rats: see Room G

1 flying dagger: MV 0, AC 3, HD 1, hp special, AT 1 for 1d6; if hit, motionless for 3 rounds

1 sarcophagus skeleton: MV 120, AC 7, HD 1, hp 7, AT 1 scimitar for 1d6

Room P.  2 ghouls: MV 90, AC 6, HD 2, hp 11, 9, AT claw/claw/bite for 1d3 each & paralysis

Option: 1d6 cultists: MV 120, AC 9, HD NH, AT 1 scimitar for 1d6

1 ghoul; as above, but with 7 hp

Room RT. Endless giant rats: see Room G

Option1 monstrous rat: MV 180, AC 5, HD 1-1, hp 7, AT 1 bite/1 claws for 1d3+1 each

1d6 giant rats: see Room G

Room S. 1 giant constrictor snake: MV 100, AC 6, HD 2, hp 13, AT 1 bite for 1d6

Room S2. Ape: MV 120, AC7, HD 2, hp 9, AT 1 pummel for 1d6

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus video review by captcorajus

Over on Youtube, captcorajus has a new video review of the Ruined Tower of Zenopus, part of the "RPG OSR Review" series on his channel. Followers of this blog may remember several of his earlier videos that I have featured here, including ones for Holmes Basic (2015), for the original version of the Tower of Zenopus (2019), and for the Maze of Peril (2020). There are also videos for a number of TSR modules and other RPG products. And as I mentioned in the post linking to the review of the Maze of Peril, I had the pleasure of meeting captcorajus at Scrum Con this past February, where he played Bardan the Dwarf in my Zenopus sequel game, In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus.

To watch the review, follow this link to YV or click on the video below:

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus: Running it Retro

Occasionally, I have been asked about a retro version of
The Ruined Tower of Zenopus (RTOZ); i.e., one for an old-school D&D or OSR ruleset. There is of course, the original adventure, still available as a free pdf on the Wizards site, but it doesn't include the content that I added. 

I would love to include such conversion notes in the adventure itself, but DMs Guild doesn't allow products to include rules for non-5e D&D systems. So instead I will post some notes here on the blog. These are written up for Holmes Ref, which uses OD&D to expand Holmes, but really should be sufficient for any old D&D (e.g., OD&D, B/X, AD&D 1E, AD&D 2E) or retroclone thereof. These notes focus on rules & assume that you have a copy of the RTOZ at hand.

Pages 1-3 don't require any retroversion. Page 1 is the cover; page 2 the introduction; and page 3 is my map of Portown and a description of the points of interest. No rules here!

Page 4

Doors: Force open on 1-2 in 6, optionally modified for strength (i.e., if using Strength adjustments for doors such as I included in the Rolling Up An Adventurer sheet for Holmes Ref or the bonuses given in the Greyhawk supplement). Repeat attempts are possible, but there is no chance for surprise after the first attempt. Doors can also be chopped apart with the right tools, such as axes; this takes 1 turn and makes such a racket that it necessitates an immediate check for wandering monsters.

Wandering Monsters:

Check as indicated; the rules given in the RTOZ are the same as in the original dungeon.

For the monsters, use the following stats. If running Holmes, you can use 1/10 of the MV as Dexterity for determining first strike, or roll it on the spot as suggested in the Holmes rules.

For HD, "NH" means "normal human". For Holmes, this means they have 1d6 hp and use on their own line on the combat and saving throw tables (which is -1 compared to a 1st level fighter). In OD&D, they would be treated as 1st level fighters.

The behavior and treasure for each monster can be left unchanged.

1. 1d3 goblins: MV 60, AC 6, HD 1-1, AT 1 weapon for 1d6

2. 1d3 zombies: MV 60, AC 8, HD 2, AT 1 claws for 1d8, only attack every other round

3. 1d3 skeletons: MV 120, AC 8, HD 1/2, AT 1 claws for 1d6

(Note: I use the Monster Manual move rates for zombies and skeletons, which is reversed from that of the Holmes rulebook. If you prefer, switch them back).

4. 1d6 giant rats: MV 120, AC 7, HD 1/2, AT 1 bite for 1d3 + 5% chance of disease

    1 monstrous rat: MV 180, AC 5, HD 1-1, AT 1 bite/1 claws for 1d3+1 each

5. 1d6 large sand crabs: MV 90, AC 6, HD 1/2, AT 2 pinchers for 1d4 each

6. 1d3 giant centipedes: MV 150, AC 9, HD 1/4, AT 1 bite for 0 but save vs. poison at +4

7. 1d6 smugglers: MV 120, AC 7, HD NH, AT 1 cutlass for 1d6

8. 1d3 large spiders: MV 60, AC 8, HD 1+1, AT 1 bite for 1 + save vs. poison at +2

9. 1d6 stirges: MV 180, AC 7, HD 1, AT 1 proboscis (at +2) for 1d3 & drain blood at 1d4/round

10. 1d6 cultists: MV 120, AC 9, HD NH, AT 1 scimitar for 1d6

11. 1 ghoul: MV 90, AC 6, HD 2, AT claw/claw/bite for 1d3 each & paralysis

12. 1 cleaning cube: MV 30, AC 9, HD 2, AT 1 touch for 1d4 & paralysis

Instead of an item from the 5E Trinkets table, the cleaning cube will be carrying a random piece of equipment from the Holmes Ref Equipment Reference Sheet


Holmes-style stat blocks are below. Use the descriptions from the RTOZ.

Monstrous Rat

Move: 180 feet/turn, 90 feet/turn swimming
Hit Dice: 1-1
Armor Class: 5
Treasure Type: Q
Attacks: 1 bite, 1 claws
Damage: 1d3 + 1 each

(I wrote this up previously as a "Giant Rat King" here)

Large Sand Crab

Move: 90 feet/turn
Hit Dice: 1/2
Armor Class: 6
Treasure Type: nil
Attacks: 2 pinchers
Damage: 1d4 each


Move: 120 feet/turn
Hit Dice: Normal Human (1d6 hit points)
Armor Class: 7
Treasure Type: 2d6 gp
Alignment: neutral
Attacks: 1 cutlass
Damage: 1d6


Move: 120 feet/turn
Hit Dice: Normal Human (1d6 hit points)
Armor Class: 9
Treasure Type: nil
Alignment: chaotic evil
Attacks: 1 scimitar
Damage: 1d6 

Cleaning Cube

Move: 30 feet/turn
Hit Dice: 2
Armor Class: 9
Treasure Type: variable
Attacks: 1 touch
Damage: 1d4 plus save vs. paralysis

Page 5: Doesn't need any retroversion as it is just a printer-friendly map of the dungeon.

That's it for now. I'll continue in another with notes on converting the rooms (Page 6 & beyond).

The second & final installment of "Running it Retro" can be found here.

Monday, November 30, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus: Cyber Monday sale

I didn't notice it until just now, but DMs Guild is having a Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale, and The Ruined Tower of Zenopus is included, so it currently only $1.59.

Their page for the sale says there is just under 17 hours left.

As a reminder, if you missed the recent announcement, the pdf has been updated to include a full-page illustration by Chris Holmes (son of J. Eric Holmes) and a printer-friendly dungeon map. Purchase also includes a separate png file of the dungeon map suitable for VTTs (optimized for Roll20).

And it looks like a lot of the classic D&D titles at Drivethrurpg are also included in the sale. See links to some of these categories in the right sidebar of this blog.

Find it here:
The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild

Click here to read reviews of the RTOZ by various bloggers

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

M1 Blizzard Pass: Dungeon Design

Today, Grognardia has a retrospective on the module M1 Blizzard Pass by Zeb Cook.

This brought back some of my memories of this module, which was released in 1983. I remember buying it at Kay-Bee Toys in the mall on the same day my sister got the Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle game for our Colecovision.

I enjoyed the solo module, but what I really found fascinating was the "group adventure" at the end, which describes the dungeon (consisting of the single map shown above) in less than three full pages. Not only is it an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the solo adventure, but it is also a rare example of a TSR "mini-dungeon"; i.e., an adventure consisting of a single dungeon page with just a few pages of description. In the early days, we really on saw this kind of short adventure as the sample dungeons in rulebooks (e.g., Holmes Basic or Moldvay Basic). I think it also reminded me of those because it was also in the back of the booklet. One reason I liked this kind of short adventure is that it was closer to the single map-page dungeons I was making myself at the time. Even the adventures that had been published in Dragon magazine were usually longer than this, with at least two different map pages. 

(Warning, below are some spoilers if you plan to play through the dungeon)

As is obvious from the name, the setting for Blizzard Pass is a snowy mountain pass, which immediately gives the dungeon a feel that differentiates from typical sample dungeons. A few of the elements tie into this "icy" setting; for example, the ogre guard at the beginning hides in the snow and then hurls "snowballs" at the party (balls of ice). And there are Snow Apes, a new monster.

According to the ten types of Scenarios outlined in Moldvay Basic, the adventure is #8, Rescuing Prisoners - the same as the The Haunted Keep sample dungeon. 

The dungeon itself is more linear than the one in Holmes Basic, but it makes sense as a defensible lair. It has some neat twists that make the linear design more interesting. Two of these criss-cross over each other, making the map more eye-catching (see above).

The map makes good use of the dungeon features key shown on page B58, which was one of the ways the Moldvay Basic advanced dungeon design over that of the dungeon of Holmes Basic, as I outlined here. It also has a clever and thematic compass rose that uses the head of troglodyte, one of the monsters in the dungeon.

Besides the main entrance, there are two other exits from the dungeon. One of these is via a branch point that leads to a red-herring mini-labyrinth in a second part of the dungeon; the other is the requisite secret escape route for the evil cleric, which is a motif that Gygax used several times (in that post, jump to the section "Evil Human Lair with Escape Route" near the bottom).

It has a few interesting features of verticality; parts of the dungeon are higher than others, which is something also seen in the Caves of Chaos. 

This allows for a chute that leads from one area to another, something that Gygax suggested back in OD&D, Vol 3 (e.g., "mouths of chutes" and "a slide to a lower level"), but didn't turn up that often in published dungeons. This also involves a weird statue/idol, a motif seen repeatedly in early D&D adventures; there's one in each of the Holmes and Moldvay Sample Dungeons, and Gygax provided several examples in the "Trick and Traps: (Additions)" section of the Greyhawk Supplement.

And there is also vertical passage in the dungeon that can only be traversed by climbing; this lets a thief use their climb walls ability (the solo adventure itself is written for a thief character). This is shown via a cross-section inset on the map, and leads to the second section of the dungeon. This part is set off visually from the first by use of half-tone dots, labeled on the key as "Higher Area", also perhaps reinforcing that the temperature is different in this part of the cave system.

Plus it's got pulpy weird toads and apes as the new monsters: the hypnotic Rock Toad (also called Cave Toad) and the Snow Ape.

Rock Toad by Jim Holloway

I like this dungeon enough that I included when I started an annual kids' campaign about five years ago. IIRC, this was the fourth adventure they went through (Holmes Sample Dungeon -  Mentzer Sample Dungeon - Quest for the Silver Sword - Blizzard Pass).

If you'd like to see this mini-dungeon yourself, Blizzard Pass is available on DMs Guild (note: affiliate link), and  with all of the solo entries filled in within the appropriate text so you can actually play through it without the invisible ink pen.

Read the Grognardia retrospective here:

Retrospective: Blizzard Pass

Yesterday's post about solo wargames reminded me of something that I had almost forgotten: that, in 1983, TSR published the first of two solo adventure modules for Dungeons & Dragons. Entitled Blizzard Pass and written by David Cook, this module is, in broad outline, not all that different from a Fighting Fantasy book like The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

Monday, November 23, 2020

The "Come Visit My Dungeon" Sticker


The Come Visit My Dungeon sticker is a bit of early TSR ephemera that I have written about once before, way back in 2012. It was brought to my attention again recently when Ernie Gygax joined Twitter and pinned a post with the above photo, which is the highest resolution version of it that I have seen. The writing on the sign to the right is visible as:

"Lasciate ogni speranza Voi Ch'Entrate"

Which is from Dante's Divine Comedy, and is well known in translation as:

"All hope abandon, ye who enter in!"

The sticker art appears to be unsigned, and I haven't heard anywhere else who the artist is; I'll update this post if I learn this.

The sticker is associated with the Dungeon Hobby Shop. Per Ernie: "We had stacks of [this sticker] 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." Elsewhere, Ernie indicated that the sticker was given out with purchases of a D&D set. 

However, the sticker may date back further than that, as TSR moved to 772 Main Street in the later '70s; the earliest date I've found in Dragon for that address is in The Dragon #20, November 1978. But there are several examples of the sticker attached to an early "woodgrain" OD&D set. One example can be seen in my earlier post, and was owned by Dave Arneson himself; it also has an address label with his name on the cover. Reportedly, he didn't care for the art on the cover. On the Acaeum, another copy was said to have had the sticker placed inside the box lid by Gary Gygax when bought from his basement.

There is also a roughly contemporary TSR T-shirt with the same Come Visit My Dungeon slogan on the front, under the art also used on the cover of the first issue of The Dragon. The back features Greg Bell's Lizardman art from the inside cover of Greyhawk, also used as TSR's "Lizard Logo". You can see a great photo of this T-shirt here, and another of Rob Kuntz wearing it here.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus: Updated!

Attention all: The Ruined Tower of Zenopus has been updated!

Today, I uploaded a revised version (designated Version 2.0) to DMs Guild. As with the last update, the updated pdf should be available to anyone who previously purchased the adventure. In fact, DMs Guild should have sent you a notification that the product has been updated.

Two pages have been added, bringing the total to 20 pages. The new pages are:

(1) A full-page illustration by J. Eric Holmes' son, Chris Holmes...!

I commissioned this fantastic new work from Chris (who has his own website here) and it depicts the octopus from Room M battling a party in one of the pirate rowboats. Here is a thumbnail sneak-peak; see the adventure for the full-sized illustration:

(2) A Printer-Friendly Dungeon Map. Back in May, I added two separate dungeon map files to the product, drawn using the application Gridmapper by Alex Schroeder. I have now revised the PDF itself to include a version of this DM's Map. I removed the black background and redid the lettering to improve legibility. Again, just a sneak peek here:

Find the updated adventure here:

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild

Click here to read reviews of the RTOZ by various bloggers

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Veterans Day 2020

This blog is endebted to the work of J. Eric Holmes, and today on Veterans Day 2020 I highlight his military service in the US Marine Corp, which included two years in Korea. The above photo is in the J. Eric Holmes Photo Gallery, and originally ran with the biographical sketch accompanying Holmes' first published short story, "Beachhead on the Moon", in Blue Book magazine, February 1951, which mentions that he "joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1948, and has served two summers as a reserve officer candidate at Quantico, Virginia. He expects to receive a second lieutenant's commission in June."

This is a photo of his gravestone at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, (source) and is also in the Photo Gallery. Next to his stone is the one of his father, Wilfred Holmes, who served as a intelligence officer in the Navy during WWII, and who later wrote a book about his work, Double-Edged Secrets (1979).

My father had a version of this poster in his office den for decades

More personally, today I remember my late father, who served as an officer in the Navy, including two years as a Seabee in Vietnam during the war and as a reservist for many years after; his uncle "Fritzi", who was killed during fighting in the Pacific in WWII; my maternal grandfather who served in the Army in the Pacific during WWII; and my late father-in-law who served also served as an officer in the Navy, on a destroyer during the Korean War.

And a big thank you to all of the readers of the blog who have served!

(Modified from earlier posts made in 2012 and 2016).

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Danse Macabre Filmstrip (1963)

A re-post from 2017, and 2013 before that:

For Halloween, here's something haunting that I remember watching in music class in late elementary school, around the same time I discovered D&D (1982). It's a 1963 educational filmstrip with fantastic watercolors by Harold Dexter Hoopes, set to the eerie music of Danse Macabre by Saint-Saens. It was unavailable on the web until a few years ago but now there are multiple versions on YouTube, one of which has better colors but includes a loud "filmstrip advance" beep throughout. There isn't much info available on the internet about the artist Hoopes. There was even a blog dedicated to restoring the individual frames of this filmstrip but it seems to have stalled out at frame 20.

There's also a later second edition of the filmstrip done in the mid-80s with art by David Prebenna, later an illustrator of Sesame Street/Muppet toddler books. It's cartoony and less haunting, but also worth watching.

Memories of this filmstrip led me to include "Danse Macabre" in my One Hit Point Monsters.

Happy All Hallow's Evening!

2020 Update:

Re-posted with an improved video now available on YT.

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #6: Bloody Mess

This is an installment of a dungeon adventure set in the Portown milieu, written for Holmes Basic D&D. You can find the Introduction here: Area 1. Each entry includes part of a "pointcrawl" map showing the area & any exits, which include links allowing you to navigate:
Area 5

6. BLOODY MESS. The only entrance to this cave is the tunnel from Area 5 to the south, a narrow (single-file only), rubble-filled passage. Moving north through this passage, characters will note increasing humidity, a strong acrid smell, and reddish guano on the floor. The area is pitch black during the day.

The cave itself is oval, about 20 ft. east-west and 30 ft. north-south, with many stalactites, some dripping water. The floor is covered in bloody red guano-covered rubble, making it slippery and difficult to traverse (all attacks by characters are made at -4, with a modified 1 on the attack indicating the attacker has fallen prone).

Bats. A large colony of vampire bats has taken up residence here, exiting to the surface through the chimney in Area 5. Unless already awakened by noise to the south (see Area 5), during the day they will be asleep on the ceiling, hidden among the stalactites. Characters moving about this room have a 1 in 6 chance of waking them per person in the room, per round (i.e., 2 in 6 for two, 3 in 6 for three, etc), at which point they will begin flying about, hungry for blood. If awakened here, 1d8 of the bats will begin attacking each round.

Vampire Bats (21-40 (20 + 1d20)): DX 18, AC 3 (9 while attached), HD 1/8, hp 1 each, AT 1 bite for 1 point damage, attach on a successful hit and then automatically drain 1 hp per round for two rounds (i.e., three points total), SA surprise 1-5 in 6, attack from behind at +4

The full write-up of this new monster can be found here.

Vampire Bats by Lore Suto

Old Well. In the northeast corner of the room, there is a 3'-wide hole in the floor where water dripping from the ceiling and running across the floor pools 8 ft. down. A rusted chain is fixed to a piton near the edge, and hangs down into the water. The chain is about 12 ft long, and a metal bucket is attached to the end of the chain, below the surface of the water. If the bucket is pulled up it will be filled with bloody-looking water (fouled by the guano). Etched on the bottom of the bucket is a rough map showing Areas 5-7, including the secret passage in Area 7.

The only exit from this room is back to the south. Follow the link on the above map.

Chronologically on this blog, the previous installment was Area 5 and the next was Area 7.

Trivia: As I mentioned back in the One Hit Point Monster post, in the Combat section of the Basic rulebook, Holmes provides a vampire bat as an example of "a small fast creature" that would have a lower armor class (AC3) than one would expect based solely its natural armor.

Friday, October 16, 2020

"Frontiers in Brain Research": Audio of Holmes' Neurology Lecture at Worldcon in 1978

Flyer for World Con 36 aka Iguanacon. Click for a larger view.

Here's a forgotten artifact that has just resurfaced
an audio recording of a lecture given by J. Eric Holmes at Worldcon 36 in 1978 (aka Iguanacon; each one has a unique name). It's titled "Frontiers in Brain Research"  Holmes was a professor of neurology at USC — and is almost hour and half in length! 

A direct link to the recording, which you can download & listen to like a podcast:

Frontiers in Brain Research

(214.5 MB mp3, length 1:29:22)

The recording starts with announcement identifying it as a product of Cassette Communications Corporation, a company that made recordings at the con and then offered them on sale for $6 a tape to con-goers. Here is their flyer from World Con 36:

Click on the image for a larger view

Per the flyer, if you ordered six tapes ($30), you received received a bonus "custom album" holder; I found a picture of one of these from an old Ebay auction of Harlan Ellison recordings:

There are a few technical glitches in the recording: Holmes was already speaking when the recoding began, so there is no introduction, although it is still clearly near the beginning where he is outlining what he will be talking about. There is also a break in his speech not too far in where the recording seems to have been stopped and started again. And there is some background hiss, not unexpected for those of us that remember audio cassette recordings.

But overall this is a real treat: we get to hear Holmes speaking clearly (the first time I have heard his voice!) and at length on a topic that he knows extremely well. He keeps it light with periodic jokes and the audience is very enthusiastic, asking many questions; the last half-hour or so is a Q&A following the lecture.

The recording is hosted on AZFandom (Arizona Fandom), "a site dedicated to Arizona fandom from its beginnings in the late 1960s to its future in the years to come", which has a page for conventions held in Arizona, including one for Worldcon 36, which includes a section of audio recordings.

The Sci-Fi & Fantasy Fan preservation site Fanac also has a page with a wealth of documentation of Worldcon 38 / Iguanacon.

Per the Pocket Program, Holmes gave his lecture from 11:30 am to 12:45 pm on Saturday, September 2nd, 1978 in the Phoenix Room of the Hyatt Regency, shown here: 

Sketch of the Hyatt from the convention program

I asked Chris Holmes about this, and he recalls attending this convention with his father but no other details. To put this in context, t
his was less than a month after they had attended Gen Con XI (Aug 17-20), where J. Eric Holmes was a Guest of Honor, gave a lecture on "Fantasy Literature, Fantasy Art & Fantasy Gaming", and ran two D&D games, D&D For Beginners and D&D on Barsoom.

Chris (left) and J. Eric Holmes (right) at Gen Con XI. Source: Dragon #20

Full page ad for Gen Con XI that mentions Holmes, which ran in Dragon #15 and #16.

Holmes had a history of presenting research in his area of study for the science fiction fan, having written several science articles for the magazine Analog Science Fact and Fiction, including:

He later went on to co-author, with David F. Lindsley, a college textbook titled Basic Human Neurophysiologywhich was published in 1984 by Elsevier:

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #5: Smugglers' Bunk

This is an installment of a dungeon adventure set in the Portown milieu, written for Holmes Basic D&D. You can find the Introduction here: Area 1. Each entry includes part of a "pointcrawl" map showing the area & any exits, which include links allowing you to navigate:

Area 6

 === Area 7
Area 3

SMUGGLERS' BUNK: This is a dry, sandy cave, roughly oval (70 ft east-west by 50 ft north-south). During the day, the room is dimly lit by a narrow natural chimney to the surface in the center of the ceiling (30 ft. high), although there are also several rusty torch sconces affixed to the walls. Beneath the chimney is a rock-ringed shallow pit, and scattered around the room are ten decaying wooden pallets.

Exits. There are three tunnels exiting the room. To the north, the tunnel leads 70 feet to Area 3 (if players look down this tunnel, check out the description in that Area). To the east, a tunnel leads 60 feet to Area 7. To the south, a tunnel leads 60 feet to Area 3.

Bats. Each turn spent searching this room has a 1 in 6 chance of waking a colony of vampire bats in Area 6 to the north. If this happens, 1d4 bats will begin arriving each round. The bats will silently swoop down and attack from behind (surprise on 1-5 in 6, attack at +4).

Vampire Bats (21-40 (20 + 1d20)): DX 18, AC 3 (9 while attached), HD 1/8, hp 1 each, AT 1 bite for 1 point damage, attach on a successful hit and then automatically drain 1 hp per round for two rounds (i.e., three points total), SA surprise 1-5 in 6, attack from behind at +4

The full write-up of this new monster can be found here.

Firepit. The pit was once used for fires by the smugglers but now filled with sand. Digging in the sand will at first reveal only layers of old ashes, and then sand again, but several feet beneath this sand there is a waterproof, locked box of bronze (worth 50 g.p. itself) containing 500 pieces of eight (large silver coins equal to electrum in value), 3 gems worth 100 g.p. each and an etching showing the location of a lost pirate fortress (DM's choice; one possibility is the Judges Guild module the Corsairs of Tallibar by Mike Wilson).

Junk. The wooden pallets were once used for sleeping. Searching around them will uncover a number of discarded personal effects, half-buried in the sand. Much of it is worthless (rusted utensils, ceramic shards, broken bottles), but each turn spent searching the area will turn up one of the following (roll 1d6), but also give a chance of waking the bats (see above).

i. A broken cutlass with a fancy engraved hilt, worth 100 g.p. to a weaponsmith.

ii. A hook hand, well-preserved because it is made of bronze, and worth 150 g.p.

iii. A shark-shaped key of wrought iron that will open the doors in the catacombs in Area 24.

iv. A wax-sealed fifth of fine spiced rum; 1d10 swigs remain, with each swig giving a temporary boost of 1d4 hp, usable once per day per person.

v. Strangely well-preserved cavalier boots, which are boots of nimble feet, with 20 + 1d4 charges remaining.

vi. A decaying leather case holding a fine skeletal spyglass, which when used will give x-ray vision (as a potion) for 1 turn per day but also bestow a minor illusionary curse lasting 1 day that makes the viewing eye appear as an empty socket, even if covered with a patch, reducing Charisma to 3. The power of the spyglass only lasts as long it is kept on the eye; once removed, the single charge is expended for that day. Per OD&D Vol 3, x-ray vision allows the viewer to see through up to 10 ft. of rock or 6 inches of iron and to a total distance of 30 ft.

The adventure continues in several directions from here. Follow the links on the above map; if there is no link, the area is not yet posted.

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #4: End of the Line

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 3  ===  4. END OF THE LINE 

4. END OF THE LINE: The rusty rails from Area 3 extend east into a tunnel 10 ft. wide and high, the walls and floor of which show occasional signs of being worked to widen and smooth the passage. The tunnel slopes up slightly to the east, and there is no natural light here. 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. Heading east, every 20 feet there are old timbers shoring up the ceiling. 

Cave-in. At 150 feet, the passage ends at a mass of collapsed rubble and a few timbers, which covers the rails and completely blocks the way further east, which once continued towards Portown.

Discards. Scattered about on the floor in front of this area are a torn open backpack and several other pieces of equipment, all that remains of a failed attempt by a previous explorer to flee down this passage from the carrion crawler in Area 3. The pack is empty but contains a concealed pocket holding a large rough agate (worth 100 g.p. if properly polished; see Area 3 for the reputed property of agates) and the other equipment consists of 3 torches, an empty tinderbox, a rusty dagger, an oil flask, and another apparent oil flask that on closer inspection will be revealed to be filled with a red liquid (a potion of healing).

Despite the name, this is not the end of the adventure, merely a dead end in one direction from Area 3. 

Chronologically on this blog, the next posted installment was Area 5.

Monday, October 5, 2020

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave illustrated: The Old Rowboat

"The Old Rowboat" by Lore Suto. Click for a larger view.

Above is another new illustration by Lore Suto for Area 3 (Grotto with Rocky Beach) of The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave. I will be adding the image to that post, but I'm also posting it here to highlight it.