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Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Dragon Dice Bag cross stitch kit (1982)

The above image, taken from a recent Ebay auction, shows the packaging for a 1982 DRAGON DICE BAG, a "Counted Cross Stitch Kit" from TSR subsidiary Greenfield Needlewomen, which includes some interesting hand-drawn line art showing the bag front and back, along with a set of polyhedral dice. The bag front includes a dragon and "D&D games", and the back says "May you always make your saving throw". Another image from the auction shows the pattern for stitching the dragon, which is green-colored, with a yellow-green belly:

I've seen other Greenfield D&D-tie-in cross stitch products before - for examples, see this post on Cyclopeatron - but I don't recall seeing this particular one, which has more rudimentary packaging than the others. Per Frank Mentzer on FB, this is because:

This was very early after our acquisition. We retooled their packaging; later ones all have a distinctive green theme. This has their art, not ours. (No it's not a Sutherland dragon. ;> )

This one is also interesting because it uses the "DRAGON DICE" trademark and logo (i.e., the same font) also featured on TSR's 1981 Dragon Dice, the packaging artwork for which was designed by Jim Roslof and can be seen in this post.

Advertisement for TSR's DRAGON DICE
(this was the first set of dice that I owned, in the same blue color)

You can read more about TSR's purchase of Greenfield Needlewomen in Jon Peterson's book Game Wizards, which briefly covers it in the chapters titled, "1982: Extravagance" and "1983: Splitting the Party". Based on quotes from Gary Gygax in TSR's in-house newsletter Random Events, TSR had designs on growing their business by entering the adjacent craft field; which isn't unreasonable because, as pointed out by T. Foster in the first comment in this post on Grognardia, at the time D&D was often sold in hobby shops alongside craft products. However, this particular company, based in Greenfield, Indiana, was purchased seemingly because it was owned by relatives of the Brian and Kevin Blume, and ended up being shuttered by TSR in 1983 after losing a large sum of money for the company.

A thank you to a post on the TSR Old School Gamers FB group for making me aware of this.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Gary Con 2022: Day 2

DMing "Expedition to Skull Stack Crater".
Photo by Gary W.

This post covers the gaming highlights of my second day at Gary Con XIV, Friday the 25th. If you missed it, the report for first day can be found here.

In the morning I ran Expedition to Skull Stack Crater, a newly revised version of a scenario that I originally ran for my son and his cousins more than five years ago, and had planned to run at Gary Con in 2020 before the pandemic unfolded. The setting is inspired by the various skull-faced dungeons and mountains of fiction, including of course the Skull Mountain cross-section of the Holmes Basic rulebook, but is an original location rather than a writeup of something pre-existing. You can read the introduction from the convention program here.

The pre-generated characters for this adventure are 3rd level, so it mostly uses the Holmes rules, with any higher level material filled in from OD&D. There were six players which is pretty much optimal for a con game. Several I knew previously, including Demos from OSR Grimoire and Larry from Follow Me and Die!, each of whom played in my Zenopus sequel at the last in-person Gary Con in 2019. And I'd exchanged forum posts with two others that I met here for the first time, James and Gary. The game fun was run and ran well with this fairly experienced group, who finished just before our time was up. I plan to revise this scenario and make it available on DrivethruRPG. Demos briefly mentions the game in his Gary Con recap here, and Larry shows off another photo from the game here.

Mike Carr refereeing Don't Give Up the Ship

In the afternoon I played in the annual session of TSR's Don't Give Up The Ship, refereed by Mike Carr, who co-authored the rules with Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Carr is also well known to aficionados of Holmes Basic as the author of the module B1 In Search of the Unknown, the first Basic module ever published, and one of only two written for specifically for the Holmes set.

The DGUTS game took place in the Legends of Wargaming hall, and the large group of players - over 20 (!) - sat on chairs in a ring around a large blue sheet, representing the sea, where Carr carefully crouched or lay to manipulate the ships after receiving our written orders each turn. The scenario this time was an engagement between the French and British fleets during the Napoleonic era, specifically 17 October, 1812, and the players were divided evenly between the two sides.

My "Ship Data Sheet" & mini for the game

I played Andre Cheviot, captain of the French frigate Nereide, although these details were simply flavor as resolution of actions relied solely on movement orders, opportunities to fire, the ship's stats and dice rolls. The game moved slowly with so many players; in the five hours scheduled for the game I think we only finished 6 turns, but it was fun to participate in one of the more unique centerpiece events of the con. 

Gary Con XVI GM's Cup,
featuring Geezel from Snarfquest

Towards the end of the game I ducked out into the hall to fill up on Spotted Cow beer from one of the Happy Hour stations, so this is a good point to show off my GM's Cup featuring art from Larry Elmore's Snarfquest comic, which ran for years in Dragon magazine in the mid-1980s. Other cups available this year featured Telerie and Snarf himself. Elmore was a guest at the con once again this year, and there was even a Snarfquest 5E D&D game as an event.

My last game of the day was part of the Legends of Roleplaying Tournament, an annual AD&D tournament organized by Paul Stormberg. For each one, Paul develops a scenario derived from old school material; for example, 2019 featured a sequel to the module B1 that was newly co-written by Paul and Mike Carr. This year's scenario was listed as "Depths of Terror", a level hidden deep within Gary Gygax's Castle Greyhawk. However, as a surprise, it actually turned out to be an expanded version of The Tomb of Ra-Hotep, a 1970s dungeon by Alan Lucien that Gygax hid in part of Castle Greyhawk, and which inspired Gygax's own Tomb of Horrors. The version for the tournament was expanded by Paul from the original together with additional vintage campaign material supplied by Lucien. Paul later indicated on Facebook that he plans to publish this version soon.

I joined a team of ten players who drew Steve Winter, former TSR employee, as our DM. I've played in Steve's games a number of times, including the in-person tournament in 2019. My group this time was very clever, and did a great job with the riddles and devious traps, placing 5th out of the 13 teams, and only a few points behind another team.

Dave and I after his game,
photo by one of the other players.

After the tournament ended, I stopped by to say hi to Dave W. of RPG Retro Reviews, who was running a 6-hour session of the original Tower of Zenopus dungeon using the Holmes Basic rules. I had met Dave in person back in 2020 when he played in my Zenopus sequel at the second Scrum Con

The strong Halfling; note this is after leveling,
so the level should be 2, not 1

By the time I arrived, another player had already left, so I ended up running his PC, a halfling with 18 strength (!), for the last hour of the game. He was mostly silent during my time due to my knowledge of the dungeon. The party had already rescued Lemunda, earning her father the mayor's favor, but I witnessed showdowns with the flying dagger (which killed a PC), the ghouls, and the evil thaumaturgist. I always enjoy see other folks spin on this ur-dungeon. 

Next up: Day 3

Friday, April 1, 2022

Gary Con 2022: Day 1

Promo featuring "Beyond the Cosmic Veil" illustration by Doug Kovacs.
See a larger version of the art here on FB.

Last weekend Gary Con returned as an in-person event, after going virtual ("ethereal") for two years due to the pandemic, and was once again held at the enormous Grand Geneva hotel near the town of Lake Geneva, once home to Gary Gygax and TSR. I too returned, attending for my third time in-person, and fifth overall, and running two different D&D scenarios for the first time ever. 

Here are the highlights of my first day, Thursday the 24th, when I joined in three games:

The Tower of Ulission, the first part of an OD&D tournament written by Dave Emigh for Winter War in the 1977, and then later published as a module by Judges Guild in 1979, which was run by Demos, who blogs at the OSR Grimoire. Lots of riddles and problem-solving in this one, as well as combat. There was a heavy Tolkien influence to the under-appreciated Emigh's world-building, including the inclusion of verse (!). Our party finished our mission, but there was a shocking unexpected twist at the end that I've never encountered in a D&D adventure before! Demos, who also goes by paleologos, has an extensive review of the published module over here at Dragonsfoot. I also played in the second round of this tournament, which will covered in my post for Day 3.

Hell's Highway

I like to play miniatures games between RPG sessions for a break, so my next event was Hell's Highway, a Mad Max/Fury Road-inspired miniatures racing game using modded matchbox cars, the rules for which were developed and run at the con by Brad Poikonen. In this scenario we raced between checkpoints on a cloth gameboard covering the entire table, attempting to earn fuel for our tribe while battling with the other contestants. Brad mentioned that they were hoping to run a Kickstarter to produce the game.

Paul Stormberg DMing with his custom screen;
photo by fellow player Jonathan B.

In evening I played in Lost Crypts of the Fire Opal, a fleshed-out version of the Sample Dungeon from the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (1979). The expansion and running of the game was done by Paul Stormberg, the maestro who organizes the entire Legends of Wargaming and Legends of Role-playing Game Halls for Gary Con. 

Slepni Svenhaas with character portrait by Jeff Dee

I ran the pre-gen Slepni Svenhaas, a mountain dwarf who was assisting his brother Grupni, also in the party in finding the Fire Opal in hopes of becoming the next king of their kingdom. The party was large and played great, with lots of problem-solving, but we ended abruptly with a near-TPK caused by use of Unseen Servant! We were too clever for our own good. 

This series continues with Day 2 of Gary Con.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus: Printer-Friendly Player's Map file added

Printer-Friendly Player's Map for the Ruined Tower of Zenopus

Just a quick note that I've added a new file to the set of files for The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild. A customer recently requested a printer-friendly version of the dungeon map that was added in the last update to the PDF. I looked in my files, and I had actually already created this sort of map, so I uploaded it as a separate file that can be downloaded with purchase. A preview is shown above.

This brings the set of files included for download to four: (1) the PDF of the adventure, which includes the printer-friendly DM's Map; (2) the new printer-friendly Player's Map; (3) VTT/Roll20 version of the DM's Map with black background; and (4) VTT/Roll20 version of the Player's Map with black background. 

BTW, the adventure itself is currently on sale until March 13th for $1.39 as part of DMs Guild's annual GM's Day sale.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Gygax's "City on the Edge" Adventure

Detail of the World of Greyhawk map by Darlene, showing Veluna west to Zeif
(click on the image for a larger view)

Nearly two decades ago, Gary Gygax wrote the following in a pair of posts on EnWorld:

"...A couple of years back a group from Tennessee visited, and I designed an adventure for them that would indeed take them from Greyhawk all the way west of Zeif, looking for a haunted city there. After eight hours they'd not made it much further than Rel Mord*, so that was the end of the adventure. Pity..."

"...It was indeed a shame thy chaps didn't return as they promised when they left. They brought their own PCs of around 8th level, but one lost a couple of levels to some wights, so they stopped in Rel Mord to have the clerics there restore them.

BTW, I suspect that they didn't come back because their van caught fire and was totally destroyed on the way home. They did save their dice..."

(Obvious typos corrected for readability)
*Likely this was actually Lopolla, as Rel Mord is east of Greyhawk; see below

These comments suggested that Gygax did something rare in his post-TSR years: returned to the actual World of Greyhawk campaign world for an adventure, and not just Castle Greyhawk, which he ran multiple times at conventions and at least one home campaign. As he wrote on EnWorld in 2005: "No, seldom if ever do i run O/AD&D game sessions on the WoG. Once the setting passed from my hands I lost interest in it." And for this game, he didn't just run one of his many older adventures, but actually created a new adventure that further developed the setting; e.g., by placing a new adventure location in Zeif. Despite the significance of this, it passed without much notice and has been mostly forgotten for the last two decades.

However, this past week Gene Weigel, who blogs here, found that he had saved an earlier post by Gygax from July 2001, made to another forum since deleted, perhaps In it, Gygax reveals more about the details of what must be this same adventure, including the mysterious name of the haunted city, The City on the Edge, which predates Zeif itself:

"Most of the group was having a bit of cool refreshment--soda, beer, and a few of those lemon ice drinks with vodka. Four beers or whatever over as many hours is pretty well a trip or two.

I tried to move things along as much as possible while keeping with requisite roleplay and wandering encounters. The party was traveling west from Veluna City to discover "The City on the Edge" in far-distant Zeif. They had acquired a map, and the 12th level paladin in the group determined to find this lost city, purge it of its evil. A tall order, as I explained it was there when the Bakluni came to Oerik, and it was quickly shunned way back then!

The upshot is that they made Lopolla as noted, traveling with a band of dervishes randomly encountered, most fortuitously for them and me as DM. With the assistance of the Rhennee they made Thornward by river, then trekked over the Penwilds (the hills below the Bramblewood Forest--those further west and south at the foot of the Barrier Peaks being the Pennor Hills/Pennors.

The barrow with the super-specter was in the Bramblewood. Thereafter the party made it to the river hamlet the dervishes knew of, purchased dugout canoes, and went down the Tuflik to Lopolla.

Sadly, it was then near 11 PM and we had to quit--about half-way to the place where the shunned City of the Edge lies on the shore of the Dramidj.


(Obvious typos corrected for readability)

You can trace the journey from Veluna to Lopolla that he describes here on the World of Greyhawk map excerpt that I placed at the top of this post.

The materials that Gygax created for this adventure are not completely lost to time. In a reply to a post Gene made in the Gary Con FB group, Paul Stormberg, Creative Director of the Gygax Archive revealed:

"I did indeed run across the materials for this campaign with maps for Lopolla, the Plains of the Paynims, and details on the City on the Edge and its strange ruler and inhabitants."

So with luck perhaps we will one day learn more about the mysterious City on the Edge, such as why it has its name. Is it merely because it is on the edge of the world (i.e., the Greyhawk map), or is it something more sinister, like the edge of another plane of existence?

Besides just sounding like a fascinating adventure, this work is significant in that it is some of the last development work that Gygax ever did for the World of Greyhawk. To this short list we might add the pseudo-Greyhawk Yggsburgh region for Castle Zagyg.

* * * * *

Gary Gygax's World of Greyhawk boxed set (1983), which includes Darlene's maps, is available as a pdf from DMs Guild here (affiliate link included).

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Gary Con XIV games I'm running

Next month Gary Con returns from the ether to the Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva,  for the first time since the pandemic started. I'm registered to attend, and have rescheduled the same games that I originally had planned to run at Gary Con XII, back in 2020. Each is a Holmes + OD&D game, and this will be the first time I've run two different scenarios at a single con.

Expedition to Skull Stack Crater is on Friday morning from 8 AM to 12 PM. The event listing can be found be found here. This is a scenario that I originally wrote and ran a number of years ago as part of my continuing annual kids' campaign, now revised as a convention scenario:
"Join an expedition to Skull Stack Crater to recover the legendary Spear of Decree, stolen from the Realm years ago by skull-masked raiders who then vanished from history. Your party has followed an old map to their hidden lair on an island in a water-filled volcanic crater. This 3rd level adventure from the Zenopus Archives celebrates the 40+ years of the Holmes Basic D&D set. Characters provided."
In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus is scheduled for Sat night from 7-11 PM. The event listing can be found hereThis is the same scenario I ran twice at Gary Con XI in 2019, including once in the same time slot:
"Meet at the Green Dragon Inn and return to the dungeon under the ruined tower of the doomed wizard Zenopus to search for his legendary talking mask, forty years after adventurers first braved the passages. Play as Boinger, Zereth, Murray, or another character from J. Eric Holmes' stories. This adventure from the Zenopus Archives celebrates the 40+ years of the Holmes Basic D&D set." 

General event registration opens up today at 12 PM Central Time; this is also known as Silver registration and includes the vast majority of badge holders. Due to the newer system of staggered release of seats for registration, there will be at least one more seat available for every game at the con when registration opens today, including my games.

Other Gary Con links of interest:
Gary Con website
Badge Registration
Full Schedule of Events (searchable)
Grand Geneva Resort website
Facebook Group

According to the Events schedule, there are 32 games with system listed as "D&D (Original)", including mine.

Other GMs on this list include paleologos of the OSR Grimoire blog (2 linked sessions, which I plan to sign up for), Paul Stormberg (2 sessions at the old Gygax house at 330 Center Street in Lake Geneva) and 5 sessions from Tim Kask. And Muddy at OD&D Discussion is running two Blueholme games. And there's also a Ruined Tower of Zenopus game by captcorajus, who runs the RPG Retro Reviews channel on YT.

Are any other readers of this blog going?

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Superb Owl Sunday

Giant Owl by Darlene

Here's my pick for today's Superb Owl:

 "Giant owls speak their own language ... [t]hese creatures are intelligent and will sometimes befriend other creatures" --- Gary Gygax, from the entry for Giant Owl in the AD&D Monster Manual, 1977

There was no illustration accompanying the Giant Owl entry in the original Monster Manual, but one by Darlene (attributed at the time to Darlene Pekul) was included in the Dungeon Masters Guide in 1979, on page 184 beneath the table for "OUTDOOR RANDOM MONSTER ENCOUNTER TABLES: Arctic Conditions", which includes a Giant Owl among the entries; presumably this represents a Snowy Owl variant.

Find more "Superb Monsters" from the Monster Manual here:

d20 Unexpectedly Intelligent Monsters in the Original Monster Manual

Friday, February 4, 2022

Article in KNOCK! #3


"3D rendering" of KNOCK! #3

KNOCK! is a still newish "zine" that describes itself as "Compendium of Miscellanea for Old School RPGs". I put "zine" in quotes because each issue runs over 200 pages, making it more of a book. Two issues are already out, which still can be purchased via the website of the publisher, The Merry Mushmen (issue #1 is only available digitally at this point). 

The Kickstarter for the third issue of the "zine" KNOCK! has just gone live, and this one includes an article by yours truly. Part of the goal of the publication is to reprint "nearly-forgotten blog posts" and this issue I'm honored that they asked to include my 2013 article "One Hit Point Monsters", which I revised for them. As full disclosure, they pay authors per page of content at a rate based on the success of the KS.

Find the Kickstarter here:


The promo video - featuring awesome music - can also be watched here on Youtube.

There's a "Zenopus (homless seer)" quoted in there, but that's not me.

And publishers are promoting the KS on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Reddit

Friday, January 28, 2022

Piazza Thread: Original Known World Campaign Documents

Sample Page from the Original Known World documents - "Origins of Characters".
Note the extensive list of non-human races available for play including
Felis Sapiens, Toad-Men, Balrogs, Protein Polymorphs and Tharks...!

Over on the Piazza, a great forum dedicated to the various and sundry D&D settings, member TraverseTravis has posted scans of a sheaf of documents from the Original Known World D&D campaign of Lawrence Schick and the late Tom Moldvay before they started working for TSR. This is the original material which Moldvay and others drew on for developing the published Known World campaign setting - later Mystara - as it initially appears in the 1981 D&D Expert Rulebook and the module X1 Isle of Dread

Portions of this material surfaced back in 2015, which I described in post on this blog called "Ur-Known World"; from there you can find a link to an interview with Schick on Black Gate.

The new set of documents was saved by one of the original members of the group, Bill Wilkerson (thanked as a playtester in Moldvay's module B4 The Lost City), who provided them to TraverseTravis for scanning. Shannon Appecline compiled the scans into a single document organized by subject according to OD&D Vol I-III.

Find links for downloading them in the first post here:

Bill Wilkerson's Original Known World documents

I've been contributing to the Piazza thread with comments on how the "New Monsters" from the Original Known World were later used by Moldvay and Schick in various TSR publications such as the Fiend Folio, X1 Isle of Dread and X2 Castle Amber.

A big thanks to TraverseTravis and Shannon Appelcline for their efforts in making this material available to the public!

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Dragonsfoot Thread: How many AD&D players knew of OD&D?

A recent thread over on Dragonsfoot asks: How many AD&D players who started in the 80s knew about OD&D?

Here is my answer, which I posted there, and have expanded a bit here:

My first D&D set, from 1982, was (obviously) Holmes Basic, and the rulebook includes a Preface stating that it is "based upon the original work published in 1974 and three supplementary books published in the two year period after the initial release of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS", and then reprints the "Foreword from the Original Edition", which starts with a brief yet evocative history lesson on the origins of D&D from Gygax that begins, "ONCE UPON A TIME, long, long ago..." And my copy, a 3rd edition printing, had a product listing on the back cover of "OTHER ITEMS FROM TSR" available for mail order, which included "Original Dungeons & Dragons Collector's Editions".

So I was aware of the original D&D rules basically as soon as I had my first rule set. I quickly moved onto AD&D from Holmes Basic, owning all of the hardcover rulebooks by mid-1983, but there again I encountered OD&D: my copies of the Monster Manual and the Players Handbook also have product listings that include OD&D. 

I learned more about the early history once I started reading Dragon. In particular, the Best of Dragon #1 and #2 (which I found on the rack at B. Dalton in the local mall) reprint a number of articles from the early, OD&D years, including "Gary Gygax on D&D: Origins of the Game" (in BoD #1).


At some point I found a copy of Moldvay Basic at a Goodwill thrift store. This set included a copy of one version of TSR's Gateway to Adventure catalog, which had a page for the "Collectors Edition" which showed the OD&D set and supplements. This was the first place that I actually saw what the OD&D booklets looked like, other than Eldritch Wizardry, which I had once spotted at B. Dalton. 

Still later in the '80s, I came across a still new-on-the-shelf copy of the Original Collector's Edition (OCE) of Whitebox OD&D at a game shop and bought it, which I still have. I was actually somewhat surprised that the rules were so similar to what I was familiar with - I was expecting more differences. In the next year or two after that I ordered Chainmail and the Blackmoor supplement directly from TSR's Mail Order Hobby Shop, which was still selling copies through '89 or so, although the copy of Blackmoor I received from them was essentially a high grade photocopy.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Demon Idol Review

A Happy New Year from my original and new Demon Idols!

That's my original Players Handbook, which I received for my birthday in 1983 along with a Pac-Man watch. I still remember reading it in bed that night, captivated by all the new options not found in my Holmes Basic rulebook, like Half-Orcs!

The statue is a new Xmas present; a licensed "D&D Dice Tower" available from Gamestop.

Here's a quick review of the new demon idol tower:

Construction: Probably the biggest dice tower you'll ever own, being 10 inches tall, 8.5 inches wide, and 7 inches deep. It feels sturdy, weighing a bit under 4 lbs. The "aged" color and texture are well done. 

DesignThe nicest feature is the fire, which lights up via a switch on the bottom. It requires 3 button cell batteries (1.5 LR44), which are included.

It's not a perfect recreation of Dave Trampier's original art; notably, the horns have been turned into ears, giving it a more goblin-y feel. The statue's feet are not visible in the original; here, they are wearing sandals that somewhat comically resemble flip-flops. 

Note that the statue is missing one jeweled eye in a nod to the PHB cover. I feel like a bit of an opportunity was missed here to have two removable eyes.

For a more faithful and creepier design, see the version available from Otherworld Miniatures.

Functionality: The top of the head comes off, revealing a chute into which you drop your die, which shoots out the dungeon archway in the front. It works well; my first roll sent the dice flying about 3 feet across the kitchen floor.

And it could easily serve as a gigantic dungeon prop. The archway is big enough to slide a mini into, and there are some flat spaces on the pedastal and statue in which a mini could stand.