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

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


The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave: Index of Posts

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

Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #19-20: Pit and Sub-Basement

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 17 === 19. OPEN PIT
=== Area 20

19. OPEN PIT. A 10-foot wide tunnel runs 70 feet east-west between Areas 18 and 20, but is interrupted by an open pit, 40 feet from Area 18 and 20 feet from Area 20. The pit fills the width of the tunnel and is 10 feet across. This was once a covered pit trap, but the cover long ago collapsed into the water. A thief could climb past using the wall on either side without much difficulty (+5% to Climb Walls).  

The pit is 15 feet deep, but 5 feet of it is filled with water. If observed, two unusual things will be noted about the water:

First, a faint glow emanates from beneath the water in a small spot in the northeast corner. This comes from a magic sword resting on the bottom among other assorted rubbish (rocks, bones, rotten wood, rusted metal). This is a sword +1 (lawful good, Int 7 (empathic), Ego 6, detect poison), and is in excellent condition despite being covered in grime from being underwater for decades.

Second, once every few minutes, the back of an "eel" will be seen breaking the surface. This is actually a well worma "One Hit Point Monster" previously described here, and one of a number that infest the water of the pit. The well worms can also jump up to a foot out of the water trying to bite anyone that comes down towards the water.

Well Worms (20) (DX 10, AC 7, HD 1/8, hp 1, #AT 1 bite for 1 point)

Area 19 === 20. SUB-BASEMENT
U== Green Dragon

20. SUB-BASEMENTThe center of this small room (20 feet north-south by 40 feet east-west) is dominated by the planks and beams of a collapsed wooden staircase, which once led up to a trap door in the ceiling, 20 feet above.

In the middle of the west wall is a doorway, holding the broken remains of a wooden door, leading to the tunnel to Area 19. If examined, it can be determined that the door was locked from inside the room and broken into from outside in the tunnel. The walls around the door are covered in old graffiti, mostly inscrutable to PCs, but giving the impression that it was made by smugglers decades ago.

Bones, decaying clothing and leather armor, and rusted weapons are strewn about the room. Around the collapsed stairs are scattered gold coins (33 gp total) and a valuable-looking green eye agate, worth 100 gp, which will be easily spotted by its glimmer in torch or lantern light.

Collapsed Stairs. Pulling aside the pieces of the stairs will free an agate-eyed skeleton trapped beneath the wreckage. The agate on the floor is its left eye, and if anyone has picked it up, the skeleton will immediately attack them in order to take it back. If the eye is still on the floor, or is given to the skeleton, it will take it and depart to the west.

Agate-Eyed Skeleton (DX 12, AC 7, HD 2, hp 9, AT 1 bony hands for 1d6, SD when at rest, gazing at eyes causes sleep (save versus magic); when animated, turned as a ghoul.

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

The right eye of the skeleton is also a green eye agate also worth 100 gp.

Also among the wreckage are the remains (bones, clothing, leather armor, rusted daggers) of three humans who, fleeing from skeletons, overloaded the stairs, crashed through, and perished when it collapsed on top of them. Among their bones are more gold coins (57 gp).

Ceiling Trap Door. The trap door in the ceiling is about 30 feet east of the door. The bottom side of the trap door contains scratch marks, as if made by someone or something once trapped at the top of the stairs.

The trap door is locked from the top side, but even if the lock is picked, the trap door will not open easily as a heavy wooden wine barrel on a wooden rack is resting on top of it. It takes a combined strength of 36 to lift the trap door enough to cause the barrel to roll off the rack, allowing the door to be opened further.

The Area Above. The trap door opens into the wine and beer cellar of the Green Dragon Inn, which fifty years ago was a hub of smuggler activity in Portown. This basement is stocked with an assortment of wine barrels and beer kegs. The current proprietor will come to investigate any loud noises made during opening the trap door or poking around the basement. No one who now works at the inn now remembers what is below the trap door.

Alternate Start. This adventure could also be begun in the Green Dragon, where a new heir to the establishment has recently uncovered a forgotten trap door in the cellar marked with the smuggler's code for danger, and hires the PCs to investigate.

Chronologically on this blog, the previous installment was Area 18 and the next posted installment will be Area 21.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #18: Green Grotto

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 here: Area 1.

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

Area 17

Area 12 ==C

 18. GREEN 



18. GREEN GROTTO. Beyond the gate in the south wall of Area 17, a rough-walled natural tunnel slopes down to the south 120 feet to the north end of a large cavern (50' wide east-west by 500' long north-south). On approach, a dim light is visible, and within the ceiling glows, allowing natural vision without a light source. The air is humid and warm, water drips from a profusion of stalactites, and the floor is dense with shrub-height vegetation. 

Flora. The glow emanates from a massive colony of phosphorescent fungus, also known as foxfire, growing across the cavern roof. The lush vegetation includes a variety of oversized club mosses, ferns, horsetails, and mushrooms. A carpet of ordinary moss covers the floor and inactive stalagmites, and extends part of the way up the walls and active stalagmites.

Fauna. For centuries, a colony of iguanas have dwelled here, feeding upon the strangely fast-growing plant life, which has allowed a number of them to grow to enormous size.

If the party makes noise near the entrance, the largest of these lizards will slowly approach, as it is old enough to dimly remember being fed by the humans (smugglers) that once came here and used its brethren to pull carts up and down the tunnel from the sea cave. It will come disconcertingly close, sniffing for fruit or vegetables but will not bite or otherwise harm the PCs unless attacked, in which case it will defend itself and then attempt to flee. It will also let out a distressing hiss that will call several other elder iguanas to its aid. The iguanas can attack twice each round, by biting and whipping their spiked tail.

Otherwise, if the party enters the vegetation, there is a 1 in 6 chance each round that the largest lizard will approach. 

Grotto Iguanas (6) (DX 10, AC 2, HD 3+1, hp 24, 20 x 2, 16, 14, 12, #AT 2: 1 bite for 1d6, 1 tail whip for 1d6)

There are numerous smaller iguanas in the cave that may be spotted by the party but will immediately flee to the safety of small holes in the walls.

Concealed Tunnel. In the west wall of the cavern, 70 feet south from the north end, and concealed behind several large stalagmites, is the entrance to a tunnel heading 140 feet west to Area 12. This can be found in the west wall is carefully examined. The last 10 feet of the tunnel before Area 12 is mostly filled with a sloping pile of sand, and entry to Area 12 will require digging out a few feet of sand at the top of the pile. 

Hot Spring. Starting at 240 feet from the south of the entrance, there is a mild hot spring, 30 feet in diameter and 5 feet deep, in the center of the cavern. 1d4-1 of the large iguanas will be relaxing in its warm waters at any time.

The Statue. At the very southern end of the cavern there is what appears to be yet another moss-covered stalagmite; however, on inspection it will be noted that it is growing out of a square-shaped slab. Removing the moss will reveal that the formation is actually a grey granite statue, roughly carved into a robed figure with a distinctly reptilian face. 

The statue is enchanted, rendering it impervious to ordinary weapons or tools, and magic cast upon it will be absorbed as a rod of absorption without effect. The first five spell levels that are absorbed will serve to incrementally awaken a shade that dwells within, which will visibly manifest as the statue slowly becoming of noticeably finer quality; i.e., more lifelike.

Once awake, the shade within will attempt to communicate telepathically with the most recent caster. However, it only speaks a forgotten tongue and thus the caster will not understand it without assistance; a Read Languages spell cast upon self will suffice. The statue itself has a permanent effect allowing it to understand any language.

If understanding is achieved by one of the PCs, the shade will introduce itself as Thss'tk'tss, a sorceror who lived aeons ago in a now forgotten civilization. Thss will offer to instruct the caster in spellcraft in exchange for more spells cast upon it. Treat the statue as a 13th level wizard, and thus able to absorb up to 72 spell levels total, and knowing and able to cast any spell of levels 1-6 using the levels it has absorbed. If attacked, the statue can defend itself using such spells. It can only use absorbed spell energy for casting; it has no ability to memorize spells.

It can teach a magic-user a spell in an amount of time equal to one week per spell level. The magic-user must cast one spell level on the statue each day of study. The statue will eventually use the absorbed levels to cast strange spells that will allow it grow a new flesh body for the shade to inhabit. The DM can decide whether the reborn Thss will remain a beneficent mentor to the PCs or has another, more sinister purpose.

Troodontoid Statue: DX 18 (casting only), AC 0, MU 13, hp 46, #AT 0; SA spell-casting; SD absorbs all spells and magical effects; immune to normal weapons

See the full "new monster" write-up of the Troodontoid Statue here

Chronologically on this blog, the previous post installment was Area 17 and the next posted installment will be Area 19.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Throwback Thursday: Holmes Basic G+ Community


Ten years ago today I posted on the Zenopus Archives about creating a Holmes Basic D&D community on the late, great G+:

Holmes Basic Community on G+

This community eventually grew to over 600 members, and thrived through April 2019, when G+ was abruptly shut down.

I was, however, able to export over 2,000 of the posts that were made to the group, including the comments, and archive them as a blog called the Holmes Basic G+ Community Archive, which you can find here: 

Holmes Basic G+ Community Archive

After I posted about this on Twitter earlier today, I learned that Twitter actually now has communities, and although they are so under-publicized that they are almost Cryptic Alliances, I ended up creating one for Holmes Basic, which if interested, you can find here:

Holmes Basic Twitter Community

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Gary Con 2022: Days 3 and 4


The view from the window of the Legends of Wargaming hall on Sunday morning. That's not Lake Geneva, but rather a small lake on the grounds of the hotel.

This post covers the gaming highlights of my third and fourth days at Gary Con XIV, Saturday the 25th and Sunday the 26th (of March 2022). If you missed them, the reports for first two days can be found here and here. [I wrote most of this post shortly after those, but didn't finish it until early December 2022]


On Saturday morning Demos of the OSR Grimoire continued running the OD&D tournament written by Dave Emigh for Winter War in 1977. On Thursday he had run the first round of the tournament, The Tower of Ullison, which I also played in and covered in my post about the first day of the con. The second round is titled The Sword of Hope, and like the first, was later published as a module by Judges Guild, and which Demos reviewed here on Dragonsfoot; unfortunately, the third round of the tournament was never published. 

I was the only returning player from the first round, but familiarity with it wasn't necessary for this round, and the new players took to the scenario with gusto. There were six pre-gens, and five players, so I ran two characters, a magic-user and a cleric. The first part of the dungeon, which is pictured above, looks quite ordinary, but includes an interesting design feature that makes for fun tournament play: while we quickly found an exit in the south part of the dungeon, we couldn't open it until we had backtracked through the rooms to find and solve several puzzles. Beyond it lay the conclusion of the scenario. 

In the afternoon I ate lunch while watching a screening of a rough cut of The Dreams in Gary's Basement, a forthcoming documentary about Gary Gygax, hosted by the director Pat Kilbane. I backed the kickstarter for this project, and enjoyed watching this cut, which included about 40 minutes of mostly finished footage followed by some shorter excerpts. A few highlights for me were seeing video footage of Gygax talking outside an early Gen Con; a photo of David Sutherland I hadn't seen before; and animations of Sutherland's Dragon from the cover of Holmes Basic (!) and of Trampier's Demon Idol from the cover of the PHB. Afterwards, Kilbane hosted a Q&A, where he explained that progress on the film has been slow because he has been doing the editing himself to make sure it's done properly within the available budget. Later in the hall, Larry from Follow Me and Die! introduced me to Pat, and we had a pleasant chat where I learned that he is a gamer who started with Holmes Basic and still plays and designs RPGs.

In the evening I ran my second game of the convention, a session of In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus, which I'd run previously at the most recent in-person Gary Con in 2019, and at other cons. By my count this was the sixth time running it. Surprisingly, I had two players return from 2019; apparently, in the intervening years they'd completely forgotten they had played it in before! The game was fun, and Demos was able to join in near the end to take over Murray after another player had to leave. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures from this game; when I'm DMing I'm often too pre-occupied to remember to take any myself.

Rare image of the wizard Zenopus conversing with other wizards

Afterwards, we relaxed in one of the halls, chatting with Griff of the Secrets of Blackmoor documentary and blog, who took the above photo of me. Still later, I joined my friend Rich of the Circle of Dar Janix at the hotel bar where he was hanging out with the Troll Lords


Douglas Waltman's large-scale reproduction of the Knights of Camelot board

I didn't register for any games on Sunday morning as my flight out from Milwaukee was midday, and it's a 45-minute drive to the airport. Instead, after eating breakfast I hung out in the Legends of Wargaming for a few hours, watching Demos play TSR's Knights of Camelot refereed by Douglas Waltman. For this game, Waltman constructed a jaw-dropping large-scale reproduction of the original board, over 7 feet long, including a painstaking recreation of the beautiful map work by Darlene, but in relief. Completing the upgrade was an tremendous set of painted Mirliton miniatures representing each of the knights that appear in the game. More photos that I took of the setup can be seen here on Twitter.

Line-up of Mirliton knights for Knights of Camelot.

Renaissance Books store front in the Milwaukeee airport

Finally, one of my post-Gary Con traditions is stopping in Renaissance Books, the used bookstore housed in the the Milwaukee airport, which is apparently the only used bookstore currently in an airport in the US. In the past I discovered that it has a great selection of vintage sci-fi & fantasy paperbacks, including a lot falling under the Appendix N umbrella, and this time I picked out two Robert E. Howard compilations published by Zebra in the 1970s, Worms of the Earth, which is a Bran Mak Morn compilation, and the Second Book of Robert E. Howard, a compilation of various stories

When I was paying for my books, the owner saw my Gary Con hat and mentioned that he had written for Dragon Magazine in the 1980s. He introduced himself as Michael Lowry, and specifically mentioned an article on gemstones; which turns out to be "The Many Facets of Gems" in issue #83. He also wrote The Tarot of Many Things for issue #77, a variant of the Deck of Many Things. I suggested that he should come to Gary Con in the future, but he indicated that his focus is on sci-fi conventions these days.

* * * * * 

That's it for my Gary Con 2022 write-up. Looking forward to 2023, and since I'm finishing up this report in December, I can report that I've already got my ticket for Gary Con 2023 and am planning on running two games, a re-run of Expedition to Skull Stack Crater (which I ran for the first time in 2022) and the new Forgotten Smugglers' Cave

[I wrote most of this article in April 2022, but didn't finish it until December 2022]

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Scrum Con Returns!


Just announced:

Scrum Con returns to in-person gaming on Saturday, April 8th, 2023!

It will again be held at the Silver Spring Civic Building in Silver Spring, MD, which was the site of the last in-person event, in late Feb 2020, just before the pandemic swept in.

Sign up for the newsletter at so you don't miss any announcements about registration.

This will be the fourth Scrum Con overall, with in-person events in 2019 and 2020, and a virtual event in 2021. Clicking the Scrum Con label on this post should bring up most of my previous posts about Scrum Con.

As you can see in the ad, Scrum Con includes both RPGs and Wargames; the aim is a 50:50 ratio of each in a variety of genres. For an idea of what the games are like, see my 2020 Post-Op or this post on Scrum in Miniature with over 400 (!) photos.

I'm part of the group, Scrum Club, that organizes this event, and I plan to run my new Forgotten Smugglers' Cave D&D adventure.

Hope to see you there!

And please help us get the word out by sharing this with anyone who may be interested.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #17: Holding Area

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

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

Area 21
Area 16 ==B   17. HOLDING AREA  
 === Area 19
Area 18

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

Extending out from the brick wall is a pair of rails, which terminate about 2/3 of the way into the room. At the end of these rails rests a metal "minecart", four feet wide and high, and six feet long (96 cubic feet capacity). Unlike the one in Area 15, this one is empty, but again the wheels are rusted and will not turn unless oiled.

In the north wall is a wooden door, which stands ajar, and leads to a short passage into Area 21.

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

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

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

1-6. Empty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Where To Find Me

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

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

Monday, November 7, 2022

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

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

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

Area 15 === 14. RAIL TUNNEL
=== Area 16
Area 13

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

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

=== Area 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 4, 2022

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #13: Twisty Passages

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

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

Area 14
Area 11

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

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

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

3-4. Nothing. The party wanders aimlessly.

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

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

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

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

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

Form (roll 1d6):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ghost is treated as an Reinvigorating Spirit, a new monster written up here. It will only restore a lost level once the curse has been lifted.

Reinvigorating Spirit (1): DX 9, AC 3, HD 4, 30 hp, AT 1 touch for 1d6

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Fear of a Black Dragon podcast: Tower of Zenopus


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

Fear of a Black Dragon: The Tower of Zenopus

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Slurry (New Monster)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #12: The Bubbly

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

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

Area 11 === 12. THE BUBBLY
C== Area 18
12. THE BUBBLY. This area consists of a large natural cavern with a floor of sand and stones from which bubbles forth the source of the water for the stream of Area 11 and eventually the waterfall of Area 9. The PCs can enter from the west by heading upstream through the stream from Area 11 or from the east via the tunnel from Area 18.  

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

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

Concealed Tunnel. If the walls are examined, a crevice will be noted just above the sand on the eastern wall. The sand here conceals a tunnel below floor level leading to Area 18. Enough sand can be removed in 3 turns to allow entry to the tunnel. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #11: Stream Tunnel

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

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

Area 13
Area 9 === 11. STREAM TUNNEL
=== Area 12
11. STREAM TUNNEL. This area consists of a long east-west tunnel, carved by water, that contains the stream feeding the waterfall in Area #9, and a narrow path running along its southern side.

The Path. This begins at the top of the waterfall in Area #9, and extends east, with an average width of 5 feet. The low ceiling is only 5 feet above, and the rough rock of the walls is slick with moisture, and dimly lit by patches of phosphorescent fungus. The adjacent stream is 10 feet wide but only 5 feet deep, and swift, chilly, and slippery, requiring a dexterity of 15 to remain upright.

The stream and path continue east in the same manner for several hundred feet [exact length to be confirmed by later explorers...], until the path abruptly narrows to one foot and stops.

There are no permanent residents in this area, but Wandering Monsters may be encountered.

The Ford. 10 feet past where the path ends, there is an opening in the tunnel wall on the opposite side, several feet above the level of the water. Thus, the stream may be forded here by wading upstream for 10 feet through the chilly water.

Unaided, the crossing will impossible for anyone with a dexterity of less than 15. However, at the point where the path ends, an old iron ring has been fixed into the rock near the floor of the south wall, and a bit of old rope remains attached. Another ring is attached to the rock on the north side near the opening 10 feet ahead. Thus, the two rings can be connected by rope, allowing anyone to safely cross.

Past the opening on the north side, the stream continues for another 30 feet before opening into a larger natural chamber with a sandy floor (Area 12). Again, the water in this passage requires a high dexterity to traverse. As the chamber is approached, the water and bottom of the stream grow increasingly gritty and sandy, respectively. 

While fording the stream, a character has a 1 in 6 chance of stepping on what feels to be a round rock, but is actually a highly polished star quartz gem worth 1d10 x 10 gp. Roll 1d6 for color: 1-3 = blue, 4-5 = green, 6 = rose. Up to six such gems can be located by searching the bottom, two per 10 foot section at the ford and beyond.

Exits. There are three exits from this area, west (downstream) from the south side of the stream to Area 9, north across the stream to Area 13, and east (upstream) to Area 12. The map posted above can be used to navigate to these areas.

Chronologically on this blog, the previous post installment was Area 10 and the next posted installment was Area 12.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

The Sutherland Dragon on Exhibit Continues!

The cover of the exhibition catalog

This summer, David Sutherland's original painting for the cover of the Holmes Basic Set has been on display again, this time at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as part of the show Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration, which runs at that museum through September 5th.

Enchanted at the Hunter Museum

After this, the Enchanted exhibit moves to the Flint Institute of the Arts, in Flint, Michigan, from September 23rd, 2022 until January 8th, 2023.

I haven't made it to Chattanooga myself, but the exhibit was organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts, and I saw it there last summer. See my long post for more about the show and photos of Sutherland's painting, which I often call the Sutherland Dragon.

Also, I made a post with closer shots of details of the painting. It's beautiful in person and well worth making a road trip to see it with your own eyes!

And of course, the exhibit has a multitude of other treasures, including D&D art by Trampier (the pseudodragon from the original Monster Manual!), Easley and Elmore, and fantasy illustration by the likes of Frazetta, Brom and Tony DiTerlizzi.

DiTerlizzi himself made a great video preview of the catalog for the exhibition, which gives a sense of some of the art that is included. The catalog is available from the Norman Rockwell Museum shop or on Amazon (the latter includes my affiliate link).

(This post adapted from a recent Twitter thread)

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Gary Gygax Day 2022

Graphic by Jim Wampler

Happy Gary Gygax Day 2022!

As I don't have a new post ready, I'll highlight one I made a few months ago:

Gygax's "City on the Edge" Adventure: post-TSR Greyhawk development

See also these previous posts that I made for Gary Gygax Day: