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]