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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.                    ...

Friday, December 1, 2023

Furiosa (2024): New Trailer

It's a lovely day for a new Furiosa trailer!

The eternal George Miller is back with a prequel to 2015's unexpectedly amazing Fury Road. I'm not generally a huge fan of "just-so story" prequels, but I loved Fury Road and have been eagerly anticipating another look at the rebooted, Dark Sun-paletted Mad Maxiverse. And Anna Taylor-Joy, who plays Furiosa this time around, was marvelous in the Queen's Gambit. 

I'm also primed for this, having just recently played in a Scrum Club game based on Fury Road and then re-watched the movie with my son - his first Mad Max!

The two photos above are from the game, run by Peter Megginson using his What a Lovely Day! miniatures rules, and run previously at Scrum Con (here's the 2020 program listing) and many other cons.

Ride eternal, shiny and chrome!

Monday, November 27, 2023

Playing at the World: Second Edition coming next year

Cover of the original printing

As mentioned recently by author Jon Peterson on X, a second edition of his seminal history of D&D, Playing at the World, is coming out next year, via MIT Press.

An Amazon pre-order page exists with a date of August 6th, 2024, with both print and digitial options. No cover image is yet available:

Playing at the World Pre-Order Page

Long out of print, second hand copies of the original printing from 2012 regularly fetch over $200. 

Rather than just a straight reprint, the new edition will be "a pretty pervasive update" per the author, and the Amazon page indicates it will be published in two volumes.

See also:

Playing at the World blog

Thursday, November 23, 2023

The Maze of Peril: Auction of Gygax's Manuscript Copy

Typescript draft for the Maze of Peril, along with a reply letter from Gygax

In the most recent round of auctions from the estate of Gary Gygax, I was pleasantly surprised to see an auction for a typed manuscript of Holmes' D&D novel The Maze of Peril, originally published in November 1986 by the venerable independent publisher Space & Time, which was founded by author Gordon Linzner in the 1960s.

In addition to the typescript itself, the auction included the mailing envelope from the publisher; a cover letter from the publisher; a copy of a reply letter from Gygax; and a copy of an introduction to the book written by Gygax. This last is the most surprising of all, as the published novel includes Gygax in the dedication ("To Gygax who invented the game") but does not include any sort of introduction, by Gygax or other author.

Together we can gather that the publisher sent the completed typescript to Gygax in March 1986 and requested an introduction to the book, which Gygax wrote and mailed back to the publisher soon after, but for unknown reasons this introduction was not included in the book when it was published in November of that year.

Looking in more detail at each item:

---Of typescript itself, the photos show the cover page, with the title of the book and author's name appearing as on the title page of published book, and with a Shiprock, New Mexico address. Shiprock is part of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, and according to the author bio accompanying Holmes' short story Martian Twilight (1991, Running Dinosaur Press), he and his wife (also a doctor) lived there for four years while they "worked for the Indian Health Service Hospitals". See this post for a letter to Space Gamer magazine that Holmes wrote during this time period.

The above photo shows a portion of one page of the text of the book, which is part of Chapter 1 (page 10 as published), and matches the text as published.

---The mailing envelope from Space and Time has a return address of 138 West 70th St, 4B in New York City, which is the same address from which I myself ordered a copy of Maze of Peril about 20 years ago. It addressed to Gygax at a PO Box 388 in Lake Geneva. Gygax had been ousted from TSR a little over 6 months previously. For more on this topic, see the article the Ambush at Sherdian Springs by Jon Peterson, or his book Game Wizards.

Written on the cover of the mailing envelope from Space & Time are the following handwritten notes in pencil: "Copy letter + 5 pp of intro. Origs. to Jani Anderson. File remainder under Holmes, J. Eric". Thus, it appears Gygax stored all of these papers in this envelope.

---The letter from Space & Time is mostly obscured in the photos, but it can be seen that it is dated March 15th, 1986.

---Gygax's return letter is dated March 21st, 1986, and uses a different address, "832 Geneva Street", the history of which is described on the Gygax Memorial Page. The letter is addressed to Jani Anderson, who was an editor at Space & Time.

This letter is visible in full, and the body reads:

Thanks for the note and copy of Eric's manuscript for the captioned. Naturally, I didn't read it for editorial work but for refreshing my memory. I believe the least time I saw it was about two years ago.

After I wrote the four numbered pages, I thought the whole was a bit too dry, so I added the "insert" paragraph. I envision that becoming the leading portion of the whole.

Having had a couple of books published, I am quite used to the indignities of editorial work. Feel free to do as you wish with the words. The presentation of the Registered Trade Marks of TSR, Inc. is, I believe, legally correct. Do be careful about that. I suggest you consult with a lawyer about usages beyond what I have written. Certainly, I can freely be shown as co-creator of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game, or creator of ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game. Cover usage might require some acknolwedgement of ownership of the mark(s).

Please feel free to contact me if I may be of any further assistance.

This suggests Gygax previously saw a copy of the draft around 1984, when he was still at TSR. Holmes was working on the book as early as 1979, as it is mentioned by title in an L.A. Times newspaper article from that year, "Fantasy Life in a Game Without End".

One possibility is that concern over trademark usage kept the publisher from using Gygax's introduction, although I note that the book as published uses the D&D trademark on the back cover, and in Holmes' author bio. Another possibility is Gygax's legal tussle with TSR, which was still ongoing in the first half of 1986, per Jon Peterson's article cited above.

Efforts are currently underway to contact Space & Time to see if they have any records or memories as to why Gygax's introduction was not used.

Copies of the original printing of Maze of Peril are still available from Space & Time via Amazon. Find the link in the sidebar to this blog or by clicking here:

Maze of Peril original 1986 printing

See also:

Tales of Peril Book Club

Monday, October 30, 2023

Yggsburgh reprint now shipping

Yggsburgh front cover

Last month, I wrote about the reprint of Yggsburgh, the sandbox setting (256 pages...!) written Gary Gygax in 2005 for his Castle Zagyg project (aka Castle Greyhawk). Troll Lord Games recently announced via their mailing list that shipping of orders of the reprint is now in progress, and buyers are reporting that copies are appearing in their mailboxes; see for example the photos posted here and here.

From the photos, we can see that the reprint appears to be the same as the original, but per reports can be distinguished by the label "Second Printing" and 2023 copyright given inside.

As a reminder, you can order the hardcover from the TLG site for $65, which also includes an immediate download of the PDF, or you can buy the PDF alone from DrivethruRPG for $19.99:

Yggsburgh Print + PDF 

Yggsburgh PDF only

Friday, October 20, 2023

Troodontoid Statue (New Monster)

Image Source

This is a new monster for Holmes Basic, one which is featured in Area 18 oThe Forgotten Smugglers' Cave adventure (which is indexed here).

Troodontoid Statue

Move: nil
Hit Dice: by magic-user level
Armor Class: 0
Treasure Type: nil
Alignment: neutral
Attacks: spell-casting
Damage: by spell

Aeons ago, with their civilization facing an apocalypse, certain powerful wizards of a race of intelligent theropods preserved themselves through powerful magics that transformed them into magical statues, which would endure until conditions were more amenable for their return. 

On discovery, a troodontoid statue appears as a humanoid figure, roughly carved but with an observably non-human pointed face with huge eyes. The type of stone cannot be determined and is impervious to ordinary weapons or tools, only suffering damage from magical weapons. Magic cast or focused upon the statue, including Detect Magic, will be absorbed (as if by a Rod of Absorption) without effect and causing the spell to end if already in effect. The first five spell levels that are so absorbed will serve to incrementally awaken the troodontoid shade that dwells within, and the statue will slowly become of noticeably finer quality; i.e., more life-like in appearance.

Once fully awake, the troodontoid shade within will attempt to communicate telepathically with a spell-caster, although the long-forgotten tongue will be unintelligible unless a Read Languages spell is employed. Through permanent magic, the statue itself will be able to understand the spell-caster. If communication is achieved, the awakened statue will try to bargain for more magic to be cast upon it, for example offering to teach new spells to a magic-user.

The statue will be equivalent to a 11th to 16th level magic-user (roll 1d6 + 10 to determine), and able to absorb a total number of spell levels equal to a caster of that level. For example, a statue equivalent to a 13th level magic-user can absorb up to 78 spell levels total, and will know and be able to cast any standard 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 further ability to memorize spells. 

If a magic-user studies with the statue daily, it can teach a new spell in an amount of time equal to one week per spell level (add 25% to the magic-users chance to know, and spells previously failed can be tried again); in exchange, the magic-user must cast one spell level on the statue each day.

Detail of "Dinosauroid" by Ely Kish. Source.

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 troodontoid remains a beneficent mentor or has another, more sinister purpose.

Friday, September 29, 2023

1981 D&D Expert Set now available in POD

Ten years ago, I wrote about the newly released PDF of the 1981 D&D Expert Rules at DriveThruRPGNow, they've finally added a Print-On-Demand (POD) option for both the Expert Rules and the 1981 verison of the Isle of Dread, the two main components of the 1981 Expert Set (other than dice & crayon). Find them here at DriveThruRPG:

It's not widely known, but production on these rules started out as an expansion to the Holmes Basic rules. In March 1980, in Dragon #35, Gygax revealed that:
"Design is now hard at work on the second boxed D&D game, the Expert Set. It will take players through at least 12th level of experience, tie in the best of the “Original” material, and actually add some new classes, spells, magic, monsters and so on."

In context, this appeared to be an Expert Set that would complement the Holmes Basic Set. A late 1980 Gateway to Adventure catalog shows the Holmes Basic set side-by-side with an unpictured but soon-to-be-released Expert Set.

However, when the Expert Set finally arrived in 1981, it was instead accompanied by an entirely new Basic Set, which replaced the Holmes Basic set (although TSR continued to sell old stock of the rulebook through the Mail Order Hobby Shop until at least 1986). To aid owners of the original Basic rules who did not wish to buy the new Basic rulebook or set, the Cook/Marsh rulebook contained a section on page X4 titled "Using D&D Expert with an early edition of D&D Basic" which began "If your copy of the D&D Basic rules has a blue cover with a picture of a dragon on it, then this section is for you". This section then provides a summary of the "new material found in the 2nd edition of D&D Basic".

Over on the Holmes Ref page, I have a reference sheet with character info bridging Holmes with Cook/Marsh up to sixth level, titled "Holmes Basic / Cook Expert Reference Sheet v1.0".

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

d12 Years of the Zenopus Archives!

This month marks twelve years since I started this blog, with today being the anniversary of when I first announced I would be posting here

In celebration of this anniversary, below you will see an autogenerated table of random posts from the past twelve years of this blog. Grad a d12 and roll for one to read. Refresh your browser to see twelve different posts. 

Random Zenopus Archives Post (Roll d12)

And for a list of the highlights of the first ten years, see my earlier post Ten Years of the Zenopus Archives.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Gygax's Yggsburgh (2005) available once again

The front cover of Yggsburgh,
with an illustration by Jeffrey Catherine Jones

If you haven't heard, Gary Gygax's Yggsburgh sandbox campaign setting, originally released in 2005 and withdrawn from sales after he passed away in 2008, is once again available for purchase from Troll Lord Games, following an agreement with the Gygax estate. You can pre-order the hardcover from the TLG site for $65, which also includes an immediate download of the PDF, or you can buy the PDF alone from DrivethruRPG for $19.99:

Yggsburgh Print (pre-order) + PDF 

Yggsburgh PDF only

For those unfamiliar with it, Yggsburgh is a re-casting of Gygax's long-delayed City of Greyhawk project, intended as a setting for exploring the Castle Greyhawk dungeons, here re-christened Castle Zagyg.  

Back in May of 1980, shortly before the initial publication of the World of Greyhawk campaign setting, Gary Gygax discussed future releases for the setting in issue 37 of The Dragon, where in his regular column "From the Sorcerer's Scroll", under the title "Greyhawk: The Shape of the World", he estimated that "The City of Greyhawk might make a 1981 publication date, certainly 1982, and about the same time the series which will eventually represent the whole of the Dungeons of Castle Greyhawk will begin". Sadly, neither title ever appeared under Gygax's byline, and became the most infamous of TSR vaporware. 

Decades later, in the early 2000s, Gygax finally started a new project to publish this material, this time under the aegis of TLG's Castles & Crusades RPG. However, only Yggsburgh and the first portion of the Castle Zagyg, titled the Upper Works (2007), were finished and released before Gygax passed away, and the license to publish them was withdrawn.

Yggsburgh is a sprawling 256-page hardcover book, with cover art by the great Jeffrey Catherine Jones, repurposed from the 1972 Avon paperback edition of Nine Princes of Amber by Roger Zelazny. This was the first novel in the Amber series, which was included by Gygax in Appendix N in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide in 1979. Originally, the entire series of Castle Zagyg books was slated to feature covers with Jones' classic work from the 1970s.

The book itself is also accompanied by an 8-page hexmap, drafted by Darlene in a style similar to her original maps for the World of Greyhawk, which was tipped into the back cover in the 2005 publication. This depicts an area 50 hexes east-west and 34 hexes north-south, at 1 mile per hex, for a total area of 1,700 square miles:

Players Version of the Yggsburgh Hex Map by Darlene

Rather than just being a high-level gazetteer, Yggsburgh is a big sandbox, which I'd compare to Lenard Lakofka's AD&D module L1 The Secret of Bone Hill. There's a city with 93 described areas, including the famous Green Dragon Inn, and an area map with 48 described locations, and including a number of fully detailed small dungeons, which is often overlooked: 

  • Thieves' Underground (13 rooms)
  • River King's Tomb (19 rooms)
  • The Cursed Mine (14 rooms)
  • The Gnome Burrows (25 rooms)
  • The Unholy Ringstones (25 encounter areas)

These could easily be extracted and run as one-shots or dropped in other settings. 

Castle Zagyg and Rob Kuntz's Dark Chateau (2005) are also two of the intended locations in the sandbox, so there is the potential for larger dungeons, although this does make the campaign setting incomplete on its own if you intend to use those.

I've had the original hardback for many years, and it's probably my favorite late-era Gygax product. While I haven't run anything from it yet, I will pick it up every now and then and read a bit. It's sort of a glorious sprawling mess like the original AD&D DMG, but in campaign setting form.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Corpse Fog (New Monster)

This is a new monster for Holmes Basic, one which is featured iArea 25 oThe Forgotten Smugglers' Cave adventure (which is indexed here).

Corpse Fog

Move: 90 feet/turn
Hit Dice: 3
Armor Class: 5
Treasure Type: B
Alignment: neutral
Attacks: 1 touch
Damage: 0 plus energy drain

A body, when interred near the sea, may become possessed by a form of undead known as the corpse fog. If such a corpse or its burial possessions are disturbed, fog with a greenish cast will begin to issue from its mouth, coalescing in two rounds into a churning humanoid form that will advance on the nearest living creature in an attempt to drain it of its life energy (each hit will drain one life energy level).

Initially having three hit dice, a corpse fog will add one more for each level drained from a character, and this will also add to its hit points (roll randomly for each new hit die). 

The corpse fog is immune to normal weapons, and is turned as undead of equivalent hit dice (HD 3 = wight, HD 4 = wraith, etc). A successful result will send the fog back into its corpse. 

Destroying a corpse fog will result in a blast of mist that will do 2d6 damage to all within 50 feet (save for half), but will also restore any levels drained by the fog.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Where is L3 Deep Dwarven Delve located?

The Area Map from L1

In my previous post, I noted that the published version of L3 Deep Dwarven Delve (1997) omits a separate map showing "an aerial view of the mountain and surrounding areas" that the cover of 1979 draft indicated would be included along with maps of the three dungeon levels. In the published module, the map of the first dungeon level does include an outline of the hill at 80 feet, which is the height at which this level is located, and also three surrounding lower topographic lines at 20' increments. This could be considered "an aerial view of the mountain", but there is nothing on it showing "surrounding areas".

The two earlier entries in the L-series, L1 The Secret of Bone Hill (1981) and L2 The Assassin's Knot (1983), each had large area maps. The one in L1, shown above, is drawn in a black & white topographic style similar to the famous one in B2 Keep on the Borderlands, but employs hexes rather than squares, and depicts a much larger area, about 28 miles east-west and 17 miles north-south. The map in L2 overlaps with this to the south, but only adds about half as much territory because much of the map is water. Here is a fan-made splice of these two maps, from a post on the Restenford Project blog, which may be useful if you are running a Lendore campaign:

Area Map combining the maps from L1 and L2

In contrast to the earlier modules, the content in L3 consists of one large dungeon under a single hill, which means it doesn't necessarily need such a large area map, particularly if its location can be referenced using one of the earlier maps. But L3, in addition to omitting an area map, does not even clearly indicate where the Delve is in relation to the maps from L1 and L2...! 

Instead, it keeps the location vague. The "Background" relates that humanoids have been attacking Restenford and Lake Farmin (aka Garrotten), and that after the most recent attack on the former, "a member of the militia, a ranger, tracked the humanoids back to their lair" and thus "[s]omewhere in the dark wilderness nearby lurks a great threat..." (page 3). The module further explains that the town council will "provide the directions to the Delve..." (page 4, "Preparing to Play"); and that "[t]he Delve resides beneath one of the many hills in the area" (page 7, "External Locale"), which could be almost anywhere on the L1 or L2 maps, each of which depicts numerous peaks, or somewhere off the edge of those.

To some degree this vagueness may be because the adventure was introduced by means of an event in Lakofka's campaign. In comments on FB, he wrote: "L3 starts with the attack on Restenford in 576CY. The party follows the retreating humanoids back to their lair: an ancient Dwarven cave complex" (see here); "...But the little road to the front door is not obvious. A ranger tracked them and came back to Restenford to report ... He told the adventuring party what to look for and left a token along the road that tells them where he spotted their movement. Once they know the proper peak and the approximate location of the main entrance they should be able to find it" (see here); and "If it’s too easy to find others will go up and discover the orcs etc" (see here). So, it's clear that he intended for the Delve, in game, to be a "hidden location" that is not accessible until it is "unlocked" by the attack.

But note that while Lakofka didn't want players to find the Delve early, he also didn't intend for the published module to keep it completely hidden from the DM, as evidenced by his original 1979 intention to include an area map, and also more recent comments: "I looked at L3. There is no area map. I would not miss something that basic. But TSR did. The entrance is up 80 feet and the hill at that point is around 2,000 feet. The height of the entire hill is not given" (see here). (Note that on review there's nothing in L3 stating the hill is 2,000 feet high at the entrance; in fact, it clearly states, "The main entrance is some 80 feet above ground level and cannot be seen from the base of the hill" (page 7)).

The lack of a specific location poses some problems for actual play as part of a campaign. In what direction do you tell the players they are headed? What do you do once they get there and want to leave and then return? Or what if you want to include it as a hidden but possibly findable location in the Lendore sandbox from the get-go?

Lakofka's aerial map for L3

Fortunately, in 2018, Lakofka found among his papers a draft of the aerial map of the exterior of the Delve, and shared this on FB, where he wrote:

"And I found the real location! Guardian Peak. On the L1 map it’s labeled Garden Peak!!"

The map he shared, shown above, is possibly the exterior map referred to in the 1979 draft, or a later drafting of it, as to me it looks like something drawn on a computer program in the 1980s. It's not an area map like in the earlier modules, just an immediate location map showing the exterior of the hill up to its peak at 3,145 feet, and with topographic lines at 500 foot intervals. It shows the two entrances to the dungeon, each at 2,000 feet as referenced in Lakofka's quote above, rather than at the 80 feet indicated in the module (and which means that TSR most likely did not have a copy of this map when they produced L3). 

It also depicts the "Humanoid Trail" leading to Entrance A, which Lakofka referenced in one of the above quotes. The published module instead describes this singular trail in the plural, describing that "[t]he humanoid trails leading from the front gate (entrance A) are well hidden. At ground level, the trails can be found only by inspection and are not obvious to casual searchers". 

Most crucially, there is a label added to the map in pencil reading, "Garden Peak aka Guardian Peak". If you look at the L1 area map at the top of this page you will see a Garden Peak near the upper center. The reason for the dual names is that while the peak is labeled Garden on the L1 map, the text of the module refers to it as Guardian (page 8). Lakofka's comment quoted above implies that Guardian is the correct name. In a game, one might use both names if Garden is assumed to be a corruption of the earlier name, Guardian.

There is a discrepancy in the contour lines shown on the aerial map of Guardian, which are at 500 foot increments, and the map in L1, which the key indicates are at 400 foot increments. When he found the map, Lakofka noted this discrepancy, and issued a correction: "Based on the L1 map these elevations are incorrect. The contour lines should be 400 not 500. The very top contour line should be eliminated. So the A [and] B entrances should be on the 1600 foot line and the peak 2145 not 3145" (see here). The L1 map shows only five contour lines between the river and the peak of Garden, so this correction does allow the Guardian map to fit in better. Even adjusting for this, the shape of the contour lines on the Guardian map don't quite match the ones on the L1 map, but are close enough to use. If using this map, make sure to note the direction of north on the Guardian map; it should be turned to line up with the map in L1.

In retrospect, Garden/Guardian Peak is a good location for the Delve, as there are no encounters or areas of interest that are specifically tied to it in L1. It's referenced a single time in the text of the module (page 8), where it is simply given as part of a list of locations, also including Lark Hill, High Top, Low Point and Reddy Forest, that are described as potential sites for encounters with NPCs: "These sites are often used as campgrounds by travelers, and for the purpose of this module they will be sites for special encounters. Other hills and forests may also be added to this list if the DM desires". The text goes on to describe four NPCs that can be encountered in these areas, about 1/3 of the time a random encounter in indicated. While it's a bit difficult to believe that a lone NPC could safely camp on Guardian if it is home to the large force of humanoids found in the Delve, but it is easy enough to remove Guardian from this list and make it more desolate. The module further describes these peaks as "grass-covered, with bushes and rock outcroppings every 50 to 300 feet. Small stands of trees are quite common. The larger copses are shown on the map", which fits well with the aerial map shown above, although there should be one "larger copse" at the north end of the map.

In conclusion, this unearthed treasure provides us with a specific location for the Delve in relation to the other L-series locations. The dungeon in L3 is very linear, but clearly situating it in the L1 Area Map helps to give it more of a feel as just another location in the sandbox.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

L3 Deep Dwarven Delve: 1979 draft

Lakofka's photo of the vintage typescript draft for L3

The late Lenard Lakofka is probably best remembered for his long-running, detailed-oriented column in Dragon magazine, Leomund's Tiny Hut (1979-1986), and for writing the classic AD&D modules L1 The Secret of Bone Hill (1981) and L2 The Assassin's Knot (1983). The former is innovative as a small sandbox, the latter as a murder mystery, and they were drawn from the adventures he ran in his home campaign set in the Lendore Isles, which were later incorporated by Gary Gygax into the World of Greyhawk (1980). 

No further L-coded modules appeared during the era of 1st Edition AD&D, and thus for many years that was it for the series, as far as gamers knew. However, after ownership of D&D passed from TSR to Wizards of Coast, they surprised us by publishing a third installment for the 25th anniversary of D&D. Specifically, the 1999 Silver Anniversary Collector's set included the module L3 Deep Dwarven Delvetouted on its cover as "the last 1st Edition AD&D adventure ever to be published!", because it "lain unseen and forgotten in the TSR design vault for twenty years". However, as Shannon Appelcline reports on the DriveThruRPG page for the product, this story may only be considered accurate if you expansively include Lakofka's home as part of "the TSR design vault":
"[Sean K. Reynolds of WOTC] said that all of TSR's copies of the adventure had been "lost or destroyed" over the years. The adventure (apparently) resurfaced only when Lakofka found a copy around his house and sent it to Roger E. Moore in 1997 ... [who] then passed the adventure on to Reynolds in 1998."

Furthermore, as Appelcline explains, even after the original was located, publishing it was not without snags:  

"[Wizards] thought [Delve] needed "depth and clarification" to bring it up to modern AD&D standards. Lakofka was happy to oblige and produced a new version of his adventure… which Wizards again lost. Lakofka says that he didn't hear about the loss until after "Delve" was published, by which time a number of Wizards developers had stepped in to do the required expansion for the adventure ... Lakofka says that "Delve" is about 80% comprised of material he'd turned in two decades earlier."
The reception to L3 was somewhat mixed. While most were grateful for another AD&D module, especially one that written during the original era, some were disappointed that it wasn't as innovative as Lakofka's earlier modules, being a rather linear dungeon crawl. And being a limited edition, copies became increasingly expensive over the years, although now you can get an inexpensive pdf or print-on-demand copy from DriveThruRPG. 

In the years after L3 was published, Lakofka became active in D&D circles again, eventually releasing more Lendore material through Dragonsfoot, including L4 Devilspawn and L5 The Kroten Campaign.

Another twenty years had passed when, in 2018, Lakofka once again located in his house a copy of the draft for L3, in a formatted typescript, and posted a photo of it (shown above) in a comment to a FB group, the Flanaess Geographical Society.

It's exciting to see this typescript draft, particularly because the cover is laid out in vintage TSR format. I don't recall ever seeing a draft of this type for any other TSR module. And with "FINAL CORRECTION COPY" written across the top, it suggests that at one point someone (Lakofka? a TSR editor?) considered it close to finished.

While his photo only shows the cover page and a small portion of one interior page, there are still interesting details to be gleaned: 
---The title is "The Deep Dwarven Delve", which became just "Deep Dwarven Delve" as published, although the interior text still refers to it by the original title in several places. 
---The cover has a copyright date is 1979 and uses the TSR Wizard Logo. Lakofka ran Deep Dwarven Delve at Gen Con 12 in August 1979, according to the program book, indicating that the adventure had taken shape by mid-1979. While the draft's 1979 date could just indicate when it was originally written, the Wizard Logo was phased out in 1980, and L1 employs TSR's next logo, the Face Logo. This suggests that this draft, which must have been prepared by an editor at TSR, actually does date to 1979 or 1980. 
---It refers to "one part of a four-part series", whereas the published version, which has different cover text, states that it was "[w]ritten as the concluding adventure of the "L" series". This suggests that Lakofka not only wrote this draft of L3 written in 1979, but also conceived that the series would include an L4 at the time. WOTC in the '90s omitted any mention of further unfinished work, possibly because they wanted to seem like they were bringing the L-series to a conclusion. 
---The reference to "three level maps" matches the published version, but the "aerial view of the mountain and surrounding areas", does not. Either this was never finished, lost, or omitted by WOTC. And this is a big omission, because there's no indication in L3 as to where exactly it is located on the memorable area maps found in L1 and L2. As Lakofka wrote on FB: "i looked at L3. there is no area map. i would not miss something that basic. But TSR did". 
---It also mentions "monster rosters", and the published module does, in fact, contain a section titled "Rosters" on pages 5-7, which has a list of monsters for each of the three levels of the dungeon. 
---It recommends characters of levels 2-6, with approximately 40 levels total, whereas the published module suggests 6-10 characters of levels 3-6, average 4, with about 35 total levels and no more than 45 (page 4). 
---The small portion of the interior page shown in the photo contains text that is close to the same material as published, with a few minor changes. The original reads:
The Deep Dwarven Delve can be played at two levels; first as an orc stronghold (level one), and second as a hidden treasure store and place of great evil (levels two and three). The upper level of the Delve is filled with orcs, bugbears, ogres, trolls an a magic-user. They do not know of the.......................................first level of the Delve 
This was changed on page 4 of the published module to: 
The Deep Dwarven Delve can be played as two linked adventures; first as a humanoid stronghold (Level One), and second as a hidden treasure store and place of great evil (Levels Two and Three). 
(the heading "NOTES FOR THE DM" was moved to page 3, after the Background)  
---The last sentence in the original paragraph exactly describes the composition of monsters found in the "First Level Roster" on page 5 as published. This suggests the types of monsters on the first level were not changed from draft to publication.

Lakofka later indicated he was preparing a comparison document between the two versions, but unfortunately ended up putting it aside when he moved, and never got back to it or shared what he had completed. He did, however, make the comment that "TSR decided to change the final encounter in the Delve (along with a few minor changes in other encounters)" (here on FB), which together with the details gathered from the draft cover page suggests that overall, the published version of L3 is not too dissimilar to what he original drafted in 1979.

In future posts, I will take a look at where L3 should be located on the L1 area map, and also what Lakofka intended for the original final encounter of L3.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023


The kickstarter for the STAR SCHLOCK Battle Game, which I featured in my previous post, ends this evening. 

Based on all of the stretch goals that have been unlocked so far, a $95 Recruit pledge will get you the game plus at least 25 metal minis!

Find it here:

Star Schlock Battle Game

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

STAR SCHLOCK Battle Game (Kickstarter)

Scrum Club member John S., who blogs over at the 1000 Foot General, is currently running a kickstarter for his skirmish miniatures game, Star Schlock. As the tagline in the graphic says, this game is inspired by the tropes and aesthetics of all of those sci-fi shows and movies we loved as kids - Trek, Planet of the Apes, Buck Rogers, SW, etc. 

I've pledged for the "Recruit" level, which supplies the Star Schlock Battle Game set, including the rulebooks, dice, cards, organizing consoles, and tokens for playing the game, plus a starter set of 12 pewter minis (unpainted) - 6 each of Space Apes and Explorer Corps. Higher pledges levels include more minis. It's already blown way past its funding goal, with all sorts of bonuses for different pledge levels being unlocked.

Space Apes vs Explorer Corps

It's running for about one more week; find it here:

Star Schlock Battle Game

Sunday, July 23, 2023

50 Years of Text Games by Aaron A. Reed (new book)

My copy of 50 Years of Text Games, which arrived recently

It was a memorable evening in the early '80s when I first encountered text-based computer games. While staying over at my friend Eric's house, his mom took us into her work place, which I think was a Motorola office, after business hours. 

She left us to ourselves in an office with a computer connected to a teleprinter that printed out everything that we typed and that it outputted, which I never encountered againEric already knew some of the games: a Star Trek one where you controlled the Enterprise, which we played briefly, and Adventure, which really struck a chord as we were already heavily into D&D. Eric got us past a few early obstacles, like the snake, that he knew about before we got stuck. Then we went to another office where two guys were also playing Adventure, like a scene out of AMC's Halt and Catch Fire, on a computer with a monitor. They let us watch, and based on my D&D knowledge, I suggested trying to burn the troll with the lamp oil, but it didn't work.

Without a computer at home I didn't get to play Adventure, or any text game, again for a number of years, but eventually we got a Tandy 1000 SL, and I bought Zork at Babbage's in the local mall after playing it at another kid's house and recognizing it was very similar to Adventure. Zork then led me to the myriad other Infocom titles, like Planetfall, the Lurking Horror and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, only some of which I was able finish. I even tracked down Adventure by sending away for a shareware/freeware floppy disk that also included another simplistic D&D-inspired text game, The Beginner's Cave for the Wonderful World of Eamon system. 

These were the only text-based games that I encountered back in the '80s, and after that I've only briefly played them, but always remembered the genre fondly and have been inspired by it when designing challenges for D&D adventures, like the Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, which contains an area like the maze of the twisty little passages in Adventure.

Now I just received a new book, 50 Years of Text Games, by Aaron A. Reed, that provides great context for my early adventures in text, and also shows how they've continued on over the years, and developed in different ways. Subtitled "from Oregon Trail to AI Dungeon and everything ... in between", it profiles one important game for each year from 1971 to 2019, stretching over 600 pages (!). The book started as a blog that was run throughout the year of 2021, and the posts are archived here for anyone interested. I picked up my hardcopy via a subsequent kickstarter, which I believe is now sold out, but a digital version is still available.

I've already read a few sections, including the intro to the 1970s and the entry for the ground-breaking Galatea (2000), and am enjoying the clear prose, and am looking forward to reading more. One takeway, also gleaned from following the Renga in Blue blog, is that there were far more text-based games produced back in the 70s and 80s than I ever realized.

See also: The Renga in Blue, where the author is attempting to play every text adventure game by year of release.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Vampire Bat & Were-Vampire Bat (New Monster)

These are two new monsters for Holmes Basic, the first of which is featured in Area 6 of The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave adventure (which is indexed here), and originally appeared as part of my list of One Hit Point Monsters.

Illustration by Lore Suto

Vampire Bat

Move: 180 feet/turn flying
Hit Dice: 1/8 (1 hit point)
Armor Class: 3 (9 while attached)
Treasure Type: nil
Alignment: neutral
Attacks: 1 bite
Damage: 1 point

A native of subtropical climes, the vampire bat has of late begun appearing in certain temperate coastal towns, apparently escaping from traders importing them for clients unknown. Roosting in colonies of up to 50 individuals, often in the warmer caves of the near underworld, they venture out in smaller groups (2d6 bats) to feed on livestock, other mammals, or even humans. 

When suitable prey is located, the bats will silently swoop down and attack from behind (surprise on 1-5 in 6, attack at +4). A hit inflicts a point of damage and allows a bat to attach and, unless stopped, automatically drain another point for each of the next two rounds (thus, three points total), before detaching and flying away. Attacks on an attached bat are against armor class 9, but a miss with a weapon will automatically hit the victim for a point of damage. Unattached bats will continue attacking in an attempt to distract the prey from disturbing attached bats.

For each round of attachment, there is a 1% chance that a bat will transmit a rare form of lycanthropy, causing the victim to become a were-vampire bat (see below) in 2d12 days.

Established colonies produce a layer of pinkish guano across the floor of their cavern, which which produces an acrid smell that can be detected from a distance, and is prized as a fertilizer (20 gp per bucket). Due to the strength of the odor and slippery consistency, any melee in such areas is conducted at a -4 to hit, with a natural 1 indicating a slip and fall.

The bats sleep soundly in the lair during the day, but any activity in the lair has a 1 in 6 chance per character (e.g., 2 in 6 chance for 2 characters) of waking the bats. Once disturbed, all of the bats of the colony will join in on a frenzied attack on the intruders.

It is rumored that larger forms of the vampire bat exist in the tropics.

Were-Vampire Bat

Move: 120 feet/turn flying (giant bat form) or 60 feet/turn flying or 120 feet/turn walking (man-bat form)
Hit Dice: 2 + 2
Armor Class: 3 (giant bat form) or 5 (man-bat)
Treasure Type: C
Alignment: neutral/lawful evil
Attacks: 1 bite (giant bat form) or 1 bite and 2 claws (man-bat form)
Damage: 1d3 (giant bat form) or 1d6/1d3/1d3 (man-bat form)

The unfortunate victims of the vampire bat may, on occasion, be inflicted with a rare form of lycanthropy, eventually transforming into a were-vampire bat. Like the were-rat, the were-vampire bat may take three different forms: human, giant bat, or horrible hybrid man-bat. As with other lycanthropes, it is immune to normal weapons in the latter two forms. In man-bat form, it is less agile but stronger of limb, and able to attack with claws in addition to biting.

If possible, the were-bat will roost and hunt together with a colony of ordinary vampire bats, favoring old buildings that allow egress in either bat or human form. It can summon these bats to its aid at will, and will hunt together with a group of them in giant bat form.