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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, January 27, 2023

Grogtalk Interview: Podcast Version


The audio from my recent appearance on Grogtalk is now available as a stand-alone podcast.

Find it here:

Episode 116 – Back to Basics with Zach from Zenopus Archives

The entirety show, which is almost four hours long, can be found on YT here. My appearance in the video starts there at just after the 2:06 mark.

Thanks to Dan and James for having me on!

* * * * *

Other podcasts, including others that I have been on, as well as those featuring Chris Holmes or others talking about Holmes Basic, and even one with J. Eric Holmes himself talking brain science at a sci-fi convention in the 1970s, can be found on the Zenopus Archives site here:

Podcasts & Other Recordings of Interest

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Blogroll Updated

On the right sidebar of this blog, I've long had an extensive blogroll, named Helm of Telepathy after the magic item included in the Holmes Basic magic item list. It's as much for myself as others, and where I often looks for new posts on other blogs. 

Recently I had to recreate this blogroll, as the previous widget used by Blogger was no longer functioning correctly. I took the opportunity to split it into several categories: the aforementioned Helm of Telepathy, which remains the main one for RPG blogs; Miniatures Gaming; Fiction & Tolkienana; Text Adventures, for both text-based computer games and printed gamebooks; and Misc (these links will only work in desktop mode, as the sidebar is not visible in mobile mode). My total "Reading List", which I believe can only be seen in the Blogger controls, currently includes 113 blogs.

Below those, I also include the feed for Old School RPG Planet, the blog aggregator managed by Alex Schroeder, who blogs here.

In recreating the blogroll, I eliminated a number of blogs that had not been updated in a year or more, or for which I couldn't get the RSS feed to work correctly. 

If you are reading this and have a blog that you think I would like, and would like me to add it, please leave the link or name in a comment below.

Monday, January 23, 2023

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #24: Smuggler Catacombs

This is an installment of a new adventure 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 25


(H = ladder down)



Area 21

24. SMUGGLER CATACOMBS. This is where ordinary smugglers without families were once laid to rest. The area includes an entry stair, an antechamber, and four sets of tunnels leading to ossuary chambers.

Entrance. The only way into this area from the greater cave complex is via the secret door in the north wall of Area 23, which opens on to a 10 foot square landing. The north side of the landing opens onto a set of stone steps going down 20 feet to another landing of the same dimensions. 

Skull-Covered Door. Strikingly, the three walls of the lower landing are covered with a multitude of elongated, pointy-toothed skulls (from seals and sea lions), adhered to the walls with a shell-based lime plaster. The north wall of this area actually contains secret door, which can only be opened by depressing two catches, each inside the mouth of a different skull. This will require placing a hand inside each of the correct skulls and pushing hard (13 strength required). Once inside, the door will slowly swing shut again unless held or propped open.

Antechamber. Beyond the skull door is a square chamber, 50 feet to a side, with a large square stone block (10 by 10 feet, 4 feet high) in the center of the chamber and two doors on each of the east and west walls. 

In the southeast corner is a set of four shelves holding folded burial shrouds. Hidden in the folds of one shroud on the bottom shelf is a single green eye agate (100 gp value).

In the southwest corner is a tightly-lidded stone bin that is half-filled with lime, rock-hard with age. Completely embedded inside this is a silver ladle (worth 50 gp).

Resting Block. The large block, which is covered in polished marble tiles, is where the newly deceased were briefly left in repose prior to interment. The tiles are all smooth squares, large in size (2 by 2 feet), except for rectangular tiles encircling the top edge which are etched with a skull motif. On the north-facing side of the block, the center tile at floor level can be removed to reveal a space within the block with a ladder leading down to Area 25.

Doors. The four doors, two east and two west, are each made of bronze, and locked (there are two keys that can open these doors, one in Area 5 and one in Area 21). If opened and then left unattended, each door will slowly swing shut and re-lock.

Tunnels. Each door leads to a catacomb tunnel having the same dimensions: 10 feet wide, 10 feet high and 100 feet long, ending at another bronze door, also locked.

Resting Niches. Carved into the north and south walls of each tunnel are resting niches, where bodies were left for a longer period of time as they decomposed. These are placed every ten feet, for a total of twenty per tunnel. Each contains three shelves, of which 0-3 (1d4-1) are occupied by what appears to be body-shaped bundle, for a total of 20d4-20 bundles per tunnel. Each bundle is wrapped in a crusty, lime-coated shroud.

Skeletons. Removing the shroud from a bundle will reveal a skeleton with glittering green eyes, which is an agate-eyed skeleton. The skeleton will not animate unless further disturbed, but whoever removed the shroud or is within 5 feet must save versus magic to avoid falling asleep for 1d6 turns from gazing at the eyes, and cannot be awakened earlier short of Dispel Magic.

Each eye is actually a rare green eye agate from a far off land to the north, and worth 100 gp (and optionally will increase hit point recovery while sleeping; see Area 3). The agates were placed in the skeletons by the smugglers and the strange energies of the underworld endowed the skeletons with a form of self-protecting animation.

Damaging a skeleton will cause that skeleton, if not destroyed, to immediately animate and attack. Each round thereafter, 1d6 skeletons in the same tunnel will throw off their shrouds and animate, until all skeletons in that tunnel join in. Once animated, characters no longer need to save versus sleep. The skeletons will cease attacking if the characters leave the area.

If a skeleton is simply moved, it will not animate for one round, and if during this time it is placed in one of the ossuaries at the end of the tunnel, will not animate or cause the others to do so. Once placed in an ossuary, the agates can be safely removed.

If a character attempts to remove an agate without disturbing the skeleton, there is a small chance of success. The base chance is equal to the attempting character's dexterity (e.g., a 10% chance for a dexterity of 10). Thieves add their chance of removing traps to this (e.g. a thief with a 15 dexterity and a 15% chance of remove traps would have a 30% chance). If this roll is failed, the eye is removed but the skeleton then animates as if damaged and will incessantly attempt to retrieve its eye, to the point of relentlessly stalking the offending character. Removing a second eye agate from the same skeleton will automatically cause it to animate. If the eye(s) are returned it will stop stalking and return to its resting place.

Agate-Eyed Skeleton (20d4-20 per tunnel): 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.

Ossuary Chambers. Each tunnel ends in a bronze door leading to a smaller square chamber, 20 feet to a side, which were the final resting places for the bones of deceased smugglers. 

The walls are also lined with shelves carved into the stone, but here the shelves hold ossuaries consisting of small coffin-like boxes made of stone, heavily lidded, and fixed in place on the shelves. If a lid is removed, the ossuary will either be found to contain old bones or be empty.

While many of the ossuaries are filled, in aggregate there is sufficient space to hold all of the bones of the skeletons remaining in each tunnel. As indicated above, if the bones of a skeleton are carried to a chamber and placed in an ossuary within one round of being disturbed, it will not animate and the agates in its skull can then be safely removed.

Chronologically on this blog, the previous installment described Area 23 and the next posted installment will be Area 25.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Scrum in Miniature: Zenopus, Rolemaster Robin Hood, and Core Space

The DM is entertained. Photo by Joe Procopio.

Head over to the Scrum in Miniature blog to see a player report and photos from my very first playtest of the Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, with the Scrum Club, this past Saturday!

Scrum in Miniature: Zenopus, Rolemaster Robin Hood and Core Space

Sunday, January 15, 2023

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #23: Shrieking Pool

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 7  C==  23. SHRIEKING POOL 
 ==S  Area 22

23. SHRIEKING POOL. This natural cavern, with irregular walls, stalactites and stalagmites is much longer than it is wide (about 110 feet by 30 feet), and is bisected by a pool of water about 20 feet across, fed by water dripping steadily from the ceiling. On each side grows a profusion of oversized mushrooms, some of which are up to 3 feet in height.

Exits. There are two exits: at the west end, a narrow and but mostly walkable tunnel (3 feet wide, 6 feet high) leads 180 feet to the back of the niche in Area 7, and at the east end, a narrow tube (3 feet wide and 3 feet), which must be crawled through, leads 170 feet to the back of the secret door in Area 22.

Mushrooms. The mycoflora grows within 10 feet on either side of the pool. While most are harmless, the colony includes several shriekers, which will begin shrieking for 1d3 rounds in the presence of light or movement. There are 6 shriekers total; assume 1d6 are one side of the pool and the rest are on the other.

Shriekers (6): DX 1, AC 7, HD 3, hp 11, AT 0, SD shrieking. 

If the colony is inspected closely, it will be noted that several mushrooms near the edges of the water appear to be partially melted.

Pool. The pool is broad (30 feet north-south by 20 feet east-west) but shallow (only six inches deep). It can forded easily, but is home to a Large Grey Ooze, which normally survives on the mushrooms as well as vermin that drink from the edges of the pool. It generally rests on the shore or a cavern wall just above the water line, camouflaged as stone, but when alerted by the shrieking it will settle on the bottom of the pool and wait. There is only a 2 in 6 chance it will attack a character standing at the edge of the pool, as they are much bigger than its typical prey, but there is a 5 in 6 chance it will attack anyone passing through the pool. 

Large Grey Ooze (1): DX 3, AC 8, HD 3, hp 21, AT 1 strike for 2d8; SA dissolves metal; SD immune to cold and fire; weapons will damage but have 50% chance of breaking due to corrosion

Chronologically on this blog, the previous installment described Area 22 and the next posted installment will be Area 24.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Gary Con 2023 Games Scheduled!


This year Gary Con is in its 15th (!) year, and I'm attending, which will be my fourth time attending in-person, and sixth counting two virtual attendances. I've again signed up to run two D&D games, one new and one I ran last year. These are:

(1) The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave on Friday morning from 9-1; Character Level 3; 6 seats.

Find it here:

This is the new adventure that I've been serializing on and off on the blog for the last two years. I will be play-testing it for the first time tomorrow with the Scrum Club, and plan to also run it at Scrum Con on April 8th in Silver Spring, Maryland.

(2) Expedition to Skull Stack Crater on Saturday night from 7-11; Character Levels 3-4; 6 seats.

Find it here:

This is one I ran last year at Gary Con for the first time.

I plan to use the same pre-gens for each game, and anything that happens to them (XP, leveling, treasure acquired) from the first game will be carried over to the second one. 

I will also be helping my friend Demos, who blogs at OSR Grimoire, run a miniatures game in the Legends of Wargaming Hall:

(3) The Black Eagle Banner on Thursday night from 6-11; 6 seats.

Find it here:

This is a scenario from the module X10 Black Arrow, Red Shield - which is part of series with X4 Master of the Desert Nomads and X5 Temple of Death - and uses TSR's Battlesystem miniatures rules.

Read previous Gary Con convention summaries I've written:

Gary Con 2023: Day 1 --- Day 2 --- Days 3 and 4

Gary Con 2019 (unfinished): Day 1 --- Day 2 (part 1)

Other Gary Con links of interest:
Gary Con website
Badge Purchase
Full Schedule of Events on Tabletop Events (searchable)
Grand Geneva Resort website
Facebook Group (main source for announcements)

OD&D Discussion thread
Dragonsfoot thread
Knights & Knaves Alehouse thread

Thursday, January 12, 2023

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #22: Arch Smuggler's Office

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 23  ==S 22. ARCH

 ==Area 21 

22. ARCH SMUGGLER'S OFFICE. This room, once the office of the arch smuggler (chief of the smugglers), is nicely appointed with plastered walls, paintings, rugs and wooden furniture, including a desk, chairs, chests, shelves, and cupboards, all of which are covered in dust. The only apparent exit is the short passage to the east that leads to the door to Area 21.

Desk. This is in the center of the room, facing the door to the east. A fine padded chair sits behind it, and three plain chairs face it. On the surface is a fancy inkwell (5 gp value), which is empty. The drawers are pulled open, as if rifled through, and some papers are scattered on the floor. A secret compartment in the desk contains a purse with 2d20 gold pieces and a journal, and a second secret compartment concealed within the first contains three potions in waxed-sealed vials: healing (red liquid), poison (orange), and speed (silver), and a shark-shaped key that opens the door to the crypt of the arch smugglers (Area 25). The journal contains evidence that at the time a member of the governing council of Portown was being bribed by the smugglers; this member is now deceased but his son is on the current council.

Cozy Corner. In the northeast corner are four comfortable upholstered chairs facing each other, and between is a small table, on which are two empty bottles of spirits. Nearby, along the east wall, is a small cabinet with glass doors holding a few more bottles of fine spirits, all partially filled, and several glass tumblers.

Bookshelves. Further west along the north wall are two dusty bookshelves holding books on a variety of topics (sailing, the ocean, travelogue, far-off lands, dice games, etc). If examined, none were published more recently than fifty years ago. There is a total of 30+d10 books, and each has a 5% chance of being a rare book worth 1d6 gp.

Cupboards. Along the west wall are three heavy cupboards, each with doors that are closed but not locked. The northernmost one contains shelves with a china dishes, silverware, goblets and table cloths, all now antique and worth a total of 30 gp. The middle one contains spare clothing, hats and boots for sea or town; and the southernmost one contains a variety of small practical items of low value such as candles, lanterns, handtools, etc.

Secret Door. Each cupboard is anchored to the wall, and will not move if pushed. However, the northernmost one is actually set on concealed tracks and, if two hidden catches inside are released, can be slid forward, revealing a 3' high opening leading to Area 23. Handles on the back facing the opening allow it to be pulled back into place once inside.

Chest. On the south wall, towards the west, is a large chest, unlocked and empty. This once held the gold coins now in Area 20.

Cabinet of Curiosities. On the south wall, on the east side of the room, is a cabinet in the form of a set of shelves, each with its own tip-up glass-fronted door. It is not completely full, but some curiosities remain, each of which will fetch 10d10 gp if sold to a collector:

---a perfectly polished orb, four inches in diameter, of unknown purple and green stone, which is strangely heavy for its size (30 lbs).

---a fake "mermaid" constructed from a monkey's torso grafted onto the tail of a fish.

---a "unicorn horn"; in actuality, a narwhal horn.

---a set of five bone dice with numbered faces shaped into the five Platonic solids.

---a clear, hand-sized rectangular stone; a sunstone, non-magically allowing the sun to be detected when the sky is overcast.

---an elaborately branched piece of brilliant orange coral. If inspected, several branches are broken. This coral, if ground, can be used to make a potion of poison.

---a finely detailed, palm-sized model of a sailboat, signed on the bottom with the artist's name (Suderlyn).

The sailboat is in actuality much more valuable than it appears, as it is a magical miniature sailboat. It can be commanded (using the artist's name) to either return to full size (20' feet long) or shrink. It has a cabin with bunks for four, but could seat up to 10 without discomfort. The speaker of the command word must also touch it to cause the change, which is slow (1 turn). It will change 1d20+20 times before remaining full size.

Chronologically on this blog, the previous installment was Area 21 and the next was Area 23.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Zenopus on GROGTALK: Sat 1/7 at 10 AM


As I mentioned earlier this week in "GROGTALK on Holmes Basic", tomorrow morning I will be a guest on the GROGTALK podcast. The show starts at 8 AM EST, and I will be on around 10 AM. There should be a live chat where you can leave questions for the hosts to ask me.

The show will be recorded on video, and an excerpt will be available as a podcast in a week or so. 

Thursday, January 5, 2023

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #21: Meeting Room

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 24



Area 22 ===   21. MEETING ROOM  
Area 17

21. MEETING ROOM. This large room (150 feet east-west and 70 feet north-south), once used by the smugglers for meetings, contains furniture in disarray, a drinking fountain, and a skeleton on the floor.

Exits. There are two visible exits: In the center of the south wall, a short passage leads to the door from Area 17, and in the center of the west wall is a wooden door to Area 21. The latter is locked, and can either be opened with the key on the skeleton in Area 7, or by picking the locking. Beyond this door a short passage leads to Area 22 (to be described). 

Secret Door. There is also a small secret door in the center of the north wall, which can be opened by depressing a stone on the floor in front of it, allowing the door to swing inward into the room. Beyond the door is a 10 foot long passage leading north to a staircase down to Area 24.

Furnishings. The room contains two heavy wooden tables, each 10' long and 5' wide. One is upright near the eastern wall, and has five wooden chairs still around it, and a number of old candle stubs sitting upon it. The other lies on its side a few feet away from middle of the northern wall (it was unsuccessfully used to brace the secret door from being opened from the other side...). Scattered about the room are nine more intact chairs and the broken remains of ten chairs. In the northeastern corner of the room is a tall triangular cabinet, of sturdy wooden construction, filled with old pewter pitchers and drinking vessels. 

Drinking FountainIn the southeastern corner of the room is a small basin of water, which is fed by piper mounted in the rock above the basin, and which appears to drain through a hole in the bottom. The flowing water remains clear and is safe to drink. 

Remains. On the floor near the overturned table lies a non-animated skeleton, still wearing decaying leather armor and backpack, and with a dagger nearby. The skeleton is intact, except for its left hand, which is missing. The backpack contains a rusty set of lock picks, flint & steel, torches, and a fine triple-pronged grappling hook (worth 35 gp) attached to old rope, 50' in length (50% chance of breaking if used to support weight).

Dice Dragon. A dice dragon, once a companion to the smugglers, still nests in a crevice in the wall behind the top of the cabinet in the northeast corner. Its possessions include six gems (roll the value of each randomly on the gem table) and a shiny brass key that it found that will open the crypt doors in Area 24. It cannot speak, but has a bit of chalk to write with, and with friendly PCs will communicate an offer to gamble for the key if a gem of at least least 100 gp value is wagered.

Dice Dragon (1): DX 18, AC 2, HD 1+1, hp 6, #AT 1 bite for 1d6 or breath faerie fire 3x/day, target is +2 to be hit for 4d4 rounds

Chronologically on this blog, the previous installment described Areas 19-20 and the next posted installment will be Area 22.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

GROGTALK on Holmes Basic


GROGTALK on Twitter:
"During Grogcon22 Dan and James ran a Holmes basic dwarven forge game loosely based on the Hobbit. 
What if Bilbo didn’t go with the dwarves. Perhaps they would have had to face a Balrog!"

A recent episode the long-running podcast GROGTALK was devoted to discussing the Holmes Basic rules, and their experiences using it to run a game at GrogCon last fall.

You can find the it here:

Episode 112 – Playing Holmes Basic at Grogcon 22

The portion of the show dedicated to the Holmes Basic talk gets started at 40:28.

This audio recording is extracted from an even longer live video recording on the GROGTALK channel on YT. In this, the Holmes talk starts at about 2:30:08.

And as a follow-up to their Holmes Basic game, they've invited me to come on their show this Saturday morning as a guest. This will be broadcast live on their YT channel starting at 8 EST, and I should be on around 10 AM.