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Exploring the Underworld of Holmes BasicZenopus Archiveshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/14069501995927451558noreply@blogger.comBlogger464125
Updated: 19 hours 31 min ago

Expanded Ability Scores for the Holmes Ref

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 16:49
EXPANDED ABILITY SCORES (OPTIONAL) 
For all characters:

Strength 15 or more: +1 to hit, damage and open doors7 to 14: no bonus6 or less: -1 to hit, damage and open doors

From Gygax's OD&D House Rules, compiled here; also in line with the bonuses for NPCs mentioned in the Holmes Basic version of Keep in the Borderlands (e.g. the imprisoned Hero in the Caves of Chaos gets a +2 to hit and damage due to level and 18 strength). Also not far off from that used in Warlock, which Holmes used prior to editing the Basic rules. In Warlock Str 16+ gives a +1 to hit, and Str 13-17 gives +1 damage, 18 +2 damage.

Intelligence11 or more: one extra language per point over 1010 or less: no extra languages

From the rules as written
Wisdom15 or more: +1 to saving throws versus mental attacks (charm, fear, illusion, hold, etc)7 to 14: no bonus6 or less: -1 to saving throws versus mental attacks (charm, fear, illusion, hold etc)

Extrapolated based on the otherwise unexplained Wisdom Adj on the 1977 OD&D character sheet and the later AD&D PHB. Uses the same range as Gygax's house rules, where 15+ gains a bonus.
Constitution18: add 3 to each hit die17: add 2 to each hit die15 to 16: add 1 to each hit die7 to 14: no bonus6 or less: subtract one from each hit die but never less than 1
From the rules as written

Dexterity 13 or more:  fire any missile at +19 to 12: no bonus8 or less: fire any missile at -1
From the rules as written

Charisma18: up to 12 followers, +4 reaction rolls16 to 17: up to 7 followers, +2 reaction rolls13 to 15: up to 5 followers, +1 reaction rolls10 to 12: up to 5 followers
7 to 9: up to 3 followers
5-6: up to 2 followers, -1 reaction rolls
3-4: up to 1 follower, -2 reaction rolls
In the Holmes Basic rulebook, page 5, Holmes writes "A character of charisma below 13 can not hire more than 5 followers, and their loyalty will be luke-warm at best — that is, if the fighting gets hot there is a good probability they will run away. On the other hand, someone with a charisma of 18 can win over a large number of followers (men or monsters) who will probably stand by him to the death." 

This is a reference to the charisma table in OD&D Vol 1, page 11. There is a slight discrepancy as in the OD&D table a score of 10-12 gets 4 followers, not 5.

Things get a little complicated after this. The OD&D Charisma table also has bonuses for loyalty for the these followers, which modifies a loyalty score on page 13, which in turn modifies morale, which is not explained very clearly. Holmes didn't include the rules for loyalty scores or morale, perhaps due to their complexity. 

However, the text explaining the reaction table on page 12 of OD&D Vol 1, states that the roll is "adjust[ed] for charisma", which seems to indicate that the same charisma modifiers are also used with this table. Holmes included a reference to this in Basic on page 11, where the text explaining the reaction table there sasy "The DM should maek adjustments if the party spokesman has high charisma or offers other special inducements". Hence for our expanded table here, I've converted the loyalty bonuses to reaction adjustments. Moldvay treated this similarly in his version of Basic.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Some Thief Options for the Holmes Ref

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 19:00
SPECIAL RULES FOR DWARVES, ELVES AND HOBBITS WHO WISH TO BE THIEVES

Dwarf: +5% Open Lock, +15% Remove Trap, +5% Move Silently, +5% Hide in Shadows

Elf: +5% Pick Pocket, +10% Move Silently, +15% Hide in Shadows

Hobbit: +10% Open Lock, +5% Remove Trap, +5% Pick Pocket, +10% Move Silently, +10% Hide in Shadows, Hear Noise +1

These are from the Greyhawk OD&D supplement.

SPECIALISTS

Human thieves can specialize, raising skills by lowering others by equal amounts, to a minimum of 5%. This applies to each of the five skills that increase each level other than Climb Walls and Hear Noise. This gives a pool of 50 percentage points (50%) that can be adjusted at first level.

Some specialists that are possible at first level:

Picklock: 55% Open Lock

Disarmer: 55% Remove Trap

Filcher: 55% Pick Pocket 

Sneak: 55% Move Silently

Skulker: 55% Hide in Shadows

For each of these, the other four skills are 5% each (except Climb Walls and Hear Noise)

Higher levels:
For levels 2-6, each level yields an additional 25% to be distributed among the five skills,
For levels 7-8, each level yields an additional 35% per level to be distributed, and
For levels 9-11, each level yields an additional 50% per level to be distributed.
For levels 12 and up, each level yields an additional 25% to be distributed.

This option inspired by similar rules in 2E AD&D.

DEXTERITY

As the prime requisite of thieves is dexterity, it will affect their abilities as follows:

Dexterity of 15 or more: add 10% to each thief skill except hear noise
Dexterity of 13-14: add 5%
Dexterity of 9-12: no bonus
Dexterity of 7-8: subtract 10%
Dexterity of 6 or less: subtract 20%

This option inspired by Gary's OD&D houserules, which mention a bonus for a Thief  skill based on Dex, and the Dex modifiers in 1E AD&D.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dice of the Gods

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 14:36
POLYHEDRA DICE by CREATIVE PUBLICATIONS (photo source)

A suited man juggles five polyhedra dice - is this an early DM? No, more likely it is supposed to be a math teacher.

These photos were posted to the Acaeum recently (see this thread), and show a set of dice found with a OD&D White Box set. The dice themselves are the standard Polyhedra Dice sold by TSR in the '70s, which per Jon Peterson were sourced from a California company, Creative Publications. But the packaging they are in is something I've never seen before. The title, Polyhedra Dice, is identical to the title TSR used in their catalogs and product lists of the era (follow link to see an example). While the dice obscure some of the text, I can make out the letters "CREAT..." near the green 8-sider, indicating the original packaging was indeed supplied by Creative Publications, not TSR or another company.

Most of these dice that I've seen are ones from the Holmes Basic set, where they came in small sealed bag without a paper insert. The set was also sold separately (see catalog link above), and I had assumed these were sold in the same form. But possibly at some point TSR re-sold sets with the original CP packaging, or possibly this set was ordered directly from CP.

The back of the insert begins with the following paragraph:

"To the ancient Greeks the five regular solids (tetrahedron - 4 faces, hexhedron - 6 faces, octahedron - 8 faces, dodecahedron - 12 faces, icosahedron - 20 faces) were known as the "dice of the gods". They were prized for their beauty and believed to have strange, cosmic meanings"

Following this is a list of suggestions for using the dice, which are mostly obscured by the dice themselves.

See also: 
The Marked 20-sided Die
TSR Percentile Dice in the '70s


The dice set together with Men & Magic. Photo source same as above.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Danse Macabre Filmstrip (1963)

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 00:30


A re-post from 2013:

For Halloween, here's something haunting that I remember watching in music class in late elementary school, around the same time I discovered D&D (1982). It's a 1963 educational filmstrip with fantastic watercolors by Harold Dexter Hoopes, set to the eerie music of Danse Macabre by Saint-Saens. It was unavailable on the web until a few years ago but now there are multiple versions on YouTube, one of which has better colors but includes a loud "filmstrip advance" beep throughout. There isn't much info available on the internet about the artist Hoopes. There was even a blog dedicated to restoring the individual frames of this filmstrip but it seems to have stalled out at frame 20.

There's also a later second edition of the filmstrip done in the mid-80s with art by David Prebenna, later an illustrator of Sesame Street/Muppet toddler books. It's cartoony and less haunting, but also worth watching.

Memories of this filmstrip led me to include "Danse Macabre" in my One Hit Point Monsters.

Happy All Hallow's Evening!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Maze of Peril Chapter 1, Scene 2: "Rumors of the Fabulous Treasures of the Underworld"

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 12:42
This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club, indexed here.

The second short "scene" of the Maze of Peril is a few paragraphs of compact world-building that expands the setting outward from the Green Dragon to the surrounding town and the Underworld beneath it. I quoted most of this section in a 2012 post, The Underworld of Holmes. As I wrote there, the term "The Underworld" is straight out of Vol 3 of the Original Dungeons & Dragons rules, "The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures", being the original term used to refer to the vast multi-layer dungeons of the game.

The narrator tells us that Zereth and "every man in the [Green Dragon] tavern" knows the rumors of the treasure of the Underworld. Holmes uses a favorite turn of phrase, "fabulous treasures", which also appears in the introduction to the Basic rulebook ("The dungeons are filled with fearsome monsters, fabulous treasure and frightful perils") and the Sample Dungeon ("Whispered tales are told of fabulous treasure and unspeakable monsters in the underground passages"). 

The rumors draw all sorts of adventurers and other types to the "tiny town", indicating that it is special in the land in its relation to the Underworld. The name of the town, Caladan, is first given here, and is noteworthy in that it was previously used by Frank Herbert as the name of the homeworld of the Atreides in Dune. Chris Holmes said that his father was a fan of Herbert but didn't know of any other specific reason for its use.

The description of the Underworld, like the name, is very much in line with OD&D: "corridors of wealth, they were also tunnels of deadly peril" and "there must have been many layers of dungeons and underworlds laid down, one atop the other". But Holmes takes this concept further by giving a putative origin for these dungeons: they were built by a mysterious prehistoric race. This echoes the introduction to the Sample Dungeon, where "the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, pre-human city". As I wrote previously, this theme is "reminiscent of the pre-human alien civilization described in Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness (1931), who built vast underground cities in remote locations". Holmes never reveals any more details about the mysterious builders, so on this blog I later took the idea one step further, positioning Lovecraft's creatures in that story as Holmes' architects of the Underworld, to create a "new" monster for Holmes Basic called the Ancient Builder. The write-up for this monster now appears in the recently released Blueholme Journeymanne rules as the "Old Ones" entry in the Monster List.

While the rumors of the Underworld are well known in Caladan, the entrances are not. The narrator indicates that Zereth has been looking for information about an entrance but has not been successful. One reason that the entrances are not well known is that "many of the rash adventurers who set forth for the secret entrances to the fabled Underworld were never heard from again". Again, this fits with the story's origins in actual OD&D games, where many first level parties perish on their first expedition below.

In the next scene, Zereth will finally succeed in learning of an entrance.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Maze of Peril Chapter 1, Scene 1: "The Green Dragon Tavern Was Crowded, Dark, Noisy"

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 12:40
This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club, indexed here.

Having gone through the front matter, we move onto the actual stories. As a reminder, if you haven't read the stories yet, this is where the real spoilers will begin. I know, however, that exposure to spoilers will sometimes increase interest...

The first story in the book is the novel the Maze of Peril, which is the lengthiest Boinger and Zereth tale (11 chapters), and also the last published in 1986, at least until this volume which includes a previously unpublished story. As I go through each chapter, I'll refer to the parts of the chapters as "scenes". Essentially wherever Holmes placed a gap in the text, I'll refer to as a separate scene. This post will cover the first scene in Chapter 1. 

The Maze of Peril begins on page 1 of Tales of Peril with a title page, and then re-prints the original dedication from 1986 publication, which is made out to Gary Gygax, for the game; "Chris, Eric, Jeff and others" for creating the characters; and Tolkien, Lovecraft and Sprague de Camp for "literary inspiration". In Holmes' 1981 book, Fantasy Role-Playing Games, he talks further of literary inspiration for fantasy worlds, again mentioned Tolkien and de Camp among others; a quote from which can be read here. And in his 1980 essay, Confession of a Dungeon Master (reprinted further on in Tales of Peril), he mentions Lovecraft as one world-builder (along with Burroughs, Howard, Haggard, Merrit and Smith) that he drew upon for use in creating bits of his D&D campaign.

See also articles I've written about Holmes on Tolkien, Holmes and the Cthulhu mythos, and Holmes and de Camp.

Next there is a newly added two paragraph preface by Chris Holmes introducing the story. He reveals that his father initially hoped to publish more Boinger and Zereth novels, but had trouble finding a publisher for Maze of Peril, and then moved on to other projects. Chris further indicates that the story is a "close recreation of one of our first adventures in my father's dungeon".  

On the next page, the story begins. Chapter 1 is titled "Entrances", which I believe has a dual meaning: the entrance of the characters into the story, as well as the entrance to the Underworld that they discover.

I love the beginning of this story. It's exactly what you'd expect for a novel based on a D&D game, with an archetypical meeting of the characters in a tavern prior to their first adventure. And here we get to watch Boinger (along with his friend Bardan the Dwarf) and Zereth meet for the first time, and in the famous Green Dragon. Their meeting here also echoes the words from the introduction to the Sample Dungeon in the earlier Holmes Basic rulebook: "Humans and non-humans from all over the globe meet [in Portown]. At the Green Dragon Inn, the players of the game gather their characters for an assault on the fabulous passages beneath the ruined Wizard's tower".

The duo of Boinger and Zereth brings to mind other famous adventuring pairs, particularly Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Boinger and Zereth are interesting in that neither is human. As Holmes wrote in the quote above, human and non-humans gather at the Green Dragon. And with the addition of Bardan, the group includes each of the three original non-human player character races in OD&D: hobbit, elf, dwarf.

Zereth demonstrates his magic with a cantrip-like effect, heating Boinger's wine. The magic creates a "blue glow". Boinger enjoys the heated wine, saying that it improves the flavor. This is the first glimpse into his recurring love of food & drink.

Holmes scatters descriptions for the characters throughout. I'll collect them here as I read.

Boinger: Wears a grey hooded cloak, jacket of chainmail and sandals on his furry feet. From the "Meadow Country to the South". 

Zereth: Black hair, brown eyes, swarthy, high cheekbones, narrow chin, even white teeth. Jagged scar across left cheek. From "Labolinn" (more recently), but originally "of the Old People, the Elidel"; elsewhere referred to as "the Elfland". (This phrasing is perhaps a reference to Dunsany's the King of Elfland's Daughter.)

Bardan: Stocky, white beard, wears a "heavy iron helm with long Norman nosepiece", white beard, gruff voice. From the "Cold Mountains".

Green Dragon Tavern: The tavern is lit by a big central fire and a few tapers. A serving table near the entry way. The table they share in the back corner has wooden benches. Stout beer is served in wooden mugs, wine is served in "a horn cup with a metal base to hold it upright".

The first section ends with the first mention of the Underworld. Holmes then cuts to a description of the Underworld of his setting, which I'll get to in the next post.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Font Bundle with Futura

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 13:33
Design Cuts promo image for Futura
Here at the Zenopus Archives, Futura is our font. TSR used it in not only the Holmes Basic rulebook, but also the original printings of the LBBs and Greyhawk, the first four AD&D hardcovers, and certain modules of the time period such as the Keep on the Borderlands. Specifically, a combination of Futura Book (for ordinary type) and Futura Bold (for headers), as seen in this example from the Holmes rulebook:




If you are interested in obtaining Futura for use in free or commercial OSR projects, the version by the URW typeface foundry is currently available as part of a $39 font bundle deal that includes a license for commercial use. The ordinary price for all of the fonts in the bundle is supposedly $5088. As far as I can tell, the bundling company Design Cuts is legitimate, working with the various font owners to offer the bundle. This bundle is available for about 1 more week.

I bought the bundle last week & found the URW Futura to be sufficiently well done. It's not an exact match for the version used by TSR, being slightly more compact and taller, but probably close enough for most users. More about the various electronic renderings of Futura that are commercially available can be read in this Quora article from a few years back.

I plan to update the Holmes Ref sheets using the URW Futura, and will try to post an example later in the week.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tales of Peril - Front Matter

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 19:08
This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club, indexed here.

Previously I looked at the dust jacket for Tales of Peril. Here, I'll cover the "front matter" - all of the sections before the main content. I'll go over these briefly since I want to get to the actual stories, and because Allan covered a lot of this material in the previews on his blog, which are linked to below.

Signature Page - each copy of the first edition (200 numbered copies, plus comp copies for contributors) contains a page signed by Chris Holmes, Allan Grohe and myself. Allan has a picture of the signed page for copy #1 here. I had fun signing these pages in person together with Chris and Allan at the North Texas RPG Con in 2016 when we participated in a reading and discussion panel, which Allan has archived here. The signed pages were then bound into the books during printing.

Title Page - this uses the same evocative font for "Tales of Peril" as on the cover, which I believe is Perigord Regular.

Copyright Info - one page (v), the first numbered page.

Credits - one page (vi), a formal list of the contributors to the content and production. 

Thanks - one page (vii), acknowledgement of the work of various contributors and others who helped make the book possible.

Table of Contents - two pages (viii-ix). Allan shared the list of contents here. The chapters of Maze of Peril are listed out separately, a nice addition not found in the original printing. 

List of Illustration and Artwork - two pages (x-xi). Allan shared the list here. In addition to the covers by Ian Baggley, the interior art is primarily by Chris Holmes, with one story reprinting artwork by the late Jim Roslof from Dragon Magazine.

Introduction by Allan Grohe, two pages (xii-xiii). Allan gives an overview of Holmes' career, and discusses the organization of the tales in the book. These follow the development of the characters Boinger and Zereth, and so begin with the tale that chronicles their earliest adventures - the Maze of Peril. Allan briefly describes the non-fiction material in the book, and the work of the artists. Near the end, Allan teases a possible follow-up project: "Eric's cache of original manuscripts and campaign materials ... If Tales of Peril is well-received, these may be published in the future". There is a wealth of material here, I've personally seen more than a hundred images from this material, much of it hand-drawn maps by Holmes for adventures he mentioned in his writings!

Bonus content: Allan recently shared his Holmes Basic origin story, originally written up for an early draft of this introduction.

Onward to the Tales!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gary Con Game Approved

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 14:28

I'm registered for next year's Gary Con X and just had my game proposal approved. Here's the 'long' description, which per the submission form will appear on-line:

Return to the Tower of Zenopus

Forty years ago adventurers first braved the dungeon under the ruined tower of the wizard Zenopus. Fearsome monsters were overcome and fabulous treasure recovered, but the doom of Zenopus was never revealed. The stairway leading down to the dangerous passages was eventually bricked over by order of Lady Lemunda, current ruler of prosperous Portown. However, recently your party uncovered a previously unknown means of entry. What secrets remain to be discovered in the old dungeons? Meet at the Green Dragon Inn and adventure as Boinger, Zereth, Murray or another character from J. Eric Holmes' stories (pre-generated characters will be provided). This adventure from the Zenopus Archives celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Holmes Basic D&D set.

And the 'short' version, which I assume will appear in print:

Meet at the Green Dragon Inn and return to the dungeon under the ruined tower of the doomed wizard Zenopus, forty years after adventurers first braved the passages. What secrets remain to be discovered? Play as Boinger, Zereth, Murray or another character from J. Eric Holmes' stories. This adventure from the Zenopus Archives celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Holmes Basic D&D set.

I plan on running the game twice, once on Fri, once Sat. I requested 9 AM - 1 PM (4 hours) for each day, but they are not scheduling until they get more submission.

Submit your games here: http://garycon.com/events-submission/

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tales of Peril - Dust Jacket Flaps

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 20:27

In the previous post, we looked at the cover art for Tales of Peril. 
Moving inside, here are the contents from the dust jacket flaps:

Front Flap, upper: Quote from the Maze of Peril, Chapter 9, "Visible and Invisible", providing a preview of the battle against the Dagonites.

Front Flap, lower: List of contents. Focuses on highlights, and is more explanatory than the table of contents.

Back Flap, upper: Two paragraph biography of Holmes, different than the one that appeared at the back of the 1986 publication of Maze of Peril. It mentions his medical career, his Korean War service (which I don't think is well known), and gives an overview of his writing career.

Back Flap, lower: Photo of Holmes gaming. I've included a larger version of this photo above. Photo by Steve Pyryeztov. This photo is from the same session as the one near the front of Holmes' book Fantasy Role-Playing Games (1981).

In these photos we see Holmes running a game at his chalk board table in his basement. In his book, Holmes wrote "My own gaming table is spray-painted with "chalk board paint" so that the green surface can be marked with chalk and then, when the characters move on, a new set of doors and walls can be drawn around them. In this way, the little figures never move off the table, they only move to new positions as the scenery shifts around them" (pg 93). 

An earlier photo of Holmes at this same table can be see in the post, Holmes' Little Metal People Take II.

Looking at the above photo in more detail, we see chalked dungeon corridors, and Holmes pointing at a battle occurring at an intersection of these corridors. 

The wizard with staff held aloft vertically appears to be "ME4 Wizard" from Minifigs' Mythical Earth line. Thanks to Tony at the Cryptic Archivist for posting a picture of this figure in the Holmes Basic group recently. I'm sure some of our readers will ID some of the other minis.



Under Holmes' arms are visible at least three of the dime-store Hong Kong-manufactured monsters that inspired the Bulette of D&D. See this post by Tony DiTerlizzi, a former TSR artist, for more history and photos of these toys. I had several sets of these myself as a child. 

An AD&D Players Handbook rests on the table under the elbow of one player, so at this point (1980-81?) they were using the AD&D rules.

Behind the players are shelves of boxes filled with comic books. Each box has a comic, or just the cover, attached to it to show the contents. Between this picture and the one in the book, I can make out one cover for the Incredible Hulk Special 2 (1969). In this picture it's the barely visible box with the "K" to the right of the player with glasses. In the book, the Hulk is clearly visible on the cover.

This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tales of Peril - Cover Art

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 13:22
"Amazon Assault" by Ian Baggley, original art for the front cover of Tales of Peril 
Tales of Peril is a work of art, and the editor Allan Grohe deserves a round of applause for assembling such a beautiful tome.

The stunning front and back covers for Tales of Peril are by the artist Ian Baggley. They illustrate Underworld action scenes from the Maze of Peril novel, which I will mention again when we get to those portions of the story in the read-through.

I wasn't familiar with Ian's work prior to this, but his previous credits include the Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerors of Hyperborea RPG, as detailed by grodog here. His Tales of Peril contributor biography states that "he trained at the Toronto School of Art where he focused on drawing, portraiture and oil painting". 

A gallery of Ian's fantasy are can be seen here on his Deviant Art page. I've posted the images from this page above and below so you can see the original art used for the covers.

I love these shadowy brazier-lit compositions, completely fitting for a book that heavily features the mysterious and dangerous Underworld.

The subject matter of the front cover is striking - why is that ship in a cavern? - and the perspective draws your eye right into the scene and the book itself. The back cover subject matter brings to mind Dave Trampier's classic Players Handbook cover, with the giant statue with gem-like eyes, flanked by braziers. It's also sort of a zoom-in of the front cover, where the statue can be seen in background.


"Dagon" by Ian Baggley, original art for the back cover of Tales of Peril
This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tales of Peril Book Club

Tue, 09/05/2017 - 19:08


Now that Tales of Peril has been available for a few months, I'm starting a new blog series called the "Tales of Peril Book Club". For it I will read through the entirety of Tales of Peril and make post(s) for each chapter/section. I encourage you to read along with me, and the posts will be directed to those who do, and thus will contain spoilers. You have been warned!

I've already re-read the 1st chapter of the Maze of Peril and made several pages of notes, but the first post(s) will deal with covers/index/introduction/etc, so you have a bit of time to get the first chapter read. I expect writing notes/blog posts to take me longer than actually reading the chapters, so posting frequency may vary depending on my schedule. I may split some chapters up into multiple posts if they are getting long. We'll see how it goes.

If you still need a copy, see How to Order Tales of Peril from Black Blade Publishing

This post will eventually serve as an index for each of the posts in the series (to be updated).
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

D&D on Barsoom art by Chris Holmes

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 18:02

Dungeons & Dragons on Barsoom, artwork by Chris Holmes, 1980
This fantastic artwork by Chris Holmes shows John Carter battling a Thark, perhaps Tars Tharkas. Chris told me that the sheet was used a player recruitment sheet at a long ago Gen Con and it seems most likely this was 1980 (the art is signed "Chris Holmes 80"). 

The text reads: "Dungeons and Dragons on Barsoom. A Fantasy Role Playing Game on Edgar Rice Burroughs world of Mars. For 8 players Exp. Level 3. Free Event. No Prize. Meet at 10:00 AM SUNDAY Morning and we will try to find a place to play. Sign up below. Chris Holmes", with an update: "We are just to the left of this note".

J. Eric Holmes and Chris had run this same game at Gen Con 78 and 79 as listed in the program books for those conventions. The 1979 program book has the following brief description: "Ever wondered what happened when your character got teleported to Mars? Find out in this small tourney. One session." 

There are no games listed for the Holmes in the 1980 booklet, so I didn't know they had also run this scenario there too until I saw the above.

If you'd like to see more art work by Chris, the gallery on his website was updated recently. Plus there's artwork of his throughout the new Tales of Peril book

Gen Con 50 is this week. I won't be there, but if you are there is a museum where there will be a typed draft of original D&D.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Zenopus Dungeon Factions

Fri, 08/11/2017 - 21:29
Some thoughts on using the encounters in the Sample Dungeon as "factions" vying for control of the dungeon:

Thaumaturgist (Rooms F and S) - This evil magic-user's goal is "to take over the dungeon level". Allies include a charmed smuggler (2nd level fighter) and a pet giant snake. Other resources include his tower (home base), a wand of petrification and a captured ape in a cage.

Per Holmes' advice, I've generally had him react to intruders by fleeing and ordering his lackey to attack, but in the Portown Rumors I positioned him as a potential employer in town. Why not have him play the same role if first encountered in the dungeon? He might parlay with the PCs to get them to aid in taking over the dungeon. An easy first mission would be cleaning out the giant rats in nearby Room G. Other targets might be the goblins in Room A, the giant spider in Room J, the giant crab in Room L,  the pirates/smugglers in Room M, the ghouls in Room P, or any wandering monsters he's encountered.

Following Zenopus' demise, "[o]ther magic-users have moved into town", which I've taken to mean the thaumaturgist, but it also implies at least one other. Perhaps there is a rival M-U also searching for ancient treasures in the dungeon.

Another option is to have the thaumaturgist as a former apprentice of Zenopus who turned his master to stone and used him as the rotating statue in Room F. In this type of scenario there's the potential for restoring Zenopus with the scroll of stone to flesh. Another twist would be to place on the thaumaturgist on the town council, or perhaps as an advisor to one of the lords on the council.

Goblins (Room A) - this group lives in this huge room (120 x 120 feet, the largest in the dungeon) as evidenced by the beds (one for each goblin), tables and benches. Their total number is not defined as Holmes suggests adjusting it on the number of PCs. If goblins are encountered as wandering monsters on this level they could also be part of this group. If more goblins sneak into the area and join the group they may try to expand their area of control.

The only other clue that Holmes gives for goblins' motivations is survival - they will flee or surrender if half the number is killed, and will bargain duplicitously in order to escape. They have knowledge of "the dangerous trap rooms" although it is not clear what this refers to. The ambushing giant spider in nearby Room J is a possibility although it was much weaker in Holmes' original draft (only 1 HD), so I'm not sure if that is what Holmes was referring to. 

The goblins' room is very close to the entrance to the dungeon, with no other encounters between, and they could easily slip to the surface to steal food from the town; in Portown Rumors this activity is responsible for one of the rumors.

They have a good deal of coin (1000 SP, 2000 CP), which means they might be working for someone, perhaps the thaumaturgist. If the PCs offer more money, the goblins would probably provide information or cooperation for the time.

One of their chests is trapped with a sleeping gas. In my version I've added that they know how to make this gas and store in it breakable vials, for use as "sleep bombs" (ala the Green Goblin) to help them escape.

Pirates (Room M) - Another group of indeterminate number; there at least four but with a 1 in 4 chance every turn of 2-5 more arriving with no limit indicated. This group is mainly concerned with maintaining their sea cave hideout in the sea cave. They have a dangerous "guard dog" in the form of the hungry octopus they feed as they row in to keep from attacking them. They are also described as smugglers but are probably not currently moving the goods into town through the dungeon due to the various dangerous monsters in the way. But having them use the dungeon for transport could be a motivation for having them vie for control of the dungeon. Alternately, if their lair is threatened they may go seeking revenge on the offending party. 

The force in Room M are all described as normal men, but they had at least one former member who was a 2nd level fighter (now charmed by the thaumaturgist). This raises the possibility of stronger leaders that are currently elsewhere. If they feel threatened by the town they might assemble a larger force and stage a raid. In this way the current force in Room M could be used as advance force similar to the bandits watching the Keep in the wilderness in B2. 

They have Lemunda the Lovely prisoner. Did they kidnap her with the goal of ransoming her? Or did they catch her spying on them and are now debating what to do?

Ghouls (Room P) - These undead are tied to the cemetery in an ambiguous manner. The room contains some smashed coffins (their own or someone else's?) and the east door "leads to a short dirt tunnel which ends blindly under the cemetery". The coda to the adventure indicates something is going on there: "What inhuman rites are being practiced deep in the ghoul haunted passages beneath the graveyard?" This implies cult activities, which could be another faction. Perhaps the cultists are animating dead bodies - skeletons, zombies, ghouls. The cult would have a leader, possibly an evil curate (5th level Cleric) and many lower level acolytes (Level 1). Perhaps they carry a "sigil" that keeps their undead minions from attacking them. To increase the presence of this faction in the Sample Dungeon, we could add a roving band of cultists to a Wandering Monster table for the level.

Rats (Rooms G, N and RT) - These are not intelligent, but there are many ("there is no end to the rats"). Add a controlling were-rat or two (or even a vampire!) with a base somewhere in the rat tunnels and there's another faction vying for control of the dungeon.

Townsfolk - While the citizens of Portown are not ordinarily encountered in the dungeon, they've got a stake in it since it is under their town and the denizens may pose a threat. Per the coda of the adventure, the townspeople may not take kindly to trouble stirred up from below ("tampering with Things Better Left Alone"). This brings the possibility of invoking the "Angry Villager Rule" - "Anyone who has viewed a horror movie is aware of how dangerous angry villagers are"  (see OD&D, Vol 3, page 24).

However, if the PCs gain some prominence - such as by rescuing Lemunda - the town leaders would probably support any efforts to defeat any and all of the above factions. The form of government is not specified, but Lemunda's father (who I've named Leomund) is described as "a powerful lord in the city above". This implies more than one "lord" to the city, and the intro refers to "the authorities", so perhaps there is a ruling council of lords. Gygax's guidance regarding the Castellan in B2 (see page 7) could be useful for role-playing a town leader such as Leomund and his reaction to the party's exploits.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Portown Adventuring Eras

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 11:39
This is a brief outline of the history Portown, including adventures that could be set in each time period. The dates are set in YBB (Years Before Basic) or YAB (Years After Basic). Some are from the Holmes Sample Dungeon, the rest are extrapolations:

Prehistory: An "pre-human city" of "doubtful history" exists in the future site of Portown. Vast layered underworld constructed by the Ancient Builders.

~500 YBB: Portown founded to link "caravan routes from the south to the merchant ships" traveling the Northern Sea. Catacombs constructed, former Lords of Portown buried in sarcophagi (Room N)

100 YBB: Zenopus arrives, builds tower on hill over sea cliffs to west of town and near graveyard. Green Dragon Inn established.

~75 YBB: Zenopus excavates beneath his tower. Adventure of the era: Zenopus hires PCs to investigate pre-human tunnels under his tower.

50 YBB: Tower engulfed in green flame, Zenopus vanishes. Adventure of the era: Investigate disappearance of Zenopus

~45 YBB: Town demolishes 'haunted' tower. Adventure of the era: Investigate haunted tower prior to demolition

~5 YBB: Thaumaturgist arrives, builds or moves into a short tower (Room S) not far from the Zenopus ruins.

0 YBB/YAB: Present day. Lord Leomund (Level 10 Fighter) is the ruler of Portown. His daughter Lemunda has just gone missing. The Green Dragon Inn a popular gathering place. Pirates and smugglers are very active on the Northern Sea. Bodies are going missing from the graveyard (possibly being transformed into the ghouls (Room P) by cultists). 

Adventures of the era: Sample Dungeon as written, including rescue Lemunda. 
Investigate cult activities (possibly adapt a Call of Cthulhu scenario?)

5-35 YAB: Quiet years. Old dungeon entrance sealed by Lord Leomund.

40 YAB: Lady Lemunda (now a L10+ Fighter) now ruler. Adventure of the era: Return to the Tower of Zenopus, deal with new threat(s) in the old dungeon. Pirate & cultists have merged/transmogrified into Dagonites.

(Revised from a post on G+, thanks to Andy C for suggesting I add the "pre-history" era)

See also: Portown Rumors (which are all in relation to the "Present Day" time period)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs