Zenopus Archives

Subscribe to Zenopus Archives feed
Exploring the Underworld of Holmes BasicZenopus Archiveshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/14069501995927451558noreply@blogger.comBlogger533125
Updated: 2 months 1 week ago

A Brief History of Tolkien RPGs by John Rateliff

Fri, 09/27/2019 - 18:31
John Rateliff showing off the prototype cover art for TSR's canceled Middle-Earth game
It's once again Tolkien Week, the week containing Hobbit Day (Sep 22nd, Bilbo & Frodo's birthday). Recently there's been some talk on EnWorld and the Piazza about TSR's failed attempt to license Middle-Earth in 1992. A post on the Piazza thread by Falconer led me back to where this was originally revealed: a very interesting talk entitled "The Brief History of Tolkien RPGs" by John Rateliff, given as his guest-of-honor speech at MERPcon in August 2008. Rateliff is the author of the History of the Hobbit and also a former TSR editor and author, where his works included the excellent Return to the Keep on the Borderlands.

His talk is available in two formats: 

(1) A series of posts of the same name on his blog, Sacnoth's Scriptorium. I've been following this for years (since ~2012), but this series is even older (2008) and I'd never come across it before. 

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV

(2) A video/audio recording posted on YT. It's over an hour long and is interrupted by many audience questions & comments, but is an enjoyable watch/listen (but if you just listen you'll miss out on some of his exhibits, like the prototype cover for TSR's canceled ME game).

Tolkien Moot 2008 MerpCon IV John D. Rateliff solo speech History of the Hobbit authorhttp://tolkienmoot.org John D. Rateliff, author of The History of the Hobbit at MerpCon 4 Tolkien Moot 2008. Tolkien Moot is an annual Tolkien convention sponsored by the Inland Empire Tolkien Society for fans and scholars, enthusiasts, and Tolkien role-playing gaming gamers of J.R.R.

* * * * *
Earlier Tolkien posts on this blog that you may have missed:
1973 Preview of Mythical Earth MinifigsGreen Dragon Miniature (Mythical Earth Minifig)Beren and Luthien (2017)Gygaxian Orc Tribes (originally derived from Tolkien)Tolkien's Wild HobbitsHobbits as the Rangers of BasicRIP Arthur Rankin JrBeornings [Aurania]The Endless Caverns of Tu (D&D in Middle-Earth campaign idea)Tolkien Lives at WaldenbooksHobbit Day 2013Hobbit Day 2012Two new Hobbit BooksThe Hobbit Animated (1964)Centaurs and Samurai and Werebears, updatedBalrog by Greg BellHolmes on TolkienSummary of Tolkien references in the Blue BookBalrogs in the Blue BookBalrog PCs gone missing Green Dragon InnGreen Dragon Inn, part II (Greyhawk's version)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Bayt Al Azif #2: Unboxing Video

Thu, 09/19/2019 - 14:37

Over on YouTube, MaxWriter* has an unboxing video of the print-on-demand of issue 2 of Bayt Al Azif. He pages through all of the articles, so at 4:33 in the video you can get a glimpse of the reprint of Holmes' 1983 review of Call of Cthulhu and Chris Holmes' new art that accompanies it. For more details see my previous post. 

Purchase link:

Bayt al Azif issue 2
(link includes my DrivethruRPG affiliate number)
*MaxWriter also has a long-running thread at ODD74, "Role Playing Journals", that details  game sessions he's run.

Bayt Al Azif #2 UnboxingThe second issue of Bayt Al Azif is out and it looks as amazing as the first. It's available as a softcover, hardcover, and PDF. Check it out. Bayt Al Azif Issue #2 - https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/246849/Bayt-al-Azif-2-A-magazine-for-Cthulhu-Mythos-roleplaying-games Hi everyone - I'm Andy and I've been doing Minecraft videos for some time in addition to IRL stuff and tabletop roleplaying games.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Holmes' 1983 review of the Call of Cthulhu RPG: Rediscovered and republished in Bayt Al Azif #2

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 12:45
Cover art by Jensine Eckwall
A major announcement for Holmes enthusiasts: in 1983 Holmes wrote a review of the then relatively new Call of Cthulhu RPG (by Sandy Petersen), for the inaugural issue of the short-lived Gameplay Magazine (February '83 to April '84), a periodical similar to Dragon but with much more of a general gaming focus. I was completely unaware of this major piece by Holmes ⁠— one of his last in the field of writing about RPGs ⁠— until recently when the long-lost article was rediscovered by Tony A. Rowe of the Cryptic Archivist blog. The original 1986 author bio for the Maze of Peril novel mentions that Holmes had articles in several magazines including Gameplay, but after finding a computer game review he wrote in a later issue (detailed in the Holmes bibliography) I had assumed that was all he had written for that publication. Not so. The review, which is a two full pages as originally published, is written in his characteristic engaging and genre-fan style and includes anecdotes and advice based on CoC games that he himself had run, as well as providing more fodder for a Holmes "Appendix N"

And now, with the permission of Chris Holmes, I am thrilled to announce that this article is once again in print in the second issue of the Cthulhu RPG magazine Bayt Al Azif, along with brand new illustration by Chris of a scene from one of those actual-play stories (!), and a half-page of commentary on the review by myself (bringing the total to 3 full-pages):

Bayt al Azif issue 2
(link includes my DrivethruRPG affiliate number)
Both digital and hardcopy are available through the above link. This second issue is longer ⁠— 108 pages ⁠— than the the first, and once again includes a wide variety of articles of interest to the Cthulhu RPG enthusiast, including multiple scenarios set in different eras. Here's a screenshot of the Table of Contents:

Thanks to Tony for locating and scanning the original article, to Chris for agreeing to reprint it and providing accompanying art, and to the editor Jared Smith for accepting it for his magazine and doing the layout.

See also the earlier post about my article for the first issue of Bayt al Azif.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Holmes Games at Pacificon

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 15:33
"Tegel Manor mapping" by Guy Fullerton showing a marked 20-sider in use
Over at K&KA Alehouse and Dragonsfoot, Guy Fullerton has posted a con report from Pacificon Game Expo 41, which took place this past Labor Day weekend in Santa Clara, CA, which includes two different Holmes Basic games he played in.

These included Tegel Manor DM'd by Thom Hall:

Open Role Playing
Fri 7 PM
to 11 PM
(4 hrs)R-475: Tegel Manor
Presented by Thom HallHolmes Edition Basic D&D published by TSR
Regular signup, room for 6 players
Regular Game, New to gaming, Characters/Armies Supplied, All Ages
Location: Prospector 1 - ADescription:Bob Bledsaw's Tegel Manor published by Judges Guild in 1977. Tegel Manor, a great manor-fortress on the seacoast, is rumored to be left over from ancient days...

...and a Holmes + Greyhawk City State of the Invincible Overlord game DM'd by DF/ODD74 member peterlind, which I didn't see on the event listing.
Guy also ran two sessions of AD&D himself:
Open Role Playing
Sat 9 AM
to 3 PM
(6 hrs)R-321: The Mere Beneath
Presented by Guy FullertonAD&D 1st Ed. published by TSR
Regular signup, room for 6 players
Regular Game, General gaming experience, Characters/Armies Supplied, Thirteen and older
Location: Prospector 1 - ADescription:Descend a waterfall to explore the watery caverns, and plunder an ancient Hydromancer fortress. Exploration (no plot) and danger (no fudging). Lvl 4-5
Open Role Playing
Sun 9 AM
to 3 PM
(6 hrs)R-323: The Garden of al-Astorion
Presented by Guy FullertonAD&D 1st Ed. published by TSR
Regular signup, room for 6 players
Regular Game, General gaming experience, Characters/Armies Supplied, Thirteen and older
Location: Monterey - ADescription:Rumors say this secluded valley contains a garden of enchanted fruit trees, and gems the size of eggs. Your party surely has the strength to drive off the primitive beast-men within, and reap the rewards. Classic module by Gabor Lux, aka Melan. Exploration (no plot) and danger (no fudging). Lvl 6-9
Now that you've read the event descriptions, head over and read about how the games went.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Legend of Terminatur the Forest Gnome

Sun, 08/25/2019 - 00:21
An amazing, simultaneously heartwarming & heartbreaking story I was sent on Twitter today. This is why you should play RPGs with your relatives. I recently came across a few notes from the single time my son (age 6 at the time) ran a D&D game for me and my late mother, and wish we'd played that way again.

Link: https://twitter.com/AntnHz/status/1165011404086284289


Antoine H. on TwitterMy grandmother passed away. Her funerals were today, but here I'd like to talk about the most important thing I couldn't spend too much time on in her eulogy: her love for Dungeons & Dragons. #DnD
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Zenopus Game at Dragonflight 40

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 01:34

Above are two photos from a "Beneath the Ruined Tower of Zenopus" game that was run at Dragonflight 40 in the Seattle area this past weekend. This is a venerable con, held every year since 1980, the era of Holmes Basic itself. From the event listing for the session:

"50 years ago, the citizens of Portown battered the wizard's tower to rubble. But has an even greater evil arisen? Pirates grow bold, the innocent have vanished, and ghastly screams are heard from the abandoned graveyard near the ruins. An adventure using the original (1977) Dungeons and Dragons basic rules. Pregens provided (or roll your own)."
The shots were taken by Scott M. of the Halls of Tizun Thane blog, who played in the game. Scott reports they used some of my Holmes Ref sheets; I can see the 1-page Character Creation Worksheet. I also see print-outs of Paleologos' Map of Portown.

Scott reports that during the game "[w]e followed a rumor of scratching noises at a ladies' house with her dead husband's loot in the basement" and "[I] sent in my guy Gutboy Barrelhouse (Dwarf) and a Hobbit first. We eventually got to a place where we saw flickering lights (which rats can't make) so we got the rest of the party to follow (hands and knees at first)". After that they "[e]nded up exploring the dungeons most of the session".

That sounds like Portown Rumor #18! It's great to hear about this stuff being used.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Holmes' 1946 Letter to a Pulp

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 16:34

Above is "Advice", a letter from a sixteen-year-old John Eric Holmes to Famous Fantastic Mysteries, a fantasy and sci-fi pulp magazine, with many enthusiastic suggestions for older stories they might republish. The letter appeared on page 127 of the April 1946 issue. Many thanks to Michael Calleia for locating this artifact in the Internet Archive!

At the time of writing this letter, Holmes attended the Punahou School in Honolulu where he lived with his parents; his father Wilfred "Jasper" Holmes taught engineering at the University of Hawaii, both before and after WWII. Wilfred had remained on the island during the war, serving as an intelligence officer in the Navy, about which he later wrote a book, Double-Edged Secrets (1979). Wilfred was himself an author of fiction, having written naval adventure stories under the pseudonym Alec Hudson since the '30s, the majority published in the Saturday Evening Post.

According to an interview with John Martin, at the age of eight Eric discovered the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and was even able to meet the author at his house in Hawaii and have a Tarzan book signed. And then around the time he turned ten, Eric found "the pulps". The author bio for his short story "Martian Twilight" (1991), states that "he read S. J. Perelman's review of the first issue of CAPTAIN FUTURE in the THE NEW YORKER's "Talk of the Town," [January 1940] and discovered the pulps. He has been a dyed in the wool fan ever since". While most of his recommendations in "Advice" are for "Weird Fiction" authors, he was also a fan of the adventure side of the pulps. His son Chris Holmes relays in "John Eric Holmes - The Books" that "[h]is favorite pulp hero, next to Captain Future, was Doc Savage. He also enjoyed the Shadow, the Spider, the Avenger and Fu Manchu."

Famous Fantastic Mysteries (FFM) was published from 1939-1953, and Fantastic Novels (FN) was a companion magazine published in 1940-1941. The stories that Holmes did not favor are "The Machine Stops" by E. M. Forster Wayland Smith, and "Before I Wake" by Henry Kuttner, both of which appeared in the March 1945 issue of FFM. When he refers to them as being like the fiction in Cosmopolitan, he is not referring to a fashion magazine, but an earlier incarnation that was a popular fiction magazine published by Hearst. A story he did favor, Machen's "The Novel of the White Powder", had appeared in the November 1944 issue of FFM. Presumably, Holmes was pleased that his letter appeared together in an issue that also included a reprint of Blackwood's classic "The Willows" (1907), as teased on the cover, and perhaps suggesting that the editors had listened to his advice:

Eric would graduate from Punahou the following year (1947), when his yearbook bio noted that he "keeps busy trying to crash the pulp market". Eventually he had a single story, the military sci-fi "Beachhead on the Moon", appear in the pulp Blue Book in 1951, when he was a psychology student at Stanford.

Eric Holmes remained a lifetime fan of these authors. Thirty years after this letter, he would write an authorized sequel to Burroughs' Pellucidar series, Mahars of Pellucidar (1976), as well a further unpublished continuation, Red Axe of Pellucidar. And I've described his role in bringing the Lovecraftian Mythos into D&D in the later '70s. Chris Holmes indicates that [h]e read everyone in the "Lovecraft Circle" and his favorite of Lovecraft's influences were William Hope Hodgson and Arthur Machen". In 1988, while living in the UK, Eric sent a short report describing a meeting of the Machen Society (an appreciation club) to the fanzine Crypt of Cthulhu, published in issue 57.

From this list, we can also see how from an early age Eric Holmes was "primed" to embrace D&D when it appeared in the mid-70's. While only three of the authors he suggests are are also found in Appendix N (Burroughs, Dunsany and Lovecraft, with an earlier version in Dragon also including Blackwood), the majority were strong influences on Lovecraft; all except Burroughs, Collier, Roberts and Taine are mentioned in H.P. Lovecraft's essay Supernatural Horror in Literature.

Authors Recommended for the Pulps by Holmes in 1946, in "Appendix N" format

Blackwood, Algernon

Burroughs, Edgar Rice

Chambers, Robert W. — THE KING IN YELLOW (1895)

Collier, John

Dunsany, Lord (Edward Plunkett) — TIME AND THE GODS, THE BOOK OF WONDER (1912), THE BLESSING OF PAN (1927)

Hodgson, William Hope

Lovecraft, H.P. — THE DREAM QUEST OF THE UNKNOWN KADATH (composed 1927, first published by Arkham in 1943)

Machen, Arthur — THE GREAT GOD PAN (1894), THE THREE IMPOSTERS (1895, includes "The Novel of the Black Seal" and "Novel of the White Powder"), THE RED HAND (1895), THE HOUSE OF SOULS (1906 compilation, includes "The Shining Pyramid" (1895) and "The White People" (1904))

Roberts, Charles  — IN THE MORNING OF TIME (1919)

Smith, Clark Ashton 

Taine, John — THE IRON STAR (1930)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OD&D Half-Orcs

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 12:54
Orc or Half-Orc? 

An Orc by Greg Bell from OD&D Vol 1, looking more human than later depictions...

Half-orcs were first introduced into D&D in late 1977 in the Monster Manual in a section at the end of the entry for Orcs, which notes orc-human hybrids as just one type among others (orc-goblins, etc). Following Gygax's pattern of briefly introducing concepts and then expanding on them in later rulebooks, the next year's AD&D Players Handbook added them as a full-fledged character race. Here I imagine what the entries might have been had they been introduced back in the original D&D booklets and then carried forward.
Fictional LBB entry:
"Half-orcs: Generally feared, but characters are assumed to be of the rare type able to pass as human. While they may opt only for the fighting class, due to their warlike nature they may progress up to 9th level (Lord). They are able to speak the language of Orcs, and see well in dimness or dark but do not like bright light as noted in CHAINMAIL. Tribal affiliation should be noted (Orcs of the Mountains, etc) as there is often great inter-tribal hostility".
Fictional Greyhawk entry:
"Half-Orcs: Half orcish and half human, they are on average about five and half-feet in height, muscular in build, and weigh 180 pounds. Characters are assumed to be among the rare 1 in 10 half-orcs that can manage to pass as human. Like half-elves they gain some abilities from each heritage. Half-orcs have infravision and can see monsters up to 60' away in the dark."
In addition to working up to 9th level in fighter, half-orcs can work up to the 5th level (Cutpurse) as a thief, and those with 17 or 18 dexterity can work up as high as 6th level (Sharper) or 7th level (Pilferer), respectively. Half-orcs can work simultaneously as fighters and thieves, but no bonuses for abilities above the normal are then given, and earned experience is always divided evenly even if the half-orc can no longer progress in the thief class. When acting as thieves, half-orcs can wear only leather armor. 
Half-orcs with a wisdom score of 9 or more may also become Anti-Clerics (Clerics for Chaos), and only working up as high as 3rd level (Village Priest). If they so opt all experience will be divided in equal proportion between fighting and clericism."
Blackmoor would then add half-orc assassins with unlimited advancement.
Fictional Holmes entry:
"Half-Orcs — are part orcish and part human, about five and half-feet tall and muscular in build, weighing 180 pounds. Most look orcish, although the rare individual appears mostly human. Due to their competitive and combative nature they excel as members of the fighting class. Half-orcs have infravision and can see 60 feet in the dark, and can speak Common, albeit in a gruff and ungrammatical fashion, and the language of Orcs. A tribe of origin should be noted, such as Orcs of the Vile Rune, as the different tribes cooperate poorly and often fight among each other.
Also, in the CREATING CHARACTERS section add a minimum of 13 Strength and a maximum of 12 Charisma.
Notes: -The level limits are reverse engineered from AD&D. For other races, most of the maximum level limits of the LBBs are one lower than that in AD&D. So, a max fighter level of 10 in AD&D gives them a corresponding max level of 9 for the LBBs (this limit is not modified by Strength as this doesn't factor in AD&D for Half-Orc Fighters).
-For OD&D, no ability score adjustments as these are AD&D additions; dwarves, elves, and hobbits don't get ability score adjustments in OD&D.

-For the Holmes entry I modified the assumption that characters appear human, as he was less humanocentric than Gygax and half-orcs appear in several Boinger and Zereth stories:

  • "Trollshead" (Dragon #31) has a number of half-orc brigands. Being brigands, these wouldn't need to look human.
  • "The Sorcerer's Jewel" (Dragon #46) has four half-orc servants of a lady in town; this is what I was thinking of - they are quickly recognizable as half-orcs to Boinger, so that indicates they aren't mistaken for humans. So orcish-looking half-orcs are okay in town in Holmes' imagined setting.
  • "Witch-Doctor" (bonus story in Tales of Peril) also has a relatively civilized half-orc character.
Written up for a post in response to a query on OD&D Discussion.
See also:

20 OD&D Backgrounds which includes "Orcish".

Gygaxian Orc Tribes
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Save or Die! Podcast #154

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 13:43

I recently had the pleasure of returning as a guest on the podcast Save or Die!, this time with DMs Carl, Courtney and Chrispy, and it is now available for listening:
Save or Die! Adventure 154 - Holmes Basic
"The three hosts are together again in the latest Save Or Die! where we talk Holmes Basic with our guest the Arch Zenopus himself Zach of the Zenopus Archives. A SOD favorite gets reexplored as we take a deep dive into what makes Holmes Basic such an endearing part of D&D history."Also, don't miss the Actual Play of the dungeon run by Carl, the first part of which is at the end of the episode (I'm not part of this).

Links for Further Reading on Topics Discussed on the Show:

The Warlock D&D Rules

Holmes Manuscript Part 3: "Elves Muse Decide"

Holmes Manuscript Part 16, covering attacks per round in combat

Holmes Manuscript Part 10, section on Magic Missile

Holmes Manuscript Part 17, section on The Parry

Article on origins of the Ochre Jelly and Blob

Summary of Tolkien References in the Blue Book

Holmes Manuscript Part 19: "If One Wanted to Use a Red Dragon..."

Holmes Manuscript Part 46: "Zenopus Built a Tower": intro to the Sample Dungeon

Zenopus Dungeon Factions, including the Thaumaturgist

Article in a New Cthulhu Zine, Bayt Al Azif issue #1

The Tower of Zenopus in Ghosts of Saltmarsh

Earlier Save or Die episodes that may be of interest:

Side Adventure 20: NTRPGCon Wrap Up 6/14/19 --- at 17:30 Carl talks about how I guested as his version of Zenopus in his Sat night Discos & Dragons game

Side Adventure 16: Favorite Boxed Set 1/7/19 --- at 8:50 Carl talks about Holmes Basic and mentions this site

Side Adventure 14: House Rules! with guest Chris Holmes 10/6/18

Episode 124: Save vs. Zenopus 7/17/16 --- my previous occasion as guest

Adventure 136: Michael Thomas on Journeymanne Rules 5/16/17

Side Adventure 12: J. Eric Holmes Seminar NTRPGCon 8/14/16 --- Audio recording of a  panel with Chris Holmes, Allan Grohe & myself 

Episode 122: Save vs. Chris Holmes 5/11/16

Episode 117: Save vs. Blueholme 11/16/15 --- guest Michael Thomas

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

d12 Hauntings in the Dungeon of Zenopus

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 12:54
Detail from a Clarkson Stanfield illustration"...but then neighbors and the night watchmen complained that ghostly blue lights appeared in the windows at night, that ghastly screams could be heard emanating from the tower at all hours, and goblin figures could be seen dancing on the tower roof in the moonlight". As told in the introduction to the Sample Dungeon, after the demise of Zenopus his tower was haunted by mysterious forces until it was destroyed by the town. While this stopped the above ground hauntings, it seems likely they would continue in the passages beneath. To this end, here I've written out 12 possible  hauntings that may visit a party exploring the dungeon. You might add a chance of one appearing when making a wandering monster check (e.g., a 1 on the d6 is a standard wandering monster, while a 2 is instead a haunting). The ones marked with a star should only appear once.

1*. An insane antiquarian (DX 10, AC 5, HD 0, hp 2, #AT 1 fists for 1 point) wearing an octopoid crown rushes the party, yelling for submission to the eight-armed sea queen, and pummeling whoever is closest. The antiquarian will (temporarily?) regain sanity if the crown is removed and they are brought out of the dungeon. The crown was found in an ancient chamber discovered when a cellar was excavated in Portown, and cannot be removed once worn (treat as a cursed ring of protection +2 that slowly drives the wearer mad).

2. A column of sickly green flame, 5' wide and 10' high, spouts from the floor (1-3 = ahead 10-100', 4-5 = behind, 6 = directly under party). All viewing it feel increasingly queasy (save versus spells each round or flee for 1d6 rounds). If touched or hit, the cold flame suddenly leaps on to the attacker and burns away vital forces (one point of Constitution per round; make a new save to break away). Once Con is exhausted, the victim's flesh withers, leaving an animated skeleton wearing their equipment. For survivors, Con is regained at the same rate. The column burns for 1d6 rounds after last touched. 

From the HP Lovecraft wiki
3*. An old skeleton (DX 6, AC 6, HD 1/8, hp 2, #AT 1 touch with green fire) wearing tattered blue robes totters unsteadily down the corridor. A cold green flame burns in its eye sockets. It feebly attempts to grab anyone approaching within 20 feet (the limit of its "sight"). If touched or hit, the green flame reacts as in #2 above. If the skeleton is destroyed the fire burns for 1d6 rounds. It wears a gold ring with an italicized "Z", value 50 gp. This is a former servant of Zenopus slain when the green flame engulfed the tower fifty years prior.
4. A ghostly blue light illuminates the corridor, slowly coalescing into a shape vaguely like a blue-robed figure. If the party lingers, the character with the highest Intelligence must save versus spells. If they save, the spirit will assault the next most intelligent character, and so forth. Failure results in a whispering in the mind urging the character to spend the night in the dungeon (save again to leave). Each night in the dungeon temporarily drains a point of Wisdom, until zero when they are under control of the spirit, which is that of a sinister wizard from the past, wishing to return to life (optionally, this is Zenopus himself).

Cover art for "L'Affaire Charles Dexter Ward"
5. A lone ghastly scream is suddenly heard in the distance, but the direction is not clear, and it is not immediately repeated. Roll again for a chance of a wandering monster.
6. A shadowy goblin-sized figure (DX 18, AC 2, HD 1, hp 5, #AT 1 claws for 1d6) hangs from a wall at the edge of the party's light source. It hisses and dances away if the light advances. This is one of many small otherworldly familiars summoned by Zenopus to aid in his laboratory, and now trapped in our world. If a magic-user approaches alone and converses with the creature it may agree to serve as a familiar (make a reaction roll).

From "A Special Trick" by Mercer Mayer

7*. An armored zombie (DX 8, AC 5, HD 2, hp 8, #AT 1 claws every other round for 1d8) begins following the party. It does not attack unless attacked itself. An unsuccessful adventurer, it seeks the way back to town. It wears chainmail, a helmet and a leather backpack, which holds equipment and a note from one Griselda of Portown, dated months ago. If destroyed and the body returned to Griselda she will reward the party with 100 GP. If the party does not destroy the zombie, it will follow them out and return to her on its own.

8. A salty sea fog rolls across the floor and begins to fill the corridor or room. Each round it grows 1 foot higher, continuing no matter how far the party travels during this time, until it reaches the ceiling. Once, this occurs visibility is reduced to 1 foot (and all attacks are made at -2). After 1d6 turns, the mist will dissipate. 
9. A wind of fine sand picks up, gentle at first but but increasing in speed and particle size to a hail of pebbles and then a gale of rocks. All torches are extinguished in 1d6 rounds, and all who stay in place may take damage (roll an attack by 5 HD monster for 1d6 damage each round) before it subsides (2d6 rounds). The wind can be avoided by finding cover or going around a corner, as it only blows in a straight line.
10*. A ghostly crabber stalks the party from fifty feet behind; loud wet footsteps are heard. The ghost is covered in sucker marks and kelp (a victim the pirates fed to the giant octopus). If the party halts it stops and wordlessly points in the direction of the pirates (Cave M). If approached, it vanishes and reappears behind them. This keeps up until vengeance against the pirates is achieved, when it fades away, leaving a golden crab worth 1,000 gp.

Ghost of a Drowned Fisherman by Michael Wandelmeier
11*. The shadow of each character begins to divide, forming a second one doubling the first. Each turn there is a 1 in 6 chance of noticing this; after 1d6 turns the shadows detach and attack the respective characters (if unnoticed, surprise is on 1-3 in 6). Each character fights their own shadow (AC 9, HD 1, hp equal to character, #AT 1 shadow weapon for 1d4). Extinguishing all light will delay the progression for an equal amount of time. 

12*. The enormous bloated corpse of a former Portown bon vivant and charlatan slowly shuffles towards the party. It smells terrible, and mutters in a strange multi-voiced manner. It is not undead, but is instead animated from within by larvae (human-headed hellworms; see the Monster Manual for a description). If struck by any weapon it explodes in a shower of swamp gas (save vs poison or attack at -2) and larvae (2d4 total; AC 7, HD 1, hp 5, #AT 1 bite for 1d4+1), which surprise on 1-4 in 6. Hidden in the intestines of the corpse is a stolen blue diamond worth 500 GP, which caused their death when swallowed to hide the evidence.

Larvae by David C. Sutherland III
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Obscure Art Friday: Weighing the Heart of the Dead by Erol Otus

Fri, 06/21/2019 - 21:06
Erol Otus, Weighing the Heart of the Dead. Image source
The above picture is a fantastic full-page illustration by Erol Otus from Deities & Demigods (later retitled Legends & Lore), the fourth AD&D hardcover released in 1980. A tour-de-force of TSR's bullpen of artists at the time, it includes the work of Darlene, Dee, Diesel, Jaquays, Otus, Rosolf, Sutherland and Trampier, and lesser known artists (Eymoth, Jeff Lanners), all together in a single tome. 

But this picture is not in the highly sought after first or second printings that include the Cthulhu & Melnibonean Mythos, and which get the most attention these days. It was only added to the third printing when the Cthulhu & Melnibonean Mythos were removed. Some clues to the change are that Otus' signature includes an "81", which is the year after the book was originally published, and that Jeff Dee illustrated the rest of the Egyptian Mythos.

I'm not sure why TSR added this picture; I thought maybe they needed to fill in a page but by my count those two Mythos total 16 pages, which was exactly the amount removed (reducing the page count from 144 to 128 pages). Perhaps TSR let Otus add it because they were removing his stunning work on the Cthulhu Mythos (which he drew all of), which was his major contribution to the book besides the cover, title page illustration, and a few Non-Human Deities.

I had the version with this picture when I was kid and always liked it; these days I only have the earlier version but at some point realized this picture was not in it. I posted about it a few years ago in the Holmes Basic Community on G+. Per our discussions there, the image is a bit confusingly placed, as it comes on page 43 at the end of the Chinese Mythos, whose last entry is "Yen-Wang-Yeh (judge of the dead)", but the image is clearly illustrating a scene from the Egyptian Mythos, which after removal of the Cthulhu Mythos is placed right after the Chinese Mythos. 

Thoth is pictured in the background, and Anubis  in the foreground, fulfilling his role as "collector of the souls for transportation to the house of the dead", per his entry in the Egyptian Mythos. Curiously, there does not seem to be any further description of the Judgement scene anywhere else in the Egyptian Mythos, including any description of the creature standing behind the scales.

I found the above scan at the Sharktanks tumblr, where they wrote: 
"The Egyptian rite of Judgement from TSR’s “Deities and Demigods” by Erol Otus, 1980.  Still the only artistic depiction of the rite I’ve seen outside of the original hieroglyphs. The Devourer of the Dead is a lot bigger in this version than in the ancient copies I’ve seen."The Wikipedia entry for the Book of the Dead gives more information, including a picture showing the same entities:

"This detail scene, from the Papyrus of Hunefer (c. 1275 BCE), shows the scribe Hunefer's heart being weighed on the scale of Maat against the feather of truth, by the jackal-headed Anubis. The ibis-headed Thoth, scribe of the gods, records the result. If his heart equals exactly the weight of the feather, Hunefer is allowed to pass into the afterlife. If not, he is eaten by the waiting chimeric devouring creature Ammit composed of the deadly crocodile, lion, and hippopotamus. Vignettes such as these were a common illustration in Egyptian books of the dead."
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

NTRPGCon Bound

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 13:45

I'll be making a short visit to North Texas RPG Con this year, from midday Fri until Sun morning. I'm not running a game myself, as I wasn't sure of my attendance by the submission deadline, but I'm signed up for some fantastic-sounding games:FridayA 1975 Castle Greyhawk "deep level" by Rob Kuntz: an OD&D game with 10th+ level characters run by Paul Stormberg of the Collector's Trove and Legends of Wargaming at Gary Con each year. "Wow! A chance to play in a high level Dungeons & Dragons adventure by Rob Kuntz in 1975! One of the deepest levels of Greyhawk Castle!"
Zenopus - 40 years later: This is Steve Muchow's sequel to the Zenopus dungeon, which he invited me to play last year. This is his second year running it at the con."It's been 40 years since the dungeon of Zenopus has been cleansed. But a new evil arises and Portown seeks brave adventurers to save the town."

* * * * *SaturdayThe Queen of Elfland's Son: a Goodman DCC module run by Jonathan Perkel, who started the Holmes FB group & played Boinger in my game last year."This quest will take the heroes to the very borders of Elfland and pit them against the cruelty of the Unseelie Court of Faerie. Will the heroes overcome the machinations of the Queen of Elfland or will they fall victim to the glamours and wiles of Elfland’s malicious nobility?"
80's Heroes vs Monsters Costume Party Chaos: a non-D&D game designed & run by Chris Holmes!"You are invited to a mysterious costume party with a costume of your favorite hero from Movies-Comics-T.V. Your white limo arrives. ------- You will be playing a new set of combat rules. It will be fun."
Ruins of Mistamere: A sequel/re-imagining of the group adventure from the Mentzer Basic Set using AD&D 1e rules, run by Lloyd Metcalf."The long lost lord Gygar from castle Mistamere is said to have left behind great treasure and magic, along with the a great reward has been offered for the capture of Bargle who murdered the beloved Aleena.
* * * * *
Also of note in the realm of Holmes Basic, Carl Heyl (DM Carl of Save or Die) is running two sessions of his Discos & Dragons game, which I played in last year at NTRPGCon and again in drop-in form this past March at Gary Con. It's a Holmes/OD&D hexcrawl on the Outdoor Survival board using only minis, dice & other game pieces from the 1970s!
"Good King Gary is being held prisoner in the kingdom to the north. Bad Baron Bart is doing nothing to save him. Join the ranks of Gary's Crusaders to travel the world of AHOS (Avalon Hill Outdoor Survival board) and delve domino dungeons to gather the treasure to pay the ransom and have Good King Gary take back his kingdom!"
Update: I forgot to mention one other Holmes-related game at the con this year, the Necropolis of Nuromen. This was a Blueholme game using a module published for those rules. This game was also run by Jonathan Perkel.

"You have been drawn to the area by rumours of Nuromen the Necromancer and his vast treasure hoard, lost since the fall of his domain of Law’s End."
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Tower of Zenopus in Ghosts of Saltmarsh

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 14:16
Ghosts of Saltmarsh alternate cover by N.C. Winters. I like this one more.
Way back in the mists of 2006, on Dragonsfoot I wrote that:
Another dungeon that could be fit into such a combined setting would be the Zenopus dungeon in the Holmes basic book. It's set in Portown on the coast and also has pirates/sea caves, so I've often thought of having Portown and Saltmarsh be the same. Neither town is described, though, so Restenford could be used for details. (Though I guess it could be a bit much to have one small town with both a haunted house and a ruined wizard's tower.)I'm certainly not the only one who has had the idea of merging Portown and Saltmarsh. The similar coastal setting and lack of a full description for either town make them a natural fit. While Saltmarsh being described as a "small south-coast English fishing town of the 14th Century and with a population about 2,000" does feel smaller than Portown, a "small but busy city linking the caravan routes from the south to the merchant ships" plying the Northern Sea, it's still an easy merge for the DM building a coastal sandbox setting. In fact, I have run each of these adventures in the last few years in my kids game, and while I kept Saltmarsh separate, I still had it nearby on the same coast as Portown.

Now the Wizards of the Coast have themselves taken advantage of this. Yesterday an eagle-eyed member of the Holmes Basic community over on MeWe, Chris H., reported that he'd spotted the Tower of Zenopus in a flip-thru review of the forthcoming Ghosts of Saltmarsh...! This is the latest hardcover 5E adventure from WOTC, a compilation of conversions of the original AD&D modules U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh*, U2 The Danger at Dunwater, and U3 The Final Enemy** (the pdfs are also available as a discounted bundle), plus four later adventures from Dungeon magazine.

In addition to the obvious similarities between Portown and Saltmarsh, I'm also not surprised to see Zenopus turn up in this product because Mike Mearls is credited as one of the co-Lead Designers (along with Kate Welch, interviewed here), and he ran a Return to the Tower of Zenopus this past March at Gary Con, and also tweeted this map, so it was certainly on his radar at the right time.

After looking into the previews myself, the area map for Saltmarsh --- drawn by Dyson Logos --- shows the town on the mouth of a river emptying into the Azure Sea. Yes, that's right, they've preserved the Greyhawk location names from the originals! Across this river on a peninsula is a location marked "Tower of Zenopus". Per the map compass, this places the tower generally to the west of Saltmarsh, which fits with Holmes' original description (albeit without an intervening river). The U1 Haunted House is in the other direction along the coast, east of Saltmarsh. 

On the page facing this map is a four-paragraph section titled "Tower of Zenopus", which gives the background for the location --- condensed from the original --- and some brief ideas for encounters found therein. It's much more of an adventure hook than a fleshed out location, and it acknowledges as much by concluding that the details are left for the DM to determine. It would be fairly simple to use a direct 5E conversion of the original dungeon (perhaps adapting my list of Portown rumors to get the PCs over there?). 

As far as I can recall, this is the first time TSR or Wizards has recycled any of the Zenopus content in a later product, and also the first time it has been officially placed in Greyhawk. Also significant is that they've titled it the "Tower of Zenopus", as over the years this has been the most frequently used colloquial name for the originally unnamed adventure. In the new version, just the like original, the tower is a complete ruin and the actual adventure is in the dungeons beneath. As I've written before, this follows the naming convention of Castle Greyhawk, where the dungeons are referred to by the name of the ruined edifice. 

In addition to the Azure Sea, the area map also includes the Hool Marshes to the east of Saltmarsh and the Dreadwood to north, clearly placing it on the original Darlene map from the World of Greyhawk folio or boxed set. Also, the "Geographic Features" section following the Tower of Zenopus mentions the "Kingdom of Keoland", a location going all the way back to the proto-Greyhawk Great Kingdom map.

After some further delving, I realized that this area map in Ghosts of Saltmarsh is simply a direct update of the area map from U2 Danger at Dunwater. All of the major geographical features and even the hexes lines on the map match the placement on the original. 
The original even gave hex numbers for the World of Greyhawk map, with Saltmarsh being located in hex U4-123. So while the new adventure may not be specifically identified as being in Greyhawk, it is easily placeable and usable with that campaign world.

In the image below I've annotated the original U2 map with the new location for the Tower:

*All Drivethrurpg links include my affiliate number.

**I've long suspected that this title is a sneaky pun (spoiler: The Enemy with Fins; i.e. the Sahuagin). I even asked Gygax about it once on DF, and while he claimed no knowledge, we did exchange some fintastic puns.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Delta's D&D Hotspot: Tomb of Ra-Hotep

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 19:21
The map of The Tomb of Ra-Hotep. Source: Paul's Gameblog
Delta has a report on running the Tomb of Ra-Hotep, the OD&D dungeon by Alan Lucien that inspired Gygax's Tomb of Horrors (and Necropolis, it seems). It was included as an extra in the reprint of the original tournament version of Tomb of Horrors, which was itself an extra with the Special Edition of last year's Art & Arcana.

HelgaCon: Tomb of Ra-HotepContinuing the Helgacon wrap-up this year. For the first time I also ran: The Lost Tomb of Ra-Hotep Originally written by Mr. Alan Luc...

See also: 
Mystical Trash Heap: Art & Arcana First Impressions

Paul's Gameblog: Credit Where Credit's Due

Locations for the Tomb of Horrors on the Great Kingdom Map 
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dungeoneers Syndicate: Sutherland Dragon Mini

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 02:43
Where's my humongous pile of gold?
The latest post at the Dungeoneers Syndicate blog showcases a number of photos of the author's newly painted Sutherland Dragon, posing with the Holmes Basic rulebook and a bunch of '70s rulebooks and dice:

My David C. Sutherland III inspired Dragon miniatureI happened upon this Reaper Bones "Great Dragon" a while back...cool looking mini! Then the wheels started turning...I could paint this dragon to look like the one on the Holmes Blue Basic Box set cover! I had to hone my painting skills first...bought a bunch of smaller minis & studied the interwebs for tips & "how to" videos on Youtube.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Thongor Fights the Pirates of Tarakus (1970)

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 19:03
We're going to need a bigger boat, mateys...
Yesterday's used bookstore find: Thongor Fights the Pirates of Tarakus, the sixth and last novel in Lin Carter's Thongor series. This series is Appendix N-adjacent, as Carter is called out in the list but only for his later Warrior at the World's End (1974).
Carter is probably best known for his pastiche work with L. Sprague de Camp on the Lancer/Ace editions of Conan, but he also edited seminal '70s fantasy series such as Ballantine Adult Fantasy and Flashing Swords, works that helped popularize the fantasy genre in the '60s & '70s. Years ago I read his very early (1969) book on Tolkien's work, A Look Behind the Lord of the Rings

Carter also helped get the Cthulhu Mythos into D&D by way of J. Eric Holmes; Holmes cited Carter's "H.P. Lovecraft: The Gods", in The Shuttered Room and Other Pieces (1959), as one of his sources for his “Lovecraftian Mythos in D&D” article in Dragon #12 in 1978. See my post The Cthulhu Mythos in D&D in the 1970s.
Thongor is a "Clonan", with the above cover specifically calling out Howard's character: "Sorcery and seafighting - and mortal peril for the mightiest warrior-hero CONAN". The author's note situates the series on "the Lost Continent of Lemuria" (drawing from Lemuria in popular culture), which is Carter's Hyborian Age analog.
The particular paperback I found is stated as the third printing, published by Berkely Medallion in 1976, with a fantastic cover by Vincent DiFate, different than the 1970 original.
I'm not sure when I'll get to reading this, but I'll try to update this post when I do. Possibly the pirates in this book will inspire some background details for the pirates in the sea cave in the Sample Dungeon.

See also "Ochre Jelly Inspiration?" which discusses a Carter & de Camp Conan story.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Monster Faces 042519

Sun, 04/28/2019 - 19:36
I'm constantly drawing faces in margins, but I haven't made a more concerted drawing in a while. Here's a quick one I made recently, a new small addition to my line of Monster Faces:

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

#MyFirstRPG: Holmes Basic

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 13:11
#MyFirstRPG has been trending on Twitter. I've been collecting the ones referring to Holmes by retweeting them. Check out my profile over there to read them all:
Zenopus Archives on Twitter
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cave of the Dice Chucker: The Party vs. The Caller

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 00:42
The Cro-Magnon Archivist strikes again with a True Crime report! 

What really happened to that party in the Example of Play in the Holmes Basic rulebook?

Rogues Gallery: Fighter and the case of the Incompetent CallerWhat follows is a transcript from the court case of The Party vs. The Caller, recorded at the Adventurers Guild Chancery in the Spring of 1977. J. Eric Holmes used the typewritten transcript the Prosecuting Attorney submits as evidence as the Example of play on page 40 of the blue Dungeons and Dragons Rulebook.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Third Point of Singularity: Dice of Generations

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 15:41
Here's a great story by Mister Nizz on the Third Point of Singularity blog about his original set of low-impact D&D dice. From 2017, but I missed it the first time around:

The Dice of GenerationsWhen it comes to geek "cred," you either have it or you don't have it. When I was a kid, there was no such thing as "geek cred".
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs