Thursday, April 02, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 56: Dungeon Geomorphs Set Two: Caves & Caverns

Also advertised in The Dragon #6 was the second set of dungeon geomorphs.  Like the first set, Dungeon Geomorphs Set Two: Caves & Caverns is a set of sheets with sample dungeon layouts that can be cut out and arranged to make quick dungeon levels.  Set One's layouts were simple dungeon rooms and corridors, while Set Two - like it says in the name - provides layouts for cavernous dungeon areas.

There's a sample level provided, that used geomorphs B II, D IV, E III and I II.  The letter indicates which geomorph to use, and the roman numeral shows which side of the geomorph should be facing up.  I've put them together below as an example.

It's a serviceable dungeon level, though as usual with geomorphs there are some tunnels that don't connect up, and others that go nowhere and need to be closed off.  I'm not the biggest fan of the lower right section jutting out like that, but I suppose it does get away from the dungeon design problem where every level just happens to be shaped in the dimensions of an A4 sheet of paper.  I wouldn't use geomorphs for dungeons that I'm designing, but they're certainly a handy tool for when you need to improvise.

As with the first set, there are some encounter key examples that are presumably written by Gary Gygax.  I'll reproduce them below.


13A. The Crystal Cavern -- an area where stalagmites, stalactites, and other such subterranean formations are in profusion. Some of them will glisten and glimmer, showing themselves to be made of precious materials worth thousands of gold pieces (18-2,000 gold piece value crystal of precious quartz stalagtites). Humans are not the only ones who are dazzled by such wealth and beauty, for ropers consider it to be their gem garden. There will always be 2-5 ropers around admiring it. Also, 1-4 additional ropers will come to it in 1-6 melee rounds if they happen to hear fighting.

13B. A party of thieves (levels: 8, 6, 4; HP: 25, 18, 12) waiting to fleece adventurers. They will attempt to hide in shadows and steal valuables from players as they pass. They will only initiate combat if the adventurers appear to be damaged and treasure-laden. The leader has a +2 neutral "Charm Person" sword (3 intelligence, 12 ego) and 1-8 gems (worth 500 gold pieces each). The sixth level thief has a +1 dagger and 100 platinum pieces. The fourth level flunky has 50 gold pieces on his person.

13C. The Mirror Pool -- a glimmering 6' by 3' mirror pool, contained within a sunken crystal basin. Adventurers may step into the pool and suddenly find themselves in a 60' by 60' room with an enraged efreet. They may step back out as easily as they open doors. The efreet wears four pieces of jewelry worth only 50 gold pieces each. Once encountered, the efreet will fight until defeated (37 HP) or until the basin is broken (to do so, a +2 or better weapon must be used). When the basin is broken, check on a six-sided die for the reaction of the efreet: 1--Efreet is insane from being cooped up so long, and will attack until killed; 2--Efreet rushes off to avenge himself, leaving his rescuers behind; 3 and 4--Efreet thanks group, gives them his jewelry, and then leaves; 5--Efreet will aid adventurers on 1-4 adventures (secret determination of time) and then vanish; 6--Efreet is so thankful that he will serve his rescuer for 1001 days.

13D. The Pile of Gold. Upon entering the area, the party will notice that there has been a fight. First, they will see a dragon skeleton and human remains. Then they will notice that there is still a large pile of gold left by whomever looted the room. As they approach the pile it comes to life, surprising them all, and attacks! It is a metal creature (the Aurotyugh) and so has some surprising abilities. It takes 18 hit dice (88 HP) and is Armor Class 3. It does 3-18 HP every time it hits, and its special attack ability is that it softens hard things. Every time it hits, its opponent goes down one Armor Class (so +2 armor becomes +1, or a Wyvern with Armor Class 3 goes to 4). This creature is worth 25,000 GP--the teeth are made of diamonds and if carefully and time-consumingly taken out are worth 30,000 gold pieces (but only 5,000 gold pieces if hastily pulled).

Interesting to see Gary adding a brand new monster here.  Whether it has any relation to the otyugh is unclear, and especially odd considering that the otyugh hasn't even debuted yet; it first appears in the upcoming Monster Manual.  I'm going to assume that this aurotyugh is a unique creation that takes the shape of an otyugh when it attacks, but is otherwise unrelated,

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 55: The Minifigs D&D miniature line

Issue #6 of The Dragon featured an article on the debut of the Minifigs line of miniatures for Dungeons & Dragons.  Minifigs was founded in 1964 in Southampton, England. They mostly specialised in historical figures, but in 1975 they started making some fantasy figures, and later secured the D&D license.  This was the first official line of D&D minis.

The article from The Dragon actually covers the bulk of what was released for the line.  It's mostly a selection of dwarves, elves, orcs, goblins, and other humanoids.  Later on some sets of trolls, ogres and ogre magi would be released, as well as a selection of demons that included minis for Orcus and Demogorgon.

Here's the first ad below:

Click to get a better look

I won't go through and look at every miniature listed there, but I'll put up an example of each type of humanoid represented.

Dwarf King

The High Elf King and the Wood Elf King

Gnome with spear (painted)

Hobbit with sword (painted)

As far as the PC races go there's nothing out of the ordinary (although I suppose gnomes don't become a PC race until the Player's Handbook, which is about a year away).  The main thing to note is the difference between High Elves and Wood Elves: the former are armoured in fine regalia, while the latter are much more lightly armed and rustically dressed.

Gnoll Chieftain

The gnoll shown here definitely has the beginnings of the hyena-headed look that will be firmly established when the Monster Manual is released. 

Goblin with sling

Hobgoblin with partisan

The goblins aren't particularly memorable, but the hobgoblins have the distinctive style of armour and helmets that they'll be depicted with through much of 1st edition AD&D.

Kobold with axe (painted)

Now that's a classic dog-faced D&D kobold if I ever saw one.

Orc with kris-headed spear

Finally, the orc is pig-faced, and very much looks like the kind in Dave Sutherland's art, as already seen in Swords & Spells and the revised cover of the original D&D boxed set.

All of the above images are courtesy of, which is a great site with what looks to be a pretty comprehensive look at the history of official D&D miniatures.

Despite the lack of sculpting detail in the figures above, it's immediately apparent when you look at them as a whole that they're from D&D.  Several of the humanoid figures look like Dave Sutherland drawings, and each type resembles its counterpart from the Monster Manual.  The release of that book is just a few months away, so I suspect that Minifigs either had access to its illustrations or was given a style guide of sorts with Sutherland's art.  Regardless, what we're seeing is another step towards the consolidation of D&D's visual identity.

I haven't covered the ogres, trolls and demons yet; I'll get to those when their ads pop up in The Dragon.  I also see that Minifigs did some World of Greyhawk minis circa 1980, so I'll cover those when the time comes as well.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 54: The Inner Temple of the Skeleton King

I'm still stuck on the topic of Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson after my trawl through their earliest work.  Last time I posted an early adventure from Steve, so now I guess it's Ian's turn.  I honestly couldn't remember where I found this image of "The Inner Temple of the Skeleton King", but a Googling of the filename revealed that it was The Other Side blog, the same place that I found the summaries of Owl & Weasel.  Apparently it comes from part 1 of a history of Games Workshop, but the link to the article is unfortunately dead.

This is apparently Ian's first ever dungeon.  Some of the writing is hard to make out, so it's not 100% clear what's in every room.  From what I can tell, it shares some of the same design sensibilities as Steve's "Dungeon of the Ground Goblins", though not being prepared for publication means that it's not as polished.  A lot of this is written in shorthand, so it's impossible to know what a lot of it means.  What's with all of the letters and cards scattered around the dungeon?  What do the underlined numbers at the end of some entries mean?  Without more levels of the dungeon, or access to the twisted mind of Mr. Livingstone, we'll never know.

It's interesting to see some of Livingstone's tropes already present here though.  If his Fighting Fantasy books are any indication, he loves to put a shop in a dungeon, and this one has a few.  He also loves to make players scavenge for essential items, and I would assume that the cards and numbers found in the dungeon are essential to some puzzle or trap on another level.  I'd love to see the whole thing; this snippet of the dungeon is obviously an early D&D design, with all the strengths and weaknesses that entails.  It has no concept of "monster ecology" or realistic dungeon design, but it does have touches of the anything-goes weirdness of 70s gaming.

This one would take a lot of work to get up to snuff if I decided to include it in the Ultimate Sandbox project, much more than Steve's effort.  I'm on the fence with doing the work for either, but those are decisions for a theoretical time in the future.  For now, I'll file them both away in the "maybe" basket.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 53: The Dungeon of the Ground Goblins

While I'm on the subject of Games Workshop founders Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson, I'd like to backtrack a bit and write about a small discovery I made.  First published in Games and Puzzles #48 (cover dated May 1976), "The Dungeon of the Ground Goblins" is a small dungeon adventure written by Steve.  It was later reprinted as part of a D&D flyer distributed by Game Designers Workshop (not to be confused with Games Workshop) in 1977.

It's a pretty simple adventure: a dungeon at the bottom of a hollow tree trunk, that's little more than a series of rooms, monsters and treasure with little to connect them thematically.  The main point of interest here is the presence of a "dungeon caretaker", suggesting that this whole thing has been purposely designed and curated.  Who by, and for what purpose?  Only Steve knows, assuming he ever came up with a rationale for all of this.  Something tells me he probably wouldn't remember some 40+ years down the track.

Most of this dungeon seems geared to low-level adventurers, with goblins, orcs, giant rats, and weaker undead. The gorgon would be a tough encounter, but having the dungeon caretaker right outside that room could be a way for PCs to find out they shouldn't go in there.  It's pretty heavy on the magic items, too: that haul of a +2 warhammer and a +2 shield is especially rich.

If I ever did use this dungeon for the Ultimate Sandbox, I'd have to design another five levels for it.  I'm tempted to include it, it because I'm a huge Steve Jackson fan.  I'm still mulling over where the Games Workshop-related material will fit in the grand scheme of things.  TSR stuff obviously gets jammed into Greyhawk, and the Judges Guild material is all a part of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy setting.  Some of the White Dwarf stuff goes into Greyhawk and D&D at large via the Fiend Folio, so its likely that I'll decide to jam all the other UK stuff there as well.  Still, it's tempting for me to rope in Allansia from the Fighting Fantasy series, as the only setting out there that I know for sure is created by Ian and Steve.  It's something for me to think about, anyway.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 52: Owl & Weasel

While Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and company got the fantasy RPG ball rolling over in the USA, in the UK that credit should probably go to Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone.  In early 1975 the two school friends and flatmates, along with mutual friend John Peake, founded Games Workshop. Initially they sold games out of their flat by mail order.  They also launched the games fanzine Owl & Weasel, a copy of which ended up in the hands of Brian Blume.  In return, Blume sent them a copy of TSR's new game Dungeons & Dragons.  Jackson and Livingstone were impressed by the imaginative potential of the game, and got in touch with Blume to negotiate exclusive rights to sell D&D in Europe.  They started selling the game in late 1975, still operating out of their flat (until they got evicted in Summer of 1976 because too many gamers were showing up looking for a shop that didn't exist).

(I looked up John Peake, because I've never heard of him.  Apparently he was far more into the boardgame side of things, and had very little interest in RPGs.  He got out some time in 1976 when he saw which way the wind was blowing.)

The company expanded after that, and was able to open the first Games Workshop store in 1977.  In June of that year, they published the first issue of the magazine White Dwarf (which I just learned was chosen because it works for fantasy as well as sci-fi). In later years Jackson and Livingstone created the gamebook genre with the Fighting Fantasy series, which I would venture may have actually had more pop culture penetration outside of the USA than Dungeons & Dragons.  Certainly in Australia you're more likely to find 80s kids who were into FF than D&D, and those books were my gateway into the hobby.  In the 90s Livingstone became a top executive at video game company Eidos, and had a hand in the Tomb Raider and Hitman franchises.  Both of these men are giants in the gaming field, and a lot could be written about them, but for this blog I'll be focusing on their earlier RPG-related work.

White Dwarf includes plenty of D&D content, some of which eventually ends up in TSR's Fiend Folio.  I'm going to cover it for a while, at least up until issue #74, which is when Livingstone steps down as the magazine's editor.  Before that, though, I want to take a look at its precursor, Owl and Weasel, with a focus on its D&D articles.

Owl and Weasel ran for 25 issues, from February 1975 to April 1977.  The early issues focus on war-gaming, puzzles, and board games.  There are articles on chess and mah jong up in this thing; it's apparent that Ian and Steve were fans of games at large, not just fantasy and sci fi.  The first mention of Dungeons & Dragons is a brief bit in issue #5, from June of 1975.  Steve had watched a game being played at the City University Games Club, and been fascinated by it.  As of the writing of the article he'd yet to play D&D, but he asks for opinions and reviews from readers.

Issue #6 is where D&D bursts onto the scene, with an enthusiastic three-page article from Steve.  He outlines the game, complains that the price is too high for three small booklets, and gives some examples of play.  It's mentioned that Ian was the "Gamesmaster", running a dungeon called the Caves of Truenor.  Should I decide to include these caves in my campaign, the details given are as follows:

  • The entrance is a cave in a rocky beach-side cliff.
  • The first tunnel leads to a four-way junction. One points to the left, and says "Beware Nixies" in the Universal Tongue. The other points right and says "White is Right" in Orcish.  (Well, they are Chaotic Evil...)
  • Some tunnels lead to a room that appears to be an elevator trap that takes the players deeper into the dungeon.
  • One of the rooms leads to a chamber with a chest guarded by a dozen ghouls.
  • Elsewhere in the dungeon is a corridor with six doors, and a chalice full of poison. The sixth door opens into a room with four giant snakes.
I'm pleased to note that Steve Jackson is an absolute bastard genius of a player: his plan to kill the snakes involves chopping up a dead party member, poisoning the pieces and feeding the snakes with them.  The other party members refuse, but he still does it anyway when their backs are turned.  Mr. Jackson, I salute you.

Issue #7 has more D&D, including a letter from a reader complaining about how unrealistic the D&D combat system is, and offering some alternatives.  The opposite page has an article by Ian Livingstone, with some very basic advice on the balance and design of dungeons.  Necessary stuff in the hobby's early days, but there's nothing revelatory here for D&D veterans.

Issue #8 has an article about the first play-by-mail D&D campaign in England. It also includes some house rules from Steve's game: PCs get two chances to open a stuck door, clerics can pray for extra spells, and fighters can't roll less than 3 hit points at 1st level.

(Also mentioned briefly is that there is already a computer version of D&D. This is probably The Dungeon or The Game of Dungeons, both of which I covered on my other blog, CRPG Adventures, in which I'm chronologically playing every CRPG and adventure game I can get my hands on. Posts on the games are here and here.)

Issue #9 has more house rules, related to death and healing.  Issue #10 reprints the Ranger class from The Strategic Review #2.  Issue #11 has a one-page article about hirelings, and some stuff about Empire of the Petal Throne. Issue #12 plugs the release of Supplement II: Blackmoor.  There doesn't appear to be much of any D&D content in issue #13, #14 or #15 (although #14 does feature the first appearance of future game designer Don Turnbull).

Issue #16 has a feature on the release of Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry, and also mentions that Ian and Steve are planning to head to America in July.  Quite a long time ago (2005!) I asked Gary on a message board if he had any personal contact with Steve and Ian, and he regaled me with a tale of them staying at his house and helping him clear his yard of some poison oak. He also dropped an interesting historical tidbit about wanting TSR and Games Workshop to merge, which got scuttled because Steve and Ian were wary of the Blumes.  It's still archived here.

Issue #17 has a house rule in the letters page that reduces a monster's combat effectiveness as it loses hit points.  On the article side, issue #18 has one about reality in D&D, but it's more interesting from a real world perspective: it has a reports about Ian and Steve's trip to the US and their first Gen Con, small write ups on Supplement IV: Gods, Demigods & Heroes and Swords and Spells, and a note on the final issue of The Strategic Review and the first issue of The Dragon.  It also has a full page on skateboarding, which is weird, but I guess it must have been a real novelty back then.

Issue #19 devotes more of its space to D&D than any issue before it.  It has some new rules in the form of ability score minimums for demi-human characters (similar to those that would soon appear in the upcoming Basic Set), as well as some house rules about time-keeping and spell use.  There's a little more about the two new supplements, and a two-page article about alignment (the never-ending debate).

Issue #20 is light on D&D, though it does have an old grognard writing in to complains about "all this fantasy nonsense".  Issue #21 is similarly light.

Issue #22 is D&D-heavy again, featuring Don Turnbull's first stab at the Monstermark system, a mathematical calculation to determine the relative strength of various monsters.  This will pop up again in the future as Turnbull refines it, so I'll write about it then.

Issue #23 is given over almost entirely to coverage of the upcoming Games Day convention, with descriptions of the games happening there, a map of the hall, and ads galore.

Issue #24 has coverage of the D&D Day event, an article with mapping advice, and two new classes: Samurai and Psionist.  Both are staple homebrew classes, but I wonder if these were the first to see print?  The Samurai gets extra attacks and bonuses to unarmed combat, while the Psionist specialises in psionics as detailed in Eldritch Wizardry. There's also an announcement that Owl and Weasel is ending to make way for White Dwarf, which will have a much heavier focus on fantasy and sci-fi games.

Issue #25, the final issue, seems to be mostly set-up and hype for White Dwarf. with the only actual article being a bit with some basic advice about what makes a good D&D dungeon.

(The scans and information above come courtesy of The Other Side blog, who covered the entire run of Owl & Weasel in detail.  Without those articles, I'd have no idea what was in these issues.  As it is, I only have a general sense, aside from those where actual scans were provided.)

So that cover Owl & Weasel, which as far as I can tell doesn't have a lot in terms of rules and setting-related material.  It's far more interesting as a historical window into the UK gaming scene in the 70s, and the infancy of the D&D boom.  White Dwarf will have much more D&D content, and my coverage of the first issue should be coming up in about half a dozen posts.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 51: The Dungeoneer #5

The Dungeoneer #5 is cover dated April/May 1977.  I have it alongside the other D&D products from April, but given the way dating usually works on periodicals it probably came out a couple of months before that.  The contents are detailed below.

"The Arcane Elders, Chapter V" (author unknown, but probably J. Mark Hendricks): Lute the Bard and Ralph the Halfling reunite with Rohcyl the Sorcerer and his new-found barbarian friend Theoran. Together they all vow to defeat the druid who has enslaved Theoran's people. With one chapter left, this seems to be trying to wrap up. There's very little here in the way of setting info.

"The Goodies Bag": Two new magic items:

  • "The Pipes of Caleb" by Jennell Jaquays: These pipes were created by an ancient Patriarch of the same name, who used them to charm spider-like monsters called Harvestmen and lead them away from the lands of mankind. Apart from charming these monsters, the pipe protects the bearer and all within 5' from all Harvestmen. It can also charm other spider-like creatures, and enhances the bard's charming ability.  This is a very specific item, and if it ever makes it into my campaign I'll be sure to make it unique.
  • "The Ring of Slime Control" by Jennell Jaquays: This ring can summon and control all slime creatures: oozes, puddings, green slime, molds, jellies, slugs, worms, fungi, shambling mounds, etc. They can also control a new type of monster called an Aquazombie. Unfortunately, this ring also places its user under the control of the Slime God.  As with the previous item, this one should probably be unique.
"Monster Matrix": Both of these monsters are new. One, the Aquazombie, is a part of this issue's adventure, "Night of the Walking Wet".
  • "Harvestmen" by Jennell Jaquays: Like a cross between a giant spider and a human hand, these creatures were the result of a union between a spider demon and his high priestess in ages past. They ate their mother and spread across the land, until the cleric Caleb (mentioned above) defeated them. They attack by leaping and trying to crush their victims, pinning them helplessly to the ground unless they are strong enough to escape.  They also have a bite that can either poison or paralyze, and they can cast webs (like the spell).  Any group larger than 10 will be led by a Harvest Mother, which has double the Hit Dice or a regular Harvestman, and can lay eggs.
  • Aquazombies" by Jennell Jaquays: These zombie-like creatures are also known as "The Walking Wet" or "The Walking Dead".  (It's given both ways, but I suspect the former is the correct name.)  They aren't actually undead, but rather people who came into contact with the Slime God and were forced into symbiosis with an alien slime creature. Their main combat ability is to infect those they strike with the slime, turning them into Aquazombies as well. No doubt there'll be more about these creatures and the Slime God when I get to "Night of the Walking Wet".
"More Tricks and Traps" by Jennell Jaquays: This is a continuation of the article from last issue, and simply presents a list of tracks and traps to add to your dungeon. These include a teleport door, a room that removes the intelligence from magic swords, a living corridor that eats people, a room with a magnetic ceiling that grabs up weapons and armour, a room that turns all of its inhabitants invisible, underground cave forests, tunnels leading to the Starship Warden of Metamorphosis Alpha, winds that extinguish torches, a bridge over a molten pit with illusory walls, elevator rooms, and a room with giant statue, each of which reacts differently (fighting, asking riddles, etc.).  The majority of these are variations on ideas I've encountered before, and I doubt I'll have to go to much trouble to include them in the campaign.  I'd hazard a guess that the official modules have all of these ideas covered.

"A Change in the Elemental" by Jim Ward: This article suggests a number of variant elemental types: acid, gas/hydrogen, wind (a stronger form of air), molten lava, jungle plant (with poison thorns), sand, glue, darkness, light, and lightning.  I'm down with pretty much all of these, except for the Glue Elemental and the Jungle Plant Elemental.  All of the others are related to the classical elements, or to energy of some kind.  But Glue? Jungle Plants? They don't really fit, and if I ever use them they may not be true elementals.

The rest of the issue is taken up by the first half of the adventure "Night of the Walking Wet". The second half is in issue #6, so I'm going to hold off on talking about it until I cover that issue. 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 50: Judges Guild Installment L (Tegel Manor)

I didn't have anything big planned for hitting a nice round number 50 in this series, but by happenstance it features a famous module, Judges Guild's Tegel Manor. It came as part of Installment K, the fourth sent out to JG subscribers, cover dated April/May 1977. A full list of what was included is as follows:

  • JG22 Journal L
  • JG23 Tegel Manor and Area Judge's Map (17" x 22")
  • JG24 Tegel Manor and Area Player's Map (11" x 17")
  • JG25 Booklet L
  • JG29 Character Checklist
  • JG30 Tegel Manor and Area Judge's Map (11" x 17")

JG22 Journal L

I actually have access to a copy of this journal for a change. It kicks off with an apology, as the last Ready Ref Sheet (Wizard's Guide and Construction Costs) was accidentally left out of the last installment. It actually first shipped with this installment, even though it was supposed to be in Installment K. After that there's a bit about the new format of the newsletter, and then some short articles.

  • "Shrewd Slants from the Sagacious Sage" notes that the climate around the City State is much milder than that of northern Europe. It also has a note from Gary Gygax explaining that the "% in Lair" stat for monsters serves as a guideline to determine if a wilderness encounter has happened in the monster's lair.
  • "Setting Up a D&D Campaign" by Tom Holsinger gives some advice about that topic, with particular focus on having a unifying theme, and the necessity of having a prior civilisation that has fallen, in order to explain the various ruins and treasure scattered about.  He follows it up with a lot of talk about demographics, food growth, and how that can affect military matters. I've never gone into that sort of stuff in anything more than the barest detail, but it's a basic necessity if you want a campaign to make a lick of sense. I won't get into any of Holsinger's specifics, but I will keep this article in mind if I ever need to address the topic. The one thign I will note is that he creates two new cleric spells: green thumb to double crop production, and its evil reverse, crop blight. Holsinger does bring up one intriguing idea, though: using the psychic potential stat from Empire of the Petal Throne to determine who can cast spells and operate magic items. It's a decent way to explain the difference between adventurers and regular folks, if you want one, and also to place a limit on the prevalence of magic in a campaign.

The rest of the newsletter is just Judges Guild shilling their own stuff, with a focus on Tegel Manor and the new Judges Shield, which I just discovered you need to tape together yourself!

JG29 Character Checklist

This product is a single sheet of paper in the installment, but was sold separately as bundles of six. It appears to be both a character sheet for multiple characters and a method of determining and tracking alignment for PCs and NPCs. Alignment is diced for on the charts on the upper left using 1d20, once for the Law/Chaos axis and once for the Good/Evil axis.  The combination of the two results gives the character's alignment, and a numerical value that can be modified based on the character's actions.  I've never been a fan of alignment tracking systems, and am generally pretty lax on alignment concerns except for clerics and paladins, so I doubt I'll apply this at all.

JG23 Tegel Manor and Area Judge's Map (17" x 22")
JG24 Tegel Manor and Area Player's Map (11" x 17")
JG30 Tegel Manor and Area Judge's Map (11" x 17")

These three maps are all double-sided, with one side showing a map of Tegel Manor and the other side showing the wilderness surrounding the manor.  The Judge's Map has all of the details, whereas the Player's Map gives basic outlines with very little filled in.  I don't think there's a difference between the two Judge's Maps except for size; I assume the smaller one is provided because it would be a little bit easier to handle at the table.

Tegel Manor

Surroundings, with the manor in the bottom right and the village in
the upper left

JG25 Booklet L

This booklet is pretty much entirely given over to a description of Tegel Manor. Unlike the previous three booklets, which were more about the campaign setting, this is an adventure module. It's possible that it's the largest one made for D&D to this point, and it's certainly one of the very first to be sold as a commercial product; I think the only other one I've covered so far that was sold in shops on its own is Palace of the Vampire Queen from Wee Warriors.

I'm not actually working from the original booklet.  In addition to being included in Installment L, Tegel Manor was sold in shops as product JG 27.  I'm working from a pdf of the third printing, and I'm not sure if there are any difference s between that and the original.

Tegel Manor and Tegel Village are located along the seacoast in Campaign Map 1, in hex 4416. (I covered that map in this previous post if you'd like a look.)  The manor is said to be left over from ancient days, and protected by a charm that shields it from age (and fire, just in case the PCs have the bright idea to burn the place down).  It's hereditary owners are the Rump family, although they've been lax in their duties and it's said that their eccentricities have led to the manor's corruption.

The current owner of the manor is Sir Runic the Rump, a dim-witted coward who is also somehow a paladin. Distraught at the corruption of his ancestors and living relatives, he's desperate to get rid of the place, and will try to sell it cheap.

The only other living Rumps mentioned are Roughneck Rump the Rotund, a feared highwayman, and Ruang the Ripper, an assassin. Both can be encountered roaming the countryside, along with other dangerous monsters and NPCs.

The manor itself is... well, it's wild. In some places it reads like a haunted house, with ghosts, undead, creepy paintings, unexplained noises, and other such trappings.  In others, it's like a monster zoo, with owlbears and rust monsters and even a purple worm.  Other areas just have weird magical effects going on, or bizarre scenes that play out. I don't know if I've ever read a module as baffling as this one.

It also looks pretty difficult to run without a lot of prep.  The room descriptions are sparse, mostly focused on the inhabitants, treasure, or weird magical happenings; this is fine, I'm quite happy for a module to stick to the relevant stuff. There's a lot of info covered on the map though: labels for what type of room it is (bedroom, kitchen, etc.), traps, magic statues, weird noises, teleportation squares, paintings of the Rump family that bestow magical effects when they are looked at... It's a lot to keep track of, and none of it's covered in the room descriptions.  Here's a description of room A2:

"A2  150'x110'x40' H  Two long tables with 12 skeletons 1 HD, 5-3-4-4-1-2-3-5-6-7-1-2 HTK, AC 7, sword armed.  30 Silver goblets 120 SP @ and gigantic halbard hanging on wall."

The map has it labelled as the Great Hall, and shows six pillars.  There are eight statues around the walls, two of which are magical. There are two fireplaces, one of which has a secret door in it.  The east wall is covered by a curtain, and has a couple of secret doors behind it as well. The west wall has a teleport square that leads to DL1B (which I assume means dungeon level 1, room B). There's a fake door on the south wall. And there are two squares that have an unspecified trap.  That's one of the more complex rooms, but it's very busy. I'd need to consolidate all of that info to ever have a hope of running it.

The magic statues are determined randomly as to their effects; some will raise or lower stats, some will cast a spell, some may ask a riddle or answer a question, or give a map, and some will perform a service if a missing part is recovered. 

There are also a number of portraits of the Rump family around the mansion, 100 in total. Most of them appear as some sort of undead creature, and do something magical when looked at. For example, Riven the Refected appears as a Spectre, and cries a potion of ESP. Rudlong the Revenger forewarns the party of their next encounter. Some have more mundane effects, like laughter or following the PCs with their eyes, and other do nothing. Probably my favourite is Radded Rufus, whose effect is "PROB 30% of ripped sack". Ouch!

A lot of the rooms seem to have scenes that play out over and over again, such as ghosts that go through their motions, or an Invisible Stalker that is continuously walking through a secret door from one side of the room to the other. The inhabitants of the manor may be cursed, but it's never specified exactly what's going on in this place.  I'd struggle to run this adventure, I think. It has a level of goofiness and an anything-goes defiance of logic that don't really fit my sensibilities, or those of my players.

That said, I'll say this for it: the place is memorable.  It kind of reminds me of the later D&D module Castle Amber in that regard. In almost every room there's something insane going on, or some new wild thing that could happen to your character.  I could see all sorts of great stories coming out of Tegel Manor, and now that I think of it it'd work great as a one-off party adventure, as long as you're in the right mood for it. I will certainly have the manor as a location in my version of the Wilderlands, but I may never actually point my players towards it, or require them to go inside.

The map is also great. It has tons of info packed in, and manages to include the upper floor as well as all the levels of several towers. Judges Guild have always made great maps, and this is another one.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that there's a whole dungeon underneath the manor, with four levels. It's kind of banal in comparison to what's going on up above. The first level is a series of giant rat warrens that can be accessed via holes in the manor walls. Dungeon level 2 has the living quarters of Ranorek Rump, a missing link caveman who I forgot to mention under living relatives above. Level 3 is a lot of undead and vermin, and Level 4 is undead and monsters (harpies, a basilisk).

The booklet ends with some optional rules for resurrection, which determine whether a character returns maimed or scarred. I tend to think that resurrection magic implies healing as well, and prefer that characters come back hale and hearty, so I won't be using this. Although perhaps resurrection is different in the Wilderlands, and less effective?  Perhaps.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 49: JG2 Dungeon Tac Cards & JG28 Judges' Shield

I'm tackling two Judges Guild products this time around, because neither of them should take up too much time. I don't have a copy of either, but I should be able to scrounge up enough info on them for a short post.

The first of these is product JG2, the Dungeon Tac Cards. I covered these previously, when they were sent out to Judges Guild members as part of their first subscription installment in late 1976. The first edition of this product consisted of 135 cards, each representing an action that a player might take, the idea being that players would have these cards face up in front of their character sheet to indicate what their character was doing or what they had in their hands.

In approximately April of 1977, the second edition of these cards was released as a product for sale in stores. This set had 140 cards, five more than the previous edition, but there are no new cards added: the old cards were simply given in different numbers. I listed the card amounts in my previous post on this product, so I'll do the same for this set. The cards are double-sided, with a different action on each side.

  • 5 Move/Charge Move cards
  • 5 Parry/Get Up cards
  • 5 Punch/Grapple cards
  • 5 Heavy Crossbow cards
  • 5 Dagger cards
  • 5 Horsebow cards
  • 5 Sword (longer) cards
  • 5 Sword (shorter) cards
  • 5 Shortbow cards
  • 5 Hand Axe cards
  • 5 Shield cards
  • 5 Mounted Lance/Pike cards
  • 5 Equipment (misc.) cards
  • 5 Morning Star cards
  • 5 Flail cards
  • 5 Torch cards
  • 5 Two-Handed-Sword cards
  • 5 Battle Axe cards
  • 5 Mace cards
  • 5 Halberd cards
  • 5 Composite Bow cards
  • 5 Spear cards
  • 5 Light Crossbow cards
  • 5 Pole Arm cards
  • 5 War Hammer cards
  • 5 Staff/Wand cards
  • 5 Longbow cards
  • 5 cards with Men Attacking and Saving Throw charts

The cards were given in varying numbers in the old set, but here they all come in sets of 5. It should also be noted that the cards featuring the Monster Attack and Damage charts, as well as the ones with the Man-to-Man rules from Chainmail, are no longer included. I can see leaving out the monster rules, because only the DM needs those. As for Man-to-Man combat, I suspect that very few groups were using those rules, so the JG folks left those cards out.

The second product I'm looking at today is JG 28, the Judges' Shield. I'm sure most of you know what this is: a multi-panelled cardboard shield with various charts printed on it, that can be used for reference during the game as well as to block the DM's notes from the prying eyes of the players. This particular shield has some historical significance, though, because it's the first one ever. I know of very few DMs who operate without one, so they've become something of an indispensable tool, and Judges Guild were the ones who came up with the idea.

I found scans of both sides of the Shield which I'll provide below.

Side facing players

Side facing DM

There's nothing too out of the ordinary on here, except maybe the section on the spell phantasmal forces; it must have caused more than a few headaches during gameplay for the JG crew to have thought it worthy of inclusion. The DM's side has a pretty comprehensive list of monster stats, including those from the first three supplements, as well as The Strategic Review and The Dragon. I was surprised to see that the Denebian Slime Devil and the Death Angel made the cut, as they won't be included in the Monster Manual by TSR. The Death Angel was only just in the last issue of The Dragon that I covered, so Judges Guild must have tried really hard to make this product up-to-date.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 48: The Dragon #6

Cover art by Morno

Issue #6 of The Dragon was published 1977, cover dated April. Editor Tim Kask noted in his Dragon Rumbles editorial that readership has increased fourfold over the last year, so obviously the magazine is doing well. He also notes that they plan to expand coverage to a wider variety of games, but we'll see how long that lasts; I suspect it'll be mostly D&D before the end of the year.

I covered this issue previously, back in 2010, so I'll be skimming it a bit in this post. The relevant articles are below; the only article I'm ignoring is a short story called "The Forest of Flame" which was written by Morno (real name Bradley Schenck).

"An Alternate Beginning Sequence for Metamorphosis Alpha" by Guy W. McLimore Jr.: Instead of starting PCs off as tribesmen aboard the Starship Warden, this article gives suggestions for running a game where the players are clones of the original crew. I doubt I'll use this article as intended, but such clones might come into play should any D&D characters end up on the Warden.

"Sea Trade in D&D Campaigns" by Ronald C. Spencer Jr.: Some simple rules for determining the success of any sea trading ventures that the PCs may wish to get involved with. It uses a chart, with the number of ports visited determining how much gold is made. More ports equals more gold, but also increases the chance of running into some kind of hazard. I'll keep this article in mind if I ever get around to developing rules for trade.

"Legions of the Petal Throne Painting Guide" by M.A.R. Barker: An article detailing the colours of various troop types and monsters in the world of Tekumel, including clothing, armour, and even flesh tones. That Professor Barker is thorough. Various Tsolyani troops are included, as is the priest of Vimuhla, Yan Koryani troops, the priest of Hry'y, and the following non-human creatures: Shen, Ssu, Hlaka, Ahoggya, and Sro. I'll try to keep this info in mind should I ever have players stray into Tekumel.

"Further Rules, Modifications and Clarifications for Metamorphosis Alpha" by James M. Ward: Clarifications on some of the vaguer mutation rules, some new rules to make being poisoned multiple times deadlier, and some changes to missile and vibro weapons. Again, this is all stuff I'll keep in mind for games on board the Warden.

"From the Fantasy Forge": The first official D&D miniatures have been released by Minifig. I'll probably do a post on them in the near future, so I won't cover them here.

"The Gnome Cache Chapter 6" by Gary Gygax: Dunstan joins up with a merchant caravan, but ends up fleeing for his life when it's attacked by bandits. Here are the setting tidbits I gleaned:

  • After a week's journey, the merchant caravan crosses the Aarn River and enters the walled town of Rheyton.
  • The men of the distant western plains are small and wiry.
  • The land that Dunstan hails from is known as Thalland, and the people that live there are called Thallites.
  • Northerners from Nehron or Kimbry are broad, burly and dark-haired.
  • The merchant is a Thallite known as Evan. The leader of his mercenary band is called Rufus, and Baldwin is his lieutenant. One of the Kimbry in the band is known as Vardabothet. All of them probably die at the end of this chapter.
  • The Kimbry live in the Kimbry Vale, beyond which are mountains.
  • After many days travel they reach the border keep of Blackmoor, which also has a village and a guardian castle. The Nehron peasants seem unhappy with their noble lord.
  • An evergreen forest begins a few leagues north of Blackmoor.
  • The bandits mention a Nehron uprising against Blackmoor, but this could be a ruse on their part.

"D&D Option: Determination of Psionic Abilities" by David W. Miller: Alternate rules for determining whether a PC has psionic powers, that allow a PC to test for them regardless of their ability scores. It also opens the psionic powers to all character types, rather than restricting them by class. Probably the most relevant thing for me is that it allows half-human PCs to test for psionics as well.

"Morale in D&D" by Jim Hayes & Bill Gilbert: An alternate morale system that assigns a Bravery score to NPCs and PCs alike. I originally dismissed these rules for taking agency away from the PCs - I don't like any rules that make PCs do things against their will, unless it's a magical effect of some sort.

The authors talk about their home setting of Fantorgn, where humans are predominant and demi-humans rare and mustrusted. I considered using this setting as a proto-Ravenloft, with a magical aura of dread to explain why the PCs are more fearful than usual. Sample PCs in this setting are: Klabath Durhn (6th level fighter, 14 bravery) and Maygreth the Fierce (7th level fighter, 15 Charisma). Their entourage consists of another 6th level fighter, three 4th level fighters, a 5th level magic-user, his three 2nd level assistants, three village priests from the local temple, a half-elf guide and two elf hirelings. In the example of play they are attacked by six ogres.

"Featured Creature: Death Angel" by John Sullivan: Grim reaper types that either act as oracles, warning of death, or as representatives of death itself to kill a specific creature. They are said to be "fingers of fate", and work for powerful entities such as gods, demi-gods, some liches and a few Evil High Priests of 20th level or higher. I plan on using these beings sparingly, pretty much as described.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 47: Dungeoneer #4

Issue #4 of the Dungeoneer fanzine was published in March 1977.

"The Arcane Elders Chapter IV" by Mark Hendricks: The story switches back to Lute the Bard and Ralph the Hobbit, who spend the chapter escaping from their barbarian captors. Pretty basic stuff, not much to glean here.

"Monster Matrix": Nine new monsters are introduced here. As usual, I'll be confining these to the Judges Guild setting, and probably making them quite rare where possible.

  • "Zappers" by Mark Norton: These creatures are sentient lightning bolts that are attracted to metal, and will try to destroy it. Regular items are destroyed automatically, while magic items get a saving throw. Any creature they strike takes damage based on the Zapper's Hit Dice, ranging from 1d8 to 6d8. Oh, and they have a movement rate of 100", so good luck escaping from them.
  • "Arora Energy Monster" by Jim Ward: In its natural state this monster looks like a cloud, but it has the power to assume the shape of the last creature that attacked it. It also has the power to reflect any damage done to it back on the attacker. This seems to include all forms of attack: spells, sword thrusts, arrows, etc. There's some obvious fun to be had by the DM with these abilities, but the monster is mindless, which prevents them from becoming too deadly.
  • "Bomb Monster" by Jim Ward: A winged bowling ball that explodes for 10d8 damage when touched. I'm not sure why it has wings, because it's never said that it can fly, but it does have a movement rate of 21 so maybe it can. After the explosion it will reform into a ball, and it can only be killed if 25% or more of its body is prevented from reuniting with the main body.
  • "Vorpal Bunnies" by Paul Jaquays: I suppose it had to happen eventually. As in Monty Python and the Holy Grail they appear as cute bunnies but are in actual fact very deadly. In D&D terms, their bite acts just like a vorpal blade. This is the kind of monster that's so ingrained into nerd culture that tricking PCs with one would be next to impossible, although we might be getting back to a point where there are players who aren't that familiar with Monty Python? Is such a thing possible?
  • "The Mirror Men" by Paul Jaquays: Chaotic humanoids that are made out of mirrors. They reflect light to blind their opponents, and if exposed to light for long enough can fire a heat ball that does 1d8 damage per round. If exposed to direct sunlight or other intense light, they will explode. They attack with sharp claws, and if struck for enough damage they might shatter and die instantly.
  • "The Agarrett" by Tom Siterlet: This creature is a winged mutant, about 10'-12' tall, with four arms and a horn in its forehead. They're said to be a distant relative of goblins, not that there's much of any resemblance. They reproduce through their saliva, and anyone struck by their tongue must save or become a zombie-like "incubator" for their young. After 3.5 months the victim must save or be charmed and eaten by the hatching young Agarrett.
  • "Ondoculi" by Cecil & Kaj Nurse: A subterranean race that has two heads, three legs and four multi-jointed arms. Some of them are clerics, and can be distracted by philosophical discussion. Some wield swords, and any Ondoculan sword has the ability to turn a creature struck by it to stone. If one of these swords is taken from an Ondoculan the magic fades after one month.
  • "Golcoduli" by Cecil & Kaj Nurse: Vicious dog-like creatures with lots of teeth and the ability to breathe a short cone of flaming acid. They are kept as pets by the Ondoculi. Some of them are intelligent, and can walk upright and speak the language of their masters.
  • "Dust Golem" by Tom Johnson: Dust Golem were apparently created when an "Ugly" (a kind of hunch-backed servant from earlier issues of this mag) forgot to clean out a Wax Golem Mold for a decade while it was in storage. The irate wizard turned said Ugly into a candle as punishment, but was later pleased to discover that the Dust Golem was powerfully strong, and immune to such things as charm, fireball, lightning, petrification and polymorph. A cold spell reduced the golem's AC to 3 for some reason. There's an oddity with this creature's Hit Dice, which is given as 1½d8. Does that mean 1d4? 1.5 times a d8? I'm really not sure, though I'm inclined to go with 1d4 given the Number Appearing is 2-300.

"The Room of Crocked Magic" by Paul Jaquays: This room (location unspecified) is the home of a bunch of gnomes who are happy to sell magic items. None of these items quite work correctly, and there are 20 examples given: a potion of growth that turns the drinker into a giant with an IQ of 3; leather armour +1 that weighs as much as plate mail; a potion of longevity that reduces the drinkers lifespan by 10 years; and so on. The gnomes have a wall-mounted death ray that they use as protection (which of course functions exactly as it should...). I suspect that this room is supposed to be found in a dungeon somewhere, but it would probably get more play if located in the PCs home town or city.

"Comments on Those Lovely Ladies" by Judith Preissle Goetz: In issue #2 Paul Jaquay wrote up some rules regarding female adventurers, and this article makes some objections and suggestions. The observation is made that if women have a higher Charisma where men are concerned, the opposite should also be true. Also, the author objects to the idea that women with a high Strength should have a lower Charisma. More suggestions are made regarding the relative Strength and Dexterity of men and women, as well as suggesting that women should get +1 Constitution due to having greater resistance to environmental stresses. I'm likely to ignore all of this, and just have men and women rolling the same stats.

"Metamorphosis Alpha" by Jim Ward: Jim spends a few paragraphs describing Metamorphosis Alpha and how much fun it is, which is hardly an unbiased review considering he wrote it.

"Magic, Tomes, Scrolls" by Paul Jaquays: Jaquays gives some interpretations on various rules to do with magic, including such things as scrolls, spell book, and how many spells a wizard may know. The most interesting tidbit here is that we finally learn what the Arcane Elders (which have been mentioned in a bunch of Dungeoneer articles) are: a group of nine demi-gods who distribute magic as they see fit to those who contact them through an arcane crystal.

"Tricks & Traps": This is a selection of 31 tricks and traps, as the title says, most of the being fairly whimsical. Some examples include a room that eats the intelligence of magic swords, or a mounted elephant head that shoots peanuts as missiles. Some are bafflingly pointless: a library which contain only fictional material? Another that requires a library card? I mean, why? The less said about the one that has R2-D2 and C-3PO joining the party the better. (Although it means that the cover date must be a fair bit behind the actual publication, as Star Wars was released in May)

"The Goodies Bag": Two new magic items.

  • "Necklace of Warriors" by Tom Filmore: A rope with 1d10 beads attached, each of which can be thrown to summon an obedient warrior. If attacked or betrayed by their master they will seek revenge, and the DM is encouraged to play them as annoyingly over-literal when following orders.
  • "Discs of Severen" by Jim Ward: The index I'm looking at says this is supposed to be in here, but there's no sign of it in the compendium of issues #1-6 that I have.

"The Pharaoh's Tomb" by Jim Ward: This is a pretty bonkers dungeon with some hefty treasure along with some very deadly dangers. There are pressure plate spear traps, rooms that fill with poison gas, rooms that fill with sand (a lot of those) and even an entire room that's full of sulfuric acid that floods out when you open the door.

I mentioned rooms that fill with sand, and that happens in every single one of the shaded rooms on the map above; I could see progress becoming painfully slow in this dungeon, to the point where it just becomes no fun to play.

As for monsters, there are plenty: mummies, displacer beasts, a rust monster, invisible stalkers, among others. If you do manage to make it to the tomb, it releases four 10th level fighters and a 30th level lich. Oh, and then there's the 25% chance of Anubis himself showing up to kill you on the way in, and a 50% chance on the way out. On the whole I think this dungeon might be deadlier than the much-vaunted Tomb of Horrors, but it's nowhere near as clever. Say what you want about the Tomb, but at least it plays fair and rewards caution.