Friday, June 19, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 68: Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set

Box art by Dave Sutherkand

The D&D basic set was the beginning of a new era for the game, one where TSR was upping their production values and shooting for wider mass market success.  A big part of that process was the development of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but prior to that it was decided that the game needed a more introductory rule-set.  These rules - which only cover player character levels 1 to 3 - were written by John Eric Holmes, a professor of neurology, and are mostly a revision of the original Dungeons & Dragons booklets (with some stuff thrown in from Supplement I: Greyhawk).

Initially, the boxed set came with a rules booklet, a copy of Dungeon Geomorphs Set One, a copy of Monster & Treasure Assortment Set One, and a set of dice.  Later printings swapped out the Geomorphs and Monster & Treasure Assortment for the module B1 In Search of the Unknown, and much later that was replaced by B2 The Keep on the Borderlands.  There were also the infamous numbered cardboard chits, which replaced the dice when TSR were having a shortage.

I already covered this product, starting all the way back here.  Check those posts out for a more in-depth look at the product.  (Although maybe ignore the stuff at the beginning about resetting the rules via an adventurer's guild, because I'm not planning on doing that kind of "rules progression" campaign, at least not in the way I was originally.)  Here I'm just going to quickly run through the new additions to the game, mostly to remind myself of the things I need to incorporate for the Ultimate Sandbox.


  • The first racial ability score requirements (for dwarves and halflings) in an official product.
  • Elves now specifically operate as fighters and magic-users simultaneously (not having to switch classes between adventures as they did in OD&D).
  • The halfling missile bonus is clarified as +1 to attack rolls.  (Previously the rule had referred back to Chainmail, but what was in Chainmail made little sense with D&D's combat system.)
  • Halfling fighters only get 1d6 hit die, as opposed to the standard 1d8.
  • Halflings are specifically limited in size of weapons and armour. I don't think this had been mentioned before.
  • While I'm on the subject of halflings, this is the first D&D product that consistently uses halfling instead of hobbit.  As I understand it, this was the result of legal action from the Tolkien estate, and we won't be seeing the use of the word hobbit from this point forward.
  • The rates for healing are now different.  In OD&D a character healed 1 hit point per day of rest after the first, but here they heal 1-3 points per day
  • Spears now cost 2 gold pieces instead of 1.
  • Tinderboxes have been added to the equipment list.
  • A specific price is given for advertising to hire henchmen (1d6 x 100 gp).
  • The five-point alignment system from The Dragon #6 is used for the first time in an official D&D product.  The alignments are neutral, lawful good, chaotic good, lawful evil and chaotic evil.
  • A simplified, rudimentary encumbrance system is introduced, where characters are either unencumbered, encumbered by armour or a heavy load, or encumbered by both.
  • Durations are given for lanterns and torches.
  • Infravision is clarified as not working near a light source.
  • The chance for surprised characters to drop items is lowered from 25% to 1-in-6.
  • Wandering monsters are now checked for at end of every third turn, rather than every turn, a drastic drop in frequency.
  • The starting distance for encounters is changed from 20-80 to 20-120.
  • Monsters (at least the ones appearing on the wandering monster charts) are given ranges for number appearing that are much more manageable than those from OD&D.
  • The wandering monster tables for dungeons are altered, mostly to get rid of the various classed NPCs and the monsters that Holmes didn't give any stats.
  • The monster reaction roll table is altered, with results for rolls of 2 and 12 being "immediate attack" and "enthusiastic friendship", respectively.
  • Turning undead is greatly clarified, with an actual explanation of how it works presented alongside the chart.
  • Clerics seemingly no longer use spell books, as they were said to do in OD&D.
  • Thieves used to use the magic-user table for saving throws, but now they use the fighter table.
  • Normal men were previously as good in battle as 1st level fighters, but now they've been a little downgraded.
  • The use of flaming oil in combat gets specific (and very lethal) rules.
  • The use of holy water on undead gets specific rules.
  • Combat rounds last for 10 seconds, rather than 1 minute.
  • Parrying rules are given that are different from those in Chainmail.
  • There are rules introduced that allow daggers to strike twice in a round, and limit heavier weapons like polearms and two-handed swords to striking once every other round.  Every weapons does 1d6 damage, so there's no reason at all with this system to choose anything other than a dagger.


There are a bunch of minor changes to spells, but here I'm only listing the more significant ones.

  • The following 1st level magic-user spells make their debut: dancing lights, enlargement and Tenser's floating disc.
  • The following 2nd level magic-user spells make their debut: audible glamer and ray of enfeeblement.
  • The following 1st level cleric spells make their debut: remove fear, resist cold, know alignment, and resist fire.
  • Light is given a range of 120', whereas before it didn't have a range.
  • Magic missile requires an attack roll to hit, whereas most later versions of D&D make it hit automatically.
  • Protection from evil's bonuses stack with magic armor, whereas before that was specifically not the case.
  • Sleep is given a duration of either 4-16 turns or 2-8 turns (both are used.) It previously had no duration specified.
  • The radius of continual light has dropped from 240 ft. to a much saner 60 ft.
  • The strength spell bonuses are now reversed for clerics and thieves; originally, clerics got a 1d6 bonus and thieves got a 1d4 bonus.
  • Hold person is clarified as a paralysis spell, whereas before it could be interpreted as a variation on charm person.
  • The reversed spells for evil clerics now get specific names: cure light wounds becomes cause light wounds, detect evil becomes detect good, light becomes darkness, purify food and water becomes contaminate food and water, remove fear becomes cause fear, and bless becomes curse.


  • Pretty much every monster's alignment gets changed from OD&D to the Basic Set, due to the use of the new alignment system.  There are also a bunch of smaller statistical changes that I'm not going to bother listing here.  I went through those pretty exhaustively in my initial posts on the Basic Set.
  • Zombies are said to be poisoned by salt.  Curiously, this line (under "Monster Saving Throws") is in my PDF version of the rules, but not my actual copy of the book.  It must have been removed from later printings.  I might keep it in mind for specific types of zombies.
  • Kobolds are described as dwarf-like, which is more mythologically correct than the D&D-style dog-men.  They also get a saving throw bonus that's not seen in other versions of the game.
  • Weresharks are mentioned as a possibility (and said to come from "Polynesia"), but sadly no stats are given.
  • The sight of a mummy can now paralyse, which isn't something I recall from other editions.
  • Pixie royalty are said to be powerful magic-users.
  • Zombies are upgraded from 1 Hit Die to 2 Hit Dice.  (Although I think that the OD&D tables could be interpreted as 2.)


  • The value of electrum pieces are set at half a gold piece.  Previously they had been valued at either half or double of one gold piece.
  • Treasure Types J through T are added, which mostly give much smaller results than the earlier types.
  • There's a cursed sword -1 on the chart, whereas I'm pretty sure the only previous cursed sword had been a cursed sword +1.  That might have been a typo.
  • Magic swords are no longer all intelligent.
  • The ring of plant control makes its debut.
  • The ring of protection grants an Armor Class of 2, which is a very generous interpretation of the OD&D rules.
  • Gauntlets of ogre power get specific powers, adding a bonus of 2d4 to damage.


  • Malchor the Magic-User is an NPC who has an Intelligence score of 10.  In addition to his normal garb (boots, loincloth, robes, girdle, pointy hat), he bought the following gear with his starting gold: 2 daggers, a backpack, a large sack, some rope, standard rations, 2 small sacks, 12 iron spikes, a quart of wine, 2 oil flasks, 2 vials of holy water, a garlic bud, some wolvesbane, a waterskin, a tinderbox and a lantern.  He had 20 gold pieces left over.  He is able to cast the sleep spell.
  • Drego the Thief is another NPC named.  He is 1st level.  At one point he failed to pick a lock, and at another he successfully hid in the shadows of a dark corridor while a party of evil warriors passed by.
  • Bruno the Battler is another NPC, a fighter.  He has a Dexterity of 13, wields a sword, wears chainmail and shield, uses a bow, and has 6 hit points.  As will be seen later, I sadly won't be using Bruno as an active NPC in my campaign.
  • Clarissa the Cleric is an NPC with a Dexterity of 6, who uses a mace.  She's described as a "priestess", which might make her 3rd level (the 3rd level cleric title being "priest").
  • Mogo the Mighty is the last named NPC.  He is presumably a fighter, as he uses a bow and a sword, and wears chainmail armour.  He has a Dexterity of 9, and only has 3 hit points.
  • On one adventure, Bruno the Battler busted down a door and killed a big goblin wearing chainmail armour and wielding a scimitar.
  • On another adventure (or possibly later in the same one), a party of adventurers (which includes Malchor, Bruno, Clarissa, and Mogo, among others) is standing at an intersection when they are attacked by six giant spiders.  Malchor takes out four of them with a sleep spell, while one is killed by arrow fire.  The last one poisons Bruno to death, before being killed by Clarissa.
  • An example dungeon cross section is given, as shown below.  I will probably use the Skull Mountain adventure written by Jeff Sparks to represent this dungeon in my campaign.

  • There's also a sample dungeon, set beneath the ruined tower of the wizard Zenopus.  I've already extensively detailed my placement for this module in the campaign, as shown in this post.
  • Finally, there's an example of play with a party that includes the "caller", a halfling, a fighter, an elf, a dwarf, and possibly others.  They move north up a corridor, and enter a room and fight some orcs for a chest with 100 gold pieces.  The halfling hears slithering behind the door they just came through, while the elf finds a secret door.  The party goes through the secret door until they are eventually confronted by a gelatinous cube.  As the cube advances, the dwarf notices a hollow space under the floor.  I may include this section of dungeon somewhere, and I've mapped it below.  The NPCs aren't named, so I might just assume that the cube did them in.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Building the Sandbox: The S-series modules

I tackled the B series last week, but I'm not in the mood for such a lengthy undertaking today, so I'm going to deal with something a bit shorter.  The S series consists of just four modules, all of them quite standalone.

S1 Tomb of Horrors

Gary Gygax's infamous killer dungeon was designed in early 1975, inspired by an adventure written by Alan Lucien.  (For more details, read this post.)  It made its debut to the public as a tournament adventure for Origins I, and had a small print run.  In 1978, the year that TSR started publishing adventure modules, Tomb of Horrors was one of the first to get the treatment.

The adventure is set in the trap-laden tomb of the lich Acererak.  The two versions of the adventure give various possible locations for it in the World of Greyhawk.  The tournament module suggests the following: the highest hill in the Egg of Coot; an island lying 100 miles east of Blackmoor; in the great desert west of the Wild Coast; on the border between the Paynim Kingdom and Perrunland; at the eastern edge of the Duchy of Geoff; in a swamp somewhere in the Wild Coast.  The published module has the following suggestions: the highest hill on the Plains of Iuz; an unmapped islandin the Nyr Dyv;in the Bright Desert; at the western border of the Duchy of Geoff; somewhere in the Vast Swamp south of Sundi; on an island beyond the realm of the Sea Barons.

In 1983, the World of Greyhawk boxed set said that the tomb was "most probably" located in the middle of the Vast Swamp.  That leaves some wiggle room for DMs who want to place it elsewhere, but it's stuck as the tomb's actual location in later products.  It doesn't fit with any of the suggestions from the tournament module, but it's perfectly in line with the published S1.  My inclination for those other locations is to place tombs there, of much lesser risk and reward than the Tomb of Horrors.  At the very least all of these places should have something there that would inspire the rumours.

There are two versions of the adventure, but both are set in the World of Greyhawk, and are similar enough that I don't see the need to use both.  Perhaps I'll use the tournament version for the first adventurers who stumble in, with the upgraded published adventure for those who come in later.  I'd definitely consider using both sets of illustrations where they don't overlap.

S2 White Plume Mountain

Published in 1978, White Plume Mountain was author Lawrence Schick's job application, consisting of all of his best ideas cobbled together into one adventure.  It has the distinction of being the first AD&D adventure not written by Gary Gygax.

White Plume Mountain takes place in the lair of the wizard Keraptis, and centres around the quest for three powerful weapons.  The module specifically places itself in the northeastern part of the Shield Lands, near the Bandit Kingdoms and the Great Rift.  The World of Greyhawk boxed set backs up that placement, although it calls the Great Rift the Riftcanyon.

S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was inspired by Jim Ward's work on the sci-fi game Metamorphosis Alpha, and written by Gary Gygax as the tournament module for Origins II.  The print run for this version of the adventure was very small, and I've not been able to locate a copy.  The version published by TSR was released early in 1980.  It's set in a crashed spaceship.

The TSR version is specifically placed in the mountains northwest of the city of Hornwood in the Grand Duchy of Geoff.  Again, the World of Greyhawk boxed set offers no contradictions here.

S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

This dungeon has something of a tangled history.  It began as a dungeon level designed by Rob Kuntz for Castle El Raja Key, the centrepiece of his Kalibruhn campaign.  In 1976, Gary Gygax used that map to design a tournament adventure for Wintercon V, which was called The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth and had a small print run.  Later, in 1982, the adventure was expanded and published by TSR as The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.

The adventure involves the search for the treasure of the Archmage Iggwilv.  It's set in the Yatil Mountains south of Perrenland, a location backed up in the World of Greyhawk.  The adventure as presented in the tournament version seems to be close enough, though I'm not familiar enough with both versions to recognise any minor differences.  The main difference between the two is that Iggwilv is presented as male in the tournament version, and female in the TSR version.  Iggwilv is female throughout her TSR history, so that's not in dispute, though I should note that sex-change magic is quite prevalent in old-school D&D.  I wouldn't rule out using it as a possible explanation for the discrepancy.

S1-4 Realms of Horror

Realms of Horror, published in 1987, is a compilation of the four previous modules.  I haven't read it closely, but it doesn't appear to add anything of significance to the adventures, or really string them together in any meaningful way.  As far as I can tell, I don't think I'll have to incorporate it.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 67: JG36 Character Chronicle Cards

This will be a quick on today, because there's not a whole hell of a lot to say about this product.  Judges Guild's Character Chronicle Cards are a set of 100 cards with character sheets printed on them.  The front and back of each card are as follows:

I suppose they could be used by players (especially if you're the sort who likes to have your character sheet on you at all times, just in case), but they seem of much more use to DMs, who will no doubt have loads of NPCs to keep track of.  Handy, but nothing you couldn't achieve with a stack of index cards, which would probably be cheaper.

Some of the categories on the cards are curious though.  What does GAM under the ability scores represent?  Gambling, maybe?  Boot Hill has a Gambling score, so it's possible.  Across from there is SL, which the card packaging says stands for Social Level.  Everything else is pretty self-explanatory, although I'm not sure what "Date" is supposed to be for.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Building the Sandbox: The B-series modules

I'm on something of a roll when it comes to jumping ahead of my chronology to place D&D adventures in my Ultimate Sandbox campaign, so I'm going to keep going while I'm still enthusiastic about it.  Today I'm going to tackle the B series of modules designed for the various editions of Basic D&D, and figure out when and where I intend to use them.

B1 In Search of the Unknown (by Mike Carr, 1978)

This introductory module came with later printings of the Holmes-written D&D Basic Set.  It takes place in the dungeons and caves named Quasqueton below a tower once owned by a wizard and fighter pair named Rogahn and Zelligar.

Early printings of the module suggest three places that the dungeon can be placed in the World of Greyhawk: the Barony of Ratik, the Duchy of Tenh, or the Theocracy of the Pale. All of these regions are fairly northerly, not too far south from the lands of the Frost Barbarians.  These locations are only suggestions, however, and were later superseded by Return to the Keep on the Borderlands in 1999.  That module takes place in the south-westerly regions of the Yeomanry, which is itself towards the south-west of the Flanaess.  It features a blocked cave with a sign that says "Quasqueton", which is strong enough evidence for me to place it there.  It's not a great fit with B1's background (which suggests that it's north of civilised lands, with barbarian tribes even further north), but it's going to be difficult to accommodate every detail, especially when a module exists in multiple worlds.

Quasqueton also exists in Mystara, the Basic D&D world.  In the 1983 D&D Expert Set, it's placed in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, west of the town of Threshold.  It's in the mountains that border the north of Karameikos, which is a much better fit with the module's background.

There are two versions of this module, one with a monochrome cover and one with a colour cover.  I understand that there are some differences between the two.  Assuming that these differences are significant, I'll use the original for the World of Greyhawk, and the revised version for Mystara.

B2 The Keep on the Borderlands (by Gary Gygax, 1979)

Keep on the Borderlands was included with the Holmes version of the D&D Basic Set for a short time, replacing module B1, but it's much better known as the module included with the Moldvay Basic Set.  It's centred around a keep on the frontiers of civilisation, near a humanoid-infested cave system known as the Caves of Chaos.

For the World of Greyhawk, this module was placed in Return to the Keep on the Borderlands.  Like module B1 above, it's in the south-west of the Yeomanry.  The keep is named as Kendall Keep.

For Mystara, this module was given a location in the 1983 D&D Expert Set.  It's in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, in the mountains north-east of Threshold.

As with B1, there are two versions of this module, with the same covers but small internal differences.  I'll use the original Gygax version for the World of Greyhawk, and the version that was revised (I think by Tom Moldvay) for Mystara.

Return to the Keep on the Borderlands is explicitly set in the World of Greyhawk, in the Yeomanry, and adds quite a bit of background detail on the area.  It takes place 20 years after the original module, which is where I'll set it barring PC actions that make that impossible.  I also understand that there are Keep on the Borderlands-branded adventures for 4th edition, set in and around a place known as "The Chaos Scar", but I gather that this is more of a spiritual sequel rather than an adaptation of the module.  There's a 5th edition adaptation as well, which I guess will be the state of the caves once they're restocked following Return.

B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (by Jean Wells & Tom Moldvay, 1981)

In terms of modules that have two versions, this might be one of D&D's most infamous.  The original printing, with an orange cover, was very quickly recalled (a fact that's usually attributed to the supposedly sexual nature of some of Erol Otus's art) and became one of the more expensive D&D collectibles.  It was later re-released with a green cover, and this version was far more widely distributed.  Since the two versions are quite different, I'll place one in Mystara and the other in the World of Greyhawk.

The module is set in a once prosperous valley that was ruled by the Princess Argenta. The land fell into ruin almost overnight after a warrior riding a white dragon appeared in the skies, and now only ruins remains.

As with the previous two modules, this adventure was placed in the 1983 Expert Set.  It's in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, in the mountains east of Threshold.

As for Greyhawk, I've done some reading and decided on putting it somewhere near Highfolk.  The module has something of a fey/fairytale quality, and the nearby Vesve Forest is home to elves and gnomes, which seems fitting.  It's also a little bit northerly, which fits for the presence of a white dragon.

B4 The Lost City (by Tom Moldvay, 1982)

Module B4 is the the first in this series that doesn't have multiple versions.  It was also completely written for Basic D&D.  I'd have been happy enough to have it exist solely in Mystara, but the 3rd edition product Elder Evils also places it in the World of Greyhawk, Eberron, and the Forgotten Realms.  The adventure takes place in a lost city (of course) in the middle of a desert.

In Mystara, the titular lost city is found in the Emirate of Ylaruam, north-east of Karameikos.  I don't think this info was given in the original module, but it's there on the map from the 1983 Expert Set.  There's a sequel to this adventure in Dungeon #142, which is explicitly set in Mystara.

In the World of Greyhawk, the placement is left vague in Elder Evils.  The Cynidecian Empire that the lost city was a part of existed "many centuries ago" so I have some leeway in terms of Greyhawk history as to where I can place it.  The Bright Desert and the Sea of Dust seem like the most likely places.  The Sea of Dust was formerly the Suel Empire, though, and probably has too extensive a history to accommodate Cynidecia.  I can't see any reason it wouldn't fit into the Bright Desert.

In Eberron, the lost city is located in a place known as the Demon Wastes.  In the Forgotten Realms, the city was once in the Imaskar Empire, and is now at the edge of Raurin, the Dust Desert.

B5 Horror on the Hill (by Douglas Niles, 1983)

Horror on the Hill is set around a keep known as Guido's Fort, and the monster-infested hill nearby.  It wasn't given an explicit location in the module itself, and must have been released too late to be placed in the Expert Set.  It does get a location in module B1-9 In Search of Adventure, however.  It's in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, "some distance upriver" from the Barony of Kelvin.

B6 The Veiled Society (by Dave Cook, 1984)

The Veiled Society is a real departure for the B series: a city-based adventure that is event-based rather than location-based.  It's very specifically set in Mystara, taking place in the capital city of Karameikos, Specularum, and dealing with an assassination conspiracy.

B7 Rahasia (by Tracy and Laura Hickman, 1984)

This module is one of the most-reprinted of the 1980s.  It started as a self-published effort in 1980 from the authors, before being acquired by TSR.  The first TSR version was module RPGA1 Rahasia, in 1983, which was followed by a sequel, RPGA2 Black Opal Eye.  Both of these were later combined and adapted for the B series in 1984.  With two separate TSR versions, I'm inclined to place one in the World of Greyhawk and the other in Mystara.  The adventure takes place near an elven village, with a nearby temple.

Neither module is given an explicit location.  For Mystara, B1-9 In Search of Adventure places it in the forest not far from Selenica, to the north of Karameikos.  For this I'll use the B series version.

In Greyhawk, I'm inclined to put the module in the Vesve Forest, not too far away from B3 Palace of the Silver Princess.  This will be the placement for modules RPGA1 and RPGA2.

B8 Journey to the Rock (by Michael Malone, 1984)

This module is centred around the PCs on a wilderness trek to the Hall of the Rock to retrieve a magic amulet for a wizard.  The original module has several suggestions for placement in Mystara: the river northwest of Wereskalot, in Karameikos; the river northwest of Threshold, in Karameikos; and the mountains or hills north of Lake Amsorak in Darokin.  Module B1-9 puts it several hours travel to the north of Threshold, so I suppose the original module's first placement is the one to go with.

B9 Castle Caldwell & Beyond (by someone whose real name cannot possibly be Harry Nuckols, 1985)

Rather than a single adventure, this module features five mini-adventures, each of which I'll tackle in turn below.

"The Clearing of Castle Caldwell" and "Dungeons of Terror" both take place in the titular castle, which module B1-9 places about five miles west of Threshold in Karameikos.

"The Abduction of Princess Sylvia" centres around the kidnapping of a princess on the eve of her wedding. The adventure isn't in module B1-9, and doesn't itself have any placement suggestions.  The main requirement is that it needs to be set in a nation that has a monarchy.  It's tempting just to make Sylvia the daughter of the Duke of Karameikos, but that family's lineage is pretty well outlined in Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure.  The following nations in Mystara are defined specifically as kingdoms: Alfheim, Ierendi, Rockhome and Vestland.  Alfheim and Rockhome are home to elves and dwarves respectively, so they're out.  Ierendi's king and queen are figureheads decided on every year via tournament, so that's not ideal.  Vestland seems like the most likely spot to place it, although the name Sylvia isn't exactly a great fit for the Nordic culture.  It has a king whose family is not defined as far as I can tell, and that's perfect.  It's also not far from where I plan to place the "ruined tower of Zenopus" in Mystara, and it's always handy to have some potential adventures clustered together.

"The Great Escape" has the PCs imprisoned in an enemy fortress with no weapons and equipment.  Module B1-9 places it somewhere near the city of Luln in Karameikos, not far from the Black Eagle Barony.  Since it relies on a bit of rail-roading at the start, I'd be inclined not to run it unless I was running the whole B1-9 supermodule.

In "The Sanctuary of Elwyn the Ardent" , the PCs must recover a magical chime.  According to module B1-9, it's set in a fortress in a "distant part of the country" from Threshold.  The villain of this adventure has allied with the evil clerics from the Caves of Chaos, so it shouldn't be entirely too far away from the location of module B2.

B10 Night's Dark Terror (by Jim Bambra, Graeme Morris, and Phil Gallagher, 1986)

Designed in the UK, this module serves as a transition from the more dungeon-focused B series to the wilderness-focused X series.  It begins at a beleaguered farmstead in the Dymrak Forest near Kelvin, and spans a good chunk of eastern Karameikos.  It doesn't seem to have any particular timeline requirements, so I'd probably run it whenever the PCs hit level 3 or thereabouts.

B1-9 In Search of Adventure (edited by Jeff Grubb, 1987)

This module is a compilation of the supposed best bits of the first nine modules of the B series.  It starts the PCs in the town of Threshold, and guides them around Karameikos through the various modules using hints and adventures hooks.  The adventures are pretty loosely connected, but there are three distinct paths that all culminate in B6 The Veiled Society.  If I ever use Mystara as a setting to start a campaign, I'll probably kick things off with this module.

B11 King's Festival (by Carl Sargent, 1989)

This introductory module, which begins with the kidnapping of a cleric, is set in the north of Karameikos in a village called Stallanford.  Given how late in the line it comes, I'd be inclined not to use it until after I'd already played a decent chunk of the earlier B series.

B12 Queen's Harvest (by Carl Sargent, 1989)

This is a direct sequel to King's Harvest, and takes place in much the same area.  Obviously I'd run the two back-to-back.

Wow, that took a lot longer than I expected it would.  Thankfully the majority of TSR's module lines are shorter than the B series, so I'll be able to tackle them a bit quicker.  I was going to whip up a map showing the locations, but I've already spent way too much time on this already.  I'll drop the map of the Known World from the Expert Set below, so that you can at least use it for reference for the stuff I talked about earlier.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Building the Sandbox: The Ruined Tower of Zenopus

Lately I've been running a campaign over Zoom, starting with the sample dungeon from the Eric Holmes version of the D&D Basic Set.  Alas, for the last two weeks I haven't been able to round up enough players to get a game going (I may have to be a bit more proactive about that).  Regardless, the two weeks of gaming that I did get in were quite enjoyable; the dungeon under the ruined Tower of Zenopus makes for a solid adventure, especially when you consider that it's the very first low-level adventure that TSR ever produced.

The question I had to ask myself before running it, however, was "where will it fit in the Ultimate Sandbox?".  If I'm planning to include every TSR adventure in this project, then I can't run one without giving it a location first.  The adventure is pretty generic: it's set in the dungeons beneath a wizard's ruined tower, near a small city named Portown on the Northern Sea, and is otherwise pretty light on concrete details.  I could place it just about anywhere coastal in a standard D&D world.

With such a vague outline I might have been spoiled for choice, but thanks to Wizards of the Coast I didn't have to make the decision.  Just last year, in their Ghosts of Saltmarsh product, the Tower of Zenopus was given an official location in the World of Greyhawk.  It's situated just west of the town of Saltmarsh, as can be seen on the map below.

Saltmarsh and surrounding areas

There are suggestions that Saltmarsh is built on the ruins of a much older town, which I guess could have been Portown.  I decided that I wanted to keep Portown though, and I didn't want the adventure to be taking place far enough into the past for Saltmarsh to have been built on its ruins.  So in my version of the World of Greyhawk, Portown sits on the southern bank of the river, just across from Saltmarsh.  In my head, they have a real Springfield/Shelbyville rivalry going on.

This of course means that the Northern Sea has to become the Azure Sea.  I can live with that.  It could perhaps be known as the Northern Sea to the people who live to the south (which as far as I can tell, would be the tribesmen of the Amedio Jungle, and I guess whatever lives in the Hellfurnaces).  I also noted that the river on which the two towns sit isn't named on the map.  I tried to look into it, but I couldn't find a name for it anywhere; it's not big enough to appear on most maps of the region.  For now, I'm calling it the Silverstand River, named for the forest that it flows through.

The original adventure doesn't provide a map of Portown and its surroundings, so for that I turned to Zach Howard's Ruined Tower of Zenopus.  It's a 5th edition conversion of the original adventure, but it's definitely worth a look even if you have the Basic Set.  Not only does it provide a map of Portown, it also adds some context to the encounters in the original, provides a table of rumours, and expands a number of areas with new adventure hooks.  I got a lot of value out of it for this campaign.

While I did use the map from that product, I ended up messing around with some locations on it due to issues of scale.  The original adventure says that the tunnel from the dungeon to the sea is about 500 feet long.  By that scale, Portown would be about 700 feet by 2,500 feet; about half a mile on its longest dimension.  My gut feeling was that that was too small, so I shuffled things around: I moved the ruins of the Tower of Zenopus closer to the coast and closer to the other wizard's tower (which connects to the dungeons), and I also moved the cemetery closer to the dungeon, as that connects too.  Thinking about it now, it seems like a lot of work for a "gut feeling", especially when I don't actually know the area of any real medieval cities or towns.  But I've played a couple of games using it already, so I'm sticking with it.  As I have it, Portown is now about half a mile wide and about a mile long.  Is that more accurate to what's described by Holmes as a busy city with a lot of trade going through it?  I have no idea.  (Normally I'd post the map, but this time I'll refrain.  I usually have few misgivings about posting maps from D&D products, but I'm a bit more leery about doing so for stuff from independent creators.  I've made changes to it, but it's mostly Zach's work. If you want to see Zach's map, go buy his book!

I also added an extra house not far from the cemetery, as one of the rumours in Ruined Tower of Zenopus has giant rats having tunneled from the dungeons to the cellar of an old widow in town.  I figured that should be a shorter journey, rationalising that the old girl would want to live as close to her dead husband as she could.

Looking back on Ghosts of Saltmarsh, I totally forgot to read the entry on the Tower of Zenopus that's in the book.  It gives a brief description of the dungeons, and also names the thaumaturgist who is currently trying to take them over: Keledek the Unspoken, who apparently came to the area from Ket some years ago.  I've already named this guy Fazaal, and used that name in-game, so that's what he's called.  Another inconsistency is that he has a tower in Saltmarsh, not in Portown as in the original adventure.  So I'm going to play it like this: if Fazaal is driven out of the dungeons and his tower by the PCs and manages to escape, he'll eventually return to the area and set himself up in Saltmarsh under the name Keledek the Unspoken.  Which of those his his real name?  I don't know.  Maybe neither of them.


One thing that becomes apparent when you start looking into the locations of various D&D adventures is that a whole bunch of them exist in multiple settings.  Greyhawk and Mystara in particular share a number of adventures, especially when it comes to the early modules for Basic D&D.  With that in mind, I'm going to tentatively place the ruined tower of Zenopus somewhere in Mystara as well, as I may want to run it again some day in its original form.

The main problem I'm faced with is that the vast majority of the areas that are focused on in Mystara are bordered by seas to the south; I'd prefer to keep Portown existing as it does on the coast of the Northern Sea.  I actually know very little about Mystara; I've read some modules set there, as well as the never-ending Princess Ark articles from Dragon, but never the actual setting material.  That said, my current thinking is that I'm going to place it on the coast of Vestland, which has a north-facing shoreline onto a sea that doesn't appear to have a name.  The names of the place suggest it's culturally Nordic, and Portown as written would fit that reasonably well.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 66: The Dragon #9

Cover art by Bill Hannan

This issue of The Dragon is cover dated September 1977.  Tim Kask's editorial reflects on the recent Origins convention, held in late July (so the cover date for The Dragon is fairly accurate as to when it was released).  It was apparently down on attendance due to a heatwave, but there was enough new product for Kask to be confident in the growth of the industry.  He ends it by mentioning that the magazine is expanding to 40 pages next month, and including Tom Wham's board game, Snit Smashing.

In other news, Harry Fischer's "The Finzer Family" concludes, taking up the majority of the page count.  "Floating in Timeless Space" is a Tom Wham comic promoting his board game, "Finieous Fingers continues to do its thing, and "Wormy" by Dave Trampier makes its debut.

There's also an ad for the D&D Basic Set, which was recently released.

The ad for the first Basic Set

"Varied Player Character and Non-Player Character Alignment in the Dungeons & Dragons Campaign" by Gary Gygax: In this article Gary talks about alignment, specifically focusing on the kinds of conflicts that can arise from having characters of varied alignment within the game.  It's interesting from a historical perspective, because I'd say it's pretty likely that the things Gary is writing about here are scenarios he had to deal with in his own games.  He says that the most common problem in long-running campaigns is with cooperating blocks of players, who coerce new players into taking a certain alignment, and dispatching those who refuse.  It reminds me a bit of the early days of MMOs, where stronger characters would frequently prey on newbies.  Gary's recommendation here is that new players simply lie about their alignment, and play along until they are high enough level to stand up to the established guys.  He even says that it's fine for the players to keep their true alignment secret from the DM, which isn't something I thought I'd ever see from Gary's pen.

It's mentioned that, in the Greyhawk campaign, "good" is the desired end sought by the majority of humanity and its allied races.  Most planned actions are based on a threat to the overall good by the forces of evil, but there's still room for lawful good to go to war with chaotic good, with either aligned with evil beings of lawful or chaotic alignment respectively.

The article also has a very vivid description of the City of Greyhawk that I'll reproduce here in full: "This walled town was the area trade center and seat of feudal power, then began to decline when the overlordship transferred from a suzerain to the city itself, but is now undergoing a boom due to the activities of adventurers and the particular world system events (a new struggle between lawful good and chaotic evil, with the latter on the upswing). The oligarchs of the city are neutral in outlook, if not in alignment, viewing anything which benefits their city as desirable. Therefore, all sorts of creatures inhabit the city, commerce is free, persons of lawful alignment rub elbows with chaotics, evil and good co-exist on equitable terms. Any preeminence of alignment is thwarted by the rulers of the place, for it would tend to be detrimental to the city trade."  That mention of a suzerain is intriguing.  TSR products have the mad wizard Zagyg as a former ruler of Greyhawk, so I could make that a reference to him.  It's also interesting to note that "chaotics" are said to frequent the city.  Does that just mean chaotic humans, or are there orcs, goblins, gnolls, etc. walking around and doing business there?  Something to think about.

The article finishes up with the example of a cleric who opens a small shrine and starts selling holy water.  This doesn't attract much attention, but once he builds a church and starts seeking mass conversions, this attracts the enmity of other leading clerics of the city, as well as the government.  Assassination attempts are possible, and hefty taxes and bribes will be required for the cleric to navigate the paths of power.  It paints a picture of a city where the rulers are desperate to maintain some sort of an alignment balance, so as not to disrupt trade and commerce, or otherwise upset things.

"Seal of the Imperium" by M.A.R. Barker: Professor Barker answers some questions and provides rules clarifications regarding Empire of the Petal Throne.  Some interesting stuff here, but it's relation to D&D is tangential at best.  I'll keep it in mind for when I need to compile info on Tekumel.

"The Fastest Guns That Never Lived - Part II" by Brian Blume: Blume provides stats for the following fictional cowboys and actors:
  • Don "Red" Barry
  • William "Wild Bill" Elliot
  • "Hoot" Gibson
  • William S. Hart
  • Tim Holt
  • Allan "Rocky" Lane
  • Colonel Tim McCoy
  • Joel McCrea
  • Tom Mix
  • The Durango Kid
  • Bob Steele
  • Lee Van Cleef
  • The Cisco Kid and Poncho
Hardly household names these days, except for perhaps Lee Van Cleef, but I'll have to find a place for them should my campaign ever take a turn into the Old West.

"Tombs & Crypts" by James M. Ward: This is a set of charts for randomly determining the contents of a tomb. Always handy to have, and quite reminiscent of the kind of thing found in Judges Guild products.  I rolled on the charts and came up with the following:
  • A roll of 11 on 1d12 means that it's a wizard's tomb
  • The tomb is one room, cave or mound of dirt
  • It contains 2,000 gold pieces, 20 base 10,000gp gems, 2 base 500gp gems, a map, 4 pieces of base 500 gp jewelry, and a misc. magic weapon (10 arrows +1)
  • Guarded by vampires 
That was rolled up pretty quickly.  The system is perhaps a little too generous where gems and jewelry are concerned, but Jim Ward's defense that anyone special enough to be placed in a tomb probably had a lot of treasure to be buried with is hard to argue against.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Building the Sandbox: Castle Greyhawk and Surrounding Areas

In part 1 of this series, I defined the D&D cosmology and its many settings.  In part 2, I talked a bit about the core D&D world - the World of Greyhawk.  Now it's time to get into the meat of this thing, and define the elements that I need to fit together for what will be the initial campaign area.  The core  elements of the first D&D campaign were the City and Castle of Greyhawk, and that's where I intend the Ultimate Sandbox to begin if and when I get around to running it in earnest.

(I should note that I'm currently running the Ultimate Sandbox now, with my weekend games in the Tower of Zenopus dungeon from the Holmes Basic Set.  Ideally I'd have preferred to kick it off with a megadungeon campaign, but instead I'm planning to run a bunch of classic stand-alone modules and adventures, mostly because the whole thing was put together at very short notice.  Regardless, everything that happens in those games will count towards my Ultimate Sandbox Greyhawk continuity, and changes to the adventure sites will be carried forward in the future. Anyway, back to Greyhawk City and Castle.)

To set up the initial campaign area, I have to define the elements that I need to put together.  Unfortunately, the Greyhawk campaign, as it was run by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz, has never been put into print in any sort of playable fashion.  Bits and pieces of it are out there, but it's all very scattershot.  On top of that, part of what I want to do involves stitching everything together in terms of official D&D canon.  Much of what Gary and Rob did was later contradicted by TSR and Wizards of the Coast, so even if I had everything in front of me I'd have quite the job reconciling it all.

Difficulties aside, it seems to me that I need to define three major things to get the campaign in a playable state: the City of Greyhawk, Castle Greyhawk and the dungeons beneath, and the wilderness that encompasses them both.  I'll tackle each one by one.

The City of Greyhawk

This one is probably the easiest to deal with.  As I understand it, the city as designed by Gary started as a one-page affair, and was expanded to four pages later in the campaign, which was explained in-game as a result of the influx of gold coming from the dungeons beneath Castle Greyhawk.  This is pretty, handy as I can use it to explain any discrepancies between things from the original campaign and TSR's official publications.

Speaking of which, TSR released The City of Greyhawk in 1989 as a boxed set, and given the parameters of my project I'm pretty much locked into using it.  That's not necessarily a knock on the product, as I've never read it.  Maybe it's great, and captures exactly the pulp fantasy spirit that I'm looking for.  I like what I've seen just from skimming it, particularly this poster map.

An aerial view of TSR's City of Greyhawk

The temptation is there to use Yggsburgh, the city designed by Gary Gygax for his Castle Zagyg project, which would probably have a more authentic flavour. But to be honest I don't know how much of that product was actually Gary's work.  Besides, using Yggsburgh in place of the official TSR city would no doubt cause all sorts of continuity headaches that I don't need.  I suppose I could place it elsewhere in the map, but I've made enough work for myself already.

The only other source I can think of for lore about the city is Gary's Gord the Rogue series of novels.  I already have Night Arrant and Sea of Death, but I'd need to acquire the other five, which looks somewhat pricey.  I've been meaning to get them for a while though, as I've been wanting to revisit the series with a greater knowledge of their place in D&D history.

The Wilderness

The area around the city of Greyhawk is pretty well defined in the aforementioned City of Greyhawk boxed set, and as with the city it would be difficult to change it without doing a number to D&D continuity.  The map is shown below.

Map art by David S. LaForce (I think)

The only change I would make to the above would be to add a section that resembles the map from Outdoor Survival, which is referenced in the original D&D booklets.  I recently read this great PDF about what those booklets imply about the D&D setting, and that's how I want the Outdoor Survival region to play.  I'm imagining it as a region of land slightly east of Castle Greyhawk, that's been warped by the magical and dimensional forces leaking out of that place.  At the moment, I'm thinking of putting it somewhere in the lands between the Mistmarsh and the Cairn Hills on the map above, but I need to check the scales of both maps to see if that works.

Castle Greyhawk

Well, this is where things get really tricky.

The dungeons below Castle Greyhawk began as a solo effort designed by Gary Gygax, before being greatly expanded with help from Rob Kuntz.  Neither version of the castle has ever seen the light of day, although more than one attempt has been made to get it out there.  Castle Zagyg by Gary Gygax is one such abortive attempt, and there are also the dungeon levels included in Rob Kuntz's El Raja Key Archive.

In 1988, TSR took its own stab at releasing a version of the castle, with module WG7 Castle Greyhawk.  The results were... regrettable.  A few years later, in 1990, they had another stab at it, with WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins.  I've only skimmed this one, but it looks like a big improvement on WG7, and it's become the offical TSR version of the castle up to the present day.

The question is, how do I reconcile all of these elements?  It would certainly be difficult to make all of it work together as a single dungeon.  My initial idea, posted long, long ago, was to feature a sort of "time-travel chamber" in the dungeon, which would allow the PCs to switch back and forth between different versions of the castle.  I still think it's not a bad idea, but I'm not as enamoured with it as a solution as I was back then.  My current thinking is to just have two separate castles, and two distinct dungeons.

As I understand it, the official TSR version of the castle sits somewhat north and east of the city, across the Selintan River.  Reports about the original castle place it east of the city, which isn't entirely contradictory to the above.  Regardless, if I'm going to use Castle Zagyg and also include WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins, there would be a lot of trouble in integrating the two into a single location.  So I'm going to leave TSR's castle where they placed it, and give it a rename: Zagyg's Palace.  In TSR continuity Zagyg ruled over the City of Greyhawk for a time, and this is where he did it from.

As for Castle Greyhawk, I'm going to place that further east, next to the Ery River.  I'm thinking that perhaps Zagyg used it as his home base when he was still consolidating his power base, before he became the ruler of the city.  This might necessitate changing the maps in Castle Zagyg, in which the castle is up against the False Urt River, although I might just use Gary's name instead of the Ery.  We'll see.

That leaves WG7 Castle Greyhawk, which by the rules of my project I must include even though I'd really rather not.  Currently, my plan is to make the levels accessible via Zagyg's Palace, and to make them very, very difficult for players to discover.  Just because I have to include them doesn't mean I have to include them in a way that's easy to access.

The Dungeons of Castle Greyhawk

The above is all well and good, but eventually if I run this campaign I'll need to get down to the hard work of designing the dungeons.  I plan to use the following elements:

  • Castle Zagyg Vol. 1: The Upper Works.  I forked out for this bad boy, so I'm definitely going to use it.  And it is the only published version of the castle that Gygax ever put his mark of approval on, even if a good chunk of the work was done by Jeff Talanian.  This will cover the ruined castle and the first dungeon level.
  • The image of level 1 of the dungeon from Gygax's folder that's been floating around for quite some time.  I might keep this as an "alternate" level 1, perhaps accessible by means such as Rob Kuntz's Dark Chateau module and the Greyhawk city sewers.  I believe Gary's key for this map has been deciphered as well.

  • The image of Gary's dungeon level 3 that also out there.

  • This dungeon level, another of Gary's, which is labelled as the "Museum of the Gods".

  • The many dungeon levels included in Rob Kuntz's El Raja Key Archive.  Unfortunately I still need to acquire this one, and with the Aussie dollarydoo at its current value that won't be happening soon.
  • Joseph Bloch's Castle of the Mad Archmage.  Not long after the Castle Zagyg product line was discontinued after Gary passed away, Joseph Bloch took it upon himself to write a megadungeon that connected seamlessly with the levels already released.  This will probably form the spine of my version of the dungeon, with some heavy revisions.  My main concern with Bloch's dungeon (what I've read of it) is that it uses quite a bunch of monsters that go beyond the scope of early D&D.  I'd like to keep it confined to things from the AD&D Monster Manual, plus some monsters of my own devising.
  • The modules that connect to the dungeons via portal: EX1 Dungeonland, EX2 The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror and WG6 Isle of the Ape.
  • Later Rob Kuntz products that connect to the castle, such as The Living Room and The Bottle City.
  • Some levels of my own design.
  • On top of all that, Rob Kuntz has recently started posting about something he calls Castle Greyfalkun, which looks to be another release of levels from the castle, or possibly some newly designed material, I'm not entirely sure.  I'll keep an eye on it though.

Putting all of these together in any sort of coherent fashion is going to be a hell of a job.  I've got time though.  Hopefully my current classic modules campaign will run for a couple of years, and there's also my long-running-but-infrequent 3rd edition campaign, which I'd like to actually wrap up at some point.  It'll be a while before I'll need to use Castle Greyhawk.

All of the above gives me a pretty extensive reading list:
  • The City of Greyhawk boxed set
  • The Gord the Rogue novels (or perhaps just those relevant to Greyhawk and surroundings)
  • WG7 Castle Greyhawk (ugh)
  • WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins and maybe the 3rd edition adventure Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk
  • Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works
  • Castle of the Mad Archmage
  • The Up on a Soapbox articles by Gary and Rob Kuntz that reminisce about the original campaign
  • Various blogs and discussion threads from the original players that will help to fill in some of the details.
That's plenty to keep me occupied for the time being, but if I've forgotten any other possible sources I'd appreciate any Greyhawk experts out there letting me know.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Non-Play Report: Upkeep and Carousing

Well, I didn't get to play D&D this weekend.  I was on Zoom, and raring to go, but none of my crew showed up.  I guess that's the trouble with trying to keep things casual for this campaign: I've said that I'm willing to be there every Saturday, but it doesn't mean I'm always going to draw a crowd.  It's depressing, but on the scale of problems I have going on right now, a week without D&D is small potatoes.  I'll just show up again next week, and hopefully some of the guys feel like playing too.  If there's a silver lining to missing a week, it's that I'll be even more prepped when the next game comes around.

As to what I did have prepped, part of that involved some new house rules I came up with for PC upkeep.  One of the bigger problems old-school D&D has is with its economy.  Giving experience points for treasure is all well and good, but it means that by the time players hit 2nd or 3rd level they're already basically rich.  They can buy pretty much anything they want from the equipment list, especially in the various forms of Basic (which is what I'm currently running in modified form).  I sometimes wonder why adventurers bother advancing to higher levels, especially thieves and fighters.  They could retire in comfort well before reaching name level.

So I'm thinking up means of divesting the PCs of their cash.  Training costs are an obvious money sink, but I feel like they go against the free-wheeling vibe of Basic D&D.  Besides, when thinking of training, the way I'd like to implement it is as a benefit rather than a necessity.  Players would still be able to level up without training, but those that did train would be at a potential advantage: better Hit Die rolls, more access to spells, that sort of thing.  To work this out I'd need to sit down and figure out the advantages for each class, and I haven't done that just yet.  And anyway, as I said, it's not something I want to do when running Basic D&D.

Another option I've seen floating around is to only award the PCs XP for gold spent.  This has potential, and would be good for encouraging that pulp-fantasy scenario where the hero strikes it rich but manages to lose everything before the next adventure.  One thing I've always wondered with this system, though, is whether this only counts for gold found through adventuring.  Could PCs work a day job and earn XP buying their daily meals?  Could a Lord just sit back after setting up his barony, and collect XP along with his taxes?  I'm inclined to say no, but then eventually you get into a situation where every PC needs to keep track of two separate treasure totals, and I'm not a huge fan of that.

Similar to the way I want to incentivise training by offering benefits, I want to do the same thing with my upkeep and carousing rules.  So I came up with the following house rules, which I was hoping to spring on my players on Saturday.  Alas, it'll have to wait until next week (hopefully).


For every in-game week between game sessions, each player must decide what lifestyle their PC has been leading.  The lifestyles are as follows:

  • Destitute - Costs nothing
  • Poor - Costs 1 gold piece per character level per week
  • Moderate - Costs 10 gold pieces per character level per week
  • Wealthy - Costs 100 gold pieces per character level per week
  • Extravagant - Costs 1,000 gold pieces per character level per week

I figure that a PC's expenses go up as they gain in level, as they have more equipment to maintain, and their tastes get more exotic.

Depending on what the PC choose (or are forced into due to low funds), their hit points may be affected by their lifestyle.  Each character rolls 1d20, adds their Constitution modifier, and consults the relevant table below.

  • Roll 1-10 - Hit points unknown*
  • Roll 11-20 - Hit points as normal
  • Roll 1-5 - Hit points unknown*
  • Roll 6-20 - Hit points as normal
  • No roll required.
  • Roll 1-2 - Hit points unknown*
  • Roll 3-15 - Hit points as normal
  • Roll 16-19 - Hit points as normal, plus one bonus Hit Die**
  • Roll 20+ - Hit points as normal, plus one "exploding" bonus Hit Die***
  • Roll 1-5 - Unknown hit points*
  • Roll 6-15 - Hit points as normal
  • Roll 16-17 - Hit points as normal, plus one bonus Hit Die**
  • Roll 18-19 - Hit points as normal, plus one "exploding" bonus Hit Die***
  • Roll 20+ - Maximum possible hit points****

* Hit Points Unknown: This result means that, for whatever reason, the PC isn't feeling good.  Perhaps they're sick or undernourished (for those living poor or destitute lifestyles), or perhaps they've overindulged (for those living wealthy or extravagant lifestyles).  Whatever the reason may be, the PC is under the weather, and they begin the game not knowing how many hit points they have.  Only upon taking damage will they roll their hit point total (using their regular number of Hit Dice and Constitution modifier).  The damage they just sustained will come off the total rolled.  If the PC rolls higher than their regular hit points, they start with their regular hit point total.  (A player might try to get healing before the adventure starts, and this should be allowed, but they still don't get to roll their hit point total until they first take damage in a dangerous situation.  The healing is then added on top of that.  Also, a character can't learn their hit point total by cutting themselves with a knife or running into a wall or whatever other dumb way they come up with to circumvent the rule.)

** Bonus Hit Die: Indulging in the good life has agreed with the PC, and they're feeling great.  They begin the game with their regular hit point total, plus an extra hit die and Constitution modifier's worth of hit points.  Once those bonus hit points have been lost, the PC can only be healed back up to their regular total.

*** "Exploding" Bonus Hit Die: The PC gets their regular hit points and a bonus Hit Die as above, but if they roll the maximum on that die they get to roll another bonus Hit Die.  If that roll is the maximum, they get to roll again, and so on as long as they keep rolling the maximum.  In any event, they can't end up with more hit points than the maximum possible for their class and level, plus one extra Hit Die.  For example, a 7th level fighter with no Constitution modifier would have a maximum possible hit point total of 8 x 10, or 80.

**** Maximum Possible Hit Points: The character has had some wild nights, and is feeling invincible.  They begin with the maximum possible hit points for their class and level (as shown above).

I'm hoping this system encourages the players to spend some of their hard-earned gold.  It does a few things that I like.  First, the Moderate option allows players to completely opt out of it.  I've seen games ruined because the DM came up with some crazy house rule that they loved, and forced it on the PCs.  I don't want to do that, and I always like to give the players the choice of just not engaging with it.

Second, it gives the players a reason to go out looking for gold, and punishes unsuccessful adventures.  If you head into the dungeon and come back with nothing, there's a good chance you won't be feeling so hot after a week or two on the skids.  Obviously, this is likely to affect low-level PCs moreso than high-level ones.

Third, there's always a risk factor to living the high life.  Sure, you could come out the other side feeling fantastic, but the chance is there that you might not.  My only misgiving is with the numbers under Wealthy: as written, a high-Constitution character is in no danger of suffering drawbacks.  I might institute a rule whereby a natural 1 always results in "Hit Points Unknown", regardless of the character's Con modifier.

I have two worries about the system.  The first is that it might make the PCs a little too powerful.  I'm not all that stressed about this one; old-school D&D characters are fragile enough, and some extra hit points now and then aren't going to make a huge difference to that.  My second and larger worry is that the potential penalties outweigh the benefits, to the point that the players will opt out of the system entirely.  I mean, there's always someone who's going to be willing to take the risk, but if in the first few games the rolls come up badly, most players will avoid it from then on.  That's what play-testing is for, I guess.  If it sucks I'll get rid of it, or try to come up with something better.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 65: Judges Guild Installment N - Barbarian Altanis/Glow Worm Steppes

This package was sent out to Judges Guild subscribers in August/September of 1977.  It contained the following products:

  • JG43 Booklet N - Barbarian Altanis/Glow Worm Steppes
  • JG44 Barbarian Altanis/Glow Worm Steppes Campaign Maps
  • JG45 Journal N
  • An additional notes sheet, that just has some stuff about subscriptions on it.  I don't need to cover it here.

I'm not sure if the cover above was used for Booklet N or not.  It's the first printing of Wilderlands of High Fantasy, into which Booklet N will be incorporated.  The price tag and the line at the bottom mentioning five maps makes me think it's not the proper cover, but I couldn't find an image of the legit one anywhere.  In lieu of any other evidence, I'm going with it.

JG45 Journal N

I don't have a copy of this, just an image of page one.  I'll quickly run through what articles I can.

  • "Jocular Judgments": This column kicks off with some refutation of recent NASA revelations regarding Mars, as it doesn't mesh with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom stories.  Of more interest is the section praising the recently released Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set.  I have that product being released in September.  Installment N came out in August/September, so I'm thinking that perhaps I should shift all of the Judges Guild installments to late in their second cover date month.
  • "Shrewd Slants from the Sagacious Sage" by Bob Bledsaw: This article mentions one Terry Tout, who wants to get a con running in western Canada, where there haven't been any before. .It then asks whether JG subscribers prefer dungeons or campaign setting materials, and ends with some advice to limit the powers of gods when the PCs call upon them (or draft the PC in question into service).  I'm not really sure what the point of this column is other than letting Bob Bledsaw write about whatever takes his fancy.
  • "Scrolls from the Archives": This begins what looks to be a write-up of a D&D game session. It only gets as far as showing the stats of the PCs before it gets cut off, but I can use those PCs somewhere: Vadi Mackvallen, a 7th level fighter/magic-user; Shartra, a 3rd level cleric; Nori, a 5th level dwarven fighter; Old Drussus, a 6th level druid; and Captain Angriff, a 4th level fighter.
  • "Tips from the Tower": This talks a bit about Judges Guild answering fan requests by providing two maps with this installment.  It also talks about some correspondence they had with with Gary Gygax, which they use to defend the number of high level NPCs in JG products.  Of note is the tidbit that there is a blacksmith in the City of Greyhawk who is 7th level; I'll have to remember to include him or her when the time comes.  Also mentioned is the arrangement that TSR has with Judges Guild for their products to be officially licensed.  I guess this arrangement starts around the time of this installment.  Finally, it's mentioned that JG37 First Fantasy Campaign - which details Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign - is available.  I have that as being released in September, which is more evidence that I need to push back the JG installments in my chronology.

JG44 Barbarian Altanis/Glow Worm Steppes Campaign Maps

These two maps were printed on both sides of a single sheet of paper.

Barbarian Altanis

Glow Worm Steppes (although it's actually labelled on the
map as Valley of the Ancients)

No indication of how these maps relate to each other, or to Campaign Map 1 that was in Installment K.  Based on a map that came with JG10 Guide to the City State, the Barbarian Altanis region is south of Campaign Map 1, and the Glow Worm Steppes/Valley of the Ancients map is to the northeast of Map 1.  Probably my biggest complaint about the JG product line is that the content is so scattered.  There's loads of it, but good luck finding anything quickly.

JG 43 Booklet N

This booklet provides details of the regions shown on the maps above.  It will later be combined with Booklet O, and sold as JG48 The Wilderlands of High Fantasy.  The information presented here is incredibly terse, and presented in the same style as it was in the booklet that accompanied Campaign Map 1.

Villages on the map are detailed, with a name, population, the race that lives there, leader, alignment, level of civilisation, and major resources.  Most of them are good springboards for a DM to riff on.

"Ruins and relics" are a list of odd items guarded by monsters, generated by tables which I'll talk about below.  A lot of them are nonsensical, as can happen when using random charts, but there are some gems.  "Crystallized titan's skeleton fully covered with vines - 3 TROLLS" is a personal favourite.

There's a list of citadels & castles, which has little more than bare stats for the ruler and the number of troops.  That's followed by a list of monster lairs, which simply have the name and number of monsters.  The real gem of this section is the list of islands, which provide a one-sentence description of what can be found.  Pretty much all of these are great, and could easily be expanded into a whole adventure.  "Isle of Ekur - 2 giant lizards attack all who land".  "Isles of Jynoquil - haunted by ghosts of dead sea men".  "Isle of Zueringi - Numerous zombies protect a magic-user attempting to strengthen their kind".  None of it's too out of the ordinary, but these short descriptions can be just what you need sometimes, especially when you're winging it as a DM.

All of this content is well and good, but they give little indication as to what these regions are actually like.  Culture?  Climate?  Perhaps the details given do cohere into something when used in  a game, but if there's sense to be found here I can't see it.  So far, what I'm seeing is a patchwork of mostly random elements held together with some really cool maps.  For me, the Judges Guild materials come alive when focusing in on smaller areas, not the big picture stuff.

As usual with JG products, the booklet is also packed with charts and new rules, which I'll go through below.

  • There are extensive tables for generating random ruins and abandoned relics.  On first glance I thought the results here were fairly mundane, but looking further down the list I saw things like rat chariots, space craft, and even a nuclear submarine!  I rolled on the charts to generate some results, and came up with the following comparatively boring results:
    • A ruined, eroded citadel keep with four towers and a moat, partially covered in slime and inhabited by a catoblepas.
    • Crystallized or petrified scraps of papyrus, hidden in a crevice and guarded by werewolves.
    • A pair of greaves, half sunken and unguarded.
  • There's a chart for determining the type of lair a monster has, based on its type: burrower, migratory, underwater, airborne, animal, and troglobite (which means something that lives underground).
  • Extensive charts are given for randomly generating cave systems, based on the terrain you're currently in.  I started making one, and got as far as creating a limestone cave that's entered through a 400' diameter sinkhole that's 110' deep.  After that, you generate tunnels - including height and width - and it all got a bit too much.  For my tastes, it looks a touch too complicated to use during a game.
  • A quick method is given for generating dungeons on the fly.  It's perhaps a little too simple, and the random dungeon generation tables from The Strategic Review are suggested as an alternative.
  • A quick chart of random burrows is included, featuring things like a giant anthill, worm tunnels, weasel burrows, and hobbit smials.  Also mentioned are "glow worm caves", though no indication is given of what a glow worm is in D&D terms.  I guess it could just be a reference to real-world glow worms.
  • Charts are given for dwellings and camps, but they're so cursory in comparison to the caves above that they needn't have bothered.
  • A system is given for what players might find when searching a 10'x10' area.  There's some good inspiration here, although results like "cabinet" are somewhat ludicrous.
  • A "keen sighting" chart is given, which shows a PC's likelihood of spotting something based on terrain, height, weather, etc.  This is a case of Judges Guild getting lost in the weeds a bit, I feel.  Rules are all well and good, but there's a limit to what can be implemented effectively at the table.  I guess it might be necessary for when the party is exploring that big campaign map though, to see if they actually find the encounters in the hex they're exploring.
  • A chart for "hydrographic terrain" is given, that details the smaller waterways (not shown on the map) that PCs might discover.  None of the results on the tables are of particular interest.
  • Rules are given for prospecting, which is somewhat more useful.  The charts provide the type of deposit, yield, and all manner of other data that gets a bit mathematical for me.  I suppose it's a way for characters to get rich, but it doesn't sound like as much fun as heading into a dungeon and skewering some orcs for their gold.
  • Finally, the booklet ends with an example of how the larger map hexes break down into smaller hexes.  The example given is the hex containing the City State of the Invincible Overlord, which is obviously the most useful place to start.  Rules are given for movement on that smaller scale, complete with rules for fatigue.  As with most of JG's rules material, I find it a little unwieldy.