Friday, June 28, 2019

Interlude 2: Warriors of Mars - The Warfare of Barsoom in Miniature

Midway through 1974 (I'm not sure exactly when but the Forward is dated to July)  TSR published Warriors of Mars, a set of miniature wargame rules based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter novels. There was only ever one print run, though, because the Burroughs estate was very quick to let TSR know that they were infringing on their IP rights. Consequently this book is very rare, but because the internet is awesome it can be found at, which is how I've been able to read a copy.

The game was written by Gary Gygax and Brian Blume, and not surprisingly it bears some resemblance to Chainmail. It covers large-scale combat with figures representing 50 men, and smaller conflicts where a figure represents one man. There are also rules for aerial warfare, and notes on many of the various characters and weird alien creatures from the books.

As for why I'm covering it, there are a bunch of references to Barsoom, the setting of these books, in the first D&D boxed set.  Most notably these come in the Wilderness Wandering Monster tables, where a decent variety of Barsoomian creatures are given as optional encounter possibilities. None of them were given stats in D&D, so I thought I'd scour Warriors of Mars to see if I can get some guidance on the matter.

Before I start, these are the creatures I'll want stats for:

Red, Black, Yellow and White Martians (all basically human-like)
Tharks (Green Martians)
White Apes

The first bit of good news is that Warriors of Mars has movement rates that are given in inches, and seem to be comparable to those used in Chainmail/D&D.  I've reproduced the table below:

That covers movement rates for all of the creatures on the D&D tables. With humans moving at 12" the scale seems to be identical, so I can use these numbers as is.

Things get a bit harder when working out combat stats, though, because the combat in Warriors of Mars doesn't use the same system as Chainmail or D&D. It's much more chart-based, which makes it difficult to draw comparisons. The chart below, showing the combat ability of various characters and troop types, is helpful though.

The people of Barsoom are definitely hardier and more warlike than those of Earth, so using the scale above I think it's fair to equate the above numbers to D&D levels/Hit Dice. They serve a similar function in Warriors of Mars, being both combat ability as well as the number of hits a figure can take before being killed. John Carter would thus be a 13th level fighter, pretty much at the top of the scale for OD&D, but that's a fair assessment for someone described as the finest swordsman of two worlds. Red, Black, Yellow and White Martians would all have Hit Dice based on their individual skill level and the chart above. I guess most of their warriors would be in the 3-5 HD range, with leaders and elite guards ranging from 6 HD up to 10 HD. 11 HD and over seems to be reserved for the super-badass characters from the books.

That brings me to the table used for when someone is fighting a Barsoomian monster.

Most of those numbers are irrelevant for my purposes, but on the far left of the chart there's a column for "Wounds to Kill". This is pretty much the same rating as the one used for men above, so I'm happy to use it to calculate Hit Dice for the various Martian animals in D&D.

And so, here are the stats I gleaned for each one (not including the men, who are going to vary greatly):

Green martians with four arms that live in tribes.
Movement: 12"
Hit Dice: 6

Tusked, six-limbed beasts of the frozen north pole region.
Movement: 12"
Hit Dice: 6

Lion-like beasts with ten legs.
Movement: 15"
Hit Dice: 7

Horse-like creatures with eight legs.
Movement: 21"
Hit Dice: 5

Dog-like creatures with ten legs
Movement: 24"
Hit Dice: 5

White Apes
Semi-intelligent four-armed apes that inhabit the wilds and ruined cities.
Movement: 12"
Hit Dice: 6

Described in this game as being similar to a jaguar, but in the Barsoom wiki as "elephantine".
Movement: 12"
Hit Dice: 4

Large predatory insects
Movement: 9"/30" flying
Hit Dice: 10

A whole range of Barsoomian lizards, with these stats referring to the giant variety.
Movement: 9"
Hit Dice: 4

It's only two stats, with no Armor Class or damage or anything else, but for OD&D purposes Movement and Hit Dice are enough to go on. Everything in OD&D does 1d6 damage, and AC can be worked out by comparing to similar D&D monsters. This will all be handy for future reference, should PCs in my campaign ever end up on the red planet.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Interlude 1: Tunnels & Trolls

Seeing as it's credited as the second fantasy role-playing game in existence, I thought it might be fun to take a break in my timeline at the end of 1975 for a look at Tunnels & Trolls. It was created by Ken St. Andre who, upon looking at a friend's copy of Dungeons & Dragons, promptly decided that the game was confusing and wrote his own rules based around the same concept. Tunnels & Trolls was published in April 1975, and for a time was D&D's biggest competitor.

For this post I took a look at the game's first edition, and had a couple of attempts at a solo adventure using the Buffalo Castle module.

The first thing I was struck by upon reading the rules is the scope of Tunnels & Trolls: it's completely focused on dungeon adventuring, lacking D&D's digressions into wilderness adventures, aerial combat, naval battles, etc. It's only a third of the size, so I guess it never was going to be as expansive.

Character creation is similar, with six stats all rolled in 3d6. These stats are the same as those used in D&D, except for Wisdom which has been replaced by Luck. Instead of Fighters, Magic-Users and Clerics, the classes in T&T are Warriors, Wizards and Rogues. It's possible that St. Andre saw the Greyhawk supplement before writing his game (or perhaps the earlier version of the Thief class published in a 'zine), but it's also possible that he came up with the idea on his own. To be honest, though, the two classes aren't at all similar; the Rogue in T&T is more of a fighter/magic-user hybrid, with none of the thief's stealth and trap-finding skills.

Combat is even more abstracted than in D&D. Each side rolls a bunch of dice (always 6-siders) and adds a certain number to the total. For PCs, the dice rolled depends upon the weapon wielded, and the numbers added or subtracted are based on Strength, Luck and Dexterity. Monsters use a different system: each monster has a rating, which determines their hit points as well as the number of dice they roll.  A monster rolls dice, and on the first combat turn adds half their Monster Rating. On the second turn, they only add a quarter. The higher number wins, and the difference is subtracted from the loser's Constitution.  With larger groups, everyone on every side totals their dice and adds, and the side that loses has to spread the damage out among their number.

The magic system is point-based rather than using spell slots and memorisation like D&D, requiring the caster to expend Strength points for every spell.  The spell names are whimsical, and fit the humourous tone that T&T is going for, with names like "Take That You Fiend" and "Curse You". I've never played T&T or read a manual before today, but the one thing I knew about it was that it had weird spell names. Are T&T fans fond of them? I'd probably change them if I ever ran the game in an ongoing fashion. Maybe I just hate fun or something.

Disappointingly for me (because I love reading RPG monster entries), there are no monster stats in T&T. This isn't such a big deal, because all you need to come up with is a single number for the Monster Rating, and maybe some rules for its special abilities. The MR covers its hit points, how much damage it does, and how much XP its worth. It's a simple system (perhaps too simple), but it would be great for running games on the fly with no preparation.

With a basic grasp of the rules, I rolled up a character to take on an adventure into Buffalo Castle. Here he is below:

NAME: Ferdinand the Slinker
TYPE: Rogue

STR: 8; INT:  11; LUCK: 12; CON: 7; DEX: 8; CHA: 11

GOLD: 100

I bought Ferdinand some clothes, a pack, sandals, a sword, a dagger, and a steel cap. The sword would be my primary weapon, being worth 2 dice. The cap gave me a +1 bonus to Constitution.

In my first foray into the castle, I encountered a troll sitting on a chest. I tried to talk to him, which required me to add 3d6 plus my Charisma and Luck together. I got a total of 32, which wasn't quite high enough to stop the troll from attacking me.

Failing that I tried to run, which required a Saving Roll. Every character has a Saving Roll number, which is equal to 20 - Luck. (This number gets higher on lower dungeon levels.) Ferdinand had a Saving Roll of 8. I needed to get higher than that on two dice (although rolling doubles allows you to roll again and add to the total). I rolled a 6, so I wasn't able to escape, and the Troll hit me for 2 damage.

I had to fight the Troll, who had a Monster Rating of 40 and rolled 5 dice in combat. On the first round, it was his 5d6+20 vs. my paltry 2d6-2. I rolled for myself, scoring a 5. I didn't even bother rolling for the Troll, as I was dead no matter what. Mathematically there was no chance for me to win or even damage the Troll. He would have been down to 5d6+10 on the second round, but even then the battle was impossible. Maybe rolling doubles in combat lets you keep adding numbers as well? That would make things a little better.

And now, for my second character:

NAME: Mangfred the Manful
TYPE: Warrior

STR: 11; INT: 5; LUCK: 8; CON: 8; DEX: 9; CHA: 8

GOLD: 140

I bought Mangfred a mace (worth 3 dice), some leather armor (+2 Con) and a steel cap (+1 Con).

Immediately I fell into a pit (failing my Saving Roll of 12), losing 2 CON. I found a secret door in the bottom of the pit, which led to a treasure room with seemingly unlimited gold pieces. In reality, I could keep shoveling gold into his pack indefinitely, but for every 10gp I had to check for Wandering Monsters. I rolled badly on the first round, and was attacked by an Orc.

The Orc was much more manageable than the Troll, with a Monster Rating of 16 and 3 dice. I rolled by 3d6-1, scoring a meagre 6. He rolled his 3d6+8, and scored a 16. Again, I had been killed in the first round of combat.

I'm not sure if I just had bad luck with the dice, or if Tunnels & Trolls is absurdly deadly. Certainly, its combat system is far more reliant on equipment and ability scores than D&D's, which makes your class the primary factor in combat effectiveness (especially original D&D< which had every weapon dealing 1d6 damage). I definitely rolled poor stats for both of my guys: going with straight 3d6 down the line results in some crushingly mediocre characters, and in this game it's punishing.

Reading the manual, I found Tunnels & Trolls charming. It has an impish, whimsical sense of humour, and strikes me as more fairy-tale in tone than D&D's pulp sword & sorcery roots. It's simple and fast-paced, and would be perfect for impromptu pick-up games. Actually trying to play it was another experience. I gather the system was greatly improved in later editions, but having tried to play it solo I'm not convinced that it works. Again, it could just have been my cruel dice, but everything just seemed far too stacked in the favour of the monsters. With the best weapon and perfect stats, I would have been rolling 4d6+18 against the Troll, which might just have scraped me through. But let's face it, those perfect stats aren't going to happen, so I have no idea how a 1st level character would beat it. Then again, a 1st level character isn't beating a Troll in D&D either, and it might just be that it's Buffalo Castle that's unbalanced rather than Tunnels & Trolls as a whole. Maybe I misunderstood the rules? After all, it's been in print for over 40 years, it must be doing something right.

As a final note, I was surprised to see the term Dungeon Master being thrown about quite freely in this game.  As far as I know, the term doesn't see print in a D&D product until Supplement II: Blackmoor, which T&T predates by a good six months. Did T&T create the term, or was it a phrase that was in wide circulation with gamers already?  Regardless, it's possible that this might be the first time that the game referee is called a Dungeon Master in print.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Recaps & Roundups part 21: The Strategic Review #5

Cover art by Greg Bell

This issue of The Strategic Review is cover-dated December 1975. The news section notes right away that Blackmoor was off to the printers, and that it should be available in stores by the time this issue came out. In other news, TSR is just about to open the Dungeon Hobby Shop in Lake Geneva, which I understand is sadly no longer in business. A bunch of other games are in development: Fight in the Skies, Little Big Horn, Lankhmar, Classic Warfare and a Robin Hood game. Mention is also made that Supplement IV: Gods, Demigods & Heroes will be out before the next Gen Con. Also: THE DRAGON IS COMING!

In non-D&D articles we have some bios of the TSR staff, an article about the Battle of the Nile by Dave Arneson, and some new weapons for Tractics.

Sturmgeshutz and Sorcery by Gary Gygax: In this article, Gary recounts a conflict between the inhabitants of a castle from the World of Greyhawk and a Nazi SS Patrol. A strange fog sprang up west of the castle, which allowed passage both ways, from Oerth to 1940s Germany and back.

The master of the castle is "The Gatherer", a 12th level evil high priest. His lieutenants Grustiven the Warlock and Goocz the Lama had previously disappeared through the fog. Many of the Gatherer's strongest fighters and 200 orcs are off warring with a neutral Lord who insulted him earlier. I'll no doubt place the Gatherer's forces, as well as those of this mysterious Lord, somewhere in castles in the vicinity of Greyhawk city.

During the battle between D&D baddies and SS troops, the Gatherer lost some ghouls, a troll, a giant scorpion, and a number of orcs. The Nazis were driven back to their camp. These events will absolutely be a part of my campaign's history.

Below are the game maps of the area.

I'll assume that the German map is correct for their side of the fog, and the Servants' map is accurate for the Oerth side. I might have to ignore the arrow pointing north, as the text says that the fog appeared to the west of the castle. Maybe it's north for the Germans and west for the Servants.

Mighty Magic Miscellany: This gives two new magic items:
  • Robe of Scintillating Colours
  • Prayer Beads

The types of Prayer Beads introduced are:
  • Bead of Atonement
  • Bead of Response
  • Bead of Damnation
  • Bead of Karma
  • Bead of Succor
  • Bead of Hindrance

In the Prayer Bead entry it introduces the idea the deities might respond to prayers and give aid, while also noting that they are fickle and dangerous.

Gallery of Gunfighters: A bio and stats for Ben Thompson.

Creature Features: Three new monsters are introduced:
  • Rakshasa
  • Slithering Tracker
  • Trapper

Rakshasa are said to be "known first in India", which either indicates that they originated on Earth, or that they're from a place that either culturally or geographically corresponds with India on Oerth. I favour the latter, but it should be noted that travel back and forth from Earth to Oerth is establised elsewhere in this issue.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Recaps & Roundups part 20: Supplement II - Blackmoor

The first D&D supplement was Greyhawk, featuring many game elements that had developed through play in Gary Gygax's home campaign. Naturally, the second supplement came from D&D's other progenitor, Dave Arneson, and was called Blackmoor. The development of this supplement was fraught: apparently Arneson was working on the final draft in March of 1975, but it had to go through two different editors, and was temporarily misplaced. The final edit was done hastily in a few weeks, and Blackmoor was finally published around December of 1975.

The finished product is patchy, and contains almost no detail on Arneson's Blackmoor campaign, but it does introduce a number of lasting elements to the game. I'll quickly run through them below.

New Rules Introduced

  • Hit Location during Melee
  • Lycanthropy gets more detail
  • Underwater adventuring
  • Specialised knowledge and expanded rules for Sages
  • Disease

New Classes Introduced

  • Monks (a sub-class of clerics)
  • Assassins (a sub-class of thieves)

Monsters in the game already that get updated or given stats

  • Merman
  • Giant Crab
  • Giant Octopus
  • Giant Squid
  • Giant Crocodile
  • Giant Toad
  • Giant Leech

New Monsters Introduced
  • Giant Frog
  • Giant Beaver
  • Giant Otter
  • Giant Wasp
  • Giant Stag Beetle
  • Rhinoceros Beetle
  • Bombardier Beetle
  • Fire Beetle
  • Boring Beetle
  • Fire Lizard
  • Minotaur Lizard
  • Elasmosaurus
  • Mosasaurus
  • Plesiosaurus
  • Giant Shark
  • Whale
  • Giant Eel
  • Lamprey
  • Sea Horse
  • Portuguese Man-of-War
  • Dolphin
  • Aquatic Elf (aka Sea Elf)
  • Pungi Ray
  • Manta Ray
  • Giant Sea Spider
  • Weed Eel
  • Sahuagin (Devil-Men of the Deep)
  • Floating Eyes
  • Ixitxachitl
  • Locathah
  • Morkoth (aka Morlock)
  • Poisonous Coral
  • Masher
  • Strangle Weed
  • Nymph (as a Dryad variant)
  • Mottled Worm (as a Purple Worm variant)
  • Sea Hag (as a sort of reverse Dryad)
  • Kopoacinth (aquatic gargoyles)
  • Koalinth (aquatic hobgoblins)
  • Lacedons (aquatic ghouls)

New Magic Items

  • Ring of Freedom
  • Ring of Movement
  • Clearwater Potion
  • Manta Ray Cloak
  • Necklace of Water Breathing
  • Trident of Fish Control
  • Net of Snaring
  • Black Pearls
  • Gold Pearls
  • Red Pearls
  • Helm of Underwater Vision

New Types of Treasure
  • Pearls
  • Pink Pearls
  • Silver Pearls

Diseases Introduced
  • Grippe
  • Bubonic Plague
  • Dysentery
  • Cholera
  • Malaria
  • Small Pox
  • Tuberculosis
  • Typhus
  • Typhoid Fever
  • Yellow Fever
  • Crud (heat rash, athlete's foot, jungle rot, ringworm)
  • Advanced Leprosy (

New Adventure Location - The Temple of the Frog

  • Deep within the misty swamps of Lake Gloomey lies the city of the Brothers of the Swamp, who believe that man is a biological abomination that threatens the existence of all life, and that animals should rule.
  • The Brothers of the Swamp began developing a creature that combined amphibians with the killer instincts of larger mammals, creating the giant killer frog. For years they hewed out caverns below their temple as breeding areas, offering human victims as sacrifice to a giant idol they called the Lord of the Swamp.
  • A special order, the Keepers of the Frogs, were created to tend the beasts, but eventually grew disdainful of them.
  • The temple tried to sustain itself by trading goods and purchasing slaves, disguised as merchants from "far places".
  • About 100 years ago, the Brothers gave sanctuary to some bandits in return for obtaining some needed articles. These bandits now reside in the temple, dominating non-religious life within in an unholy fashion. The temple became less a holy order than an outlaw kingdom, and this state of affairs lasted about a generation.
  • Stephen the Rock and three followers later appeared and quickly took over. Two of those followers died. Now the temple trades good of high quality, and Stephen has restored much of its original purpose. The location of the temple remains secret, but the place is organised, and the swamps around it teem with killer frogs.
  • Stephen comes from another world or dimension. His people discovered a dimensional nexus point in the area of Blackmoor, and he and his followers were sent to police it against incursions from similar beings. His people must have been technologically advanced, as Stephen must report yearly to a hovering satellite station, and possesses a number of powerful devices.

Details and conjecture relevant to the Ultimate Sandbox

  • Dread "Blackmoor Castle" is mentioned.
  • Monks belong to the Order of Monastic Martial Arts. Under "followers" it's mentioned that monks can't have followers from a different Order, so this is not necessarily one monolithic organisation. After 6th level, there is only one monk of each level thereafter. In order, these levels are: Grand Master of Dragons, Grand Master of the North Wind, Grand Master of the West Wind, Grand Master of the South Wind, Grand Master of the East Wind, Grand Master of Winter, Grand Master of Autumn, Grand Master of Summer, Grand Master of Spring, and Grand Master of Flowers. Monks can only advance above 6th level by challenging and defeating the master directly above them in a fair fight.
  • All of the seasons are mentioned, confirming that Oerth has similar seasons to Earth.
  • All assassins belong to an Assassin's Guild. There can only be one Guildmaster (13th level), who can be challenged for leadership by another assassin of 12th level.
  • There is only one Assassin's Guild in a large city or area of 2,500 square miles.
  • For some reason, people react with ferocity to poisoned weapons. Hatred of these may have been drilled into the populace by the Church of Law, perhaps.
  • Mermen ride around on the back of seahorses
  • Fire Lizards are believed to be the ancestors of dragons, and dragons will avoid fighting them.
  • The "Portuguese" Man-of-War should hail from whatever region of Oerth corresponds most closely to Portugal, whether culturally or geographically.
  • Dolphins are very intelligent, hate sharks, can communicate with each other telepathically, have magic resistance like dwarves, and can detect magic. Apparently.
  • In eons past the land was flooded (this might have happened more than once) when the ice caps melted during a great struggle of the gods to control the planet. Some gods protected their mortal charges, while others changed the nature of life to adapt to the ocean. Sea elves and mermen was thus created by the gods of Neutrality and Law, while the gods of Chaos created the Sahuagin.
  • The underwater sahuagin capital city has a population of nearly 100,000.
  • There is one Sahuagin King and nine Princes, all subject to challenge for their position by other Sahuagin.
  • Sahuagin never stop growing throughout their lives.
  • Ixitxachitl are "Chaotic Clerical Philosophers".
  • Lycanthropy can affect animals, turning them into men with animal intelligence.
  • Some gnomes live underwater in air-enclosed cities connected to the surface by tunnels.
  • Some kobolds live underwater in air-enclosed caves connected to the surface by tunnels.
  • There are Evil High Priests who live in underwater castles surrounded by a spell that allows those within to breath.
  • Giant Leeches, Ochre Jellies, Green Slime, Ropers, and Gelatinous Cubes can all seemingly survive under the sea.
  • Mu, Lemuria and Atlantis are mentioned.
  • It's possible that Sages are favoured by the Gods of Law, because killing one will change your alignment instantly to Chaotic (unless the Sage was Chaotic).
  • Mummy rot is also named advanced leprosy, perhaps by scholars trying to understand it scientifically (they will probably be wrong, because I don't think this sticks).
  • Spotted Fever is the name given to the disease carried by Giant Ticks.
  • There's a rare type of bark that can cure malaria. It's also relished by Displacer Beasts and Blink Dogs, which I'm considering as the root of their mutual enmity.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Recaps & Roundups part 19: Dungeons & Dragons boxed set, 4th printing

By late 1975, the Dungeons & Dragons boxed set was on its 4th printing. I don't believe that the contents of the books were significantly different, although the errata sheet that came with the 2nd and 3rd printings is no longer included; it's possible that this printing incorporated those corrections into the text, though I don't have a copy to check.

The main difference is the box, which no longer has a woodgrain pattern with the art pasted to the front. It's is now plain white, with the art printed directly onto the box. The main image, showing a warrior on a rearing horse, has been replaced by a wizard blasting what are probably orcs.

The same mounted warrior has also been replaced on the cover of Vol. 1: Men & Magic, as shown below:

The covers of volumes 2 and 3 have been left untouched. I'm not sure why the mounted warrior was singled out for exclusion, but it could be because it's a very obvious swipe of some Marvel art. Other art swipes still remain, but it's one thing to have these swipes hidden away inside the booklets, and another to have one plastered on the front of your most high-profile product. This is all conjecture, of course, but if I had to hazard a guess this would be it.

Recaps & Roundups part 18: The Strategic Review #4

Issue #4 of The Strategic Review was cover-dated Winter 1975. It's noted in the TSR News article that this issue was late, as is Supplement II: Blackmoor and a number of other design projects. In order to bring some organisation to the company, a few hires have been made: Tim Kask as periodicals editor, Terry Kuntz as service manager, and Dave Arneson as part of the regular design staff. Arneson only lasted about a year with TSR. Kask lasted until 1980, editing their various magazines. As for Terry Kuntz, it's not as easy to find out how long he stayed, so it's going to remain a mystery to me unless someone pipes up in the comments.

It's also noted that Origins I has happened before this issue came out (meaning that an early version of Tomb of Horrors has debuted, as shown in my last post), and that TSR is considering a D&D supplement authored by "Dungeons & Dragons Enthusiasts Everywhere", which I don't think ever eventuated.


As for non-D&D articles, there's one listing new troop types for Panzer Warfare, and another with some suggested rules changes for Tractics,

The D&D related-articles, and their relevance to my campaign, are very briefly covered

A Few More Words on Medieval Polearms (by Gary Gygax, who else): The following polearms are introduced:
  • Couteaux de Breches (treated as a Glaive)
  • Scorpion (treated as a Bill Guisarme)
  • Bohemian Ear-Spoon (treated as a Partisan)
  • Korseke (treated as a Spetum)
  • Chauves Souris (treated as a Ranseur)
  • Bec-de-Corbin (treated as a Lucern Hammer with respect to its effect on plate mail; disregarded as an unlikely weapon, except when knights fight afoot on the field of honour)
  • Military Fork (discussed, but not equated with any other pole arm)
  • Holy Water Sprinklers (treated as Morning Stars, although longer Japanese forms are mentioned)

Chainmail Weapon Additions: The following weapons are introduced to Chainmail:
  • Jo Stick
  • Bo Stick
  • Quarterstaff
I'll throw them into the mix around this time, perhaps due to some growing foreign influence, or the impending growth in influence of Oerth's various orders of monks.

Illusionists (by Peter Aronson): The Illusionist class is added to D&D. It comes with a number of brand new spells:

Level 1
  • Wall of Fog
  • Change Self
  • Gaze Reflection
  • Hypnotism

Level 2
  • Improved Phantasmal Forces
  • Fog
  • Blindness
  • Misdetection
  • Hypnotic Pattern
  • Deafness

Level 3
  • Fear
  • Spectral Forces
  • Paralyzation
  • Nondetection

Level 4
  • Improved Invisibility
  • Shadow Monsters
  • Shadow Magic
  • Minor Creation
  • Emotions
  • 1st Level Magic-User Spells

Level 5
  • Summon Shadow
  • Major Creation
  • Chaos
  • 2nd Level Magic-User Spells
  • Demi-Shadow Monsters
  • Demi-Shadow Magic
  • Create Spectres

I'll probably introduce this class via some NPCs before making it available as a PC class.

Tsolyani Names Without Tears (by M.A.R. Barker): This is a guide to the naming conventions in Barker's Tekumel, the setting for the Empire of the Petal Throne RPG. Articles about this game are all over the early TSR magazines, and I'm probably going to include it as a world that the PCs can travel to.

Creature Feature: The Clay Golem is introduced.

Mighty Magic Miscellany: This introduces a new type of magic item, cribbed from Jack Vance: Ioun Stones. The following colours are used: incandescent blue; scarlet and blue; deep red; pink; pink and green; pale green; pale lavender; pearly white; clear

Gallery of Gunfighters: Doc Holliday is detailed. The Old West will be another possible destination.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Recaps & Roundups part 17: Tomb of Horrors tournament edition

Cover by Tracy Lesch

The first Origins Game Fair was held from the 25th to the 27th of July 1975, at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. The fair was to play host to a large D&D tournament, and inspired by Alan Lucien's Tomb of Ra-Hotep, Gary Gygax set about designing a killer dungeon for the event.  The result was the Tomb of Horrors.  Over the course of three days, eight teams of fifteen adventurers went into its depths, and died to its traps. Word spread, and the later groups were better prepared for the dangers of the tomb, but it's deadliness still became legendary. That legend only grew when it became one of the very first official AD&D adventure modules.  Today I'm not looking at the module version, but rather the reprint of the tournament module that came with the Arts & Arcana hardcover.

For the very few (perhaps none) among you who haven't read or played through the Tomb of Horrors, the set-up is this: the lich Acererak has holed up in his trap-filled tomb with all of his treasure, and the PCs want to get in there and take that treasure. There's really not much more to it than that (and what else do you really need?), but the inventiveness and the vindictive nature of some of the traps elevate Tomb of Horrors above other modules of its kind. This one is legendary for a reason, even if you probably never want to run your characters through it.

(As an aside, one of my friends took or group through this module when I was in my early teens, perhaps 12 or 13. We made it through, but upon reading the module later I learned that he had been very lenient with us. We used a wish from a freed efreet to bypass a lot of the tomb, as I recall. I also remember getting blasted by lightning for tap-dancing on an altar, and losing a finger in the devil mouth, but the less said about those events the better.)

I'll try to avoid representing too much of what's in this reprint, but I will post up the map:

The original Tomb of Horrors map

It's a little faded, but for the most part this is a match for the tomb as published. There are some small differences, and at least one room in the published version that's not in the original, but it's very pleasing to note that the two are mostly identical.  I can't vouch for how closely the room descriptions match up, but my read-through of the tournament module all seemed very familiar.  If there are differences, they're in the minor details rather than the major ones.  I might do a close comparison when I get to covering the published module.

After laying out the basic premise, the module goes on to present some possible locations for the module. This is curious, because it can't have been of any relevance to players or DMs at the convention. Regardless of the reason, I appreciate the inclusion. The suggested locations are:
  • 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 a different set of suggestions, and I believe that it eventually gets an official location in the Vast Swamp. I'm open to having the tomb's location move around, magically shifting from place to place.

As for Acererak, he's present in the adventure but I don't believe he is ever named. I'm pretty sure that the term "demi-lich" isn't used either, but he appears here as in the published module, as a floating skull that can drain souls.

Of interest are two phrases that appear during the topic of ways to destroy the lich. It mentions that "the highest Divine destroys it by touch" and that "a Mystic can destroy by mind battle". According to this reprint's introduction, both of these were classes planned for Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry.  The Mystic was eventually used as fodder for the psionics system, so I'll happily use that title to describe early psionic characters. As for the "Divine", nothing more is said. I'm tempted just to leave it as read, meaning that a divine being can kill the demi-lich with a touch. It's unlikely to come up in play, but you never know.

After the adventure, there's a list of pre-generated PCs for the tournament: two magic-users, two clerics, one paladin, an elven f/m-u, a dwarf fighter, five human fighters, a human thief, a hobbit thief, and a half-elf f/m-u/t.  None of them are named. I'll probably just include them as adventurers who recently entered the tomb and never came back out.

Finally, the adventure includes 24 illustrations to be shown to the players as they explore the tomb. These aren't of the same quality as those in the published module, but by the standards of TSR art in 1975 they're quite good. Here's an example:

A wall carving in the Tomb of Horrors

With two versions of the Tomb now out there, I need to decide which will be included in my campaign. What I'll probably end up doing is using both: initially the tomb will be as described in the tournament module, but eventually it will get upgraded to the published version. It's fine, even Acererak has to do some renovations now and then.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Recaps & Roundups part 16: Tomb of Ra-Hotep

This series has just passed the point where the Origins I gaming convention was held, which saw the public debut of the Tomb of Horrors as a tournament module. The tournament version of that module was recently unearthed and republished as part of the Arts & Arcana tome (which is great by the way). I'll get to Tomb of Horrors soon enough, but first I want to tackle the appendix at the back of the Tomb of Horrors reprint: Tomb of Ra-Hotep.

Tomb of Ra-Hotep was an adventure written by Alan Lucien, who passed it on to Gary Gygax, and was a major influence on the design of Tomb of Horrors. The basic premise of both modules is the same: a tomb filled with traps, where an evil lich is buried with his treasure. Ra-Hotep has a more overtly Egyptian theme than its successor, and it's also much smaller.  It's not clear exactly when this adventure was created, but I'll place it here, just before the tournament version of Tomb of Horrors. It probably should have gone somewhere before the publication of Supplement I: Greyhawk, but I totally forgot about it until recently.

Here's the map, which is presented from a top-down as well as a side-on perspective. Nifty!

The tomb features lots of pit traps and secret doors, and a final battle with ten mummies and Ra-Hotep himself. Among the elements that Tomb of Horrors borrows (aside from the whole premise) we have:

  • A false burial chamber
  • A secret door at the bottom of a pit
  • A secret door covered by plaster

Ra-Hotep is a lich, who casts spells as a 17th-level cleric and a 16th-level magic-user. Among his plethora of magic items, he has a "jackal-stick" which can be used to control an item of Alan Lucien's own invention: the sphere of annihilation. The creation sphere is probably the reason that Lucien was given "special thanks" in the credits of Supplement I. Whether the lich came from him I am not sure of.

The notes for this dungeon are sparse, as seems to be customary for the time. They're also written more as a guide for the author than for a general audience, so I'll probably have to clean it up a bit before I drop it in my campaign. It also has one possible design flaw: there's a block that seals the PCs into the final encounter, but no way specified for it to be opened again. I've no doubt that PCs of a high enough level to survive the last battle would have the resources to get through a block of stone (and there is that sphere of annihilation), but it's something of an omission.

There's also a page with three hieroglyphic messages, and I'm not clear where that should be placed. I'm thinking it's best placed at the beginning, in an above-ground building that serves as the entrance to the tomb.

As for placement in the campaign world, I don't think this one will ever get an official World of Greyhawk location. When the time comes, I'll plonk it down in one of the more Egyptian-themed areas of that setting (no doubt somewhere far away from the Tomb of Horrors).

Monday, June 03, 2019

Recaps & Roundups part 15: El Conquistador #12

Around Summer of 1975, after the publication of Greyhawk, Gary Gygax had several articles published in an issue of the fanzine El Conquistador. Apparently these articles were promised in exchange for a full-page D&D ad, at least according to Gary's hazy memory. One of these articles was about play-by-mail games, and not really of interest to this blog, but the other detailed a game session from Gary's Greyhawk campaign. It can be read here if you're so inclined.

Expedition to the Black Reservoir by Gary Gygax
In this story, four adventurers venture deep into the Castle Greyhawk dungeons, where they find a huge subterranean lake. There they inadvertently free a sea serpent, which they manage to kill, as well as fighting off some pterodactyls. Later, while unsuccessfully trying to locate the sea serpent's treasure, they spy a tower on an island. Inside the tower they find and capture a sorcerer, claiming his treasure chest. They try to take their captive with them but he escapes, and vows vengeance as the adventurers return to the surface.

There are lots of tidbits about the Greyhawk dungeons and campaign here, which I'll go through point by point below.

  • The description of the lands around Greyhawk Castle is vivid, and I'm just going to reproduce it in its entirety: "To the east of the busy walled city of Greyhawk the land is forsaken, overgrown with thorns and thistles. Oozing marsh creeps slowly down. The copses are huddles of weird, bloated trees. The wiry grass seems to grasp at the feet of any who dare to tread upon it. In the center of this unwholesome place, on a rock-boned prominence, hulks the ruin of the grim Greyhawk Castle."
  • Four adventurers and potential NPCs on this quest: Erac the Enchanter (a 7th-level magic-user); Londlar the Lama (a 7th-level cleric); Nulfyke (a 3rd-level dwarf fighter); and Ugubb the Acolyte of the Lake of Crystals (a 1st-level cleric). It's mentioned that Erac is a "paladin of law", but him being an actual paladin doesn't square with anything else in this story, so I'm just going to chalk it up as Gary using some flowery language to specify the character's alignment. Erac was able to cast knock, fireball and haste, and was in possession of a ray-firing device taken from a "quasi-human in another dimension". Londlar possessed a "great mace of holy power".
  • The party entered the Greyhawk ruins through its fallen west gate (described as moldering), and then into the great central keep. From there they heaved open an inner door and proceeded down some winding stone steps to enter the dungeons proper.
  • A door at the bottom of the stairs opened into an east-west corridor. The party turned east, then south at an intersection, then followed a branching passage heading southeast. This opened into a large cavern with glowing foxfire on the walls, floor and ceiling. This cavern was home to a score of elves, the "guardians of the eastern stairs". These elves bargain with the adventurers for a share of treasure and magic items should they pass this way on the way out. (Who gave these elves this task is left here as a mystery.) I'm happy to say that there are some similar elves in Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works, although the map details don't match up at all.
  • A short passage at the back of the cavern led to a long descent of uneven steps cut into living rock. At the bottom, the party tried heading north, but most of the tunnels were heading laterally. They made their way with much criss-crossing, until they found a narrow southerly passage with more stairs heading down. (At this point the adventurers debated the wisdom of going down, but a monster in the corridor persuaded them. A legitimate wandering monster, or Gary giving the PCs a deliberate nudge?)
  • The bottom of the stairs opened into an area that was "seemingly boundless and cloaked with a murk of ebon vapors which allowed but feeble penetration by lanthorn or torch". Northward was a sudden drop of a few feet into a huge lake, with inky water of unknown depth. A few yards to the west was a raft moored to an iron ring.
  • About 200 feet further west they found a flight of stairs wending upward, but the sudden emergence of a giant crab sent them scurrying back to the raft, which they poled out into the reservoir.
  • The roof of the cavern was high enough to be lost in the murk. Hexagonal granite posts several yards in diameter rose from the lake to support the cavern ceiling.
  • Some way north they came to some posts arranged in an oval pattern, too closely spaced to raft between. One of the pillars on the far side had a rusty lever, which took three PCs to move. Pulling the lever caused the pillar to descend, which released a hostile sea monster.
  • The party fled to the western boundary of the lake, and then north, where they eventually found a raised stone ledge. Here they killed the sea monster and fought off some pterodactyls. On the northernmost extremity of this ledge they found a punt to replace their smashed raft (which I suspect via Gary's commentary that the kind DM put there for them at the spur of the moment).
  • While searching for the sea monster's lair, the party spotted a slender tower on a stone island. The door of the tower was wizard locked. The inner chamber contained little furniture, but a stairway led up to a trapdoor. Beyond was a laboratory, where a black-robed, pointy-hatted wizard sat in a stupor, lost in the vapors arising from some "hellish censer". The wizard was easily bound and captured, and the party found a chest full of gold coins and gems. They also found his boat moored to the island.
  • The party relocated the sea monster's lair, but upon diving into the water Ugubb found that the water was deeper than the length of the rope he was attached to.
  • The wizard then escaped and fled, declaring himself to be the Sorcerer of the Black Reservoir (so, 9th level?). While the wizard vowed revenge, the PCs made their way back up to the surface.