Thursday, April 30, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 62: Character Record Sheets

Cover art by Tom Wham

I've reached July 1977 in this D&D product chronology, but evidence suggests that Character Record Sheet came out around April.  These aren't the first player character sheets to be made by TSR, but they are the first to be sold commercially.  I covered the first ones here, along with The Character Archaic from Wee Warriors.

Finding actual scans, not recreations, of these sheets was a little difficult.  These were the best I could manage.

There's nothing too surprising on the front, though I always find it a little odd to see Psionic Strength listed right there alongside D&D staples like the six ability scores; it's just never been a part of my games.  I always like a sheet with a space for a drawing though, and this one doubles down on that by also having a space for a "sign or blazon".

The back sheet gives a lot of real estate to equipment and where its stored, affirming old school D&D dedication to encumbrance.  The big box for GOLD should probably read TREASURE.  I don't know why there's such a large space for Experience, though.  It's probably not going above seven figures, right?

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 61: Dungeons Geomorphs Set Three: Lower Dungeons

The exciting cover of Dungeon Geomorphs: Set Three

I origjnally had this product placed chronologically later in the year, but it's listed as being for sale in Judges Guild Journal M, so I've moved it back to June of 1977.  Set One was said to be available by the time Judges Guild put their first products out, which was in August 1976.  That leaves the question of when Set Two was first on sale.  It wasn't listed in the products for sale in Judges Guild Journal L, but it's there alongside Set Three in Journal M.  That leads me to conclude that Set Two and Three came out at the same time, but it's pretty weak evidence.  Weak evidence is better than no evidence, but I'm still not certain about it.  (ADDENDUM: I just discovered that Set Two was advertised in The Dragon #6, so it would have been available by April 1977.)

Dungeon Geomorphs Set Three: Lower Dungeons features - like its predecessors - example dungeon layouts that can be mixed and matched on the fly to create dungeon levels.  Set One featured simple dungeon layouts, and Set Two featured caves.  Set Three returns to the dungeons, but with slightly more complex designs, with more slanting passages and oddly-shaped rooms.

The instruction page for putting the geomorphs together is the same as in the first two installments (and can be read about here and here if you want more..  The sample level at the back is as follows;

The sample dungeon layout.

Every one of these sample dungeons uses the longer strip sections as well as the squares, and it really offends my design sense.  I'd prefer to see them laid out in such a way that they're still square or rectangular, which is boringly symmetrical but more aesthetically pleasing to me.

I'll reproduce the map key (presumably written by Gary) below.

7A. One huge Black Pudding, H.P.: 50. This monster is always very hungry, and it will pursue relentlessly as long as the party is in the room complex. Amidst the mass of junk in its lair is a bag of devouring with 7,000 gold pieces therein which it uses to attract prey.

7B. The Altar of the demon Sha-Hec'urah, set with fifty base 100 GP gems. There is a pit trap (10' deep, with six poisoned spikes) before it, with the cover trip mechanism to lock, unlock, or spring it hidden in a recess in a wall at the spot marked X. Touching the altar automatically alters 7C (below).

7C. An evil lama and curate (H.P.: 26, 21; A.C.: 0, 2; S.A.: Lama has snake staff and normal mace, curate has +1 mace) who serve the altar. With them is the "Arm of Sha-Hec'urah," a creature which appears to be a troll, but which strikes as a nine-die monster and causes only a loss of strength at 1 point per hit. Strength loss lasts for 2-12 turns, except on a roll of 20, in which case the loss is permanent unless a cure disease spell is cast upon the victim within 24 hours of the hit. The "Arm" wears an amulet which gives him this weakening ability. If he is slain the amulet may be worn by any player character, and his scoring a hit by touch will enable the strength loss to take place; the wearer loses 5 points permanently from charisma and will become more and more chaotically evil until becoming the new "Arm." The "Arm of Sha-Hec'urah": H.P.: 43; A.C.: -2 (due to the amulet). The "Arm" will call if below 20 H.P., and if the demon is thus summoned, there is a 10% chance it will come.

7D. 6 GNOLLS, H.P.: 13, 11, 11, 10, 9, 7. These are the guards for 7E, and as soon as they see any trespasser enter their area two will run for help, three will attempt to hold off the enemy for a moment, and the last will slip to the alcove in the passage leading out. As he hears his three rear-guards shouting, he will pull the chain which opens the bars of the cages set high in the walls of the chamber they are deserting, freeing 2 GARGOYLES (H.P.: 20, 17). In the far corner of the chamber are 3 magic arrows (+1) and 670 GP belonging to the gnolls.

7E. 2 STONE GIANTS. H.P.: 44, 36. These two are quite clever for their kind, having amassed treasure of 10,400 CP, 4,500 SP, 1,980 EP, and 625 GP stored in two large chests with no locks or protection.  They have hidden a potion of hill giant strength in a bucket of water on their table. The "water" in their bucket is actually a powerful delusive agent, and if it is touched it will cause delusions that the bucket has disappeared. There are ten base 100 GP gems hidden in the larger giant's club handle.

I'll use this sample dungeon level, combining it with the levels from the other geomorph sets to make a complete geomorph dungeon.  The only curious thing in the room description above is the note in room 7B that touching the altar will alter 7C.  It doesn't say how 7C will be "altered", so I'm taking this as a typo that should say that it will "alert" 7C.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 60: Judges Guild Installment M - Modron

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

  • JG33 Journal M (issue 4 of the Judges Guild Journal)
  • JG32 Booklet M - Modron
  • JG31 City of Modron Maps (one for Judges and one for players)
  • JG35 Monstrous Statistics Compendium Sheets


The journal begins with its regular "Jocular Judgements" segment, which is mostly very short news snippets and recommendations.  Of particular note is that the authors have been sent a pre-publication version of the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, due out in September.

"Shrewd Slants From the Sagacious Sages" notes that Monster Assortment Set One: Levels 1-3 has just been released by TSR, as has Dungeon Geomorphs Set 3: Lower Dungeons.  I just covered Dungeon Geomorphs Set 2, and had the third set slated for coverage later in the year; I need to update my chronology a bit.  It ends with a short note from Bob Bledsaw answering some frequently asked questions about the nature of the alignments of Lawful Evil and Chaotic Good. He equates Lawful Evil to characters like Tolkien's Morgoth, or Adolf Hitler, and Chaotic Good to unorganised, sporadic acts of kindness such as those practised by flower children.

"Demented Demography" by Bob Bledsaw: This article provides some notes on the demographics and economy of the area surrounding the City State. This includes all sorts of little snippets of info: five hours of labor in the City-State is worth 1 copper piece; the total population of the City-State is about 80,000, with a further 6,240 living outside the walls; there are villages that provide troop levies, and notes on mercenaries.  It ends with a short look at the ratio between adventurers and regular folks, and an explanation for why pretty much everyone in the City-State has a level in fighter or some other adventuring class.  It's a glossing over of materials that are obviously of great depth: it's apparent that there's much more to the City-State that has yet been published.  I find it interesting to see the emphasis that the different RPG companies have.  Judges Guild has a focus on intricate setting details, with a strong basis in a workable economy to underpin the adventuring side of things. The majority of what they've put out has been urban-related, with lots of shops and NPCs.  TSR is much more focused on things that directly pertain to adventuring, and to me it seems like they couldn't care less if the economic side of things makes sense.  I think this holds up going forward, at least for the next few years: TSR's products will mostly be self-contained adventure sites, with little in the way of coherent setting details.  They'll eventually start doing setting materials, but I don't think they ever create something that gets down into the details like Judges Guild.

"Religion and Justification for Magic" by Tom Holsinger: The author puts forth the idea that magic is actually taking energy from another realm through a "gate", and spends a couple of pages writing about the nature of gods and religion in D&D campaign worlds, and giving some suggestions, with special mention being given to the religions in Empire of the Petal Throne.  There's good advice and ideas in here, but it's all pretty scattershot, bouncing from topic to topic without ever expanding on the concepts introduced in a useful way.

"Economics & Technology" by Tom Holsinger: This article, like the Bledsaw one from earlier, stresses the importance of a strong economy in a campaign. It gives special attention to the realities of transporting food, and the effect that can have on a nation's military. It then gets into some very dense economics from the author's own campaign, and I have to admit that this stuff flies right over my head.  I can see the value in it if you're interested in having any sort of realism in your campaign world, but I struggle to care about it, and I rather doubt that the amount of effort required to get it to work would be worth it, unless you and your players are into that sort of thing.

"The Quest of Klanker Wildfoot" by Cathy Bledsaw: This is the beginning (I think) of a short story that apparently continues next issue. It's about a hobbit who is given a treasure map by a creature called an Alleroid.  The story begins in Modron, so I'll have to consider it as having happened in the Wilderlands setting.  It's not particularly good though.


The original cover, and the 1980 rerelease

This book details the port city of Modron, which lies northeast of the City-State of the Invincible Overlord.  Five hundred years ago it was a thriving centre of trade, whose inhabitants worshipped the river goddess Modron, and Proteus, the Shepherd of Neptune. A migration of orcs cut off their flow of dwarven merchandise, trade dwindled, and the rival temples erupted in civil war.  Raiders from the sea started carrying the people away into slavery, and the city finally fell when orc scavengers moved in.

More recently, a new town was founded on the old one's ruins, funded by the City-State to protect the Overlord's merchant ships from river pirates. The builders of this new city were protected by Maelstron, a giant sea snake who owed allegiance to the City-State. (This is a pretty odd detail that should be elaborated on further, but really isn't.  He's shown in an illustration and titled Guardian of the Estuary. Is he still there?)  The new city has been open for the past fifty years, filled with "sailors, star-men, buccaneers and traders".  Star-men?  Is Modron being frequented by visitors from outer space?

The intro ends with this evocative paragraph: "Soggy, bound chests still nestled in the holds of scuttled warships dot the bottom. A legendary fortune is said to lie within the sunken temple's ruins. Columns laying in the sand, arches dislocated and slime-misted statues are visited only by the Creatures of the Deep. No hero has returned from the foamy labyrinth river-bed. Sulphurous smoke still bubbles from boiling water in one area of the sound. Sages tell of a river of incandescent lava beneath the wavelets, sea-bats, a Triton Treasure House, sea-frogs and deadly clouded water."  It all sounds quite evocative, and would probably make for a good adventure. Too bad it's barely in the book.  Instead, it's much more focused on the city and its inhabitants.

The city of Modron is presented in much the same content-dense style as the City-State, although it's a bit more manageable in terms of size. It's major features are the two docks, the palace to the north-west, the Temple of Mitra to the north-east, and an arena for gladiatorial combat to the south.  Other than that it's shops, shops, NPCs, more NPCs, and probably a few more shops.  It's good content if you're looking for a city adventure, or a place to base your PCs, but it's not the most exciting thing to read, and it's very much the kind of thing that Judges Guild has already provided in plenty.

The city is ruled by the Patriarch-King Anoethin, who came to power after the death of his father two years ago. The other two powers in the city seem to be the Temple of Mitra (a Hyborian god whose stats were given in Supplement IV), and the Waterfront Storage Company, an evil group who run a lot of the city's sea trade.  Anoethin is a 10th level cleric, so I assume he must be a cleric of Mitra, but it's not specified.

The NPC singled out for the "Benevolent Character Module" is Sonniboot the Pirate, who is constantly switching sides to get ahead in the cold war between the temple and the Waterfront Storage Company. He has a tendency to kill gnomes on sight, which is a trait that I can admire.

There's also a write-up of the goddess Modron, for whom the city was named.  She has great power underwater, but can't survive on land for more than 6 turns.  Her temple is currently underwater, but can be reached via a tunnel from the cellars of the Kellarbari Tavern.  There are still some worshippers who go down there, and there's also a city of mermen that attend services.  If any adventurers want to go adventuring underwater, there's a sea hag who lives outside the city walls who serves meals made of red seaweed and octopus eyes that can confer water breathing for a day.

The rest of the book is given over to charts and rules for underwater adventures. These include expanded rules for swimming in armour, drowning, and the effects of weather conditions on both. Also included, pertaining specifically to the map below, are charts for visibility in certain underwater terrains, the effects of certain magical misty waters, and the effects of different types of coral.

The following underwater map of the bottom of the estuary to the west of Modron is provided. It shows the Temple of Modron and the merman village mentioned earlier. It would certainly be possible to run an adventure there as is, but some more details of this would have been appreciated.

The bottom of the Roglaroon Estuary

The back of the book has charts with stats for underwater creatures, and includes a lot that are new to D&D. Most of the underwater monsters from Supplement II are there, as well as a whopping 24 different varieties of shark, and some new fish and sea monsters. I'll list the new ones below:

  • Sand sharks
  • Porbeagle sharks
  • Lemon sharks
  • Great hammerhead sharks
  • Bull sharks
  • Whaler sharks
  • Great blue sharks
  • Tiger sharks
  • Black tip sharks (small and large)
  • Ganges River sharks (which would need a name change if I ever used them)
  • Bay sharks
  • Mako sharks (misspelled as maco)
  • Great white sharks
  • White-tipped sharks
  • Bronze whaler sharks
  • Brown whaler sharks
  • Nurse sharks
  • Whale sharks
  • Basking (bone) sharks
  • Makara (a sea monster from Hindu mythology)
  • The Loch Ness Monster
  • Killer whales
  • Kraken
  • Zeuglodan (a type of prehistoric whale)
  • Cecrops (a mythical Greek king who was often depicted with the lower body of a serpent or fish-tail; how he can have a Number Appearing of 1-4 is anyone's guess)
  • Ea (the Mesopotamian god of water)
  • Great barracuda
  • Flying fish
  • Bluefin tuna
  • Tarpon
  • Needlefish
  • Muskellunge
  • Ocean sunfish
  • Blue marlin
  • Atlantic halibut (name change required)
  • Conger eels
  • Black jewfish
  • Black drums
  • Stingrays
  • Catfish
  • Paddlefish
  • Stingarees
  • Devil rays
  • Ratfish
  • Lantern fish
  • Pilot fish
  • Sea bass
  • Sea raven
  • Porcupine puffer
  • Star gazer
  • Wolfish
  • Remoras
  • Goosefish
  • Hagfish
  • Sea turtles
  • Giant clams

It may not be necessary, but it sure is comprehensive.


This is the Judges Map of Modron.

The city of Modron


These three sheets compile the stats for most of D&D monsters to date.  They're identical to what was printed on the recent Judges Shield, which I covered here. No need to go over it again.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Recaps & Roundups Part 59: White Dwarf #1

Cover dated June/July 1977, the first issue of White Dwarf is a follow-up to Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's fanzine Owl & Weasel.  I'm casting a fairly broad net in this chronological march through D&D history, but I'm trying to include products that are in some way official.  White Dwarf sneaks in for two reasons: the first is that Games Workshop were the official distributors for TSR products in Europe; and the second is that quite a lot of the monsters first introduced here will be added to D&D canon by way of the Fiend Folio.  I'll probably cover White Dwarf up until it stops doing D&D articles, somewhere around issue #100.

In terms of articles irrelevant to D&D, the first issue has reviews of SPI's Sorcerer and Avalon Hill's Starship Troopers, and Steve Jackson talks up the boardgame The Warlord.

"Metamorphosis Alpha" by Ian Livingstone: This is an introduction to the game of the same name, which came out in July 1976 but is described here as being the latest TSR game.  (No doubt it didn't make it to the UK until later.)  It goes into some depth about the background of MA, which I really need to cover on here at some point.  In short, it's about a colonisation ship that passed through a radiation cloud that wildly mutated the crew, whose ancestors - having long-forgotten the original purpose of the ship - must now fight for survival.

The article brings up three sci-fi novels that Ian puts forth as possible inspiration for the game: Orphans of the Sky by Robert Heinlen; Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss; and Captive Universe by Harry Harrison.  From those he develops some ideas that can be added to Metamorphosis Alpha.  I won't get into the plot details of those books, which aren't really relevant here, but I'll briefly go over the possible additions to the game.

  • From Orphans of the Sky comes the idea that different decks of the Starship Warden may have differing levels of gravity.  There's even a chart that tracks how far a character is from there home deck, and what effect that might have on them in combat.
  • Also from Orphans of the Sky come the ideas of using class structure, an agricultural barter economy, different forms of law and order, and the use of strange religions and superstitions. This is standard sci-fi stuff of the sort that would have been seen on Star Trek, but I like that Ian puts forth the idea of a cult that worships football team Manchester City.  Sport fan to religious cult fanatic is not a huge stretch.
  • From Non-Stop, Ian introduces a race of intelligent rats that inhabit the ventilation shafts of various areas of the starship, complete with stats.  Those stats are pretty bare bones, but then again I'm not sure how numbers-heavy Metamorphosis Alpha was.  
  • Also from Non-Stop comes the Ponic, a multi-purpose plant that has edible sap, medicinal leaves, and can be used as construction material.
  • Non-Stop also includes diseases which, if survived, would cause physiological mutation in the survivors.  I'm not sure if this is necessary in MA, it seems like the people on board are plenty mutated already.
  • From Captive Universe, Ian puts forth the ideas of whole decks ruled by tyrannical priests, mechanical gods in the form of grotesque robots, and security systems that will kill those who tamper with vital equipment.

All of these seem like they could slot into Metamorphosis Alpha without too much trouble.  I'll add this article to my list of things to remember should my campaign ever cross over into the Starship Warden.

"The Monstermark System" by Don Turnbull: Previously introduced in Owl & Weasel, this is Turnbull's mathematical calculation of the relative deadliness of D&D's various monsters.  It's the precursor to the Challenge Rating system from D&D's 3rd edition, and I guess that predecessor to this would have been the dungeon level tables from D&D Vol. 3: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures and Supplement I: Greyhawk.

I must admit I got a bit lost as far as the math goes, but I'll give this one a brief outline.  Turnbull uses the system to come up with 3 ratings: the "D" factor, for a monster's defense; the "A" factor for a monster's aggressiveness; and "M" for the monster's over all "monstermark".  "D" is worked out by calculating the average number of melee rounds that it takes a 1st-level fighter to kill the monster with a sword. "A" is calculated by the average number of hits a monster would hand out to a character of AC2 during the number of rounds denoted by "D". The Monstermark is often the same as A, but it brings in multipliers based on certain special abilities a monster might have.

A whole bunch of different monster groups are given as examples, and the results are both interesting and odd.  Skeletons are the lowest rated, even below kobolds, with a Monstermark of 0.9.  The highest rated by far is the Intellect Devourer, with a Monstermark of 1,215.  This doesn't seem quite right, but I'll be the first to admit that I've never been able to wrap my head around the psionic rules, so there could be factors going on here that I'm not aware of.  The next monsters down are the Umber Hulk on 520, the Vampire on 440, and the Ent on 420, which seem more correct.  Turnbull hasn't calculated a lot of the higher-end stuff like Dragons and Demons yet, and I'm interested to see where they come in.

Overall I think Turnbull has a great idea here, and it's definitely the sort of thought that helps to improve the game.  I'm not sure if he's going about it the right way; as he admits himself, a lot of his math regarding the special abilities is based on guesswork.  Dan over at Delta's D&D Hotspot has interrogated the system a lot more rigorously than I  ever could, and come up with his own way of ranking monsters by deadliness if you want to check that out.

"Competitive D&D" by Fred Hemmings: This article about D&D tournament play is pretty much just a play report about a dungeon called "The Fabled Garden of Merlin".  I was all set to start taking down details for this dungeon until I realised that I'd already covered it in my post on The Dungeoneer #2. Not much else to see here.

"No Way Out?" by David Wells: Wells presents a trio of puzzles, with answers up the back.  To be honest, I'm too dumb to understand the answers even after having read the solutions, so I won't explain them here.  They aren't really applicable to D&D anyway.

"D&D Campaigns, Part 1: Philosophy" by Lewis Pulsipher: This one looks like it's going to be a three-part series.  In this part, Pulsipher puts forward what he believes are the four predominant styles of D&D players: those who want to play the game as a game (sub-divided into those who prefer players-vs-monsters and those who prefer players-vs-puzzles) and those who want to play it as a fantasy novel (subdivided into those who want to be told a story by the referee, and those who like a silly, unbelievable game).  I'm on board with this to a point, but I'm not sure what Pulsipher is getting at with that last category.  He spends a lot of time decrying games where the players are at the mercy of random elements like the deck of many things, but I'd consider that type of thing antithetical to the story-telling crowd, and much more welcomed by the game-as-game crowd.  The rest of the article harps on the necessity of self-consistency, which I'd agree is something to strive for in D&D, both in the rules and the game world.  Pulsipher does come across a bit like the "fun police" though.

"Treasure Chest: Helm of Vision" by Steven Littlechild: This gold-plated helm is fitted with diamonds in the eye-slits that function as gems of seeing, grant the wearer infravision, and in direct sunlight can cast confusion and reduce the combat effectiveness of opponents.  When worn by a Lawful character, that character will always see creatures in their true forms (regardless of polymorph, invisibility, etc.), will always see through illusions, and can see through disguises most of the time.  Neutral characters wearing the helm get weaker versions of those abilities, and can also see evil intentions written on people's faces.  Chaotic characters wearing it can never see illusions, will never see through a disguise, and will see weaker monsters as stronger ones (and vice versa).

"What's Wrong With D&D.... and what I'm doing about it!" by Andrew D. Holt: The author here indicates what he believes are the three major problems with D&D: the lack of realism in the combat system; the magic system; and what he calls "the party effect".

I can sympathise with the author's lament that none of the combat system in D&D at this time are clearly and unambiguously explained: OD&D was many things, but clear and unambiguous weren't among them. He goes on to outline a system he's developed that involves the player's using cards to attack and defend, but beyond that no details are given.  It's one thing to decry D&D for its lack of realism, but Holt hasn't provided anything concrete as an alternative.

As for magic, he might be the earliest author I've seen to definitively link the D&D magic system with Jack Vance's Dying Earth books.  He says that the system results in low-level magic-users being left with little to do, and many of the non-combat spells never getting used, and I think these are valid complaints. His solution involves using a series of chants that the players must use correctly, things like "Not Libra of Taurus Over Cancer With Mars, Geronimo", which is an intriguing method.  Without more details on how often these spells can be used, though, it's hard to judge its effect on game balance.  I like the flavour of it, if not the actual chants themselves.

As for the "party effect", this is the boredom caused by parties of adventurers when one or two players takes over and everyone else is left with nothing to do. It's not entirely clear, but I think the author is suggesting that the DM, instead of running large groups, run multiple smaller groups and have the idle players control the monsters until it is their turn.  This can work, I guess, but I don't think the problem is as universal as the author thinks it is.  Some players function well in large groups, some don't, and a DM just has to figure out what works best.

"The Pervert" by Ian Waugh: This is a new class that's introduced with a disclaimer by the editor, and is mostly just gags about sexual deviants. High armor class when wearing black leather, a joke about going blind, class level titles such as "flasher" and "streaker".  The suggested artifect of "elven dirty mac" did raise a smile, I must admit.

"Poison" by Alan Youde: This presents an alternate method of using poison in D&D.  Instead of the standard "save or die" method, this article presents a chart that cross references a character's Constitution with the monster's Hit Dice.  The poisoned character keeps rolling saving throws every round, and if they fail they take the damage shown on the chart.  Once they make their save, they stop taking damage.  I think this is a pretty good system, actually, but the numbers on the chart are a bit ridiculous, and really undersell the deadliness of poison.  A character with an 11 Constitution can't be harmed by a monster with less than 4 Hit Dice; a character with an 18 Con is immune to poison from anything below 11 Hit Dice.  These are pretty absurd results.  I like the general idea though.

So that's the first issue of White Dwarf, which is very much a D&D-focused magazine at this time. The articles are very early-days stuff, hobbyists hashing out the basics of the game, although the analysis seems much more rigorous here than in the US.  There's not a lot here that I can use in the Ultimate Sandbox, although I'll keep the Metamorphosis Alpha ideas in mind, and the helm of vision should get thrown in as a unique item somewhere.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 58: The Dragon #7

The Dragon #7 was cover-dated June 1977.  I originally covered it way back in 2010 (!) if you want a more in-depth look at it.  This issue marks the one year anniversary of the magazine's birth, and in the "Dragon Rumbles" editorial Tim Kask is quick to note that circulation has jumped by 300% since the first issue.  It was mentioned last issue that The Dragon was going to be covering a wider variety of games, and as such there's not a lot of D&D content to be had here.

These are the articles with no D&D relevance: "What to Do When Dogs Eat Your Dice" by Omar Kwalish presents some alternate number generation methods (including some absurdities like snatching chest hairs and using numbered jumping beans); "Mapping the Dungeons" has more addresses of DMs (including one from Australia, representin' for my homeland!); "Mystery Hill - America's Stonehenge?" by Lynn Harpold wastes space with the history of an American rock formation; "The Journey Most Alone" by Morno is a sequel to his earlier story "The Forest of Flame"; the comic strip "Finieous Fingers" begins a new story; and "Editor's Library" reviews Steve Jackson's O.G.R.E., and gives the thumbs up to Judges Guild.

"Gary Gygax on Dungeons & Dragons: Origins of the Game": Presents Gary's perspective on how D&D came to be.  Most of what's said is quite well-trodden territory.  As far as things that are relevant to my campaign, near the beginning Gary mentions the Great Kingdom, and states that Dave Arneson's land of Blackmoor was placed to the northeast.  I'd been of a mind to ignore that statement, as later maps show Blackmoor in a more north-westerly direction.  Now that I've seen some of the extant maps of the Great Kingdom (such as Dave Megarry's, which I've included below) I'm definitely inclined to ignore it. It's possible Gary just made a mistake here.

Dave Megarry's map of the Great Kingdom

"Military Formations of the Nations of the Universe" by M.A.R. Barker: When you see Professor Barker's name, you know there's some Empire of the Petal Throne comin' at ya. This lengthy article discusses the various military formations used by the armies of Tekumel, complete with rad names like "the two gates of Wuru, the many-legged serpent of gloom".  I'll keep this one in mind in case my players ever get embroiled in mass combat in Tekumel.

"Featured Creature: The Prowler": A serpentine creature with a gaze that can wipe its victims' minds, turning them into "zombei's" (yes, that's how it's spelled) under the prowler's control.  It will then lay eggs inside the zombei and send them roaming the wilderness until the eggs hatch.  As with most non-standard monsters from The Dragon, I'm inclined to make it unique, or use it very sparingly. On my original pass through, I thought of using a sage who insisted on pronouncing "zombei" in a specific manner, who would sharply correct any PC who used the standard "zombie". I still like the idea.

"The Gnome Cache, Chapter 7" by Garrison Ernst (aka Gary Gygax): This is the final installment of Gary's serialised novel, which got unceremoniously cut off because Tim Kask thought it was a bit crap.  It ends with the main characters, Dunstan and Mellerd, encountering a dwarf being chased by giant toads and weirdly hopping men.  This is a round up of the details relevant to my campaign:

  • The Nehron uprising mentioned by the bandits last issue was no hoax, and they actually have taken Blackmoor.
  • East of Blackmoor is a jumble of broken terrain stretching out to the sea, home to roving bands of Nehronlanders.
  • West is a trackless forest which leads to the slopes of the Senescent Hills, an inhospitable place that is home to creatures that do not welcome men.
  • The Free City of Humpbridge bends from south-west to south across the base of the Senescent range.
  • South-west of Blackmoor, in a valley near the Senescents, is a strange black river.

Originally I decided that the fates of Dunstan and Mellerd in my campaign would be death at the hands of the frog men, and I'm still probably going to go with that.  I was also going to tie it in to Dave Arneson's "Temple of the Frog" adventure, given the presence of giant frogs near Blackmoor, by putting the remains of Dunstan and Mellerd (and the dwarf, I guess) in the wilderness nearby.  And because the story was called "The Gnome Cache", I'm going to make said dwarf a gnome, and put a treasure map on his body.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 57: Monster & Treasure Assortment - Set One: Levels One-Three

Released somewhere around the mid-point of 1977, TSR's Monster & Treasure Assortment - Set One: Levels One-Three presents a series of lists that the DM can use to create adventures on the fly, or to aid them in dungeon preparation. The bulk of the work for this product seems to have been done by Gary Gygax's then teenage son Ernie, as he related on Facebook:

"I worked on the creation alone. Sitting after school at my Dad's desk at 723 Williams St, with percentile dice, paper and pencil. I was to roll up randomly everything (using the original boxed set) and change it as I saw fit to make it fun. Dad was of the belief that the customer seemed to not be like us so much in that they really loved pre-made materials. I also had to create at least one new monster in one case the Water Weird."

The product begins by explaining its purpose, with the author suggesting that dungeon levels should first be populated with several special monsters, while the other areas of that level can then be filled with selections from the lists that follow.  On average, the author states that 20% of dungeon rooms should have monsters, and that 20% of those monsters should have no treasure, so that players won't always know whether there is loot to be found.

For each pf dungeon levels 1 to 3 there is a list of sample encounters numbered from 1 to 100.  It's all pretty standard low-level D&D fare, although I'll get into some more detail below as to which monsters are new here, or getting stats for the first time.  It's interesting to note that while the monsters' hit points are listed, their Hit Dice aren't; it's a pretty glaring omission, I feel.  There's also an entry for Attack Level, which shows what the creature needs to roll to hit Armor Class 9.  It's something of a precursor to THAC0, the "To Hit Armor Class 0" short-hand that was used a little bit in AD&D 1st edition and became a core rule in 2nd edition.

The treasures also have a 100-entry list for each dungeon level. These are a lot more bare bones than the monster lists, mostly being either an amount of coins, some gems and jewelry, or a magic item. None of these is new or particularly inspired, but could be useful for determining the rough level of treasures that the Gygaxes were using in their dungeons.  Also, you know this is still definitely based on original D&D, because there's a potion of diminuation there, rather than AD&D's potion of diminution.

To supplement the trasure lists there are some random tables that show how they are stored and protected: one table for containers, one for traps, and to show how the treasure is hidden.  The idea that most treasures will be hidden hasn't really come up yet that I can recall, so this could be the first time it's being brought forth as a core part of dungeon design.

The following are the monsters that I believe are getting stats here for the first time.  I could be incorrect about some of these.

  • Centipedes: These were mentioned in D&D Vol 2: Monsters & Treasure but didn't get stats there.
  • Giant Rats: As unlikely as it seems, I'm pretty giant rats get some official stats here for the first time. Like a lot of giant animals, they were mentioned in the original D&D boxed set.
  • Giant Weasels: Like others, they were mentioned in original D&D and get their first stats here.
  • Large, Giant and Huge Spiders: They were mentioned in original D&D, and Phase Spiders were in Supplement I: Greyhawk, but regular old giant spiders get stats here for the first time.
  • Giant Lizards: Two varieties of giant lizard were introduced in Supplement II: Blackmoor (Fire Lizards and Minotaur Lizards) but neither matches the giant lizard as presented here. The Giant Lizard here has a bite attack that deals double damage on a natural 20, and matches exactly with the Giant Lizard as presented in the upcoming Monster Manual.
  • Giant Poisonous Snakes: I'm really unsure about this one. An aquatic variety of snake got stats in the original D&D boxed set, but I can't find any other snake stats on my notes. So I'm tentatively adding this one to my list.

That's it, I think. It's also probable that a bunch of the monsters, those that first appeared in Supplement II: Blackmoor, may have stats that match up closer to the Monster Manual than their original versions. As I recall on my first pass through, those were the ones that Gygax revised the most, and all evidence points to him working on the Monster Manual at around this time.

It's also interesting to note that paladins appear on these lists using the level titles for fighters, e.g. Paladin Swordsman, Warrior Paladin, etc.  They were still very much at this point being treated as a subset of the fighter, much more so than they were in AD&D.

To round things off, there's an example monster/treasure matrix provided for the first level of a dungeon that I may use as part of the Ultimate Sandbox:

First Dungeon Level
  1. (Description of a specially designed monster and treasure which the DM has placed in a special area - such as a barracks, armory, great hall, temple, etc.)
  2. (ditto.)
  3. (ditto.)
  4. (ditto.)
  5. Monster #37 (footpads): Treasure - #3 as shown (1000 copper pieces), contained in #4 (chests, 6 total), with guard devices #3 (poisoned needles in lock), #5 (spring darts firing from front of container), and #7 (spring darts firing up from inside bottom of container) in chests 2, 4 and 6; #15 (a piece of jewelry worth 700 gold pieces) is hidden in one of a set of leather arm guards casually thrown on a pile of old and worn clothing and armor. See 7 below.
  6. Monster #72 (giant rats): No treasure.
  7. Monster #9 (bandits): Treasure - #28 (300 silver pieces), contained in a chest guarded by poisoned needles in handles. Note: these men serve 5. above, and if they hear any commotion they will come to the aid of their masters, and the reverse is true.
Overall, I do kind of question the usefulness of this product, as it doesn't seem all that better than the kind of thing a competent DM could come up with on the fly on their own.  It's perhaps more useful for novice DMs, as a way for them to get a feel for the type and number of monsters that should appear on certain dungeon levels, as well as how much treasure they should have.  If I do end up using this, it will probably be in conjunction with the geomorphs to make a dungeon that contains the sample encounters from those.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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