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.