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.

1 comment:

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