Monday, May 2, 2016

Portown Rumors

Here are twenty random rumors that characters might hear while spending time and money at the Green Dragon Inn in Portown. Or for a quickstart game, simply give each character one randomly rolled rumor to start the game with. Each rumor is followed by notes indicating the basis for it in Holmes' Sample Dungeon (aka the Tower of Zenopus).

I've marked the rumors True or False like the ones listed in the B1 and B2, although here the "False" rumors are generally partially true, with some misinformation involved.

1d20 Portown Rumors:
1. "An old story has a wizard with a tower on one of the hills to the west of town, out past the graveyard near the sea cliff. I don't know much, but supposedly he dug tunnels in the hill, looking for treasures from the past. Then he disappeared, and now it's a ruin, supposedly haunted. But if you are brave maybe there is still treasure to be found there."

True. From the first two paragraphs of the Background, including "Rumor has it that the magician made extensive cellars and tunnels underneath the tower" and "was said to excavate his cellars in search of ancient treasure".

2. "I've heard the sage Ethbran holds that Portown was built on the ruins of a forgotten city. On the hills west of town you can still find some stones from the ancient structures, decorated with odd, unsettling symbols."

True. From the Background that the "town is located on the ruins of an older city of doubtful history" and "the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, pre-human city". I've added the sage; he will buy old treasures found in the dungeon and may identify magic items for a price.

3. "Don't believe a word of it, but for a bottle of whiskey that crazy old drunk Zadok will tell you a tale about a doomed wizard he says he worked for in his youth. It's good for a laugh."

True. Zadok's tale is true as he was one of Zenopus' "human servants who escaped the holocaust, saying their master had been destroyed by some powerful force he had unleashed in the depths of the tower". For 10 gp bottle of whiskey Zadok will tell the full tale of Zenopus; read the first four paragraphs of the Background to the players. (A character named Zadok Allen serves a similar role in H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth).

4. "There are some old ruins in the hills to the west of town, but if you are wise you'll stay away. Last year a group of reckless youths went in there looking for treasure and were never seen again. Even if you make it back alive, folks here don't take kindly to strangers poking about with things that should be left alone."

True. Drawn from the Background: "townsfolk continue to shun the ruins" and "the few adventurous souls who have descended into crypts ... have failed to return at all"; and the coda: "What are the townspeople going to do when they discover that our friends are tampering with Things Better Left Alone?" If the players openly enter the ruins they may encounter hostility from some locals. The DM could add a reward for evidence of the missing youths; perhaps the old bones & armor in the rat's nest in Room G.

5. "Keep your voices down. I've heard that the hill to the west of town is full of a wizard's gold, but it's also guarded by his vengeful ghost".

False. There is treasure there, but it's not the wizard's gold or guarded by his ghost. From the Background: "Whispered tales are told of fabulous treasure and unspeakable monsters in the underground passages below the hilltop".

6. "Now don't tell anyone, but as youths some friends and I snuck into a dungeon in the old ruins west of town. It's easy to get in; the entrance is a set of wide steps going down. We found nothing but empty tunnels and dangerous vermin. I think it was all cleaned out long time ago. You'll have better luck earning some coin by finding a job here in town."

False. There is still plenty of treasure to be found; the teller is either lying or simply didn't find anything. From the Background: "The entrance to the old dungeons can be easily located as a flight of broad stone steps leading down into darkness, but the few adventurous souls who have descended into crypts below the ruin have either reported only empty stone corridors or..."

7. "Bandits in the hills have been attacking caravans from the south bringing up spices and other goods. The Guild is seeking to hire scouts to find the bandit's hideout."

True. Based on the "caravan routes from the south" (from the Background) and "a trip apt to be punctuated by attacks by brigands" (from Holmes' DM guidance). Use a group of 30 bandits with a 4th level fighter leader per the Bandit entry in the Monster List. The Guild can be the same organization from B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, Area 16 of the Keep.

8. "The Swift Merman, a merchant ship, is paying well for fighting arms to protect it while plies the Northern Sea to deliver spices from the south leaving Portown enroute for other towns up the coast."

True. Based on the "the merchant ships that dare the pirate-infested waters of the Northern Sea". Per the Holmes Manuscript, Buccaneers and Pirates are treated as Bandits regarding numbers, so a single ship might have 30 pirates with a 4th level fighter leader.

9. "If you need an extra sword arm, try hiring a man-at-arms from that big fellow Ajax at the shop "Warrior-For-Hire". Pricey, but he hires only the strongest and most dependable."

True. Background: "If only one player is taking his or her character into the dungeon,
the Dungeon Master should recommend employing one or more men-at-arms. These non-player characters can then be "rolled up" and hired out for a share of the treasure." Ajax is based on Holmes' Warrior-For-Hire. They require an equal share of the treasure.

10. "The Guild is hiring extra night watchmen to patrol the warehouses down by the harbor. Robbers keep evading their current guards and stealing goods, mostly food. Street urchins are suspected since small footprints were found in spilled flour in one break-in."

True. But the "urchins" are actually the goblins from Room A, sneaking into town for food. If confronted, they will try to escape unless cornered, in which case they will fight until half their number is killed, and then surrender. To evade pursuit a goblin may even throw a vial of sleep gas as per their trapped chest. As above the Guild can be the same group as in B2.

11. "Looking for work? There's a hardworking magician who lives in a short tower on the west side of town who is said to be a dependable employer".

False. While this magician will hire the characters for certain jobs, he is actually the evil thaumaturgist from Rooms F and S in the dungeon, with his tower above Room S. This rumor assumes he is one of the "other magic-users [that] have moved into the town" from the Background. The thaumaturgist is "trying to take over the dungeon level" so this work could even lead to a job clearing out a dungeon room such as the Giant Spider. Obviously, he will betray the party at some point. 

12. "That old drunk Otus was recently fished out of the sea to the west of town, half-drowned. He says he last remembers wandering into the sewers beneath town, looking for a warm place to sleep and fell in a river. But then how did he end up out in the sea?"

True. Otus fell in the underground river that goes through Rooms H, K, L and M, and was swept out to sea, amazingly surviving. Inspired by Lovecraft's The Festival, where the protagonist is swept out to sea by an underground river.

13. "Looking for lost treasure, eh? Try those sea caves beneath the high cliffs west of town, if you dare. I've always heard that pirate treasure is buried there! But watch yourself getting in or that surf will dash you to pieces against the rocks at the base of the cliffs."

True. One of the sea caves is the entrance to Room M. Others should have pirate "treasure troves hidden in the sea caves" per the coda of the adventure. Perhaps a d10 random table of sea cave encounters, one of which is the entrance to Room M.

14. "Merchants are complaining that stolen goods have been turning up in town. Smugglers are suspected, but it isn't clear how they are getting the goods past the town guards. The Guild will pay for information."

True. The sea cave in Room M is "used by smugglers and pirates" to hide out while they bring stolen goods into town.

15. "The town is abuzz due to the disappearance of Lord Leomund's heir and eldest daughter Lemunda the Lovely. She has been missing for a day and the Lord is offering a reward for her return or any information on her whereabouts. The word is that she ran off with a band of adventurers on a quest for treasure".

False. Lemunda has disappeared, but was kidnapped by pirates and is being held in Room M, a sea cave.

16. "Several fisherman have gone missing while checking crab pots to the west of the harbor. Their boats were found floating, abandoned. One corpse was found with strange marks on its skin. A sea creature is suspected, and a group of a fisherman are offering a reward for proof of its destruction."

True. The Large Octopus described in Room M is responsible. If killed, the pirates will hear of the party and recognize them as a possible threat. 

17. "I've heard stories that kings were buried in the ancient catacombs of Portown in huge coffins filled with coins. If only I knew where they were!"

False. Room N is part of the catacombs, but the ancients were buried with jewelry and arms rather than coins.

18. "The Widow Dannick is frightened of the scratching noises she hears coming from her cellar and would like someone to investigate. In return she offers the gear of her deceased husband, a retired adventurer, which is stored in the basement."

True. Rats from Room RT have tunneled into her basement and are nesting there. The PCs will find that the tunnels lead to Room N, providing a possible entrance to the dungeon.

19. "Grave-robbers recently struck the cemetery. Ol' Gozef the caretaker says that a grave collapsed into a large hole in the ground, with no trace of the coffin that should have been there. He wants to catch the robbers if you are interested in a job."

False. The coffin was stolen by ghouls rather than more mundane grave-robbers. This rumor is based on the "ghoul haunted passages beneath the graveyard" mentioned in the coda to the Sample Dungeon, and Room P with ghouls and smashed coffins. The ghouls  dig out the graves from underneath, hence the collapse. A stakeout could lead to a confrontation with one or more ghouls. An entire underground complex could be designed, perhaps with a ghast leading the ghouls. The coda also references, "inhuman rites in the tunnels", which suggests cultists are also involved with the ghouls. 

20. "The Merchant Amev was known for walking about town accompanied by his beloved  ape companion Thak. But the ape ran off one evening and never returned. Amev is distraught and is offering a hefty reward for the ape's return or information leading to such."

True. The evil thaumaturgist has captured the ape and is keeping him in a cage in Room S2. The ape "hates the cage and has been waiting to get even". See also Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue and Howard's Rogues in the House (where the name Thak is from).

Most of the proper names are sourced from the Holmesian Random Name Generator.

Some of these rumors will result in the PCs approaching the dungeon from a different entrance, or meeting one of the encounters out of context. They also were designed with the idea of making the Portown setting more of a mini-campaign area. If you need a map of Portown, I suggest the one by Paleologos.

Feedback is appreciated. I'll put these on a one-page reference sheet after a time.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Holmes Panel at NTRPG Con 2016

If you are going to the North Texas RPG Convention (NTRPG Con) this June, registration begins tonight at midnight in the Texas time zone (Central Standard Time).

I'll be going to this con for the first time this year, and will be participating in a Holmes panel/reading/seminar/Q&A with Chris Holmes and Allan Grohe (aka grodog on various forums). The event is listed as part of the NTRPG Con schedule, Saturday June 4th at 9 AM. There doesn't seem to be a direct link, but I've posted a screen shot of the listing above. If you go to the Event List and search for "Holmes", you should find it.

I'll be playing in a bunch of games at the con as well, and hope to meet some other Holmes fans while I'm there.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Character Creation Worksheet PDF

Screenshot of the Character Creation Worksheet

After a bit of delay, here (direct link) is the promised downloadable pdf of the Character Creation Worksheet for Holmes Basic. You can also get to it via the Holmes Ref page.

I tweaked the sheet a bit more, but not much. I moved the Prime Requisite adjustment from step #2 to its own step (#3), so there are ten steps now. Note that Holmes omits any mention of elves from the section on Adjusting Ability Scores.

Please let me know if you spot any errors.

Previous posts about this sheet can be found here and here.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Wandering Monster Dice

"At the end of each three turns the Dungeon Master can roll a die to see if a wandering monster has come down the corridor. A roll of 6 means that something has come "strolling" along" - Holmes Basic rulebook
Eric Harshbarger, the Lego sculptor and game/puzzle designer who built a Lego mosaic of the Sutherland Dragon, has made Wandering Monster d12s based on the Holmes Basic encounter tables (3rd edition version). The post on his site is partially quoted below:

Wandering Monsters Die

This is probably the most specialized set of dice I've ever made, and it will appeal only to those who are as enamored with "old school" role-playing games as I am. The original Basic Dungeons & Dragons game had tables in it for "random encounters" or "wandering monsters". If something was encountered by an adventuring party, the dungeon master was supposed to roll a twelve sided die and refer to one of three tables (depending upon what "level" of the dungeon the party was on -- the rulebook only considered dungeons of depth down to level three).
Click here to read the rest of his post.

Click here to read about changes to the Level 1-3 Wandering Monster Tables from OD&D Vol III to Greyhawk to the three printings of Holmes Basic. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Warlock OD&D Spell Point System

From Warlock (1975), pages 6-7

It wasn't long after D&D was released 1974 that fans began tinkering with the rules. One of the earliest published variants was Warlock in the the Spartan Gaming Journal in August 1975. Holmes used this system in the games he ran with his sons prior to editing the Basic Set, and I've written about the possible influence of these rules on Holmes Basic. In Dragon #52, Holmes wrote that he tried to convince Gygax to include a spell point system in Basic D&D. As we know from the lack of these rules in D&D, Gary was not persuaded.

When Warlock was published the only published D&D books were the original set and the Greyhawk supplement, both of which it references. Now that these first two publications are available again as pdfs, it is a good time to go back and take a look at this spell point system that Holmes was a fan of. The presentation in Warlock is a bit scattershot, like the OD&D rules themselves, so I've tried to re-organize it here.

Above I've quoted a bit of Warlock's theory behind using spell points: M-U spells have two qualities, complexity (level) and effort required (spell points). Thus each spell is additionally assigned a spell point usage cost. 

The basic formula:
Spell Points (SP) per day = Hit Points + Level + Int modifier 

Int modifier:
16+ : +1 point per HD
13-15: +1/2 point per HD
9-12: none
6-8: -1
4-5: -2
3: -3

Note the HD system in Warlock is similar to the original d6-based HD system, with a M-U only getting a full d6 HD every other level. So HD here is not the same as Level.

Note also that Warlock uses the original OD&D Con modifier to HP (Con > 15 = +1 HP/HD, Con < 6 = -1 HP/HD), so a high Con only gives a small bonus to spell points.

Example (from pg 6)
A 5th level M-U (3d6 HD) with 9 HP with an average Int = 14 SP 

"Life-Saving Margin": A M-U can exceed the SP only to safe own life. This extra margin is the same as the character's "Death Level", which is the number of HP between unconsciousness and death (i.e., the "death's door" rule in later systems)

The calculation for the "Death Level" is explained in the section on combat (pg 29) and uses a complex formula: .03 x HP x CON score. The example given is a 10 HP character with 15 CON, yielding a 4.5 HP "Death Level" (.03 x 10 x 15), meaning the character can go to -4.5 HP before dying.  

Spell points get the same margin as Death Level, but when M-Us go below it they suffer the following consequences in lieu of dying: unconsciousness for d6 turns, movement slowed by one step, and loss of all other casting for the day (i.e., since they have no spell points left).
Memorization rules: This system is not "free casting". Despite having spell points, a M-U can still only cast based on what spells are known, and what is memorized. At lower levels, the memorization tables are the same as OD&D; e.g. a 1st level MU can memorize one 1st level spell/day; a 3rd level M-U can memorize two 1st level and one 2nd level spells. Higher levels have some changes and go all the way up to level 40 (!).

Warlock does not include the "% chance to know" table from Greyhawk, but does suggest limiting available spells: "In beginning a series of games it is worthwhile to limit the spells available to magic-users. This gives them incentive for finding the lairs of hostile magic-users (in order find books of spells) or researching new spells" (pg 8).

Spell Point Cost for Individual Spells for Levels 1-3:
Warlock adds many spells to each level, but I've only listed the LBB & Greyhawk spells. Warlock mentions that they have only included some of the Greyhawk spells; others have their level changed. Obviously this system was first worked out for the original spells and the new Greyhawk spells provided some complications.

Level 1
OD&D Vol 1 original list:
Detect Magic  1
Hold Portal  3
Read Magic  1
Read Languages  1
Protection/Evil  3
Light  3
Charm Person  4
Sleep  3

Greyhawk additions:
Shield  -- (not included)
Magic Missile 4 +1/missile (changed to Level 2)
Ventriloquism  2

Level 2
OD&D Vol 1 original list:
Detect Invisible  2
Levitate  4 + 1/turn
Phantasmal Forces  4
Locate Object  4
Invisibility  4

Wizard Lock  6
Detect Evil  1
ESP  2 + 1/turn
Continual Light  5
Knock  4

Greyhawk additions:
Darkness, 5' r.  3 + 1/turn
Strength  7 (changed to level 4)
Web  5 (changed to level 3)
Mirror Image  5 + 1/turn (changed to level 3)
Magic Mouth  3 +1 /turn (changed to level 3)
Pyrotechnics  5

Level 3
OD&D Vol 1 original list:
Fly  5 + 1/turn
Hold Person  5
Dispell Magic  5
Clairvoyance  3 + 1/turn
3 + 1/turn
Fire Ball  6
Lightning Bolt  5
Protection/Evil 10' r.  4
Invisibility 10' r.  5
Infravision  4
Slow Spell  5
Haste Spell  5
Protection/Normal Missiles  4
Water Breathing  4 +1/turn

Greyhawk additions:
Explosive Runes -- (not included)
Rope Trick  6 +1/turn
Suggestion -- (not included)
Monster Summoning I -- (not included)


M-U Level/HD/Average HP/Average SP (not including any bonuses for Int/Con)
1/ 1d6/ 3.5 / 4.5
2/ 1d6+2/ 5.5/ 7.5
3/ 2d6/ 7/ 10
4/ 2d6+2/ 9/ 13
5/ 3d6/ 10.5/ 15.5
6/ 3d6+2/ 12.5/ 18.5
7/ 4d6/ 14/ 21
8/ 4d6+2/ 16/ 24
9/ 5d6/ 17.5/ 26.5
10/ 5d6+2/ 19.5/ 28.5   

A 1st level M-U will have an average of 3-4 HP, and thus 4-5 spell points (SP), with a potential max of up to 9 spell points (6 for HP + 1 for high Con + 1 for Level + 1 for high Int). A single 1st level spell can be memorized. An average MU will be able to cast one of the of the more powerful 1st level spells (Sleep, Charm Person), but an above average MU with more points may be able to cast one of these spells twice. Detect/Read Spells that only cost one point may be cast multiple times if chosen as the memorized spell.

A 3rd level M-U will have an average of 7 HP, and thus 10 SP with a potential max of 19 SP (12 HP + 2 for high Con + 3 for Level + 2 for high Int). Two 1st level and one 2nd level spell can be memorized. Magic Missile is a 2nd level spell in these rules with a cost of 4 +1/missile. An average M-U can cast Magic Missile and produce 1-5 missiles for 5-9 SP. An above average M-U with 18 SP could (among other options) cast Magic Missile three times with two missiles per casting for a total of 18 SP. 

OSR implications
Since this system layers on top of the existing memorization rules, it should be adaptable as an option for most OSR systems. It will be most easily used with systems similar to the original D&D rules (Swords & Wizardry Whitebox; Delving Deeper). Modification of the spell point formula/costs may be necessary for systems using a d4 HD and/or with higher HP and Int modifiers. A drawback is that it makes a M-U's power level much more dependent on HP rolls and Con bonuses.

The  complications during play will be tracking spell points and remembering the varying spell point cost for each spell. Players should be able to write down this number next to the spell on their sheet and use it to keep track of their spell points when casting. Being able to cast additional spells will provide motivation for this extra work. It will be more of a pain for DMs because they will need to look up and track this for every NPC M-U.