Friday, November 20, 2015

Monster Face Mountain

Another map illustrated with monster faces, similar to the last one, but here it's a "cross-section of levels" ala Skull Mountain:

Click for a Larger View

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Part 53: "The Room Contains a Giant Snake"

Part 53 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 45 of your 'Blue Book' (page 44 for the 1st edition) and follow along...

The final part of the Sample Dungeon is the 3-part tower of the evil magic-user, who also frequents Room F where he is first described. In this part I'll cover Rooms S and S1, leaving S2 for the next post.

Room S - Spiral Staircase
This is the only part of this area actually shown on the map; the other two rooms (S1 and S2) are situated directly above it and are accessed by a staircase. Room S is part of the dungeon and is the only circular room in the dungeon. Does it date back to the time of Zenopus who excavated in his cellars or did the evil magic-user, who is trying "to take over the dungeons", dig it under his tower? On the published map, we can estimate that the thaumaturgist's tower is only about 300 feet from the ruins of Zenopus' tower. The roof of the room is 25 feet above, which is the same height as the entrance stairs at the start of the adventure, so this tower is either on the same hill as the ruins, or a nearby hill of similar height.

As you can see above, Room S on Holmes' original map is larger in relation to the other rooms of the dungeon. For example, Room S is larger than Room F. The published map puts it only about 40 feet across, but is should probably be more like 50 or 60 feet.

The room has four entrances/exits, including doors to the north and south, a secret door "opened by pressing a hidden catch" under the stairs and leading to a tunnel to Room F, and a trap door on the ceiling accessed by a spiral staircase going around the wall. The staircase is said to start at the north wall and make one full turn, which would place the trap door directly above the north door to the room. So the map only shows part of the staircase.

While the room can be accessed from other rooms in the dungeon, the evil wizard has a suitably hideous guardian for his tower - a giant snake. This is the only other thing in the room besides the staircase. 

Serpents of unusual size are fairly common in pulp fiction. Conan in particular encountered them on several times, including some associated with wizards. For example, in the Scarlet Citadel (1933), Conan is trapped with a giant snake in "the tunnels and dungeons wherein Tsotha [the wizard] performed horrible experiments with beings human, bestial, and, it was whispered, demoniac, tampering blasphemously with the naked basic elements of life itself".

Conan Chained by Frank Frazetta, used for the cover of Conan the Usurper (1967), a collection which includes The Scarlet Citadel
This being an introductory adventure, the snake here is not terribly difficult. Holmes gives it 2 HD, AC 6 (explicitly described as "leather and shield") and a move of 100 feet / turn. It would also have the default 1 attack for 1d6 damage. There are no giant snakes in the Holmes Basic Monster List, so this is another example of the "Giant Animals or Insects" from the Monster List in the manuscript, which was deleted by Gygax. 

There are no snakes in Chainmail, but OD&D Vol 2 mentions "snakes" in the description of "Insects or Small Animals", which are creatures with 1 hit point to 1 HD, AC 8. The entry for "Large Insects or Animals" covers "giant ants and prehistoric monsters" having 2 to 20 HD, so one might interpret this as covering giant snakes. OD&D Vol 3 lists Giants Snakes on Monster Level 3 (pg 10), suggesting about 3 HD, and on the Swimmer table. The extra descriptions of Aquatic Monsters on page 35 include Giant Snakes, but these have 6 HD.

The Greyhawk Supplement included Giant Snake in the list of "Attacks and Damage by Monster Type" (i.e., variable monster damage), but we don't see that information included here, of course, since Holmes didn't include that information in the Monster List - it was added by Gygax during editing.

Moldvay Basic and the AD&D Monster Manual each include a differing assortment of Giant Snakes, none of them close to the snake here. In those books, the lower HD snakes are poisonous, and the constrictors are much larger, having 5-6 HD.

As published, the only changes to this room are to add the snake's hit points (13) and change trap door to "trap doors". This seems to be a mistake since the first paragraph still refers to a single "trap door".

Rooom S1 - Ground Floor

This is the "ground floor of the magician's tower", and with S2 above, the only "rooms" that are part of a building in Portown rather than the dungeon. The description indicates there is a street to the north of the tower, which would be between this tower and the ruins of Zenopus. Another spiral staircase leads up to a trap door to the next floor. There's a brief description of the contents, all mudane: a fireplace (suggesting the tower has a chimney), cooking utensils and a few chairs. As you might guess, since it's all basically descriptive there are no changes to this room as published.

Go Back to Part 52: "No End to the Rats"
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Monster Face Dungeon

A dungeon map that I drew today. As an experiment the 'rock' (blank space) is filled with the kind of monster faces that I so frequently scribble in margins:

Click for a Close-Up View

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Goblin +1

One idea I've mulled over is a shorthand system for notating stronger/weaker variations of monsters. Similar to magic items, it would simply follow monster's name with a plus or minus: Goblin +1, Goblin +2, Goblin -1, etc.

The modifier would be applied to the monster stats. In OD&D, humanoid leaders generally have an entire hit die or more than the standard version. So I would apply a modifier to the hit dice rather than just hit points, as well as bonuses to AC and damage.

For example, an Orc +1 would get an extra HD, which includes the corresponding increase in to-hit and saves, as well as +1 to damage and AC.

Orc (HD 1, AC 7, AT: 1 x 1d6)
Orc +1 (HD 2, AC 6, AT: 1 x 1d6+1)
Orc +2 (HD 3, AC 5, AT: 1 x 1d6+2)

For humanoids with less than 1 HD, I would convert the hit dice to nearest die and then add the modifier (for bonuses), or drop the hit dice to the next die (for penalties). For example, a goblin has HD 1-1, which is equivalent to a d6 hit dice. Thus:

Goblin (HD 1-1, AC 6, AT: 1 x 1d6)
Goblin +1 (HD 2d6, AC 5, AT: 1 x 1d6+1)
Goblin -1 (HD 1/2 (1d4), AC 7: AT: 1 x 1d6-1)

As it turns out a system of this nature, but with a different shorthand, was outlined in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia nearly twenty-five years ago. See this post on the The Disoriented Ranger blog for an excerpt of the rules from that volume. It's a little different in that the modifier is applied to hit points per hit dice, similar to a CON bonus. I think this works better for higher HD monsters. With low HD monsters, a one or two point change in hit points won't make a noticeable difference in the staying power of the monster in combat.

One could take this idea further and apply a bell curve roll (e.g. 3d6) to a group of monsters to determine which members are the leaders. Using the B/X stat modifiers, for example:

3: Monster -3
4-5: Monster -2
6-8: Monster -1
9-12: Monster 
13-15: Monster +1
16-17: Monster +2
18: Monster +3

On further thought, rather than rolling for a group, it'd be simpler to just give guidelines:
For every ~20 monsters, one will be +3, two will be +2, and three will be +1. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Part 52: "No End to the Rats"

Part 52 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 45 of your 'Blue Book' (page 44 for the 1st edition) and follow along...

Room RT: Rat Tunnels

Here Holmes includes an old-school "endless maze" with limitless monsters ("there is no end to the rats"). Rather than being arbitrary, this fits the undercity setting extremely well, with the rat tunnels "being dug through the soft earth of the cemetery". This also gives us a clue as to what is above this location on the surface.

I meant to mention back in Room N that Delta suggested that the rat encounters in Room N/Room RT bring to mind Lovecraft's Rats in the Walls. In a review of Lovecraft in the Comics in the zine Crypt of Cthulhu #97 (1997) - one of his last published articles - Holmes mentions that this is one of his favorite Lovecraft stories.

This area presents one of the larger divergences between Holmes' original map (above left) and the redrawn version in the Basic rulebook (above right). In the original the rat runnels have a single entrance to Room N, and another in the east-west corridor north of Room P. In the published version, the tunnels have been shifted west, with two entrances to Room N and one to a corridor to the west, which has been extended. It's not clear why this was done.

The original map fits the description of Room N better since it doesn't mention multiple entrance points for the rats that burst into the room "through the loose dirt at the north end of the room". The text of RT indicates that the tunnels intersect at Room N and and "at the northernmost corridor". In the original map this was the corridor north of Room P, but in the published version it is the extended corridor to the west of Room N. So the altered map was changed in a way that still fit the text for RT.

The tunnels are small, only 3 feet wide, requiring humans to crawl through them. Holmes gives a mechanic, not otherwise mentioned in the rules, for humans fighting in such a situation ("a minus 1 from his attack die roll"). This was changed in the published version to a -2, making it the same as the modifier for partial cover (pg 20). Holmes further notes that halflings and dwarves are not so disadvantaged.

Holmes gives chances for independently encountering a rat or treasure as the tunnels are traversed. A 50% chance of a rat every 100 feet, and the same chance for 5 gold pieces "or a piece of jewelry" every 200 feet. Notably, the jewelry is deleted from the published rulebook. This is a big change, as a piece of jewelry is worth 300-1800 gp (3d6 x 100 gp; the average value is 1050 gp) in these rules. Once again Gygax/TSR has reduced the amount of treasure Holmes placed in the dungeon. Holmes' original presents a much greater reward for entering the rat tunnels. Note that Holmes' rats originally had 1 HD as described in Room N (which the entry for RT references).

DM guidance:
Example of a lair maze with a repeated chance of encountering inhabitants/treasure 
Rules for fighting while crawling through tunnel

Go Back to Part 51: "Indescribable Odds and Ends"  
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The "D&D For Beginners" Dungeon Model - Part II

This is the second in a series of posts looking at the dungeon model that Chris Holmes designed for a "Dungeons & Dragons for Beginners" scenario that he and his father ran at Gen Con XII in 1979. The first post is here. All color photography is by Chris Holmes and is posted here with his permission.

In this post we'll look at the three areas in the first row of the dungeon:

The middle room is the same entrance chamber we saw in the first post, but from the opposite side. It's hard to see but doors (behind the archway in this shot) lead to the left and right rooms.

Entrance chamber. Click for a larger view.

The room on the right has brick walls, and two areas. There are bear skin rugs in the corner and a giant battle-axe on the wall. Chris mentioned that the dungeon had an Ogre and Orcs so this was possibly their chamber.

Brick Room. Click for a larger view.

And on the left is a temple chamber, with images painted on one wall.

Temple. Click for a larger view.

This temple also appeared on page 163 Holmes' FRPG book:

Original caption: "Temple of the Bloodstained God. Temple Set by Grenadier. Aztecs by Minifig. Dungeon decor by Chris Holmes, photography by Steve Pyryezstov"

The Grenadier Temple Set is SS07 The Temple, seen here at the Lost Minis Wiki.

Ad for Grenadier SS07. Scan by the Lost Minis Wiki.

Note that the big statue at the top of the stairs seems to have disappeared between the 1981 photo and the more recent photo.

Here's another shot from directly above the entrance, the temple and the small area behind the temple. You can see the doors between rooms more clearly here:

Chris: "The temple had a hidden chamber with a trap door containing real green slime!"
"Here you can see behind the temple the secret room which is a couple inches higher than floor level. It had a trap door which fell into a cup of green slime. Matell actually made green slime as a toy, unrelated to the D&D monster. My green slime trap fooled both groups we played through the dungeon which made me very happy."

Hidden Chamber with Green Slime Trap. Click for a larger view.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The "D&D For Beginners" Dungeon Model

In a recent post I mentioned that J. Eric Holmes and his son Chris ran a game at Gen Con XII in 1979 called "Dungeons & Dragons for Beginners". And for this they used a large 3 by 6-foot dungeon model decorated by Chris. This amazing model still exists and Chris has sent me pictures of it to share.

Essentially the dungeon is a grid with nine sections each about 1 by 2 feet (by my estimate). Some of the sections are further subdivided into multiple areas/rooms. Per Chris, the "rooms were originally covered by pieces of cardboard until their doors were opened".  For transport to Gen Con - then at the University of Wisconsin Parkside - they "boxed up the dungeon and checked it as oversized luggage".

Today we'll just start with the entrance. A staircase leads down to an archway:

This room has actually appeared publicly before: it was used as the setting for two pictures in Holmes' 1981 FRPG book. The first, on page 49, illustrates an encounter in the sample dungeon found in chapter 4:

Original Caption: "In the maze of the minotaur. Figure by Archive, photographic effects by Steve Pyryeztov"

I think the minotaur miniature shown here is actually from Heritage 1351 Minotaurs.

The second appears on page 171, as part of Chapter 11, "Little Metal People". Here you can see several of the same marks on the tiles that appear in the recent photo above:

Original Caption: "Poof! Alkarzotz the sorcerer meets the flaming salamander. Magician figure by Ral Partha, photographic effects by Steve Pyryeztov.

The wizard Alkarzotz is a very early Ral Partha figure, 01-001 Evil Wizard Casting Spell, sculpted by Tom Meier as part of the Fantasy Line. 

Chris says: "I got to assist the photographer the day he took those photos; we all had a lot of fun.  Dad probably paid the photographer more than he ever made off that book but he did get an excellent portrait and I got to see my dungeon in print."