Thursday, December 8, 2016

The City in the Lake of Unknown Depths

Greyhawk and the Lake of Unknown Depths, possibly hiding a drowned city
Greyhawk lore, in various stages of development, is scattered about in various early D&D publications. For example, at least two different products - neither of which is the actual World of Greyhawk product - include references to cities/civilizations under Nyr Dyv, the Lake of Unknown Depths.

The first is the fourth D&D supplement, Eldritch Wizardry, published in 1976. This time instead of new "ordinary" magic items, Gygax provided us with a slew of Artifacts, each with its own short backstory. Gygax snuck Greyhawk lore into some of these. For example, for the Codex of Infinite Planes, we learn:

"Long ago the wizard-cleric who ruled the Isles of Woe lost in the Lake of Unknown Depths used this work to gain knowledge of great power. It is told that this arcane wisdom is what eventually wrought the downfall of the mage-priest and caused the waters to swallow his domain", pg 43 of Eldritch Wizardry (1976).

This was later revised for the 1979 AD&D DMG, with the wizard-cleric becoming "the High Wizard Priest", and the "Lake of Unknown Depths" changed to its formal name, Nyr Dyv, along with a direct referral to the World of Greyhawk product, not yet published.

In the year after Eldritch Wizardry, the game play aid Outdoor Geomorphs: Set One Walled City (1977) was published, and included a short sample key to give DMs an idea of how the set should be used. Allan Grohe has kindly transcribed these for us. One of the city locations is a fish market, the Silvery Mart. Part of the description for it reads:

"If the owner of the fifth booth on the east side (counting up from the north) is engaged in conversation, he will relate a tale about his adventure on the Lake of Unknown Depths, where a very friendly mermaid told him of the City in the Lake. If bribed with no less than 10 gold pieces in goods or cash he will draw out a map showing where he thinks the fabled city lies beneath the waters (he is right), and he will warn whomever it is he is telling about it that there is a dreaded monster guarding the crystal steps down to the city. He can tell nothing more. (See #56, Society of the Sages, for details of which sage knows what about the legend of the City in the Lake)" 

Unfortunately, Area #56 is not included in sample key, so we'll never get to hear the full legend of the City in the Lake directly from the sage (unless we write it). It's possible Gygax had his earlier story from the Codex of the Infinite Planes in mind, in which case the City in the Lake could be the resting place of the High Wizard Priest of the Isles of Woe. On the other hand, the "crystal steps down to the city" sounds like something that purposefully built, and "fabled city" sounds more wondrous than sinister, so perhaps the two are separate locales under the lake.

This post on the Greyhawkery blog points out just how deep the lake is - over 30,000 feet deep, as deep as the deepest parts of the ocean. Perhaps caused by the same cataclysm that sank the Isles of Woe?

When the World of Greyhawk was finally published in 1980 (in folio format) and again in 1983 (boxed set), there was no mention of either legend in the description of the Nyr Dyv. The only fantastic lore is in regard to the the lake monsters:

"The Nyr Dyv is also well known for the monsters which inhabit its waters. Deep beneath the surface lurk huge creatures which prey upon unwary sailors or anyone so unlucky as to fall into the water. Warcraft, and occasionally merchants or bargees will bring back such monsters as trophies, as constant warfare upon these creatures is necessary to make the lake useful and usable" (pg 25)
A lake monster attacks a barge of the Rhennee; art by David Sutherland

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Monochrome D2 Print-On-Demand

Tuesday's new batch of print-on-demand D&D from WOTC finally includes a '70s classic: the 1978 original monochrome version of D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, part of Gary Gygax's timeless D1-D2-D3 'drow' trilogy.

According to the printing info at the Acaeum, the pdf (which i had previously bought) is of the 5th printing of the module, although I'm not aware of any content differences in the printings of D2. However, there are significant differences in art and content as compared to the later D1-2 compilation, as detailed here.

The front and back cover art in the original are both by David Sutherland. The back cover is rarely seen as it was not included in the D1-2 compilation, and is a great composition depicting an encounter with a rust monster, still looking very much like the Chinese toy that inspired it:

Interior art is by Dave Trampier (DAT) and Sutherland (DCS)
DAT:  Umber Hulk encounter (pg 3), Kuo-Toa barge encounter (pg 6), Kuo-Toa 'fingerling' pool (pg 10-11), adventurers resting (pg 13)
DCS: Roper battle (pg 4), Svirfneblin encounter (pg 7), Kuo-Toa throne (pg 9)
Kuo-Toa for monster entry (pg 13), Svirfneblin/Kuo-Toa battle (pg 15), Svirfneblin for monster entry (pg 16).

See also my previous post about the D&D print-on-demand.

(Note: DMs Guild links include affilitate number)

Monday, November 28, 2016

New Character Sheet Draft

Above is a screenshot of a draft of a new Character Sheet for Holmes Ref. I included one in Holmes Ref 1.0 that was a quick reduction of the Character Creation Worksheet, but I thought I'd make a new one that was a bit more streamlined / pleasing to my eyes.

The note regarding item location is from Gygax's Encumbrance rules on page 9.

The "Designated Heir" is from page 8 of Holmes: "A character may be allowed to designate a "relative" who will inherit his wealth and possessions (after paying a 10% tax) on his death or disappearance." This rule originally appeared in OD&D Vol 1 (page 13, section "Relatives").

Any feedback is appreciated. After a few days I will turn it into a pdf and add it to the Holmes Ref page.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Allen Hammack Q&A with James Mishler

C2 module along with original cover art by Jim Roslof. Photo source.

James Mishler's Q&A with Game Designer Allen Hammack  

If you missed it, on Thanksgiving Day on his blog Adventures in Gaming James Mishler posted a great interview with former TSR employee Allen Hammack, author of the classic AD&D modules C2 Ghost Tower of Inverness and A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lord.

Hammack's time at TSR (1978-1983) overlaps with most of the Holmes Basic-era, and of particular note to us, the interview mentions that among other products he worked as an editor on the "1978 editions" of the Holmes Basic Set. Since that set out first came out in 1977 and Hammack started in 1978, I assume he most likely worked on revisions that were included in the 3rd printing (May 1978), 2nd edition (Nov 1978) and/or 3rd edition (Dec 1979).

Hammack also mentions that "Dave Sutherland used to draw tiny biplanes into wizard hats in honor of the Fight in the Skies WWI game" [later Dawn Patrol]. This sent me back to Sutherland's Holmes Basic Set cover art to look for biplanes in the wizard's hat. None spotted there, but I'll keep on the lookout for other Sutherland wizards.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Character Creation Worksheet without line shading

I had a request for a version of the Character Creation Worksheet without line shading so that it easier to use with a highlighter (the link is to the previous blog post about it which has a link to the original version with line shading). A screenshot of this modified sheet is posted above, and the 1-page pdf is now available for downloading:

It can also be accessed from the Holmes Ref page on the Zenopus Archives site.

If this version is preferred, I will replace it in the Holmes Ref 1.0 compilation. I had put the shaded lines in for readability because the page is so busy. But this version should use less slightly less printer ink and (in addition to being able to be used with a highlighter) may generally serve better as a worksheet/character sheet, being easier to write/erase on the unshaded lines. Let me know.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea RPG 2nd Edition Kickstarter

Screenshot from the Kickstarter Page showing the cover for the 2nd Edition rulebook

As I write this, 12 hours remain in the kickstarter for the 2nd Edition of the Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea RPG. The kickstarter currently over 800 backers with over $64K raised, meaning that all stretch goals have been unlocked. I've backed the game at the $59 level (plus shipping), which includes a hardcover book, pdf, and the stretch goals, many of which are improvements to the book itself.

This game was written by Jeff Talanian, who has professed deep admiration for Holmes Basic. See this post from September where I transcribed some quotes from his interview on the Dead Games Society podcast. The second sentence in the kickstarter states that the game is "Inspired by Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith!". These are three "Weird Fiction" authors whom J. Eric Holmes was very fond of. As he wrote in his widely read 1980 article in the magazine Psychology Today, " players have wandered through bits of Barsoom and Hyperborea, through worlds created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, H. Rider Haggard, A. Merritt, H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith".

The AS&SH RPG includes the 4 standard D&D classes, as well as 22 subclasses, among which are all of those originally promised for AD&D in the Holmes Basic rulebook: paladins, rangers, illusionists, monks, druids, assassins and even the witch. Plus many others. Instead of demi-humans, the game includes a variety of fictional human cultures from which to create a character.

Peruse the Kickstarter page and this update thread on the OD&D Discussion Forum for many examples of the fantastic art commissioned for this new edition by at least ten artists, including Russ Nicholson of Fiend Folio and Fighting Fantasy fame. Nicholson's artwork remains very much in the style of his Fiend Folio work (which I love), for example see this piece posted in the OD&D thread:

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

TSR Print-On-Demand

Screenshot of the new options

Old school D&D is coming back "in print"!

Yesterday WOTC added a print-on-demand option to several of the TSR classics available on DMsGuild (aka DriveThruRPG aka RPGNow). Currently, only a handful of random products are included, but more should be added each week. You can find the products with the print options by going to, and then to "Narrow Results" at the top of the left sidebar and selecting "D&D Classics" under "Content" and "Print" under "Format". 

Link to the old school D&D items currently available for P.O.D.

[Disclosure: Link includes my DMsGuild Affiliate # that gives me credit if you purchase]

Note there's an option to get the pdf along with the hardcopy for $2 extra.

Be warned that the print quality may vary greatly depending on the quality of the pdf. I looked at the previews for two pdfs. X2 Castle Amber has a poorly scanned pdf, and I saw a comment on G+ that the map(s) are incomplete (I couldn't confirm this from the limited preview). The pdf of L1 The Secret of Bone Hill looked better, so it may make for a decent printed copy. Also, from what I've heard the cover will be attached, not loose as in the original TSR modules, and all maps will appear in the books in the same order as they as they do in the pdf. Basically just a straight print of whatever you see in the pdf. I'll update this as further buyer reports come in.

More discussion on my favorite forums:  

And here's an announcement by the product manager on RPGnet:!&p=20593831#post20593831

Hopefully the recent OD&D reprints will be included soon!

I can't make this post without mentioning that Holmes Basic still remains unavailable in pdf format, let alone print-on-demand. New pdf offerings are still being added on a weekly basis, so hopefully it's still in the queue.