Showing posts sorted by date for query White Plume Mountain. Sort by relevance Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by date for query White Plume Mountain. Sort by relevance Show all posts

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Classic Adventures Revisited: S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

One of my all-time favorite adventures is S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.

A solid two-level dungeon crawl, filled with new monsters, dangers, and the promise of great treasures. Additionally, there are rumors of an ancient witch/archmage and her battles with demons and even the threat that some of those demons are still around. There is plenty of wilderness area as well. A wide expanse with a gnome community nearby and a raging blue dragon.

With its "Booklet 2" filled with new spells, magic circles, and demons it made me think that a witch class with ritual magic could be something that would work for D&D. 


There is so much great stuff in and around this adventure it is hard to know where to begin.  So let's start with the adventure itself.

S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

The adventure, S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, was published back in 1982 by TSR. It was written by none other than Gary Gygax himself. It is listed as "S4" and was the last of the labeled "S series" or Special modules.  This includes some of the most popular adventures ever written; S1 Tomb of HorrorsS2 White Plume Mountain, and S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

The adventure itself is comprised of two 32 page booklets. The first book is the adventure itself, which I will get into detail in a bit.  The second booklet covers all sorts of new magic, monsters, and more. 

Book 1: The Adventure

The adventure is of the classic sort; the rumor of treasure and a vague threat coming from an area of the map known as Iggwilv's Horn.  The adventure is designed for characters level 6 to 10.   I have found over the last 40 years that it can be adapted to a variety of levels, though higher levels are better. Though the original tournament adventure featured slightly lower levels. Likely due to the addition of the wilderness adventure. 

The wilderness adventure is actually well put together and not the older crazy random monster encounters.  The encounters make sense for the area. Among the encounters are the Hermit, and I could not help make this the same hermit from Keep on the Borderlands (also a Gygax creation) and the Blue Dragon.  The Blue Dragon, in particular, became so much a hit the first time I ran this that in future runnings of this I changed the dragon to Korbundar from CM2 Death's Ride to have a reoccurring villain.   A lot of adventure is packed into 12 pages.

The second part of the adventure covers the Lost Caverns themselves, which includes the Lesser and  Greater caverns. This features a large variety of new monsters, some living here, some just wandering around. Even encounters such as "The Garden of One Thousand Earthly Delights" have a good (enough) reason to be there. 

The final encounter is in the center of the Greater Caverns and it is not for Iggwilv's Treasure, but rather against Iggwilv's Treasure; the vampire Drelnza.  She is a bit more powerful than your average vampire and she has magic to help her out.  Eventually, she will succumb to heroes and the treasure will be found including the infamous Demonomicon of Iggwilv, Daoud's Wonderous Lanthorn, and the Prison of Zagig.

Book 2: Monsters and Magic

This second booklet, as I have mentioned, grabbed my attention as much as the first, if not more.  Listed inside were new monsters, only some appeared in the adventure, including new demons and demon lords. There were the mysterious Xag-ya and Xeg-yi, the Derro and the awkwardly named (for the early 80s) Valley Elf. All these creatures would later be reprinted in the Monster Manual II for 1st Edition. This is fitting since the original tournament adventure introduced monsters that would become part of the first Monster Manual.  There are some magic items including some wonderful artifacts mentioned above.  Of these The Demonomicon of Iggwilv capture not just my imagination, but that of hundreds of others. The Demonomicon became a feature in Dragon Magazine and even a 4e book of the same name. Iggwilv went from a "long-dead archmage" to "The Mother of Witches" and the premiere demonologist in D&D.   This little booklet also contains plenty of new spells.  

This was classic AD&D at the end of its 1st Golden Age.

The adventure is extremely playable and I have adapted it over the years for AD&D 2nd ed, D&D 3rd, and 5th Editions as well.

If you want to play it for 5th Edition D&D then the team over at Classic Modules Today has made a 5e conversion

There are also maps you can print out with DM's notes.

And other realistic maps also for printing

The Sequels

The first true sequel to this adventure was WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun (though no WG1-3 were made*). This was published the same year and dealt with a Temple of Tharizdun. It was designed to be played right after S4 and used the same wilderness map.  The adventure fits in well enough. I justified in my games by saying that Iggwilv, like Tsojcanth before her, chose this area due to its arcane and eldritch properties.  The adventure also has a wealth of information on the World of Greyhawk and Tharizdun.  All of these will be explored later in Gary Gygax's novel series about Gord the Rogue

S4 and WG4 would also get a review in White Dwarf #44 and both get 9/10 from Jim Bambra. He calls them the last of the Golden Age adventures.

*The rumor is that WG1 was Village of Hommlet, WG2 Temple of Elemental Evil and WG3 was The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, or Tsojconth in the original.


Another sequel of sorts was The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga. Published much later in 1995 for 2nd Ed AD&D and written by Lisa Smedman, this adventure was labeled "S5" but it never appears in any of the classic reprints of the S Series adventures.  While the connection is little more than any of the other "S" series, there is the connection of Iggwilv, then Tasha as the adopted daughter of Baba Yaga.  Lisa Smedman would also work on Ravenloft and ShadowRun. Some Ravenloft monsters make their way into this adventure.


Yet again another sequel, this time for 3.5 D&D, was published in 2007.  Iggwilv's Legacy was published in Dungeon Magazine in October 2007 and appeared for free on Wizard's of the Coast website well into the 4e era. Sadly no longer available, it added another level to the caverns to explore, The Hollow of the Horn, the areas left behind by Tsojancth himself with the implication that even Iggwilv was afraid of these areas. The adventure and the additions were converted and updated to 3rd Edition.  I ran this version for my family at their first Gen Con in 2009.  Here we meet the half-demon  archmage Tsojcanth and his vile witch mother Vilhara.


The Reprints

As part of the much-loved S-series, the Lost Caverns of Tsojanth has been reprinted twice.  Both times bundled with the other three S-series adventures.

The first reprint was called Realms of Horror and it was all the S-series adventures combined into a loosely tied together "Super Module" that was all the rage in the late 80s.  All the maps were reprinted in a small booklet and personally, I found them harder to read.

The second reprint was the more faithful reprint from Wizards of the Coast, Dungeons of Dread, in 2013. 


The Original Tournament Adventure

The original tournament adventure, the Lost Caverns of Tsojconth (note the spelling) appeared at the Wintercon V game convention in 1976.  This would have been akin to a playtest version of AD&D.  Also Iggwilv is described as being dead, and male.

While the adventure does not feature the wilderness areas, the caverns seem to have a more mystical bent to them, with the center "nexus" described as the connection point between worlds to help explain all the new and weird monsters in it.  It would make sense, to be honest, and help explain why Tsojcanth and later Iggwilv possessed it. 

Paleologos at the OSR Grimoire talks a lot about the original Lost Caverns of Tsojconth.

The era of 1976-1978 was an interesting time and lead to some interesting styles of play.  We had the Holmes Basic Set and the B1 In Search of the Unknown (1978) adventure out and we had the AD&D Monster Manual.  This Holmes + Monster Manual actually became the game of choice for many.  I would later play this same hybrid of D&D/AD&D in 1979.
Likely as a way to replicate that Demos Sachlas/Paleologos over at the Vaults of Pandius recreated the original tournament adventure, along with some descriptions from the full 1982 S4 adventure and reformated it to fit the style of B1 to give us a "Holmes version of the Lost Caverns of Tsojconth."  This adventure is a tight 16 pages with two more pages for maps.  It feels like a late 70s offering.  Reading through it I do get the feeling that B1 and S4 could be bookends of a classic 70s adventure series.  All it is missing a nice monochrome cover.  I might need to mock one up someday.

Greyhawk Online has a side-by-side comparison of the 1976 Tsojconth and the 1982 Tsojcanth.

If you want to buy your own Noble Knight Games has one on sale for only $7,195.50. If you are worried that is overpriced it does come with the original zip-lock bag. 

Playing in Hyperborea

Normally at this point in my Revisted posts I would talk about using this adventure with other games.  But instead, I think I just want to focus purely on Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.

A while back I posted about HS4 The Lost Caverns of Acheron, a Hyborian Age reskinning of S4 from the Hyborian Age site dedicated to the d20 Conan RPG.  They have a lot of adventures including some reskinned ones on their Adventures in the Hyborian Age page.  But it is S4 that interests me today.

Combining this idea with the Holmes flavored Tsojconth above you could have a perfect game for AS&SH.  The idea came to me while reading Eric Fabiaschi's Swords & Stitchery blog.   He even pointed to me that he had done exactly this. 

The pulp sensibilities of Gygax's adventures comes through in S4 with vampires in lost temples, ancient eldritch forces, and strange creatures from beyond.  Pairing this with AS&SH and the Lost Caverns of Acheron turns it up to 11 as it were. 


With its history of magic, archmages, witch queens, vampires, and demons it is no wonder that this is one of my favorite adventures. Like B1, it is one I like to come back to again and again. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Silver Anniversary Time

Wednesday was my 25th Wedding Anniversary!  We had plans to be in Jamaica this year, but given how Americans are been told to stay in their own damn plague country, we settled for carry-out at our favorite seafood restaurant (Bob Chinn's FYI) and a nice walk (been walking 5k+ every night since COVID hit).

My wife and I are at an age where we don't really want a lot of things. For me, it was better to spend time with her, our favorite restaurant, and plate of sea scallops.  Besides we are also at an age where if there is something we need or want we just go get it. I didn't bust my ass in grad school for nothing.

BUT.  That doesn't mean I am not going to treat ourselves.
While my wife is going to get a new garden shed for her hobby.  I went to my FLGS and grabbed something I have been wanting for 20 years. Consequently, it is also a 25 year anniversary item.


My FLGS has had the D&D 25th Anniversary edition boxed set in their "glass" case for some time.

It is a premium item and likely cost WAY more than it should have (and more than I should have spent) but it is something I have wanted, it was my anniversary and I had promised I was only going to buy local once everything had opened back up.

I got it and I am very pleased.

I knew of the contents of course, but it was so nice to have them in front of me.


While they are all reprints I didn't actually own the separate G series modules and my copy of S2 White Plume Mountain walked years ago.  All I have is a printed PDF.  So those are "new" to me.

The copy of Ravenloft is nice and a little different from my 1983 original.



The "new" material for me was the history book and Len Lakofka's L3 Deep Dwarven Delve.





With L3 in hand, I now have the complete Lendore Isle's Trilogy. (Yes, I DO know there are more on Dragonsfoot.)



The set is very nice and there is a lot of room inside for more.  But not everything belongs inside to be honest.   But I figure my Silver Anniversary Return to the Keep on the Borderlands would be fine.


I just need a good copy of Return to White Plume Mountain as well. (ETA I see there is a POD version up at DriveThruRPG!)

BTW Return to the Keep is seriously under-rated. I use it now whenever I want to run a Keep adventure. I just typicall show everyone the B2 module so they think they are getting the full "orginal D&D experience."

This set is a nice companion piece to my Arts & Arcana for D&D history.



So happy 25th anniversary to me, my wife and D&D (just 20 years late on that last one).




Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Thingizzard, the Witch of the Fens

I have been wanting to stat up some of the classic witches of the D&D game and one of the ones I had forgotten about was Thingizzard, the Witch of the Fens, from Return to White Plume Mountain for 2nd ed and Outside the Moutain for 3rd ed.

For 2nd ed she is depicted as a 12 HD hag.  For 3rd Ed she is a CR 12 green hag wizard.

But we all know what class she should be.

I want to try out her out using my Basic Witch class, but I also think I really need to also stat her out as one of +Jonathan Becker 's The Complete B/X Adventurer Witches (his blog IS B/X Blackrazor afterall) and Sage of Greyhawk, +Joseph Bloch's Adventures Dark & Deep Darker Paths Witch class.

All will do a good job in representing this sort of witch.

According to the 2nd Edition "Return to White Plume Mountain" she is:

Thingizzard
AC -2 (natural hide and Dex bonus); Mv 12, swim 12; HD 12; hp 80; THACO 9 (3 with Wave and Str bonus); #AT 3/2 (Wave); Dmg ld10+9; MR 25%; SZ M (5’ tall); ML fanatic (17); Str 18/00, Dex 17, Con 19, Int 14, Wis 15, Cha 12; AL NE; XP 7,000.

Special Abilities: full movement rate through quicksand and swamp; brew any potion.
Spell-like Abilities (at 12th level): l/day-animate dead, call lightning, control weather, curse, dream, forcecage, mind blank, polymorph other, polymorph self, veil, vision.
Special Equipment: five potions of extra-healing, potion of gaseous form, potion of super-heroism.

These stats also assume she has Wave.

I think for the sake of building and good comparison, I am going to make her a 13th level witch in all cases.  Also in each case I am going to swap what her highest ability should be. So for my witch it will be Charisma.  Wisdom for the Darker Paths Witch. Intelligence and Wisdom are the primes for the Complete B/X Adventurer Witch, but I think I'll give her the higher Intelligence here to balance it out.

Of course in the original, she is a hag.  So in these versions I will keep that by keeping her really high physical stats.

Thingizzard, the Witch of the Fens

Basic Era Witch
13th Level Hag (Faerie) Tradition

Strength 18
Dexterity 17
Constitution 19
Intelligence 14
Wisdom 12
Charisma 15

hp: 63
THAC0: 16

Death Ray: 9
Magic Wands: 10
Paralysis, Turn to Stone: 9
Dragon Breath: 12
Rods, Staffs, Spells: 11

Occult Powers
Familiar: Toad
Brew Potions
Lesser: Speak with Animals/Plants
Minor: Fey Shape

Spells
Cantrips: (4) Alarm Ward, False Glamour, Mote of Light, Object Reading
First: (4+2) Blight Growth, Burning Hands, Detect Invisible, Endure Elements, Hold Winds, Sour Stomach
Second: (4+1) Discord, Evil Eye, Fever, Nausea, Scare
Third: (3) Bestow Curse, Dispel Magic, Toad Mind
Forth: (3) Confusion, Polymorph, Vomit
Fifth: (2) Animate Dead, Dream
Sixth: (2) Control Weather, True Seeing
Seventh: (1) Greater Arcane Eye

Darker Paths 2: The Witch by +Joseph Bloch
13th Level Witch

Strength 18
Dexterity 17
Constitution 19
Intelligence 14
Wisdom 15
Charisma 12

hp: 72
THAC0: 12

Paralysis, Poison, Death: 5
Petrification, Polymorph: 8
Rod, Staff, Wand: 9
Breath Weapon: 11
Spell: 10

Powers
Familiar: Toad
Brew Poisons
Bell, Book and Candle
Create Magic Items

Spells
First: (5) Charm Person, Predict Weather, Taunt, Witch Shot, Wither
Second: (5) Blight Field, Change Self, Charm Monster, Misfortune, Precipitation
Third: (4) Bestow Curse, Control Winds, Fear, Insect Swarm
Forth: (4) Jealousy, Polymorph Self, Prophecy, Sleep
Fifth: (4) Breath Poison, Control Weather, Polymorph Other, Season of the Witch
Sixth: (3) Blink, Cackle, Magic Cauldron
Seventh*: (3) Call Lightning, Death Curse, Great Rite

*Ok, she should not get seventh level spells due to her wisdom, but hey, my character.

The Complete B/X Adventurer by +Jonathan Becker
13th Level Witch

Strength 18
Dexterity 17
Constitution 19
Intelligence 15
Wisdom 14
Charisma 12

hp: 65
THAC0:

Paralysis, Poison, Death: 5
Petrification, Polymorph: 8
Rod, Staff, Wand: 9
Breath Weapon: 11
Spell: 10

Powers
Familiar: Toad
Brew Poisons and magical Potions
Bind Wounds
Book of Shadows

Spells
First: Hex, Light, Resist Elements, Speak with Animals
Second: Dreams, Fog, Locate Object
Third: Call Animals, Hoodoo, Object Reading, Quagmire
Forth: Mind Jab, Polymorph Others, Polymorph Self, Tarantella
Fifth: Control Weather, Greater Hoodoo, Insect Plague, Visions

I am hard pressed to say which witch I like better for her.  All three have something essentially "Thingizzard" about her.  Each witch has some spells that are particularly nice for her.

I will have to come back to this and see about doing 5e version once Tales from the Yawning Portal is released next month.

Bonus Question: How do you pronounce her name? I am partial to "Thing-iz-zard" myself, but "Thin Gizzard" also has a nice swampy feel to it.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Start Your Year With a Reboot, or Two

By now anyone that reads this blog would have read it elsewhere about the new adventure from Wizards of the Coast, Tales from the Yawning Portal. Gotta admit I really don't care for the name, but the book itself intrigues me.

The adventures include:
Sound familiar? Yeah, all stuff I have run and converted to 5e myself. Where was this two years ago!  That all being said, it looks like it could be a lot of fun and certainly something I will pick up.

There are some conversion on the DMs Guild now, but not for all these yet.  Plus it will be interesting to see what 5e designers actually have to say about these adventures.

In other reboot news that might only be exciting for me, it looks like the CW is ordering a reboot of the series Charmed.  The new series will have three new witches and take place in New England set in 1976.
For me, this sounds great. New England, 1976, Charmed...it's like someone was reading my Christmas list. I have always been a huge fan of Charmed and always thought it would make for a fun RPG property.   Maybe this will reignite some interest in that.

In both cases, adventures and television, I'll have to wait.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Review: Maze of the Blue Medusa

Notice: I am not taking down this post because I feel it is more important to leave it up, but also update everyone on what is happeing now as February 11, 2019. Please see this newer post first. http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2019/02/i-am-going-to-talk-about-zak-today-and.html

Maze of the Blue Medusa is the latest book from +Patrick Stuart (of Deep Carbon Observatory) and +Zak Sabbath ("Red and Pleasant Land" among others) and published by Satyr Press.

All of that is relevant to the review that follows. First, you can see the DNA of both DCO and RaPL in Maze of the Blue Medusa (MoBM hereafter). Not to say this is the child of the other two, unless it is a child the same way a medusa is the child of an arch-devil, but there are fingerprints all over it.

Satyr Press is important too. Not because you have heard of it (I hadn't) but because they are not known for their RPG books. In fact this is their first and only one to date.  You won't find MotBM on DriveThruRPG or RPGNow. I have no idea if my favorite local game store carries it (though they did have RaPL).  So already we should know from all of this we have something different. And we do.

I have had MotBM now for a little while but I have been purposefully holding off on reviewing it till know for a very specific reason.  I want to review it now so you can vote for it at the ENnies.  Yes, I know that calls my bias into question and my intentions.  But there is the Product (which I am reviewing here) and there is the Philosophy (which is why I want you to vote).  I am going to review the Product, but I want to talk about the Philosophy.

Ok brass tacks.  What is Maze of the Blue Medusa?
Extremely simply put MotBM is an adventure.  It is a huge dungeon in the very, very classical sense that for what ever reasons your characters will investigate.  The PDF is 296 pages. This contains a map of the "Maze" (spoiler: it's not really a maze), both Zak's lavishly painted version and a utilitarian numbered one that is also hyperlinked (Philosophy vs. Product right there).  The PDF is massive, hyperlinks everywhere and the art is, as expected, top notch material from Zak.   I can't help compare it to Red and Pleasant Land, and favorably so.  The art is central to the map. OR the map is central to the art. They are one and the same really. So don't come to this product if you want grids or blue borders on your maps.  I love all that stuff, I do, but that is not this product, nor would it ever be.
The maps remind me also of the board game Dungeon! a little bit.  Same sort of color, same sort of "flat yet, multi-dimensional" feel to it.  I will be honest that was what attracted me most from the start.
The Maze is both explicitly and implicitly multidimensional.
The only thing I can relate it too was this multivariate regression course I took back in grad school where we tried to replicate 4, 5 and more dimensional multivariate axes on two-dimensional paper.
For me, at least, not only is the PDF hyper-linked, the Maze itself is hyperlinked.


We are given a brief history and a timeline involving an immortal medusa and three perfect sisters.
There is insanity all around them, thus the Maze.

Or whatever.

I like the background and it pulls me into this world, but it happened (game wise) so long ago how can any of the PCs be sure?  Implicit in the design is that you can do what you like here.  This is evident in the coding of the monster stats in some Ur-D&D. Designed to be flexible and compatible with a wide variety of editions and games.

Which gets me to my first big point on Philosophy.
The Maze has no meaning save what the reader/player puts on it.
I am not trying to discount what Zak and Patrick wrote in the book. Not at all, quite the opposite. They worked very hard to provide a copious amount text and background.  But like the medusa who changes people with her gaze, the Blue Medusa is changed by the gaze of others.   The details are enough to get you going but how it works in your world with your players and your style of gaming (not to mention the ruleset you choose) will change it.  The language used here is less "I am telling you what is happening" to "I am inspiring you to tell what is happening".  The difference is profound.  It made the work Zak and Patrick had to do harder, but more rewarding.  It is not their domain (or dare I say even their right) to tell me why the Medusa or Chronia don't age, it is enough that they don't and the world moves on.  Do you need to know for your game? Maybe, that is up to you.

The monsters, or really NPCs, are unique and tailored to this. Same with the magic items.  Sure there are some liches, but that seems to be expected given the rules of the Maze to be honest.  Hell I might throw in a couple more and have them be former adventures from my gaming groups of the neolithic days of D&D just amuse myself.   But in truth no-one is there without a reason.
One could, based on the surface features, call this a dungeon crawl but that is nowhere close to what it really is.  Yeah you can use it as that, but that is a waste of material.
Plus, unlike the great adventures of yesteryear (which I am still inordinately fond of) there are good reasons why these monsters/npcs/characters are hanging around here.  There is no sphinx guarding the corridors as in White Plume Mountain. There is no monster here because it fit the challenge rating of the rest of the dungeons.  Things are here because they serve a purpose in the Maze itself independent of whether or not the PCs are there.

There are also enough things going on in this dungeon/book that I could not help but be amused by knowing the histories and interactions of the designers.  I nearly spit out my coffee at the Canibal Critics.   I also have to admit I adore the Glyph Witch.

Now personally I am huge fan of the PDF. It is hyperlinked and I can jump all over the Maze in a way that is both utilitarian (Gods...I just called a Zak Sabbath book "utilitarian")  but also aesthetically pleasing.   I want to say though that the pictures of the hardcover are absolutely gorgeous.  It's the type of book you leave out and hope your non-gaming friends find a leaf through.

Sometimes They Get Lost
With so many characters (both senses of the word) wandering the halls of the Maze I can't help but have two thoughts. 1. Is this the authors' idea of what hell is? It has all the features of the Greek Hades or even Dante's Inferno. I am quite certain that all the NPCs represent real people in the lives of the authors. I have not identified them all and I am not likely too, but it is a fun exercise.  Also 2. Is this where all the lost characters go?  Sometimes when you play with a group, players come and go, what happens to their characters?  I am not talking about inbetween major adventures, but in the middle of one.  One session there are there and the next...gone.  Maybe...just maybe some of them end up here. They are lost in the truest sense of the word. Not evil, not good, but lost.  Maybe they have wandered the halls for a thousand years but still think that it was only minutes ago they got here.  Maybe they are all too painfully aware of what is going on but are powerless to do anything about it.

Why Should I Buy Maze of the Blue Medusa?
Buy this if you are the type of gamer that loves a new and unique challenge. Buy this if you are the kind of gamer that is bored of the typical dungeon crawl where you kick in a door, kill the giant rat and collect your 2,000 coppers.  After 36+ years of gaming, precious little seems "new" to me.  This feels new.  The ideas are old, but the presentation and the execution are new.
Buy this for the jaded gamer who thinks they have seen it all.
I am going to pick up the hard cover because I also think this adventure makes for good reading.  There is an implicit story here I would love to tease out for my own world.

Why Should I Vote For Maze of the Blue Medusa?
Obviously, I think the product is worthy of such consideration. This why I am posting now as opposed to last week or after I get my hardcover.  This is my next big point on Philosophy.  You buy MotBM for the Product, but vote for the Philosophy.  Zak's writing, work and much of his blog is about how games can and should be better.  MotBM is the tangible artifact of that ideal.  Now my "better" and your "better" and his "better" might not all be the same thing, but the effort to do something different needs to be rewarded.  The effort to try out adventure design where one designer paints and the other writes and they go back and forth should be rewarded and acknowledged.  There is also the fact that this is essentially a D&D product. If this were (gods I am going to catch shit for this) FATE adventure or something from the Indie Press Revolution, the style would be heralded and pedalstooled by that faction of gamers. This is the Indie RPG aesthetic applied to DIY D&D.

Maze is up for the following ENnies:
Best Adventure
Best Cartography
Best Electronic Book
Best Writing
and Product of the Year

Personally, I think it is worthy of all of these. Foremost Best Adventure and Best Electronic Book.
Buying sends the message to the authors that you appreciate their work. Voting sends the message to other authors that this is the sort of thing you like and you want to see more.  So please, vote for this.

We need more adventures and supplements like this.

I have no idea where I am going to use this, but I will use it.

Good job +Zak Sabbath and +Patrick Stuart.  Looking forward to seeing what is next.
---
I am up for an Ennie this year for Best Blog!
Please click on the link and vote "1" under "The Other Side".


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

White Plume Mountain at DriveThruRPG

One of the all-time greatest classic modules is now available at DriveThruRPG.

S2 White Plume Mountain


I had an absolute blast playing this with my kids.  They STILL talk about how they got Blackrazor.

DriveThru has a number of great files to go with this too.
White Plume Mountain Dungeon Tiles (lots of fun!)
White Plume Mountain Revised (3.5)

The PDF is the older mono-chrome cover, but I love this Jeff Dee one.

Friday, April 22, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! S is for Special Series.

S is for Special Series.

Ah! The "S" modules.  No series of modules have been as divisive, controversial or as fun (to me) as these.  Originally just four adventures, it has one "honorary" member in my mind and two more unnumbered members.  I have played in these and run them; some (like S4) many times over. These are some of my favorite adventures of all time.

Where to begin?

Well here are the modules/adventures I want to discuss.
These adventures have all been featured here many, many times.
Also, the first four have been collected into a single volume not once, but twice.  Many of the adventures have also been updated for other versions of D&D.


S1: Tomb of Horrors
Depending on who you ask, this is either one of the best adventures for D&D or the worst.  I enjoy this module, but it is not one I plan on running again. I ran it for my kids and they survived, but I think there are better adventures out there.  It is one of those adventures that everyone talks about; often about how horribly they or someone else died in it.   In the picture above, the book on the right with devil with his mouth open?  Yeah. More than one idiotcharacter put their hand in there only to loose said hand.  The big bad is that jeweled skull on the cover of the middle book.
Tomb of Horrors is often described as a meat grinder.  This is true, but it is also a fun challenge and if I can be so bold, a rite of passage of the D&D gamer.  You can't really call yourself a D&D gamer until you go through this.
Love it or hate it, it's place in history is solid and unmoving.

S2: White Plume Mountain
In many ways White Plume Mountain is one of my favorite adventures.  It's a crazy dungeon filled with traps, monsters a few legendary weapons of vast power, all dropped into a semi-active volcano.   I ran it for my kids a while back.  Back then I ran it under 3rd Edition, using a 1st Edition rule base, Basic Edition characters, and some 4th edition add-ons.  It was such a classic though that it all worked.  My kids loved it.

S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
This was one of the first adventures I ever bought for myself.  The characters (in a quasi-medieval Europe) find an ancient crashed star-ship and all the crazy alien life forms still trapped inside.  Based a bit on the game Metamorphosis Alpha.   I ran this for my kids a while back.  My youngest LOVED it, but my oldest didn't. Which is a bit odd I thought, because he began playing with the Star Wars d20 RPG.
Still though, I personally think this is a great module.

S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth 
The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and it's near sequel WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun are two of my favorite modules ever.  I bought S4 my freshman year in high school and read it cover to cover.  One of my favorite bits was the "sneak peak" at some of the monsters that would later appear in the Monster Manual II hardcover.  It was also a rather deadly adventure. The nearby Forgotten Temple of Tharizidun then opens up a new threat of the ancient imprisoned god Tharizdun.  This ties it in to the T1-4 Supermodule The Temple of Elemental Evil.  But I think what I liked about it was the information on Greyhawk.  We are introduced to the witch Iggwilv here. She would later become an important figure in the history of Greyhawk and D&D.
The boys loved this adventure.  Combining it with WG4 and some additional material from the web it took us about 6 months to complete.  Still, it was a great time.

Two other modules were later added to the "Special" Series but never had, to my knowledge, an "S" designation.

S5: The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga
Baba Yaga is one of those characters that we keep coming back to in D&D.  There are at least 3 or 4 versions of The Dancing Hut adventure out there now and even for the Pathfinder game (a game very much like D&D) has her as the main bad guy for a whole series of adventures.
I am going to feature her and this adventure in my own "War of the Witch Queens" campaign that I run next.

S6: Labyrinth of Madness
Of all the "S" modules, this is the only one I know nothing about.
From what I can tell it is sort of a tribute to the kinds of dungeons we saw in the S-series.  It looks like a lot of fun though.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! D is for Descent into the Depths of the Earth

D is for Descent into the Depths of the Earth

Growing up in the 80s it was not uncommon to have multiple, independent groups of people playing D&D.  I have fairly vivid recollections of different groups talking about this adventure or some other book.  But the epic of the time was GDQ series and everyone was playing it.  I'll talk about the Giants series on "G" day and Queen of the Demonweb pits on "Q" day.  But today I want to talk about the "D" series, Descent into the Depths of the Earth and Vault of the Drow.

Once upon a time, back in the days of Walkmen, MTV, and Rubik's Cubes, the Drow were not what we think of them today.  This was the Pre-Drizzt Do'Urden days.

For those that didn't live this at the time the Drow are dark elves, cursed to live underground and worship the demoness Lolth.  Elves were good, and fair and full of light.  Drow...not so much.  The big reveal of the Drow as the main enemies of the GDQ series of adventures is akin to the Classic Star Trek episode "The Balance of Terror" that introduces the Romulans as a big bad. Not just as another race, but an offshoot of the Vulcans.  Evil Vulcans if you will.  The drow were everything the elves are not and they are also the cause of the giants and the kuo-toa raids.

These two (originally three) adventures are the action sequences to the big plot build up, though even the drow are just pawns in a larger threat.

I have such great memories of these adventures. I started playing them, but like so many others I never finished them.  They are the next adventures for my kids and I in our "Come Endless Darkness" campaign.

The one thing I have struggled with though is we live in a post-Drizzt world now.  Drow are no longer the scary dark-elf threat of the unknown.  Today they are potential heroes and a viable race option.

I want to take the drow back to the days where they were a mostly unknown threat.  Also I have proposed a number of other changes to them as well.  Making them more blue in skin tone like the Morlocks of the Time Machine movie.

Not so much these guys

but more like this
These days the drow you are most likely to run into are not so much evil, but more emo or goth elves.
I covered some of this a while back in my post "Drow should be Lawful Evil, among other things."  So instead of covering that ground again I will let that stand and move forward.

The nice thing about running these adventures so many years after the fact is there is a wealth of information about them out there.  I have read reviews, play-by-plays and even read the novelization by Paul Kidd.  The book was actually kind of fun and the characters, introduced in the earlier White Plume Mountain, are likable.   I am thinking of introducing Evelyn, the half-pixie ranger as my own homage to the novel.  She would be the daughter of the two main characters Escalla and The Justicar.

Eclavdra
One of the best things about these adventures and the G series before and the Q after, is the number of really cool NPCs.  Top of that list has to be Eclavdra, drow priestess.  She has been described as being a priestess to Lolth, an attaché to Grazzt and even a convert to the worship of the Elder Elemental Eye, who in my game is another name for Tharizdûn.   This fits in so nicely with my plans that I feel the need to detail her more.

We know she is a drow and an exceptionally beautiful drow at that. She is introduced in the module G2.  Here is what is said about her there:

Eclavdra (10th level cleric/fighter; H.P.: 60, Wisdom 17, Dexterity 18, Constitution 10, Charisma 18; Armor Class -8 = +3 shield, +5 chainmail, and +4 dexterity bonus), the one who fomented all of the trouble.

The Vault of the Drow (D3) features her on the cover (see above) and describes her as a 10th/4th cleric/fighter.  These are of course AD&D 1 stats.  I am going to use here under D&D 5.   Also, I want to emphasize her "conversion" to Tharizdun more.   I am going to make her a 10th level Cleric/4th level Warlock with a Pact of the Blade and Tharizdûn as her patron.

To prepare I have also been buying up Drow minis.



Really, really looking forward to running these.

Links
Grognardia

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The 30 Greatest D&D Adventures of All Time

Been kinda of obsessed with lists lately.  But this one does have a point for me.  A while back (2004 in fact) the Pazio run of Dungeon Magazine listed their top 30 adventures of all time.

I have been going through what I call the "Classical Canon" of D&D.  Not just so I have the experience of running them all, but so my kids can also enjoy these great adventures.  I also am looking for what makes a truly great D&D adventure; something that people still talk about years later.

Anyway here is the list with my thoughts.

30. The Ghost Tower of Inverness, 1980 (C2)
This is great one, but an odd one to run with a party in an ongoing campaign.  So I used it in my Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space playtest and ran it as "The Ghost Tower of Inverness, Illinois".  I used this as the location of the "Ghost Tower" which is actually a malfunctioning Time Beacon.

29. The Assassin’s Knot, 1983 (L2)
Personally I prefer L1, Secret of Bone Hill, but this is a great sequel and I can see why many people like it more than Bone Hill.  Assassin's Knot works well as a murder mystery, but not great if your players are wanting to go in a bust skulls.

28. The Lost City, 1982 (B4)
I played this one in 8th Grade when it was new and had a blast.  I ran it again for my kids a few years back and still had a blast.  There were so many things in it I had forgotten and I spent most of the module smiling to myself in memory.  It is a Moldvay classic really and really has the feel of early 80s Basic D&D.

27. The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, 1981 (U1)
This was one I played back in the day but I have yet to run.  I have it all ready to go with my 3rd Ed. conversion notes.  Of course at the time I thought this was great because I was deep into my Anglophilia and I thought ANYTHING from England was perfect. Given that it was written (in part) by Don Turnbull then it was bound to be good.  If I remember right I played this one after Lost City.  I loved the tenor and mood of the module. It inspired an adventure I wrote in 88 called "Home by the Sea".  Parts of that adventure were then later used in my Ghosts of Albion adventure Blight, which took place in Ireland.  So it all came full circle.

26. City of Skulls, 1993 (WGR6)
This is an odd one. I never played it, never ran it and never really heard anything about it.  This was near the end of my Ravenloft games and very, very close to the time where I took a huge break from D&D.  I will check it out sometime, but doubt if I'll ever run it.

25. Dragons of Despair, 1984 (DL1)
I never played or ran any of the Dragonlance modules.  I enjoyed the books when they came out and I liked the idea that everyone playing was going through it all at the same time.  Hey, maybe someone should revive this for the next D&D Encounters!  I loved the idea and I loved the new design of the modules, but even then it felt a little railroady to me.  Plus I wanted to use my own characters.

24. City of the Spider Queen, 2002
I am not a good judge of this one. I don't like Drizzt. I don't like R.A. Salvatore. I never really cared for the Forgotten Realms till about 4th Edition.  I don't really know anything about this module. I suspect it was added to the list because there was a dearth of "modern" adventures and most of the others were "Greyhawk" related.

23. The Forgotten Temple of Tharzidun, 1982 (WG4)
Now this adventure...This one I can get behind.  I never played this one, but I have run it twice. It's a death dealer and a peak into what might have been coming as a narrative arc if Gygax had been into such things.  This module is one of out first peeks into the horror that is Tharzidun, a god that is part Cthulhu and part Satan in my game.  I am weaving material from this module into my larger campaign.

22. The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, 1982 (S4)
The same is true for this module. I remember buying it as soon as it came out and I begged my DM to run me through it.  I have run it myself twice since, the most recent time with my Dragonslayers group.  This is one of my most favorite modules. It has a vampire, Iggwilv, tons of new demons (many that later became part of the Monster Manual II) and just enough puzzles to keep the players on their toes. Running it this last time was a lot of fun.

21. Dark Tower, 1979 from Judge’s Guild (JG 0088)
While I would argue that this is an obligatory JG entry, this one is actually a lot of fun.  I never played it myself and it is so rare on eBay that it has been cost prohibative.  Thankfully we have PDFs of the Original and of the 3.5 update.

20. Scourge of the Slave Lords, 1986 (A1-4)
Another classic getting the reprint treatment.  I remember playing this one in 8th grade as well.  My DM at the time folded the Lost City into the A series to make a campaign out of them. Also he had a copy of Grimtooth's Traps which made everything deadlier. Or as he said "better".  I still have a thief stuck somewhere in a pit trap.

19. Against the Cult of the Reptile God, 1982 (N1)
I have never played or run this one.   I have though always wanted to use it as a start of a "Second" campaign,  After running the Classical Canon, I would start with a new campaign focusing on reptiles as the enemy.  Work in some modern "Reptoids" and have a go at it.  Maybe someday I will still do this.  But this is a fun adventure to read.

18. The Hidden Shrine of Tamochan, 1980 (C1)
Another great old module I never played, but read many times.  Like N1 I always hoped that I could use this one as part of a second campaign.  Though given some of the elements I would not be amiss using it in my "Come Endless Darkness" campaign.  I already have too many modules/adventures for the 5-7 level range.

17. Ruins of Undermountain, 1991
Ah. This is one that I have always known about but never really bothered with.  It was Forgotten Realms so I never gave it much thought.  Though I always thought this was more of a campaign expansion, ie part of the the whole Underdark deal so I never considered it an adventure.

16. Isle of Dread, 1980 (X1)
Oh the hours I spent pouring over this map.  This was Tom Moldvay's love letter to the pulp era and to such classic horror movies as King Kong. This also included the first full map of the Known World.  I ran it many times as a kid and it was one of the first modules I ran for my son.  He wanted to go an island of monsters, "like in Godzilla".  This did not disappoint him or me.  More so than any other adventure, the Dragonslayers were born here.

15. Castle Amber, 1981 (X2)
Another great. Again Moldvay's pulp horror influences are showing here, in particular his love for the works of Clark Ashton Smith. This time we enter an old house full of crazy characters and plenty of dangers.  This could have come off as a "fun house" dungeon, but something in the presentation is different.  Maybe it is the undertones of horror and dread.   My players in our 5e game are going through this one now. I have dropped the first hints of the "coming darkness" to them here.
This is one of my personal favorites. Certainly part of my top 5.

14. Dead Gods, 1997
Dead Gods is not an adventure I have ever run or been in, but it is one I have used quite a bit.  There are a number of elements in it that I use for my "Rise of Orcus" plot. Especially back in the 4e days and the rise of Orcus adventures.  Honestly there are enough adventures out there that you could build a universe (and edition) spanning mega campaign on nothing more than stopping the machinations of Orcus.  One day I should give that a try.

13. Dwellers of the Forbidden City, 1981 (I1)
This is a great adventure and part of my "Second Campaign" (AGGHHH too many adventures to play!) it is also at the 4th-7th level sweet spot.  This one is a key part of that idea since it introduced the Yuan-ti, a monster I have used repeatedly; often calling them Ophidians.   It has elements that would fit in nicely with my 5th edition group, but I have too many adventures for this level.

12. The Forge of Fury, 2000
So this is our obligatory 3e adventure I think.  I never played it or ran it, thought I have read it.  Personally I think The Sunless Citadel was better and should have been on this list.  It was the first and introduced a generation to Meepo.  Sure he was no Aleena, but you could also say that Aleena was no Meepo!

11. The Gates of Firestorm Peak, 1996
Ugh.  Sorry, but there is a lot about this module I just don't like.  I don't care for the shoehorn plot for starters and I hated the Skills & Powers books. Som much that it threw me off of D&D till 3e came out.  It was "Lovecraftian" and I did like that.  I suspect that is why it is on this list to be honest. Though many of the ideas in this module came into sharper focus during the 3e years.

10. Return to the Tomb of Horrors, 1998
You have to admit. This is a total cheat.  I have it, I enjoyed it and I like the idea that the Tomb is something that people can keep going back too (whatever the edition).  As a sequel there is a lot to like. As a stand alone and on it's own merits though it might be passable.

9. White Plume Mountain, 1979 (S2)
I am inordinately fond of the S series of modules.  This one is no different.  It of course makes 0 sense, but works great as an epic D&D adventure. Plus it gave us Wave, Whelm and Blackrazor.

8. Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, 2001
In many ways I like this one better than the original. I like the idea of returning to the Temple I also like the idea of talking in game about adventures that came before.  Gives me a sense of continuity.   This is one of my favorite 3.x era modules to be honest.

7. The Keep on the Borderlands, 1979 (B1)
What can I honestly say about this one?  The Cave of Chaos were as well traveled as a local Mall in the 1980s.   When I think "Classic Canon" this is the first thing that comes to mind.

6. The Desert of Desolation, 1987 (I3-5)
Another total cheat this "super" module is made up of Pharoah (I3), Oasis of the White Palm (I4) and Lost Tomb of Martek (I5).   Though to be totally fair they are linked together. Another really great set of adventures I would LOVE to play or run (read them many times) but not likely to.  Maybe if I do my "Second Campaign".  There is a lot in these I have used elsewhere though.

5. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, 1980 (S3)
"You know what AD&D needs?  Freaking laser guns! Lasers and killer robots!"  Seriously. Has there ever been a module to encapsulate everything the late 70s and early 80s was all about more than this one?  It even has a karate instructor robot.  I am going to add in a break-dancing robot that moves to a funky Herbie Hancock beat when I run this next.  Which should be soon. I am going totally gonzo with it too. I am grabbing bits of Gamma World and Metamorphosis Alpha too.   In fact since the characters are higher level than the module requires I am doing a sort of "Return to the Barrier Peaks" spin on it. I am going to add some material from The Illithiad as well.

4. The Temple of Elemental Evil, 1985 (T1-4)
Another of the classic canon. If you didn't start your adventure in the keep, then chances are you started it here.  I have always wanted to run this one and never have.  I have used pieces of it before.
I suppose if I do my "second campaign" I will start with this and change the temple a bit.

3. Tomb of Horrors, 1978 (S1)
We just finished this one and it was every bit the meat grinder it was rumored to be.  I had gone through back in the day, but running it was a completely different experience.  Now I might be branded as a heretic here but it is not really that good of an adventure.  Really it isn't. There are lot things in the adventure that don't make sense except in a D&D world.  That being said it is a rite of passage and everyone should try it at least once under their favorite edition or at least once under 1st ed as Gary intended it to be.

2. Ravenloft, 1983 (I6)
Here we go. This is my favorite module on the list. I just love it; warts and all.  Yeah there are some real leaps in logic in this one and there are plenty of reasons NOT to like it, but I don't care. I think it is great. It's a Hammer Horror film in D&D form right down to the small "Hammer Hamlet" village with terrified peasants.  There are vampires, gypsies, werewolves, really strong zombies, gargoyles. Even a huge pipe organ played by the vampire.  You can almost hear Toccata and Fugue in D minor while running it. I have played through this once and I have ran it three or four times.  I would love to try it sometime under the Ghosts of Albion rules.  I am going to take my 5e group through it when they complete Castle Amber.

1. Queen of Spiders, 1986 (G1-3, D1-3, Q1)
The first AD&D campaign arc.  We talk alot about being "plot free" in our adventures but when it get right down to it we love a good story arc and the GDQ was that.  I am not 100% sure that Q1 lived up the promise of the G and D series, but damn was it fun.
This super module was made up of:


Back in the day EVERYONE was going through this. It was the D&D Encounters of it's time.  The only problem was no one was doing it at exactly the same time or way.  So I know dozens of stories about how these turned out. I have dozens of my own.  Plus that Bill Willingham cover of the Giants is one of the most iconic covers of the age I think.

There you are. The 30 greatest adventures as ranked by Dungeon Magazine.
Do you agree or disagree?  What is missing?

Here are my honorable mentions.

In Search of the Unknown, 1978 (B1)
Every adventure starts somewhere. Mine usually start here.  This is my go to module for a quick a easy sandbox style dungeon crawl.  I have run it half a dozen times or more with new groups and it is always a thrill.

Palace of the Silver Princess, 1981 (B3)
Yes it is a rather silly adventure, but I really enjoy it.  Plus the backstory on it makes it a lot more fun.

Palace of the Vampire Queen, 1976 from WeeWarriors (V2)
The first ever published adventure or "DM's Kit" as it was called then.  What it lacks detail it makes up for in style.  I have ran this one twice now under various systems.  It works with everything to be honest; it is that sandboxy.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Kickstarter Roundup

Here are some of the Kickstarters I have been keeping an eye on.  Most of these are funded now so it is about the stretch goals. Most of these are also ending soon.

Tome of Horrors Complete - 28mm Heroic Scale Miniatures
For 200 bucks you can get close to 50 minis.  They are white metal, like the old days, but not (as far as I can tell) painted. They look awesome, but even in my 3e game I am moving away from minis.
Still though these are very nice.

Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary
This one should be well known to all in the OSR crowd.  900+ monsters in a format that should be easy to translate to any old-school game.
The more backer's this one gets the more art it gets.  See to me this is how to do a Kickstarter.
Joesph delivered on all his promises for his last Kickstarter and even got them in early.  The next book in the series he didn't even need a Kickstarter for.  So Bloch is quietly building his game, delivering quality books and supplements and generally just getting it done.  So backing this one is the right thing to do.  Really he kind of is the model of what you should do in a Kickstarter.

Cartoon Action Hour: Season 3
Loved Cartoon Action Hour: Season 2, so this one is a no-brainer for me.

Deluxe Exalted 3rd Edition
This one is just crazy.  First off it needs $60k for the book.  They go on to get close to half a million bucks!
I liked Exalted 2nd ed but I never got a chance to play it. 

Jeff Dee: Re-Creating AD&D Module Cover Paintings Part 1
This one has not met it's funding yet.  Some reproductions of some of Jeff Dee's module work. Featured are images from:
T1 Village of Hommlet (Back Cover) 
D3 Vault of the Drow (Back Cover) 
X1 Isle of Dread (Front Cover) 
S2 White Plume Mountain (Front Cover)
I'd love to see this one get funded too.

Adventure Maximus!
From Eden's George Vasilakos.  Funded, but still looks like a lot of fun.

And yesterday's newest one, Call of Cthulhu 7th Ed.

I was asked if I am going to back this one. I am not.  It's not that I don't like CoC, I love it. But to me this is not what a Kickstarter should be about.
CoC7 is funded. I like to fund Kickstarters though that look like they NEED my help. The ones that won't see the light of day without my input. Makes me feel like I am accomplishing something really.