Saturday, March 25, 2023

Gary Con XV

Gary Con is being held again in Lake Geneva from March 23-26, 2023, the first post-pandemic Gary Con without mask requirements.

 “Paladin of Gygantor” by Chris Arneson

As in previous years, I drove up to Lake Geneva with my son, (although this year, he spent most of his time studying for mid-terms, instead of gaming).

The Ghost Tower of Inverness:

Cover to AD&D module C2: "The Ghost Tower of Inverness" (1980) by Alan Hammack

My first big event was on Thursday afternoon, playing in "The Ghost Tower of Inverness" with none other than Alan Hammack, DMing.

Alan nudged us along from time to time, but didn't pull any punches during the grand finale, (my cleric ended up getting sucked into the Soul Gem!)

The Black Eagle Banner:

This year, I really pushed my comfort zone and ran a miniatures wargame (with a lot of help from Doug Behringer and Zach Howard, of Zenopus Archives).

The desert nomads attack!  Miniatures painted by Doug Behringer.

I chose a key Battlesystem scenario from module X10 "Red Arrow, Black Shield" featuring a clash between the Black Eagle Baron and Duke Stefan Karameikos.

The miniatures were kindly loaned to me by Paul Stormberg and Doug Behringer, and the event was made possible with Kevin Maurice's help, as well.

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave:

Those of you following the development of The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave on Zenopus Archives will be interested to learn this Holmesian adventure has entered the playtest phase.

An unholy symbol depicting a were-shark; illustration by Lore Suto

It's always a pleasure to play in a Holmes adventure run by Zach - each encounter area contained interesting items, and we battled several original creatures.

Ruins of Elder Evil:

The 5th Annual Gary Con, Legends of Roleplaying Tournament, based on a return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, was held on Friday night.

Unfortunately, our group ended up making a few tactical choices near the beginning that resulted in a slog - only 4/9 characters survived, although the experience was great fun.

Quest for the Heartstone:

A short video I spliced together, from clips appearing in the D&D Saturday morning cartoon.

My final event is taking place this morning, in which I'm running "Quest for the Heartstone" using pregens based on the LJN toy line.

Update (Mar 29, 2021): "Quest for the Heartstone" was such a blast, that I plan to run it again, next year!  Will probably start at the entrance to the dungeon, in a 4 hour time slot.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness

The revised D&D Expert Rulebook (1983) contained a map of The Continent from module X1 "The Isle of Dread" (1981) featuring a network of land and coastal trade routes.

"The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness" as depicted in the revised version of the D&D Expert Rulebook (1983)

The updated setting was discussed in "A New Game With a Familiar Name" by Frank Mentzer in Dragon #77 (September, 1983):

I took the fantasy world from module X-1, as described by Dave Zeb Cook, shook it once or twice, and got the basis for a fantasy world for the whole D&D game system.

All the B and X modules can be located on the territory map, and future modules should all fit nicely  - a ready-made campaign. 

Frank Mentzer, Dragon #77 (September, 1983)

Mentzer describes merchant caravans of 2-100 wagons traveling between inhabited areas, in the "Towns and Cities" section of the D&D Expert Rulebook.

Module Placement:

Approximate locations for the B-series and X-series modules were indicated on the map:

Modules B1 and B2 were both situated in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, although neither were conceived with the continental setting in mind.

Module B3 was also placed in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, although was originally located northwest of the Principalities of Glantri (a better location for the revised version, as well).

Module B4 was placed in the Alasiyan Desert, as suggested in the introduction to the module.

Module X1 is indicated by an arrow to the south, across the Sea of Dread.

Module X2 was placed in the Principalities of Glantri, although should perhaps be located on the river's western tributary.

Module X3 was located in the Kingdom of Vestland, as described in the background to the module.

Modules X4 and X5 are indicated by an arrow to the northwest, although were actually set west of Akesoli.


The map symbols for "castle" and "ruins" were inadvertently switched in the legend beneath the map of Threshold on pg. 31 of the revised Expert Rulebook.

Fort Doom and Krakatos were therefore indicated as ruins, while Wereskalot and the Haunted Keep were indicated as castles, on the map of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos (pg. 32).

This point of confusion might be why Wereskalot appears as a village (similar to Threshold and "Kelvin") on the map of the Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness.

Unnamed Villages:

Two unnamed villages were subsequently provided with names in module X10 "Red Arrow, Black Shield" (1985):

"Kobos" in the Kingdom of Ierendi

"Stahl" in Rockhome

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Threshold: Adventures

Frank Mentzer describes 18 adventure seeds based in and around the town of Threshold in the D&D Expert Rulebook (1983), many of which are also suitable for Basic level characters.

Adventures for 1-3 characters:
Damsel in Distress - a mystery to be solved by character levels 2-5

The Old Mill -  the subject of an old thread on Dragonsfoot in which Frank provides some comments and suggestions

Map of the Old Mill and the dungeon beneath it.

I created my own map of the Old Mill, based on Frank's comments, and ran this for my daughter's characters (I posted a brief recap of our session, here).

The Attic - for character levels 1-5

Another vignette that I ran for my two daughters (brief recap, here).

Riverside Tragedy -  for any character levels

We had a lot of fun with this one, too (see recap, here).

Rafting -  in which the characters travel downriver to Specularum (good segue to X1)

The Gardener - introduces a halfling NPC who grows wolfsbane (works well with "Scavengers", below)

Adventures for Parties (of any levels):
Scavengers - local cattle are missing - and everyone suspects werecreatures

The Gambler - the fat, successful gambler is everyone's friend - but who is he, really?

The Man Who Sings to Fish - a hook to get the PCs to a far mountain lake, where some nixies can use the party's help

Gentle Giants -  local stone giants need the PCs assistance against some rival hill giants

The Beggar - a hook to get the PCs to a distant location, where a dragon-related problem has arisen

Homecoming -  undead creatures have seemingly infiltrated a logging camp

Worms - a purple worm surfaces in the middle of town

Maze of worm tunnels beneath Threshold.

I created a map for this adventure when I ran it for one of my brother's characters, back in the 1980s.
Blackstone Heath - a hook to get the PCs to a nearby dungeon, discovered by the head of the Magic-User's Guild*

*see Frank Mentzer’s Dungeon, reproduced on Dyson's Dodecahedron (January, 2020), for a suitable generic dungeon to use

Extortion - a town adventure involving the local Thieves' Guild

Whirlwind - a djinni needs the PCs help to deal with a renegade efreeti released in the mountains nearby

The Museum - the DM's chance to introduce a new monster, along with clues to its location

The Black Woods -  the nefarious Bargle is planning an invasion

Saturday, March 11, 2023


When I wrote the D&D Classic series in the 1980s (aka BECMI), I needed to specify a 'starting point' for a campaign.  Thus was born the town of 'Threshold', created out of whole cloth to serve that purpose.  Others have developed it into a wonderful place, rich and vibrant.  (I had nothing to do with that development, hat tip to others.)

Frank Mentzer, Facebook (Feb 12, 2020)

Threshold; 1 hex = 500 feet (revised to 1 inch = 500 feet in GAZ 1), from the D&D Expert Rulebook (1983)

Mentzer explained the rationale behind his choice for a name in this post on Dragonsfoot in July, 2008, (defined as "any place or point of entering or beginning")*

*also used as the name for the Mystara fanzine

From the Expert rulebook (pg. 38):

This, the Home Town of most PCs, is a thriving frontier village of 400 permanent residents plus over 100 other regular visitors.  The main business of Threshold is to supply timber to the Capital.

Commerce (pg. 38-9): 

The following items are shipped by boat from Threshold to Specularum: Armor (leather and shields only); Craft products (pottery, baskets, wooden items, etc.); Food (grains, fruits, etc.); Furs; Herbs, including wolfsbane; Honey and Wax; Ice from the mountains; Magic items and Monster parts found by adventurers; Ores (a small local business); and crude weapons.

The following items are shipped by boat from Specularum to Threshold: Trained animals (including all warhorses); Armor and weapons; Exotic cloths (silk, velvet, etc.): from city trade; Exotic trinkets (imported from other countries); Foods (such as seafish); Glassware; Medicines; various Metal goods (lock mechanisms, pots & pans, spoons, hardware, etc.); Metals not found locally (tin, copper, etc.); News; Oil (whale, olive, and others); Parchments and inks; Potions (though rarely); Salt (bagged or in blocks); Spices; Steel Tools; Wine and Ale; and visitors, traveling entertainers, and occasional government officials. 

Travel from Threshold (pg. 39):

One trail follows the river, leading southeast to Kelven.  The trade route between Specularum and Selenica passes through Kelven; the well-worn riverside trail leads south (through Krakatos) and north (to the small mountain outpost of Highdell, at the river’s beginnings). 

A rarely followed trail leads east from town, winding into the hills (leading to the gnomish mines). No trails lead north or west.

Map of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, from the D&D Expert Rulebook (1983).  The villages of Threshold and Kelven were added, as well as several trails/trade routes not appearing in the earlier version of the D&D Expert Rulebook (1981) 

The BECMI version of Karameikos could potentially coexist within the B/X version, since villages were not indicated on the map in the 1981 rulebook, (Luln was designated as a town, whereas Threshold and Kelven are both indicated as villages).*

*notwithstanding the similar populations of Luln and Threshold (both 500)

However, a human frontier town so deep in the wilderness has major implications for the setting.  The BECMI version of the Grand Duchy could alternately represent Karameikos a generation later, with human civilization having made significant inroads.

Night's Dark Terror:

Illustration by Helen Bedford, from module B10 "Night's Dark Terror" (1986)

Module B10 "Night's Dark Terror" (1986) by Jim Bambra, Graeme Morris, and Phil Gallagher expanded upon the Sample Wilderness and Home Town section in the D&D Expert Rulebook (1983) to create a more fully realized vision of Karameikos and Threshold.

The map of Eastern Karameikos designates the trails/trade routes as either main roads (between Specularum and Selenica) or minor roads (from Threshold to Kelven) and also indicates the rarely followed trail into the hills east of town as a path.

The 6-page section on the town of Threshold presents a grittier feel, in comparison to the writeup in the D&D Expert Rulebook.  Information on the Clerical Court, the Town Guard, various Taverns/Inns, and Fogor Isle is included, as well as a table of optional events.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Mentzer Expert

The revised D&D Expert Set was released in late summer/early fall 1983, following the third edition of the D&D Basic Set.  Higher level play was to be covered in the D&D Companion Set (for character levels 15-25), and D&D Master Set (for character levels 26-36).

D&D Expert Set (July, 1983).  Cover illustration by Larry Elmore.

The new rules included an evocative preface by Frank Mentzer:
By the light of your torch, you have seen the sparkle of coins and gems.  You have pried magical swords from their age-old resting places.  Strange beasts have been met and overcome; odd and unexpected friendships have come to light.  You are an Adventurer.

After each perilous dungeon expedition, you have stepped out into the sunlight to return to your home.  But what do you know of the green countryside, the farmers’ golden fields, and the land beyond?  What of your town, friends and neighbors?  Indeed, noble traveler - what do you know of the world?

Watch!  The world around you is coming into focus.  More details await your discovery, in places far and near.  Your quiet little home town of Threshold is only a beginning; the Duke’s mighty capital, Specularum, beckons from the southern coast.  There you may visit the local marketplace, seeking the stories of foreign lands brought by caravans and traders.  Take a raft downstream, or follow a trail into the gnome hills; adventure lurks at every turn.

Gather knowledge, wealth and power; you can build a castle, attract followers, and even become ruler of a land.  All this lies in your future - and this is only the beginning.

The horses are ready; dawn is breaking.  Whither are we bound? 
Frank Mentzer (May, 1983)

Editing was by Anne C. Gray, who also worked on the Basic, Companion, and Master DM's books, as well as the Immortals Rules (as Anne Gray McCready).

Interior illustrations were exclusively by Larry Elmore.

A new edition of the Mentzer Expert rules was published in early 1984 to coincide and align with the release of the D&D Companion Set rules (also published in 1984).

See also Which BECMI D&D Expert Rulebook do you have? at Wayne's Books (October 28, 2019).

Differences from Cook/Marsh Expert:

Character classes

Saving throws are different from B/X.

Clerical turning undead is enhanced at higher levels (D+).

Spell progression for both clerics and magic-users/elves is altered, and there are changes/additions to spells listed (cure blindness and speak with dead are added to 3rd level clerical spells; animate dead and dispel magic are added to 4th level clerical spells; four 6th level clerical spells are introduced; four 5th level magic-user spells are omitted, and four 6th level magic-user spells are omitted).

Thieves' abilities are the same as in B/X in the first edition of the Mentzer Expert rules, but changed to a slower progression in the second edition.


THACO progression is different from B/X.

The lance was reclassified from a type of spear (1d6) to a pole arm (1d10).


Dragon turtles, hawks, mastodons, giant octopi, rhinoceri, sea dragons, sea serpents (lesser), sharks, giant squid, stegosaurs, titanotheres, giant weasels, and whales are omitted.

The entry for antelope is re-written as animal herds; there are changes to the types of giant fish listed (piranhas and catfish are omitted, and bass are added); the entry for hydras omits mention of poisonous or fire-breathing versions, but includes flying types; insect swarms are included (previously appearing in Moldvay Basic, but not included in Mentzer Basic); and there are changes to the types of men listed (merchants are omitted, but traders and nobles from Moldvay Basic are included).

Finally, the wilderness wandering monster tables were changed, accordingly.

Additional rules

Several encumbrance values were modified.
Rules are provided for climbing and swimming.

Threshold and the Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness:

A home town in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos was introduced, and changes are made to the maps of the sample wilderness and continent (to be covered in another post).


Mentzer concludes with an epilogue introducing The Isle of Dread:

The tang of the air changes.  Gentle breezes threaten to become storm winds.  Something hangs on the far horizon, a darker black line where the blue of sea and sky meet.  Sailing closer, the black line becomes more distinct, breaking itself into irregular shapes of misty mountains and darkened forests.  A seagull cries, either taunting you to go ahead, or warning you to turn around and seek safer harbors.

Nearing the island, the sea breaks mightily on the shore, the thunder of the crashing waves sounding like distant war drums of ghostly soldiers.  Rocks and reefs snap at your vessel like the teeth of a ravenous sea serpent as you sail closer.

Night comes, and with it, slender tendrils of fog glide seaward from the deserted shore like spectral fingers of long dead thieves.  The clammy fog soon covers your ship, putting a dark gray blanket over your eyes and high spirits.  Soon, no one laughs or talks aloud.  The only sound you hear above the drumming of the waves is the breeze flapping your sail like the wings of a monstrous bird of prey.  Eyes straining, you try to see past the heavy fog to the land which lies beyond. In the dark, a seagull again sounds its scary warning, and the cool air makes you shiver - surely this must be the Isle of Dread! 

Saturday, February 25, 2023

The Trouble with Mylvin Wimbly

Dungeon #5 (May/June, 1987) contains a six-page Basic D&D wilderness mini-scenario, written by Andrew McCray.

Illustration by Roger Raupp (initials on spell book), from Dungeon #5 (May/Jun 1987)

Intended as a one-session interlude for a party of 6-8 characters of 1st to 3rd levels, the action takes place in the middle of a large forest at night.

I ran this adventure for my son and his friends, back in 2015, and wrote up a brief summary of our session (linked, here).

About the Author:
Andrew McCray was introduced to the D&D game by his dad, the DM of Andrew's group for three years.  When his father resigned as gamemaster, the group selected Andrew as his successor.  Currently a freshman planning to major in psychology at Millsaps College in Jacksonville, Mississippi, Andrew hopes that the publication of Mylvin Wimbly breaks the streak of bad luck he has had in getting his work published.
Dungeon #5 (May/June, 1987)

Mylvin Wimbly:

This fully-sketched out NPC could be used in other adventures, complete with a backstory drawn from this adventure.

Treasure Map:

The treasure map of Lazambar the Magician indicates "some kind of treasure cache buried nearby.  The DM may decide if the cache actually exists and what treasure it holds."

Saturday, February 18, 2023

The Keep at Koralgesh

"The Keep at Koralgesh" is a 20-page Basic D&D adventure by Robert B. Giacomozzi and Jonathan H. Simmons, published in Dungeon #2 (November/December, 1986).

Cover illustration used for Dungeon #2 (Nov/Dec, 1986), depicting the fall of Koralgesh, also used as the cover illustration for DA4 "The Duchy of Ten" (1987)

The scenario features a four level dungeon, suitable for a party of beginning PCs, beneath the keep and ruined seaport of Koralgesh.

This is another Basic D&D adventure that I ran for my son and his friends, years ago.  I wrote a review on Dragonsfoot, back in 2017 (linked, here).

About the Authors:
Robert Giacomozzi and Jonathan Simmons are teachers for talented and gifted children in Killeen, Texas (their students introduced them to fantasy gaming).  Both of them enjoy a variety of fishing and hunting sports, both read SF and fantasy stories, and both collect miniature figures.  Robert is married and has two kids, two dogs, and two pythons; Jonathan has only one dog aptly named Goblin.
Dungeon #2 (November/December, 1986)


A possible location on the west coast of Brun was discussed in this thread on the Piazza, back in 2009.  Unfortunately, this is quite far out of the way.

An alternate location in the Kingdom of Ierendi was discussed, here.

Replica maps of Ierendi from Gaz 4 "The Kingdom of Ierendi" (top) and X1 "The Isle of Dread" (bottom) from the Atlas of Mystara (here and here), with Koralgesh in the location of Port Siers 

The authors appear to have been inspired by the fate of Pompeii in envisioning Koralgesh, which suggests a particular location on Ierendi island:.
...Ierendi's people live in the shadow of our great fire mountains.  From time to time these old and generous friends turn violent and cruel, spouting molten rock and poisonous gases upon the people of Ierendi.  Rivers of fire flow across the once-lush-and-green land, leaving nothing but a blackened wasteland of cinder and ash.  A tragic example: in 786 the entire population of Port Siers - over 1, 000 people - was killed in less than an hour by a cloud of burning ash that descended Mount Haumea and washed over the sleeping town like the Black Legions of Death.
GAZ 4 "The Kingdom of Ierendi" (1987) by Anne Gray McCready

New Monsters:

The tyrannabys, illustration by Mark Nelson.

Two original creatures, the Lovecraftian tyrannabys (a slimy, tentacled, aquatic creature), and the enigmatic epadrazzil (a conjured guardian from a 2-dimensional plane), are described.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

B9: Castle Caldwell and Beyond

B9 "Castle Caldwell and Beyond" (1985) by Harry Nuckols contains five loosely-connected mini-adventures, designed to bring PCs from 1st to 3rd level.

Module B9 "Castle Caldwell and Beyond" (1985) by Harry Nuckols.  Cover illustration by Clyde Caldwell, from this painting.

I wrote a review of this module (linked, here) after running the adventures for my son and his friends, back when they were in grade school, (you can read our campaign journal, here).

Design Origins:

Years earlier, I'd corresponded with artist Clyde Caldwell, regarding the name:

"Castle Caldwell and Beyond" was indeed named after me.  The game designers who produced the module were also going to name a character "Clyde Caldwell"...but the TSR legal dept. wouldn't allow it.

Clyde Caldwell, 2010

Editor Michael Dobson explains the module's origins:

Unlike most modules, this wasn’t done by in-house designers or people in our usual freelance network, but sent in unsolicited.  Bruce Heard was our product acquisitions guy, so he would most likely know more about the author.  We didn’t have a lot of Basic D&D product coming in, so it was a welcome addition to the line.  I liked the fact that it consisted of very short adventures, and felt it would work well for someone’s first campaign.

posted on Facebook (February 23, 2021)

About the Author:

It has been speculated that "Harry Nuckols" is a pseudonym, compounded by Frank Mentzer's comment that the actual author was someone named "Ron Charulsky":

Q. Who REALLY wrote B9 Castle Caldwell and Beyond? It's credited to "Harry Nuckols" but that's obviously a joke.

A. Why is that obvious?  It was written by a previously unpublished author named Ron Charulsky.

Frank Mentzer, posted on Dragonsfoot (January 17, 2006)

A statement he later didn't recall making:

Q. You mentioned at one point that the real person behind "Harry Nuckols" was Ron Charulsky, but I didn't see any follow-up after.

A. I don't recall writing that, and if I did I may have been drunk. I simply don't know.

Frank Mentzer, posted on Dragonsfoot (July 25, 2010)

And according to Clyde Caldwell:

There was no "Harry Nuckles"...that was a pseudonym. I remember that Bill Conners was involved in the creation of the module, but don't remember anyone else who was complicit.

Clyde Caldwell, 2010

Harry Nuckols (left) and Mary Poplawski, with Craig Robertson, from this blog (July 27, 2011)

Turns out that Harry Nuckols was the actual author:

I am Harry Nuckols, the author of Castle Caldwell and Beyond. Yes, it's my real name. I live in upstate New York. I am a retired computer programmer, and my chief interest is, and always has been, contract bridge. I have played in many parts of the United States, and in several other countries. My interest in D&D started with my two sons. We played frequently when they were young. They are both grown now, with children of their own, but they still play D&D occasionally.

Harry Nuckols, posted on Dragonsfoot (September 14, 2012)


Namyats is the benevolent entity who leaves the mystic bell in the Church of the Holy Sanctuary, for which one reviewer came up with a disturbing anagram ("My Satan", here).

In fact, Namyats is a bridge term, derived by spelling the name of bridge player "Stayman" backwards, and therefore an Easter egg included by bridge enthusiast, Nuckols.


The module was not explicitly set within the Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness Map #2 in the Mentzer Expert rulebook, although can be situated in the Northern Reaches.

Clifton Caldwell:

The death of Clifton Caldwell was reported in the Poor Wizard's Almanac III (1994) by Ann Dupuis:

Servants of Clifton Caldwell found their master dead on Klarmont 12 of AC 1011, apparently of a heart attack.  Baron Sherlane Halaran of Threshold subsequently confiscated Caldwell Castle, which Mr. Caldwell had purchased some twelve years ago.  The castle has been offered for sale for the price of six years' taxes owed on the property.

from "Distinguished Dead" (pg. 112) in the Poor Wizard's Almanac III

The entry supposes a location in Karameikos for Castle Caldwell, likely based on the supermodule "In Search of Adventure" (1987),