Saturday, June 15, 2024

Sinvel's Peril

"Sinvel's Peril" by Doug Cowie is a 8-page "mini-module" for 4-7 characters of 12-15th level, published in Imagine #19 (October, 1984).

Title page to "Sinvel's Peril" in Imagine #19 (October, 1984).  Illustration by Dave Pearson.

The adventure was published to promote the new Companion Set rules,* and includes a tournament and war machine scenario.

*the D&D Companion Set was highlighted on the issue's cover, and readers were encouraged to "Try out the new Companion Set rules with this high-level scenario".

"Any demi-human characters at maximum level may gain the advantages conferred by having a higher accumulation of experience points." is a reference to attack ranks.

Design Team

"Sinvel's Peril" was written by Doug Cowie,* a regular contributor of news and reviews to Imagine magazine, and a founding member of Grenadier Models UK

*with "Barbarian Hordes and other bits" by Mike Brunton

Illustrations were by Dave Pearson (also mentioned on pg. 50, looking for gamers in the Hinckley area) who subsequently contributed some letters in later issues.

Cartography was by Paul Ruiz (aka Geoff Wingate) who did maps for most of the TSR UK releases (including O2X8, CM6, B10)


The setting for the adventure is the Province of Welsma in Renima, a region of low magic.  "While most people believe that magic exists, few have seen a practical demonstration of it."

The Province of Welsma.  Unhealthy marshlands lie to the east.  The southern boundary is marked by the River Aub'Ron, beyond which are the Beastlands.

Welsma is a human domain.  While dwarves inhabit the surrounding mountains, other demihumans and humanoids are rare, and usually avoid human society.

Sinvel is a farming community on the outskirts of Welsma.  It is ruled by a Council of Elders, the leading figure of which is "the Invoker" (C22), the most powerful cleric in Welsma.

Tressnor is a small village, over 200 miles east of Sinvel.  It is ruled by a Marchioness who holds her lands by a direct grant from Sinvel.

Miltrin is a wealthy city, 80 miles to the southwest of Sinvel.  It is ruled by a Grand Council and a militaristic noble class, adversarial towards both Sinvel and Karthrun.

Karthrun is the largest city in Welsma, and is ruled by a military dictator.  The legions of Karthrun are often busy repelling incursions from the Beastlands.

The Adventure:

Word has reached the Marchioness of Tressnor of a horde of barbarians, massing for an attack upon Sinvel.

Worse, the Invoker has recently been captured while traveling in the Pelwold and is presently being held prisoner in a stronghold near Miltrin.

While the Marchioness gathers her forces to march to the aid of Sinvel, the PCs are to deliver a salutory blow to the bandits of the Pelwold, and rescue the Invoker.

The Bandits of The Great Forest

Within the Pelwold, the PCs must face the leader of the bandits, who has fallen under a sinister influence.

The Dwarves In Their Halls of Stone

Allies of the bandits, a monastic community of dwarves venerates the embalmed body of a disgraced human cleric.

Illustration by Geoff Wingate

The Journey Onwards

Leaving the Pelwold, the PCs proceed towards Miltrin and Lord Atava's Castle.

Lord Atava's Castle

The Invoker is being held in the hunting lodge of Lord Atava, one of the Council members of Miltrin, who invites the PCs to participate in a tournament.

Cartography by Geoff Wingate

Meanwhile, Back At The War

The adventure concludes with a war machine scenario involving the Army of Sinvel, the Barbarian Horde, Lord Atava's Field Army, and a Karthrun Field Force.


"Sinvel's Peril" seems like it would be fun to run.  It shares the same gritty, well-conceived feel of other TSR UK adventures, although staging might be difficult, given the novel setting.*

*the best way to incorporate this adventure in a campaign within a different setting might be to have the PCs magically transported to Tressnor

The Province of Welsma might alternately serve as the basis for a whole campaign, as other adventures could easily be adapted to the setting, culminating in Sinvel's Peril.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

CM5: Mystery of the Snow Pearls

CM5 "Mystery of the Snow Pearls" (1985)* by Anne Gray McCready is a Companion-level D&D solo adventure for a 10th level elf.

*see also my review on Dragonsfoot

CM5 "Mystery of the Snow Pearls" (1985) by Anne Gray McCready.  Cover illustration by Larry Elmore, depicting Milgor the wizard.

Design Team:

Anne Gray McCready's first assignment was to edit the Mentzer Basic edition of the D&D Basic Set (uncredited).  She also edited the Mentzer Expert, Companion, and Master DM's books (as Anne C. Gray) and co-authored module X9 "The Savage Coast" (1985).

Harold Johnson is listed as Editor/Developer, and likely collaborated extensively with Gray McCready on the project (will need to ask Harold about it, at next year's Gary Con!).

Larry Elmore painted the cover illustration, and Jim Roslof contributed the interior black-and-white illustrations.  Curtis Smith is credited for the cartography.

A Beginning:

As with XS2 "Thunderdelve Mountain" the quest involves a demi-human clan relic, (previously described in the section on Demi-human Clans in the Players Companion).
The name and deeds of Christov Yetta are acclaimed across the land - protector, forestfriend, tenslayer, wolfbane.  You are also treebrother, only brother to your clan's Keeper of the sacred Tree of Life.
You live in Tarylon Elfhome, renowned for its beauty and bounty.  Yet today there is quiet gloom in the air and at twilight you are summoned to the Keeper's Grove. 
"Christov, my brother, I wish to share the secret of Tarylon's fortune with you.  Many years ago, while fetching spring water beneath a full moon, I had a most wondrous encounter.  A mighty being, perhaps a god, appeared to me upon a moonbeam.  He said that I, Enan, and my people had been chosen to receive a special gift."  Your brother shows you three snow white pearls the size of acorns. 
"He bade me to guard these dearly, and every full moon, to encircle our Tree with one at each of the four winds; in that moonlight the glow of the gems would strengthen our Tree, the heartblood of our village.  Our Tree, in its vigor radiates a magical ring of protection which repels all evil from our borders.  But as you can see, only three snow Pearls remain, the spell is broken!" 
"It was Milgor, that prankster wizard from over the Diahaye Mountains who did this!  While I sat meditating, he came in the form of a jay, and when I looked away to the song of a finch, he purloined the purest pearl of the four!  Do not let yourself be distracted from your purpose while in the Grove." 
''You must seek him out for me, for I may not leave the Grove; and you must not return without the pearl - swear this to me!  You must return before the full moon in three days or word will surely reach the bandit town of Rheega that Tarylon is now defenseless." 
"Three things I give to help you on your journey.  First, take these three remaining moongems - they will glow as they near their brother.  Second, be steadfast and courageous, turning first to cunning, not combat; and seek the wise woman - it is said a bird knows where she roosts.  Third, there is a broken tablet that is said to show Milgor's weakness.  If you can find all the pieces and put them together, you shall overcome him!
CM5 "Mystery of the Snow Pearls"

The Wilderness:

“The Wilderness” (scale 1/6 mile per hex).  Cartography by Curtis Smith.

The Wilderness map depicts the "Black Stream" entering the "Raging River" south of Lake Oest.  The Raging River enters and then exits Lake Oest before continuing eastwards.

While a specific location within the Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness or Norwold is not given, the entire map fits within a single 8 mile hex, making it easy to situate within any mountainous area.

Herds of buffalo, elk, and moose (as well as some "flightless birds") roam the central plain.  The occasional (presumably human) farmer is also encountered.

Notable Locations:

6.  the faceless, weathered statue of a warrior
10.  "Fallen Glory" ruins, overgrown by vegetation
14.  a pair of barren peaks, aka "the Fangs"
27.  the "Elephant's Graveyard" dungeon
30.  the Village of Gyer
31.  an abandoned mine
36.  a stony pinnacle, shaped like a hawk's head
47.  Tarylon Elfhome, aka "Tarylon the Fair" (adjacent to the Keepers Grove)

The various dungeon areas are presented as flow charts with numbered entries.


The wilderness map was reused as a wilderness map in the Gamma World 3e boxed set (as discussed at Wayne's Books on May 5, 2021, here)

Solo Game Mechanics:

Spells may only be used at the beginning of an encounter.  If a spell or talking is not attempted, the options are to attack, attempt to evade, or use an item (when changing weapons or using items, your opponent automatically gains initiative).

Gear has many special uses (rope can be used to entangle a foe, oil can be used to pick locks, a cloak can be used to silence a man, etc.).  A hand axe can be used to build a raft, and a dagger to dig a hole.  There are special rules for thrown weapons, which may trigger a foe to flee.

XP gained from defeating monsters in combat can be used to adjust die rolls.

There are a couple of interesting mechanics for healing lost hit points.  Christov can eat one ration to recover 1-4 hp, once every 20 turns,* and water soothes burns and reduces fire damage by 1-4 hp, once per encounter.

*time keeping is 1 turn for every 6 hexes traveled (which equates to a 10 minute mile) and I assume for each encounter entry/combat.

There are points awarded for Honor, Persistence, and Selfishness, which are tracked to score performance.

New Monsters:

Ash Crawler, Gyerian

Monsters from the Companion Set rules include: Cave Toad (M1), Kryst, Malfera (X5), Manscorpion, Mud Golem (X2)

Some entries include "reskinned" creatures (using statistics from another monster entry)

New Magic Items:

Scroll of Illumination*
Rod of Chastening +1 (automatically chases animals away)
Pole of Vaulting (a rod which extends 10')
Mace of Retribution +2 (can attack foes by itself)
Halberd of Harmony +1 (will cure 3 times and bless once)
Ointment of Blessing (-2 AC/+2 Save for 1 turn)*
Ointment of Soothing (cures all damage from fires)*

*from the Companion Set rules

Illustration by Jim Roslof

Pregenerated Character:

Christov Yetta (10th level elf; 2,100,000 xp/attack rank I*)

*equivalent to a Fighter of levels 19-21.

Can use the Combat Options for Fighters, ie. Multiple Attacks, Smash, and Parry (although Disarm is not mentioned on the character sheet)

Elves automatically takes 1/2 damage from any breath weapon at 1,600,000 xp/attack rank G (not mentioned on the character sheet, but potentially relevant)


There are occasional errors, throughout (for instance, the AC of various creatures in the monster stat blocks, such as the hill giant AC 0 (vs. 4 in Mentzer).

W130. Roll 1d20 (if you lack rope and grapple add +4); if less than 15, you fall, roll 1d6 (1d4 indoors) + W130. 1 =W131, 2=W132, 3= W133, 4=W134, 5=W135, and 6=W136.

The Players Companion states "A roll of the Ability score or less on 1d20 means success" (pg 9).  Christov's Dexterity is 14, so a roll of 15 or greater should result in a fall (furthermore, if you lack rope and grapple, adding +4 would paradoxically make it less likely to fall).

There are also some spell scrolls for which the spells are to be determined randomly.  Since only certain spells are possible to cast, it would need to be among those.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Interview with Rob Kuntz: Part Two

A continuation of our interview with gaming luminary, Rob Kuntz (click here for Part One):

Q. The article "Swords and Sorcery - In Wargaming" (Wargamer's Digest, vol. 1, no. 7, May 1974) recounts a session refereed by yourself, in which Gary's legendary characters Mordenkainen, his companion Bigby, the Lords Yrag and Felnorith, and the Bishop Raunalf explore the 4th level of a dungeon.  Was this El Raja Key, or another dungeon?

This was an adjacent area in the precincts of Castle El Raja Key that was made into WG5 Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure and then in 2005 as Maure Castle.  It has a twisting history since 1973, mainly due to my efforts to retain its copyright and unlike Gary who lost the vast majority of his to TSR.

Q. The "El Raja Key Archive" (2016) is a veritable treasure trove of source documents from the proto-D&D games that you ran for Gary and others.  The first three levels of El Raja Key were at one time planned to be released in a special collector's edition.  Is this still in the works?

One-time.  I have always intended to get a lot of projects done, but bigger ones?  They have come and gone due to my ability to either fund them or not.  I will instead be looking into finishing Maure Castle for 1E and possibly 5E or Pathfinder, as well.  Otherwise Castle El Raja Key 2 has been in development as Castle Perilous for a CRPG offering for a few years.

"The Return of Robilar" (2023) by Robert J. Kuntz

Q. "The Return of Robilar" (Aug, 2023) covers material dating back to 1973.  Did you run Roblar as an NPC when you became the co-DM of the Greyhawk campaign?  Has any of the material been previously published, and if so, where?

Robilar was used as a foil by Gary to play-test new levels and adventures he was creating with us as co-DMs.  Otherwise he was retired up and until the Temple of Elemental Evil debacle which was the last time (1977) I played him.  The Return of Robilar is the first comprehensive information revealed on him since the Rogue’s Gallery.

Q. When Dave Arneson moved to Lake Geneva in early 1976, he ran a game for Gary and yourself at the Dungeon Hobby Shop, in which your famous characters Mordenkainen and Robilar explored the City of the Gods.  Was anyone else involved in that game?  Did Dave ever run another game for Gary and/or yourself?

No.  It was Gary as Mordenkainen and me as Robilar.  Dave never ran another game for us.  I did write up the adventure and it appeared in an early Oerth Journal edited by Erik Mona:  Journey to the City of the Gods, and with DM commentary by Dave.  That story is being included in my complete adventure tales.

Q. You helped Gary design "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks" as the D&D tournament dungeon for Origins II, held July 23-25, 1976.  Was this adventure influenced by the City of the Gods?  Do you recall if the original City of the Gods was supposed to represent a grounded alien spacecraft, or was it an alien outpost of some kind?

I believe it was influenced by a Brain Aldiss tale, would have to check on that.  So, unlike CotG, which is a very large ship, the Barrier Peaks one was smaller.  Gary asked me to create the technology/robots and such for it, so that’s where my creation lies in it.

"Deities & Demigods" (1980) by Jim Ward with Rob Kuntz

Q. We were all saddened to learn of the recent passing of Jim Ward, with whom you collaborated on Supplement IV "Gods, Demigods & Heroes" as well as "Deities and Demigods".  Do you have any personal reminiscences or anecdotes that you can share about working with Jim on those projects?

I was in the middle of crafting LIVING ROOMS when I heard the unfortunate news of his passing.  I immediately dedicated that work to him.  I could go on about the early days with Jim, him and I driving to four institutes while researching Gods, Demigods & Heroes:  two university libraries:  Whitewater and Madison; Milwaukee Public Library; and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Jim and I would play marathon games on Saturdays when he was not involved playing Poker with his buddies in Elkhorn.  We’d rotate between DMing: Castle Greyhawk 2 when he played and Dragonkind when it was my turn.  Our longest stint was perhaps 20 hours!  He was really wrapped up in playing in Greyhawk, the first (with my brother) to really investigate my Bottle City level; and (again with my brother) to challenge the Temple of the Latter Day Elder Ones, and Fomalhaut (all Lovecraftian tie-ins that I am currently pulling the threads together for a work entitled Mythos vs. Medieval Man, wherein Jim will be credited as an early play-tester).  He also had a relationship (Bombadil, his PC) with a strange time traveler named Cosmodius.

He was so intent on finding out more and more that he took lots of chances in the game, Jim being a gambler at heart.  We even concluded a part of his adventure when we took a break at the Next Door Pub (best pizza I’ve ever had to date) whereat he kept asking me questions about what Bombadil was doing.  So, I devised a system on the spot and during our meal to forward the matter satisfactorily.

James was an inspired game designer and writer whose contributions to the industry were impactful.  He will be sorely missed.

Q. You've discussed how "Kalibruhn" was originally slated to be published as Supplement V, and have previously considered publishing it as a retro-supplement.  Do you still have any plans, along these lines?

It’s rather divided.  The supplement was never slated for publication.  I had been compiling parts for the campaign and was thinking about submitting it but then Supplement IV was announced as the last supplement, so that ended that angle. No immediate plans for releasing it.  It’s a historical oddity which I’d rather update at length, but then it would put me on a path to detailing my world.  The latter was never my intent; and I don’t believe the market needs another world, anyway.  The ms parts were included in the El Raja Key Archive but that’s only a part of something larger that I’d consider doing to eventually complete it.   Like I said, I am rather divided on this since different factions of people are divided, as well as they should be.  It’s an ancient artifact which perhaps will remain that way so as to not disappoint them or me.

"Gargax's Glorious Gewgaws" (2023) by Robert J. Kuntz

Q. "Gargax's Glorious Gewgaws" (Feb, 2023) is a fascinating blend of historical insights and useful gaming material.  I'm very interested in your discussion of how certain films, such as Seven Faces of Dr. Lao and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad influenced the early game.  What more recent films do you think are inspirational in the same spirit?

Well.  I was noting what influenced Gary’s mindset in creating and playing D&D back then.  It’s a very wide subject which I lightly, but solidly, touched upon.  I will, and do, expand upon the subject in various upcoming works including my memoirs.

Thank-you, Rob, for taking the time to share your insights and reminiscences!

For those of you interested in meeting Rob Kuntz, he will be a special guest at ARNECON 2 (October 4-6, 2024).

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Interview with Rob Kuntz: Part One

Rob Kuntz is a key figure in the development of D&D, and continues to make valuable contributions to our hobby (click here for Rob's bio).  He recently agreed to answer several questions regarding the early days in Lake Geneva, as well as what he's up to, these days:

Robert J. Kuntz

Q. My friends and I recently made the trek to Lake Geneva for the 50th anniversary of D&D.  I remember meeting your brother Terry at prior Gary Cons.  Have you ever attended Gary Con, or any other old-school cons?  I would imagine that your presence as one of the key figures in the early development of Dungeons & Dragons would generate a lot of interest.

Yes.  North Texas RPGCon, Gary Con and the upcoming ARNECON.  I have not been invited to Gary Con since 2013 and after moving to France.  Yes, my appearance always generates a lot of excitement with me being the last founder and designer standing and still active.  But I can only attend conventions I’m invited to, so I will be appearing at ARNECON in October, a small but doughty convention which is building rapidly, and I hope to assist them in that regard.

Q. You recounted some details regarding that game of proto-D&D run by Dave Arneson for Gary Gygax and a few others, including yourself, in "Dungeons & Deceptions" (Kotaku, Aug 2019).  The article describes an unpublished work called "A Tale of Two Daves, Two Gygax's and Two Kuntz╩╝s".  Has this appeared in some form, in one of your other publications?

That was actually published as THE GAME THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING.  But we are updating that with new material and possible release through the documentary we are involved with.  It contains the oldest map made by me the day after the game session wherein Gary played and I DMed an experimental idea of using Arneson’s new concept to create stories.  That ostensibly makes me the first map-making DM before we continued interfacing with Arneson and The Blackmoor Bunch to create D&D.  That’s D&D’s beginning in Lake Geneva.

"The 4th Category" (2024) by Robert J. Kuntz

Q. Your most recent release "The 4th Category" represents the first chapter of your forthcoming "A New Ethos in Game Design: The Paradigm Shift Originated by Dungeon & Dragons, 1972-1977" mentioned on the back cover of "Dave Arneson's True Genius" (2017).  Does "The Fourth Category" provide any details or historical anecdotes regarding Gary's Greyhawk Castle and/or your El Raja Key playtests of D&D in 1973?

Not really.  For the record Gary created Castle Greyhawk 1 and he and I created Castle Greyhawk 2, late 1973.  I created Castle El Raja Key 1 one month after Gary created the first Castle Greyhawk; and then I created Castle El Raja Key 2 later on.  So, there are two distinct versions of each castle.

What is contained in The 4th Category is of more import than Castles.  It’s a culmination of 17 years of research and study which states that Arneson & Gygax, unbeknownst to both, created a new primary game category in games.  Not just a game, but the first game in a new category of games.  I would think that merits some raised eyebrows and really transcends to the realm of historical consequence when considered in light of current historical research.

Q. In your foreword to "Adventures in Oz" (Double Critical, 2022) you mention your "Entrance to Oz" dungeon level, included as part of Greyhawk Castle 2.  Did you ever run a group through that level, as co-DM of Gary's original Greyhawk campaign?

Our PCs had moved to outdoor adventures so my work on OZ languished uninvestigated.  I redid it as D&D Dreamlands, now Dreamlands, in 1985.

"A Walk Though Dream Land" by Andy Taylor

Q. Can you tell us more about "Dreamlands"?  I'm not familiar with that setting.

That was my move from OZ to my own form of Dreamlands.  It has appended rules for play as things don’t always match with real play circumstances, such as death, eating, sleeping and many other waking world circumstances.  It was utilized twice in play when I was living in Charlotte, N.C. for many years.  It’s set up to make players believe that they are still in the real world, just in a special part of it.  It was never published, but I have a gorgeous full color map of it drawn by me when my hand was steadier and the front cover by Andy Taylor.

Q. Any luck in getting the levels that you designed for Greyhawk Castle 2 back?  Do you think we'll ever see publication of the source documents for this major collaboration between yourself and Gary?

I possess full scans of my levels and keys.  The chance of ever getting Castle Greyhawk 2 made is probably nil.  One cannot deal with egomaniacs and revisers of history, though I have tried four times to do that.  I will not talk about getting my levels back at this time as that matter is in another’s hands at the moment.

"Dark Druids" (2015; 2023) by Robert J. Kuntz

Q. In February, 2023, you re-released "Dark Druids" (Chaotic Henchmen Productions, 2015) in an electronic format, an adventure involving the conceptual origins of Tharizdun.  When were the games this adventure was based on run?  Was it set in Kalibruhn, or another setting?  

It was set on the Wild Coast area in Fang Forest.  Gary and I figured that the area (then,1975 when I created Dark Druids) was the main adventuring area we shared using the Outdoor Survival map during the play-tests which then became the Wild Coast where most of the adventures were happening.  There is a dimensional entrance to Kalibruhn there (in Mistwood) which was created by the wizard Zayene when he fled Kalibruhn for what he called the Gray Lands (our Greyhawk campaign 1973 onward).

Q. A free map of "The Barbarous Coast" is available on the Three Line Studio website.  Was this setting inspired by the eastern coast of the map of the Great Kingdom from Domesday Book #9 (1971)?  Is it part of the Kalibruhn campaign setting?

It is a stand-in for the Wild Coast which I was forwarding as WoG’s first regional setting before Gary was ousted; and I undertook to complete it in 2002, thus the changes to the names (Jepton = Safeton, etc.).  A well known cartographer has recently rendered a professional hex map of it which will be included in a future release to finally finish this.  I had always felt that WoG needed a regional setting like they were doing with Mystara, so that’s where the whole idea started.

To be continued in Part Two, tomorrow.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

AC11: The Book of Wondrous Inventions

AC11 "The Book of Wondrous Inventions" (1987) was the final supplement in the AC line of D&D game accessories.  Gnomes are referred to as "skilled mechanicians" (pg 28) in keeping with the emerging D&D perspective of gnomes as tinker-inventors.

The volume was released the same year as the first gazetteers, and includes references to GAZ1 "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos" (pg 89), GAZ2 "The Emirates of Ylaruam" (pg 61), and GAZ3 "The Principalities of Glantri" (pgs 86, 87, 92).

AC 11 "The Book of Wondrous Inventions" compiled by Bruce Heard.  Cover illustration depicting King Dorfin by Jim Holloway

Design Team:

On a recent Facebook post, Bruce Heard shared "I had a long list of general ideas which a number of freelancers grabbed and ran away with."*

*each contributor is listed alongside their entry or entries below, including some fairly well-known game designers.

The collection was edited by Deborah Christian

The cover and interior illustrations were by Jim Holloway

The Wondrous Inventions:

Entries are divided into appliances, constructs, dungeon devices, entertainment, home or business, practical services, structures, transportation, weapons & warfare.

Each entry contains a definition, history, description, construction, statistics, functioning, hazards, and staging possibilities for the invention.


Aldryk's Fire Quencher (Scott Haring; Austin, Texas)

The Animated Money Changing Machine (Bill Slavicsek; New York, NY)

Ardraken's Refreshment Simulacrum (Scott Haring; Austin, Texas)


The Barber's Aid (Deborah Christian; San Diego, CA)

Balthazar's Suite of Many Delights (Ray Winninger; South Holland, IL)

Beldane's Subterranean Borer (Ed Greenwood; Colborne, ONT)

Bladderwick's Human Catapult (Robin Jenkins; Lake Geneva, WI)

Blashphor’s Ever-Vigilant Baby Cradle & Nursery (Rick Swan; Des Moines, IA)

Borgora’s Inflatable Scare-Dragon (Bill Slavicsek; New York, NY)

Brandon’s Bard-in-a-Box (Deborah Christian; San Diego, CA)

The Clockwork Dragon of Mai-Faddah


Ch’Thon’s Astral Ball (Raymond Maddox; Slocomb, AL)

Castle in the Clouds (Sandy Petersen; Richmond, CA)

The Clockwork Dragon of Mai-Faddah (David E. Martin; Lake Geneva, WI)


Damos’s Ball of Bowling (Steve Gilbert and Robert Tuftee; New York, NY)

Darak’s Thaumaturgical Printing Press (Janet and Peter Vialls; Huntingdon, U.K.)

Death Engine (Scott Bennie; Abbottsford, B.C., Canada)

Disteron’s Dismal Disposal (Gary L. Thomas; Boise, ID)

The Train of the Dwarven Thane (Vince Garcia, with thanks to Dean Zook; Fresno, CA)

The Dreadnought (Stewart Wieck; Rocky Face, GA)


The Economy Super-Wash Laundromagic II (Graeme Morris; Cambridge, U.K.)

The Electric Cooker (Stephen Palmer; Egham, U.K)

Evem’s Mirror of Enviable Image (Greg Gorden; Chicago, 1L)

The Extra-Dimensional Safe (Helen Cook; Lake Geneva, WI)

Fleabottom’s Brick Mac


The Fiendish Exercise Machine of Bardolpho the Mad (Allen Varney; Austin, TX)

Fleabottom’s Brick Mac* (Robin Jenkins; Lake Geneva, WI)

*I used this contraption in a game, back in the day


Gnomish Submersible (Jeff Grubb; Home for the Mentally Woozy, New New Mistraven)


Honest Obie’s All-Night Armor Merchant (Scott D. Haring; Austin, Texas)

The Hot Air Balloon (Stephen Palmer; Egham, U.K.)

Hotspur’s Selecto-Staff (Stephen R. Bourne; Islington, Ontario, Canada)

House Vacuum (Helen Cook; Lake Geneva, WI)


Jaggar’s Transforming Gargantoid (Bruce A. Heard; Lake Geneva, WI)


Kruze’s Magnificent Missile (Ed Greenwood; Colborne, ONT)


The Levelmaker (Sandy Petersen; Richmond, CA)


Melrond’s Foolproof Dishwasher (Allen Varney; Austin, TX)

Moodarvian Rings of Emotion (David Ladyman; Austin, TX)

Morath’s Mobile Manor (John Nephew; Duluth, MN)

The Oddwaddle Centipede


The Oddwaddle Centipede (Robin Jenkins; Lake Geneva, WI)

Olaf Grunndi’s Stupendous Repository of Arcane Lore (Rik Rose; Cambridge. U.K.)


Rahn-Ko’s Ranger Fooler (John Terra; Randolph, MA)

The Rainmaking Machine (Thomas M. Kane; Farmington, ME)

Rumblebotty’s Flying Nightmare (Ray Winningcr; South Holland, IL)


Saonuihun’s Speeding Sphere Game (Michael DeWolfe; Victoria, B.C., Canada)

The Sultan’s Uncanny Ghost Ride (Janet and Peter Vialls; Huntingdon, U.K.)


Ungah’s Dungeon Cleaner (John Terra; Randolph, MA)

Volospin’s Dragonfly of Doom


Vanserie’s Wondrous Elemental Heater (Bruce A. Heard; Lake Geneva, WI)

Volospin’s Dragonfly of Doom (Bruce A. Heard; Lake Geneva, WI)


Dorfin's Little Shop of Horrors
The gnomes of Highforge (see GAZ1 — The Grand Duchy of Karameikos) are famous for their imagination and the number of devices the dwarves help them build.

All through their lives, they accumulate heaps of unused items. Added to this is a number of magical items they trade for or mysteriously find in their dungeons. Once their initial interest is gone, gnomes quickly forget their past inventions and get busy on others. Just recently, King Dorfin, the gnomish monarch, passed an edict allowing open sale of all unused inventions, as a way to clean up his ever-so-cluttered passageways. Thus was born Dorfin’s Little Shop of Horrors.
AC11 "The Book of Wondrous Inventions" (pg 89)

Creating Spells and Magical Items
This section was drawn from a similar section in GAZ3 "The Principalities of Glantri" (pg 64-7) and includes information on experience value for making inventions.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

CM4: Earthshaker!

CM4 "Earthshaker!" (1985) by David "Zeb" Cook is a D&D adventure for character levels 18-20, set in the region of Norwold.

CM4 "Earthshaker!" (1985) by David "Zeb" Cook.  Illustration by Clyde Caldwell.

The PCs must determine how to deactivate a giant, steam-powered robot before it can wreak havoc in the Kingdom of Norwold.

Evoking Japanese mecha (aired in the U.S. as "Voyage Into Space", etc.), the module is an early example of steampunk (predating the term).

About the Author:

David "Zeb" Cook was hired by TSR in 1980.  He wrote I1 "Dwellers of the Forbidden City", A1 "Slave Pits of the Undercity" and co-edited the Expert Rulebook (1981) with Steve Marsh, also co-writing X1 "The Isle of Dread" with Tom Moldvay..

Further contributions to the D&D Game World included X4 "Master of the Desert Nomads" (1983), X5 "Temple of Death" (1983), M1 "Blizzard Pass" (1983), B6 "The Veiled Society" (1984), and AC2 "The Treasure of the Hideous One" (1984)

The Duchy of Vyolstagrad:

The Duchy of Vyolstagrad, located "somewhere near the Wyrmsteeth Range"


Earthshaker stands 1,280' tall (the Empire State Building is 1,250'), or 17' 6" in 25mm scale.

Earthshaker "was built at least 3,000 years ago,* probably by a race of evil gods similar in skill to dwarves or gnomes."

*this coincides with the Blackmoor era, although DA1 "Adventures in Blackmoor" was not published until the following year

The gnomes of Earthshaker.  Illustration by Ben Otero.

Earthshaker is home to a clan of 327 gnomes, who operate the machinery that powers the giant automaton.*

*AC11 "The Book of Wondrous Inventions" (1987) and PC2 "Top Ballista" (1989) consolidated this image of gnomes

"Tinker" gnomes also appeared in the second volume "Dragons of Winter Night" of the original Dragonlance trilogy (1985).

Clock of Timelessness:

The module describes a clan relic for gnomes:
The clan's relic, the Clock of Timelessness, is a 5-foot clock with a skeleton movement (the inner works can be seen clearly).  Unlike Earthshaker, the relic is ornately decorated; gears are filigreed, armatures sculpted, and jewels arc lavishly set in the clock's face.  The relic has all the standard powers of a relic as described in the Companion Rules.

In addition, the relic can be used to fashion the rare equation of time.  The equation allows time travel to any specific point in time.  First the keeper selects the date (down to the second) the equation will derive.  Then the keeper and his aides must study and record the movements of the clock in perfect detail for one year.  With this data, they must perform thousands of complex, magical, mathematical formulae in their heads.  Nothing of this can bc written on paper and the slightest error will cause the end result to bc imperfect.  Performing these calculations takes 20 years.

When the final formula has been completed, the keeper and the clanmaster can correctly set the clock.  When the clock is set, one person or object is instantly transported through time to the chosen date.  The transported object remains there for 24 hours and then must either transport again (by use of another equation of time) or fade into nonexistence.  Anything that fades disappears utterly and totally from the Multiverse as if it had never existed (although any possessions or previous deeds of a character do not change).

from CM4 "Earthshaker!" (1984)

New Magical Item:

Spade of Digging (pg. 21) from AC4 "The Book of Marvelous Magic" (1984)

Prerolled Characters:

The pre-rolled characters "are not entirely serious characters (as this is not an entirely serious adventure).  Each has some feature or characteristic that makes him noticeably less than perfect."

Alphonso Rodiphino (F18)
Fierlas Diaz (T19)
Bartolome de Tramalcos (C18)
McVay the Mighty (MU18)
apprentice "Boy" (MU1)
Tagus Firebreath (D12; attack rank J)
Hiera Lead-Spear (E10; attack rank B)


The entry for Jaggar's Transforming Gargantoid in AC11 "The Book of Wondrous Inventions" includes the following reference to CM4:

Far away to the south, beyond Specularum and the Sea of Dread, lies a mysterious continent. Legends say that only gnomes and their huge frightening machines populate this part of the world, called by some the Land of Earthshakers (see module CM4, Earthshaker).

It was there that Jaggar, a Glantrian Wizard-Prince, spent part of his life in exploration of the land. During his many adventures among the gnomes, he discovered Alphatian outposts that were quite hostile to the gnomes and their machines. As an answer to the horrendous gnomish creations, the Alphatians introduced the Gargantoids, their own version of the Earthshakers.
At the end of a huge battle against gnomish steam powered earthshakers and Alphatian magical gargantoids, the gnomes were defeated and Jaggar nearly captured. As a desperate measure, the prince managed to enter a gargantoid, and dehim to take over the magical machine and escape with it. He reappeared months later in Glantri and concealed the infernal machine in a secret cave coated with lead, high in the mountains.

AC11 "The Book of Wondrous Inventions" (1987)

Saturday, April 20, 2024

CM3: Sabre River

CM3 "Sabre River" (1984) by Douglas Niles and Bruce Nesmith is a D&D adventure for character levels 18-22, set in the region of Norwold.

CM3 "Sabre River" (1984) by Douglas Niles and Bruce Nesmith.  Cover illustration depicting Incendiarous, a huge red dragon, by Keith Parkinson.

The PCs must solve the mystery behind the curse of Sabre River, or coloniztion of Norwold is doomed.

Many of the powerful new monsters described in the D&D Companion Set are used.

Design Team:

Douglas Niles worked on the War Machine rules with Garry Spiegle for the D&D Companion Set, also writing CM1 "Test of the Warlords" (1984).

Bruce Nesmith wrote X7 "The War Rafts of Kron" (1984) and the mini-adventure "The Spindle of Heaven" included with AC7 "Master Player Screen" (1985).

The cover illustration is by Keith Parkinson, with interior art contributed by Doug Watson and Steve Bisset.  Cartography is by Dave "Diesel" LaForce.

The Curse:

A curse has gripped the land, affecting crops, animals, and people in relation to different phases of the moon.
Ages ago a general of Alphatia bravely fought many battles in this land. But supplies were slow in coming from his homeland and often he fought just to survive.  His final battle was on the banks of this very river, where he was overwhelmed by the savages and their tribal shaman.

At the end, feeling betrayed and angry, he stood alone on the river bank. Raising his magic sabre he called down a curse, saying, "Let this land remain a savage and uncivilized wilderness for seven times seven centuries!"
The Seer, CM3 "Sabre River"

CM1 "Test of the Warlords" made reference to the prior colonization of Norwold.

King Ericall's palace is built on the ruins of an ancient fortress, and the PCs discover the forgotten remains of the city of Alinor, Prince of Alphia.

Encounter Settings:

Fergus the Justifier, Claransa the Seer, and Geoffrey of Heldann take on a huge black dragon within the Black Cavern, beneath the Isle of the Seer.  Illustration by Doug Watson.

There are three major encounter settings, each featuring a high-level dungeon:

The Isle of the Seer - a cryptic seer holds the key to breaking the curse

The Tower of Terror - a dungeon built within the shaft of an active volcano

The Heart of the River - the ancient ruins of an Alphatian summer palace

Unarmed Combat:

There is a scenario involving dozens of charmed villagers who wrestle and attempt to pin the PCs.

New Monster:

Sabreclaw - created in "wings” of 1-20 individuals


A carrion crawler will not rush directly at a source of fire.

Niles' Crones of Crystykk (from CM1) make a return appearance.

Nesmith's undersea boat (from X7) is re-used.

Prerolled Characters:

The prerolled characters from CM1 and CM2 are included (another 2 levels higher):

Fergus the Justifier (F20) a wandering fighter from the Kingdom of Vestland
Geoffrey of Heldann (C20) a wandering cleric from the Heldann Freeholds
Weston the Tall (T20) a wandering thief (a "rogue")
Quillan Elm Grower (E10; attack rank G) an elf from the Forest of Alfheim
Brogahn of the Steppes (F20) a wandering fighter from the Ethengar Khanate
Claransa the Seer (M20) a wandering magic-user (a "magus") from Specularum

Two additional characters are included:

Grotto the Tall (D12; attack rank F) a wandering dwarf
Glinda Nimblefingers (H8; attack rank E) a halfling from Leeha

Saturday, April 13, 2024

CM2: Death's Ride

CM2 "Death's Ride" (1984) by Garry Spiegle is a D&D adventure for character levels 15-20, set in the region of Norwold.

CM2 "Death's Ride" (1984) by Garry Spiegle.  Illustration by Jeff Easley.

The PCs are tasked by the King of Norwold to investigate the reason behind a loss of communications with a distant mountain barony.

They learn that a gate to the Sphere of Death has been opened, releasing hordes of undead creatures, and must determine how to close it.

About the Author:

Garry Spiegle contributed a letter to "Out on a Limb" in The Dragon #3 (October, 1976).  He also designed AC3 "The Kidnapping of Princess Arelina" (1984).

Spiegle is credited with development of the Companion Set dominion system and worked on the War Machine rules* with Douglas Niles.  He passed away in 2018.

*see also "War Machine revisited" in Dragon #109 (May, 1986) in which Spiegle covered naval, scouting, and artillery rules, along with a few additional refinements

The Barony of Twolakes Vale:

The Barony of Twolakes Vale, located somewhere in the mountains of Norwold.

A 3-page dominion outline is provided, along with some refinements to the dominion system.

Spiegle suggests using the barony as a template for developing other baronies, which makes me wonder if Twolakes Vale was originally designed as a sample barony.

A specific location for the barony within Norwold is not given, leaving the DM free to situate Twolakes Vale in any appropriate location with respect to the PCs own dominions.

The grid within a single 24-mile hex invites comparison with Dave Arneson's method for designing wilderness maps

Encounter Areas:

There are seven major encounter areas for the PCs to work through:

Skullheim Castle - the baronial stronghold

Westlake Road - connects the villages of Alicor, Bol, Conna, Dubla

Korbundar's Lair - the lair of a large blue dragon

Miasma Swamp - the location of "The Destroyer that Preserves"

Highpass Tower - the northern outpost of Twolakes Vale

The Battle for Gollim

Gollim Village - the setting for a war machine scenario

Temple of the Stars - constructed by a group of hermit-clerics

Unarmed Combat:

A scenario is included which "will probably have characters attacking each other, this is a good place for unaffected characters to use the wrestling system. Encourage it."

Wrestling Rating scores are provided in the NPC stat blocks.

The Sphere of Death:

The mage Wazor the Cunning, Emissary of Atlantis,* acting in concert with an evil cleric, Ulslime the Chaosar have created a gate to the Sphere of Death

*Alphatia is referred to as "Atlantis" throughout CM2, as revealed in CM1

The Sphere of Death is described as "an area either among or beyond the outer planes.  The sphere is rumored to be the source of Death and Entropy, and at least part of it is malignantly evil."

The Spheres of Power, including the Sphere of Entropy, were further described in the Master Set (1985) rules:
The Sphere of Entropy or Death is not related to an element.  Its purpose is the ultimate destruction of the multiverse.  The four other spheres of power oppose Entropy but recognize its importance in the functioning of each of the other spheres.  Entropy is the weakening of the fabric of the multiverse, rot, weathering, and dissipation.  It seeks to bring all things to a stop, causing oblivion.  At the same time, Entropy itself cannot exist without the presence of the other powers, so it seeks first to subjugate before bringing about oblivion.  Energy seeks to destroy Matter, dissipate Energy, cause Time to stagnate, and stop new Thought.

Master DM's Book, pg 11

Controlled Undead:

Spiegle includes a section on controlled undead, which seem a precursor to the rules for Undead Lieges and Pawns as presented in the Master Set rules (Master DM's Book, pgs 22-23).

New Monsters:

Illustration by Jeff Easley

Death Leech (described as native to the Sphere of Death)

Liches and Nightshades are mentioned (pg. 3) but don't appear in the adventure.  Both are described in the Master Set rules.

New Magical Items:

Hammer of Life, Mirror of Life Saving, Potion of Super-healing (was included in the Potion table in the Companion Set rules, but description was missing)

New Weapon:

Ballista (further described in the Master Set rules)

Prerolled Characters:

The prerolled characters from CM1 are included (most are 3 levels higher).

Fergus the Justifier (F18) a wandering fighter from the Kingdom of Vestland
Geoffrey of Heldann (C18) a wandering cleric from the Heldann Freeholds
Weston the Tall (T10?) a wandering thief (a "rogue")
Quillan Elm Grower (E10; attack rank G) an elf from the Forest of Alfheim
Brogahn of the Steppes (F18) a wandering fighter from the Ethengar Khanate
Claransa the Seer (M18) a wandering magic-user (a "magus") from Specularum