Saturday, July 25, 2020

Gen Con IX: D&D Tournament

The D&D Tournament at Gen Con IX in August, 1976 was run by Bob Blake.  Both rounds were published by Judges Guild as JG #55 "Gen Con IX Dungeons" (1978) with illustrations by Sheryl England, and reprinted in 1980 with a new cover by Kevin Siembieda.

Poster for Gen Con IX (1976) from the Legends of Wargaming display at Gary Con X (2018)

The tournament was first announced in the Gen Con Update in The Strategic Review #7:
Bob Blake, Rt. 1 Box 47, Valparaiso, IN 46383, needs DMs to help run a mammoth D&D tournament, that will span all three days of the con. The end result, after three days of dungeoneering, with the same characters, will be a champion Mage, Fighter, Cleric, Elf and Dwarf. Each participant will run a predetermined character, and all participants will be judged on performance, with eliminations. Sounds really interesting to hear Bob tell it. Get the full lowdown from him if you are interested in being a DM.
Additional details were provided in the Gen Con Update in The Dragon #2, including a shortened version of the scenario to be used in the preliminary round:
 . . . The group of adventurers in question has offended the resident Wizard of the town in which they reside, having referred to him as a ‘shriveled old nit.’ He is about to end their miserable existences with a well-placed fireball, but stops short of uttering the final words of the incantation. Eyeing them speculatively, he offers them a chance to redeem themselves. He tells them a tale of a highly magical staff that once belonged to him, but was stolen a few ages ago. He now believes it is in the dungeons of a nearby ruin, and says that if they find it and bring it back to him he may just see them in a different light, so to speak. The party is ecstatic, relatively, at the opportunity to save their skins, and readily agree to the adventure, thinking that they will be able to line their own pockets as well as retrieve the old fool’s bit of magic kindling. As they neglect to ask him why he doesn’t go with them, or why he hasn’t recovered this bit of magic aforenow, he does not volunteer the information. Before sending them off, he takes the Mage aside and tells him they should begin their search off the Sixth Stairway, at the same time covertly slipping a curiously carved piece of amber into the Mage’s hand...
According to Jon Peterson "The tournament seems to have proceeded more or less as planned, although given excessive crowding, at Gygax's direction they relocated the event from the Horticultural Hall to the lawn behind the Legion Hall." (from "Playing at the World").

The preliminary round was "Baldemar Castle and the Staff of Albalon" (character levels 6-7) and the final round was "Temple of Diklah and the Helm of Valasdum" (character levels 8-10), with a tenuous link between the two scenarios.

Jon Pickens, contributor of the Alchemist class in The Dragon #2 and the Berserker subclass in The Dragon #3, was one of the tournament DMs.  His behind-the-scenes report was published in Alarums and Excursions #19 (as discussed in Peterson's "Playing at the World").

Update (Apr 11, 2021): Harold Johnson relates his experience participating in the Gen Con IX tournament in an interview on the GROGTALK podcast (episode 74, starting at about 18:00)

I've run both parts of this adventure, and posted a review on Dragonsfoot, back in 2016.  The preliminary round was fairly routine, although the final round was more challenging, and would be well suited for a session at Gary Con or some other old school con.

Update (Dec 31, 2021): I ran 2 sessions of the final round at this past year's Gary Con XIII

Names of the winning players were printed in an article by Bob Blake in The Dragon #3, in which he responded to some criticisms about how the tournament was run.  Allen Hammack was the champion mage, (and has promised to tell me all about it, some day!)

Blake's campaign world is "roughly similar to Celtic mythos" and could be used in place of Gaul, in the OD&D game world.  It would be interesting to learn more about the Valparaiso Society, Blake's gaming group, as they represent a significant early nucleus of gamers.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

A Plethora of Obscure Sub-Classes

The Dragon #3 (October, 1976) included 4 new variant subclasses (as well as 2 tongue-in-cheek subclasses), recommended as NPC rather than PC options.

The Healer:

Contributed by C. Hettlestad, being "a combination of magic-user and cleric with a dash of fighter".  Alignment is restricted to lawful or neutral.  No prime requisite is given, although minimum scores of 15 in intelligence, wisdom, and dexterity are required.

Healers cannot use armor or shields, but can employ any weapon.  Special abilities include the ability to detect slimes, molds, etc (4th level), identify potions (8th level), read scrolls (12th level), use 1st level magic-user spells (16th level), and use 2nd level magic-user spells (20th level).

Spells are a combination of magic-user and clerical spells, with some new ones (such as the 4th level "energy" which restores levels drained by undead creatures, the 5th level "cure insanity", and the 6th level "improved cure serious wounds" which cures up to 4d6+4 hp.

The Scribe:

Contributed by David Mumper.  Specialist NPC as opposed to a playable character class, able to transcribe either magic-user or clerical scrolls into spell books "of magic-users and clerics" (being a rare mention of clerical spell books).

The class was updated for 1e by Ed Greenwood, in The Dragon #62 (June, 1982).

The Samurai:

Illustration of a samurai, from The Best of The Dragon vol. 2 (1981)

Contributed by Mike Childers, as modified by Jeff Kay, a subclass of the fighter.  Alignment is typically neutral.  A samurai's dexterity must be greater than 15.

Samurai may employ katanas (Japanese long swords) and wakizashi (Japanese short swords), one in each hand.  Rules are provided for critical hits.

Additional rules cover Japanese style armor, the composite longbow, and a form of unarmed combat resembling judo.

In the article, an OD&D version of Japan almost seems to be referenced as a part of the OD&D Game World, similar to previous examples involving other real-world cultures.

"Shōgun" (1975) by James Clavell was a major best-seller at the time, generating a great deal of popular interest in Japanese history and culture.

J. Eric Holmes includes a samurai in "The Adventure of the Lost City, Part I" published in Alarums & Excursions #17 (November, 1976), and mentions the class in the Basic Rulebook (1977).

The class was updated for 1e in The Dragon #49 (May, 1981).

The Berserker:

Contributed by John Pickens, who also contributed the alchemist, published in The Dragon #2 (August, 1976).  Another sub-class of the fighter.  Alignment is neutral.  Strength and constitution must be greater than 9, while intelligence must be lower than 9.

Berserkers may not use magical armor or shields, although this is compensated for by improvement in AC by 1 point every two levels.  Special abilities include reduced chances of being surprised (level 4), and ability to detect hidden and invisible enemies (level 6).

Although not true lycanthropes, berserkers gain the ability to assume a "wereshape" at a given level, corresponding to one of the five main types of werecreatures.  "Shieldbrothers" belong to individual clans, led by a clanmaster.

At 6th level, berserkers gain a 4th level companion (any neutral fighter-type or bard), and at higher levels, gain additional followers (similar to rangers) with chances for extraordinary types, one of whom must be a bard of levels 3-6.

Rules for "berserking", including both advantages and disadvantages, are given.  For more on the cultural context, see "Origins of the Norse Pantheon" by Paul Karlsson Johnstone, published in The Dragon #29 (September, 1979).

The class was updated for 1e in The Dragon #133 (May, 1988).

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The OD&D Alchemist

Rules for an alchemist sub-class were published in The Dragon #2 (August, 1976), combining aspects of clerics, fighters, magic-users, and thieves.  Alignment is neutral.

The Alchemist, from The Dragon #2 (August, 1976)

Hit dice and attack ranks are as per clerics, and their prime requisite is wisdom, although both intelligence and wisdom scores must exceed 12.

Armor is limited to AC 5, although any one-handed weapon is usable, and saving throws are as per fighters (with +2 against poison and non-magical paralyzation).

Alchemists possess 4 special abilities (detect poison, neutralize poison, neutralize paralyzation, and identify potion) which advance with a percentile chance of success, as per thief abilities.

Starting at level 1, they can also read languages (80%) and have the ability to prepare a potion of delusion, as well as poisons and drugs.

Starting at level 3, alchemists can prepare other potions (organized into 6 levels, similar to magic-user spells), with an increasing number possible.

Many of the potions are drawn from the OD&D tables, but some interesting new ones are included, such as Tanglefoot Pills (level 1):
Small synthetic fungoid which rapidly expands to fill a 10’ X 10’ area with rubbery tentacles. Men require 3 turns to force their way through, a giant takes one. The tendrils dissipate harmlessly in one hour.
Additional abilities are gained with level advancement (ability to prepare acids at level 3, "blade venom" at level 5, read scrolls as per thieves at level 7, and potions from samples at level 9).

Some new, class-specific, magic items are described, such as the Grimoire of Archaic Alchemy and the Philosopher's Stone.

Finally, there is a section on poison,* including a description of Blade Venom:
This special poison for application to cutting weapons costs 200GP and 1 week to prepare. The victim struck must save vs. poison or die in 3 rounds. The venom is kept in vials which contain enough for three hits with a blade or three arrows.It loses potency rapidly, becoming useless 24 hours after the vial is opened.
*see also "Poisons from AA to XX" by Charles Sagui, published in The Dragon #32 (December, 1979).

The alchemist did not make it into the AD&D Players Handbook (1978), but I think represents an interesting class to play.  It was updated for 1e in The Dragon #49 (May, 1981).

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

OD&D: Random Monsters

The Dragon #10 (October, 1977) contained an article on "Random Monsters" by Paul Montgomery Crabaugh.  The rationale was to permit the DM to "occasionally throw a monster at the party that keeps them on their toes".

Illustration by Morno, from The Dragon #5 (March, 1977).

The tables are "geared for a 20-level dungeon".  In other words, the level the monster is encountered upon in actual play has some bearing on the characteristics determined.  Since I was just experimenting with the tables, I rolled 1d20.

There are three types of monsters which may be created.  This can be randomly determined, using 1d8 (1-4 = mammal, 5-7 = reptile, 8 = undead) or simply chosen.  To get a sense of the tables, I decided to create one of each type.


Level of the Dungeon: 1d20 = 19

Intelligence: 1d6 = 2 (highly intelligent)
Alignment: 1d8 = 8 (Chaos)

Armor Class (Mammals): 1d12 = 8 (AC 6)

Hit Dice: 1d12 = 9 (level of the dungeon) = HD 19
Hit Dice Modifiers: 1d6 = 6 (-1)

Damage: 1d6 = 4 (3-30)
(by weapon type)

Speed: 1d12 = 4 (90' per turn)

Special Characteristics: d% = 92 (none)

Other Characteristics: d% = 99 (three)
1d8 = 3 (4 eyes)
1d8 = 5 (unusually long fangs)
1d8 = 6 (unusually long claws)

Physical Description:
Size: 1d12 = 4 (medium = 3-12 feet)
Limbs: 1d8 = 8 (4 legs); 1d8 = 5 (2 tentacles)
Exterior Cover: 1d8 = 5 (skin)
Coloring: 1d20 = 2 (gray)

So, we have a highly intelligent, 4 legged, gray-skinned mammal with 2 tentacles for arms, 4 eyes, unusually long fangs, and unusually long claws.  That would freak out my players, for sure.

Monsters can possess up to 3 special characteristics, by type.  Examples for mammals include regenerates 1-10 hit points/turn, only silver/magic weapons effective, or has antimagic shell.


Level of the Dungeon: 1d20 = 20

Intelligence: 1d6 = 3 (highly intelligent)
Alignment: 1d8 = 4 (Chaos)

Armor Class (Reptiles): 1d12 = 2 (AC 3)

Hit Dice: 1d12 =  (level of the dungeon +1) = HD 21
Hit Dice Modifiers: 1d6 = 4 (0)

Damage: 1d6 = 5 (5-50)
(by weapon type)

Speed: 1d12 = 3 (60' per turn)

Special Characteristics: d% = 68 (none)

Other Characteristics: d% = 49 (none)

Physical Description:
Size: 1d12 = 4 (medium = 3-12 feet)
Limbs: 1d8 = 7 (3 legs); 1d8 = 7 (2 tentacles)
Exterior Cover: 1d8 = 3 (scales)
Coloring: 1d20 = 8 (gray)

So, this is a highly intelligent, 3-legged, gray-scaled reptile with 2 tentacles for arms (AC 3, HD 21) which attacks with some kind of weapon for 5-50 points of damage...

Special characteristics for reptiles include breathes fire (1-8 points of damage/four levels), legless, speed +3, or bite causes disease, fatal in 1-10 days.


Level of the Dungeon: 1d20 = 17

Intelligence: 1d6 = 4 (semi-intelligent)
Alignment: Undead "are always Chaotic"

Armor Class (Undead): 1d8 + 1 = 2 (AC 2)

Hit Dice: 1d12 = 3 (level of the dungeon +2) = 17 + 2 = HD 19*
Hit Dice Modifiers: 1d6 = 5 (0)
*Undead are Turned as per level HD/2 = 9.5

Damage: 1d6 = 3 (2-24)
d% = 95 (bite)

Speed: 1d12 = 12 (150' per turn)

Special Characteristics: d% = 41 (3 special characteristics):
1-24 = 7 (destroyed by running water)
1-24 = 14 (if human killed by undead, becomes undead)
1-24 = 24 (invisible)

Other Characteristics: d% = 70 (no more characteristics)

Physical Description: "Undead do not have a physical description (assume a figure under a cloak)"

So, we have an invisible, undead creature (AC 2, HD 19) which attacks with its bite for 2-24 points of damage.  That's pretty horrifying, actually.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Creature Feature: Contests

The Dragon ran two "Creature Feature" contests.  In the first, a monster had to be named and described, based on an illustration.  In the second, a monster was to be illustrated, based on an excerpt from a story by Fritz Leiber.

The Dragon #8 (July, 1977): Name that Monster!

Illustration by Erol Otus

I would have called this creature something like a "Dust Devil".  It appears to be able to hurl boulders, like a giant, and wield its tail, like a mace, in battle.

The Dragon received almost 100 entries.  The winner and runners up were announced in The Dragon #13 (April, 1978):
Winner: Conrad Froehlich "The Jarnkung"
1st Runners Up: Thomas and Edward McCloud "Cursed Crimson Crawler"
2nd Runner Up: Ann Conlon "The Ulik"
The complete write-ups, together with honorable mentions, were published in The Dragon #14 (May, 1978).

Creature Feature Contest #2 "Paint that Monster"

The second contest involved either drawing or painting a creature described in an excerpt from Fritz Leiber's "The Bleak Shore"

The winners were published a year later, in The Dragon #24 (April, 1979):

Illustration by Robert Charrette

The two creatures which emerged in the gathering dusk held enormity even for the Mouser’s drugged mind.  Shambling things, erect like men but taller, with reptilian heads boned and crested like helmets, feet clawed like a lizard’s, shoulders topped with bony spikes, fore-limbs each terminating in a single yard-long claw.  In the semidarkness they seemed like hideous caricatures of fighting men, armored and bearing swords.  Dusk did not hide the yellow of their blinking eyes...
Fritz Leiber "The Bleak Shore" (1940)

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Dragon: Creature Features

The "Creature Feature" column in the Strategic Review continued in The Dragon, with full color illustrations for many of the creatures.

The Dragon #1 (June, 1976): The Bulette (a.k.a. Landshark)

The bulette was created by Tim Kask.  Like the owl bear and the rust monster, it was modeled after one of the plastic toy "prehistoric animals" manufactured in Hong Kong.

The name was derived from the creature's appearance - that of a "bullet".  It is described to have been cross-bred from armadillo and snapping turtle stock.

The classic illustration by David Sutherland was subsequently used as the frontispiece for the AD&D Monster Manual (1977).

The Dragon #2 (August, 1976): The Remorhaz

The Remorhaz, illustration by Erol Otus.

The remorhaz was created by Rob Kuntz, likely after Remora, a creature from "The Lair of the Ice Worm", by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, published in "Conan of Cimmeria" (1969).

The illustration by Erol Otus was his first published colour piece, according to an interview in 2009, here.  The remorhaz makes an appearance in module G2: The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl.

The Dragon #5 (March, 1977): The Anhkheg

The Anhkheg, illustration by Erol Otus.

The anhkheg, a fearsome burrower, was created by Erol Otus, according to an interview in 2009, here.  It appears to have been modeled somewhat after a form of giant beetle.

The Dragon #6 (April, 1977): Death Angel

The death angel was created by John Sullivan.  Unlike previous "creature features", it was not included in the 1e Monster Manual, probably because the book had already gone to press.

A highly imaginative creature, the death angel shares characteristics with other undead.  This is a great OD&D monster to use, as it is fairly obscure.

John Sullivan also illustrated the covers of The Dragon #10 and #17.

The Dragon #7 (June, 1977): The Prowler

The Prowler, illustration by Erol Otus.

A truly horrifying creature, created and illustrated by Erol Otus.  It was later used in the AD&D adventure "The Pit of The Oracle" by Stephen Sullivan, in The Dragon #37 (May, 1980).

The prowler is another creature which didn't make it into the 1e Monster Manual, and so is a great option to release on unwitting player characters.

There were no further "Creature Features" published in The Dragon.  The 1e Monster Manual was advertised in The Dragon #11 (December, 1977), reviewed in The Dragon #12 (February, 1978), followed by 1-page advertisements in The Dragon #13 (April, 1978) and #14 (May, 1978).

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Gnome Cache: People and Places

Below I have listed the various characters and places mentioned in The Gnome Cache by Gary Gygax.  A richly detailed setting, precursor to and distinct from the World of Greyhawk.


Aloward - a blond, burly man.  Cousin to Theobald.

Baldwin - a Thallite mercenary, in the employ of Evan the Trader.

Bertram - a lank fellow, with a slight cast to his eyes.  Member of Theobald's gang.

Dolph - liveryman in the village of Deepwell.

Dunstan of the House of Derodus

Dunstan - son of Rodigast, a merchant of Endstad.  His father purchased him a Captaincy of the Watch, although Dunstan chooses to pursue a life of glory and adventure, instead.

Eddoric IV - Overking of Thalland.

Evan - a trader, dealing in the rich furs of Nehron.

Grund - Mellerd the stableboy's master.

Hob - a member of Theobald's gang.

Kenelm of Edgewood - alias used by Duncan, when speaking to Warders of the Overking.

Krell - proprietor of the Inn of the Riven Oak.

Meggin - serving maid at the Inn of the Riven Oak.

Mellerd - stableboy from Huddlefoot, apprenticed to Master Grund.

Rodigast - merchant of Endstad, of the House of Derodus, father of Dunstan.

Rufus - a Thallite mercenary captain in the employ of Evan the Trader.

Taddy - brother of Mellerd.

Teric - a Thallite baron, holds the castlewick at Edgewood on Wild Road.

Theobald - red-haired leader of a gang of brigands.

Vardobothet - a black-haired, Kimbri mercenary.

Wot - a member of Theobald's gang.


Aarn (or Arnn) River - marks the northern boundary of Thalland.

Blackmoor - a border keep, beyond the Aarn River.  The settlement and surrounding farms are inhabited by Nehron peasants.  Bordered by a trackless forest, to the west.

Deepwell - a village beyond the Upplands of Nyrn.

Edgewood - a Thallite town.

Endstad - a walled town, on the Nallid River.  Home to the merchant Rodigast and his son, Dunstan.

Far Pass - outpost bordering the arid steppes, beyond the Silent Forest, west of Thalland.

Hills of Dyrn -  region in Thalland.

Huddlefoot - hamlet at the base of the Upplands of Nyrn, on a secondary lane connecting Forgel Road at Dyrham to the Wild Road just above the town of Edgewood.  Boasts a large inn, stable, blacksmith, and several other businesses in addition to the usual sprinkling of yeoman's cottages.

Humpbridge - a free city, bending southwest to south of the Senescent Hills.

Inn of the Riven Oak - an inn, frequented by Theobald's gang.

Kimbry - a northern land, west of Nehron.  Bordered by mountains beyond the Kimbry Vale.

Lake Dyrn - a lake among the Hills of Dyrn, rumored to harbor great, slimy beasts.

Monley Isles - isles to the east of the Great Kingdom of Thalland.

Nallid River - river looping west and north of the town of Endstad.

Nehron - a northern, forested land, also extending east of Blackmoor to the sea.  The banner of the united bands of Nehron is green with a white wolf's head.

Oerth - planet similar to our own, diverging from our timeline some 2,500 years ago.  Asia is a trifle smaller, while Europe and North America are a trifle larger.  Distinct from the Oerth of the World of Greyhawk.

Rauxes - capital city of the Overking of Thalland.

Rheyton - a northern, walled town, on the Aarn River.  Comparable in size to Endstad.

Senescent Hills - wilderness region beyond the trackless forest, west of Blackmoor.

Shrine of Saint Cuthburt of the Cudgel - wilderness shrine to Saint Cuthburt, three leagues east of Endstad, where the Wild Road meets the King's Way.

Thalland - the Great Kingdom.  Bordered by forbidding deserts to the south, vast stretches of the Silent Forest to the west, and the Arnn River to the north.  The noble houses are divided into two great divisions, with flower or insect as devices. 

Upplands of Nyrn - cursed hills beyond Crosshill Street, north of Huddlefoot.  Rumored to be inhabited by gnolls.

Weal - a rude, trading hamlet in Nehron.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Gnome Cache

"The Gnome Cache" is a fantasy novel written by Gary Gygax (under the pseudonym "Garrison Ernst") sometime prior to 1973.  It was serialized in early issues of "The Dragon" (#1-3, 5-7), although never printed in its entirety.

The prelude, published with Chapter One in The Dragon #1 (June, 1976) contains a fascinating glimpse into the OD&D game world:
In the infinity of cosmic probabilities there stretches an endless succession of earths, this one being but one of the possible realities.  Those in close proximity to our world are but little different from it, but countless alternatives to history exist, and as these co-worlds become more removed from this plane of reality so their resemblance becomes removed.  There are, then, worlds which are gloriously superior to ours, some which are horribly worse, but most are merely different in some way.  Far from our probability line is a world called by its inhabitants Oerth.  It is very similar to this earth in many ways, but it is also quite different...

If the learned men of Oerth were able to tell you its geography they would say that in relation to our planet they are quite alike.  Asia is a trifle smaller, Europe and North America a trifle larger — but the scientists (or rather philosophers) of Oerth are not able to explain this for two reasons: They neither know of the alternate worlds in Oerth’s probability line nor do they have any sure knowledge of Oerth’s geography outside their immediate areas.  Likewise, Oerth has races similar in many respects to ours, and their migrations and distribution somewhat resemble those of our world, but their histories differ sharply from ours departing from our probability line some 2,500 years ago.  Then the changes were but small, but over the intervening centuries the difference has grown so that there is now no resemblance between Oerth and Earth when the contemporary models are compared.

Oerth is backward in terms of our planet.  It is a dreaming world.  Socially, culturally, technologically it is behind us.  When the probability line split there were other changes than those of an historical nature, and scientific laws differ also.  What is fact on Earth may be fancy on Oerth and vice versa.  So a strange blend of Medieval cultures exist in the known lands of Oerth, and what lies in the terra incognita of Africa or across the Western Ocean is the subject of much myth and supposition only.  Ships which ply the waters venture not into such areas, and few are the souls hardy enough to dare expeditions east or south, for things as they are seem quite satisfactory as centuries of tradition prove.
The Gnome Cache, The Dragon #1, June, 1976

I find the comment about a divergence of timelines "some 2,500 years ago" intriguing, as Oerth's history prior to that would be similar to our own ancient past (differing from the planet Oerth of AD&D's World of Greyhawk setting).


We are introduced to Dunstan, truculent son of the merchant Rodigast of Endstad, who plunders his father's strongbox in order to finance a quest for fame and glory (an interesting take on the 3d6x10 starting gold).

Dunstan strikes eastwards for Rauxes, capital city of the Overking of Thalland (the Great Kingdom).  Stopping to rest at a roadside shrine to Saint Cuthburt of the Cudgel, he falls in with a band of unscrupulous ruffians.

Before there was time to reply a buxom wench began plopping tankards of foaming ale before them

Coming to the Inn of the Riven Oak, Dunstan and his newfound companions eat and drink their fill.  The following morning, a brawl ensues.  Dunstan makes his getaway, but is intercepted by two soldiers searching for a runaway, matching his description.

A quick look around revealed no sign of human habitation, so he remounted and urged the tired horse up a large, steep hill.

Providing a false name, Dunstan states that he was accosted by ruffians, and leads the soldiers back to the Inn, stealing one of their horses amid the confusion.  Recognizing that he will be apprehended if he continues to the capital, he considers his options:
Well, thought he, if the capital of the kingdom is forbidden to me, there is no choice but to seek my fortune as far away from the court of the Overking as practical. How far was practical? South were forbidding deserts — beyond them who knew? There were the Monley Isles eastward, but they were in too close proximity to Endstad. To the west were the vast stretches of the Silent Forest, farther still the outpost of Far Pass, and then only arid steppes. Where else, then, could he journey save to the north? The realm of Eddoric IV reached far in this direction, but the borders were constantly in turmoil as the people of that region were fiercely independent, resisting any attempt to push the Overking’s sovereignty beyond the Arnn River. Service in one of these marches could be obtained with ease, and promotion would be rapid for the opportunities of battle were common.
The Gnome Cache, The Dragon #3, October, 1976

These locations appear to reference the map of the Great Kingdom.  Coming to the hamlet of Huddlefoot, Dunstan stables his horse and sleeps in its stall.  The following morning, he convinces the stableboy, Mellerd, to accompany him as a guide to the north.

Should he run the little bastard through?  Dunstan wondered.  It wouldn't do to have him telling tales all over the countryside...

Mellard eventually determines that Dunstan is a renegade, but chooses to throw in his lot with him, anyway.  Crossing the Upplands of Nyrn, they arrive at the village of Deepwell, where Dunstan trades his stolen horse for a roan stallion, also purchasing armor and equipment.

Joining the retinue of Evan the Trader, a dealer in the rich furs of Nehron-Land, they cross the Aarn river and reach Rheyton-Town, a week later.  Before continuing on, the caravan is joined by a number of mercenaries, led by a Thallite captain.

Heading northward, we come to a familiar location:
The land was sparsely settled, but much to Evan’s relief they reached the border keep of Blackmoor unmolested by robbers.  The trader railed at the tallage levied upon his caravan by the marcher lord, but there was no help for it.  Dunstan suspected he was secretly so pleased at the ease with which the passage was made that he would have paid twice the duty.  As they departed from the village of Blackmoor, the grim walls of the guardian castle frowned down upon their left, a reminder that the land was held by force of arms. The soldiers Dunstan saw were as grim as their fortress, and the young man mused that the peace here was due mainly to strong warriors.  From the looks cast at them by the Nehron peasants who inhabited the settlement and the surrounding farms, this border noble bore down heavily upon his unwilling subjects.  A twist in the lane soon removed the castle from sight, and the whole matter passed from consideration.
The Gnome Cache, The Dragon #6, April, 1977

Concerned about pursuit, Dunstan ponders his next move:
By avoiding the border fortress he could head westwards towards Kimbry.  If by some chance the Overking’s Warders ever managed to track him as far as Weal, they would lose the scent there, for beyond that place Nehron became a wilderness of forest and hills.  Warders would never venture to search for him among the hostile barbarians dwelling there, of this he was certain.
The Gnome Cache, The Dragon #6, April, 1977

The caravan is halted by a roadblock.  A large tree has been felled "so as to completely bar the road where it passed between two very steep hills."  It's an ambush, and Dunstan and Mellard are lucky to escape with their lives.

Their passage south is blocked by roving bands of Nehronlanders, who have just raided Blackmoor, and so the pair travel west.  Passing through a trackless forest, bordering on the Senescent Hills, they come to a valley through which a dark river flows.

Suddenly, they hear a cry.  Coming to a hilltop, Dunstan and Mellard are astonished to see a dwarf being pursued by a pack of giant toads and weirdly hopping men.  At this point, the story ends.  No further installments were ever published.


I thoroughly enjoyed "The Gnome Cache".  It's earnest style evokes a bygone era of pulp adventure, and the antiquated speech of its characters weaves an atmosphere very different and compelling from the vanilla fantasy so popular today.

Dunstan is a complex protagonist.  He steals, is motivated by selfishness and pride, but desires accolades and respect.  He can be naive and impulsive, but appears to be a warrior of some skill, and respects a rough code of honor.

The world that Gygax envisioned for this adventure is clearly that of the OD&D game, and the geographical details and characters could be used in an OD&D campaign.  I particularly enjoyed reading about Blackmoor and its environs.

The story ends on a cliffhanger.  It's a shame the serialization was never continued, but it was recently revealed that the complete manuscript has been located.  I would love to see this published, along with maps and illustrations.

The "giant toads and weirdly leaping men" at the end of the last installment could have been followers of Wastri, a toadlike demigod discussed further in "The Incomplete Villain" an article by Gygax published in Dragon #300 (Oct, 2002).