Saturday, August 29, 2020

Gen Con X: D&D Tournament

The D&D Tournament at Gen Con X in August, 1977 was organized by Bob Blake.  All three rounds were published by Judges Guild as JG #80 "Of Skulls and Scrapfaggot Green" (1979) with illustrations by Sheryl England, and reprinted in 1980 with a new cover by Kevin Siembieda.

Flyer for Gen Con X (1977)

Gen Con X was a watershed event.  It was held at the Playboy Resort in Lake Geneva, now the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, the present venue for Gary Con.  Special guests included Fritz Leiber, Harry Fischer, and Gardner Fox (the Guest of Honor), as per Tim Kask's editorial in The Dragon #8.  A con report was published in The Dragon #10.

According to the program:*

The convention's biggest tourney begins on Friday morning when the 180-player Dungeons & Dragons tournament starts at Horticultural Hall.  This is the first of three days of playdowns under the aegis of Bob Blake and a host of Dungeon Masters.  As the tournament progresses and the field narrows, the contending teams will venture through a town adventure, a dungeon adventure, and a wilderness outing, with one team emerging as victors on Sunday.

*for a look at some pictures of the program, check out Zenopus Archives.

The first round was scheduled to begin at 10 am on Friday, August 19, at Horticultural Hall in downtown Lake Geneva.  Approximate running time was 8 hours, and players on the winning teams each received $10.00 gift certificates.  Rounds two and three were also scheduled to begin at 10 am at Horticultural Hall, on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Part One involves a search for a key, hidden somewhere in the town of "Scrapfaggot Green" (character levels 4), Part Two involves a dungeon delve beneath "Akbeth's Tower" (character levels 6), and Part Three involves an expedition into "The Forbidden Lands" (character levels 8).  I've run all three parts of this adventure, and posted a review on Dragonsfoot, back in 2015.

Back cover to JG #80 "Of Skulls and Scrapfaggot Green" (2nd printing), depicting the ruins of Akbeth's Tower.

I subsequently ran Part One "The Key to Akbeth's Tower" at Gary Con XI in 2019, (which included a knife fight in the bazaar) and was all set to run Part Two "The Skull of Vruna" at Gary Con XII, this past March, before it was canceled, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  I plan to reschedule Part Two, if Gary Con is held next year, followed by Part Three the following year.

I'm not sure whether this scenario was drawn from Bob Blake's home campaign, which was apparently inspired by Celtic mythos.  There doesn't seem to be much that connects the Gen Con IX and Gen Con X dungeons.  Although it works well as a standalone, I've considered substituting "The Forbidden Lands" in place of the Iberian peninsula, in the OD&D game world.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Astral Plane

There is mentioned in certain books and scrolls of arcane lore a philosopher from the East named Fu Hsi. Fu Hsi’s lifework was devoted to understanding and traveling through the Astral Plane. Two famous treatises on the Astral Plane & Astral Travel credit Fu Hsi with the rediscovery of, as well as extensive mapping of, the Astral Plane.
from a campaign scenario by Tim Kask

Concepts regarding the astral plane date back to antiquity, although Gary Gygax and Tim Kask were primarily influenced by Dr. Strange.

Depiction of the astral plane in the Marvel Universe, from a panel in The Avengers #240 (February, 1984).  Pencils by Al Milgrom, inks by Joe Sinnott, colors by Christie Scheele, letters by Jim Novak.

Astral projection in OD&D was first described in the Greyhawk supplement.*  The 9th level magic-user astral spell "allows the user to send his astral form, undetectable to all but others on the astral plane, from his body to other places."

*as discussed in this post on DM David's blog

The concept of astral travel was further developed in Eldritch Wizardry, in the description for the psionic ability "Astral Projection":

Dangers are basically twofold: First, it is possible to meet some creature which can operate in the astral plane (demons do so, medusae and basilisks gaze into it, etc.). Secondly, the astral body is attached to the physical body by a silver cord.* If this cord is broken, then the body and the astral body are dead.

*the silver cord is a metaphysical concept, with biblical origins.

Eldritch Wizardry also makes reference to the hazards of the psychic wind:

There is a basic 10% chance that a psychic wind will be blowing within 100 miles of the physical body. There is a 50% chance that a psychic wind will be blowing beyond this distance. There is a 90% chance that there will be such a wind in space.

Blowing away snaps the silver thread. Losing 1–10 days occurs when the attempt fails, and the astral body is slingshotted in, instead of out. 1–100 days will be lost through this mind wrenching disorientation.

In his article "Planes: The Concepts of Spatial, Temporal, and Physical Relationships in D&D" from The Dragon #8, Gygax states that the Astral Plane is the means of transportation from the Prime Material Plane to the Outer Planes:

1) The traveler must be in the Prime Material in order to travel into the Astral. The Astral can not be reached from the Elemental, Positive or Negative Planes.

2) The Astral will take a traveler to the first level of the Outer Planes. There are seven levels in Heaven and nine in Hell. The Astral can only bring you to the first level of these Planes. A physical form of travel must be used to proceed to the other levels. Travel to the Astral “Plane” can be done with a wish or the Astral Spell

Roger Moore further described the astral plane in an article in Dragon #67, triggering an influx of mail, which resulted in a column in Sage Advice devoted to the subject, in Dragon #71.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

OD&D Cosmology: The Outer Planes

Gary Gygax explored concepts regarding the outer planes in tandem with expansion of the alignment grid, in his article "The Meaning of Law and Chaos in Dungeons & Dragons and Their Relationships to Good and Evil" from The Strategic Review #6.

These ideas were further developed in his article "Planes: The Concepts of Spatial, Temporal, and Physical Relationships in D&D" published in The Dragon #8 (July, 1977), in which the number of outer planes was expanded from 8 to 16, as depicted in this diagram.

Early Concepts:

The 5th level magic-user spell contact higher plane "allows the magical-type to seek advice and gain knowledge from creatures inhabiting higher planes of existence" from as low as the 3rd to as high as the 12th "plane of existence".

The 2nd presumably represents the astral plane, while a story by L. Sprague de Camp might have suggested the upper limit of a 12th plane, as discussed over at Delta's D&D Hotspot in this post back in 2014.

The 5th level cleric spell commune "puts the Cleric in touch with the powers “above” and asks for help in the form of answers to three questions."  wherein the cleric communicates directly with his or her own deity/pantheon.

The Greyhawk supplement introduced the 9th level magic-user gate spell, which "opens a cosmic portal and allows an ultra-powerful being (such as Odin, Crom, Set, Cthulhu, the Shining One,* a demi-god, or whatever) to come to this plane."

*from A. Merritt's "The Moon Pool"

The Outer Planes:

In The Dragon #8, Gygax stated that "The Outer Planes are a collection of the religious and/or philosophical goals (or anti-goals) of mankind and “the other intellectual species”. 

Five-pronged alignment grid in relation to the higher planes of existence, from The Strategic Review #6 (February 1976).  Eight additional outer planes (Happy Hunting Grounds, Olympus, Gladsheim, Pandemonium, Tarterus, Gehenna, Acheron, Arcadia) were added in The Dragon #8 (July 1977). 

In his article from The Strategic Review #6, Gygax stated:

The player-character who continually follows any alignment (save neutrality) to the absolute letter of its definition must eventually move off the chart (Illustration I) and into another plane of existence as indicated.


In The Dragon #8, travel between the outer planes was described:

The Astral Plane can be used to travel from plane to plane, ie. from Heaven to Elysium. A traveler could also move into an adjacent Plane, ie. Heaven to the Happy Hunting Grounds, just by walking. Travel, by walking, could or should be limited to only one Plane to either side of the Plane that the traveler started in. For example, a traveler Astral Planed into Nirvana, so by walking he could travel to Arcadia or to Acheron.


The name of this outer plane was changed from "Heaven" to "the Seven Heavens" in The Dragon #8.

A concept with its origins in Near-Eastern/Mesopotamian (Sumerian, Babylonian, Canaanite) religions, also reflected in Judeo-Christian and Hindu writings.


The afterlife of the Great Plains tribes of the American Indians, added in The Dragon #8.

The Happy Hunting Grounds were later shifted to the right, from in between lawful good/neutral good to between neutral good/chaotic good, in the AD&D 1e Players Handbook.


The name of this outer plane was changed from "Paradise" to "the Twin Paradises" in The Dragon #8.  There are two types of paradise in Judaism.

The Twin Paradises were later shifted to the left, from the neutral good position to between lawful good/neutral good, in the AD&D 1e Players Handbook.

13) Lt. Blue, OLYMPUS

Home of the Olympian gods, added in The Dragon #8.

Olympus was later shifted to the right, from in between neutral good/chaotic good to the chaotic good position, in the AD&D 1e Players Handbook.

14) Blue, ELYSIUM

Elysium was later shifted to the left, from the chaotic good position to the neutral good position, in the AD&D 1e Players Handbook.

*10-14 are the "higher" planes, but Gygax avoided use of Judeo-Christian angelic beings, turning instead to the devas of Hinduism (in Dragon #63), and the planetars and solars of Theosophy (in Dragon #64).

15) Blue/Grey, GLADSHEIM

The realm of AsgardValhalla, and Vanaheim, added in The Dragon #8.

From Deities & Demigods:

Most of the Aesir live in an area of the plane of Gladsheim known as Asgard, which is connected to the Prime Material Plane by Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge. (Bifrost is kept well hidden, and few mortals have ever pierced the veil of illusion which hides it.) Asgard includes Odin's court of Valhalla, the various holds of the gods, and large expanses of wilderness and sea. It is adjacent to the blighted land of Jotunheim, the giants' home, an anomalous blot of evil upon the plane of Gladsheim.

16) Grey, LIMBO

Not the limbo from Catholic theology, but rather "the plane of ultimate Chaos (entropy)" 

From The Strategic Review #6:

Considering mythical and mythos gods in light of this system, most of the benign ones will tend towards the chaotic/good, and chaotic/evil will typify those gods which were inimical towards humanity. Some few would be completely chaotic, having no predisposition towards either good or evil — REH’s Crom perhaps falls into this category.


Perhaps inspired by the capital of Hell in Milton's "Paradise Lost", added in The Dragon #8.

18) Red, The 666 LAYERS OF THE ABYSS

From wikipedia "the abyss was often seen as a prison for demons."

19) Lt. Red, TARTERUS

Bearing similarities to the abyss, from Greek mythology, added in The Dragon #8

20) Red, HADES

The underworld, from Greek mythology.

21) Lt. Red, GEHENNA

Bearing similarities to Hades, a biblical reference, added in The Dragon #8.


Inspired by the nine circles of Hell in Dante's Inferno as mentioned in this post from the Q&A thread on EN World.

See also "The Politics of Hell" by Alexander von Thorn, published in The Dragon #28 (August, 1979).

*18-22 are the "lower" planes

23) Red/Grey, ACHERON

A river in Hades, added in The Dragon #8.

(Also an ancient kingdom in the Hyborian age).

24) Grey, NIRVANA

Not a state of mind, but rather "the plane of ultimate Law".

25) Blue/Grey, ARCADIA

The home of the god Pan in Greek mythology, added in The Dragon #8.

The Birth of AD&D:

Gygax wrote:

As of this writing I foresee a number of important things arising from the adoption of this system. First, it will cause a careful rethinking of much of the justification for the happenings in the majority of D&D campaigns. Second, it will vastly expand the potential of all campaigns which adopt the system — although it will mean tremendous additional work for these DMs. Different planes will certainly have different laws and different inhabitants (although some of these beings will be familiar). Whole worlds are awaiting creation, complete invention, that is. Magical/technological/whatever items need be devised. And ways to move to these planes must be provided for discovery by players. Third, and worst from this writer’s point of view, it will mean that I must revise the whole of D&D to conform to this new notion. Under the circumstances, I think it best to do nothing more than offer the idea for your careful consideration and thorough experimentation. This writer has used only parts of the system in a limited fashion. It should be tried and tested before adoption.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Notes on the Ethereal Plane

A depiction of the ethereal plane, from the AD&D 1e Manual of the Planes (1987).  Illustration by Stephen Fabian.

From Xylarthren's "Treatise on the Planes"

On Etherealness:

When anointed with oil of etherealness, the recipient seems to disappear, but does not become invisible in the traditional sense.  Rather, one's physical body and anything worn or carried are transformed into an ethereal state.

The first thing noticed is a floating sensation.  One is surrounded by a thick, grey haze, through which the prime material plane can dimly be perceived.  A vast silence reigns, and sounds originating from the prime are barely heard.

While similar to a terrestrial fog, the ether is neither hot nor cold, wet nor dry.  Breathing and speaking are both possible, and sounds carry long distances.  While objects on the prime can be perceived, they cannot be grasped.
Anything composed of ether appears grey.  This includes the traveler's body and possessions, and also explains why ghosts appear grey.  One's ethereal form does not hunger or thirst, and even minor aches and pains disappear.
Since the ground of the prime material plane cannot be touched, movement on the ethereal plane can only be accomplished through concentration, as with a fly spell, although travelers might be subject to the psychic wind.
Telepathic communication remains possible between sentient creatures on the prime material plane and those on the ethereal plane using ESP, although solid rock up to about 2' in thickness or a thin coating of lead will still prevent its penetration.

On Ghosts:

Ghosts can be mistaken for other travelers on the ethereal plane, although having once been mortal, their ethereal form is visible to those on the prime as a grey, floating apparition.  In this state, a ghost can pass through walls. 

Upon assuming a transitional, partly corporeal form, ghosts are subject to gravity and cannot pass through physical objects, but are able to physically attack those on the prime material plane.  In this form, they are vulnerable to magic weapons.

On Phase Spiders:

Phase spiders are native to the prime material plane, although have developed the ability to become ethereal.  They possess a special gland which produces the primary ingredient necessary to create oil of etherealness.

On Medusae, etc.

Medusae and other creatures with petrification ability are bound to the prime material plane, but can perceive individuals on the astral and ethereal planes.*  Statues of their victims are sometimes encountered, floating in the ether.

*note - I once read a story in a Weird Tales anthology by H.G. Wells called "The Stolen Body" (originally published in November, 1925) in which the ability to see into another plane of existence was attributed to the "pineal eye"

On Thought Eaters:

Thought eaters are unintelligent creatures native to the ethereal plane, although can perceive and feed on mental energy on the prime.  They appear as sickly grey, skeletal, platypus-like creatures with enormous heads and webbed feet.

On Demons:

The greatest threat to a traveler on the ethereal plane is the possibility of encountering a demon.  These extraplanar creatures can sometimes perceive when a traveler from the prime has crossed into the ether, and seek to locate them.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

OD&D Cosmology: The Inner Planes of Existence

OD&D cosmology evolved in a step-wise fashion, something which Gary Gygax attempted to summarize and expand upon in his article "Planes: The Concepts of Spatial, Temporal, and Physical Relationships in D&D" published in The Dragon #8 (July, 1977).

OD&D cosmology depicted as "a 2-dimensional diagram of a 4-dimensional concept" from The Dragon #8 (July, 1977).


The Prime Material Plane is defined as "The planet Earth and everything on it, all of the solar systems and the whole universe are of the Prime Material."

The only previous reference to the Prime Material Plane in OD&D was as "the physical plane" in Eldritch Wizardry.

The Ethereal Plane "co-exists in exactly the same space as the Prime Material Plane."

The concept of etherealness, or going "out of phase" was introduced in the Greyhawk supplement (March, 1975) with the 7th level magic-user spell "phase door", the monster description for the phase spider, and three new magic items:

Phase Door: A spell which causes an invisible door to open for the caster. This door is exactly similar to a Passwall except that it is invisible and only the magic-user who cast the spell can use the door. 

Phase Spiders: When attacking or being attacked, the Phase Spider is able to shift out of phase with its surroundings, bringing itself back only when it is ready to deliver its poisonous bite. When out of phase they are impervious to nearly all forms of attack, although a Phase Door spell will cause one to remain in phase for 7 melee rounds. Oil of Etherealness and Armor of Etherealness also put their wearers into the same phase as this monster when it shifts out of phase. 

Armor of Etherealness: The most magical of all forms of armor, this suit of plate allows the wearer to take either of two options: 1) he can wear it as normal +3 armor; or 2) he can decide to become ethereal. In the latter case he can move through solid objects and is subject to attack only by those creatures which are able to also become out of phase and spells such as Phase Door will negate the etherealness of the armor. Attacks while ethereal are not possible. 

Oil of Etherealness: When anointed with this substance the user is able to go through solid substances at will as if he wore Armor of Etherealness. Note that when so anointed the user is not able to handle normal objects as his hands simply pass through them. 

Dust of Appearance: When thrown into the air it will cause any invisible or displaced or out of phase or astrally projected figure to become totally and completely visible for 12 turns.

Becoming ethereal in terms of the Greyhawk supplement therefore seems to indicate a change in physical state, rather than existence on another plane.

The Strategic Review #3 (Autumn, 1975) introduced two new creatures with ethereal aspects, the ghost and the wind walker:

Ghosts were described as being non-corporeal "they can only be attacked by things in a like state (such ethereal creatures) or through telepathic means."  Their touch "causes aging of from 10 to 40 years, but in order to do this they must assume a semi-corporeal form, and when they do so they may be attacked by magic weapons (but not spells) as if they were Armor Class 0."

Likewise, the entry on wind walkers states "Being ethereal, Wind Walkers can be fought only by such creatures as Djinn, Efreet, Invisible Stalkers, or Aerial Servants..."  In OD&D volume 2, Djinn are described as "aerial creatures" and Efreet "are similar to the Djinn, but their basis is in fire".  As with ghosts, wind walkers are "subject to attack by telepathy."

Eldritch Wizardry (May, 1976) makes the first mention of the astral and ethereal planes, with wandering monster tables for both astral and ethereal encounters, depending on whether checking in the underworld, the outdoors, or in space (astral only).

For the psionic ability "Etherealness":

Ethereal individuals are affected by the psychic wind (detailed under astral projection) as follows: There is a 1% chance that this wind will blow, and this must be checked each turn the individual is in ethereal form. If it does blow, the ethereal individual will not be killed, but the chance for him becoming lost is double, but at that point there is no longer any expenditure of psionic strength points to remain ethereal, for the individual is lost on the plane and will remain so for the amount of time decided by the dice roll.

In terms of astral or ethereal encounters:

Creatures with petrification ability (cockatrices, basilisks, medusae, gorgons, catoblepas) exist simultaneously on the astral, ethereal, and physical planes.  Petrification slays on the astral plane, and turns victims into "ethereal stone" on the ethereal plane, (invisible to those on the prime material plane).

Invisible stalkers can travel on both the astral and ethereal planes "although those individuals therein are able to see the invisible stalkers dimly so they are more easily struck."  Unfortunately, the text doesn't describe what invisible stalkers look like.

Couatl, kirin, shedu, intellect devourers, cerebral parasites, and thought eaters can likewise travel on both the astral and ethereal planes.  Additional encounters may involve a lich (with access to magic-user spells), phase spider, or blink dog (which is possibly where blink dogs disappear to when they blink out, but don't return?)

Finally, and most frighteningly, "Demons frequently roam the astral plane. Their attention is also attracted by persons in an ethereal state. Check normally for wandering monsters, assuming a 10% chance of a demon appearing if a wandering monster is indicated."

Although the astral and ethereal planes are supposed to be non-contiguous, a demon's ability to gate presumably bypasses this restriction.  But how is their attention attracted in the first place?  Frank Mentzer offered an explanation in this thread:

A long, long time ago I decided that any being entering the Ethereal or Astral planes causes a reverberating "bloink" at the point of transition. This effect ripples away through the plane, can easily be traced to the cause, and will (100% chance) attract something. The variables are how far away and what exact creature(s).

Even on the Prime Material Plane, the threat of demons is very real:

If the name of a particularly powerful demon is spoken there is a chance that he will hear and turn his attention to the speaker. A base 5% chance is recommended to the referee. Unless prepared to avoid such attention—or to control the demon—the demon will thereupon immediately kill by whatever means are most expeditious the one pronouncing his name.

In his article in The Dragon #8, Gygax states that the Ethereal Plane is the transportation “system” of the Inner Material Planes:

Travel into the Ethereal is always of a magical nature by using spells or special artifacts. The Oil or Armor of Ethereal, a Wish and the new Vanish* spell can be used.

*the "Vanish" spell appeared as a 7th level spell in the 1e Players Handbook (1978)

When asked to describe the connection between the ethereal and prime material planes, in this thread Gygax provided the following response:

Those on the Ethereal Plane are able to see the PMP vaguely, as if through a thick haze or several layers of gauze. Assume vision extends out to a maximum of 30 feet, although movement of large objects could be noted at 60 feet distance.

Since ethereal characters cannot physically touch anything on the prime material plane, movement is affected.  Gravity probably doesn't apply, so characters would also feel weightless.  Deities and Demigods (1980) later specifies that movement needs to be willed and requires concentration.

The Positive and Negative Material Planes:

In his article in The Dragon #8, Gygax introduces the concept of positive and negative material planes:

...creatures which can be harmed only by weapons of a special metal (silver, cold iron, etc.) gain this relative invulnerability from having a portion of their existence in either the positive or negative material plane at the same time they exist partially in the prime. 

Gygax goes on to postulate that magical weapons exist simultaneously on more than one plane, and that "a sword of life draining ability...operates primarily on the Negative Material Plane"*

*the level-draining ability of certain undead creatures was also linked to the negative material plane in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual, published in 1977

The Elemental Planes:

Illustration by Greg Bell, from OD&D volume 3

Elementals were originally "created" rather than "summoned".  Their entry in OD&D volume 2 states "Regardless of the strength of an Elemental, only one of each type can be brought into existence during any “day.” Thus, if a character possessed a device to call up an Air Elemental, but before he could employ it an opponent conjured an Air Elemental, another could not be created until the next day."

The invisible stalker spell involved "conjuration of an extra-dimensional monster".  The monster entry for invisible stalkers states "these are monsters created by level 6 spells, uttered directly or from scrolls. They are faultless trackers. They follow continually until their mission is accomplished at which time they return to the nondimension from whence they came."

In the AD&D 1e Monster Manual, elementals are described as "strong but relatively stupid beings conjured magically from their normal habitat - the elemental planes of air, earth, etc."  Djinn are confirmed as "creatures from the aerial plane" as are wind walkers, and efreet as "creatures from the Elemental Plane of Fire" as are salamanders*,

*originally mentioned in OD&D volume 2, described as "Free-willed Fire Elementals of somewhat limited power, in reptilian shape."

Invisible stalkers and aerial servants ("a semi-intelligent form of an air elemental") are also conjured from the elemental plane of air.  Tritons (introduced in the Greyhawk supplement) are rumored to be native to the elemental plane of water, as are water weirds.  Finally xorn are from the elemental plane of earth.

Steve Marsh developed early concepts regarding the elemental planes.  Much of the Blackmoor supplement incorporated his thoughts for an elemental plane of water, as discussed in this interview.  Marsh envisioned a planar setting with new and unusual aquatic creatures, as well as the magic items necessary for adventurers to operate there.

Along the same lines, Rob Kuntz developed a tournament adventure for Dragon Con in 1987, to be published at some point as K3a Journey to the City of Brass and K3b Into the City of Brass, involving a journey to the elemental plane of fire.  The text and a map for the first adventure can be accessed over at the Acaeum, here.

Concepts regarding the elemental planes were further developed in the article "Elementals and the Philosopher's Stone" by Jeff Swycaffer in The Dragon #27 (July, 1979).

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Drelnza the Vampiress Lord

The original version of "The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth" only refers to a "Vampiress Lord" (so named because she combines the attributes of a vampire with those of a high-level fighter).  Module S4 names her as "Drelnza" (often misspelled as "Drelzna").

Drelnza, at the doors to the Nexus, holding Daoud's Wondrous Lanthorn aloft, as portrayed by Jeff Easley.  Source: The Vampire Daughter Print, from Art of the Genre.

Here is the relevant section on vampires from OD&D vol. 2:
These monsters are properly of the “Undead” class rather than Lycanthropes. If they are exposed to direct rays of sunlight, immersed in running water, or impaled through the heart with a wooden stake they are killed; otherwise they can be hit only as Spectres, but such hits do not kill them but only force them to assume gaseous form if they lose all hit points. Vampires drain two life energy levels as do Spectres when they hit an opponent in combat. They regenerate during combat as do Trolls, but they do so immediately upon being hit at the rate of three hit points per turn. Vampires can command help by calling to them from 10 to 100 rats or bats or from 3 to 18 wolves. They can polymorph themselves into either a huge bat or into a gaseous form, doing either at will. They Charm men-types merely by looking into their eyes (treat as a Charm Person spell with a minus 2 for the object’s saving throw against magic). Vampires cannot abide the smell of garlic, the face of a mirror, or the sight of a cross. They will fall back from these if strongly presented. They must always return to a coffin whose bottom is covered with soil from their native land during the daylight hours. Men-types killed by Vampires become Vampires under the control of the one who made them.

The Greyhawk supplement provides additional details:
All Vampires are affected by the cross, despite any former religious background, as it is sovereign against them. It must be noted, however, that the Vampire will not flee from such a symbol but merely try to position itself so that the cross (or whatever) no longer interposes its powers between the Vampire and its intended prey. There are other similar symbols of power versus vampiric creatures, and they can be introduced if the referee so desires. Vampires from the region of the Middle East are invisible, but they are not able to Charm.

The AD&D 1e Monster Manual further specifies "These creatures must rest in a coffin or similar receptacle* during hours of sunlight unless far beneath the surface of the ground" and that "Vampires have 18/76 strength."

*the original version of "The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth" makes no mention of a coffin.  I've therefore contemplated the idea of regarding the Core of the Nexus as Drelnza's "coffin" (the walls are described as panels of polished wood), which has scary implications

"Vampires in the Dungeon" by Clayton J. Miner, from The Dragon #17 (August, 1978) gives some helpful tips on running OD&D vampires.

Vampires from the Middle East, mentioned above, are identified as "Ekimmu" from Assyria in "Varieties of Vampires" by R.P. Smith, from The Dragon #25 (May, 1979), another casual reference to the OD&D Game World as a version of our own world.

Finally, the article "Good Evening" by Lenard Lakofka, from The Dragon #30 (October, 1979) provides some useful additional information, such as rules for meeting a vampire's gaze, as well as stats for the various creatures summoned:
BATS: 90% of the time they should be the mundane sort that “hang around” in caves, bell towers, etc. They have 1–4 hit points, are Armor Class 7 (due to size and speed), move 12” (but usually flurry about figures when a Vampire summons them), do “inadvertent” damage of 1 point 50% of the time — if and only if at least 5 are swarming around a single figure and the Armor Class of the victim indicates a hit. Swarms reduce the ability “to hit” by 3 points. 10% of the time, however, 1 Vampire Bat per 10 bats (round down) may appear. It is 1 hit die A.C. 8, moves slower, 9”, and does 1 point of damage per hit. In addition, if it does it drains 1–4 points of blood just as a Stirge does but then flies away after 8 points are drained.
RATS: 90% of the time they should be the mundane sort that scurries about in dungeons, though they will always be especially large rats. 1–4 hit points, A.C. 8, bite causes 1 point of damage (no change of disease). But 10% of the time (and only in especially deep dungeons) Giant Sumatran Rats will appear, as per the Monster Manual. The quantity of these Giant Rats is 7–70 and not 10–100.
WOLVES: Their type should be a function of the climate. If in polar regions, Winter Wolves should appear, but only 2–7 would come. In other areas the chance of the normal wolf is 70% for the full 3–18 in number (see the Monster Manual); however, 30% of the time 2-14 (1d6 + 1d8) Dire Wolves will appear.

Drelnza (along with Flemin) was released as a limited edition miniature by Reaper (I purchased one, when I popped into The Compleat Strategist on a visit to New York, a few years ago).

Saturday, August 8, 2020

WinterCon V: The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth

"The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth" was the tournament dungeon for the Metro Detroit Gamers' WinterCon V Gamefest, held December 3-5, 1976 at Oakland University, Rochester MI.  Revised for AD&D, the adventure was published as S4: The Lost Caverns of Tosjcanth (1982).

The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth (December, 1976) by Gary Gygax.

Additional credit for the WinterCon V version goes to Will Niebling, Scharlotte Niebling, Bob Karalunas, Howard Dawson, Joe Tomassi, Paul Wood, Kathy Wood, Laurie Van De Graaf, John Van De Graaf, and Mike Bartnikowski.

On the front page of the AD&D module, Gygax states:
The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth was originally designed for the official "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" Game Tournament at WinterCon V and contains the original tournament characters.*
*some details for the pregens were tweaked for the AD&D version

The inspiration for the Greater Caverns was derived from the map for Rob Kuntz's El Raja Key level 10, which had been repurposed for the Expanded Version of Greyhawk Castle core level 7.

Maps for ERK level 10/GC core level 7 (left), the Greater Caverns of the Lost Caverns of Tsojconth/WinterCon V (center), and the Greater Caverns of the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth/module S4 (right).

Copies of "The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth" from WinterCon V can be pricey to obtain.  There's a copy presently for sale at Noble Knight Games for $7995.

For an in-depth comparison of the WinterCon V tournament dungeon to module S4, including publication history and reviews, check out grodog's S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth page.

I had a great time participating in a session of "The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth" at Gary Con X in 2018, and even played Flemin, who I run as an NPC in my home campaign.

The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth:

The tournament background is printed on the front cover:
Several decades ago when the Archmage Iggwilv brought the Marches of Perrunland under his domination, considerable store of treasure was taken from that place and sequestered by him somewhere in the no man's-land between the Duchy of Geoff and the forsaken Sea of Dust.  Among his loot were several rare and prized tomes and the fabled lamp known as Daoud's Wonderous Lanthorn.

When Iggwilv was slain by the Demon Graz'zt, and his minions scattered by an uprising of oppressed subjects, rumors began to spread regarding where the Archmage's treasure trove was located.  Considering the cartloads of precious metals and gems taken away during the overthrow, it is not surprising that most of these whispered suggestions were ignored as spurious.  However, the books and Lanthorn were never found, and the rumors did reach some interested parties, for several expeditions have sought to locate these items, but the parties were either unsuccessful in their attempts to find the location of the Caverns of Tsojconth (where the most reliable rumors claim the treasure rests) or else failed to return.

The possible location of the Lost Caverns "somewhere in the no man's-land between the Duchy of Geoff and the forsaken Sea of Dust" is similar to "the Barrier Peaks which separates the Duchy from the Sea of Dust" in the background for "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks"

Map of the Great Kingdom from Domesday Book #9 (1971) indicating "the no man's-land between the Duchy of Geoff and the forsaken Sea of Dust."

Gygax explained who Tsojcanth* was, in this interview:
I imagined him as one of the exceptionally potent magic-wielders who arise amongst humans every so often. I considered him the channel used by the Good deities for the further abridgement of the actual Tharizdun, as it were. Tsojcanth and a circle of other mages of good alignment, and certainly others of like persuasion and other capacities, assailed and defeated the followers of the avatar Tharizdun, and then by sympathetic means, and empowered by deital power, Tsojcanth (and his associated mages lending their power to him so as he could survive channeling of deital energies) forced the avatar Tharizdun to rejoin its parent entity.

I did not identify Tsojcanth as to race, but I think he was more likely Flan or Oeridian than a Suloise. He was certainly human and of Good alignment.
*the original spelling of "Tsojconth" was apparently a typo, and "Tsojcanth" was invented merely "to sound exotic".

The set up for the tournament is clever:
You are a member of a group of six adventurers, met by chance some weeks past.  Each was seeking the Caverns, each possessed a fragment of information regarding them.  Together you have compiled what seems an accurate set of directions to the entrance of these caverns, and you are certain that the Archmage has filled them with fierce creatures to prevent trespassers from gaining their goal.  A fragment of parchment you have states: "The right way is narrow...(words obliterated)...eam lies the straight pas...(more smudged writing) the span swiftly of plunge to doom where the wat..."
and, here's the twist:
The Caverns of Tsojconth are a nexus in probability, where several alternate worlds touch.  Each of you is aware that numerous parties such as yours, each containing six alternate persons like each of you, will be entering that part of the Caverns which manifests itself in their respective worlds.  As each group adventures through the upper caverns one of their number will gain a certain aura, and he or she alone will be able to enter the lower level, while the rest will have to turn back.  The chosen from each party will meet - possibly with one or more of their alter egos - when the descent to the lower caverns is made.
This feature of the Caverns can be used to facilitate travel between alternate game worlds, such as the World of Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, or even Mystara.

Suggested levels:

The six tournament characters possess levels ranging from 6-10 (accounting for multiclassed characters), with an average level of 7.8, including a half-elven fighter/magic-user/thief (as per the Greyhawk supplement).  These make for great NPCs in your own campaign:
Cathartic (human), 7th level cleric, "worships St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel"
Ethelrede (human), 8th level fighter
Flemin (dwarf), 6th level fighter
Dunil (hobbit), 9th level thief
Weslocke (elf), 4th level fighter/9th level magic-user
Hockerbrecht (half-elf) 4th level fighter/4th level magic-user/5th level thief
Names were contributed by Howard Dawson, according to Paul Stormberg, in this thread.  Equipment is listed with location-based encumbrance, as discussed in a recent post over at Zenopus Archives.

The AD&D version is billed as "An adventure for character levels 6-10" and contains AD&D versions of the six original pregens, plus two more (Arocken, a 6th level ranger, and Benedict, a 6th level cleric), with an average level of 7.4

New Monsters:

The neo-otyugh (left) and troglodytes (right), two new monsters from "The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth".  Illustrations were likely by David Sutherland, although erroneously attributed to Gygax in this disapproving review by Ken St Andre in Supernova #28 (July, 1977).

"The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth" introduced several new monsters, including the giant snapping turtle, neo-otyugh, troglodytes (which made it into Holmes), and the water weird (attributed to Ernie Gygax, in the preface to the 1e Monster Manual).

There's also a reference to "Chinese" hill giants.  Given the properties of the nexus (which might account for the presence of so many creatures), these might have originated from the Chinese region of the OD&D Game World, and speak a Chinese language.

Module S4 continued in the same tradition, introducing several previously unknown creatures, which were later included in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual II.

Using "The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth" in your OD&D campaign:

The Lesser Caverns represent a straight-up, classic dungeon crawl, although access to the core of the nexus in the Greater Caverns provides a unique and rewarding challenge.

Motivation for the PCs could include exploration or utilization of the magical properties of the nexus, possibly as a means of entering an alternate world.

I enjoyed running the original version of "The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth" for my group - you can read about our experience, complete with tactical illustrations, in our campaign journal.

A few years ago, I mocked up a version of "The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth" in the style of B1, borrowing flavor text from the later version.  You can download it, here.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Swords & Spells

"Swords & Spells" was a set of miniatures wargame rules for use with D&D, written by Gary Gygax, with credit for development shared by Dave Arneson and Robert Kuntz.  Illustrations were by David Sutherland, with editing and a foreword by Tim Kask.

Swords & Spells (August, 1976) by Gary Gygax, with Dave Arneson and Rob Kuntz.  Cover illustration by David Sutherland.

I used Swords & Spells back in 2014 to run a battle for my group's PCs, leading a contingent of troops from the Keep on the Borderlands against a large force of bandits.  You can read about our experience, complete with maps, here.

We didn't even use miniatures.  Once the composition of the various units was determined, troop movements were sketched out on a piece of paper.  The PCs engaged in hand-to-hand combat, and the outcome of the wider battle was influenced by their actions.

Swords & Spells was notable for its diceless combat resolution, although not rolling dice removes an element of chance, and is less fun.  A similar, abbreviated system was incorporated by Merle Rasmussen in XSOLO Lathan's Gold (1984).

The D&D Companion Set, edited by Frank Mentzer, introduced the "War Machine", rules for large-scale, strategic warfare, developed by Douglas Niles and Garry Spiegel, in which resolution was abstract, and miniatures were not required.

The next iteration of miniatures rules for use with D&D was Battlesystem (1985), which I used for running parts of X10 "Red Arrow, Black Shield" back in 1994.  We didn't have an 8' x 4' table, so taped off a section of the floor in the basement, instead.