Saturday, September 25, 2021

Wintercon VIII: The Ghost Tower of Inverness

Wintercon VIII, sponsored by the Metro Detroit Gamers, was held at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan in November, 1979.  The AD&D tournament was "The Ghost Tower of Inverness" by Allen Hammack.

Advertisement for Wintercon VIII in the Oakland University campus newspaper "The Oakland Sail" (November 12, 1979)

As with Origins 79, the tournament adventure was made available for sale at the convention, the second in a series of special numbered collector's editions (see this post at Wayne's Books for more details).

In the tournament version, the setting is an unnamed empire,* and the PCs are sent on their mission by the emperor, himself (as opposed to the Duke of Urnst in the subsequent, color version, published the following year).

*the cleric pregen, Zinethar the Wise, is described as the high priest of Osiris, in keeping with the pantheistic nature of Hammack's personal campaign world

(Also, check out this post on the Metal Miniatures blog for a look at painted miniatures used for each of the five pregens)

The dungeon map in the tournament version appears to be the same as in the subsequent, color version (see this post on Dyson Logos blog for more recent, VTT-friendly, versions)

Gaming Origins:

When tasked with writing the tournament adventure for Wintercon VIII, Hammack turned to a previously created dungeon as a starting point:

When my campaign started I had completed one dungeon and Inverness was underway (being built slightly ahead of the players’ explorations), but I was under time pressure to build a world to place them in. Using some techniques from wargame maps, I crammed in countries, rivers, and city names from three or four fantasy series that I was reading onto a large hex-grid posterboard and decided I’d fill in details on the countries and cities if and when players went there. I followed rough similarities to the books—the Witch World areas had a lot of female magic-users, for example.

(November 24, 2016)

There were deeper levels of the Inverness dungeon, not used in the published version.  Much of this material is now archived* in the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.

*Hammack also collaborated upon a subsequent megadungeon inspired by Gormenghast, a part of which was allegedly used in "The Ghost Tower of Inverness" (according to this post on the Strong's website).  However, when I reached out to fact check this, Allen stated that "The Ghost Tower of Inverness" was drawn entirely from his Inverness dungeon, with some new parts

Sources of Inspiration:

In the same interview, Hammack discusses various sources of inspiration for the classic adventure, including the significance behind the name:

What was the greatest literary influence on Ghost Tower? Well, the name (and only the name, not the plot) was suggested by and a hat tip to a weird radio serial. As I’ve said before, it’s not related at all to the real city of Inverness in Scotland. I have always enjoyed time-travel stories, so inspiration was found in "The Time Machine", Bellamy’s "Looking Backward", Heinlein’s "The Door Into Summer", L’Engle’s "A Wrinkle In Time", Vonnegut's "Timequake", and Gerrold's "The Man Who Folded Himself". Cheesy though it was, I also liked the TV show "The Time Tunnel". I was not aware of Doctor Who at the time, but it’s now a favorite of mine.

(November 24, 2016)

The "weird radio serial" mentioned above was "The Fourth Tower of Inverness", a radio drama that aired on college radio stations from 1972-73.

Poster for "The Fourth Tower of Inverness" (1972) radio drama, which can be downloaded for listening at Moonlight Audio Theatre, here

According to the wikipedia entry, "The Fourth Tower of Inverness" is in reference to a farmhouse in Quebec, Canada named "Inverness" after the original home of the owner in Inverness, Scotland.

The time travel aspect of the adventure may have been suggested to Hammack by his involvement with the 4th Dimension board game, completed prior to his work on the tournament module.

A room involving a giant chessboard also appeared in the AD&D Masters Tournament dungeon "Doomkeep" at Gen Con XII in 1979 (see The Dragon #34).

For those interested, Hammack discusses "The Ghost Tower of Inverness" in an interview on Grogtalk (March 2, 2020) from 45:30 to 54:50

Sequels and Derivative Works:

"Return to the Ghost Tower of Inverness" (2003) by Creighton Broadhurst and Steve Pearce was released as part of the Living Greyhawk campaign in the d20 era.

A 4e adventure "March of the Phantom Brigade" (2011) by Rodney Thompson involved the Ghost Tower of Inverness.

A 5e adventure "Return to the Ghost Tower of Inverness" (2019) by Elisa Teague was released for the D&D Adventurers League.

Other Settings:

Like "White Plume Mountain", I feel that "The Ghost Tower of Inverness" has a B/X aesthetic, and could be run using the Expert Set rules.

The adventure can be situated anywhere within the Empire of Thyatis, possibly using the introduction from the tournament version involving the emperor, himself.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

T1: The Village of Hommlet

T1 "The Village of Hommlet" by Gary Gygax was TSR's tenth "Dungeon Module" (not counting the special collector's edition of "Lost Tamoachan"), and was originally made available for sale at Gen Con XII in August, 1979, (along with S2 "White Plume Mountain").

Full-page advertisement for module T1 "The Village of Hommlet" appearing in The Dragon #s 31-32 (November-December, 1979)

Like module B1 "In Search of the Unknown" and S2 "White Plume Mountain", T1 "The Village of Hommlet" wasn't based on a previous tournament adventure.  Bob Byrne recounts its gaming origins in a post on Black Gate, in 2017:
Gygax’ son and a friend were starting to play, so Gary used the Hommlet campaign as a new, low level adventure for them, distinguishing it from the high level Greyhawk play. Gygax was busy developing TSR products and the Greyhawk Supplement (I) had come out for the Original Rules.
The Hommlet campaign was different than the Greyhawk dungeon delves. There was a village, with a smithy, an inn, a local elder, set in a rural environment. The party could role play in the village then move on to the dungeons of the Temple. It’s possible that Gygax ran players through some iterations of Hommlet and the Temple in late 1975 and into 1976.
from Black Gate* (January 6, 2017)

*Byrne's article provides a comprehensive overview of the original Temple of Elemental Evil campaign, and is well worth a read.  (There are also links to several other articles on Black Gate regarding the Village of Hommlet and Temple of Elemental Evil).

Gygax set aside his DMing responsibilities in 1976 in order to work on the AD&D rulebooks, in addition to penning the first seven dungeon modules (the G series, the D series, and S1), before turning to the ambitious World of Greyhawk folio.

Modules S1, B1, and S2 included references to the World of Greyhawk, which was originally planned for release in early 1979.  Gygax provided even more details in module T1, rendering it a perfect starting place for campaigns in the soon-to-be-published setting. 

Siege of Bodenburg:

The first Gen Con was held back in 1968, where Gygax played The Siege of Bodenburg, a medieval miniatures wargame.  He subsequently used Bodenburg Castle to represent the ruined upper works of Greyhawk Castle, as well as the floorplan of the moathouse in module T1.

Schematic for Bodenburg Castle (left) and the map for the ruined moathouse from module T1 "The Village of Hommlet" (right).

The destruction of the moathouse as recounted in "The Village of Hommlet" was apparently based on the Siege of Bodenburg, and has been recreated as a Chainmail scenario "The Battle for the Moathouse" by Paul Stormberg.

The Temple of Elemental Evil:

T1 was re-released in 1981 as a color version, with new front and back cover art, although the promised T2 "The Temple of Elemental Evil" wasn't forthcoming.

After finishing T1, Gygax was approached by Brian Blume to write a replacement module for the Holmes Basic Set, which became B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands".  (Had Blume not done so, I wonder if Gygax would have instead written T2 "The Temple of Elemental Evil"?)

Without T2, I've posted elsewhere that B2 works well as a sequel to T1.  One could even continue with WG4 "The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun" as a Gygaxian trilogy of sorts.

The Moathouse:

The cover to D&D accessory AC5 "Player Character Record Sheets" (1984) features an illustration by Clyde Caldwell depicting a group of adventurers approaching the ruined moathouse from T1 "The Village of Hommlet".

Painting by Clyde Caldwell depicting the ruined moathouse, used for the cover of AC5 "Player Character Record Sheets" (1984)

I corresponded with Caldwell back in 2010 about this illustration, at which time he kindly responded with some additional details:

The AC5 cover painting was actually the first cover I did after coming on staff at TSR.  It was done for another module called "The Moathouse".  The publication of "The Moathouse" was delayed for some reason and the cover painting was sidelined for a while.  I don't know if "The Moathouse" module was ever published, but I think not.  The painting was picked up for AC5 since it showed a variety of generic characters.  My title for the painting is still "The Moathouse".

Clyde Caldwell, 2010

According to this interview on the Random Wizard blog, Caldwell probably began working at TSR around July, 1983.  Given that it depicts a scene from T1, "The Moathouse" may have been intended for the cover of a renumbered module WG1.*

*in Dragon #71 (March, 1983) Gygax stated "Pending work which will eventually be done includes the Temple of Elemental Evil (formerly designated as module T2 but which will be released as WG 2, part 1 and 2)"

Sequels and Derivative Works:

Gygax's original manuscript for "The Temple of Elemental Evil" was ultimately completed by Frank Mentzer and published as T1-4 "The Temple of Elemental Evil" (1985), which I ran for my friends during our senior year in high school.

A novelization of the adventure "The Temple of Elemental Evil" by Thomas M. Reid was published in 2001, as part of the "Greyhawk Classics" series.

A sequel for 3e "Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil" by Monte Cook was released in 2001, set 15 years after the original adventure.

The Temple of Elemental Evil was also developed as a video game by Atari, in 2003.

Hackmaster published "The Temple of Existential Evil" by Brian Jelke in 2003.

"Return to the Moathouse" by Mike Mearls was released at the Origins Game Fair in 2008, and a 4e conversion of "The Village of Hommlet" by Andy Collins was published in 2009, and republished in Dungeon #212 (March, 2013).

Dragon #423 (May, 2013) included a "tavern profile" on the Inn of the Welcome Wench by Shawn Merwin, and Dragon #425 (July, 2013) featured articles on the history of "The Temple of Elemental Evil" by Skip Williams, and "The Anatomy of Elemental Evil" by Thomas M. Reid.

See also Jason B. Thompson's walkthrough map.

A "Dungeons & Dragons: Temple of Elemental Evil Board Game" was released by Wizards of the Coast in 2015.

Finally, a two-volume homage and 5e conversion was just released by Goodman Games as Original Adventures Reincarnated #6 (be sure to check out the recently posted unboxing video for a sneak peak at the contents).

The Deed of Paksenarrion:

It has been pointed out that "Divided Allegiance" (1988), the second book in "The Deed of Paksenarrion" by Elizabeth Moon contains many parallels to T1 "The Village of Hommlet" (as discussed in this post from The Mule Abides blog)

Saturday, September 11, 2021

S2: White Plume Mountain

S2 "White Plume Mountain" by Lawrence Schick was TSR's ninth "Dungeon Module" (not counting the special collector's edition of "Lost Tamoachan"), and was originally made available for sale at Gen Con XII in August, 1979, (along with T1 "The Village of Hommlet").

Full-page advertisement for module S2 "White Plume Mountain" appearing in The Dragon #30 (October, 1979)

As with module B1 "In Search of the Unknown", and unlike the modules preceding them, "White Plume Mountain" wasn't based on a tournament adventure.  Schick explains its unusual origins in an interview on Grognardia, back in 2009:

White Plume Mountain was written as a sample document to persuade TSR to hire me as a game designer. I just plundered all the dungeons I’d designed over the previous four years, took out the best bits, and cobbled it all together. It worked; TSR hired me, bought the scenario, and published it as a module without changing a word. I’m a little embarrassed to this day by Blackrazor, inasmuch as it’s such a blatant rip-off of Elric’s Stormbringer; I would not have put it into the scenario if I ever thought it might be published.

from Grognardia (May 16, 2009)

As a puzzle dungeon, "White Plume Mountain" is in a class of its own, although in the same vein as the AD&D Masters Tournaments held at Winter Fantasy II "The Quest for the Holy Grrale" (see The Dragon #22, pg 31) and Gen Con XII "Doomkeep" (see The Dragon #34).


Another similarity to module B1 "In Search of the Unknown" is the inclusion of geographic references to the forthcoming "World of Greyhawk" (1980) folio:

White Plume Mountain is located in the northeastern part of the Shield Lands, near the Bandit Kingdoms and the Great Rift (see WORLD OF GREYHAWK, available from TSR)

White Plume Mountain, 1979

The Shield Lands lie north of the Lake of Unknown Depths, the module stating that White Plume Mountain "stands alone in a vast area of dismal moors and tangled thickets".

The Known World:

Back in 2015, Schick shared the "secret history" of the D&D Known World (which ultimately became the Mystara setting).  Interestingly, the name of one of the "Thyatic" cities was borrowed for the villainous wizard in "White Plume Mountain":

Location of the city of Keraptis in the original "Known World" setting.  (I'm not certain what the circular map symbol to the northwest represents.)

Given Schick's long history of collaboration with Tom Moldvay, it's perhaps not surprising that "White Plume Mountain" has a strong B/X vibe, having more in common with adventures such as X2 "Castle Amber" than other AD&D modules.

Sequels and Derivative Works:

The original module was re-released in 1981 as a color version, with new front and back cover art (see also The Art of the Genre).  The new version included a now iconic full-page map of White Plume Mountain and its environs,* by Erol Otus.

A writeup for Dragotha, the "undead dragon" was published in Dragon #134 (June, 1988).*

*Dragotha was inspired by an undead dragon in one of David Hargrave's campaigns, as explained by Otus in this interview on the Vintage RPG podcast (August 23, 2021)

A sequel for 2e "Return to White Plume Mountain" by Bruce R. Cordell was released in 1999 as part of D&D's 25th anniversary, set 20 years after the original.

Cordell also wrote an RPGA adventure "Dragotha's Lair" (1999).  Another adventure "Ex Keraptis Cum Amore" by Andy Miller was published in Dungeon #77 (November/December 1999).

The release of "Return to White Plume Mountain" coincided with a novelization "White Plume Mountain" (1999) by Paul Kidd.

A d20 version by Andy Collins, Gwendolyn F. M. Kestrel, and James Wyatt, using material from the "Weapons of Legacy" system, was published in 2005.  This was followed by a d20 supplement "Outside the Mountain is just as Dangerous as Inside" by Robert Wiese.

See also Jason B. Thompson's walkthrough map.

A 5e version was published in the "Tales from the Yawning Portal" collection (2017).

Other Settings:

White Plume Mountain is described as a volcanic hill, "which stands alone in a vast area of dismal moors and tangled thickets" about five miles from the nearest village. 

Possible location for White Plume Mountain in the Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness (map from D&D Expert Set (1983)

I'd situate the adventure in the Broken Lands in the Known World/Mystara setting, described in module X1 "The Isle of Dread" as "an area of rocky badlands and old volcanic lava beds".

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Origins 79: Lost Tamoachan

Origins 79, sponsored by Strategy and Fantasy World, was held at Widener College in Chester, Pennsylvania in June, 1979.  The AD&D tournament was "Lost Tamoachan: The Hidden Shrine of Lubaatum" by Harold Johnson and Jeff R. Leason.

Origins 79 as advertised in The Dragon #26 (June, 1979).

Con reports were published in The Dragon #29 (September, 1979) "Report on Origins '79" by Jim Ward and The Dragon #30 (October, 1979) "Origins: Chaos with a Happy Ending" by "Fantasysmith".

As with Origins 78, the tournament adventure was made available for sale at the convention, although as a numbered collector's edition as opposed to the monochrome version, published the following year (together with an 8-page illustration booklet).

Johnson envisioned three series of nine encounters each, one for each round of the tournament.  Leason provided additional ideas, and the adventure was playtested by the TSR design department prior to its finalization.

Sources of Inspiration:

Johnson minored in History, and had taken a course in Mesoamerican cultures.  He was inspired by mythical places, such as Tamoanchan, as well as archeological sites, such as Lubaantun in Belize and Palenque in the Yucatan.

Meeting Harold Johnson at Gary Con XI (March, 2019)

Johnson discusses the development of "Lost Tamoachan" in this interview on Grogtalk (January 17, 2021; from 02:57 to 03:09).  In it, he mentions a specific National Geographic article* as another source of inspiration.

*this may have been "China's Incredible Find" in the April, 1978 issue, which contains the painting of a room in a Chinese emperor's tomb.  The photograph appears to have been used in turn by Jeff Dee as the basis for illustration #9 in the illustration booklet (see this post)

Sequels and Derivative Works:

Hackmaster published "The Hidden Shrine" by Paul Glozeris in 2003.

Lost Tamoachan reappeared in "The Sea Wyvern's Wake" by Richard Pett in Dungeon #141 (December, 2006), an adventure in the "Savage Tide" adventure path for 3e.

A 4e version by Stephen Radney-MacFarland was published in 2011 and reprinted in Dungeon #209 (December, 2012).

A 5e version was published in the "Tales from the Yawning Portal" collection (2017).

*see also C1.5 "Ghost City of the Hidden Shrine" (Pacesetter Games, 2019) for 1e, by Bill Barsh. 

Finally, in 2019, Johnson himself released "Return to Tamoanchan".

Other Settings:

The original adventure was shoehorned into the World of Greyhawk, but also fits well in the Savage Coast setting on Mystara, as discussed in this thread on the Piazza.

Site of the lost city of Risilvar in the Forbidden Highlands of Orc's Head Peninsula, from module X9 "The Savage Coast", a fitting location for the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan.

The description for the lost city of Risilvar takes up less than two pages in module X9, with very little detail regarding the central Mesoamerican-style temple.