Tower of Zenopus Game Prep

Science Fiction is stressful, so Cirsova is a gaming blog again.  Aw, man, gaming is stressful too, but for reasons that don’t involve being told I’ll need to answer to Jesus for my lies.  I’m a bit overloaded, and if I don’t do my game prep like this and organize my thoughts, I might never get all of it done!  I’ve got my DMs notes, a map of the city, my own dungeon expansion map, a list of notable NPCs, bought a battle mat, ultrafine graph paper.  I need to print character sheets and an extra character creation chapter or two, copy paste some equipment lists from Zenopus Archives, draw a player map with a starting point so they have a fair shot of not mapping off the page, maybe paint some minis, buy some wet erase markers and god knows what else!

Awhile back, I saw someone say that Deities and Demigods Guide was actually an integral part of the Dungeons & Dragons game; a few folks pooh-poohed the notion that the DDG was an indispensable part of a dungeon master’s arsenal, but trying to create even a small local setting in which to stick the Tower of Zenopus, I’ve noticed the most glaring omission from B/X: it does not cover religions. Gods are mentioned in only 3 places in the Basic book: once, stating that Clerics have them, once, in the play through mentioning that a character’s god would not condone certain behavior, and finally, in the adventure suggestion section concerning gods sending players on a fetch quest. But we aren’t really given any tools or examples for how to create world religions on the fly.

The easy answer is to make up a few generic gods over various spheres that are analogous to or literally our own mythic gods, but there’s a lot of depth to the interplay of religions, their trappings, their dogmas and, most importantly, their views on other gods and religions, that DMs aren’t really given any sort of guidance on in B/X. Some of this gets worked out in modules – the Lost City is a great example of how to handle this sort of thing – but it’s a bit of flavor that can be really important to games and game worlds. For now, I’ve made a generic sea god whose worship has replaced the worship of a less generic sea god, but mostly because that’s all I have time to do with my first session being in two days. Otherwise I’d probably take a minute and put a smidge of effort into stealing Tyaa.

One of the problems I’ve run into with Tower of Zenopus is how low XP it is. Monster XP aside, there’s only enough treasure to get a Fighter and Cleric going it alone up to level 2. That’s not a huge problem in and of itself, but I’m sure that folks, some of whom might be playing D&D for the first time, would like to level up at some point. So, I’m going with the module’s suggestion to expand the ghoul tunnels a bit. Of course I don’t have quite the time I’d like to really flesh out my own dungeon, so I’ve created my own cave-network mini-dungeon with some slimes and shadows and some treasure to connect a bit of expanded upon crypt to B4 The Lost City (which will undergo substantial changes as well).

Writing up DMs notes for Tower of Zenopus has got me thinking as well about wandering monsters, tweaks to the table and sensible dungeon designs. Tower of Zenopus itself is not particularly conducive to the standard wandering monster table for a few reasons, mostly geographical:

-The Tower is in town: The Tower is also overlooking the town, but if the sea and sea cliffs are to the north and to the west, and the other wizard’s tower, which is just southwest of the ruins of Zenopus’ Tower, is specifically stated to be in town and on a street, we have to assume that the Tower is in town. Wilderness monsters need not apply. In fact, there aren’t really very many good reasons as to why the goblins are there.

-There are only 3 entrances to the dungeon: the base of Zenopus’ tower, the Thaumaturge’s tower, and the cave entrance that the Pirates use. Anything coming into the dungeon has to either swim or come in by boat or wander in from town. The best explanation for why the goblins are there and with a barracks is that the Thaumaturge is paying them. But there’s not going to be much in the way of wilderness monsters.

-Lack of ecosystem: the caves to the west are the only viable ecosystem for animal type monsters, though aquatic creatures would likely stay near the underground river with access to the sea for feeding. Anything else in the dungeon is probably going to be an intelligent hominid who would not have been killed or arrested in the city who came in through the main entrance or was a Pirate.

-Size constraints: the dungeon complex is small enough that if there were more than a few folks wandering about down there, they’d certainly run into one another.

So, how have I handled including a sealed-off complex of caves to the east that are? I can’t stick any sort of hominid thing down there, aside from a few ghouls, and megapredators like giant insects wouldn’t make sense. Isolated cave areas are perfect for slime monsters, so, despite those being the most loathed of dungeon creatures, that’s what I’ve gone with. And living stalagmites. They seemed fitting for wandering monsters in a cave.

Update:

In searching for equipment packets on Zenopus Archives, I found the vacation bible-school style children’s song I wrote up months ago:

Zenopus built a Tower
A Tower In Portown
Zenopus had a Tower
Until it was knocked Down

Zenopus had his Tower
Where he could be real mean
Until his big bad Tower
Got burned up good and green

Now there is no Tower
Just rocks there in the town
Zenopus has no Tower
Because it was knocked down

Adventure hook ahoy!

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6 responses to “Tower of Zenopus Game Prep

  1. Sounds like things are moving right along.
    I really like the idea of a children’s song being the adventure hook!

  2. Nothing puts me in a state of panic like prepping for a game. That’s the one thing that hasn’t changed even after all these years of gaming.

    • At least in this case I can say that I have never been more prepared. I’ve run some great sessions off the cuff, but since I’m doing this at the behest of others in the name of education and community building, I figured I ought to put the elbow grease into things.

      My only regret is that I won’t have all of my goblins painted in time for the first encounter!

      • I have a set up kobolds I lovingly worked up. My best gaming friend took one look… and said they look like Smurfs. (!!) Ah, well!

      • I just recently got into the painting thing and I’ve got to say, I’ve become addicted. A couple weeks ago, I accidentally left my first batch of minis I bought for myself at a friends and was so hard up I started painting my HeroQuest figures. My Chaos Warlock is gonna make a great Thaumaturge…

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