Running Holmes at AR RPG Con

I only ended up with two players at the con, but one was one of my regulars, and the other was The Mixed GM, so we made it work. Players ran two characters and I ran a “hireling”.

This won’t be a full run-down, but some observations and remarks on highlights.

Both times I’ve run Xenopus, the parties have known that the sea cliff where Lemunda might be held was to the west, and both times the parties made a B-line west. Main difference, this time the party was insistent on dealing with the out-of-depth 31 HP spider instead of going around it. They didn’t kill it, but they eventually hurt it bad enough that it wasn’t going to mess with them.

The party wanted some extra muscle, so I pulled out a character sheet for a pirate I’d played in a couple other games. Following a bad ‘you had to be there’ joke, Crusty Jim became Trusty Jim. And any character named Trusty just HAD to betray the party at some point. It made for a pretty wild fight in the sea caves, as pirates kept pouring in and Jim tried to make off with both Lemunda and the contract for the reward for her return.

Crusty Jim was going to try to convince Lemunda that he was the only one there to rescue her and he was rescuing her from the party. She might have helped him row away and beat the party chasing him. This didn’t happen, because Crusty Jim has CHA 4 and is OBVIOUSLY A PIRATE.

Just for the hell of it, I ran Lemunda as a MU; she tried to Charm Person Crusty Jim when they were in the boat together, but he succeeded on his saving throw. Her class was never relevant from that point forward. The players were unaware this even happened. Oh well.

Using the Holmes wandering monsters chart can land you with some weird stuff, but I just went with it. There was no good reason for a bunch of Norse Berserkers to be hanging out, but they somehow joined the party. And one of them fought a character to the death for the right to have the +1 sword. He also guzzled a potion of growth that someone asked him to just taste, so for a few minutes, there was a 12′ Nord romping around with the party.

The climactic fight ended up being with a neutral party of mouthy elves who’d mostly rolled utility spells. A random encounter roll had placed the large elf party in the same room with the ghouls. Two sleeps would’ve been the end of everyone, but bad rolls and poor economy of action resulted in the players overcoming and looting some dead elves.

They never found the wizard or his tower. Therefore, I didn’t get to use the little monkey mini my GF loaned me.

They went through maybe half of the 18 pre-gens I rolled up for the con.

Even without playing it straight and throwing extra pre-gens at big problems, two characters would’ve reached level 2, a dwarf and a thief. If the adventure had been played straight and not like a con game one-off, it could’ve easily been more.

Mixed GM’s dwarf actually survived the adventure from start to finish.

With two players, Holmes’ wonky initiative ended up not being a problem at all.

Dammit, they went into the Rat Tunnels! I ended up having to sketch out additional rat tunnels…


Doing It Wrong When It Was Right There In the Book Pt 3: Still doing Magic Wrong!

Where do I keep getting these assumptions about how magic works in D&D?

Wrong Again

I was brushing up, looking at the Magic Users class section in Blueholme, a Holmes clone, when I realized I had it wrong again.  I cannot be possibly be trusted to know what I’m talking about in matters of mechanics in B/X apparently.

“A magic-user is not necessarily able to learn and transcribe all spells of that level into his book. This is determined by the magic-user’s Intelligence score, as detailed in the table below. A magic-user only gets one chance to figure out each spell; if he cannot learn it then, he never will.

“Minimum denotes the fewest spells a magic-user will know for that level. Before the player makes any of the d% rolls for “chance to learn”, the referee will randomly choose this many spells from the spell list for that level and inform the player that his character already knows those spells.


“Every time a new level of spells is acquired, and after the referee has picked the minimum spells, the player should roll a d% for each remaining spell of that level; if he rolls equal to or less than the chance listed, then his character has that spell in his magic book.” – Blueholme Prentice, pg 11

Yeah, I totally remember the whole “start with a minimum # of spells in your spellbook at level 1 and then roll for the rest of them” part.  What I did not remember was repeating the process every time you unlocked a new tier of spells.  You hit level 3, you suddenly know as many as a dozen level 2 spells without ever having to find them. W… T… F!?


Where do your new spells come from?  Certainly not from finding scrolls and stealing spellbooks!  God, now I need to start digging through OSRIC to figure out where I came up with this idea.

“Magic users do not gain bonus spells for high intelligence scores; intelligence does determine which spells they can understand and how many spells they may learn for each spell level.

Magic users are dependent upon their spell books, and normally may only cast spell they have learned from these books (exception: magic users may cast spells from arcane magical scrolls). Mages may not cast spells from divine, druidic or phantasmal magic scrolls. The acquisition of a new spell is difficult and demanding and must normally be accomplished through adventuring, although the mage will automatically receive one new spell of the highest spell level that he or she may cast upon acquiring a new level of experience.


Magic users may memorise and cast arcane spells in accordance with the tables provided below. A beginning magic user character will know four spells. One of these will automatically be Read Magic. The second spell should be chosen by the player from the list of first level spells, and the last two should be determined randomly from the list of first level spells.” – OSRIC Page 16

Huh!  Okay, so I’m not totally crazy and that IS a thing in a version of Dungeons & Dragons somewhere!  So, all this time, I’d been conflating multiple rule sets in my mind based on a combination of half-remembered 1e games from highschool, video games and context of ‘how it ought to be’ via on my understanding of Vance.  Yet even here in OSRIC, it does not explicitly state that MUs can acquire spells by copying scrolls into their spellbooks.  The only place I am 100% certain that this was the case was in that crappy Neverwinter Nights compy game from over a decade ago.


Apparently, I’ve been using Holmes’ spell book (the physical item, that is) and scroll rules, smeared with some Moldvay (I typically gave 1st level MUs 2 spells, including Read Magic), but used a half-assed version (no need to roll % chance) of AD&D’s rules for learning new spells from scrolls & other spell books with some minute differences.

At some point, I may need to do an in-depth look at Read Magic and its implications across all editions!

Into the Tower of Zenopus Pt 2: TPK

We had a reduced party for the second session of Zenopus, with only two players showing up. I let them pick up a few mooks from just off the ship to help pick up the slack. I was surprised that they opted to go straight back into the dungeon rather than ask around for the “boss” whom the goblins told them about. They seemed to think that the goblins might be more inclined to show them to the boss themselves if the party showed back up where they were told they didn’t belong.

The party initially opted to check out a different direction, going north. First rule of dungeon fighting: don’t knock on doors and don’t wait for things to answer your knock. Because you’ve just lost any element of surprise and whatever is coming through the door is probably not going to be friendly. The party was crammed into a hallway while two ghouls burst through the door they’d been knocking on.

The party order was Dwarf/mook, mook/mook, and elf in back. While the front rows sissy slapped each other (no one was rolling particularly well last night), the elf took a shot with his bow. The mooks in the middle didn’t have a chance to duck or move out of the way, so the elf, who rolled a 2, plugged one of them in the back of the head, killing him straight out. By the end of the scuffle, two hirelings and both ghouls were dead. The hirelings were all heartless ruffians and pirates; the one who lived kicked the corpses of his companions and took from their pockets “what they owed him”.

The party followed the path south until it eventually led to where they had fought the rats and met the goblins. An unfortunate wandering monster roll meant that the same goblins who’d told them to get the hell out the previous night were hanging around and waiting to be relieved. High charisma modifiers meant that the goblins weren’t going to try to kill the party outright, but they did tell them to get the hell out. The party decided to try to bribe the goblins with the platinum pieces that they had found in the coffins where the ghouls were; the goblins are nothing, if not greedy, so after a quick huddle, they negotiated up to 15 platinum pieces: we’ll introduce you to the boss tonight after sundown and we won’t tell him that you’ve been down here. The goblins were convinced to take 5 platinum right away and 10 later at night.

You can never trust players to not knock things off the rails, even if they’re knocking things back onto the first rails they’d knocked themselves off of in the first place… While the goblins were trying to figure out how to divide 5 by 4, the party decides that they could take the goblins. Right as they decided to attack, seven more goblins show up to relieve their companions. And yeah, I rolled it. The goblins swarmed the party. The elf opted not to run and leave the dwarf (with his slower movement) behind. After the first round, the pirate mook ran. Even though the goblins were rolling low, when you’re rolling for 8 or 9 of them, some of them are eventually going to hit. And when they did, they rolled high damage.

Luckily, my players were happy to roll up new characters and try again, showing up in town looking for their friends that they’d heard had gone to Portown in search of treasure and adventure. The barmaid told them their friends had gone off the other day with some pirates and were never seen again. The priest of Triton mentioned that he’d healed a dying elf, but that had been a few days ago. No, he didn’t have any Acolytes to spare on a fool’s adventure. Yeah, there were a couple of wizards who had a damnfool rivalry that might have something to do with tunnels under the cliffs. Hey, check with Lord Alba.

The new party, two fighters, opted to call on the rather Bronte-esque Lord Alba, who cursed the loose lips of servants and asked that discretion would be appreciated, telling them of his missing daughter (Lemunda), whose return would be greatly appreciated and rewarded. He mentioned that she liked to visit the sea cliffs and watch the sunsets, when she wasn’t cavorting down at the wharfs.

Out on the cliffs, they could see a ship anchored about a mile out. The party had a random encounter with some picnicking teenages, who were there to watch the sunset and watch the smugglers who sometimes row into the sea cliffs. How can you get there? We don’t know. By boats, we guess… At that point, we had to wrap because the library was closing and we were being hurried out. It’s remarkable how much can happen in a session with a simple system. Two combat encounters, half a dozen RP encounters, a TPK and a new party getting rolled up all happened in just an hour and a half!

I’m a little disappointed that the party didn’t try to meet with the Thaumaturge; I’d cooked up a thing where he was going to get the party to rescue Lemunda for him, charm her, and convince Lord Alba to marry her off to him. It still might come up, so who knows? Players now know that there’s a missing girl somewhere down there and they’ll be on the lookout for her.

It’s interesting, because I was a little bit worried that Tower of Zenopus wouldn’t have enough content for my group. If I’d run it strictly as a bug-hunt, that might be the case, but by sticking it in a slightly fleshed out town and giving the scant denizens of the dungeon a lot of motivations and rivalries, I think I could get about twice as much, if not more, play out of it than I’ll actually have time to run.