Tower of Zenopus – Shorthand

Mixed GM, I know you’re going to be at my table Saturday, so don’t read this! Or, at least don’t download my key for the dungeon map!

I love Holmes’ sample dungeon, but it’s a bit tricky to run straight off the page for a couple reasons. First, he doesn’t use what would become the established convention for keying dungeons crossword-puzzle style. Second, he’ll include several paragraphs of information describing the room and the treasure in it to add at the very end “there’s a monster in here that will attack you”.

So, for my own benefit, I boiled the whole thing down into two pages of key-notes, everything I need to actually run the Tower as a one off. I tried to put dungeon info in the order that it would be relevant to inform the party about it. General room description and any obvious monsters, followed by more detailed descriptions, followed by loot. In the past, I took a highlighter to photocopied text, but I think this will help with the issue of relevant order or room objects.

You can download my PDF here.

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Tower of Zenopus pt 4: Conclusion

My library group running Tower of Zenopus wrapped last night. There were a few loose ends, namely the Thaumaturge Alain, about whom little can be done by a small party, but on the whole I think that it reached a satisfactory conclusion. The module had more than enough content to cover the 4 sessions despite my worries that it might not.

The party (without the mage this week), returned to the tunnels, one fighter intent to pry out some goblin teeth. They made short work of the giant rats who were nibbling at corpses. Some ghouls were wandering about, gnawing on the petrified adventurers (Rollo the Pirate was presumably eaten); the party won surprise and used the opportunity to back away.

The party quickly figured out why the goblin from the previous session had led them around the long way; he figured he’d have a better chance of living admitting failure to the boss than going up against the giant spider. The spider put the hurt on and almost killed the Dwarf. A few lucky blows and the party’s rather impressive strength bonuses managed to make fairly short work of the deadly foe. After the party recovered, they made another delve, a straight-shot west and got the drop on the pirates. The pirates didn’t put up much fight but almost got away (they tried to shove off and put out to sea), though the party was able to take them down, showering them with arrows and spears.

They rescued Lemunda and were rewarded by her father Lord Alba. Good guys win. Yay!

So, some ideas for expanding Tower of Zenopus:
-Lemunda is a tough broad, and she probably could’ve taken any of the pirates one on one in a straight up fight. So, why is she there held by the pirates (besides being lovely)? Well, in my own game, the reason is that she’s tough who likes to hang out around the docks drinking and gambling (she’s also probably a would-be adventurer; how else would she have made it to Level 2?). I reason that she won big against the wrong guy and one of the pirate lords of the city wanted her punished. I think that this is a really great place to drop in something like Gron & Krim’s Blood & Guts Tavern; depending on how one treats greenskins in the setting, one could easily swap out the demihumans for other ruffians. Hell, maybe Lemunda was part of the underground fighting scene in Portown?
-The Tower of Zenopus and Portown were supposedly built over an ancient city. Even though B4 – the Lost City takes place in a desert, there’s no reason you can’t stick the pyramid deep underground. Then you have an underground lost city with an even deeper underground city below that one! The tough part of working out the underground city aspect of Tower of Zenopus is that there’s nowhere on the map that reasonably could lead to it or anywhere else. What I did, on the off chance (which was never realized) that I’d run out of content from Holmes, was create an adjunct mini-dungeon just east of where 10 x 10 dirt “tunnel” off the ghoul room is. If the players tried to excavate it, they’d find more of the crypt structure under the graveyard and beyond that tunnels into more limestone caves. At the far end of this dozen or so room cave system, I dropped B4, waiting to be discovered.
-Theoretically, I could retcon Portown into Portsdam and drop it into Alfheim. I won’t, though, for several reasons, not the least of which being I don’t want to be one of those DMs who runs their games in a single pet setting.

In other news, I’m so close to finished with my first draft of my Sword & Planet novelette I can almost taste it! Progress on it has been a bit slower than I would’ve liked, in part because of other work, time spent working on B&B, on my Zenopus game, blogging and just in general screwing around when i should’ve been writing. I’m not cut out for the story mines, as they say. But I ought to have something to show a few people for suggestions and review in a few weeks.

I don’t think it would work to shoehorn it in this time, but after reading Brackett, I feel like I need at least a couple chainsmoking characters in whatever I write next. I don’t know if I’m ready for all the ‘thrusting’ yet, though. From Martian spires to the Venutian economy, everything is thrusting about in Nemesis from Terra/Shadow Over Mars.  From the petrified tunneling worm to the bird girl’s ‘soft downy hair’, there’s nothing about this book that’s not screaming sex.

"Mr. Fallon, Rick Urquhart's leading a slave riot in your mines!"  "We'll bring out the Banning Ray and put a stop to him as soon as I finish my Kent."

“Mr. Fallon, Rick Urquhart’s leading a slave riot in your mines!” “It’s all right… Me and Storm’ll bring out the Banning and put a stop to him as soon as I finish my Kent.”

Tonight, more Civil War!

Next Week I’ll resume Short Reviews, finishing off the January ’76 issue of F&SF and taking on, at the recommendations of Joachim Boaz, a few of the stories from the Feb ’74 issue.

Tower of Zenopus Pt 3: Sopor Aeternus

At 1st level, it’s not about having a balanced party. It’s about having Sleep, goddamnit! And have it they did: we were back up to 4 party members yesterday, the fighter and magic user who missed last time and thus survived and the new fighter and dwarf that the players who died rolled up. There was a little bit of worrying about the balance of a party with 3 fighters and a mage, but those fears were allayed during the revenge trip to the dungeon.

After some discussion about how to reach the caves, it was determined that they weren’t going to be able to buy a skiff with the money they had, certainly couldn’t hire anyone to safely guide them through the rocks, and wouldn’t be able to reach the caves without being noticed by the pirate tub anchored about a half mile out. So through the tunnels it would be!

They went straight forward toward to the goblin barracks and managed to get the drop on nearly a dozen greenskins hanging around chatting and playing cards (gambling with the very electrum that they had pilfered from the TPKed group). The fighters ineffectually whizzed a few arrows across the large room. A couple of the goblins made to run off to the south through the puzzle room, the goblins playing cards rose to attack (except for the one who grabbed a stack of electrum and ran west). One of the attacking goblins caught an arrow in the neck, but that was chump change. The magic user got Sleep off for 12 hit dice, immediately zonking the remaining 10 goblins, including those trying to flee.

What followed was a blood bath as the party butchered all goblins but one whom they tied up. The room was looted and the party let out a great hurrah that they were no longer two days from being kicked out of their rooms at the inn. The remaining goblin was forced to lead them to the sea cliffs. Of course the goblin knew the straight shot to the caves was through a spider’s lair, and he wanted a decent chance of getting out alive. So, he led them to where the Thaumaturge was hanging out and tried to make a break for it. The goblin’s cry was enough to let the Thaumaturge get a spell off before the start of combat (Protection from Good), but the goblin didn’t manage to break free. The goblin got one of the MU’s daggers in the back of the neck.

Rollo the pirate didn’t do much besides keep the party distracted long enough for Alain the Thaumaturge to charm one of the fighters. The charmed fighter was all “Oh, hey, wait, no, it’s cool, this is the guy we were supposed to talk to!” and managed to buy Alain time to get back to his tower. He’ll be mad when he finds out that he dropped his scroll of levitation.

There’s one more Library-sanctioned session left, though the group has expressed a desire to keep going in another venue. I’m pretty pleased by this, given the disarray my Alfheim group is in, but at the same time, if they save Lemunda from the Pirates next time, I’d be happy with that conclusion.

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.

Into the Tower of Zenopus + plus some ranting

My first session of Tower of Zenopus went quite well Wednesday.  The players I had were enthusiastic and seemed to have a good time.  Drawing a map of Portown, even if it wasn’t a great map, was very helpful for improvising a few things here and there, getting a general idea of what was going on around the Tower and give players an idea of what they could do and where they could go.  There was less interaction with the stuff I had setup than I anticipated, but that was not necessarily a bad thing.  There’s something nice about a party that says “Alright, there’s a dungeon, let’s go check it out!”  No long elaborate getting to know yous, describing characters’ regalia and backstories, just an “Oh, hey, we’ve only got enough money to stay at the inn for a few more nights, we’d better score some treasure fast!”

I’m having a lot of fun with reaction rolls, something I haven’t had a chance to use much in Alfheim, given that undead tend to have a uniformly negative reaction to PCs.  I’m using them everywhere I can, whether it’s with townsfolk (see below) or intelligent monsters my players come across(see further below).  I’m trying to make sure that all stats have some value, including Charisma and Intelligence, which tend to be dump stats in a lot of games.  For Charisma, I’m doing it with reaction rolls.  Intelligence is a little harder, since it really ONLY governs MU/E XP and languages known, so I want to make languages a bit more useful.  Too often I’ve been in games where a character knows a boatload of languages and none of them end up being particularly useful.  “Why did I bother learning Crabman?”  So I’m using INT for the capacity to pick up on new languages.  It may not come into play as often as reaction rolls, but I want to do SOMETHING with it.

In my map of Portown, the neighborhood around the ruins are kind of slummy and plagued by robberies (of a copper wiring variety); this was the obvious spot to ask around about the tower, though no one really wants to talk to outsiders who want to go muckin’ about trespassing where the Tower used to be.  A crotchety old lady told party about how when she was a wee girl ol’ Zennypus’ Tower was knocked down but since troublemakers and adventurers had been poking around giving folks no peace.

The party went in and got ambushed by the obvious skeleton ambush.  The elf was nearly killed; even though I’m using AD&D’s negative HP rule, chances are anyone getting KOed anywhere but within one room of the dungeon entrance is going to die for realsies.  In this case, though, the Chapel of Triton is close enough to the dungeon entrance than he was able to be dropped in front of a cleric before he hit -10.  As the mage ran out with the elf over his shoulders, the old lady pointed and laughed.

With the second foray, the party continued following the old left-hand rule, landing them in the garbage filled rat room.  “Look out for rats!” (Garbage filled rooms almost always means rats; my players are genre-savvy.) And rats there were indeed.  The rats were easily dispatched and the coins and dagger found.  The party was going to head down the tunnel which would’ve put them right by where the Thaumaturge and his pet pirate are hanging out when a random encounter came up.  I mentioned the problem earlier about wandering monsters in this dungeon; rather than rolling on the wandering table, I decided to just go with a goblin patrol.  I don’t think it’s mentioned in the text why the goblins are in the dungeon, but I feel it’s safe to assume that they’re probably in the employ of the Thaumaturge.  It explains why he suffers their presence and why they have so much money.

The players got incredibly lucky on their reaction roll; the goblins were drunk and, while mildly apprehensive, not really looking for a fight. The goblins, though exasperated by the heroes persistence, insisted that they weren’t supposed to be there and needed to leave.  No, they can’t take the heroes to the boss, because the heroes aren’t supposed to be there and the boss will be mad.  You want to talk to the boss, you gotta talk to him upstairs.  Where?  In the tower.  There’s no Tower.  Stupid elf, no, the other tower.  Why can’t you take us there now?  Because we’re supposed to keep you out of here, duh, but we’re almost off duty, so leave, okay?  The party was slightly outnumbered and didn’t feel like risking death when the goblins didn’t seem interested in the fight, so they gave up and decided to look into this “boss” the next day.

Now, here is where things get interesting: the players claim that they’d be interested in working for the “boss”.  I don’t know if that’s just what they were BSing the goblins or if they’re serious.  They plan on offering the silver dagger as a gift.  I’ve already set up a rival wizard of the Thaumaturge with his own tower across the way.  The idea was that this would be the “good” wizard that magic user characters could hang out with and keep their books in his tower; his ‘quest arc’ would be the rivalry with the Thaumaturge.  Of course, as I mentioned, the players opted to go straight for the dungeon without checking out everything in town.  This means I might end up needing to make a micro-dungeon out of the “good” wizard’s tower if they actually end up getting an audience with the Thaumaturge.  Naturally he’ll ask them do away with his rival.

On a side note, I’ve noticed that my writing has gone to crap lately.  I feel like I’ve had way more typos all over the place, half-finished jumbled thoughts and weird traces of edits or rewrites that weren’t properly cleaned up.  Or maybe the thought I was writing changed mid-sentence as I typed.  Sleep issues have had me going somewhat brain-dead and my posts have been suffering for it.  I probably update 5 or 6 times trying to fix things I catch AFTER I post something.  And that’s after all of the fixes before I copy what I’ve typed up over into the post box.  Blargh!  I may try to slow things down here for a bit.  The last two or three months, I’ve been writing here like a maniac, and I’m not entirely sure why.  I love Veemonro, but when he posts a dozen videos in a day, I end up skipping lots of them.  I’m sure that people who enjoy this blog feel the same way, so I will try to rein it in a bit.  Hopefully my writing will be less sloppy for it.

City at the Top of the World will still be free for a few more days.

Lastly, I just had to remark on this somewhere or I think I’d go crazy, but my mind is absolutely blown by the adoration I’ve seen for Rat Queens from some of the same people who are upset about words on the internet. I mean, do they not know?  That nobody is talking about how and why Rat Queens’ Hugo nomination might be “problematic” is genuinely shocking, especially given how much energy is devoted to painting Correia, Hoyt, and Torgerson as monsters.  I really do feel bad for the writer of Rat Queens, because you can’t say it’s his fault that his artist tossed his wife (who on her blog alleges a history of abuse) down some stairs, choked her, and punched her in the face, but in a world where people are being told that they should’ve turned down their nominations because of things nominators have written, said or have said to have written or said, or even just the slate process, it is astounding that this has not only not been made into an issue but it has not even been talked about. Rat Queens seems heavily favored and has garnered tons of accolades from feminist and LGBT media outlets; the momentum it had meant that even its co-creator being fired for spousal abuse was not enough to keep it from getting a Hugo nomination and a GLAAD Media Award.  It will be interesting to see if there’s any fallout from the cognizant dissonance if Worldcon ends up giving a trophy to Roc Upchurch.

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!