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Zenopus, Rolemaster Robin Hood, and Core Space

Although this blog has been quiet for the past several months, it has not been from a lack of gaming activity on my part. In fact, I have a backlog of about 10 posts that I should try to get up in one form or another, including recaps of last November's trip to the HMGS Fall In convention in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the announcement of Scrum Con 2023, several games played with my pal Mar Rosquites in his Moria Reclamation Project, a multitude of games played when I spent two weeks as a pseudo-bachelor in September, and a many months long fantasy wargame campaign I co-organized for the Scrum Club last summer and fall. 

I think it was the latter that sadly sapped my resolve to keep up with the blog and my unofficial schedule of posting at least once a month, if not more often. Even with a collaborator in friend Jared Smith, the campaign took a lot out of me: the writing and preparation for the sessions required a tremendous amount of time and effort, and then some folks in the club decided they weren't interested in going along for the ride, which was pretty demoralizing, especially since the club had agreed to set aside the next several months to play through it. A number of us trudged along, regardless, and I think those who participated in the campaign had a good time. I have a lot of material I prepared for those sessions, but after I fell behind in posting about them on a regular basis, it started to feel overwhelming to try to catch up.

But this blog has always been a part of the way I engage in this hobby, and I don't want it to go fallow, so I'm going to try to backfill with some posts on all of the cool gaming I've been doing these past several months. Just to get through it all and catch back up, I'm going to keep these musings briefer than usual.

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave
D&D Holmes Basic with Zach Howard of Zenopus Archives

A number of conventions are in the offing, and some members of the Scrum Club will be running games at a few of them, including Zach Howard (aka Arch Zenopus). Yesterday he ran what I believe was the first playtest of a scenario he's been working on for a number of months and that extends the underground areas connected to the "Tower of Zenopus," the sample dungeon appearing in the D&D basic rules book written by J. Eric Holmes for TSR in 1977. Zach ran us through that original sample adventure proper before the pandemic in 2019, and it was fun revisiting the adventure setting that is obviously dear to his gaming heart. We explored a whole new section of the original smugglers' caves, fighting off swarms of bats and a nasty carrion crawler that got the drop on us. We didn't make it as deep into the caverns as we would have liked, so we're going to circle back and play again sometime soon I hope. Luckily, we'll have the benefit of the excellent map drawn by the party cartographer, Jared. Now that's my kind of old school. I played an elf fighter/magic user, and am looking forward to seeing how far into the caverns I can get with him without getting killed off.

Here are some photos snapped during the session, which included me, Rich, Francesco, Jared, Josh, Peter, and Zach (of course).

Dug out the original dice from my childhood Moldvay Basic set from 1981 for this game. My first game of D&D back in 1979 was with a DM using the Holmes Basic Set, but I never owned one until a few years ago, when I scored a virgin boxed set on eBay from which this rulebook was taken.

Zach, Francesco, and Rich.

Part of the fun for me was watching Jared sketch out a beautiful map of our explorations.


This Carrion Crawler was much scarier in the game, especially when he paralyzed Josh's character!

A staple in Scrum Hall: cheese and salami.


Robin Hood
Rolemaster with Rich McKee

I'm not sure if Rich was bitten by the same bug as me, but ever since Dirk the Dice of the Grognard Files podcast devoted an episode to Robin Hood I've wanted to try my hand at the old Rolemaster version. Like Rich, I think we both shortly thereafter got online and procured our own copies of this odd little 1980s one-off. I also sought out the old BBC series from the same decade and watched the first two seasons, finding them surprisingly enjoyable despite their vintage.

As mentioned on this blog before, I've befriended a group of gamers who are omnivorous in their appetites, with a strong interest in backtracking to some of the older games we never had a chance to play much, if at all, in our gaming youth. I owned Iron Crown Enterprises' Middle Earth Role Playing Game and several supplements, but I never had a group of gaming friends who were going to tackle a system that dense. The Rolemaster family of games have been humorously dubbed Chartmaster for a reason.

Our 4:30 gaming slot on Second Saturdays proper are normally reserved for wargames. When several months ago Rich said he'd like to get the Rolemaster Robin Hood game on the calendar and run it as a miniatures game, I sorta suspected a wolf in sheep's clothing, and in the end this was as much or more of a role playing game as it was a wargame. That said, it was a successful melding of the two: Rolemaster is certainly crunchy as all hell, with movement and combat resolution mechanisms taken to an extreme I can't say I've ever gamed at before. And Rich is such an adept game master that I was not surprised that the role playing bits were eminently enjoyable. As far as hybrid experiences go, this was my kind of fun, and it is the kind of thing I've thought about trying my hand at for a while now, too. 

We managed to get through two "set pieces" of sorts. The game started with Robin and almost all of his men jailed from a heist that went sideways on them. The target was an abbey the sheriff had been using to secretly stash his skimmings from the tax collection he administers. Set upon mid-heist by the Sheriff and his soldiers, the majority of Robin's men were captured and held prisoner in the abbey. Robin, Little John, and Will Scarlet--the character I played--were jailed separately several towns away. 

The first set piece involved Friar Tuck (Francesco) and Alan-a-Dale (Zach)--uninvolved in the heist--looking for a way to spring Robin, Little John, and Will Scarlet from captivity. The plan included some foraging for poisonous herbs, a distracting musical performance by Alan-a-Dale in the town square, and the beating up of some guards made sick from said herbs baked into their dinner potpie.

With Robin and friends liberated, a quick rearranging of the terrain on the table was the segue to the next set piece in which the protagonists must sneak onto the abbey grounds to rescue their captive comrades. This involved some skulking about the area trying to avoid the patrolling local militia while looking for a secret entrance into the catacombs running beneath the abbey. We learned in this episode that Robin Hood's stats with a bow were beyond daunting, and the game ended with the sheriff being downed by a single shot in the eye socket. This, however, paled in comparison to the savagery exhibited throughout the game by Friar Tuck, played by Francesco as if he were a dark avenging angel, slicing throats and stabbing unarmed foes with abandon. As a fellow "merry man" he was ostensibly on my side, and I was still shook.

The photos below are in no particular order, and all but a couple by Zach are taken by my inferior hand. They are not meant to tell a chronological story as much as to simply provide a sense of the fun we all had around the table last night. 

Do you like consulting multiple charts to resolve your attack? I've got a game for you!

Peter played Robin Hood.

Friar Tuck, early in episode one, before he started absolving people's sins with a dagger to the gullet.

Robin's men, captive.

Alan-a-Dale and Robin Hood finding a sympathetic patrolmen amongst the abbey's militia. He helped distract some of the other militia while Robin and company searched for the hidden entrance to the catacombs that would allow them to sneak into the abbey.

I think these cows were on Robin Hood's side.

The gyrations of a GM.

The sheriff's men guarding the perimeter of the abbey.

Alan-a-dale being escorted by a militiaman to the abbey. 

One of the sheriff's guards outside the abbey.

A guard escorts Alan-a-Dale, who is playing up the wandering minstrel routine to see if the sheriff would be interested in a performance. After a botched negotiation over fees for services, the sheriff banishes Alan-a-Dale to the kitchen. This worked out fine, as the point was for Alan to get inside and distract everyone as Robin and company skulked into the abbey. 

Will Scarlet about to stab the guard outside the abbey while Alan-a-Dale sneaks up behind him. The bald, paunchy figure chosen for Alan-a-Dale makes him look more like Ron Jeremy than Rod Stewart.

Little John and Friar Tuck about to put the beat down on Sir Guy of Gisburne inside the abbey.

Robin the Hooded Man and his gang from Robin of Sherwood (BBC, 1984-86). 


We had enough players attending last night that we tried a first for Scrum Hall and ran two concurrent games, one on the newish Wyrmwood table and another on the nearly as large island that connects the kitchen area with the dining room. I think it was a success, and I can see us making use of this arrangement in the future when need be.

Josh brought over Core Space and set up a game for he and Joey to play. There seemed to be ample space, and we have four barstools for future games on the kitchen island, so nobody has to stand all night.

The full expanse of Scrum Hall with both games in play.

Josh and Joey.

Joey only somewhat successfully throwing Scrum Club gang signs.

Closing Thoughts and Parting Shots

I think I rank this a "fail" in terms of writing a shorter blog post, but I deem yesterday's games an unambiguous success. It was fun, as ever, getting this group of guys together for a day of merriment and dice rolling.

I'll write a whole separate post soon about our upcoming Scrum Con 2023 scheduled for April 8 in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, but please go to our site and sign up for the newsletter so that you don't miss announcements regarding the opening of registration and other news. And please spread the word amongst your gaming pals...we'd really appreciate it. Below is a graphic that you can post on social media to help us get the word out! Thanks!



Well-thumbed posts

Lost Art of D&D No. 3: Cynthia Sims Millan

  I've always found this to be an especially evocative piece.  I've only ever known it from the article on the Anti-Paladin NPC from  The Dragon  #39 (1980), but I've discovered that it was actually originally drawn three years earlier for a plate depicting the Lord of the Nazgul in a 1977  Lord of the Rings  portfolio. The artist, Cynthia Sims Millan , was not credited in that issue's editorial box, and her signature was obviously deliberately excised from the artwork itself (see above plate and below page from The Dragon ). At the very least this was extremely poor form on TSR's part, but I can't help but wonder if they even legally owned the rights to reprint the piece. Besides this portfolio and a listing in the artist database on Board Game Geek, I could find precious little on Millan . The only games she seems associated with are a handful published by Heritage USA around 1980, and on all but one of those she seems paired with artist/graphic designer David

Take the High Road: Making Cheap and Easy Dirt Roads

I have wanted some good roads to add to my games for a while now. My first attempt was a couple of years ago when my standards were a bit lower and I wasn't sure how much I was interested in investing in this new hobby. I bought some PDFs of cobblestone roads that I sized, printed, and glued to felt. The result was okay, but the way my laser printer  produced the roads ended up being quite reflective to the point of almost being glossy looking. The combination of glue, paper, and felt also meant the roads had a wavy consistency and almost always curled at the edges. I used them once or twice but was never happy with them. My sub-par first attempt at making roads for my games using felt strips, glue, and printed designs. You can see how shiny and how wavy and curled at the edges they turned out. I never felt good about putting them on the table for our games and eventually stopped altogether. I've been meaning to take another crack at making some roads now that I have

Lost Art of D&D No. 2: Games Workshop's Holmes Basic (1977)

After Games Workshop attained the license to print a co-branded edition of TSR's 1977 Dungeons & Dragons basic rules book, they set about putting their own stamp on it, designing a new cover and replacing a number of the illustrations they deemed too crudely drawn for their U.K. market.  The cover art was by John Blanche at the very start of his career as a fantasy illustrator. Blanche went on to be a mainstay at Games Workshop, producing countless illustrations for them. His fannish enthusiasm for the material--as an artist as well as a lifelong gamer--has deservedly made him a favorite over the decades. I first encountered Blanche's work in the David Day compendium, A Tolkien Bestiary (1978), to which he contributed five illustrations that sit comfortably alongside the book's chief illustrator, Ian Miller. I have a special fondness for this book, having coveted it as a child during my incipient Middle Earth fixation. My parent's procured an out-of-print copy of t

Historicon 2022: (Almost) Post-Pandemic Gaming

  Steve and Joe, punchy already on Day One. Based on the way most folks carried themselves at this year's convention, you'd be hard pressed to find evidence that the pandemic is only just now--possibly, hopefully--winding down. "I see a lot of old white guys without masks," my pal Jared noted about the Historicon photos he was seeing on social media, and he wasn't wrong. Mask wearing was sparse, elevators were full, and the flea market known as Wally's Basement was elbow to elbow whenever they opened it back up for a new round of shopping every two hours.  I confess that I let my guard down for most of my time there, which for me started late Thursday afternoon and lasted through Sunday morning. I wore a mask whenever I had to ride an elevator because that seemed like a potential swirling vortex of viral entrapment, but otherwise I somewhat resignedly went with the prevailing approach of hoping that a double boost of the vaccine would keep me from death's

Playing with Yourself: 'Rangers of Shadow Deep' vs. 'Sellswords & Spellslingers'

As the year crawls to an end, I'm looking through this blog and noticing a couple of posts I started and never finished. This is one of them. Back in July 2019, I placed the photos on the page, jotted down a few bullet-point placeholder notes, and then never actually went back and wrote anything to post.   The post was meant to be my informal review of Rangers of Shadow Deep after my first game of it with Josh O'Conner, who set it up for us to try in his basement. I think I never finished this post because I was not very impressed with the game but I knew Josh was, and we hadn't been gaming together long enough for me to be sure my candor about the game wouldn't hurt his feelings and sour a budding gaming friendship. I consider Josh more than a gaming friend these days, and so I'll go ahead and post this with some very short notes fleshing out the bullet points I had left as a reminder for myself back in 2019 (at least the one's I can still decipher the

Dire Tidings at Klanên-Rühen (Thud & Blunder)

  Wyrmwood Modular Wargaming Table A day I've been waiting two years to arrive finally came: the delivery of the Wyrmwood war gaming table I ordered.  Ellen and I were in the middle of planning our long-desired renovations to the kitchen and dining room when Wyrmwood launched its Kickstarter for its tables back in 2020. I sorta offhandedly mentioned there was a Kickstarter about to launch for some cool custom tables purpose-built for gaming, mostly to point out the outer reaches of the hobby's accoutrements. I was going to have her quickly look at the website over my shoulder and then let it drop entirely. Much to my surprise she immediately suggested we get one and just roll it into our budget for the home renovations.  Ellen has always been completely supportive of my hobby, seeing how much pleasure it brings me, but even I was taken aback by her willingness to suggest we make this not-insubstantial purchase. I'll say it here again: she's the best.  I would never have