An Old School Night with the Tower of Zenopus

We had a fun time a Casa Scrum tonight. Fellow Scrummer Zach Howard is kind of a fanatic about the old Holmes Dungeons and Dragons Basic starter set published in 1977. He likes to run the starter dungeon from that set, the Tower of Zenopus. So we gave it a shot as he wants to run it at the upcoming ScrumCon 2020. I love D&D and am starting to play it again after a 20 year hiatus. We played with the preset characters from the original scenario plus some additional characters introduced in Eric Holmes’ shorter fiction published in the Dragon magazine over the years. Bottom line, up front: we had a blast. This was the D&D I played as a young pup. A true blast from the past.

Rich McKee kept up a stream of consciousness journal as we were playing which he shared with us afterwards and gave us permission to us. Words are Rich’s (below), thus somewhat Rich-centric. Some small edits for this post.

The McKee Narrative

Cast of Pregenerated Characters:

Zereth (Rich McKee): Elf
Boinger (Walt O’Hara): Halfling
Murray the Mage (John Sears): Magic User
Sir Geoffry (Joe Procopio): Paladin
Lady Hortensa (Jared Smith): Fighter
Brother Ambrose (Francesco Nesci): Cleric

We played using the Holmes Basic rules.

Boinger’s Sheet

We started with some rumors handed out by Zach:
Murray heard about a wizard’s tower that is in ruins, possibly haunted, that might have treasure
Sir Geoffry says smugglers have a way of smuggling goods through the dungeon
Boinger says Zenopus was rumored to keep his most powerful magic in the southern part of his dungeon
Zereth heard that kings were buried in the catacombs under Portown, perhaps we can get in from the ruins north of the tower

“50 years ago the tower was engulfed in green flame. Zenopus was never seen again, his servants think that he unleashed some kind of force. The tower seemed to be haunted until the people in town knocked it down with a catapult. The dungeons can still be accessed.”


We begin in the Green Dragon Inn with Brother Ambrose, a cleric. We head to the tower. 

Once there we went down the stairs to the first level of the dungeon. 

In our initial explorations, we found lots of corridors that end in doors. While exploring to the north of the stairs Brother Ambrose was attacked by a spider, which he managed to kill. 

We find a hole, Boinger sees some eyes (probably a giant rat) and goes into the hole to investigate. He finds a silver piece and some rat droppings.

While Boinger is in the hole, we discover that Boinger had a pack mule that had been with us the entire time and Hortensa, the Amazon warrior, was with him.

Boinger comes back out of the rat tunnels and tells us what he saw, we send him back in with a rope tied around his waist. He learns that there is an extensive rat tunnel system. He yells back some mapping directions. He walks out to the end of the rope and then returns.

We decided to explore the halls more as the tunnels do not seem to be worth it and a Joe was getting bored., As Boinger gets back to us, a group of skeletons comes around the corner and attack. Ambrose leaps into action and attempts to turn them. He successfully turns the skeletons.

We let the skeletons go and explore further into the dungeon. Sir Geoff forced a door open. Behind the door, we see four coffins on the floor that have been broken open. I hear some noise coming from one of the coffins. 

Sir Geoff kicks the coffin open and a ghoul jumps out. While we are fighting it, another one bursts through the earthen wall and attacks Murray. Hortensa is paralyzed by a ghoul and Murray pulled her to safety. Ambrose is also pulled to safety by Murray, who gives him a healing potion. We defeat the ghouls. 

We find 50 platinum pieces (confiscated by the Paladin) and 5 gems in the coffins. We find a secret passage under a mound of dirt. We head through the passage and find ourselves in an unfinished corridor. After a short way, the corridor opens up and we can hear chanting. I scout ahead to see where the chanting is coming from. I see six black robed figures worshiping an octopus headed idol.

Zach’s homebrew character markers, instead of miniatures.

Murray puts the six robed figures to sleep. Several of them are people from town. We find two rubies in the eyes of the idol. We can see that they have been digging up and pulling bodies down from the graveyard. 

We interrogate the one cultist, but he doesn’t seem to know much.
The cultists were a dead end.

Joe and Walt take this opportunity to tell us about some Russian professor that hacked up a lady and attempted suicide in an overly dramatic way.

(editorial note: True story, follow the link!)

We head back to the ghoul room and go south. We come to a door and Zereth hears a clattering and see a greenish glow. Zereth peeks in and see a skeleton with green flame in its eyes. We pull the door shut and it starts to scratch it.

Sir Geoffry kicks the door into it and kills it. The green flame jumps on to him and drains his constitution. I find a ring with the letter Z on the remains of the skeleton. We believe this to be the remains of Zenopus. 

We continue south down a long corridor that ends in a door. The amazon bashes it open. The room is full of garbage and rats. We engage the rats in Mortal Kombat!  

We continue south rom the Rat Room. As we continue south, we hear a slithering sound coming from up ahead. We see a skeleton gliding down the hallway towards us, stuck in a large gelatinous cube. Zereth chases it holding a jar and sprinkling it with desiccating dust. Zereth damaged it a bit and the group pursued it.

Mapping old school style brought it s own frustrations. The orange M&M represents the character with the lamp.

We follow it to the west, so far west that we go off the edge of the map. We have passed into the west!

We come to a room with a sundial on the floor and what appears to be a bronze face on the wall. Writing below the face indicates that it will answer one question. We ask it which way to the greatest treasure and it directs us south. This is the same way that the gelatinous cube went.

We follow the corridor and come to a natural cavern where we can smell a sea breeze, a river runs through it. Zereth approached the river and a giant crab jumps out and knocked him unconscious with a pincer attack. Murray heals him with a potion. Hortensa slays the giant crab.

We forded the river and head north out of the cavern. We come to a T intersection and we can see that in the west there’s a light. We decide to head east. We come to another room that is cut in half by the river. 

We go back west and follow the corridor which opens into a massive chamber. There is a beach with boats and men discussing smuggling, we engage them in combat. I kill one with my now as they approach. We learn that they are actually pirates who just moonlight in smuggling. We fight them and I finish off the last one. We find they have a lady tied up in a boat. We find thousands of coins. A few more pirates approach on a boat, but retreat when they see us.

We decide to head back to town. We all level up and head back into the dungeon.

We begin checking behind doors that we passed by earlier. We find an immense Ballroom of Zenopus. As we walk through the room, someone begins firing arrows at us from behind tables. It’s a pack of goblins. We sleep the goblins and kill them.

Sir Geoffry tries to bash open a chest but releases a gas cloud which puts him to sleep. We Found a potion of growth and a letter from a goblin to his storm giant lover:

Dearest Snarfblat,
I have found a potion that will let me grow to a size that should make your father finally allow us to marry. I have been saving my wages and have a chest here full of my riches and Sleepytime Herbal Tea. This is a violent place, and I cannot bear to be without you anymore. Everytime I hear the sea waves crashing, I think of you, and dream of Galveston. 

Your Love,

We go into the next room and are attacked by a giant spider that drops on Ambrose from above.

We defeat the spider and find a dagger in its belly. We head north from the spider room down a corridor that ends in a door.

We break the door open and enter the catacombs of the city. The room is partially collapsed and there are several coffins. The lids on the coffin are very heavy, so we rig up a harness for the mule.

While we are doing this, Sir Geoff pulls the lid off of one and a skeleton jumps out. It is quickly dispatched.

Inside the coffin we opened with the mule, we found a skeleton with some jewels. Suddenly a rat bites Murray. We kill the rat and open another coffin. We find a jeweled dagger inside. Boinger goes to take the dagger and it attacks him. It’s magic! We manage to down the dagger and shove it in a sack. The dagger animates again and attacks Boinger again!
We put the dagger back in its coffin and close it. We briefly contemplated keeping the dagger as a special present for an enemy, but it seems like too much trouble. We open the rest of the coffins and find a magic sword +1 and 900 gp.

It’s late at this point but we agreed to meet again for another session.

Zach DMing..