Monday, October 2, 2017

Tip-Offs in Tamoachan

So I was reading the "Collector's Edition" of the AD&D Lost Tamoachan module, published by TSR in 1979. This is the Mayan-themed adventure (in-game, "Olman") by Harold Johnson & Jeff Leason, later repackaged as AD&D Dungeon Module C1 in 1980/81. The cover (shown here) says:


This module was originally used for the Official Advanced Dungeon & Dragons tournament at Origins '79. This special numbered collectors edition (300 copies in print) contains background information, referee's notes, a large four-level map and reference matrices. Pre-rolled characters are included with brief histories for each. LOST TAMOACHAN: "The Hidden Shrine of Lubaantum", is the first in a new line of Collector's Edition modules from TSR. If you find this module intriguing, look for the TSR logo on future publications from The Game Wizards!

There are many differences between this edition and the later, more mass-market publication of module C1 in 1980/81. For starters: The formatting is much more rudimentary; just run directly off a personal typewriter in a single mono font, from what I can tell. Areas are identified variously by letters or numbers (names of areas generally match C1, but the numbers do not). There is no separate illustration booklet, and generally just a few illustrations in the module itself. There is no tournament scoring system (which makes me suspect that the system in the later C2 was made just for that publication, and not used at Origins). As an aside: If you're curious, the only other "Collector's Edition" item was module C2. Anyway, here are the tidbits that I find the most interesting.

Table Scale of 1" = 5 Feet

Area N, "The Tomb of Pelota", features an aggressively animate rubber ball which challenges adventurers to a classic game of pelota, in a long hallway with goals on either end. This optional encounter includes 5 paragraphs of game rules for running the event. In part, it says:
The ball moves in increments of 5' or 1 inch on a scaled playing surface. Players must strike as if hitting with their major [sic] to hit AC 5 to connect and then drive the ball the resulting damage in inches along the corridor; in this case always roll for damage, don't use average rolls. To score the character must be within range of the goal and score +4 above the required roll "to hit". If players are within 6 inches, on scale, of the ball they may all swing to hit; if the nearest figures are 12 inches up to two may attempt to hit at -1; and if none are within range only 1 may attempt at -2... The ball moves itself 2-8 spaces each round, [sic] number is generated, but must always hit opposing walls in any round, +1 more wall if moving over 5 spaces...
Now, this tactical scene, with all distances given in inches, and the 1" = 5 feet scale is particularly interesting because it's written within the same year (1979) that Gygax is writing in the AD&D DMG, "Each ground scale inch can then be used to equal 3⅓ linear feet" (p. 10).

On the one hand, when ranges are specified in OD&D/AD&D, they are given in 1" units where officially 1" = 10' indoors, 30' outdoors, but (awkwardly) this should be a separate and distinct consideration (i.e., units-of-account only, not reflecting actual tabletop usage). But when the later module C1 was prepared, this pelota scene (now area #29) was edited to read, "The ball moves in increments of 5' (½")", and all the other references were converted to feet instead of inches, as though the editor wanted to mostly avoid the whole tactical issue (i.e., movement from a PC hit was no longer damage-as-inches, but instead a fixed "15' per blow").

Is this the earliest reference in an official D&D product to use of the 1" = 5 feet tactical scale? If we were wildly conspiracy-minded, we might be tempted to allege something outrageous, like that it took an ongoing and concerted cover-up to avoid the rather blatant fact that original D&D scale should have just been 1" = 5 feet all along, the most playable and mathematically direct conversion when playing with 25mm man-to-man figures.

Treasure in Silver Pieces

Most of the treasure in Lost Tamoachan is valued in units of silver pieces -- not gold, as is customary in official D&D. It seems like most of the treasure in areas #1-11 is valued in gold pieces, while the treasure in areas #12-25 is generally priced in silver pieces (there are exceptions to this assessment). Is it possible the Johnson/Leason originally played their games with a (more historically realistic) silver-standard economy, and partly but incompletely managed to convert that for their Origins tournament module?

When the later C1 module was prepared, all of these silver treasure valuations were converted by the rules-as-written in AD&D, in that 1 gp = 20 sp should be the base economic unit; that is, all of the silver treasure valuations were divided by 20 or thereabouts.

Here's an example from the original adventure, area #12, "The Tomb of Tlacaelel":
The chests hold large heaps of coin necklaces, silver coins pierced and threaded on gut, worth 360 s.p. each... In the first chest are: 10 coin necklaces, 6 pair of jade earplugs, worth 260 s.p. a set; an alabaster stature, worth 500 s.p.; and an agate ring, value 100 s.p....

In the later module C1, this becomes area #33:
These chests hold large heaps of coin necklaces, 360 silver coins pierced and threaded on gut worth a total of 18 g.p., and other assorted valuables... Chest #1: This chest is jammed shut and must be broken open. It holds 10 coin necklaces, 6 pairs of jade earplugs, worth 15 g.p. a set, an alabaster statuette, worth 50 g.p., and an agate ring valued at 5 g.p...
Note that standard jewelry treasure in any version of D&D is valued in units of hundreds (ostensibly gold pieces). The original adventure text has treasure on this same order-of-magnitude; but the converted module C1, with jewelry valuation through in the single-digits and teens (as seen above), is an anomaly. The physically biggest treasure caches become effectively worthless garbage in the AD&D economy and XP system. The only thing that makes sense is that someone was originally running their economy and XP awards in silver-standard units. Again, this echoes the prior section: there is an "obviously correct" scale to D&D pricing values, and it's not really in gold piece units. It took a lot of labor over time to try and continually align the publications with Gygax's early and fundamental errors.

This is somewhat further confused by the fact that, despite the amount of adventure text dedicated to treasure descriptions (the passage quoted above is just the start of a 10-paragraph presentation of treasure in one room!), treasure is not a factor in the C1 tournament scoring system. Perhaps the most obvious deduction, granted that the the original Lost Tamoachan had no such system included, is that originally the tournament was judged simply on value of treasure taken, and silver units were initially the basis on which that was scored.

Other Curiosities

Languages -- The pre-generated characters in Lost Tamoachan are given extensive language lists, and these are important at many points of the adventure. Included among them are Latin, Hebrew, "Tolemy (astronomer's script)", "Harney (Hillfolk tongue)", and "Melange (merchant business tongue)". In the later publication these seem to be respectively replaced by the World of Greyhawk setting elements of Suloise, Elven, Old Oeridian, Orcish, and Flan.

The Mouther -- Lost Tamoachan features (in area #21) the first appearance of the infamous gibbering mouther monster, before it actually was assigned that name. Here, it is simply called the "Mother" throughout -- "'Mother' was once worshipped as the goddess of the earth...". When turned into a more generic monster in C1 (and Monster Manual II), the "mother" became the "mouther".

Hopefully you all are using 1" = 5 feet scaling and silver-standard currency at this point. And salutations to you for being so sagacious and tasteful.


  1. It is impossible to take "Tomb of Pelota" seriously.

    1. "neither is a serious approach to play discouraged"

  2. Yeah, using 1"=5', though I still wish/wonder if we had used 1" = A meter/yard, what could have been. (properly scaled maps and dungeon props, easier conversion between Imperial and Metric games, "taller" easier to paint minis....)

    1. Dunno, the standard might have just become 1cm squares and matching 1cm figures.

    2. The metric system is a tool of the devil! My car gets 40 rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it!

    3. I sometimes regret that the metric system is Base 10 instead of Base 12. What an opportunity we missed.

    4. Gradians, gentlemen, gradians.

  3. Perhaps we would have ended up at 1cm, but given 2" = 6' scale matches dollar store army men, cowboys, knights and other cheap plastic figures I could see it taking off. Wistful thinking at any rate.

  4. Excellent analysis! Especially re: silver pieces!

  5. May I inquire where you obtained the copy of the lost tamoachan? I have only been able to locate the C1 version...

    1. I have a digital PDF here. Actually can't remember where that came from.

  6. Agree with LW --- excellent analysis. I like the way you discern the house rules.