Saturday 15 July 2023

Saving the Fazzlewood (Quest for the Fazzlewood / O1 The Gem and the Staff)

Earlier this year at the start of March Kevin had just finished sorting out a heap of old junk to throw out and was flicking idly through Facebook when he realised that an image on an auction group looked familiar. "Is this trash?" his wife called upstairs, just as Kevin was reading just how much the item on the top of his heap of trash was going for. Saved at the last moment from destruction, Kevin posted a photo of his find on Facebook. "How rare?" he asked.

Originally run as a tournament at Wintercon VII and published by Metro Detroit Gamers, Quest for the Fazzlewood is very rare - but plenty of other modules are as rare, and they're not all worth a couple of thousand pounds.

It's also reasonably early - 1978 - but a hundred or so scenarios (including several TSR modules) predate it, so that doesn't explain it either.

No, the reason Quest for the Fazzlwood is worth thousands is because it was later republished by TSR in 1984 as the second half of O1 The Gem and the Staff (the Fazzlewood is the Staff of the module title).

So how does it differ? What difference does 6 years make? Is the original any good? Did TSR turn it into a professional publication, or did they sanitise all the good bits?

Unfortunately the very thing that prompts us to ask these questions is what prevents us from answering the question. O1 is available for just $4.99 from DriveThruRPG, but the Acaeum has Fazzlewood down as $2047 for a copy in only fair condition. Occasionally photos of the inside pages of Quest for the Fazzlewood appear on Ebay, usually frustratingly fuzzy, leaving its contents an enigma.

I was able to help Kevin out with an understanding of what he had saved and helped him sell it, and as thanks he let me view the elusive pages of the adventure. (Thanks Kevin!) At last I could answer the burning questions.

What I found was that Quest for the Fazzlewood is a far superior adventure to The Gem and the Staff. Although the production is rough around the edges, the original had oodles of atmosphere that was expunged in the rewrite. It's the lair of an evil Wizard - yet all the references to the supernatural such as Pentagrams and Demons have been removed in the revised version. Likewise human remains have been expunged - no skeleton in the closet, no human thigh bone on the desk, and the Ogres are no longer eating a dead body but a large piece of meat. Also the thief's Garotte and Blackjack have been removed. The introduction, an atmospheric piece in the style of the pulp adventures which inspired D&D, changes from inspirational scene setting to bland fare for mass consumption. Finally the change from OD&D to Basic/Expert has changed the spells available so one of the well crafted puzzles no longer makes sense.

I can't share the entire original adventure, but I can do what I hope is a pretty good alternative. I have prepared some conversion notes - or revision notes - what you have to change to revert The Gem and the Staff back into Quest for the Fazzlewood. Once again the module can be played as it was originally written.

But before we get into that lets start with some background on the module, and a review of the original adventure - a review based upon actually running the adventure as a tournament.

Influences - The Ryth Chronicles and Dying Earth

Quest for the Fazzlewood was written by John & Laurie Van De Graaf of Metro Detroit Gamers. They were early adopters of D&D and John was part of a massive local campaign called Ryth from 1975-77. It had  dozens of players and several DMs and John edited the campaign's own fanzine "The Ryth Chronicle". These have been published on the web, and you can read all about it here. Some of the statements below are deduced from the comments on that thread, particularly those by one of the players known as State.

The Chronicles are a fascinating contemporary account of the early days of playing D&D, even implying that in the early days Gary Gygax said Magic Users did not memorise their spells - they could select which spell to cast whilst in the dungeon!

Since 1972 MDG had run a converntion, WinterCon, and in 1978 John and Laurie were asked to design a tournament adventure for WinterCon VIII and Fazzlewood was the result. On the back of the published module they explained their motives for its design, it should be a tournament that would test the players fairly, and in particular they should neither be penalised by nor benefit from the quality of their fellow players. To that end they reasoned that if a DM could run a group of 8 players through a 4-5 hour dungeon, then that same DM could run the same 8 players each through a half-hour dungeon in the same timeframe. Since only one person can contribute at a time to a game, players would be able to contribute just as much in this fairer format.

The influence of the Ryth campaign shows in the names in Fazzlewood: Athelfrar became Athelfrogg, Fazzle (played by John Wood) became the name of the staff Fazzlewood. It seems likely that Anrad Datan became D'tan (inspired by D'wit). Possibly other names also derive from the local campaign (Stats thinks Luho was probably a region in the campaign).

The player's introduction to Fazzlwood is based upon Jack Vance's short story The Manse of lucounu (republished as the first part The Eyes of the Overworld) in which Cudgel is sent to infiltrate and steal from the titular wizard while he is away for a period of three hours:

"There stands lucounu the Laughing Magician," said Fianosther. "In a short time he will come into my booth and attempt to buy a particular red libram, the casebook of Dibarcas Maior, who studied under Great Phandaal. My price is higher than he will pay, but he is a patient man, and will remonstrate for at least three hours. During this time his manse stands untenanted. It contains a vast collection of thaumaturgical artifacts, instruments, and activans, as well as curiosa, talismans, amulets and librams. I'm anxious to purchase such items. Need I say more?" 

Of course in Fazzlewood the wizard is not away for three hours, it is reduced to one half hour as that's the length the tournament!

Six years later The Quest for The Fazzlewood was revised for the Basic/Expert line, a second introductory adventure was added, and it was released by TSR as O1 The Gem and the Staff

Running a Tournament

The vast majority of RPG product reviews are written by people who have read but not actually used the product being reviewed. If a proper review of a module should include playing it, then it would appear that to review a tournament adventure properly would raise the difficulty quite considerably.

I've never played or run a tournament adventure at a convention, and although I've got lots of old tournament adventures I've never run them as such. I've run some of them as part of a campaign (G1-3 for example) or as a one-shot (Tomb of Horrors) but never as a tournament. In fact it's always seemed rather pointless running a tournament adventure for your group as a one-off.

However, three of my tournament adventures are different - this one, Escape from Astigar's Lair, and Tomb of the Waning Moon. They are for only one or two players, and I have 4 players in my group. Thus I realised I could run Quest for the Fazzlewood (one player, half an hour) in one evening for the group, one after another. Similarly both Escape from Astigar's Lair and Tomb of the Waning Moon are for 2 players and last one hour each - so could also be played as a competitive tournament with 4 players in one evening.

Half an hour seems like an extremely short time for an adventure, and it will be if you aren't fully prepared. The scenarios are not very long, but you need to read them through several times until you know them thoroughly. In particular pay attention to the scoring system in advance as it reveals things about how the tournament will play out that may not be obvious otherwise (Astigar's Lair in particular). Look up beforehand how any spells, monsters, or magic items work. This really makes the game move fast and stops the first player being at a major disadvantage.

Get the player(s) to read through the scenario background and their character sheets carefully. Usually the scenario sheet is removed before the adventure starts so suggest they make one or two notes of anything important (or circle anything important if they get to keep them). To speed things up hand these to the next player so they can be preparing whilst the previous one is playing. When the action begins start the stopwatch, and if you ever have to look anything up or dither over a decision, stop the watch whilst you sort it out. The decisions you make do not matter half as much as the importance of being consistent.

In a true multi-player tournament you might be harsher with the players, but I gave the players subtle hints when they got completely stuck or faced with an impossible obstacle. This was simply a "Do you think this is the way you're supposed to go?" or a "Do you think you've missed something?". I said this at most once during a session.

It also helped immensely to our enjoyment that we had three adventures to play through with the same group - they were eager to play the next, and now are demanding that I find (or write) another in the same style for them to play. I ran Fazzlewood first and then put the two players who had performed best in opposing teams for the second adventure (Astigar's Lair). We then switched the teams around for the third (Waning Moon). Afterwards we went through what each player had done, laughing at the dire mistakes and spectacular successes alike.

Instead of insisting that characters actions such as moving and searching for traps used up real tournament time (as per the rules) I instead allowed things mostly to take only as long as they took in game turns. So searching for traps took as long as it took to take a roll, for example. This meant that I could ratchett up tension quite nicely.

After every room I would announce how much time was left, and as the time ticked down I spokefasterandfaster as though it was University Challenge. I announced when they had a minute left, thirty seconds left, and then ten. There was tension and panic such as I've never seen in a normal session!

The reviews of the other two adventures will follow in another post, but the first I ran was Fazzlewood. If you think you might be a player in this adventure then all you need to know is that everyone had a great time playing all three adventures - even those who died horribly. Get your DM to read this and run all three adventures then you can read it afterwards. DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU HAVE A DM WHO COULD RUN THIS FOR YOUR GROUP! 

The Review

I said STOP READING player!

The player's introduction to Fazzlewood explains how two wizards have an ancient rivalry over an inconsequential magic staff (the Fazzlewood) which over the years has developed into a game. Taking it in turns, whoever has the staff hides it in their lair, defended by a series of amusing (but lethal) obstacles. By hook or by crook the other finds a "volunteer" to go into the other's lair to attempt to steal it. The player is Athelfrogg the Agile, was has been caught attempting to steal a gem from the wizard Tormag. He has half an hour to infiltrate Felspel's lair and steal the staff from him. Athelfrogg is given a talisman which can teleport him back to Tormag when he has located the staff.

Fazzlewood is a linear adventure with a series of situational puzzles or riddles to be solved. The puzzles range from trivially easy (using pyrotechnics on the fire to distract the Ogres should be spotted in seconds) to strangely hard (none of my players realised that you were supposed to turn right at the arrow rather than follow it - all four discovered or triggered the pit trap). It should be possible for some, but not all, players to complete the adventure.

There is (or should be) very little fighting in Fazzlewood - if you do so you're wasting time and apart from the first encounter you'll likely lose if you do - but that should be clear to players as they're playing a thief attempting to steal something against the clock. Only two fights occurred - one player attacked the initial Ogre after luring it away from the gong, which just wasted some time - and one player tried to speak to the wizard's apprentice (it did not go well for him) at the end when they had run out of time and inspiration.

The first couple of encounters are fairly easy (distract the guards) and introduce players to the scenario well. The third is a simple time-waster, but it's a nice touch at realism. It's a trap for invisible intruders - the players cannot trigger it as they cannot be invisible, but Felspel doesn't know that. Its main purpose however is to give the players a clue (and a misdirection) to the fourth room - a puzzle.

This one is quite old school - decipher the riddle to find the exit, or walk straight into a pit trap (take a right turn at the arrow drawn on the floor). There is some misdirection (the arrow doesn't point right, and there is a white arrow in a quiver in the previous room which is a red herring) which fooled my players. Athelfrogg is a thief however, and my player who usually plays a thief did check the corridor for traps and hence discovered the pit trap (I ruled that all players would find the trap if they looked, so that it was consistent) - so proper play is rewarded. The secret passage can also be found easily if you're looking for one, so the puzzle is solvable in two different ways. If you fall into the pit (as two out of four players did) you can climb out, but it is tricky and you may fall a second time before you succeed (as one player did). The fake doors beyond the pit proved to be amusing - one player discovered the pit, climbed around it, and used Strength to pull open the reluctant door, ending up holding a door by the handle suspended above the unsprung trap. He had to drop the door to avoid falling, which triggered the trap.

Despite having read A Song of Ice and Fire, none of the players solved the next riddle either (they got better at riddles in the other tournaments). "No one" was allowed to enter unannounced, but none of them said they were "no-one", so all were announced loudly, and one by their true name. In this case there was no downside to this other than losing points (but the in-game truth that was that the player who gave his true name would be hunted down and killed afterwards by Felspel).

The outer sanctum beyond proved to be a stopping point for three out of four players. All realised that the figure was an illusion of Felspell, but even so one still tried to hide behind the curtain from him (and got webbed for their pains). All bar one studiously avoided the illusion, and all explored both side passages. All three found the Basilisk (very old school - this was removed from O1) and one failed their save. For fairness some argue that it should be the same outcome for everyone - in which case perhaps all should have made the save. One running out of time started to panic badly (like you never see in a normal session) and in desperation tried to talk to the Magician's Apprentice (not a good move, as they got got by Hold Person).

As the time ticked down ominously the third player decided that it was better to bring back something - anything - rather than nothing to Felspel, and grabbed the magical alchemical furnace. As I started to read out "Felspel suddenly appears before you, obviously aware of your presence and looks quite upset" she was still scrambling through her notes for the mystical words. "Rotpme Taevac" she yelled just moments before he could utter his word of power.

With just one minute remaining the fourth player braved the illusory wizard, and hence found the Inner Sanctum. There are no less than 19 items in this last room, and usually players would investigate each carefully - but in contrast to all the care taken in the early rooms, with one minute left it was fast and furious. Immeditately he asked how long the staffs in the elephant foot were - when I said they were 3' - 4' in length he just moved on. What's behind the curtain? A skeleton. Ignore that - what's next? The map here was a brilliant idea. Everything in the room is on the map and he could pick up instantly what there was when it would have been impossible to convey all that quickly with a verbal description. With 20 seconds left he examined the sword and shield above the bed. Do you climb onto the bed to get to them? I asked, Yes was the reply. The shield looks special, it might be magical. When you touch the sword it suddenly turns into a 6' long wooden staff with a carved... "Rotpme Taevac" he shouted. Eight seconds left.

There are things that could be improved about Fazzlewood, but it is still extremely enjoyable, and it was very innovative. It should be used as an inspiration to create more such adventures that could be played as a single evening tournament for a group. It can't be done with just any old solitaire scenario - it needs to be combat-light and puzzle based. 

Reverting the Fazzlewood

To create your own version of Quest for The Fazzlewood you need a printed copy of O1 The Gem and the Staff (available from DriveThruRPG). Then follow the instructions below to mark up your copy.

There are also many minor differences in wording for the room descriptions, but they are unimportant.

Reversion I - BECMI to Greyhawk

  • Change the rules from the Mentzer Basic/Expert rules to OD&D with the Greyhawk supplement, or AD&D
  • Discard the first adventure (pp4-9, 15 and the maps for the first adventure)
  • Switch the map for room 9 to that on the right.
The main two effects of changing the rules was to stop Athelfrogg being multi-classed (so he needs a ring of spell-storing to cast spells) and to change which spells are available.

Reversion II - Eric to Athelfrogg

Make the following changes to the character sheet:

  • "Eric the Bold" => "Athelfrogg the Agile"
  • 8th level Thief => FM-4 / MU-4 / T-8
  • 28 hit points => 24 hit points
  • AC 5 => AC 0
  • Dex +2 missiles => +1 for missiles
  • Saves 12/13/11/14/13 => 10/11/11/13/12
  • Movement 120' => add 90' if silent or shadows, 60' if both, one-third if climbing
  • Attack from behind double damage => triple damage
  • Sword +1 and Dagger +2 => 1 sword and 2 daggers
  • Sleeping Potion 5 rnds per level => 1 hour.  
  • Remove the potion of diminution
  • The spells on the ring become Athelfrogg's own spells as an MU.
  • Strength => Knock
  • Phantasmal Force => Pyrotechnics
  • Leather Armor => Bracers of Defense AC 2
  • Add Garotte and Blackjack
Note that O1 adds specified languages, which aren't given in Fazz, except that in location B it clarifies that Athelfrogg cannot speak the Ogre language.

Rules are given for the Garotte and Blackjack as follows: 

Garotte: a 4' cord used to strangle victims. Must attack silently from behind succesfully to use. Does 1-8 damage per turn after initial hit and prevents victim from shouting. Victim must, of course, have a bare neck to use garotte. Victim may resist after the first round by striking at -4 on hit roll, any hit breaking the stranglehold.

Blackjack: Must attack silently from behind successfully. Does 1-6 points of damage and victim may be knocked unconcious: 90% if first level, 80% if second, 70% if third, 60% if fourth, etc.. Victim's head must be bare to be used. Monsters with hard heads (most of them) subtract 20% from the chance for unconciousness.

Thie removal of the Garotte and Blackjack are the first sign that O1 has been sanitised.

The magic sword and dagger are clearly an error in O1. Fazz says "Sword 1" and "Dagger 2" which from the to-hit values given are clearly the number of swords and daggers he carries, not bonuses.

The sleeping potion in O1 is also clearly an error - the potency of the potion cannot depend upon the level of the user!

Armor Class is strange - in Fazz it isn't given so has to be calculated, but can also be derived from the to-hit values given. In O1 it is given as 7 for leather but then later 5 due to Dex.

Reversion III - The Player's Introduction

  • Replace the player's introduction with the original (click to make larger):

In this original version the staff is topped with a curving of a nude woman (instead of a skull), and Felspel is away cavorting lewdly with a water nymph (no explanation proffered in O1).

Reversion IV - The encounters

Encounters A - J in Fazz are numbered 1-9 in O1. For simplicity I'll refer to them by both names.

1(A - Cavern Entrance):

  • Remove the sentence about the Ogre's infravision meaning hiding in shadows won't work.
  • Add note that the Ogre cannot be affected by Charm Person.

2(B - The Ogre Den):

  • Change the "large piece of meat " on the spit to "an indistinguishable humanoid body".
  • Casting Pyrotechnics on the fire "will fill the chamber with dense smoke in one turn. The ogres will begin shouting at the fire-tender and bludering around. The smoke and confusion will enable the player to sneak through the chamber and door with no chance of detection by the Ogres."
  • On casting Ventriloquism "The player doesn't speak the Ogre language nor do the Ogres speak the common tongue. If the spell is cast upon the roasting body, however, the not-so-bright Ogres will be amazed, uttering loud bellows and walking over to the fire. The player can sneak past undetected 75% roll.”

The humanoid body has been sanitised, and no longer does the adventure conflate the player with the character they are playing (as that would be dangerous to young impressionable minds).

Note that the spells make far more sense in this version. Ventriloquism is now a clever ruse - making the dead speak, and since clearly this room is based upon finding a use for the spell pyrotechnics it's a real shame to replace it with Phantasmal Force.

3(C - The Antechamber):

  • Typo "leave your weapons hen" should be "leave your weapons here".

Both versions state that the paint trap is for invisible or gaseous intruders - but it makes no sense for gaseous ones! Also note that Fazz's map was missing the spear, this was fixed in O1.

4(D - The Hallway):

  • The bottom half of the map is missing, thus reducing the number of hieroglyphics from six (star, arrow, triangle, diamond, pentagon, hexagon) to three (arrow, squiggle, squiggle).
  • The illusory wall should only be where the arrow is - as per the map!
  • The pit trap when triggered should drop the last 15' of the corridor. That is, it only triggers in the last 5' but is 15' square.
  • Casting Strength increases the chances of (foolishly) pulling the doors off the wall by 3 pips.
None of my 4 players found the exit until after they had discovered (or fallen into) the pit so probably the change in symbols was as a result of play-testing.

5(E - Corridor to the Black Door):

No change

6(F  - The Outer Sanctum):

  • Add a Pentagram on the floor, in the middle square one above the doors.
  • Add an "Alanthor: a magical alchemical furnace" one square above the right hand door.
  • Change the duration of the blindness from 1-4 turns to "the rest of the expedition".
  • The webs can be escaped with a 1-2 on a d6 (1-4 with Strength). One try per turn.
  • The left hand door is not false.
The Pentagram and Alanthor have been sanitised. They have no effect, except you lose points if you step into the pentagram.

The change in the blindness duration is likely a result of play-testing as it would be very annoying.

The false door is most likely an error on the map. The room beyond was removed on purpose, but likely they forgot to tell that to whoever drew the maps, so rather than redraw it they made it false.

7(G - right corridor):

  • There is a map for this corridor in Fazz, but it's not really necessary.

G - left corridor (not in O1):

    • The same map is used for this corridor.
    • The door at the end of this other corridor has a sliding panel at eye-level.
    • Listening at the door reveals "a slight rustling noise and scratching sound of a small body moving beyond the door"
    • If the player opens the peephole and looks in "You see a basilisk sitting in a pile of straw in the center of a room. The basilisk is gazing at the direction of the door, and you must make your saving throw against being turned to stone".

    H - Basilisk room (not in O1):

    • "You enter a room 20' square. In the center of the room is a nest of straw on which you see a basilisk gazing back at you. There is nothing else in the room. You must make your saving throw vs. being turned to stone."
    • The door to this room is rusty and jams open - it can only be closed on a succesful open doors roll. The player has only one chance to shut the door before the basilisk reaches the player and attacks him.
    You wouldn't find this sort of thing in a 1984 TSR scenario - it is very 1970s. Three out of four players saw the Basilisk through the peephole and one failed their save. It's up to you to decide whether to include it or not!

    8 (I - Apprentice's Quarters):

    • Fazz had no map for this room, which is a mistake as it clearly indicates to the player that it's not the right way to go.
    • Give Cigam Bracers of defense for AC 4.
    • Change Cigam's Mirror Image to Hold Person.
    • Cigam will cast Hold Person, Web, Charm Person, Lightning Bolt in that order.

    9 (J - The Inner Sanctum):

    • Add four extra items in the room to distract the player:
      • A Cauldron on a tripod (actually for cooking meals)
      • A curtained closet containing a skeleton (it says every necromancer has a skeleton in their closet)
      • A pentagram drawn in chalks and powders (contains no demon at the moment)
      • A brazier "for enhacing magic spells by burning the proper powders or materials inside"
    • Change the items in the room to be darker:
      • The wooden workbench has on it a human thigh bone
      • The carpet is a flying carpet which "functions only by commanding the demon Phenos woven inside by name"
      • The cabinet is locked and the contents are quite detailed:
      • The books are not guarded by an invisible stalker - instead each has a Rune of Protection which does 14 damage (and destroys the book) if anyone except Felspell opens them.
      • The notes on the desk are not about poisons, but "a half-completed spell for summoning a demon VI (the demon can be summoned but it cannot be controlled and will attack the summoner)". It also has "a number of scrolls with Explosive Runes on them (as on books)"
      • The picture is "a non-magical picture of a witches' sabbat".
      • The "circle of protection" on the floor is not mentioned in O1 - this is where Felspell appears. 
    • Felspell uses ESP to locate the player then dimension doors to that room where the player is, then:

    Fazz points out "the sword and shield above it are strange items for a wizard to have above his bed and should lead the players to investigate them first."

    Reversion V - The scoring

    It's actually the least important part of the tournement - but it's notable that in the original you get negative points for poor choices, whereas in the revised version you can't lose points.

    • Use the following sheet for scoring:

    Hopefully you should be able to quickly alter your copy and have a recreated Quest for the Fazzlewood. Have fun running it, and I'd love to hear about your successes and failures!


    1. Took a break from D&D for a few months, but glad to see you are still pushing strong.

    2. Thank you VERY much for the cool and informative article. I bought a DM's copy of the 1978, do you have any idea how many DM copies were made for the tournament ?

      1. Glad you enjoyed it. According to there were about 300 copies printed in total, but I don't know how many DMs there were at the tournament. I would have thought their copies were the same, but possibly without the cardboard cover. Does it have any writing on it? The Acaeum is probably the best place to ask.