Saturday 12 August 2023

Original Scenarios Resurrected X: The Tomb of the Waning Moon (1979, Russ Stambaugh)

Welcome to the tenth entry in the series Original Scenarios Resurrected, wherein D&D scenarios from the 70s and early 80s are republished with the permission of the authors, usually together with extra contemporaneous material. Today is the turn of the previously unpublished sequel to Quest for the Fazzlewood, The Tomb of the Waning Moon from Michicon VIII by Russ Stambaugh. For all entries in the series see here.

From the early 70s Metro Detroit Gamers ran two annual gaming conventions - MichiCon and Wintercon. For Wintercon VII, December 1978, their members John Van De Graaf & Laurie Van De Graaf wrote a tournament adventure Quest for the Fazzlewood, a solo adventure concerning the exploits of Athelfrogg the Agile. MDG published this at the con, and later it was revised and expanded for publication by TSR as O1 The Gem and the Staff (the differences between the two are examined here). Because of this, originals of Quest for the Fazzlewood are amongst the most expensive of all D&D collectibles - and it's also a damn fine scenario.

For the next MDG con (MichiCon VIII, June 1979) another MDG member, Russ Stambaugh, prepared a follow-up adventure for Athelfrogg - The Tomb of the Waning Moon. It was advertised on the front of the program, and as you can see from the illustration it was a two player tournament adventure. Athelfrogg is joined by Balthazar - here they are depicted in the mists outside the Tomb lit by the light of the Waning Moon.

As it is for two players the time was extended to one hour. In this respect Waning Moon is similar to Escape from Astigar's Lair - a one hour two-player tournament adventure also played at MichiCon VIII (published later by Judges Guild) - but Waning Moon doesn't just keep the name Athelfrogg it also keeps the style of Fazzlewood with its puzzles and clues and (most obviously) the same style of dungeon map hand outs that was a key innovation of Fazzlewood.

The Tomb of the Waning Moon was unfortunately never published, but manuscripts survived and made their way into the hands of collectors. When I was researching my Complete History of 1970s D&D scenarios I came across scans of some pages of this module Adrian had shared on The Acaeum and from what I could see it looked fascinating. When I started this series I contacted Russell to see if he would agree to its inclusion, and I am extremely thankful to him that he has agreed for it to be republished here. As always, all rights are retained by the original author. In addition I also required Adrian's agreement to share his original copy, and thanks to Adrian's efforts we have the scenario I present for you today. Many thanks again, Russell and Adrian!

So, is it any good? Well we had a blast of a time playing it. Read on for my review and the scenario itself...


In most respects Tomb of the Waning Moon closely resembles Quest for the Fazzlewood - if there's anything about the style of that you liked then you'll find it here.

Firstly, and most importantly, it really only works as a competitive tournament. But that's extremely easy to arrange - all you need is a group of four players, and then you can run them through the tournament in two groups in a single evening, rounding it off with comparing how it went. I've written before about how well this has worked (for Fazzlewood, and also Escape from Astigar's Lair), so I won't repeat myself here, but in short the good natured competition it engendered combined with the time restriction made it tense and exciting which really drew all the players in - especially towards the end as time ran was running out.

It has an atmospheric introduction (very much in the style of Jack Vance) as to how the characters are fated to enter the Tomb, which gives them an in-world reason for the one hour time limit (they must get out of the Tomb within an hour else be trapped forever within its walls). Large overhead views of every room are provided in the same style as Fazzlewood, allowing players to easily absorb complex descriptions of the locations (very uesful in the time-restricted tournament situation). The locations contain boxed-text (for speed and consistency in a tournament - this was not yet standard for modules at the time). Information is clearly presented, often with bullet points for clarity, and to-hit values are given for monsters vs the pregen PCs (again this really speeds up play).

The encounters themselves contain a mix of monsters (which are best to avoid if possible), traps (which can be deadly), clues (which should allow you to avoid the monsters and traps), and puzzles (which are only hard to solve because there's a clock ticking down). It's rather gonzo, as per the style of most 70's modules - and contains many 70's D&D staples such as it being a Tomb and having a bottomless pit - but it has a nice overarching theme in keeping with it being a late 70's module.

There's also some fun time-wasting distractions - for example, there are some innanimate Mummies which will not harm a fly, unless you set them on fire. It's not fair that one of my groups ended up having to fight the Fire Mummies, but the other group thought it hilarious.

I would love to hear if anyone playing this adventure falls for the Orcus's Wand ruse - that would be a great way to end the scenario, and would be a TPK that lived in the memory.

The biggest - and best - difference however is the fact that this is not a linear adventure. It was extremely common for tournament scenarios - especially puzzle ones - to be linear. Any wrong choice you made just led to a dead end (often deadly in nature). In Tomb there are strong clues as to the correct way through the dungeon to escape from the other side, but Russell added a whole series of rooms that are not on the main path - these are far more dangerous - but if you go that way you could get through and emerge back on the easier path.

Because of the larger number of rooms in this adventure (many of which your players will likely not encounter) it is even more important to spend time making yourself familiar with this scenario before you run it. It doesn't take long - just read it through a couple of times and perhaps highlight some things. Decide upfront how to run the more complex rooms, such as the Mirror and Disc rooms. If you don't then the first group through will be at a great disadvantage.

In contrast to the other tournaments I've looked at, the scoring for Tomb is simply how far along the route to the end you manage to get. I think this is preferable to the "how well you solved the problem" scoring systems, since poor choices already penalise you by slowing you down and thus making you less likely to solve the adventure.

Some of the traps are very deadly, and some of the problems have only one solution. I made some minor changes (listed below) to make it less deadly (as the traps still lose you time and penalise you) and to reward thinking outside of the box.

Minor Changes I Made

When I ran it I made a couple of small changes which affect the playtest so I give them here - namely I gave the Dragon at the end some interesting treasure, and I made more of a feature of the book in the secret room off the throne room with its clue to solving the adventure.

As written, if you manage to read the crumbling book hidden in the chest in the secret room behind the throne then "it tells you how to navigate to the final room". The book crumbles to dust if opened so is only readable if you find and use the potion of all seeing. I decided make it contain a riddle to solve the the rest of the scenario, and then so that people encountered this interesting problem I added further riddles to lead people to this room.

As written, if you free the old man then he reiterates the first clue that you got at the start of the adventure - so I gave a hint that you should do this as an extra line to the riddle in the first room - "Free the old man to hear his secrets"- and gave him a extra riddle to lead characters to the book "After you have killed yourselves, seek the power behind the throne and there read the book that cannot be read".

The second change I made was to the Dragon's treasure room. In the original it doesn't detail the treasure, just says the players will not have time to loot the treasure. Instead I filled it with gold and gems that the players will not have time to collect, and a (new) single magic item - The Dragon Crown (in memory of the Judges Guild tournament). It looks to be made of iron until you put it on, at which point it becomes a golden jewelled crown. Unbeknownst to the wearer any command or suggestion made to a Dragon will be obeyed or believed.

The Playtest

When I ran it, both groups made it through the dungeon alive in the hour, but one group only barely escaped with their lives from the final room, so there is every chance that a group will succeed. My description of how it went will hopefully give you a brief taste of the possibilities that the module contains.

Both groups were slow to think of how to get into the tomb, but the first room always seems to be the slowest in a timed tournament. Once inside everything was plain sailing until the room with the Mummies. Both groups had easily spotted the initial clue so knew to take the left door, but before they left the second group set the Mummies on fire as a precaution and ended up fighting flaming Mummies - trying to escape they found the Orcs behind the left hand door. Not wishing to fight both, Balthazar quickly shut the door and jumped (magic boots) over to try the second door - the green slime door. So Athelfrogg was keeping the Mummies at bay whilst Balthazar scraped the slime off with his dagger. Belatedly realising that the Orcs could be slept, Athelfrogg slept the Orcs and they escaped that way, shutting the door on the Mummies (I don't think Mummies can open doors). This was a cascade of failures which they only just escaped from - perhaps I was rather generous, but they certainly felt like they had escaped only by the skin of their teeth.

Despite the clue I added, neither group thought to free the old man, but both groups quickly realised that they should break the mirrors to defeat the mirror-images of themselves - but from thereon their paths diverged somewhat. 

The first group tried the right hand secret door and got speared for their troubles, but quickly thought to use the ring to disarm the globe-throwing statue. Beyond at the room of discs they realised that they hadn't thought to free the old man and returned to free him.

In contrast the second group flew past and jumped over the marbles - ending up swinging on a curtain abover the acid - so when they also realised in the room with the discs that they hadn't freed the man it was too late to go back (as they hadn't deactivated the statue so didn't want to go back past it). Eventually they got across the discs, not realising that they could always jump off the disc if it started to dip into the acid - but then most things went very wrong in the invisible bridge room, jumping into the invisible wall and falling into the pit of crocodiles, then fighting the invisible gargoyle.

The first group got the clue from the old man, managed to work out how to read the book, and filled their bag of holding with treasure. The clues from this helped them through the room with the discs, and gave a clue to find the invisible bridge over the pit (the scenario predates Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade by 10 years - I wonder if they both have a common source).

All this shows a common theme - rooms that were trivial for one group were often very difficult for the other - which led to a lot of laughter when comparing experiences later. As a DM it was thus very interesting and rewarding to run it twice.

When the first group made it to the final room they decided to let sleeping dragons lie and quickly determined that the bell should be silenced before they turned over the sand-timer to open the door and escape - success!

In contrast the second group elected to first sneak past the dragon. On the far side were two doors - they could hear the Dragon's servants (the trolls) behind one, so Balthazar went past the other and filled his Bag of Holding with treasure and returned with the Crown on his head. Foolishly they turned the sand-timer without silencing the bell, so it rang and woke the Dragon. As per the module it engaged in small-talk before eating them, and in desperation Balthazar attempted to persuade the Dragon that it was being held captive by its Troll servants. As he was wearing The Dragon Crown this ruse succeeded, and after some persuasion the dragon went to deal with the Trolls. Our heroes escaped through the slowly opening gap which was now wide enough to slip through, to the sound of the dragon eating trolls behind them, never realising that it was the power of the Crown which had saved them.

At the end of the adventure all players were keen for me to write another scenario in the same style for them, which is the best feedback you can get for any module - we want more!

The Scenario

So, thanks to Russell and Adrian here's the scenario. Below it you can find some Errata, some Clarifications and Suggestions of mine for anyone running the adventure, plus the minor changes I made myself when I ran it.  The front cover of the Michicon VIII program would make a great front cover for the adventure but I can't make out the artist's name so can't ask for permission to use it - if anyone knows who drew it please leave a comment - instead I've used an illustration of the waning moon from one of the room maps.

To download it click on the arrow in the top right to open in a new window, you can download it from there.


p1: The room letters are marked on the map - but letters W and R are missing from the map (the first and second rooms).

p5: Athelfrog should have be Athelfrogg with two 'g's!

p5: The damage is missing - Athelfrogg does d8+2 damage with his +1 sword, Balthazar does d8+4 damage with his +2 sword.

p5: Balthazar is missing his AC - it is 1.

p9: You can put on a ring either way round so rings 2 and 6 are identical (likewise 3 and 5). I ruled that there was a mystical force at work and you would naturally put on the ring the correct way, and you couldn't put it on the other way. The players never noticed this however.

p21: The rings are of lightning not fire protection so should surely have a zig-zag design on them (not a flame design).

p32: This is a map of N, not U as marked - as per the opposite change made to the manuscript on p33. (The map is blank as N is dark).

p39: This map has no room letter - it is "A - treasure room"

Clarifications and Suggestions

Note there are two one-way doors on the map, the arrows into H and Z, which aren't shown on the maps for H and Z.

Note that the room letters on the room maps are underlined, so as to distinguish between I and H for example. Hence p10 is room W (not 31).

As the letters are not in alphabetical order, I marked the page numbers for the rooms on the map in red biro (that's quicker than using the provided index).

The maps are always on the page facing the description (except G which is on the page after) but I found with Fazzlewood it's very easy to get the pages mixed up. I kept all the pages in order and would split it in two - keeping the half with the room description in my hand, and the half with the map showing on the table.

Minor Changes

My personal changes to the module were to add some extra riddles as noted above, and make some of the encounters slightly less deadly. I don't find it necessary to kill characters - each bad decision slows them down and makes them less likely to complete the module, and that's sufficient to distinguish between groups. Changes I made:

p9: since the rings are necessary later in the scenario I ruled that they were necessary to open the door

p13: the Green Slime can be scraped or burned off if they act quickly

p27: the manacles can be broken by doing 25hp damage (no sword breakage)

p31: the bottomless pit is 10' deep with spikes for 2d6 damage

p35: I removed the second phase spider - it seems better without it (and no info is given for when the second spider phases - it seems an added afterthought)

p43: the glowing balls do damage, not remove magical effects (as the adventure cannot be completed if they lose spells)

p45: I allowed any light source to work in the darkness

p47: I ruled that if you used the boots for jumping across them you wouldn't take falling damage as the boots allow you to jump. Similarly if you flew across then you wouldn't fall as you'd be flying.

Of course as with any adventure you're free to apply whatever alterations you wish, or to play it as written. The key thing is to be consistent between teams.


  1. Well this is rather awesome. I have the adventure loaded up in another tab to read over but I LOVE the idea of resurrecting these old adventures. Now I need to go back and read over all the past enteries.

    1. It's always great to get positive feedback Tim, glad you're enjoying it. If you like them spread the news - and there's more to come!

    2. Hey Joe, is that you over on OD&D74? I just want to get you approved!

    3. Once you are a member (which I'll do now!) you'll get to see all the other wonderful stuff there! Be well sir and be welcome!

  2. Agreeing with Tim. I always smile, and then head straight over here, when I get notification that you've updated the Original Scenarios!

  3. The point of this dungeon was to sort out competitive groups by expending their time for missing clues. By bringing back Athelfrogg, players were notified this dungeon was homage to Jon Van de Graff's top-notch original design - problem solving was favored over combat mechanics. People enjoyed it at Michicon.
    A year later I went to grad school and never designed another tournament dungeon: I was much too busy!
    Thanks to Joe for assembling the scattered pieces of the ancient manuscript before it fell to dusty obscurity!

    1. Thanks for sharing Russell! Love the backstory.

  4. Tournament/Convention modules are always pretty fun to read about. In one side, I love the historical background and weight that they carry, as well as the general obscure presentation and competitive nature... on the other hand, in my experience, most tournament modules are terrible to play at home. Most were just a collection of dangerously designed rooms to challenge players with all kinds of malice. It is fun, ofc, but not exactly the kind of module that's table-friendly haha.

    1. I think the key is that they don't work well if you don't run them *as a tournament*. However Tomb of the Waning Moon, Escape from Astigar's Lair and Quest for the Fazzlewood can all be played as a tournament *at home* as you only need 4 players - and then they work brilliantly. So much so that I'm thinking of writing one myself.