Whispers from the Wizard’s Tower – March 2023

It feels like nothing happened since the last newsletter. That can’t be possible, right? Let me have a think…

Ad Free

You’ve probably noticed by now that the automated ads on the podcast are no more. That…was a whole thing. First there was the decision to dump the ad server and return to our original host, which required a bunch of fixing of show notes on both this site and over on Unwinnable. And there was a glitch in bringing the episodes back over that messed up a bunch of metadata, so I had to go through every episode to fix that. Then the new host wasn’t serving the new episodes, and I wound up going through all of them again, making sure there weren’t any problems. There weren’t, it was just a single borked setting the original person migrating the show missed. It was all very stupid and about a whole week disappeared because of it. Yay.


No real news on the Holes in the Ground front, though I did have a chat with the publicity person earlier this week. There will be publicity! There is a whole person dedicated to publicity! This is truly an age of wonders. Still, early days there. No word on when pre-orders launch, I’m afraid.

Zero updates on the publishing side about Monstrous Descents or Down, Down, Down. I keep working on the latter rather than the former (though I now have a post-it on the bulletin board that reads “Dinosaurs Attack! for the Monster book?” so some progress is still being made). Nearly all the dungeon-y quotes are selected for Down. I’m in the middle of reading Fred Saberhagen’s Empire of the East trilogy in search of some more (surprisingly gripping stuff!), then I have to read Titus Groan and Gormenghast, and I think maybe “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs,” “No-Man’s Land,” and The Last Unicorn. I might pull something from Operation Unfathomable as well, and friends have given me quotes from some Discworld books and the 4E Dungeon Survival Guide that I still need to go through. That stuff is sort of slow-but-steady-wins-the-race, so in the meantime I’ve been writing the appendix, which consists of short summaries and commentary. I’m enjoying it. It might wind up being longer that all the quotes, which would be funny.   

Here’s one I wrote today:

1954 – Fellowship of the Ring
In perhaps the biggest literary retcon this side of the resurrection of Sherlock Holmes, Tolkien reveals that ring Bilbo found under Goblin-town is the One Ring, a MacGuffin in which resides the power of the dark lord Sauron. After a curious delay of 77 years, Gandalf convinces Bilbo’s heir Frodo to bring the ring to Rivendell, a trip that attracts the attention of Sauron’s ringwraiths and nearly gets Frodo killed. Once in Rivendell, the titular Fellowship is forged, as representatives of the kingdoms of Men, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and, I guess, Wizards, agree to deliver the ring to the fires of Mount Doom in order to unmake it and break Sauron’s power forever. This long journey sends the group through Moria, the long-abandoned kingdom of the Dwarves.

The sequence, which begins with the Fellowship trying to open a magic door beside a lake haunted by tentacle monster and ends with Gandalf being dragged into the abyss by a demon of flame and shadow, is perhaps the most gripping in the entire trilogy, and certainly the portion that most directly informs roleplaying dungeons. Tolkien draws from a vocabulary of horror that has long been suspicious of subterranean spaces and fills Moria with endless stairs, mysterious wells, vast halls and enigmatic sounds. A brief flashback, read from a journal, reveals the terrible fate of Dwarves who hoped to take back the kingdom after the success at the Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit. Immediately after reading the book, the Fellowship is attacked by their own horde of orcs and trolls, then forced to make a frantic flight to the east door and daylight. It’s at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm—a terrifying single-file span with no railings—that the group runs afoul of the Balrog.

The horrors of Moria give way to grief at the loss of Gandalf, and then other matters distract further and further, until the end of the trilogy, with its many happy endings. At that point, the journey through the dark is just a dim memory. The Dwarves eventually retake their city, sometime after the destruction of the One Ring, but no matter how healed the world of Middle-earth, it seems to me that Moria will forever stand as a monument to  Gandalf’s warning, that “There are older and fouler things than Orcs, in the deep places of the world.”

Marching Band?

You have probably seen the post in Patreon, so I won’t belabor it, but I’m going to be running a West Marches style Old-School Essential campaign for patrons at the D10 or higher level. We’ll be making characters for that in April and maybe, just maybe, kicking things off at the end of the month if the stars align.


Still coming. Soon! (Paper is apparently getting scarce again?)


Exalted Funeral is sponsoring a series of features in Unwinnable Monthly on indie designers. It is super cool. I’m reprinting them on this site, too. Just the first up so far, with Diogo Oldskull, but more to come! The reprint of the feature on Portents of the Degloved Hand is imminent.

Putting it all on YOU!

I don’t really mention this a lot, but I should: when you tell folks you enjoy the podcast, or the Instagram feed, or Unwinnable, or any of the stuff I do, make, share, etc., that is most valuable kind of support, because it’s the best way to get new folks to see this stuff, and helps me (and Hambone!) keep doing this stuff. I’m gonna bug you a A LOT when the book comes out, but spreading the word on Funeral Rites or the podcast or the Patreon or any of that jazz is also super important. Thanks for doing it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *