The Isle of Darksmoke

Once more our happy band of role-players descended on Burton-on-Trent’s amazing Town Hall for the 28th Beer & Pretzels gaming meet over the weekend of 20th – 21st May. Sadly, this year we were missing Andy “Dekh” James but he had an able deputy in the person of Paul “Campervan man” Howley who threw himself into the day’s activities with gusto. Indeed, we were so “pumped” that the roaming photographer from the Burton Mail insisted on taking a picture of us all at play and we appeared in the following Tuesday’s edition.

The TMG Kreww as we appeared in the Burton Mail Tuesday 27th May L to R Amy, Paul, Jason, Andy, Sid and Simon Apologies as it’s rather grainy

Sticking with our traditional set up, Saturday was devoted to Tunnels & Trolls with the evergreen Andy “Boozer” Holmes taking the lead as the Gamemaster while a band of mid-level characters braved the terrors on The Isle of Darksmoke.

Andy Holmes GM Extraordinaire

Unlike all previous years, when the GM on the day has guided us through an adventure of their own writing, this year’s dungeon was a slice of T&T history. Larry DiTillio’s adventure was published by Flying Buffalo in 1984 and was the last GM adventure they produced. DiTillio, as many of you may know, went on to write and direct on the animated series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and was Executive Story Editor on the science fiction tv series Babylon 5.

A few of Andy’s splendid miniatures

Well, with that kind of fantasy writing CV, expectations were unsurprisingly high but we were not dissappointed. Aided by the vast array of the GM’s beautifully painted miniatures and dungeon floor plans, it was not long before our group of desperados could be seen wandering the village below the dome of the Wizard Darksmoke’s infernal dungeon. Having found a friendly and almost competent mage to get us to the entrance, we were soon running along dank corridors, exploring tomb-like halls and battling fiendish foes.

Crossing a pool of water on a rickety bridge – no danger there!

With various clues we had garnered before going underground we managed to avoid serious conflict. Of course, it did help that one of our number had a strigiformian (that’s an owl to you and me) familiar who just happened to be a 9th level wizard! Eventually, we dodged and we wove our way to encounters with a large dragon atop a vast pile of treasure; that’s right we tiptoed past like the heroes we are, and then the final fire fight with the dark priest Cataban at the altar of sacrifice.

A big dragon on a pile of treasure

That all the player characters survived to delve another day owed more, perhaps, to luck than our powerful alter egos. It does, of course, help that the GM’s teenage daughter was among our number and I’m sure he didn’t want to upset her with an unpleasant demise 🙂

As usual, T&T at Beer & Pretzels was a fun day with good friends and the best fantasy role-playing game there is. Andy Holmes is a very slick operator as a GM and he did his usual excellent job of entertaining us while we marched through Darksmoke’s realm. The only shame is that it will be another year before we get to do it again. 🙁

Bean! amongst the Clouds!

Burton on Trent Town Hall, Beer and Pretzels 20-21/5/17

On the second day of the 28th Beer and Pretzels gaming convention, in Burton on Trent’s fantastic town hall, on 21st May 2017 CE, the TMG crew assembled for a session of Bean! This is the charming and eminently playable D2 role-playing game designed by our American associate, Mr Jeff Freels. The day’s adventure was conducted by our own resident BeanMaster, Dr Sid Orpin, and was adapted from a Dungeon Crawl Classics scenario. It was called: The Doorway Amongst The Clouds.


Each of the participant ‘beans’ (represented in Lego) woke from troubled dreams, compelled to meet a mysterious ‘blue lady’ on a distant cliff-top. There the stoney-faced lady and her novel collection of talking heads fed us dubious sweetmeats and promised us a rewritten destiny, if we would but rescue her caged ally from her prison in the sky.


Forward, beans!

Nothing daunted, we stepped at dawn onto an invisible bridge and headed into the heavens, maintaining a good speed to outpace the unseen edge behind us that dissolved unnervingly. Predators on leathery wings assailed us, but sinking one with an arrow showed the others for the ruthless scavengers they were, as they plunged to feast on their fallen comrade.

The long march high over the sea led us at last to a meandering but thankfully solid and visible road in the clouds; yet one of our number tumbled at the road’s edge and fell to his doom! Our progress down the road brought us to the attention of some unwelcome giant spiders, and then to the enormous doorway of a vast hall. Within, a titanic guardian slept, and over his monstrous belly hung a woven cage. But as we beheld this strange scene, from the rocks and rubble leapt a nightmarish many-legged pumpkin creature that assailed us with lunatic ferocity. This, not without exertion, we threw back into the shadows.


Begone, foul pumpkin thing!

A bold bean, a humble clerk in daily life, exerted his Spirit and managed to fly to the cage; but its deranged denizen kicked him away, and, in a shocking display of ingratitude toward the indulgently somnolent titan who broke his fall, our bean scribbled disrespectful graffiti on its helpfully rotund abdomen.

Wiser beans, after defeating a band of wizened starvelings in the grip of some desperate command, undertook more conventional explorations, and thereby discovered a rickety and dangerous stair that led us to our goal: a passage at whose mouth the cage hung. Following several attempts, a descent was effected, and thus was the long-imprisoned (and surprisingly bat-winged) princess released, to whirl and screech once more! – And to kill the pumpkin thing in short order.

Dizziness and wiggly air left us once more on the cliff-top, where the mysterious lady, with her latest heads, thanked us for our aid, and then, with powerful magicks, spun the wheel of destiny and rewrote history for each of us!


Beansters at play

Bean! once again proved to be a system that allowed us to get stuck into our strange adventure with laughably little fuss, and Dr Sid’s dictatorship was, happily, as benign as ever.

Beer and Pretzels 2013!

Spirit Games Beer & Pretzels 2013 ticketMay 2013, and once again the magnificent Town Hall of Burton on Trent played host to the Beer & Pretzels Games Weekend, organised by Spirit Games. As ever, their splendid library of games was available:Games library

The Hall buzzed with diverse activity, largely conducted by gentlemen of a certain age:

Not only humans: dinosaurs were observed, and a number of robots with issues:

What would Beer & Pretzels be without pretzels?

Building Work at Tarrrho Towers – Part 2

The lounge all plastered up.

So, the building work has powered ahead and now the plastering has been done in lounge and dining room and the new fireplace is fitted and looking resplendent. Of course, it’s August and we haven’t actually had it working!

The scaffolding rig – scary!

The new fireplace – very classy!

The new ceiling plus light in the dining room – it’ll look great with all the shades and lamps in, honest!

Delving deep into Andy’s mind…

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Andy Holmes wrote a dungeon.

Deep Where The Liche-Lord Dwells - front cover

This was no ordinary dungeon: three snarling orcs, two raging trolls and a unicorn in a pear tree. No, this was a dungeon that went down and down and down; a dungeon with a liche at the bottom like Judas lying in the ninth circle of Hell; a dungeon darker than ink spilled in a cave at midnight onto a panther’s fur; a dungeon so big and tough that it should have its own MR! As if conscious of its diabolical nature, this dungeon had never seen the light of day. But we here at Tavernmaster Games were determined to fix that.

First, however, the beast needed some grooming. Life, which ever conspires to distract us from gaming, has been busy for Andy recently, so I undertook to edit the thing. The first order of business was to compose a title; yet so consummate a perfectionist is Andy, so much the inspired artiste – so, frankly, busy and distracted – that I had almost finished with the dungeon before these few choice words were settled. The dungeon would do exactly what it said on the tin: it will be called Deep Where The Liche-Lord Lies: A Descent Into Horror.

It is no spoiler to reveal that the players begin by exploring an old mausoleum. It was something of a spoiler, though, to discover that Andy hadn’t included any description of this building, preferring to hurry on to the main event. I felt a little detail was needed to commence the journey in style, and wrote in a little extra passage.

The delver-cruncher exciting adventure was written with 5th edition in mind, so one of my tasks was to make adjustments to render it suitable for version 7.5. Stats for NPCs were expanded, saving rolls were tweaked, references to particular spells were considered and amended appropriately. The result is ready to go with the latest edition of Tunnels & Trolls, while hopefully remaining true to the author’s intentions.

Andy’s writing is more expansive than mine, but it’s his dungeon, so I largely resisted the temptation to tweak things to my own style and restricted myself to correcting grammar and polishing the odd bit of clumsy phrasing. (Sometimes he seemed to have left puzzles for me: “The wall is covered in smile.” Recognising the transposition took me a minute or two…) Still, there were many places where elaboration or clarification seemed called for, and so the text is substantially revised, though only to better convey what was already present.Sample pages from the dungeon

The presentation of the adventure needed to comply with our ‘house style’: we aim for consistent yet appealing formatting so that our customers feel at home and can readily understand and digest the material. Although much of this can be taken care of with judicious use of word-processing features like paragraph styles, page headers, duplicating tables and so forth, the process was nonetheless leavened with a goodly number of hearty curses yelled at the screen by your correspondent… Software is not always the editor’s friend!

Andy had used a third-party package to design very attractive maps, but some adjustment was needed to ensure that they would be equally informative in black-and-white printing as in colour. Fixing an accidental anomaly on one map led to the inclusion of a new and amusing detail in the text: if you’re interested, keep an eye out for faecal matter… (Good advice on any occasion.)

When I reached the end of the dungeon, I found that the rewards for successful adventurers were as great as they were superfluous (for there is precious little chance of anyone surviving to claim them); yet they were arbitrarily dispensed, to wrap up the playing session quickly. At this, my rational mind rebelled, and so I indulged in a little tidying up, adding detail and contrivances to justify the available boons.

As I worked, my appreciation for Andy’s imaginative vision increased: each level of the dungeon has its own theme and identity, with its own set of ever greater challenges. This is not one of those lily-livered 6-page affairs, with “Suitable for characters of levels 1-3” on the front: this is a substantial saga of 30,000 words, almost a whole campaign under one roof, and it calls for an elite party of delvers. Dig out all those characters lying fallow in your file because they’ve grown too tough for novice adventures. All dressed up and nowhere to go? Go Deep Where The Liche-Lord Lies!

I was not the only horrified midwife at the birth of this gargantuan scenario: Jeff Freels provided wonderful illustrations that serve now as frontispiece to each level of the dungeon, while Simon, as usual, did superb work on the cover. But finally, just as Frankenstein alone was to blame for the monster, so this dark epic is ultimately Andy’s creation. Buy it at your own risk…

Print version available on