Monday, May 22, 2017

Mentzer Basic Cover Art Prototype

Mentzer Basic cover art prototype.

Above is Larry Elmore's original idea for the cover art of Mentzer Basic. Frank Mentzer posted about it over on Facebook recently, with a photo of the original art taken by Jon Peterson. Here's part of what Frank wrote about it:

"Initial cover concepts were similar to the previous edition, portraying a group of adventurers with a dragon. That was almost used, but it bothered Gary [Gygax]. After the color images were ready to be finalized in oils, after a lot of plans were made, Gary changed course. He asked Larry to focus the action on just one fighter and one dragon ... and the world-famous Red Box cover emerged."

This version has more elements in common with the Holmes Basic cover art painted by David Sutherland. In addition to the huge red dragon on a pile of gold, there is a block stone archway in the background, and a wizard framing the left side of the composition, both casting a spell and providing an upraised light source (here a glowing staff, in Sutherland's a torch). 

Larry Elmore is currently offering a limited edition print of this original concept via his website. Thanks to Gus Landt for bringing this offer to my attention via a post on the Acaeum. Note that above I cropped the blank margins off the original image to focus on the painting, but that the print being offered includes the margins, which have production notes.

Update: Here's a mock-up of the Mentzer Players Manual with this artwork that Frank posted in the comments to his Facebook post:

Update #2: Over on the Acaeum, misterspock posted an auction photo of a TSR Companion Rules box mock-up. IIRC a photo of this mock-up appeared in a TSR catalog prior to the release of the set. This cover has prototype art showing the same party of adventurers - wizard in red with staff, halfling in green, fighter with the same boots and shield.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Portown Rumors PDF

Portown Rumors PDF - Page 1 - screenshot

I've taken the two versions of the Portown Rumors that were previously posted on this blog - the original and brief versions - and combined them into a single 3-page pdf. In this combined version you start with the 20 brief versions presented as a d20 rumor table similar to those found in classic TSR modules, which is then followed by the expanded versions in two-column format. Download the pdf here:

Portown Rumors PDF

Over on the ZA site, I've also added the link to the Holmes Ref and the Sample Dungeon pages. I also updated the Sample Dungeon page to refer to what we learned from the Holmes Manuscript.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Keep on the Borderlands cover study

This is a study for the famous cover of the module B2 Keep on the Borderlands by the late Jim Roslof (a bibliography of his work here). It just sold on Ebay for almost $10,100 (!). The auction listing (by the Collector's Trove, from the collection of Laura Roslof), states that "This is Jim's original color study that he used to determine how he wanted to paint the final cover art", and is in pencil, ink and watercolor on parchment paper.

The composition is very close to the finished product. Here the humanoids have more elongated snouts (and the one to the left has a pointed ear), perhaps more orc-like than the ones in the final picture, who are clearly hobgoblins with the orange-red faces and blue noses specifically described in the AD&D Monster Manual. 

Of note, the apparent caves on the hills in the background are more prominent in this study, particularly the one under the right arm of the elvish archer (who is bald here!). This supports that these holes are actually intended to depict the entrances to several of the Caves of Chaos entrances. For comparison, see this annotated cover image from an earlier blog post, Caves of Chaos Revealed:

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Blueholme Kickstarter - Final Day

Octocat by Chris Holmes preview from blog post

There's just about a day left in the Kickstarter for the Blueholme Journeymanne rules, a Holmes clone plus expansion that takes the four core classes up to level 20 and adds numerous monsters. It's produced by Dreamscape Design, who has a blog over here.

Cave Creeper by Chris Holmes preview from Kickstater

The primary goal of the Kickstarter is to fund artwork for the finished product. The bullpen of artists - at least 15 - includes Chris Holmes, whose contributions will include both Carrion Crawler & Displacer Beast analogs (see previews above), rectifying TSR's failure to use Chris' original art for the Holmes Manuscript. Chris has also write a Foreword for the book.

Old One art preview from ODD74 post

I've made a minor contibution myself: write-ups for two monsters previously featured on this blog, including the Green Grabber / Sleepflower and the Ancient Builder (appearing as Old One). (Disclosure: I am not receiving any money for this).

I've backed the Kickstarter at the Lord level for a pdf and softcover copy of the rules.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Hermit Fortress

A strange rock column rises from the rocky wastes. If you dare, try to climb up to the Hermit Fortress using the ropes and platforms - but watch out for the beasts...

Friday, April 21, 2017

Gygax's Killer Die

Gary's EN World avatar featuring his Futurama character

As a follow-up to yesterday's post on the Marked 20-sided Die, here are some quotes from Gygax on his own Marked d20. Thanks to T. Foster at the Mystical Trash Heap blog for bringing this to my attention.

"Those low-impact d20s did get pretty round in short order--well short order in terms of gaming time. Rob Kuntz had one that would stand on a point now and again. I still have a couple that I use when playing OD&D as the DM. One with gray faces on 10 sides is a "killer" die that comes up on those faces a lot--the 11-20 range, of course! Can't find it now, but it's likely in a box of old dice somewhere in the basement here. I have a second one with red faces that's as good for the monsters' rolls, of course" (EnWorld Q&A post)

"As it happens I have quite a number of the old low-impact dice around here somewhere. The points on the d4 were very sharp but wore down quickly. Rob had a d20 that would stand on a worn point about one roll in 50 : )"

"Somewhere I lost my d20 with half the faces colored gray. It was my "killer die" that rolled an inordinate number of 20s, and the players really hated it : )" (EnWorld Q&A post)

Following this, T. Foster wrote
"I played with you in "Necropolis" at Glathricon (in Evansville, IN) in 1988 and am pretty sure I encountered your infamous 'killer' d20 -- it was white, numbered 0-9 twice, and rolled awfully well (for you, badly for us :) )."

2/6/04 - in response to T. Foster
"It was either my gray or red "killer die," undoubtedly. It has since sent a large number of adventurers to their doom when rolled on behalf of my OD&D game "Old Guard Kobolds." The ninth party of six or more 2nd level characters fell to them at JanCon last month" (EnWorld Q&A post)

(A few minor edits to Gary's comments to correct obvious typos)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Marked 20-sided Die

TSR's original dice set was included in Holmes Basic, Gamma World and sold separately

In the 1970s, rolling 1-20 wasn't as straightforward as today. The original dice set available from TSR included a white 20-sided dice, but it was numbered (and pre-inked) with 0-9 twice rather than 1-20. So these dice were actually d10s, and were most easily used to generate percentiles by rolling the same die twice in row or by rolling two different colored dice together. TSR even sold a separate white and pink set of Percentile Generators.

But since the beginning D&D has always needed d20s, for attacks and saving throws. The earliest D&D rulebooks don't explain how to use the 10-sided die to generate 1-20, but by the time of Holmes Basic, there was a recognized need to explain this, as the rulebook teaches two different ways to roll 1-20 with these dice. One is near the end of the book in the section "Using the Dice", which isn't in the Holmes manuscript, and so was added by TSR. This method uses a secondary "control" die to determine if the number is 1-10 or 11-20:

"For example: to generate 1-20, roll the 20-sided die and 6-sided die, and if the 6-sided die comes up 1-3 , the number shown on the 20-sider is 1-10 (1-0), and if the 6-sider comes up 4-6, add 10 to the 20-sided die and its numbers become 11-20 (1-0)".

The other method is described in the main part of the text in the section on Saving Throws (page 14). This was written by Holmes as it is found word-for-word in the manuscript:

"Numbers can be generated as follows: Mark one set of faces on a 20-sided die by coloring with a red permanent marker on one of each faces — 0, 1, 2, 3, etc. The marked faces will be considered to have a ten added to them — 1 = 11, 2 = 12, 3 = 13, etc. Unmarked
0 = 10, marked 0 = 20. This die will also be used to determine the results of combat from the combat table."

The picture at the top of this post (from an Ebay auction that indicated the dice were from a Basic set) shows an example of this: the owner has colored half of the faces of the 20-sider in a red color. The white faces represent 1-10, and the red faces represent 11-20. As I mentioned above these dice were pre-inked, so one couldn't just color the two sets of 0-9 with different colored crayons, the faces had to be marked to differentiate them.

This method is referenced again in the section "Combat Melee":

"The probability of a hit is converted into a random number of 1 to 20 (the specially marked die is recommended)" (page 18) and "A 20-sided die must be marked or colored so that
one set of sides 0-9 is different from the other set. Count 0 as a 10. The marked set is then read as if 10 had been added to the roll (11-20), treating 0 as 10 or 20. This die is used for all combat resolution" (page 19)

Holmes probably learned this marked die method from other gamers, as there are earlier examples of it. For example, below is an auction photo from last year, for an auction you may have heard about, an original woodgrain D&D set that sold for over $20,000. Included with the set in the auction was a 20-sided die and a note (with the date of ~1974 given by the auctioneer). In the note we see similar instructions, with the white half of the die being 1-10 and the orange half being 11-20.

In 1979, the 1st edition DMG still assumes use of these 20-sided d10s in the section "Dice", on page 10:

"If a d20 is used either 1-20 (assuming the use of a standard d20 which is numbered 0-9 twice without coloring one set of faces to indicate that those faces have 10 added to the number appearing) or 1-40 (assuming that one set of faces is colored) can be gotten by adding 0 if 1 or 2 is rolled on the d4 and 10 or 20 (depending on the die type) if a 3 or 4 is rolled"

The structure of this sentence is complicated, but Gygax is saying to use d4 control dice to turn 1-10 into 1-20 (for an unmarked die) or 1-20 into 1-40 (for a marked die).

This was a short-lived era as other manufacturers began cranking out dice. 

At some point (I don't have a date but will update this post if I find it), 20-sided dice that were not pre-inked appeared, which allowed for coloring the two sets of numbers with different colored crayons. You still had to remember which color was low (1-10) and which was high (11-20). I have a dice like this that I received in an auction a while back (I can't even remember what it came with):

I also don't know when the first 20-sided dice that was numbered 1-20 first appeared, but the standard d10 appeared around 1980, possibly debuting at Gen Con that year

In the last printing of the Holmes Basic rulebook, dated Dec 1979 but certainly from 1980 as it is the third version with that date, the section on "Using the Dice" was revised to refer to "the assortment of 4-, 6-, 8-, 10-, 12- and 20-sided dice" (page 46), and the portion about the control die no longer refers to 1-20. Holmes' instructions for making a marked d20 is still found in the section on Saving Throws, however.

The Acaeum reports that some sets of Holmes Basic include a set of six dice. I've never actually seen one of these sets. It does seem strange TSR would revise the rulebook to refer to the 10-sided die without actually including it. But I'd like to see it confirmed that a set shipped this way versus having dice added later. A complicating factor is that Holmes Basic set was sold up until at least 1986 (I have a catalog from then listing it), so some may have had 6-dice sets added to them at later date.

Certainly by the time of the Moldvay Basic set and Dragon Dice, both from 1981, we have the standard 1980s set of six dice, including both the 10-sided die and the 20-sided die numbered 1-20.

See also:
Veteran of the Dice Wars
TSR Ads in Boys Life 1977-1982

And Jon Peterson's articles on the history of dice in D&D: 
How Gaming Got Its Dice
The Origins of Dice Notation