Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Underworld of Holmes

     The formal title of the third volume of the original D&D set is "The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures". The word "The" is often misplaced when the volume is referred to casually, which changes the emphasis from a mythic "The Underworld" to a more pedestrian "Underworld Adventures". The Underworld is described on pages 3-13, and the term appears eight times in the booklet, often as part of section headers. The term "underworld" is only used once in the Blue Book, and generally fell away in D&D (to be later replaced by The Underdark), but Holmes uses it again in his Boinger & Zereth novel, The Maze of Peril:

      "Rumors of the fabulous treasures of the Underworld drew adventurers, brigands, journeymen magic users, soldiers of fortune and even less savory types to the tiny town. Zereth had been in Caladan long enough to discover there was truth to the stories of the Underworld, more truth than he had imagined. Somewhere beneath the surface of this ancient land the tunnels and corridors of some prehistoric race coiled and raveled, delved, and probed unimaginable depths into the core of the world. Corridors of wealth, they were also tunnels of deadly peril, for many of the rash adventurers who set forth for the secret entrances to the fabled Underworld were never heard from again.
     What race or races had built the original maze no one knew. It seemed, in the opinion of the sages and magicians of the time, that there must have been many layers of dungeons and underworlds laid down, one atop the other, as the world crust was formed, so that now no one knew, or even guessed, how many levels it extended below the surface. 

     But rumors of the Underworld were mostly false leads. Most of the contacts Zereth had made did not know how to reach the entrances to the fabled realm, or else their exaggerated claims turned out to be schemes to fleece the unwary adventurer of his resources" (pg 3).

    Holmes uses these rumors to provide some in-story justification (though still mysterious) for the existence of endless levels of dungeons. They may reach to the core of the world - a "Terradungeon", perhaps? Much as character advancement is theoretically unlimited, the dungeons levels can also be nearly endless.

     Looking back at Holmes' intro to the Sample Dungeon in the Blue Book, there are some similarities to the creators of those dungeons:

    "The town is located on the ruins of a much older city of doubtful history and Zenopus was said to excavate in his cells in search of ancient treasures ... the story tellers are always careful to point out that the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, pre-human city, to the graveyard, and to the sea".

     The pre-human city is reminiscent of the pre-human alien civilization described in Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness (1931), who built vast underground cities in remote locations. Given Holmes' fondess for the Cthulhu mythos, and that The Maze of Peril also includes a race of Dagonites (essentially Deep Ones), it's not hard to imagine a Lovecraftian origin for his Underworld.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bruno's Demise: new blog

     Bruno's Demise is a new blog with a Holmes/B/X/LL/1E focus. Bruno, of course, is the fighter from the Blue Book who defeats a goblin but then dies a horrible death from spider poison. The blog header illustrates this scene (I believe the art is by the blogger).

     The author is 3d6 (aka The Landlord), also a member at OD&D Discussion forums. His website, The Golden Ball Inn, has three adventures available for 1st level LL characters, and he put together a set of rules for Holmes-like Labyrinth Lord.

     A few days ago in a post titled Centipede Taxonomy he explored the implications of the description of Giant Centipedes in Holmes and Moldvay, complete with a wonderful mini-dungeon. Check it out.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Centaurs and Samurai and Werebears, updated

A werebear by Dave Trampier from the original Monster Manual

     An update to a post I wrote last fall (quoted below), not long after I started the blog:

     I was re-reading Holmes' Adventure of the Giant Chameleon (A&E #14, Aug '76)  and noticed a Beorning character in the first paragraph, "shifting nervously from human form and back again". This tale is a story from Holmes' games with his sons, so this shows he had a player running a werebear PC (presumably lawful) at least once. Thus, all of the exotic classes he mentioned in the Blue Book are now accounted for: centaurs, samurai and werebears.

     If you look closely at the mention of the Green Dragon Inn at the start of the Sample Dungeon, you'll see it described as "human and non-humans from all over the globe meet here". Notably that's "non-humans" rather than demi-humans. In Maze of Peril, Holmes also has a Green Dragon Inn, where a centaur shows up, and at least one serpentman is mentioned in passing.  One of the Boinger and Zereth short stories in Dragon also has a noblewoman with a lizardman guard in the same town. Overall, this gives the Green Dragon Inn, and Holmes' campaign, a "Creature Cantina" feel. Very different from Gygax's preferences elaborated in the 1E DMG.

     Looking below, I didn't mention where a samurai character could be found. Zatushigi the samurai appears in the party with Boinger and Zereth in the Adventure of the Lost City, Part I (A&E #17, Nov '76).

* * * * *
     From 9/20/11, posted as part of Tolkien week:

     In yesterday's Balrog post, I quoted a memorable line from page 7 of the Blue Book:
"Thus, an expedition might include, in addition to the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarven, hobbitish), a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese Samurai fighting man" (pg 7).

      As I noted, the example of a Balrog PC has been changed to a centaur, werebear and Samurai.
The most likely inspiration for "lawful werebear" in this list is Beorn from the Hobbit. Beorn travels with Bilbo and Gandalf twice, once to the edge of Mirkwood, and once on the return trip from the Lonely Mountain, a member of the "party". Thus, even though the reference to the Balrog has been changed the example retains a Tolkien influence. I consider this one of the Tolkien allusions added to the Blue Book by Dr. Holmes (there a few, which I will discuss further in another post).

      I don't know of any references by Dr. Holmes to a werebear in his other writings (campaign descriptions or stories). In the Monster List, werebears have the alignment "neutral/chaotic good", but this is a change from OD&D Vol 2, which has werebears as "Law/Neutral". The use of "lawful" without a good or evil appears to be a residual reference to the 3-point alignment system of OD&D.

     A few years later White Dwarf #17 (Feb 1980) ran an article titled "My Life As a Werebear" that includes rules for werebear character classes & several other monsters. 

     Samurai as a fighter subclass first appeared in DRAGON #3 (Oct 1976), prior to the Holmes Basic set.

     Centaurs are found in OD&D, Vol 2
(pg 4 & 14) but missing from the Monster List in the Blue Book.  Dr. Holmes mentions a centaur PC in his personal campaign in his 1980 Psychology Today article "Confessions of a Dungeon Master", and a centaur also appears as a minor character his novel Maze of Peril (1986). 

     In an article in Dragon in 1981, Dr. Holmes also mentioned that he allowed players any type of character they wished, and in his 1981 book on FRPGs he wrote that: 

Most game systems rather rigidly specify what kinds of characters players may assume, but the majority of referees are lenient. If a player particularly wants to be an unusual or inhuman character, many referees will let him. It's not unusual to encounter player characters that are werewolves, Vulcans, samurai, centaurs or whatever. Fantasy role playing is, after all, an exercise in imagination".

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hall of the Mountain King: Warrior-for-Hire transcription

Illustration by Chris Holmes for Warrior-For-Hire

     Jason at Hall of the Mountain King has transcribed "Warrior-for-Hire", Dr. Holmes' contribution to issue #11 (May 1976) of the L.A.-based APAzine Alarums & Excursions (this issue also has a great cover illustration by Morno of Wee Warriors fame). This article predates the Holmes Basic Set by more than a year, and is as far as I know his earliest published D&D article. A few years ago I got a copy of Holmes' contributions from Lee Gold, editor of A&E, so I've read this article before, but my copy was missing the accompanying illustration by Chris Holmes, one of J. Eric's sons). Chris illustrated many of Holmes' early articles, including two that were in Dragon - Lost Civilizations (a Source of the Nile variant) and the first Boinger and Zereth story. The halfling shown above is probably Boinger, who was one of Chris' characters.

     I posted some commentary on "Warrior-for-Hire" on Dragonsfoot a few years ago, which is repeated below. The article predates the Basic Set so it's firmly in the era of OD&D.

* * * * *

     Holmes tells the reader that “you have outfitted your expedition for the dungeons of Greyhead Tower" but that your unbalanced party would “feel a lot safer with a few fighting men along” and that "advertising takes time and money, though, and you have little of either". This refers to the rules in Men & Magic, page 12, describing hiring of NPCs. The reference to the "Greyhead Tower" dungeons brings to mind the Basic rulebook Sample Dungeon describing the dungeons of the ruined tower of the wizard Zenopus.

     Holmes describes a building in town with a banner reading “Expeditions Unlimited: Hire a Warrior!” run by Ajax, a “big heavy set fellow” and “veteran of the dungeons” who “has a patch over one eye and is missing several fingers of his left hand”. Ajax guarantees that all of his 1st level fighters are lawful, 15+ strong, and fully equipped with chainmail, a helmet, shield and sword and that the terms are “full shares in any treasure, ‘stead of your usual hireling half shares”. I can’t find any specific OD&D references to half shares for hirelings. Men & Magic states that a minimum of 100 gp is necessary to tempt a human into service, although it’s unclear whether this is given prior to the expedition or a share of the treasure.

     Holmes describes the rules for generating Ajax’s fighters. "In practice, what I do is roll 3 D6 until I get a 15 or better. Those are Ajax's tryouts; those who don't measure up are turned away. Once a strength of 15-18 is rolled, then I roll the rest of the character's traits in the usual way, adjusting his strength if possible. Ajax usually has a stable of six trained fighters. Originally they were all from the local area, youths seeking fortune and adventure. Recently there has been an influx of Viking barbarians, big blonde fighters from the north. Casualties run high. Rarely does a fighter reach second level, since he accumulates experience points at half rate". The strength adjustment refers to the rules in Men & Magic, pages 10-11, where fighters can increase their strength by 1 for each reduction of intelligence by 2 or wisdom by 3, with 9 being the minimum any score can be reduced to. The half-rate experience point accumulation for the hirelings refers to the section on "Awarding Experience to Non-Player Characters" on page 13 of Greyhawk (Supplement I).

    These rules were written for OD&D but are easily applied to Holmes Basic, which has nearly identical rules for non-player characters (Holmes edited the original Basic rulebook from the OD&D rules).

     Ajax and his “Warriors-for-Hire” later reappeared in Holmes’ novel The Maze of Peril (1986). The protagonists hire two of his employees, Haldor and Olaf, who is described as a big blonde man – obviously one of the Viking barbarians. Olaf tells the party “We Warriors-for-Hire accept burial on the field of battle as part of the risks of the game” and that Ajax “loves us all as sons, of which he has none, and he begrudges each as dies, though die we do in this business”.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Storytelling with B2, part II

     After telling the Castellan about the adventure with the lizardmen and the spiders (Part I), the Warrior asked if he could become a knight. The Castellan replied it would only be possible to become a Knight of the Realm through extraordinary service to the Keep. Suddenly the Guild Master burst in with urgent news: two out-of-town guests at the Guild House had vanished during the night, and while looking for them the guards had discovered a secret door in the basement where none was previously known. Shortly after it was opened two skeletons had emerged and battled the guards. The guards refused to explore further, and so the Guild Master had come to the Castellan for assistance. The Castellan asked the Warrior if he would investigate, and he agreed. Accompanying the Warrior would be his trusty Dwarf companion, the Castellan's Advisor (an elf), and the Curate of the Chapel. We then looked at the picture of elves and dwarves in the Player's Handbook:

    The group arrived at the Guild House and I showed him the map in the back of B2, with the stairs leading to the basement (see above). The Guild Master took them through the  the basement kitchen to a small storeroom in the back, and showed them the trap door in the floor. It appeared that a seal on the door had been recently pried open, making it  noticeable. The Warrior opened the door and saw a set of stone stairs leading down into the dark. He lit his lantern, and then gave it to the Dwarf so he could descend with sword out and new magic shield in hand. At the bottom of the stairs he spotted two bodies lying on the floor of a dusty room. Two more skeletons then came through a doorway and attacked! The Warrior chopped off the arms of one as it lunged for him, and then broke the rest of it apart, while the Dwarf took care of the other one. The bones crumbled away to dust. The Curate looked over the corpses and found a map that appears to show the level they are on.

     Until next time...

     Notes: On page 25 of B2, Gygax suggests including in the basement of the Guild House "a secret entrance to a long-forgotten dungeon (which, of course, you must design and stock with monsters and treasure)!".

     Dragonsfoot Discussion of the Dungeon Under the Keep on the Borderlands

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Grognardia article on

     Since James hasn't mentioned it yet, I'll point out that he has a new article on the Wizards website. It's a retrospective on Elementals in D&D (going back to OD&D, from which he quotes), including their historical basis. It's accompanied by fantastic art by Stephen Fabian, an underground scene with xorns. Give the article a read, and if you have a account you can leave a comment:

      It's Elementary

     While I was there I created a blog on their site using my new account. It's easy to set up and has one background option that is a collage of old school art (monsters from Sutherland's Monster Manual cover, Otus art for White Plume Mountain, the Wizard logo):

     Since Wizards is re-releasing the AD&D hardcovers this summer, perhaps it is time for a little more OSR presence on their website?

     Warning: Any content you post on the Wizards website is theirs to use. See below.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

List of OD&D products from the 1970s

Here's a product list I typed up for the new OD&D sub-forum on Dragonsfoot:

OD&D Products (most links are to the relevant Acaeum pages):

Rules & Supplements:
Chainmail (1971)
Dungeons & Dragons (1974) - the original D&D set, aka the Little Brown Books (LBBs).
Supplements I-V: Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, GD&H, S&S (1975-1976)
Warlock (1975) - non-TSR D&D supplement from CalTech group
Arduin Grimoire trilogy (1977-1978) - non-TSR D&D supplements by Dave Hargrave)
All the Worlds' Monsters, Vol 1-3 (1977, 1978, 1981, Chaosium) - monster compilations
Monster Manual (1977) - 1st AD&D release but compatible with OD&D/Holmes (e.g. no AC over 9, 5-point alignment, spell progressions per OD&D, magic missile requires "to hit" roll).

Dungeon Geomorphs Sets 1-3 (individual versions, 1976-1977)
Outdoor Geomorphs (1977)
Monster & Treasures Assortments 1-3 (individual versions, 1977-78)
Character Record Sheets (1977)
Ready Ref Sheets (1977, Judges Guild, booklet of tables for OD&D)
Judges Shield (1977, Judges Guild, OD&D DM screen)

Campaign Settings:
Empire of the Petal Throne (1975, TSR) - OD&D variant/campaign setting by M.A.R. Barker
City State of the Invincible Overlord Playing Aid (1977, Judges Guild)
First Fantasy Campaign (1977, Judges Guild) - Blackmoor setting by Dave Arneson)

Palace of the Vampire Queen (1976, published by Wee Warriors, distributed by TSR)
Dwarven Glory (1977, published by Wee Warriors, distributed by TSR)
Misty Isles (1977, Wee Warriors)
Tegel Manor (1977, Judges Guild)
Modron (1977, Judges Guild)
Recent thread listing published OD&D tournament modules
See also Falconer's list of "official" modules of the 1970s

See also Judges Guild Product List by Code - many of the earlier products are for OD&D

Magazines (in 1978 these magazines begin to trend towards AD&D and other games)
Strategic Review (1975-1976)
The Dragon (1976-1979 or so)
Dungeoneer (1976-1980)
White Dwarf (1977-1979 or so)

Holmes Basic Set & Modules:
Holmes Basic Set (1977) - edited from OD&D by J. Eric Holmes
B1 In Search of the Unknown (1978)
B2 The Keep on the Borderlands (1979)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Veteran of the Dice Wars

     Here's a nice picture of the "low impact" dice included with the Holmes Basic Set. On Flickr, found via Google Images. Good choice for the background:

     There's no ten-sided die in this set - they weren't available for sale until 1980. Instead, the white twenty-sider was numbered 0-9 twice, and was rolled with a control die (d6) to generate a d20 result (1-3 = 0-9; 4-6 = 11-20; per the instructions in the Holmes rulebook).

     Update: Note that these dice were all pre-inked by the manufacturer. If you look closely in the advertisements below you'll see that the dice already have ink on them.

     This set was included in the Holmes Basic Set starting with the 1st print (1977), and are shown (in black and white) in the photo on the bottom of the box with the Dungeon Geomorphs and the Monster & Treasure Assortment Set 1. The same photo showed up in color in a TSR catalog from 1977/1978 (a predecessor to the common "Gateway to Adventure" catalogs):

    The same set, which TSR called Polyhedra Dice, was also provided with Gamma World  boxed sets. TSR also sold the set separately ($1.49), as well as a set of two twenty-siders (one white, one pink) called Percentile Dice ($.89), as shown in the same catalog:

     In Nov 1978, TSR released the 2nd edition of the Holmes Basic Set, with the module B1 In Search of the Unknown replacing the Geomorphs and M&TA. The dice remained the same, as shown in this advertisement:
     At some point while they were selling this edition, the dice supply ran short and the infamous chits were introduced. Here's an advertisement showing the set with B1 and chits:

     In December 1979, the third edition was released, with B2 Keep on the Borderlands replacing B1. The sets still had chits in them, as shown in this ad, which is very similar to the one above:

     This is the version that I had as my first D&D set (which I got in 1982). The Acaeum also reports that some sets have been found with six dice, and the very last printing of the rule book refers to d10 with the other dice, so in 1980 they may have switched back to providing dice once they were available again.

     Which set did you have?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

d100 followers

     My blog now has 100 followers, thanks to my post on weapons being mentioned by James on Grognardia last week; and which is now my most ever viewed post. Thanks to everyone for reading my thoughts, and welcome to the new followers - feel free to comment on anything I write. Posting will be light the remainder of this week - I still need to finish my taxes!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

DCC RPG vs the Motorhead War Pig

     The cover of the limited edition of the new DCC RPG reminds me of the War Pig from the cover of Motorhead's first released album, the eponymous Motorhead. It came out in 1977, the same year that saw Holmes Basic, the Monster Manual, The Silmarillion, the Rankin-Bass Hobbit cartoon, The Sword of Shannara and Lord Foul's Bane. Another '70s visual cue from Goodman Games? See also Hugh's bellbottoms on the DCC RPG promo poster, which specifically refers to "1970s Appendix N Fantasy".

    War Pig was created by artist Joe Petagno and graced the cover of most Motorhead albums in different variations. Lately I've been listening to Motorhead's No Remorse (an early '80s best of) after acquiring a copy on CD (my old cassette having bit the dust a while back). I listen to more punk than metal, but I do like Motorhead (and Lemmy's prior band, Hawkwind, even more so). The recent documentary Lemmy is also a memorable watch.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Obscure Art Friday: Fangorn in the Fiend Folio

Fangorn illustration from page 98 of the Fiend Folio (TSR, 1981)

     The Fiend Folio has a full-page illustration of two adventurers facing off against a dragon sitting on a pile of treasure on page 98. The artwork is by Fangorn (the signature is in white on an urn to the right), also known as Chris Baker, who later illustrated the UK covers of the Redwall series. My theory is this illustration was drawn with the intention of being a cover for the UK printing of the Holmes Basic Set. While the perspective is different, note the similarity in the elements of the composition: dragon sitting on a pile of gold facing off against two adventurers, one a wizard, one a warrior; torch light source; archway and columns. There's even room at the top of this picture for a "Dungeons & Dragons" title.

     There's supporting evidence for this. While the actual cover of the UK printing has a picture by John Blanche (with similar dragon/treasure/wizard/warrior/archway elements) all of the interior illustrations are by Fangorn. And while a few are original compositions, many are re-drawings of the original art by David C. Sutherland III (DCSIII). See this page on the Zenopus Archives website for to see the re-drawing of the picture in my blog header. That page links back to a Dragonsfoot thread where ifearyeti provides some juxtapositions of the images from the US/UK rulebooks (pg 1 of the thread) and greyharp (Dave of There's Dungeons Down Under) provides clear scans of all of the Fangorn illustrations (pg 2 of the thread). The re-drawn art is all from the first printing of the rulebook (1977) and includes the orc battle (title page), lizard warrior (pg 3), three dwarves (pg 25), purple worm battle (pg 31), treasure chest (pg 33), sword (pg 35), crystal ball/skull (pg 37) and skeleton battle (pg 44).

     Now take a look another look at treasure chest and crystal ball/skull illustrations:

     If these look familiar to you, and you've never seen the UK printing of the Holmes rulebook, it's because they were merged together and used at the bottom of the Treasure Type table in the Fiend Folio on page 99, facing the dragon picture posted above. I've pasted together the Fiend Folio picture with David Sutherland's originals for a comparison:

Click on this picture for a larger view
     My theory is that Fangorn re-did the cover of the Holmes Basic Set in addition to the many interior illustrations, but for whatever reason the Blanche version was used instead. The Fangorn picture doesn't look like it was colored (like the Sutherland original), but neither is the Blanche version (see link above). When Don Turnbull of TSR UK was preparing the Fiend Folio he decided to include the unused art, along with the merged treasure art.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fight On! #15 to be dedicated to J. Eric Holmes

     Calithena, editor of the OSR zine Fight On!, announced yesterday on the OD&D forums that issue #15 will be dedicated to J. Eric Holmes. Issue #14 is currently in layout, so it will be a few months before submissions for #15 start being accepted. If issue #15 comes out later this year it will coincide nicely with the 35th anniversary of the Basic Set (released Summer/Fall 1977).

    My hope is to submit on a dungeon level I'm working on that could be used as a second level for the Holmes Sample Dungeon.

    Previous issues of Fight On! are available via Lulu

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Table: Number of Attacks and Damage Per Round

     4/4 Edit: I revised the table to change thrown weapons. In Holmes, it takes 1 round to draw a new weapon, so thrown weapons might be best represented as 1 per 2 rounds (but if the weapon is in the other hand or sheathed at the waist it could be thrown the next round).

     Above is a table aimed at reconciling the two rules in Holmes I discussed previously: 1d6 damage/weapon/round, and number of blows per round. Note that this is just one of many possible solutions to this problem. This system could also be used with pre-Greyhawk OD&D where all weapons do 1d6 per round.

     The table also lists the parrying rule from the Blue Book. What I've done here is allow two-handed weapons to parry on alternate rounds when they can't attack. This essentially gives them a -2 to AC every other round, mitigating the lack of using a shield.

    Using this table, attacks for light weapons are made by rolling two d20 simultaneously, and then a single d6 for damage, with a single hit giving 1d3 damage and two hits 1d6 damage. The reason I went with this as opposed to two separate attacks of 1d3 damage is (1) it's faster, (2) Holmes gives no guidance on how to integrate two separate blows with Dex-based initiative (so they might as well be rolled simultaneously) and (3) it brings the average damage/round for light weapons closer to standard weapons, as shown here:

     These average damage calculations are based on a normal man vs AC 9, who has a 50% chance of hitting (i.e., requires an 11 or higher on a d20). The last column to the right represents the system from the first table above. As you can see, standard and two-handed weapons do the same average damage per round. Light weapons are still favored in terms of average damage over the long run due to getting two chances of hitting per round, but it takes longer for this advantage to show since they have more chance of doing 1-3 per round than 1-6.

     A rule from the Holmes version of B2 can also be added to give longer weapons an advantage over shorter weapons; in Area 1 of the Keep (pg 8), Gygax states that a pole arm always gets first strike against a charging foe (this type of rule goes back to Chainmail). This could be generalized as longer weapons always getting first strike against a foe wielding a shorter weapon, in the round that foe moves to attack them.