Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Draw Your Own Floor Plan

The Cyclops' Treasure. Click on the map for a larger view

One feature of the module B2 Keep on the Borderlands, in both the original Holmes edition (1st and 2nd printings) and the revised Moldvay version (later printings), is a single sheet of detachable graph paper on page 27 of the module. This sheet is labeled DRAW YOUR OWN FLOOR PLAN in the same Futura font used in the module, Holmes Basic and the first three AD&D hardcovers. The grid area on the sheet is 10.25 by 7.5 inches at 4 squares per inch, giving 41 by 30 squares. The back side of the sheet (pg 28) contains a blank table for listing ADDITIONAL NON-PLAYER CHARACTERS. 

This sheet is part of the guidance for new DMs found on pages 1-7 and 24-28. The page preceding the graph paper is a map of Area 16 of the Keep, labeled GUILD HOUSE FLOOR PLAN, which shows two levels of the Guild House at a scale of 2 feet per square. It's the only area of the Keep with a map at that level of detail. This floor plan is described on page 24 in the section DESIGNING FLOOR PLANS, as an example of how to detail the buildings of the Keep, followed by the instructions to "lay out as many buildings of the KEEP as you can". So it's clear that the graph paper was intended for drawing the floor plans of more buildings. However, I never used it that way...

Shortly after learning how to play Holmes Basic D&D from some neighbors who had the same set, I found out my best friend E.H. had also learned the game from his older cousins. He had the Moldvay Basic and Expert sets, so he also had a version of B2. One of our fathers photocopied the graph paper page for us, and for a while we used these sheets for drawing our dungeons. E.H. also introduced me to his method of drawing dungeons with colored pens, generally with the dungeon in green ink and each trap or other feature in a different color. I retained one of his maps from our youth, which I recently returned to him after scanning, and this is shown above as an example.

I always thought my friend's maps turned out better than mine, in part because he had finer-tipped pens. This particular dungeon started with rooms 1-19 that he drew, with rooms 20-24 added by myself at a later date. Unfortunately, no corresponding key remains, and I have only the vaguest memory playing this through this dungeon. Other than room numbers, the only words on the map are "Cyclop Trease" (Cyclops Treasure, I believe), which means room 15 probably had a Cyclops from the D&D Expert Set.

I don't remember all of the notations he used, but a black square is obviously a Pit, a red "S" is a secret door, a yellow square is where a 10' Ceiling Block falls, a red square is a 10' fire wall, a blue-lined circle is a falling net (I may have added these later), and the blue lines in the corridor are a Moaning Corridor. Other possible features:

Room 2 - Ice (I think I added this later)
Room 6 - Magic Pool "whose waters have strange effect"
Room 7 - Red lines = Spray "that attracts Wandering Monsters"
Room 8 - Curtain in front of circular pit that may lead to red Chute near room 20
Room 9 - Hexagonal room with statue?
Room 9a - Gold behind some kind of special door?
Room 15 - Black lines = Spring-fired Darts
Room 16 - Room-filled with Poison Gas
Room 17 - Red line = Flying weapon that attacks "only if disturbed"
Room 18 - Yellow circle with BC? or BL? Blinding Lights?

Our early dungeons were typical Funhouse Dungeons / Monster Zoos, each room having a different monster essentially in stasis until encountered, without reason or connection to the other rooms. But they were perfect for us at that age (late elementary school). I would see E.H. every other weekend when he visited his father, and we would take turns DMing each other through our dungeons, each of us controlling an entire party of our own characters, typically 4 or 5 characters each.

The title Draw Your Own Floor Plan remains etched in my mind, and I even considered using it as a name for this blog. Instead I plan to post other maps drawn on this paper in a gallery on the ZA site

Did anyone else use this graph paper for their maps? Searching on the net, I found one other blogger who posted a map he drew on this paper: The RPG Corner's Own Floor Plan.

5/20/15 Update: Looking over the list of Traps in Moldvay Basic reminded that E.H. started with B/X, and the traps he used were clearly influenced by that list. I've bolded the ones that seem to correspond.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Wizard's Blue Book: New Magic Item

Wizard's Blue Book

Copies of this gigantic magical tome, bound in highly decorated blue leather, are extremely rare and highly sought after by magic-users, for it can prove very beneficial in their studies. The text is said to have been assembled long ago by the philosopher-mage Erekomes in the now Sunken Lands from knowledge he gathered in the forgotten cities of the Ancient Builders of the Underworld. More recently, certain correspondence obtained after the disappearance of the wizard Zenopus of Portown suggests that he possessed a copy but its whereabouts remain unaccounted for following the destruction of his tower.
Reading the entire book takes 3 months, and requires daily use of Read Magic and Read Languages to understand it because it is written in a magical script in an archaic language. Any magic-user finishing this course of study may add 10% to their chance of learning spells, or researching new spells - as long as they retain possession of the tome. In addition, the magic-user may make one new attempt to re-learn any spell which they previously failed to learn and still have a copy of. The book is even larger than ordinary magic books and may not be carried into a dungeon.

(Image is of an 1893 Russian Book from here)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Now that you've read B1 for the first time...

Simplified map of the upper level of B1, cartography by Mike (original drawing) and Arzon (blue map) of Dragonsfoot. The full-sized map can be found linked in this post.

...thanks to the free pdf from Wizards, take a look at the B1 page on the Zenopus Archives website for trivia and links to resources for use with it, such as the simplified map of the upper level made by Dragonsfoot members (for use if tricky mapping drives you and your players crazy) and the not-to-be-missed B1 sourcebook assembled by paleologos (link on B1 page). I've just made some new revisions & expansions to the B1 page, motivated by the new pdf availability. You can also click on the B1 tag below to see previous posts I've written about B1 trivia & artwork.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ancient Treasures from the Cellars (D&D pdfs)

One of the banners from dndclassics.com

The whispered rumors were true; the Wizards have been excavating in their cellars in search of ancient treasures. OneBookShelf (RPGnow/DriveThruRPG) was preparing its website to re-issue the D&D backcatalog in pdf form. Today, they are available through a dedicated storefront called dndclassics.com with the tagline "Every Edition Available Again!"

Here are my notes and a roundup of news related to this:
-Eighty PDFs are currently available from a range of lines (Moldvay Basic, AD&D, etc). Francisa on the K&KA forums posted the following message from customer support : "Our initial release includes over 80 titles, though we plan to release smaller batches of additional titles on a rolling basis after that. Needless to say the final catalog will be extensive." They are releasing them as they become available from the Wizards. James Raggi reports the following from them: "All second edition and prior titles have been re-mastered with better quality scans and re-bookmarked. Scanning equipment has improved considerably over the last decade, and it was time to replace the scans created under the ESD program with all new scans."

-B1 In Search of the Unknown is free for download this week. Get it here. The normal list price is $5.50. It's the brown-colored Moldvay revision from 1981 rather than the original monochrome version for Holmes Basic. Quality is excellent, and fully text searchable (yes!). Badmike reports that the pdf is fully printable.

-Moldvay Basic is available on authorized pdf for the first time everIt's $4.99, and currently the hottest product on the site. I haven't bought it yet, but I plan to. It will be nice to have a text searchable version. No Expert, as of yet but it's coming on Feb 5th (see updates below).

-Good news: if you purchased a pdf from them in the past, and there's a new version, you can download the new one for free. I checked my account and was able to download the new version of B6 Veiled Society, which I'd purchased previously. It's a completely new scan, much better than the old one. They even scanned the map on the inside of the folder as one large page rather than two separate pages in the old pdf.

-No Holmes Basic products yet. Hopefully we'll at least see the Holmes Basic rulebook. They'll probably also release the original B1 since it has a different cover that makes it easily distinguishable. I'd like to see the original B2 for Holmes Basic (with DX scores for monsters) as well. No OD&D yet, either but I'm 100% certain we'll see those.

-Each product has an excellent "Product History" page written by RPG historian Shannon Appelcline. Here's some quotes from the page for B1: "The story of "Search" begins with the first Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (1977), which was a reorganization of the rules from the original 3-book Dungeons & Dragons (1974) and Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975) produced by J. Eric Holmes. Following the publication of the Basic Set, TSR was looking for better introductory material to support it.

Enter TSR Games & Rule Editor Mike Carr, who saw the need for an introductory adventure that really taught GMs how to create and stock a dungeon. He offered to write such a product for TSR, who accepted. "In Search of the Unknown" was thus an introductory module for the introductory rule set - making it the ultimate introduction to the game."

-Deities & Demigods is available, but buyer beware: judging by the preview pdf, the new  scan is unfortunately of the fourth printing, without the Cthulhu or Melnibonean Mythos. The fourth printing was an oddity in that Holmes is still thanked for his help on the Cthulhu Mythos, and Chaosium is thanked for permission (pg 4), but these Mythos had been removed. If you look at the table of contents, it's the revised edition with only 128 pages.

-There's a GeekDad column on Wired about the new pdfs: "The PDFs are made from fresh scans of these old products. "We've rescanned everything," Schuh said. "It's the highest quality you can get out there." (I'd generally concur: The scans are good quality, and best of all, the PDFs are searchable. For example, you can search 1980's Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits for all instances of the word "Lolth" or "spider ship," which could come in handy during game play. I did see a few errors in the reproduction of multi-part gatefold-style maps, but hopefully these glitches will be resolved.)"

"The company also plans on releasing "conversion notes" so the older gaming products available on dndclassics.com can be played with newer editions of D&D, including the latest revamp of the rules, what is being called "D&D Next," now in development and scheduled to be released sometime in 2014."

-Some "Basic 4th Edition" products are available for free as well, including H1 Keep on the Shadowfell, for levels 1-3, which is 145 pages long (!) and includes 4E Quickstart Rules and lots of large maps for play (not sure how well these will print out). Also Khyber's Harvest, a 36-page adventure for 2nd level characters.

-According to this Examiner interview, the next pdfs will come on Feb 5th, and will include among others the AD&D MMII, DSG, WSG, D&D Expert rulebook and the module DA2. And OD&D is on the way: "We are opening with around 80 titles covering all of the editions, well, maybe not the earliest Chainmail or Original Edition yet, but that will come."

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Cthulhu Mythos in D&D in the 1970s

Cover by Bruce Pennington for 1975 Panther paperback reprint of Tales of Cthulhu Mythos (1969), including Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu" and Mythos stories by Howard, Smith and others

A chronology of early references to the Cthulhu Mythos in Dungeons & Dragons:

Feb 1975
Greyhawk Supplement by Gygax and Kuntz
Description of the Gate spell: "Employment of this spell opens a cosmic portal and allows an ultra-powerful being (such as Odin, Crom, Set, Cthulhu, the Shining One, a demi-god, or whatever) to come to this plane" (pg 28)

July 1976
God, Demi-gods & Heroes Supplement by Kuntz and Ward
No Cthulhu mythos per se, but does include Robert E. Howard's Hyborea (i.e., Conan), on pages 45-52 including numerous deities, monsters and magic items. Some of note: Tsathoggus [sic, for Tsathoggua], a Clark Ashton Smith creation also used by Lovecraft and appearing only in Conan the Buccaneer by De Camp/Carter. The Old Ones are listed as other deities mentioned by Howard, and may be the same as Lovecraft's Old Ones (Elder Things). The Kraken "comes to us fully described in A. Meritt's Dwellers in the Mirage".
See also this article: Conan and Cthulhu Mythos

Dec 1976
Gygax includes H.P. Lovecraft, Algneron Blackwood, Robert E. Howard and A. Merritt in a list of "Fantasy/Swords & Sorcery Recommended Reading". With some revisions and additions, this list would later appear as Appendix N in the Dungeon Masters Guide (1978). Lovecraft was also included the new Fantasy Gaming Hall of Fame in The Dragon #7 (June '77, pg 4). 

Mar 1977
The Adventure of the Lost City: Part Two (Boinger & Zereth campaign story) by J. Eric Holmes, Alarums & Excursions #19 (APAzine)
The party finds excerpts from the Necronomicon and spies the Spawn of Cthulhu: "In the center of the tower, rising up from the sea caves beneath, momentarily visible above the horizon before it fell back into the depths, the polyploid tentacled monstrosity wavered in the air, and its eerie screeching reached them across the waves. 'The Spawn of Cthulhu!'"

July 1977
Basic Set edited by J. Eric Holmes
"When characters swear they call on the wrath of their appropriate deities, be it Zeus, Crom, Cthulhu or whatever" (pg 39). 

Aug 1977
Kuntz and Holmes meet at Gen Con and discuss "ideas for a revision of the old "Gods Demigods & Heroes" D&D supplement ... a brief summary of the gods presented in the works of H.P. Lovecraft". This led to the article below.

Feb 1978
Lovecraftian Mythos in D&D” by Holmes and Kuntz, The Dragon #12
"J. Eric Holmes (known for his work with Basic Dungeons and Dragons) with additions by my humble self bring you parts of the Cthulhu mythos. They are laid out to be compatible with Dungeons and Dragons Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" (i.e., for OD&D).
Includes Azathoth, Cthulhu, Hastur, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, The Necronomicon, The Elder Sign, Cthuga, Ithaqua, Yig, Yog Sothoth, Byakhee, The Deep Ones, The Great Race, The Old Ones, The Mi-Go and The Shaggoths [sic].

May 1978
"The Cthulhu Mythos Revisited" by Gerald Guinn, The Dragon #14
A letter from a reader criticizing some of the interpretations of the Mythos in the Feb article.

July 1978
"A Rebuttal to the Cthulhu Mythos Revisted" by J. Eric Holmes, The Dragon #16.
Holmes' response to Guinn, mentions that sources for the article included "The Cthulhu Mythos: A Glossary" by Francis Laney, in Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1943), and "H.P. Lovecraft: The Gods" by Lin Carter, in The Shuttered Room and Other Pieces (1959).

Nov 1979
Trollshead (Boinger and Zereth short story) by J. Eric Holmes, The Dragon # 31
At one point, Zereth swears, "Oh, Hastur, Cthulhu and Azathoth!", to which Boinger responds with a Sign of Protection (pg 42).

April 1980
Giants in the Earth column, Lawrence Schick and Tom Moldvay, The Dragon #36
Includes an entry for "H.P. Lovecraft's Richard Upton Pickman (King of the Ghouls)", a character from the story Pickman's Model, including his seven magical paintings: The Lesson, Ghoul Feeding, Subway Accident, Welcome to Innsmouth, The Silver Key and The Colour Out of Space. Illustration of Pickman by Jeff Dee. The next issue of The Dragon included Lovecraft's Abdul Alhazred in list of candidates for future write-up, but this entry never appeared.

Aug 1980
Cthulhu Mythos in Deities & Demigods, AD&D hardcover rulesbook, pages 44-48. 
This is a revision by Jim Ward of the material from Holmes & Kuntz article.

Call of Cthulhu RPG first published (non-D&D, but included here for reference). Reviewed by Dave Cook in Dragon magazine in 1982.

This is just a start; I haven't done a comprehensive search of periodicals of the time period, so there are probably other references in Alarums & Excursions, The Dragon, White Dwarf, The Dungeoneer, Judges Guild Journal etc. If you come across them, let me know & I'll update this list.

One thing that I noted is that until Deities & Demigods in 1980, not one of these articles has a single illustration of any of the eldritch horrors that are mentioned! Which is why I included a 1975 paperback cover at the top of the post as a representation of what was available in bookstores around the time the chronology begins.

Updated 1/22 to include more Dragon Magazine references; thanks to jbeltman for valuable assistance in finding these.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ancient Builder: "New" Monster

 Old Ones with Shoggoth, art by Howard V. Brown for At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, Astounding Stories, Feb 1936 issue. Scan via Dieselpunks.

Holmes didn't provide us with many "new monsters" not found on the standard Monster List of Basic. There are few in the Sample Dungeon, mostly giant animals (giant crab, large octopus, giant snake), with partial stats and description, and which serve to show a new DM that they are not limited to the standard monsters. Holmes also provided stats for Pellucidar creatures in a letter to Alarums & Excursion #18, Jan 1977. Most extensively, he wrote up a number of entities for "The Lovecraftian Mythos in D&D" in Dragon #12, Feb 1978. Co-author Rob Kuntz wrote the entries for the deities Cthuga, Ithaqua and Yig. Holmes was responsible for the rest of the deities, as well as the "monsters": Byakhee, The Deep Ones, The Great Race, The Old Ones, The Mi-Go (Fungi from Yuggoth), and The Shaggoths [sic, for Shoggoths]. These entries were later revised and partially re-written by Jim Ward for inclusion in Deities & Demigods, where The Old Ones were retitled The Primordial Ones to avoid confusion with Lovecraft's other Old Ones such as Cthulhu. These creatures are alternately referred to as The Elder Things by Lovecraft and the Call of Cthulhu RPG.

In his novel The Maze of Peril, Holmes writes of the origin of the vast underworld: "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" (pg 3). Holmes does not further disclose the nature of this race, but Lovecraft's Old Ones are a natural fit, being both pre-human and extensive builders. Here's my analog of the Old Ones where they fulfill this role of original architects of the underworld, written up in Holmes Basic format. It also mentions Dagonites and Whisperers, which are analogs for The Deep Ones and the Mi-Go, respectively. 

Ancient Builder

Move: 120 feet/turn

Hit Dice: 8
Armor Class: 5
Treasure Type: 50% chance of 1 device with the power of a ring or wand

Alignment: neutral
Attacks: 1d4 leg tentacles
Damage: 1d8 points per tentacle

Sages speculate that the vast underworld was the effort of many races, toiling over the eons, but that it began with vast underground cities built by a pre-human race that came to the lands from regions unknown. This race of Ancient Builders flourished for a time but was eventually weakened by wars with the malign Whisperers, and ultimately overthown by their own creations, the now mindless Black Puddings. Over the ages their cities were much changed and expanded by later races such as the Dagonites and Troglodytes, but there are still occasional reports of adventurers finding hibernating Builders far below the surface.
Extreme caution is urged as these sleepers may lash out at intruders if awakened or capture them for further study without care for their well-being.  

The Builders are said to be slightly larger than man-sized, but wholly inhuman in form, with a columnar body with a ring of tentacles at the top (sense organs) and bottom (legs), and more at the sides for grasping and holding items. From the relics of their culture it is clear they are highly intelligent albeit in fashion alien to humans, and they often wield weird devices that duplicate the powers of rings or wands (1d20 charges).

Friday, January 18, 2013

Quote of the Week - Zereth on the "Gods"

Zereth listened a moment at the entryway and then threw the great door shut.

"Hear anything?" asked Boinger.

"Yes, still behind us, whatever it is." He sat on the stone. "Why do we go through this?" he asked. "Is it greed or glory?"

"Some sages say we have a need to find death," suggested Boinger.

"Sometimes," said the elf, "I think that the gods do drive us for their own amusement."

-the end of chapter 2 of The Maze of Peril (1986) by J. Eric Holmes

Here Zereth seems to break the fourth wall with some insight into his own nature as a D&D character and the "gods" (us) that control the characters. Zereth and Boinger were two of Chris Holmes' first D&D characters in Dr. Holmes' campaign, circa 1975.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Giant Gila Monster

Poster for the 1959 film "The Giant Gila Monster" directed by Ray Kellogg

Above is a poster for a 1950's monster movie, The Giant Gila Monster, which may have served as inspiration for Dr. Holmes for a D&D monster. I haven't seen the movie yet, but there's a MST3K version on Netflix which I've added to my queue.

On page 38 of Holmes' 1981 book Fantasy Role-Playing Games there's an untitled dungeon map which we have been calling the "Halls of the Lizard King" based on a key feature. It's just part of a dungeon level, and there's no corresponding text describing the dungeon, but the map itself provides descriptive names for many of the rooms and features. Notably there's a colossal cave housing a "Giant Gila Monster". According to the Wikipedia entry, the monster in the movie is about 70' long, and which is similar in size to the creature on the Holmes map. If the squares are 10' each as on another map in the book, the monster is at least 100' long:

Detail of Holmes' map showing the 100'+ monster

This map likely came from Holmes' own campaign. Since we unfortunately don't have any other information on his version of the monster, I've written up my own take on it for Holmes Basic. Hit Dice are extremely high since Purple Worms are 50' long and have 15 HD. The poison breath is inspired by an Apache legend, and the healing properties of their skin from Sonoran Indian legends.
Giant Gila Monster

Move: 30 feet/turn
Hit Dice: 20
Armor Class: 3
Treasure Type: see below
Alignment: neutral
Attacks: 1 bite
Damage: 3-18 points

Enormous burrow-dwelling predatory lizards, up to 100’ long when fully grown. Their breath is so foul that all creatures in a thirty-foot radius must save versus poison each round or take 1d6 points of damage. They are slow-moving but bite quickly, and will grip their victim tightly, inflicting 3d6 points of damage per round. Even worse, their salivary glands secrete a toxin that requires a save versus poison each round to avoid taking an additional 2d6 points of damage from pain. They do not hoard treasure but their hide is valuable (1d6 x 10,000 gp) for two reasons. The hide has regenerative properties; ingesting a portion will restore 1 extra hit point at the end of the day, and magic-users can use it to brew healing potions. Furthermore, the tough, beaded skin can also be used to make colorful armor equivalent to plate mail but light as leather armor.

Edit: Revised 1/17 to add properties of hide.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

35 years ago this month (Jan 78)

Text from the Title Page of the 2nd printing of the Holmes Basic rulebook

The Holmes Basic set was first available in July 1977, according to the latest research. About 6 months later the first revised version of the rulebook appeared, with a title page now dated January 1978.

Some of the more prominent changes to the 2nd printing include:

-Less hobbits, more halflings. As I wrote elsewhere, "The 1st print ... uses "hobbits" throughout. The 2nd print ... changes most to "halflings" but still uses "hobbits" in five locations. In the 2nd edition (Wizard Logo, Nov 78) and later printings a sole reference to "hobbits" remains, in the description of the spell "Cure Light Wounds". Around the same time the references to hobbits were also changed in the LBBs. All other Tolkien references in the Blue Book were retained (except see below regarding the product list).

-Revised Wandering Monster Table. Holmes later wrote in Dragon #52, "The first Basic Set rulebook contained some irritating typographical errors. Someone at TSR rewrote the wandering monster table and put in a number of creatures that were not in my list of monster descriptions. But most of the errors were corrected for the second printing". The monster table would be revised yet again in the third printing. I plan to make another post where I compare these wandering monster tables. 

-Editor Bio. The first printing does not contain the biographical blurb about the editor, Dr. Holmes. This was added on page 45, after the section on "Using the Dice", and remained in all subsequent printings, unchanged as far as I've noted. I'm guessing that someone at TSR decided he deserved more acknowledgement for his effort, which was essentially donated  (i.e., Holmes volunteered and Gygax said it cost TSR "nary a red cent").

-Price List revisions. In the 2nd printing, the price list is mostly the same as in the 1st, with the following exceptions. It now includes the Basic Set itself ($9.95) as well as the rulebook alone ($5). A note indicating the Monster Manual is "Tentatively available in October 1977"; has been removed, because while delayed until late Dec 1977, it was now available. The price of War of Wizards (a boardgame based on Empire of the Petal Throne) is increased from $7.50 to $9.95. The entry for the Battle of the Five Armies game by TSR has been deleted - another casualty of the Tolkien Estate. The entry for the Warlocks & Warriors boardgame by Gardner Fox has been updated from "Future Release" to $6.95, indicating it was now available. TSR unfortunately misses out on a bit of cross-promotion, however: Holmes mentions Fox's name on page 40 of the rulebook in a list of fantasy authors but the game entry fails to mention his name. Finally, there's a new note that a complete TSR list of products is available for $2.