Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Equipment Packs for Holmes

An expedition begins, illustration by DCSIII from B1 In Search of the Unknown

In my early D&D days, buying equipment during character creation was fun, but these days it feels like more of a chore to complete before play can begin. It also slows down the process of character creation, which can be an impediment for new players.

Taking a cue from Jean Wells*, and others since, here's an option for Holmes Basic: each new character can choose to take an equipment pack for the appropriate class in lieu of rolling for starting gold. A standard dwarf or hobbit gets the fighter pack, and a standard elf can choose the fighter or magic-user pack. The DM can also use these packs for on-the-fly determination of NPC equipment. They can also be used for OD&D, which has essentially the same equipment list, if you are using the Holmes' rule for scroll creation. One reason I created these packs is to highlight that a M-U with sufficient funds can start with a scroll.

Chainmail & Shield
Sword & Spear
Short Bow & Quiver with 20 Arrows
Water/Wine Skin, filled with water
Leather Backpack (300 coin capacity), holding:
  • 50' Rope
  • Tinderbox & 6 Torches
  • 2 Large Sacks (300 c.c. each)
  • Standard Rations (1 person for 1 week)
  • 5 GP

Book of First Level Spells (contains known spells)**
Water/Wine Skin, filled with water
Small Sack (50 coin capacity), holding:
  • Standard Rations (1 person for 1 week)
  • Scroll with one first level spell (choose from known spells)

Chainmail & Shield
Wooden Cross (or other holy symbol)
Water/Wine Skin, filled with water
Leather Backpack (300 coin capacity), holding:
  • 1 Vial of Holy Water
  • 1 Bunch of Wolvesbane
  • Tinderbox & 6 Torches
  • Standard Rations (1 person for 1 week)
  • 13 GP

Leather Armor
Sword & Dagger
Short Bow & Quiver with 20 Arrows & 2 Silver Arrows
10' Pole
Water/Wine Skin, filled with water
Leather Backpack (300 coin capacity), holding:
  • 1 Set of Thief's Tools***
  • 12 Iron Spikes
  • Mallet & 3 Stakes
  • 50' Rope
  • 4 Flasks of Oil
  • Tinderbox & 12 Torches
  • Large Sack (300 c.c.)
  • Standard Rations (1 person for 1 week)
  • 5 GP

Specific Notes:
*As far as I can tell, the term and concept of "equipment packs" first appeared in TSR D&D in the original orange-covered version of the module B3 Palace of the Silver Princess, by Jean Wells (1981). There may be an earlier non-TSR source.

** "Magic-users can not bring their magic books into the dungeon with them" (pg 13 of the Basic Rulebook). This is presumably because they are unwieldy "giant volumes" like the thaumaturgist's spell books in the Sample Dungeon (pg 44). There's no cost in the rules for these spell books.

*** "Thief's Tools" are not found in the equipment list, but can be found for sale at bank in B2 Keep on the Borderlands, with an actual value of 35 gp. Here, I've assumed that each thief starts with one set at no cost, similar to the magic-user's spell book. These can be omitted if you don't use them in your game. 

General Notes:
The packs are based on 110 gp, just above the average rolled by 3d6 x 10 (105 gp).

I've assumed that Leather and Chain Armor come with appropriate head coverings, and the Helmet on the Holmes equipment list is either for Plate Mail, or replacement cost. This is open to interpretation as neither OD&D or Holmes has clear rules for the Helmets listed in the equipment list.

Each pack has a light source, food and water, so that each class can operate somewhat independently in a dungeon.

I favor the view of the Thief as "Expert Treasure Finder", and they have the most spare money, so here I've given them the most dungeoneering tools - 10' pole, 12 iron spikes, mallet, etc

I'll eventually make some class-specific character sheets including these packs, to speed up character creation. This will be part of Holmes Ref, which is still in progress.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

D&D: Dangerous For Your Health?

Cover of the Winter 1982 issue of the short-lived Beyond magazine, image from philsp

The author's blurb in Maze of Peril mentions several magazines with articles by J. Eric Holmes. I tracked most of these down long ago, but the one from Beyond eluded me until a few days ago. I wasn't even sure what publication it was in, as there have been several Beyond magazines over the years. I still don't have a copy of the article - the publication appears to be vanishingly rare - but I finally located a citation for it a few days ago in the amazing Internet Speculative Fiction Database. ISFDB is a "community effort to catalog works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror" and it goes deep, listing every article in the periodicals that it covers. 

It turns out that Holmes' article was in a Beyond periodical that existed briefly in 1981-1982,  a "SF magazine containing stories by Harlan Ellison & Robert Silverberg apparently issued only as free supplements in (some) college newspapers" as a "small newsprint tabloid, 11.5" wide and 14" tall" (according to another database, philsp). This kind of limited, ephemeral newspaper distribution would explain its rarity - I didn't find any copies for sale anywhere on the internet.

According to ISFDB, Holmes' article is in the Winter (Jan) 1982 issue and is titled "Dungeons & Dragons: Dangerous for Your Health?". The date of this article places it shortly after Holmes' FRPG book came out in late 1981, and it may cover similar ground to Chapter 13, which is titled: "Are They All Crazy?" (short answer: no, of course not). This was the era of intense public interest in the phenomena and "dangers" of D&D, so the cover of the magazine teases the article as "Dungeons & Dragons: Breeding New Demons?"

I'd love to read this article, so please keep your eyes out for it.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Dungeon! Inventory

After playing Dungeon again tonight for the umpteenth time, I finally got around to checking my set (the 1981 revision) versus the inventory list found on Boardgame Geek. As it turns out, I'm missing just a few treasure cards, and no unique ones.

I was also interested in the numbers from a design perspective, since I am toying around with making an alternate board to use with the game for some variety. So using inventory lists I made a summary of the numbers of Monsters, Treasures & Rooms/Chambers in the original (1975) and first revision (1980/1981) of the Dungeon Boardgame. See above.

The first four columns list the number of Monster & Treasure cards for each level. As you can see, the number of Treasure cards exactly matches the number of Rooms on each level, and this was not changed in the revision. In contrast, the number of Monster Cards were drastically reduced in the 1981 revision. This is due to a difference in how the cards are used in the game. In the original version, the Monster & Treasure Cards were placed directly on the board in each room, so extra Monster Cards were needed for the Chambers, which restock. In the revision, the cards were made larger and no longer fit in the rooms, so they are placed in piles off the board. This meant that less Monster Cards were needed, because the monsters in the pile could just be continually reused. The number of Monster Cards was basically cut in half for each of levels 2-6, although no monsters were removed.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Green Grabber - New Monster

Holmes Basic (and OD&D in general) is short on monstrous plants, despite having a Ring of Plant Control. The ring will affect plants or fungi, but the only monsters in this category in the Monster List are Shriekers and Yellow Mold, both fungi. Dr. Holmes' FRPG book (1981) has a beginner's sample dungeon (The Eye of Arzaz) with a few new low level monsters in it, including "Tentacles" and "Flower Stalks" hiding in adjacent rooms. Due to the similarity of these two creatures, here I've combined them into one new plant monster for Holmes Basic.

Green Grabber

Move: 5 feet/turn
Hit Dice: 1 HD per tentacle
Armor Class: 9
Treasure Type: M x 3
Attacks: 3 tentacles
Damage: 0 (see below)

These dungeon-dwellers are actually carnivorous plants distantly related to bladderwort. Adapted to life in the dark, they lurk in pits, chimneys, closets and other small spaces, reaching silently for passersby with three thirty-foot-long tentacles (surprise on 1-4 in 6). Each tentacle attacks independently as a 1 HD monster, and on a successful hit grabs the target but does no immediate damage. If the captured character is holding a weapon, a successful 3d6 dexterity check indicates that the weapon arm remains free and able to attack. On the next round, the victim will be dragged into the monster's central mouth and take 2d6 points of damage per round thereafter. Each tentacle can take 1 HD of damage before being destroyed, and the creature will die rapidly from loss of fluid if it loses all of its limbs. Green Grabbers do not normally move about, but if necessary can pull themselves along slowly with their tentacles to a new hiding spot.

Periodically the monster enters a flowering phase, called Sleepflower, in which the tentacles are weaker but have a large yellow flower at each end. These flowers produce a blood-like nectar that attracts stirges, which pollinate the plants while feeding. In this form the plant protects itself with its pollen. If approached, the monster will extend a tentacle with a yellow flower that opens and sends out a puff of pollen in a 5' area. Any character in this area must Save vs Poison or fall asleep for 1d6 turns. Each flower can send 3 puffs of pollen per day.

They do not hoard treasure, but are occasionally found with incidental treasure (such as a handful of coins) from previous victims.

Bladderwort Traps, picture from Wikipedia

Edit: I also checked on the mobile plants I remembered from Holmes' other stories:

In "The Adventure of the Giant Chameleon" (A&E #14, 8/76) they are described as having "big open flowers and moving tentacles" - which fits well the Green Grabber. In that story the plants are growing in a chasm in a underground cavern lit by a luminescent green glow.  

In Maze of Peril, near the end of chapter 1, there are mobile carnviorous plants that snap their "spine-fringed jaws like a startled starfish" in a floral room in the dungeon but lit by sunlight from above. These seem more like Venus-fly trap type plants.

See also Tony's comment about the tentacle roots in "In the Bag".

Friday, May 10, 2013

Holmes' Harryhausen Tribute

The Giant Crab by Ray Harryhausen from Mysterious Island (1961)
Ray Harryhausen's special effects for the 1961 movie adaptation of Jules Verne's novel Mysterious Island include a spectacular battle with a stop-motion giant crab, which can be
watched in its entirety here on TCM. Now compare this with two other giant crabs appearing in the writings of J. Eric Holmes:

Room L in the Sample Dungeon in the Basic Set rulebook (1977):
"L — Another cave with the river running through it. There is phosphorescent fungus growing on the rocks, so anyone can see without lights. There are east and west entrances on both sides of the river to the sandy beach. The river is only 3-4 feet deep at the center of the channel and can be forded.

There is a giant crab concealed under the sand on the south beach. It will attack anything that moves on either beach. It runs 60 feet in 1 turn, in armor class 3 (plate mail), and takes 2 hit dice (8 hit points). It strikes with its giant claws one at a time as fast as a man" (pg 43)

Excerpt from "Dark Water", Chapter 2 of Maze of Peril (1986):
"The beach heaved and crumbled under Boinger's feet. The sand spilled away as a broad, blue carapace rose up on six armored legs. Boinger staggered backward as as great claw passed over his head. The great beast crashed over the startled little adventurer and up the beach, where the two mercenaries and the dwarf swung futilely as it went by. The claw scattered like an oversized nut cracker, swooped at Zereth who dropped flat on the sand, and backed Murray against the wall.

"Ooop!" cried the magician, swatting the crustacean across the eye-stalks with his staff.

The others rushed to attack the monster's rear, only to find that the tough armor turned their blows with ease. 

"The joints," called Bardan, "go for the joints of his legs!"

Boinger swung two handed at a leg as the crab began to turn, had the satisfaction of feeling his blade bite deep into the limb, heard the exoskeleton crack as he twisted his sword loose. The creature stumbled as the adventurers attacked its other limbs. Finally, after several tries, the dwarf got a jab with his spear past the guarding claw and into the softer mouth parts just under the carapace. The brute collapsed, was rolled over, and the legs hacked off to keep it from righting itself.

"Thank you for the help, I guess," Murray mumbled as he got to his feet and brushed the wet sand from his robe. "I wish you could have been a little less forceful."

"Didn't have time to," the elf replied, and turned to walk down to the new boat.

"You know," said the halfling, poking the still twitching stumps of the giant crab with his sword, "this stuff would be really tasty steamed or roasted. Why don't we build a small fire and cook up a few legs?"

"Fire, you idiot?" cried the mage. "Do you want to bring every monsters in the place down upon us? We can't go around building fires all over the beach. You're not having a little picnic outing back home, you know. We're in the middle of enemy territory!"

"Well, I guess you're right," Boinger agreed reluctantly. "We haven't any melted butter, anway..." (pg 17)

The giant crab had appeared previously in OD&D, Vol 3, as part of the "Special Suggestions for Monsters for Naval Adventures" (pg 34-35). However, Holmes specifically references two key details from the Harryhausen sequence: hiding the sand, and eating the crab.

And for my tribute to Harryhausen, here's a full entry for the giant crab for Holmes Basic:

Giant Crab

Move: 60 feet/turn
Hit Dice: 2
Armor Class: 2
Treasure Type: nil
Alignment: nil
Attacks: 2
Damage: 2-12 each

Rumored to be originally created by the mad sorcerer Nemo, these enormous bright orange crustaceans now lurk everywhere near bodies of water in the underworld. They conceal their garish shells with sand, bursting forth to attack anything of smaller size that moves (surprise on 1-4 in 6). They attack twice per round, once with each of their black-tipped claws. They do not keep treasure but their tough shell can be fashioned into orange armor equivalent to plate mail +1 (AC 2) by an armorer of the highest skill for 1,000 gp. Reported to be delicious if cooked.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Holmes' Saurians

Detail of Holmes' Saurians

This is a detail from the picture posted yesterday. Billy identified these figures as Dragontooth Saurians, and suggested the giant lizard is the same as the one in the Basic Book (pg 3) that I also have at the top of this blog. I had also noticed the similarity. The lizardmen are probably Heavy Bowmen, and the giant lizard is part of the SMC1 Champion Mounted on Giant Lizard:

Drawing of SMC-01, possibly from a catalog, image from Lost Minis wiki
A painted SMC-01, image from Lost Minis wiki
SMC1 Saurian Champion in original packaging, image from a recent auction
It is certainly possible that the David Sutherland drawing influenced the Dragontooth mini, or vice versa. The question is, which came first? I don't have a good answer for that. The Holmes rulebook was first published in July 1977, but I'm not sure when the Dragontooth mini was first available. Dragontooth started selling minis in 1975, but the earliest I've found the Saurian minis is in an ad in Dragon #9, Sep 1977 (coincidentally is the first issue with an advertisement for Holmes Basic):

Dragontooth Saurians ad from Dragon #9, Sep 1977
Holmes was clearly a fan of the Dragontooth figures. Here's what he had to say about them in his FRPG book (1981), Chapter 11, "Little Metal People":

"Dragontooth Miniatures makes a line of utterly delightful fantasy armies. These little fellows are intelligent lizards and frogs and come dressed in a variety of armor, carrying a variety of weapons. There are lizard armies, alligator armies and frogman armies. With the varied figures of the armies come an array of imaginative mounts and vehicles. Bird drawn chariots, beautifully detailed dinosaur and iguana mounts, howda-equipped giant chameleons, and a huge triceratops, a veritable prehistoric tank ready to carry his handful of screaming lizard men to victory or death"

The "iguana mounts" here may refer to SMC1 figure, and the triceratops is also from the Saurians line. The alligator and frogman armies, bird drawn chariot and giant chameleon are from the Amphibians line. Here's a later (1978) Dragontooth ad pitting the two lines ("Saurian Empire" and "Amphibian Confederation") against each other:

Dragontooth ad from Dragon #17, Aug 1978, Amphibians vs Saurians

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Holmes' Little Metal People, Take II

Click for larger view

After I posted yesterday, Billy Galaxy sent me a much better copy of the photo from the L.A. Times article. It's uncropped and the resolution in the scan is fantastic: the individual minis are actually identifiable. The table may be the same one as in the photo in his 1981 FRPG book, with a blackboard surface for drawing dungeon maps in chalk. 

I'm far from an expert on minis but I do recognize three "Pumpkinhead Bugbears" (Archive, 1976, Dungeon Nasties set) near his left hand.

Detail of Holmes' Bugbears
Here's a close-up of someone else's painted one from an old Acaeum post:

These minis were based on the original Bugbear drawing (by Greg Bell) in the Greyhawk supplement (1975), which also served to later inspire the Jack O' Bear of Runequest.

The original D&D Bugbear illustration

Billy also identified some of the minis as Dragontooth Saurians, inc the large lizard in the middle, and some Minifig Gnolls to the far right. Let me know if you recognize any other minis from the picture.

See also these follow-up posts:
Holmes' Saurians
DCSIII Customized Saurians

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Holmes' Little Metal People

"MINIATURES - Dr. Eric Holmes with a few of his D&D Figures"

As reported on the Acaeum, the Holmes Collection includes over 200 lbs of miniatures. In 1979, Dr. Holmes was interviewed by Beth Ann Krier as part of a L.A. Times article about the D&D phenomena. This article, called "Fantasy Life in a Game Without End", can be seen here. Among other topics, Holmes relates that he "has invested a fair amount of time and money amassing and painting thousands of fantasy miniatures used in the game. 'I'm lucky I don't have any other hobbies,' he says". The photo above by Tony Bernard accompanied the article. Holmes' 1981 book Fantasy Role-Playing Games, has an entire chapter, Little Metal People, dedicated to the topic of collecting, painting and using miniatures in D&D. The chapter includes a number of pictures of minis available from various companies at the time.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The J. Eric Holmes Collection

Some of the 200 lbs of minis collected by J. Eric Holmes - photo by Billy Galaxy

Big news in the world of Holmes Basic: as posted over on the Acaeum, the J. Eric Holmes collection has been bought from his family by Billy Galaxy, who runs a vintage/import toy store of the same name. He currently has about a dozen items from the collection up on Ebay (see here), with more to come in the future once the material is sorted.

In his post, Billy writes: "Being an avid collector of this stuff myself I am holding onto the lions share, but there is still some great stuff that I will bring to market soon. But fear not fellow adventurers as the collection will not remain unseen in my dragons hoard, rather I will endeavor to share this fantastic find with the community through my own site (which has remained dormant for too long and this is the perfect excuse to relaunch) as well as through the Zenopus Archives and various forums (it will be a blast settling some age old debates and questions with cold hard proof)." 

Given my interests, I was naturally very excited to hear that the collection includes drafts and manuscripts for the Holmes Basic rulebook. See here for some pictures of these in another thread started by Billy. It's great that Dr. Holmes retained this material and that it is in the hands of someone who can appreciate it and has the resources to process the large quantity of materials. I spoke with Billy on the phone last week and as he wrote above he hopes to share information from this historic collection with the community.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Dungeons of Pasha Cada

Front cover of a prototype rulebook for Dungeon!

In 2011, pictures of a hand-made prototype of Dungeon from 1973 surfaced on the Acaeum, posted by an old friend of Dave Megarry, the game's designer. The cover of the prototype's rulebook is shown above. Megarry himself later posted that this was the "2nd version" of the game, and indicated that he had a copy of the original board but not rulebook, having been lost by TSR during production. You can see a portion of his original board here on the Mule Abides blog.

Board for Dungeon, prototype, 2nd version (click for larger view)

The prototype of the 2nd version is similar to the published version, but is named "The Dungeons of Pasha Cada" according to both the rulebook cover and the board itself (see detail above). The full set of rules was not posted, but we get a glimpse on the back cover:

Front cover of a prototype rulebook for Dungeon!

We see here that the amount of treasures required was different for some characters: Elf was 10,000 gp, but Hero was 12,000 gp, Superhero 15,000 gp and Wizard 25,000 gp. Just below this there is a warning: "If no one gets out alive, the Dungeons have won", implying that players couldn't start again if killed. Next there is an optional rule for safekeeping "prizes" (as they were originally called in the 1975 version), which was included in the "advanced rules" of the 1975 version but then dropped from the 1981 version. Then we have "Byword: The deeper you go, the better they are but the worse it gets". Finally, there is a list of "Rumors of Monsters that Inhabit the Dungeons", with exactly 30 monsters:

Goblins *
Kobolds *
Orcs *
Wights *
Lycanthropes * (presumably WereWolves)
Balrogs *
Giant Snakes
Red Dragons *
Giant Spiders *
WereBears *
Green Slimes
Grey Puddings (OD&D, Vol 2, refers to "Black (or Gray) Puddings")
Anti Heroes *
Anti SuperHeroes *
Evil Sorceresses *
Black Dragons *
Wraiths *
Brown Dragons
Fire Elemental *
Earth Elemental *
True Trolls * (The True Troll of Chainmail is the same as the D&D Troll)
Ogres *
Giants *
Evil Wizards *
Giant Worms
Blue Dragons *
Purple Dragons * (The Purple Dragon of Chainmail is the same as the D&D Purple Worm) 

This monster list is closer to the monsters of Chainmail than the published game. I put an asterisk by each that appears Chainmail (or implied evil version), 21 of 30. The influence of Chainmail on Dungeon was previously discussed in the Blackmoor forums here. 

The board and list of monsters were modified during production of the 1975 game by TSR. In a letter to Megarry in April 1975, Gygax wrote:

"Basically the board is that you designed, with a few additional rooms, passages, and stairs/chambers. The number of different monsters has been cut to 24, and the same for the treasures. Rules will be very simple with an advanced play manual and monster description folder. All the monster cards will bear illustrations of the beasties. The map will be 22” x 28”, in multiple colors, with many wee spiders, bugs, rats, bones, and so forth shown in the blank areas. The cover will be mostly black and white with DUNGEONS! Dripping across the cover in blood red. Comments?" (See a scan of the original letter here on the Mule Abides).

Apparently at this point they had shortened the name from “Dungeons of Pasha Cada” to “DUNGEONS!” which would later be changed to the singular “DUNGEON!”.
Board from the 1975 version of DUNGEON! (click for larger view)

(This post is a revised version of one originally posted here on OD&D Discussion.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Character Levels for Dungeon!

Illustration by Jim Holloway from page 2 of the 1981 rules for Dungeon!

Level - Treasure Needed

Hero - 0 to 9,999 g.p.

Superhero - 10,000 to 19,999 g.p.

Lord (fights as Superhero +1) - 20,000 & up g.p.

Still playing Dungeon frequently. Above is a leveling system that we are now using. Each character begins the game as a Hero, and can progress to a Superhero and Lord based on treasure collected. Going up a level requires gathering the required treasure and returning to the start (Staircase) for "training". Treasures are retained after training, and if lost after this point your character stays at the level they have achieved. (A similar system could be used for Elf - Wizard, but we haven't tried it yet). If a character is killed you start again with a "fresh" character of the same level.

This allows for several victory conditions during the game:
-First to Superhero
-First to Lord
-First to find the Huge Diamond on Level 6.
-Most treasure when the game is ended

Here's another leveling system I spotted: Dungeon! Solitaire Variant by Delta

Here are some other alternate rules that we use in our games:

Each player rolls 2d6 for movement each turn. This gives an average move of 7 squares per turn, slightly faster than the 5 squares per turn in the rules.

Forming a Party
Two or more characters may join up to move and fight monsters together. After entering a room and drawing a monster card, the youngest player attacks first (alternately, highest roll on a single die goes first). If the monster is not defeated, each player rolls a single die, and low roll indicates the character attacked by the monster. If one character is seriously wounded or killed, they return to Start, and the other player must now fight the monster alone. First to slay the monster gets to keep the treasure. Characters can trade or give treasure to each other, such as an extra magic sword.

Edit: The above rule additions are for the 1981 version. The other versions (1975, 1989, 1992, 2012) may have slightly different rules. I believe the new version (2012) uses essentially the same rules as the 1981 version but renames the Hero as Dwarf Cleric and Superhero as Human Fighter.