Thursday, July 30, 2015

Chris Holmes on the Origins of the Wereshark

Chris' original illustration of the Wereshark from A&E #13, July 1976

On his website, Chris Holmes has a new article about the origins of the Wereshark. He said I could repost it here, but I'd rather have you check out his website. It's accompanied by a contemporary picture by Chris, different than the one shown above:
WereSharks Created by Dr. Holmes

Instead I'll share some supporting information:

-"Were-shark" is J. Eric Holmes' second A&E article in issue #13, July 1976, with Chris listed as a co-author. It's an early version of Chapter 2 of the Maze of Peril.

-There are no stats in the article, which is written as a campaign story, but they are compared to were-tigers ("If there are were-tigers and sharks are tigers of the sea..."), implying similar strength (5 HD in OD&D). Update: After writing this I remembered that in the story a M-U puts 4 of 5 were-sharks in a group to sleep with a Sleep spell, meaning they must have a HD of 4 or less. The 1975 Warlock version of Sleep affects "one 6-sided die of 3rd or 4th level types". This differs from the OD&D Vol 1 version which affects 1d6 of 3 HD but only 1 of 4 HD.

-Gygax sent in letters published in A&E # 2, 8 and 15, and the last letter references issue #14, so it's likely he also read issue #13.

-Holmes next mentioned the were-shark in one sentence in the Basic manuscript: "Thus we find were-wolves in Europe, were-tigers in India, were-leopards in Africa and were-sharks in Polynesia". Per Gygax, "I reviewed Eric's manuscript" and "I was in charge of the manuscript when it was turned over", which means he would have encountered the idea of the were-shark here even if he didn't see them in the A&E story. Gygax left the sentence referring to the were-sharks unchanged in the published Basic rulebook, which is where most of us encountered and wondered about it. Update: I meant to also mention that the were-shark is also significant because it is the first non-mammalian lycanthrope in D&D.

-The Monster Manual then mentions, "There are some other forms of lycanthropes, but these are very rare in the extreme". This comes after Holmes mentioned the possibility of were-leopards and were-sharks. Eventually in 1983 the Monster Manual II would include a few more of these, including Gygax's take on the were-shark.

-Holmes' were-sharks surfaced again in the Maze of Peril (1986), where we learn more about them and the Dagonites they associate with. One detail from Maze of Peril I liked is that the Dagonites clad the hulls of their outriggers with silver to "ward off the were-sharks", suggesting an uneasy alliance.

See also: Part 28: "Thus We Find Were-Sharks in Polynesia"

Monday, July 20, 2015

Holmes' Mi-Go

The Mi-Go by Erol Otus from Deities & Demigods, image from oldschoolfrp

Continuing with the Pluto theme in honor of the New Horizons fly-by, here is Holmes' OD&D write-up of the Fungi from Yuggoth.

Background: Dragon Magazine #12 (Feb 1978) included "The Lovecraftian Mythos in Dungeons & Dragons" by J. Eric Holmes and Rob Kuntz. This was the first systematic write-up of the Cthulhu Mythos for D&D, with the entries written in the style of the Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (1976) supplement for OD&D. This entry, with some editing, was later included in the Cthulhu Mythos in Deities & Demigods (1980). The entry in the Dragon article appears verbatim in Holmes' original draft of the article.

* * * * *

The Mi-Go, the Fungi from Yuggoth, the Abominable Snow Man

Armor Class - 3
Move - 15", fly 30"
Hit points - 35
Magic Ability - (see below)
Fighter Ability - 8th level
Psionic Ability - Class 5

Eight foot high, many legged, red, crab like creatures with two great bat-like wings, the Mi-Go are found in mountain wilderness, the Himalayas and Vermont. Their main base of operations in this solar system in on Yuggoth (the planet Pluto). Immune to cold, dark and vacuum, they can fly the interstellar space and teleport across interstellar distances. They can not speak but they possess machines that produce a buzzing imitation of human speech (The Whisperer in Darkness). They mine minerals or other items from the earth and will try to make alliances with human races. They sometimes kidnap humans and carry off their living brains in metal cylinders for study.

The entry for the Elder Sign also lists them as a being against which the Sign protects.

Per Gods, Demigods & Heroes pg 11, Class 5 Psionic Ability is an Attack Strength of 100, Attack Modes A, B, C, E and Defense Modes F, G, H. 

* * * * *

See also:
Yuggoth Resolves
Dr Holmes and the Cthulhu Mythos in Deities & Demigods
Dr Holmes and the Cthulhu Mythos Part II
Dr Holmes and the Cthulhu Mythos Part III
The Cthulhu Mythos in D&D in the 1970s

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Yuggoth Resolves


"There are mighty cities on Yuggoth [Pluto]—great tiers of terraced towers built of black stone like the specimen I tried to send you. That came from Yuggoth. The sun shines there no brighter than a star, but the beings need no light. They have other, subtler senses, and put no windows in their great houses and temples. Light even hurts and hampers and confuses them, for it does not exist at all in the black cosmos outside time and space where they came from originally. To visit Yuggoth would drive any weak man mad—yet I am going there. The black rivers of pitch that flow under those mysterious Cyclopean bridges—things built by some elder race extinct and forgotten before the things came to Yuggoth from the ultimate voids—ought to be enough to make any man a Dante or Poe if he can keep sane long enough to tell what he has seen.

But remember—that dark world of fungoid gardens and windowless cities isn’t really terrible. It is only to us that it would seem so. Probably this world seemed just as terrible to the beings when they first explored it in the primal age. You know they were here long before the fabulous epoch of Cthulhu was over, and remember all about sunken R’lyeh when it was above the waters. They’ve been inside the earth, too—there are openings which human beings know nothing of—some of them in these very Vermont hills—and great worlds of unknown life down there; blue-litten K’n-yan, red-litten Yoth, and black, lightless N’kai. It’s from N’kai that frightful Tsathoggua came—you know, the amorphous, toad-like god-creature mentioned in the Pnakotic Manuscripts and the Necronomicon and the Commoriom myth-cycle preserved by the Atlantean high-priest Klarkash-Ton."

- H.P. Lovecraft, The Whisperer in Darkness (1931, Weird Tales; Pluto was discovered in 1930 while Lovecraft was writing this story).

"Dave's Paladin had incurred the enmity of one of my sorceresses. She held him responsible, with some justification, for the death of her husband and swore unholy revenge. She sought out a particularly dangerous book of magic and successfully summoned the Mi-Go, the Fungi from Yuggoth, some of H.P. Lovecraft's more hideous interstellar demons. It was a moonlit night. The paladin and his friends were busily engaged in fighting a tribe of gremlins in another part of the forest. The awful Fungi swooped down on the unsuspecting knight, snatched him into the air, and vanished into the night sky before his companions had time to react.

The paladin came to in a bare stone cell. A tiny window showed him a black starlit cyclopean city. His weapons and armor had been removed. Yuggoth is modeled on the planet Pluto in the outermost reaches of our solar system. The poor paladin tried forcing his way out of his prison and tried several spells, without result. The window showed his cell to be thousands of feet up the sheer side of a black stone building. The door opened and three of the Mi-Go entered. Although Dave has never read Lovecraft, he knew he was in big trouble, confronting a fate that is really worse than death"

-J. Eric Holmes, Confessions of a Dungeon Master (1980, Psychology Today)

Find out what happened to Dave's paladin in the full "Confessions" article, which will appear in the forthcoming Holmes collection Tales of Peril

* * * * *

And "Cthulhu" has entered the list of names proposed for surface features on Yuggoth.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Holmes Video Review

Head over to Youtube to watch an RPG Retro Review of the Holmes Basic Set by captcorajus. It's 15-min long with narration over still images. Lots of historical context. 
Nicely done! Thanks to several folks on G+ bringing this to my attention.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

AD&D 1E Players Handbook PDF

"I can fit my entire spell book in one of these thumb drives"

Yesterday the original AD&D Players Handbook was given new virtual life, being made available as a pdf download from (a special section of drivethrurpg / rpgnow). It's currently priced at $9.99. One the product page there's a nice historical essay by Shannon Appelcline who has written similar essays for most of the other 1E products. I bought the pdf today so I'll share some quick impressions.

The AD&D PHB was perhaps the third D&D product I ever owned, after the Holmes Basic Set and the Monster Manual (I may have received a module or two at the same time as the MM). It was a birthday present (along with a Pac Man watch!) and can still remember reading it in bed that evening, fascinated with the new material not mentioned in Basic like half-orc PCs. So I'm happy that it is back 'in print' and thus easily available for players to access. It's also great to have the full text available electronically for quick search and copy.  

 A few minor quibbles. The pdf is of the 'Premium Reprint' released in 2012 with reset text rather than a scan of one of the original hardcopies. Thus it has the cropped/redesigned cover art from the reprint rather than Trampier's glorious original painting spread across the front and back covers. It is also missing the TSR product list found in the back of the original, which is replaced by an ad for the Gygax Memorial Project. The interior art (by Trampier and Sutherland) is also darker than in the original, resulting in some loss, the worst probably being Trampier's finely shaded Magic Mouth on page 108, which looks murky in the pdf (See here for a 2012 side-by-side photo of this art in the original and reprint, by Brendan of

The reprint introduced a few new errors in the text, likely resulting from uncorrected OCR errors. These are included in the new pdf as reported here on DF. If you are interested in getting these corrected, try leaving a comment in the review section on

Furthermore, the original print version had a number of errors in the text, which were detailed in Dragon #35. See this Acaeum page for a list. Only a few of these were ever corrected in print. The new pdf version includes the corrections that were made in print back in the '80s as noted on the Acaeum page, but does not correct the others. Thus the new pdf still has some clear errors, such as the Dex table on page 11 with half-orcs having max 14 Dex, while the Table on Page 15 has the corrected '17'.

I believe this is the first of the 1E AD&D Reprints to be released electronically, so hopefully we'll see the rest shortly. And where's that Holmes Basic pdf?

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Part 50: "The Dancing Dagger Is Hard To Hit"

Part 50 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 44 of your 'Blue Book' (page 43 for the 1st edition) and follow along... 

Room N: Holmes describes this as a tomb that is "part of the catacombs of the city", implying there are more catacombs to be discovered. It also recalls the introduction where Portown is described as "located on the ruins of a much older city of doubtful history" and "the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, pre-human city". Are these catacombs of Room N part of this older city or more recent Portown?

This is one of the larger rooms in the dungeon, described as 120 by 7 feet in the text, and is accurately drawn on the published map (right above). The east and west doors are moved slightly, ending up twenty feet out of alignment rather than centered across from each other. The rat tunnels to the north have been shifted left, and enter room N in two locations rather than one.

Instead of an obvious monster this room contains six sarcophagi each hiding a different trap, monster or treasure. If the characters open a sarcophagus Holmes has the DM roll randomly to see which of the six is opened, which is interesting because the room essentially functions as a random table.

This is an early example of the "Special" room containing a series of smaller spaces to be searched and hiding further encounters. Later examples can be found in many TSR modules such as the Room of Pools in B1 In Seach of the Unknown, the bank vault compartments in B2 Keep on the Borderlands, the six alcoves in Room 1 of C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, and the nine silver glass globes in Room 9 of S2 White Plume Mountain and the Chamber of Three Chests in S1 Tomb of Horrors. Two these modules, B1 and B2, were later included in versions of the Holmes Basic set. B2 also contains a crypt with many coffins and sarcophagi, although only one with monster/treasure. The word "sarcophagus" also appears in the glossary for B2.

Sarcophagus #1 has sleeping gas similar to Room A. In both cases it is Save vs Poison or fall asleep for d6 turns, although here there is no mention of subtracting 1 for high constitution here. There is a chance of a rat attacking every turn that is spent in the room, so if the party stays here with the sleeping character(s) they may be in for a surprise. No changes as published.

Sarcophagus #2 has the memorable "dancing dagger" that attacks if removed from the skeleton holding it. This is an interesting encounter that combines aspects of a monster and trap - combat is conducted with the dagger but it can't be defeated solely through combat as it has no hit points. Holmes gives the dagger AC3, which matches his statement on page 19 of the rulebook that a "small fast creature" might have such an armor class.

As I wrote previously in "Holmes Basic Easter Eggs" thread on ODD74, the dagger "is perhaps a variant of the Dancing Sword, which first appeared in the Greyhawk: Supplement I. The Dancing Sword itself may have been inspired by Stormbringer, which could fight while floating in the air (e.g., in The Sleeping Sorceress, 1971)."

In the revision of Basic, Moldvay included a list of Special Traps on page B52 that includes "Flying weapons which attack only if disturbed", surely a nod to Holmes' dancing dagger.

No changes as published.

Sarcophagus #3 contains a non-animated skeleton wearing treasure, which should be fun for the DM if the players expect it to animate when the treasure is removed. The skeleton wears rings and a coronet (small/simple crown) worth 3000 GP in the original. Gygax cuts this to 300 GP in the published rulebook, a trend we have observed throughout.

Sarcophagus #4 is almost a duplicate of #3 in the manuscript, another "skeletal form" wearing "jewelry worth 3000 gold pieces". Again Gygax reduces the value, to 900 GP here. 

Sarcophagus #5 has the animated skeleton everyone expects to find in one of these coffins. Holmes' original is a standard OD&D skeleton with 1/2 HD and AC7 (per Vol 2, page 3), plus the nice detail of being armed with a curved scimitar. This is despite Holmes accidentally giving skeletons AC8 in the Monster List entry in the manuscript (See Part 32 of this series). The published version increases the hit points to 7, in line with the upgrade to 1 HD they later received in the Monster Manual. This provides evidence that Gygax already had this change in mind, although he didn't update the Holmes Basic monster entry accordingly. As a result of this "sarcophagus skeleton" is non-standard, being stronger than a Monster List skeleton in hit points and armor class.

Sarcophagus #6 is another non-animating skeleton, this one holding the only magic treasure in the room, a "magic sword +1". Holmes provides an interesting form of magic item identification here: "Any warrior-type drawing the sword will feel the surge of magical power it gives."

The last two paragraphs describe the rats that may attack from the tunnels to the north every turn, which should provide ongoing tension as the party explores the sarcophagi. 

The original has the rats at AC 7, 1 HD, which matches the rat in Room G. The published version of this room changes the hit die to "4 hit points", at the high end of the 1/2 HD they eventually received in the Monster Manual (Dec 1977) and which was eventually ported back to the 2nd edition of the Basic rulebook (Nov 1978). No other changes to these paragraphs.

DM guidance:
-Part of a room description can function as a random table
-A room may have a series of hidden traps, monsters and treasures
-Some magic Items may be identified by a feeling of magic power
-Wandering monsters can take the form of the one type of monster attacking at intervals from a lair

Following the room description the published rulebook has the only art in the Sample Dungeon section, other than the map. It's a tiny but evocative piece by David Sutherland showing a party being attacked by two skeletons emerging from opened sarcophagi (although as written there's only one animated skeleton in the room). It's hard to see but the the shield of the fighter in the middle has a winged creature on it similar to the winged dragon on the shield of the fighter on the cover of the Basic box.

The UK version of the rulebook replaced the original art with new art by Fangorn, many of which are re-interpretations of the originals. Here's the new piece for this one. 

Continue to Part 51: "Indescribable Odds and Ends"
Go Back to Part 49: "Will Drop on Unwary Adventurers" 
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript