Sunday, September 20, 2015

The "D&D For Beginners" Dungeon Model - Part II

This is the second in a series of posts looking at the dungeon model that Chris Holmes designed for a "Dungeons & Dragons for Beginners" scenario that he and his father ran at Gen Con XII in 1979. The first post is here. All color photography is by Chris Holmes and is posted here with his permission.

In this post we'll look at the three areas in the first row of the dungeon:

The middle room is the same entrance chamber we saw in the first post, but from the opposite side. It's hard to see but doors (behind the archway in this shot) lead to the left and right rooms.

Entrance chamber. Click for a larger view.

The room on the right has brick walls, and two areas. There are bear skin rugs in the corner and a giant battle-axe on the wall. Chris mentioned that the dungeon had an Ogre and Orcs so this was possibly their chamber.

Brick Room. Click for a larger view.

And on the left is a temple chamber, with images painted on one wall.

Temple. Click for a larger view.

This temple also appeared on page 163 Holmes' FRPG book:

Original caption: "Temple of the Bloodstained God. Temple Set by Grenadier. Aztecs by Minifig. Dungeon decor by Chris Holmes, photography by Steve Pyryezstov"

The Grenadier Temple Set is SS07 The Temple, seen here at the Lost Minis Wiki.

Ad for Grenadier SS07. Scan by the Lost Minis Wiki.

Note that the big statue at the top of the stairs seems to have disappeared between the 1981 photo and the more recent photo.

Here's another shot from directly above the entrance, the temple and the small area behind the temple. You can see the doors between rooms more clearly here:

Chris: "The temple had a hidden chamber with a trap door containing real green slime!"
"Here you can see behind the temple the secret room which is a couple inches higher than floor level. It had a trap door which fell into a cup of green slime. Matell actually made green slime as a toy, unrelated to the D&D monster. My green slime trap fooled both groups we played through the dungeon which made me very happy."

Hidden Chamber with Green Slime Trap. Click for a larger view.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The "D&D For Beginners" Dungeon Model

In a recent post I mentioned that J. Eric Holmes and his son Chris ran a game at Gen Con XII in 1979 called "Dungeons & Dragons for Beginners". And for this they used a large 3 by 6-foot dungeon model decorated by Chris. This amazing model still exists and Chris has sent me pictures of it to share.

Essentially the dungeon is a grid with nine sections each about 1 by 2 feet (by my estimate). Some of the sections are further subdivided into multiple areas/rooms. Per Chris, the "rooms were originally covered by pieces of cardboard until their doors were opened".  For transport to Gen Con - then at the University of Wisconsin Parkside - they "boxed up the dungeon and checked it as oversized luggage".

Today we'll just start with the entrance. A staircase leads down to an archway:

This room has actually appeared publicly before: it was used as the setting for two pictures in Holmes' 1981 FRPG book. The first, on page 49, illustrates an encounter in the sample dungeon found in chapter 4:

Original Caption: "In the maze of the minotaur. Figure by Archive, photographic effects by Steve Pyryeztov"

I think the minotaur miniature shown here is actually from Heritage 1351 Minotaurs.

The second appears on page 171, as part of Chapter 11, "Little Metal People". Here you can see several of the same marks on the tiles that appear in the recent photo above:

Original Caption: "Poof! Alkarzotz the sorcerer meets the flaming salamander. Magician figure by Ral Partha, photographic effects by Steve Pyryeztov.

The wizard Alkarzotz is a very early Ral Partha figure, 01-001 Evil Wizard Casting Spell, sculpted by Tom Meier as part of the Fantasy Line. 

Chris says: "I got to assist the photographer the day he took those photos; we all had a lot of fun.  Dad probably paid the photographer more than he ever made off that book but he did get an excellent portrait and I got to see my dungeon in print."

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Part 51: "Indescribable Odds and Ends"

Part 51 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 45 of your 'Blue Book' (page 44 for the 1st edition) and follow along... 

Recently it was noted that I missed the entry for Ghouls when I was going through the Monster List, so I'll cover them now. Timely, because the next room in the Sample Dungeon in Room P, home to ghouls.

Ghouls: Ghouls first appeared in Chainmail, as part of the entry for "WIGHTS (and Ghouls)", where there is no difference between the two. They have the ability paralyze a "normal figure" (i.e. non-fantastic) for one complete turn. In OD&D Vol 2 they are treated separately from Wights with stats on page 3 and a short description on page 9. It references the Chainmail entry for paralysis, adding that Elves are immune. This wasn't an made clear in Chainmail, but normal figures in Chainmail also paralyzed by Wraiths but can be restored by the touch of Elves, Heroes or Wizards. So the immunity has been carried for generally for Elves, but not for Heroes or Wizards, who will have to rely on their saving throws. OD&D also adds that Ghouls are subject to normal combat rule, distinguishing them from the more powerful undead, and that any "man-type" killed by a ghoul becomes a ghoul.

In the manuscript Holmes keeps all of the ghoul stats the same as in OD&D Vol 2. Since there wasn't much of a description in Chainmail or OD&D, Holmes adds such a sentence to start off with: "Ghouls are hideous humanoid creatures of bestial aspect who live on dead bodies". This probably draws on Lovecraft; in particular Pickman's Model, which describes ghouls as canine bipedal beasts that feed on corpses:

"It was a colossal and nameless blasphemy with glaring red eyes, and it held in bony claws a thing that had been a man, gnawing at the head as a child nibbles at a stick of candy. Its position was a kind of crouch, and as one looked one felt that at any moment it might drop its present prey and seek a juicier morsel. But damn it all, it wasn’t even the fiendish subject that made it such an immortal fountain-head of all panic—not that, nor the dog face with its pointed ears, bloodshot eyes, flat nose, and drooling lips. It wasn’t the scaly claws nor the mould-caked body nor the half-hooved feet—none of these, though any one of them might well have driven an excitable man to madness."

Different from how they've come to be viewed in D&D, which is more like Romero's Living Dead (now starring as the Walking Dead), but Holmes' description is generic enough to fit either embodiment. As pointed out recently, the entry doesn't actually mention they are undead, although it is clear from other parts of the book such as the turning that they are.

The manuscript then follows the OD&D entry, but omits the reference to Chainmail. Holmes adds two sentences clarifying that the ghoul must make a hit, which also does damage, and that a character gets to make a saving throw against paralysis. For unknown reasons Holmes omits the last line from OD&D about their victims rising as new ghouls.

The published version keeps the stats from OD&D, but also adds an alignment of "chaotic evil" and gives them the three attacks of Greyhawk, although the damage for their bite is changed from 1d4 to 1d3, so that each of the three attacks does 1d3.

The published version makes two changes to the description: the paralysis of "any normal figure" becomes "any human/humanoid figure", and "does a regular die of damage" becomes "which also does regular damage. The latter change is due to change in attacks and damage.

Moldvay Basic keeps the descriptive language used by Holmes ("hideous", "beast-like") and the stats, and adds a few more clarifications: the paralysis only affects Ogres or smaller; they will attack a different opponent once one is paralyzed; and cure light wounds will remove the paralysis. The last two additions improve PC survivability. The Monster Manual provides its own description and restores the OD&D language about the creation of new ghouls, adding that a bless spell will prevent this. It also ups the bite attack to 1d6.

And now back to the Sample Dungeon...

Room P: The Ghoul Room. Holmes describes the room as 50 by 80 feet with doors in all four walls, and this is rendered accurately in the published map, although the doors are shifted about - in the original they are closer to centered. Holmes' text describes the east door as leading "to a short dirt tunnel which ends blindly under the cemetery". This description fits the irregular tunnel shown in the original map much better than the published one, which only has a single ten-foot square beyond the door.

The reference to "under the cemetery" probably refers back to the introduction to the Sample Dungeon (previously covered in this series), which stated that the Zenopus built his tower "next door to the graveyard" and the "reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, pre-human city, to the graveyard, and to the sea" (As noted by Delta, this language is similar to that found in Pickman's Model). So the tunnel beyond Room P gives us another clue to the surface features of Portown. Paleologos has synthesized these clues into a great map of Portown based on a real-world ancient city.

The room contains two ghouls and "some smashed coffins". To me the text implies the ghouls dug dug the coffins up from the cemetery, dragged them back here, and ate the corpses found within, leaving only their other contents behind.

Holmes simply notes that the two ghouls as "can take 2 die of hits" without giving any hit points; the published book changes this to "can take 2 hit dice (11, 9 hit points respectively)". Also note that in the original, the ghouls would only get one attack for 1d6 points of damage, and thus only one chance per ghoul per round to paralyze opponents, whereas in the published rulebook each ghouls gets three attacks per round.

Despite the increased power of the ghouls, Gygax drastically reduces their treasure from the original, as we've seen throughout  Holmes had 5000 silver pieces (500 gp) and 5 gems worth 500 gold pieces (2500 gp total) each in the coffins, for a total value of 3000 gp. He may have used the Treasure Type table to generate this; Type B includes a chance of silver and gems. But as I noted earlier, Gygax added guidance that the Treasure Type tables are only to be used for large numbers of mosters. So the published book changes the ghoul's treasure to 50 platinum pieces (the only place in the Sample Dungeon with platinum pieces), which is equal to 250 gold pieces, half the value of Holmes' coins, and five gems worth only 10 gp each. This gives a total treasure value of 300 gp, one-tenth of Holmes' original.

The closing paragraph of the Sample Dungeon also ties back to this room, asking "What inhuman rites are practiced deep in the ghoul haunted passages beneath the graveyard?" This invites the new DM to add more passages beneath the graveyard, perhaps leading off from the tunnel from Room P. 

DM guidance:
Example of linking a room to the introduction to the adventure.

Hints of further areas for expansion.

Go Back to Part 50: "The Dancing Dagger is Hard to Hit"  

or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript