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Updated: 4 hours 16 min ago

Seligman on Holmes Basic

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 19:10


As I've written previously, the earliest reported public availability for Holmes Basic is at Origins 1977, which ran from Friday July 22nd to Sunday, July 24th at Wagner College on Staten Island, NYC. This weekend is the 40th anniversary of this event!

The above information is from a convention report by Bill Seligman (who has a blog here) in the August 1977 issue of the APAzine, The Wild Hunt (via Jon Peterson and Playing at the World).

Lee Gold is now offering pdf copies of early Alarums & Excursions issues (ordering details are here), and in these I found that Bill also included a convention report in issue #25 (dated 16 August 1977) as part of his contribution, "I WOULD HAVE MADE A GREAT PLATINUM DRAGON #10" (APAzines are compilations of mini-zines by each contributor).

Here's what Seligman had to say about the new Basic Set:

First, in his comments directed to previous A&E contributors:
"Eric Holmes: the new revised D&D is written extremely well, at least. Kudos to you, sir, at least future DMs will not have to struggle with what we had." (numbered page 3 of Seligman's min-zine, unnumbered page 83 of A&E #25)

Later, his news & thoughts on the new set:
"But now, for some even bigger news: THE NEW REVISED AND TRULY PROOFREAD VERSION OF D&D IS OUT!!! Well, not the whole thing, just the basic version, for $10.00, This includes dice, a dungeon geomorph (yuk) and a set of pre-allocated rooms for 1-3 levels (yuk). The whole set is designed for setting up to third level characters and up to the third level of the' dungeon. Further versions of D&D will expand the current one to the Nth level. The next D&D book to be put out will be on monsters — there will be 378 of them. It will be out in October [actually published in Dec - Z]. Future releases will be an advanced D&D playing volume, a Dungeonmasters guide, and a revised Gods, Demi-Gods, and HerphS, each of which will be 8'-1/2 by 11 inches and bound like a paperback.

What I think of Basic D&D-- it is far, far better written than the original. There are a lot, more examples. Including examples of melee, spell use, encumberance, and setting up a dungeon level. Naturally the spell system and combat system is the Gygaxian one — what did you expect? Kask [at Origins] justified this too -- he said that D&D is based on Vancian magic, and that it restricts high-level mages, who would otherwise control the whole game. I wish they had not included the geomorphs and dungeon example, since too many neo-DMs will use them with no individual changes when they first start out. However, if you are starting a D&D campaign, from the 1st level, then get this book. It is available w/o dice, geomorphs, pre-allocations, and box for $5.00, with for $10.00.

One thing though -- in the monster encounter charts, they list creatures like Leprechauns and Troglodytes which are not listed in the monster descriptions. Kask said that if a person never saw a Lucky Charms commercial or read a fairy tale there was nothing he could do --but normally somebody could work up something for those monsters. I disagree - assuming a true neo, he would not be able to assign the monster any hit points that were reasonable - he would not even really understand what hit points were for. But, Kask said, Leprechauns would be explained in the next book." (numbered page 4 of Seligman's mini-zine, unnumbered page 84 of A&E #25)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Once and Future Romero

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 14:24

Yes, that's Ed Harris in the Knightriders film poster!
I was saddened to hear that George Romero passed away a few days ago. I have fond memories of a time about fifteen years ago when we lived near a great video store (remember those?) that had prominent shelves dedicated to certain directors: Romero, Herzog, Altman, etc. While I love Romero's zombie films, Knightriders (1981) is actually my favorite of his. It's an ensemble drama (Altman-esque) about a troupe of knights who joust on motorcyles at Renaissance Festivals. It's got his signature social commentary. Starring a young Ed Harris (pictured above) in the King Arthur-type role and Tom Savini in the Mordred-type role. A must see.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Draft of OD&D

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 12:42
Over on Playing at the World, Jon Peterson announced late last week that the 50th anniversary of Gen Con would feature a museum dedicated to the history of the gaming hobby from its origins through recent times. As part of this there's big news for those of us who study the early history of D&D: "You will be able to see some amazing artifacts like this: a first draft of Dungeons & Dragons." Not the Dalluhn manuscript that he has written about previously (which now appears to be a later variant), but a newly uncovered draft. 

On ODD74, Jon wrote more about this document:
"The original larger draft weighed in at about 100 pages double spaced, and we might suppose it corresponds to the 100 page draft that Gygax sometimes mentioned in his later recollections of the development of D&D. Let's call that larger draft "Guidon" D&D. It was perhaps the earliest complete draft, though the photocopies ["Mornard Fragments"] of it that Mike [Mornard] received feature a number of hand corrections that date from a later time than when GD&D was first typed up."

From this draft, Jon shares text that would become part of the cover of the booklets. It's a beautiful sight:


We can see the typist originally typed "Campaigns" and then altered it to make it singular and added "Games". And "& Pencil" was added later, ironically, in pencil.

Further changes were made for the printed covers (here Men & Magic, Vol 1):



Here "Campaign Games" becomes "Wargames Campaigns" and is moved to after "Medieval". And rather than using the components as adjectives to describe the game, the subtitle here uses them as components "Playable with" the campaigns. These components incorporate the "Pencil" addition and drop the word "Board". But the reference to a board remains in the text of the printed game: "The use of paper, pencil and map boards are standard" (pg 5, section "Scope".

That's all we know so far. This document has been speculated about for decades. I'm looking forward to learning more about it!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Chris Holmes on Tell Me About Your Character

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 17:31


Listen to Chris Holmes on the 3rd season of the short podcast Tell Me About Your Character, talking about his third favorite D&D character after Boinger and Zereth

http://www.tellmeaboutyourcharacter.com/episode/3/8
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tales of Peril Ordering Details

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 13:00
Tales of Peril at the Black Blade booth at NTRPG Con. Photo by Allan Grohe
I am excited to share that Tales of Peril - the Complete Boinger & Zereth Stories of John Eric Holmes - is now available for order. For details on how to order see this post on Allan Grohe's blog:

How to Order Tales of Peril (and other books) from Black Blade Publishing
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Lesser Magic Items

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:58
One of the new additions to Holmes Ref 2.0 is a table of Lesser Magic Items. The material in this table originally appeared with illustrations, in Dungeon Crawl #3 (2013), a zine edited by Wayne Rossi (still available; follow the link for more info). I've now made the Holmes Ref version available as a separate sheet:

Click here to read/view the table of Lesser Magic Items

Reproduced below for reference is the text of my original article (with a few new edits).

* * * * *

In the introductory module B2 Keep on the Borderlands, Gary Gygax wrote, "If only two or three player characters are to adventure, be sure to have a non-player character or two go along, as well as a few men-at-arms. In addition, give the player characters a magic dagger or some magic arrows and at least one potion of healing - family bequests to aid them in finding their fame and fortune when they go against Chaos" (pg 2).
 This is great advice, but instead of standard D&D items, why not give each new character a more unusual low-power magic item? Some examples are provided below in the form of a table. Have each character roll a d20 for one starting item. Simply re-roll if it is a type the character can't use due to class restrictions. After an item is used, replace that entry with another of your own devising. Many of the items below have charges or doses, and are intended to be used up and replaced by greater magic items found while adventuring. These items were designed with Holmes Basic D&D in mind, but should be usable with any old school D&D rules, and can also be used as standard monster/NPC treasures. 
1. Brazen Head - Appears as a human head of brass. Once per day, if fed five gold coins, it will relay one local rumor, which may or may not be true. It must be carried uncovered or it will start wailing. It will also talk randomly while adventuring, providing advice or commentary that may or may not be helpful.

2. Dungeon Dust - A jar of desiccating dust harmful to the "cleanup crew": slimes, oozes, jellies, puddings, molds, gelatinous cubes, etc. A successful hit with a handful inflicts 2d6 damage. Contains 1d6+2 handfuls.

3. Foxfire Lantern - The interior of this hooded lantern contains a living phosphorescent fungus. The lantern sheds light in only a 5' radius, but it will never go out as long as the fungus is fed rations daily. To keep the lantern lit the character owning it must always buy and carry an extra supply of rations.

4. Golden Throat - A potion that vastly improves the imbiber's parleying skills for 6 turns, giving a +6 on reaction rolls. The flask contains 1d6 + 2 doses.

5. Harpy Axe - If this hand axe is thrown and does not strike a target in range (30') it will return to thrower's hand, up to three times per day. Harpies are said to enchant these to be reusable during aerial combat.

6. Healing Salve - One dose will heal 1 hit point per character per day. Additional doses during that same day have no effect. Comes in a jar with 1d20 + 20 doses total.

7. Hearing Cone - A small cone that enhances the ability to listen at doors, +1 per charge used. The number of charges to be used must be chosen before listening. Has 1d100 charges.

8. Heat Shield - This shield has the power to Resist Fire, once per day, as the Cleric Spell. After being exposed to fire 1d20 + 20 times it reverts to a normal shield.

9. Image Mirror - Once per day this ordinary-looking steel mirror can store the reflection of a creature, which can be used later that day as a Mirror Image (per the M-U spell). The image will imitate the motions of the wielder, and as the spell it disappears if touched. After 1d20 + 20 images the mirror loses its power.

10. Loadstone - A small stone carved in the shape of a mule. If a charge is expended, the wielder's movement rate is improved by one category for the rest of the day. 1d20 + 20 charges.

11. Lucky Rat's Foot - The mummified foot of an albino Giant Rat. It allows the re-roll one Saving Throw of choice per day. It absorbs the bad luck and loses power after 1d6 + 2 successful re-rolls are made.

12. Mask of Restfulness - This soft mask is worn over the eyes while sleeping. It doubles overnight healing, but the character cannot be awoken unless the mask is removed, in which case benefit is lost for that night.

13. Nimble Feet - Boots that allow the wearer to strike first during one combat of choice each day (giving a dexterity of 19 for purposes of Holmes Basic initiative). After 20 + 1d20 combats the boots lose their power.

14. Nutcracker - This small (1') wooden construct remains inactive until a command word is spoken. Once activated, it will serve the character, including in combat. It has the following stats: AC4, 1 hp, attacks as a Normal Man with a miniature sword for 1 point of damage. Fights at +2 vs Giant Rats.

15. Miniature Item - A large item magically reduced to palm-sized. Once per day it can be commanded to return to full size or shrink. The speaker of the command word must also touch it to cause the change, which is slow (1 turn). Once enlarged it will not shrink until the next day, and vice versa. It will change 1d20+20 times before remaining full size. Roll 1d6 for item: 1= 10' Ladder, 2= Wagon, 3= Small Boat, 4= Large Chest, 5= 18' pike, 6= 10' Boulder (rollable by combined 36 strength).

16. Resolute Arrow - A sturdy arrow that never breaks whether it hits its target or not, and can always be found

17. Ring of Escape - If placed against a stone ceiling, this ring will expand to the diameter of a man-hole cover and provide a magical passage upwards to the first space above, up to 30'. The tunnel is easily climbable by anyone that can reach the ceiling. After use, a command word will cause the ring to appear at the top of the passage. It will function only once per day, and has 1d20+20 charges.

18. Thirsty Waterskin - Once per day, this ordinary-looking waterskin will locate the closest fresh, drinkable water.

19. Troll Cheese - This loaf-sized lumpy green cheese tastes "off" but is edible, and provides enough food for one person to survive for one day, although no hit points are gained if resting. Furthermore, the cheese will regenerate overnight if not fully eaten. Stomach acid prevents the consumed portion from regenerating inside the eater. Fire, including cooking, will destroy it.

20. Vermin Slayer - A sword +0, +1 vs ordinary or giant vermin such as insects, spiders, rats and bats.

Notes: 
The Brazen Head is a variation on the item of the same name from medieval lore. Holmes had another version in Room I the Sample Dungeon.

The Foxfire Lantern is inspired by the phosphorescent fungus found in Room L of the Sample Dungeon. There is a real-world glowing fungus called Foxfire.

The Harpy Axe is inspired by one of the earliest D&D games I played in. Our characters, riding on a magic carpet, battled harpies wielding returning axes. Thanks to Donald S., our DM.
Troll Cheese is inspired by a "dwarven cheese" I remember reading about in a fairy tale long ago.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Holmes Ref 2.0

Sat, 06/17/2017 - 15:15


One year ago on Free RPG Day I released Holmes Ref 1.0 (see blog post here), a 10-page compilation of various Holmes Ref Sheets. 

Click here to view/download Holmes Ref 2.0

This year's offering is Holmes Ref 2.0, an expanded version with 18 pages, including:

*Title Page with Monster Face Montage art
Character Creation Worksheet
*Blank Character Sheet - new version posted separately in April
Advancement Tables (previously called Holmes + OD&D "Bridge" Sheet)
Holmesian Random Names
Backgrounds for Humans
Cleric Spells Levels 1-6
M-U Spells Levels 1-3 
*M-U Spells Levels 4-6 - new, posted separately earlier this week
Monster Reference Table - revised to use dice notation (e.g. 1d6) vs ranges for damage
*Tips for using the Monster Table - from the pdf of the Monster Table, slightly revised
*One Hit Point Monsters
Magical Item Reference Table
*Lesser Magic Items - new sheet, material published in Dungeon Crawl #3 in 2013
Pre-generated First Level Characters 
*Pre-generated Third Level Characters - new sheet, not yet posted separately
*Draw and Key Your Own Dungeon - graph paper previously posted on Holmes Ref page
*Zenopus Archives logo with Monster Face Mountain Art 

Starred items are new to the Holmes Ref compilation.

The first and last pages can be used for the player-facing side of DIY DM screens.

I won't be surprised if there are some typos/formatting errors/etc, so please let me know & I'll make note of them for future correction.

The compilation and individual sheets are available via the Holmes Ref page on the Zenopus Archives site. Holmes Ref 1.0 will remain anyone who wants a smaller version.

Also available is the Portown Rumors 3-page pdf posted last month.

Enjoy Free RPG day. I'm playing in a 1E AD&D game at a local store later today.

Update: For reference, I added more links to the original posts about the various sheets.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

M-U Spells Levels 4-6 Ref Sheet

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 13:51

Another year, another ala carte reference sheet for Holmes Ref. : )

This one is the next set of spells for Magic-Users, Levels 4-6, following on from Levels 1-3. Cleric spells Levels 1-6 are all on a single sheet, so this brings the two classes even.

Holmes Basic itself doesn't describe spells of these levels, but a few are referenced in the text, such as Conjure Elemental and Stone to Flesh, which is on a scroll in the Sample Dungeon. The spell details are all sourced from OD&D Vol 1, Greyhawk and Swords & Spells, which has a spell table with some info (mostly area of effect) not found in the earlier booklets. So this table is equally usable for Holmes Basic or OD&D including Greyhawk.

The direct link is below, or you can find it on the Holmes Ref page:

Click here to download the M-U Spell Reference Levels 4-6

This will be compiled into the next release of Holmes Ref...coming soon!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Tales of Peril in print!

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 11:35
Tales of Peril at the Black Blade booth. Photo by Allan Grohe.
Tales of Peril: the Complete Boinger & Zereth Stories of John Eric Holmes is in print! 

This long-awaited compilation is making its debut this week at the North Texas RPG Con, where it is available at the booth of the publisher, Black Blade Publishing. Above is a photo of the books taken by Allan Grohe, the book's editor. After the con it will be available for mail order, per Allan here.

Until that time you can view a series of previews of the book that Allan has posted on his new blog, From Kuroth's Quill:

Tales of Peril - Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and sample art: Wereshark by Chris Holmes

Back Cover Art by Ian Baggley

Front Cover Art by Ian Baggley
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mentzer Basic Cover Art Prototype

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 13:25

Mentzer Basic cover art prototype.
Above is Larry Elmore's original idea for the cover art of Mentzer Basic. Frank Mentzer posted about it over on Facebook recently, with a photo of the original art taken by Jon Peterson. Here's part of what Frank wrote about it:

"Initial cover concepts were similar to the previous edition, portraying a group of adventurers with a dragon. That was almost used, but it bothered Gary [Gygax]. After the color images were ready to be finalized in oils, after a lot of plans were made, Gary changed course. He asked Larry to focus the action on just one fighter and one dragon ... and the world-famous Red Box cover emerged."

This version has more elements in common with the Holmes Basic cover art painted by David Sutherland. In addition to the huge red dragon on a pile of gold, there is a block stone archway in the background, and a wizard framing the left side of the composition, both casting a spell and providing an upraised light source (here a glowing staff, in Sutherland's a torch). 

Larry Elmore is currently offering a limited edition print of this original concept via his website. Thanks to Gus Landt for bringing this offer to my attention via a post on the Acaeum. Note that above I cropped the blank margins off the original image to focus on the painting, but that the print being offered includes the margins, which have production notes.

Update: Here's a mock-up of the Mentzer Players Manual with this artwork that Frank posted in the comments to his Facebook post:




Update #2: Over on the Acaeum, misterspock posted an auction photo of a TSR Companion Rules box mock-up. IIRC a photo of this mock-up appeared in a TSR catalog prior to the release of the set. This cover has prototype art showing the same party of adventurers - wizard in red with staff, halfling in green, fighter with the same boots and shield.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Portown Rumors PDF

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 12:38
Portown Rumors PDF - Page 1 - screenshot
I've taken the two versions of the Portown Rumors that were previously posted on this blog - the original and brief versions - and combined them into a single 3-page pdf. In this combined version you start with the 20 brief versions presented as a d20 rumor table similar to those found in classic TSR modules, which is then followed by the expanded versions in two-column format. Download the pdf here:

Portown Rumors PDF

Over on the ZA site, I've also added the link to the Holmes Ref and the Sample Dungeon pages. I also updated the Sample Dungeon page to refer to what we learned from the Holmes Manuscript.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Keep on the Borderlands cover study

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 11:47


This is a study for the famous cover of the module B2 Keep on the Borderlands by the late Jim Roslof (a bibliography of his work here). It just sold on Ebay for almost $10,100 (!). The auction listing (by the Collector's Trove, from the collection of Laura Roslof), states that "This is Jim's original color study that he used to determine how he wanted to paint the final cover art", and is in pencil, ink and watercolor on parchment paper.

The composition is very close to the finished product. Here the humanoids have more elongated snouts (and the one to the left has a pointed ear), perhaps more orc-like than the ones in the final picture, who are clearly hobgoblins with the orange-red faces and blue noses specifically described in the AD&D Monster Manual. 

Of note, the apparent caves on the hills in the background are more prominent in this study, particularly the one under the right arm of the elvish archer (who is bald here!). This supports that these holes are actually intended to depict the entrances to several of the Caves of Chaos entrances. For comparison, see this annotated cover image from an earlier blog post, Caves of Chaos Revealed:


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Blueholme Kickstarter - Final Day

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 11:43

Octocat by Chris Holmes preview from blog post
There's just about a day left in the Kickstarter for the Blueholme Journeymanne rules, a Holmes clone plus expansion that takes the four core classes up to level 20 and adds numerous monsters. It's produced by Dreamscape Design, who has a blog over here.

Cave Creeper by Chris Holmes preview from Kickstater
The primary goal of the Kickstarter is to fund artwork for the finished product. The bullpen of artists - at least 15 - includes Chris Holmes, whose contributions will include both Carrion Crawler & Displacer Beast analogs (see previews above), rectifying TSR's failure to use Chris' original art for the Holmes Manuscript. Chris has also write a Foreword for the book.


Old One art preview from ODD74 post
I've made a minor contibution myself: write-ups for two monsters previously featured on this blog, including the Green Grabber / Sleepflower and the Ancient Builder (appearing as Old One). (Disclosure: I am not receiving any money for this).

I've backed the Kickstarter at the Lord level for a pdf and softcover copy of the rules.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Hermit Fortress

Sat, 04/22/2017 - 21:49

A strange rock column rises from the rocky wastes. If you dare, try to climb up to the Hermit Fortress using the ropes and platforms - but watch out for the beasts...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gygax's Killer Die

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 12:20
Gary's EN World avatar featuring his Futurama character
As a follow-up to yesterday's post on the Marked 20-sided Die, here are some quotes from Gygax on his own Marked d20. Thanks to T. Foster at the Mystical Trash Heap blog for bringing this to my attention.

3/13/03
"Those low-impact d20s did get pretty round in short order--well short order in terms of gaming time. Rob Kuntz had one that would stand on a point now and again. I still have a couple that I use when playing OD&D as the DM. One with gray faces on 10 sides is a "killer" die that comes up on those faces a lot--the 11-20 range, of course! Can't find it now, but it's likely in a box of old dice somewhere in the basement here. I have a second one with red faces that's as good for the monsters' rolls, of course" (EnWorld Q&A post)

1/29/04
"As it happens I have quite a number of the old low-impact dice around here somewhere. The points on the d4 were very sharp but wore down quickly. Rob had a d20 that would stand on a worn point about one roll in 50 : )"

"Somewhere I lost my d20 with half the faces colored gray. It was my "killer die" that rolled an inordinate number of 20s, and the players really hated it : )" (EnWorld Q&A post)

Following this, T. Foster wrote
"I played with you in "Necropolis" at Glathricon (in Evansville, IN) in 1988 and am pretty sure I encountered your infamous 'killer' d20 -- it was white, numbered 0-9 twice, and rolled awfully well (for you, badly for us :) )."

2/6/04 - in response to T. Foster
"It was either my gray or red "killer die," undoubtedly. It has since sent a large number of adventurers to their doom when rolled on behalf of my OD&D game "Old Guard Kobolds." The ninth party of six or more 2nd level characters fell to them at JanCon last month" (EnWorld Q&A post)

(A few minor edits to Gary's comments to correct obvious typos)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Marked 20-sided Die

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 13:40
TSR's original dice set was included in Holmes Basic, Gamma World and sold separately
In the 1970s, rolling 1-20 wasn't as straightforward as today. The original dice set available from TSR included a white 20-sided dice, but it was numbered (and pre-inked) with 0-9 twice rather than 1-20. So these dice were actually d10s, and were most easily used to generate percentiles by rolling the same die twice in row or by rolling two different colored dice together. TSR even sold a separate white and pink set of Percentile Generators.

But since the beginning D&D has always needed d20s, for attacks and saving throws. The earliest D&D rulebooks don't explain how to use the 10-sided die to generate 1-20, but by the time of Holmes Basic, there was a recognized need to explain this, as the rulebook teaches two different ways to roll 1-20 with these dice. One is near the end of the book in the section "Using the Dice", which isn't in the Holmes manuscript, and so was added by TSR. This method uses a secondary "control" die to determine if the number is 1-10 or 11-20:

"For example: to generate 1-20, roll the 20-sided die and 6-sided die, and if the 6-sided die comes up 1-3 , the number shown on the 20-sider is 1-10 (1-0), and if the 6-sider comes up 4-6, add 10 to the 20-sided die and its numbers become 11-20 (1-0)".

The other method is described in the main part of the text in the section on Saving Throws (page 14). This was written by Holmes as it is found word-for-word in the manuscript:

"Numbers can be generated as follows: Mark one set of faces on a 20-sided die by coloring with a red permanent marker on one of each faces — 0, 1, 2, 3, etc. The marked faces will be considered to have a ten added to them — 1 = 11, 2 = 12, 3 = 13, etc. Unmarked
0 = 10, marked 0 = 20. This die will also be used to determine the results of combat from the combat table."

The picture at the top of this post (from an Ebay auction that indicated the dice were from a Basic set) shows an example of this: the owner has colored half of the faces of the 20-sider in a red color. The white faces represent 1-10, and the red faces represent 11-20. As I mentioned above these dice were pre-inked, so one couldn't just color the two sets of 0-9 with different colored crayons, the faces had to be marked to differentiate them.

This method is referenced again in the section "Combat Melee":

"The probability of a hit is converted into a random number of 1 to 20 (the specially marked die is recommended)" (page 18) and "A 20-sided die must be marked or colored so that
one set of sides 0-9 is different from the other set. Count 0 as a 10. The marked set is then read as if 10 had been added to the roll (11-20), treating 0 as 10 or 20. This die is used for all combat resolution" (page 19)

Holmes probably learned this marked die method from other gamers, as there are earlier examples of it. For example, below is an auction photo from last year, for an auction you may have heard about, an original woodgrain D&D set that sold for over $20,000. Included with the set in the auction was a 20-sided die and a note (with the date of ~1974 given by the auctioneer). In the note we see similar instructions, with the white half of the die being 1-10 and the orange half being 11-20.



In 1979, the 1st edition DMG still assumes use of these 20-sided d10s in the section "Dice", on page 10:

"If a d20 is used either 1-20 (assuming the use of a standard d20 which is numbered 0-9 twice without coloring one set of faces to indicate that those faces have 10 added to the number appearing) or 1-40 (assuming that one set of faces is colored) can be gotten by adding 0 if 1 or 2 is rolled on the d4 and 10 or 20 (depending on the die type) if a 3 or 4 is rolled"

The structure of this sentence is complicated, but Gygax is saying to use d4 control dice to turn 1-10 into 1-20 (for an unmarked die) or 1-20 into 1-40 (for a marked die).

This was a short-lived era as other manufacturers began cranking out dice. 

At some point (I don't have a date but will update this post if I find it), 20-sided dice that were not pre-inked appeared, which allowed for coloring the two sets of numbers with different colored crayons. You still had to remember which color was low (1-10) and which was high (11-20). I have a dice like this that I received in an auction a while back (I can't even remember what it came with):




I also don't know when the first 20-sided dice that was numbered 1-20 first appeared, but the standard d10 appeared around 1980, possibly debuting at Gen Con that year

In the last printing of the Holmes Basic rulebook, dated Dec 1979 but certainly from 1980 as it is the third version with that date, the section on "Using the Dice" was revised to refer to "the assortment of 4-, 6-, 8-, 10-, 12- and 20-sided dice" (page 46), and the portion about the control die no longer refers to 1-20. Holmes' instructions for making a marked d20 is still found in the section on Saving Throws, however.

The Acaeum reports that some sets of Holmes Basic include a set of six dice. I've never actually seen one of these sets. It does seem strange TSR would revise the rulebook to refer to the 10-sided die without actually including it. But I'd like to see it confirmed that a set shipped this way versus having dice added later. A complicating factor is that Holmes Basic set was sold up until at least 1986 (I have a catalog from then listing it), so some may have had 6-dice sets added to them at later date.

Certainly by the time of the Moldvay Basic set and Dragon Dice, both from 1981, we have the standard 1980s set of six dice, including both the 10-sided die and the 20-sided die numbered 1-20.

See also:
Veteran of the Dice Wars
TSR Ads in Boys Life 1977-1982

And Jon Peterson's articles on the history of dice in D&D: 
How Gaming Got Its Dice
The Origins of Dice Notation
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gygax Interview in Drache #3 October 1984

Fri, 04/14/2017 - 19:06
Cover of Drache #3, image from hereOver on the Acaeum, a poster named stebehil has been collecting and documenting all of TSR's German D&D releases in a dedicated thread. Yesterday he posted a translation of a Gygax interview from the magazine Drache, issue 3, October 1984. Drache means Dragon in German so this was the mean to be the equivalent of Dragon magazine. 

The cover of this issue is shown above, and teases the Gygax interview ("Interview mit Gary Gygax") as well a short tournament D&D Module ("D&D Turnier Modul") for a single thief character (thanks to stebehil for clarification of this info).

The wizard on the cover is very reminiscent of TSR's evil wizard Kelek (used in licensed products of the time and appearing in one episode of the D&D cartoon), particularly the color scheme and claw-like fingernails:




The interview is pretty much what you'd expect from a 1984 Gygax interview - he mentions his work in Hollywood with the D&D Entertainment Corporation - but it's fun to read a "new" one from Gygax while he was still at TSR (he left about one year later, in October 1985).

Read the Gygax interview in Drache #3 here

(Keep in mind that his answers were translated to German for the article and then back to English for this transcription, so some meaning may be garbled)

From a Holmes Basic perspective, there's one mention referring to the design of B2, so I've added that to my page Gygax on B2.

He also makes an offhand reference to an encounter that appears to be of a type he included in the Dungeon Geomorphs Set One: Basic Dungeons, which were included in the first three printings of Holmes Basic.

In the interview Gygax says:

"I also like it if you use tricks while designing a dungeon, like an illusion of a golden dragon over a basilisk, old men who are friendly the first time and deadly the second. These are fun things."

Compare with Room 1 in the Geomorph sample encounters, which are transcribed here:

1.  A rudely furnished room with an old holy man (lawful/good) who has sworn a vow of silence. He will not fight if attacked. He takes only 2 hit points. There is a pottery flask containing his drinking water in one corner; a small container near his pallet has a handful of lentils (all of his food); there are some rags hanging from a nail in the wall, and a wooden begging bowl on a rough wooded table near the door holds 1 silver piece and 3 coppers. If he is impolitely treated or his room is searched he will do nothing, but he will never aid the offenders. If so much as a single copper piece is dropped in his bowl, he will make a holy sign which will add 1 hit point permanently to all party members. After doing the latter, he will disappear when the party leaves, and he will be replaced by 1A.


a.    An insane fiend conforming generally to the description of 1. above. He will say nothing until a party is in his abode, but will then attack with two hidden daggers. He takes 12 hit points, with an armor class equal to 5 due to his 18 dexterity. He has no treasure to begin with…

Update:
I did a Google Image search of the Drache cover from above, and found that it had previously appeared on the cover of "Warte Auf Das Letzte Jahr", 1981 German 1translation of the of 1966 Philip K. Dick novel, Now Wait for Last Year. Per the ISFDB, the cover artist is Oliviero Berni. As the Kelek action figure is from 1983, this earlier date for the artwork makes me wonder if the TSR Kelek was actually influenced by this picture rather than the other way around.



Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

New Character Sheet PDF for Download

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 11:40
Screenshot of the Character Record
I tweaked the Character Record and now have a version ready for release:

Click Here to Download a PDF of the Character Record 

It can also be accessed from the Holmes Ref page.

This will eventually be incorporated into a new release of Holmes Ref.

If you spot any typos or errors let me know. Now roll 3d6 in order!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

David Sutherland Day

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 16:30
 Sutherland's art from the title page of the Basic rulebook
Originally posted in 2013

Today marks the birthday of my favorite TSR artist, the late David C. Sutherland III (aka DCSIII), who passed away too young (age 56) in 2005. I've designated April 4th as "David Sutherland Day". Dave's work defines the look of D&D in 1977, when his art graced the cover of the Holmes Basic Set and first AD&D hardback, The Monster Manual. His work also defined the look of Holmes Basic, being used for the both the cover, the title page (posted above) and foreword (the lizard rider that graces the title of my blog). He was also responsible for most of the artwork for the first Basic module, B1 In Search of the Unknown.

Tome of Treasures has a page with an extensive listing of his TSR credits.

In 2012 his Basic Set artwork was featured in a line of retro t-shirts from WOTC. And in 2013 his original painting was recovered from a crate at the WOTC offices.

Please post a comment on what your favorite work(s) of his.

Here are a few somewhat obscure pieces from Swords & Spells (1976) that are very much in the same style as the Holmes title page piece:






Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs