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Exploring the Underworld of Holmes BasicZenopus Archiveshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/14069501995927451558noreply@blogger.comBlogger500125
Updated: 4 days 21 hours ago

Holmes Basic Testimonials

Sun, 02/17/2019 - 03:30


2019 update: Today is the 89th anniversary of J. Eric Holmes birthday! Please feel free to add your own testimonial to the comments below.

If you missed it major new addition to the Zenopus Archives site this past year was the addition of a J. Eric Holmes Photo Gallery.

2018 update: This year we celebrate Holmes' birthday in the middle of the 40th anniversary year of Holmes Basic (July 2017-July 2018). As a tribute, I'll be running two session of Return to the Tower of Zenopus at Gary Con in a few weeks (I had to cancel these).

There will also be a "Ruined Tower of Zenopus - 40 years later" event, by a different author, at the North Texas RPGCon this year in June! (this game was played with Chris Holmes in attendance)

And Beyond the Door to Monster Mountain - a Holmes Basic mini-scenario available here - will be run for the second year in a row at Dundracon this coming Sunday.

If you missed it, last July Chris Holmes was 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) in the games he played with his father in the '70s. (this podcast seems to be no longer available)

And since Holmes' birthday last year we've seen a lot of great releases:

Tales of Peril, a gorgeous hardcover compilation of Holmes' stories of the adventures of Boinger the Halfling and Zereth the Elf, debuted at North Texas last June and shortly thereafter was available for direct order from Black Blade Publishing. I've been slowly blogging my way through the book in a series called the Tales of Peril Book Club, although at the moment it is on hiatus while I prep my con scenario.

The Blueholme Journeymanne rulebook was released by Dreamscape Design, and expands the Blueholme Prentice rules up to 20 levels. It is chock-full of evocative art thanks to all of the Holmes fans out there who funded the Kickstarter for the art.

Jon of Appendix M released two issues of his zine Fantastic! Exciting! Imaginative!, which is inspired by the art found in the Holmes Basic rulebook. The content is by various members of the Holmes Basic groups on G+ and Facebook, including one article in each by myself. Join up if you want to contribute to the next one! These can be found at DTRPG: Vol 1 (free pdf) and Vol 2 ($4 pdf).

On Free RPG day I released Holmes Ref 2.0 an expanded compilation of my reference sheets for Holmes Basic referees. I hope to release a further expansion this year.

Each year I bring this post forward and invite you to add new testimonials. I've moved my posts from previous years to an archive page on the Holmes Basic site, but everyone else's comments from previous years remain below. Feel free to comment again if you've commented before.

See also:
Testimonal Thread at OD&D Discussion
Testimonial Thread at Knights & Knaves Alehouse  
Testimonial Thread at Dragonsfoot
Testimonial Thread at the Acaeum

(DTRPG links include this blog's affiliate # which gives us a 5% credit for each purchase)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Scrum Con Feb 2019

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 15:44


If you'll be in the Washington DC or Baltimore area in mid-February I'll be running a game at Scrum Con, a new gameday/mini-con in College Park, Maryland on Feb 16. My game is the In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus (formerly known as Return to the Tower of Zenopus), the same scenario I ran at North Texas RPG Con last June and will also be running at Gary Con this March. My game is scheduled from 10-2 and there are currently 2 seats left out of 8.
As a reminder, here is the description for my game:Forty years ago adventurers first braved the dungeon under the ruined tower of the wizard Zenopus. Fearsome monsters were overcome and fabulous treasure was recovered, but eventually the stairway leading down to the dangerous passages was bricked over by order of Lady Lemunda, current ruler of prosperous Portown, and new buildings rose in the area. However, Murray the Magic-user has located a previously unknown means of entry to the old dungeons and has gathered you all in hopes of finding the legendary brazen head of Zenopus, a mask reputed to have the power of speech. Meet at the Green Dragon Inn and adventure as Boinger, Zereth, Murray, or another character from J. Eric Holmes' stories. This adventure from the Zenopus Archives celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Holmes Basic D&D set.
Registration for badges and events is open at Tabletop Events and the cost is only $8 for the day, which includes two game sessions from 10-2 and 3:30-7:30. The available games are an equal mix of RPGs and wargames. Other RPGs with seats still available include Call of Cthulhu, a Star Trek/Dead Space Mashup, and Stonehell. Special Guest Zeb Cook is running a Return to the Isle of Dread session, although the seats for that are full.
More details can be found on the Tabletop Events page for the con.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Holmes for the Holidays 2018

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 16:09

The cover of Bayt al Azif issue #1. Art by Maria Nguyen. Click on picture for a larger view.
"Holmes for the Holidays" is back for 2018!  

This year I'm giving away a paperback copy of the first issue of the new Cthulhu RPG zine Bayt El Azif, which as described previously has an article that I wrote about Holmes' role bringing the Cthulhu Mythos into D&D, with a new illustration of a Mythos creature by Chris Holmes.

* * * * *

For the give-away I'm using the same system as before: if you are interested, add a comment in reply to this post within the next two days. The two days are the time limit before moderation starts on posts on this blog. After two days, I'll stop accepting entries and treat the list of comments as a table and roll randomly for the winner, using dice from a Holmes Basic set.

I'll cover postage (media mail) for any U.S. address. I can ship to other countries but I ask that you cover the difference (any amount over $4) in shipping by PayPal; so if you are overseas please only participate if you have a PayPal account and willing to chip in the extra. I'll estimate the exact shipping and refund the difference if I overcharge. Note this is intended for folks who don't yet have a copy of the magazine.

Please note that due to the date I'm starting this that I may not have time to get this in the mail prior to Christmas, and it almost certainly won't be received by then. If you'd like get a copy of this sooner you can try ordering over at DrivethruRPG (link includes my affiliate number). And if you are looking for other gifts try my recent post "Things I've Written Published Elsewhere".

1/7 Update, including the Results:


A happy New Year everyone. My apologies for the delay in announcing these results.
I recruited a dice elf to make the roll for me. There were 36 comments (only 31 of which were entries), so we used Percentile Dice (pink 20-sider for 10s, white 20-sider for 1s), re-rolling any score for non-entries or and any over 36. 
After a few practice rolls, we made the official roll...

...which indicates that number 21 is the winner! That's Tony Rowe, who I will contact via email.

Thanks to all who entered the contest! Hope to have a new Holmes Ref sheet out soon.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Player Map for Zenopus Dungeon

Sat, 12/15/2018 - 17:40
Player Map - click for a larger view and/or download


Above is a Player Map for my Return to the Tower of Zenopus game (now retitled In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus) that I ran this past June at North Texas RPG Con. I took the original manuscript map drawn by J. Eric Holmes and removed the letters and the secret passage. Also note that this map doesn't exactly correspond to the dungeon as published, as the TSR cartography added a few empty rooms and rearranged some corridors. In game, this can reflect the inaccuracy of the mapper who made it.

You can use this for the original dungeon, perhaps with brand new players who have never mapped before or if you have limited session time. Or with any sequel or other dungeon using the same map. In my con game it represents the efforts of earlier adventurers, 40 years prior.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

1973 Preview of Mythical Earth Minifigs

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 20:32

"Middle Earth wizard painted as Saruman in his 'coat of many colours'; a vicious-looking man-orc; a rather stocky elf; axe-wielding dwarf, and of course, a hobbit. Dwarves are sold in strips of two, the second figure armed with a spear, hobbits in strips of three armed with sword, short sword and spear." - original caption
In 1973, Miniature Figurines, perhaps better known as Minifigs, a British-based manufacturer of metal miniatures for wargames, began production on one of the first lines of fantasy miniatures. (Another very early line by Jack Scruby Miniatures is discussed in this recent article at Playing at the World.)

The line of 25 mm minis was called 'Mythical Earth' --- obviously inspired by Tolkien. The preview photo is from Airfix Magazine, August 1973, and shows some of the first figures in the line, including (from left to right) painted versions of ME4 Wizard, ME1 Man-Orc with Sword, ME2 Wood Elf with Bow, ME3 Dwarves (one of two figures) and ME6 Hobbits (one of thee). Chainmail was in existence at this time, but the publication of D&D in January 1974 was still a number of months away. 

In the Playing at the World article linked above, Jon mentions that the "Mythical Earth" was not the original name for this line, but was a rebranding to avoid suit by the Tolkien Estate. This appears to be reflected in this preview as it only uses the name "Middle Earth" and not "Mythical Earth".

It's stunning to realize that when this article was first published, in August 1973, J.R.R. Tolkien was still alive, though not for long as he passed away the following month on September 2nd, 1973.

The preview was part of the "New kits and models" column in Airfix, author unlisted but probably Editor Bruce Quarrie or Editorial Director Darryl Reach:

"In their 25 mm range. Miniature Figurines  have sent us the first samples in a new series of ‘Middle Earth' figures. Wargamers who are also addicted to Professor J. R. R. Tolkien's epic fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings will be delighted with these figures, which currently include a wizard, man-orc, dwarf, elf and hobbit, illustrated here. Future releases will include Riders of Rohan. Dunedain, and Nazgul mounted on pterodactyl-like winged  beasts. Orcs and further examples both of the Free Peoples and Sauron's minions. Readers of Wargamers Newsletter will realise that there is considerable demand for fantasy figures of this type, and Miniature Figurines are to be congratulated on such an imaginative venture. The figures will undoubtedly be especially popular in America, where Tolkien is a great cult figure, and in this context it is worth noting that the firm are soon to be opening a factory in the States."Thanks to Shining Knight pointing out this article in this thread on the Dragonsfoot.

A pdf of the magazine can be found over on the Internet Archive.

A gallery of the entire Mythical Earth line can be seen on the Lost Minis wiki.

The line eventually grew to 101 figures. Despite the focus on Middle Earth, it had a few oddities, such as ME51 Frog Man (perhaps Gollum? But why avoid using his name when you already using Hobbit, Huorn, Rohan, Dunland and Harad?), ME100 Centaur, and the final figure ME101 Pan.

J. Eric Holmes owned minis from this line. I previously wrote about his Green-Painted ME58 Dragon and also about a ME4 Wizard in the photo from the Tales of Peril dust jacket.

(Article originally drafted in April 2018 but just revised & posted today)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

1977 Gen Con X Souvenir Program

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 16:36

Gen Con X Souvenir Program, 1977. Source: Gen Con Guru
The Holmes Basic Set debuted in the summer of 1977, with TSR selling it at Origins in July, and then at Gen Con X in August. In this year Gen Con was held at the Playboy Resort in Lake Geneva for the first and only time, a site that is now the Grand Geneva Resort where Gary Con has now been held for a number of years.

I'd seen the covers of the 1977 Souvenir Program before, for example at the Gen Con Guru, but Demos Sachlas (editor of the B1 and B4 fan sourcebooks) just sent me a few photos of the interior that he took of a display copy at Gary Con last March. Page 19 is an ad for the Basic Set, which is now the earliest ad for it that I've seen:


Basic Set advertisement from the Gen Con X Souvenir Program. Source: Demos Sachlas
This advertisement is similar to the first one that ran in Dragon magazine, the next month in issue #9. Of note, these ads use a black and white excerpt of the original artwork rather than a picture of the actual box set cover.



Differences between these two ads include:
-the earlier ad is two-tone black/red, like the rest of the program, later ad is just black
-the later ad adds the subtitle "Swords & Sorcery..."
-the later ad revises "dungeon geomorphs" to "full set of dungeon geomorphs"; "polyhedra dice" to "set of five polyhedra dice"; "revised D&D booklet" to "revised D&D rules book".
-the later ad adds "*T.M. Reg. App. For", although the earlier ad includes the asterisk to which this refers, so perhaps it was removed during the program book layout
-the later ad adds the price, $9.95 plus $1.00 postage and handling
-the later ad replaces the "Other Recent Releases from TSR" and Booth information with a mail-order form

The program also includes a hand-drawn maps of the "Lake Geneva Area", which Demos suggests are by David Sutherland:



Maps of the Lake Geneva Area by David Sutherland. Source: Demos Sachlas

Of particular note is the drawing of the lake monster confronting a galley in Geneva Lake (confusingly, the town is Lake Geneva, but the lake is properly Geneva Lake):




Compare this with his lake monster from the cover the World of Greyhawk Folio (1980):

Detail from the cover of the World of Greyhawk Folio (1980). Source: TSR ArchiveSee this post for another Lake Monster, attacking a Rhennee barge, by Sutherland from the interior of the Folio.

Perhaps surprisingly, the advertisement for Holmes Basic is on page 19, and not on the back cover of the program, page 32, which instead advertises another new TSR game, Warlocks & Warriors, designed by Gardner Fox:

Warlocks & Warriors ad, back cover of Gen Con X Souvenir Program (1977). Source: Gen Con Guru
The illustration here is also by David Sutherland, and also appears in the Warlocks & Warriors game instructions. The wizard wears a conical "stars & moons" hat, much like the one on the cover of Basic, and the warrior has a helm with an especially realistic-looking dragon:

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Maze of Peril Ch 1, Scene 7: "The Grisly Business of Swallowing the Corpses"

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 15:51
This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club, indexed here.

The party wins their first combat, and Zereth directs them in standard D&D post-melee activities — searching the corpses (no treasure is mentioned), retrieving arrows, guarding the passage, checking for injuries (none are noted). Murray dissuades them from hiding the corpses as a waste of time, which proves prescient.

The area where they fought the battle was described in the previous section:
"More dark side corridors, some less than five feet wide, opened to the north. A glow of light ahead resolved, as they approached, into a diffuse beam of sunlight coming down a shaft in the ceiling which illuminated a round pit in the floor. Two thick wooden doors in the south wall were visible by the sunlight, both tight shut. At the lighted shaft, Boinger noted, there was a broad cross corridor and a narrow, darker passage intersecting the tunnel they were in."These details closely match one of Holmes' original dungeon maps, a sheet adjacent to the one shown in my previous post. In fact, the details match this map so closely that I feel Holmes must have been consulting it while writing this part of the story. Below is the relevant portion with color annotations added by myself. The main corridor runs east-west, 25' wide at a scale of 5' per square. Narrow side corridors open to the north, two doors are in the south wall, and "The Pit" is at the intersection with a broad cross corridor. The orcs attacked while the party was examining the Pit, coming up behind them from the west ("Orc Battle").


Detail from a map by J. Eric Holmes, scan by Tristan HolmesBoinger suggests investigating the two doors, which are the first doors they've found in the dungeon. They handle these in typical OD&D fashion — Bardan and the two men-at-arms bash one open, finding nothing (room above labeled "Empty"), and Boinger listens at the other. He hears nothing, but on bashing this one open they are are surprised by an "orange mass". Zereth recognizes this an Ochre Jelly, which is a "giant amoeba" member of the "cleanup crew" of Vol 2 of OD&D, and Holmes has it attack accordingly in a nice bit of description — a "long pseudopod of glistening, translucent orange tissue thrust through the gap as the door was pulled shut". The closing door severs this pseduopod, which continues to attack, and a further slash with a sword similarly divides it into two smaller globs, in accord with OD&D ("hits by weaponry ... will merely make them into several smaller Ochre Jellies"). Bardan wisely suggests burning it with a torch, which is successful, and also in accord with the original description ("can be killed by fire or cold"). Thus they survive their second melee.

Next, Boinger's "keen ears" detect an approaching sound. While in OD&D, Vol 3, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits all have an increased chance to hear noise (1-2 in 6 versus 1 in 6), here Boinger clearly has better hearing than the elf or dwarf in the party. In Greyhawk, Hobbit thieves get an extra +1 to Hear Noise, which advances the idea that Hobbits have the best hearing of the non-humans. The sound resolves into a grating noise like someone "dragging a sack of heavy rocks down the tunnel", disturbing enough that Murray suggests they head down a side corridor. They then double back "into another corridor, this one only ten feet wide and black as pitch", where they put out their torches and wait ("Hiding Place" marked above).

Here Zereth they find a "a narrow passageway" that Zereth believes will lead "back toward the intersection", so he and Boinger use this to investigate the noise further. On the map above, this is the five-foot passage paralleling the wider north-south passage. Back at the intersection, our two heroes spy a huge Purple Worm, now in the "grisly business of swallowing the corpses" of the orcs, armor and all. Per OD&D Vol 2, Purple Worms are sufficiently large enough to swallow opponents in combat. The party had earlier noted the worm's trail throughout the main corridor, and now they have found it. They quickly head back to the party.


The original illustration of a Purple Worm from OD&D Vol 2, page 5, possibly by Dave Arneson.
Next up, we finally reach the last scene of Chapter 1!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Elmore's take on the Sutherland Dragon

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 20:42
Click for a larger view
This illustration by Larry Elmore is from a fairly obscure product, the manual for the 1982 adaptation of TSR's boardgame DUNGEON! for the Apple II+. It's on the last page, and is the only illustration in the manual other than the cover, which shows a B&W version of the box cover art by Jeff Easley. It may have appeared in another TSR product, but a Google Image search didn't turn anything up.

While much smaller --- perhaps a Sub-adult? --- Easley's dragon clearly shares many details with Sutherland's Red Dragon on the cover of the Holmes Basic set (July 1977), particularly the head - triangular, heavy brow, cheek "whiskers". Also note the V-shaped scales down the ventral portion of the neck, the slightly curved spikes down the back, even the shapes of the scales. 



Sutherland drew a similar B&W version of this same Red Dragon for the monster entry in the AD&D Monster Manual (Dec 1977) ---




Which was redone in color by Jim Roslof for the Monster Cards (1981) ---




A Red Dragon does appear as one of the monsters in Dungeon, so Easley may have been using one of these as a guide in order keep the look consistent between TSR products.

If you'd like to see the entire game manual, it can be found here at the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History.

You can also watch a 10-minute play-through of the game here --- Dungeon! for the Apple II

It had graphics like this screenshot, showing a Superhero versus a jolly Purple Worm ---


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Things I've Written Published Elsewhere

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 12:21
Most of my RPG-related writing can be found here on the blog or on the sporadically updated Zenopus Archives site. But I do have a few articles that have been published in print or pdf. In view of my recently published zine article, I thought it was time to write up a list of these, which will have a permanent home here on the site.

Listed in reverse chronological order, these are ---

"Clerical Cosmic Horror: The Brief Era of the Cthulhu Mythos as Dungeons & Dragons Pantheon" in Bayt al Azif #1, October 2018. With an illustration by Chris HolmesCurrently available in pdf or print. See also this post.

"Holmes and the Lost City" in The Lost City Campaign Sourcebook, March 2018. With an illustration of Zargon by myself. This is a fan compilation of supplementary material for the module B4; see this DF threadCurrently available as a free pdf

"Axel the Dwarf" (NPC) in FANTASTIC! EXCITING! IMAGINATIVE! #2, Nov 2017, Inner Ham. With an illustration by Jon Wilson. Currently available in pdf from DrivethruRPG or in print directly from the publisher.

"Green Grabber" and "Old One" (new monsters) in BLUEHOLME Journeymanne Rules, Fall 2017, Dreamscape Design. Old One illustrated by Bradley K. McDevitt. Currently available in pdf from DrivethruRPG, or in hardcover or in softcover from Lulu. See also the original posts here and here.

"The Writings of J. Eric Holmes" and "Annotated Bibliography for J. Eric Holmes" in Tales of Peril, the Complete Boinger and Zereth Stories of J. Eric Holmes, Summer 2017, Black Blade Publisher. Currently available in print directly from the publisher. See also this post.

"Regal Lizard Man" (new monster) and "Harpy Axe" (new magic item) in FANTASTIC! EXCITING! IMAGINATIVE! #1, March 2017, Inner Ham. Currently available as a free pdf from DrivethruRPG or in print directly from the publisher. See also this post.

"Lesser Magic Items" (20 new magic items) in Dungeon Crawl #3, Summer 2013. With three illustrations by John Blaszczyk. Currently available in pdf from DrivethruRPG or in print from Lulu. See also this post.

I also contributed to proofreading the original release of the OD&D retroclone Delving Deeper2012, Immersive Ink, currently available in pdf or free on the web.  
(All DrivethruRPG links include my affiliate number)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Article in a New Cthulhu Zine

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 13:37
The cover of Bayt al Azif issue #1. Art by Maria Nguyen. Click on picture for a larger view.
FYI, I have an article in the first issue of Bayt al Azif, a new magazine "for Cthulhu Mythos Roleplaying Games" (as stated on the cover), edited by Jared Smith. As Jared explains, "Al Azif" is one title Lovecraft used for the Necronomicon, perhaps referring to the howling of demons, and thus the full title of the new magazine can be interpreted as referring to the "House of the Necronomicon". It's available in both pdf and print versions, and can be previewed or purchased here at DrivethruRPG ---

Bayt al Azif issue 1
(link includes my DrivethruRPG affiliate number)
The magazine is 80 pages long and includes a variety of articles of interest, including three scenarios for Call of Cthulhu. See the DrivethruRPG page for more details. Here's a screenshot of the Table of Contents ---




My article is "Clerical Cosmic Horror: The Brief Era of the Cthulhu Mythos as Dungeons & Dragons Pantheon", which is a rewrite and expansion of a topic I discussed on this blog a number of years ago. Essentially on Holmes roll in bringing the Cthulhu Mythos into Dungeons & Dragons where it served as part of the line-up of pantheons for a few years.

The best part is that the article is accompanied by a fantastic new piece of art by Chris Holmes! It's a Mythos creature, but I will keep which one a surprise (hint: it's not Cthulhu).

Happy Cthulhuween!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs