Saturday, November 18, 2017

Expanded Ability Scores for the Holmes Ref


For all characters:

15 or more: +1 to hit, damage and open doors
7 to 14: no bonus
6 or less: -1 to hit, damage and open doors

From Gygax's OD&D House Rules, compiled here; also in line with the bonuses for NPCs mentioned in the Holmes Basic version of Keep in the Borderlands (e.g. the imprisoned Hero in the Caves of Chaos gets a +2 to hit and damage due to level and 18 strength). Also not far off from that used in Warlock, which Holmes used prior to editing the Basic rules. In Warlock Str 16+ gives a +1 to hit, and Str 13-17 gives +1 damage, 18 +2 damage.

11 or more: one extra language per point over 10
10 or less: no extra languages

From the rules as written

15 or more: +1 to saving throws versus mental attacks (charm, fear, illusion, hold, etc)
7 to 14: no bonus
6 or less: -1 to saving throws versus mental attacks (charm, fear, illusion, hold etc)

Extrapolated based on the otherwise unexplained Wisdom Adj on the 1977 OD&D character sheet and the later AD&D PHB. Uses the same range as Gygax's house rules, where 15+ gains a bonus.

18: add 3 to each hit die
17: add 2 to each hit die
15 to 16: add 1 to each hit die
7 to 14: no bonus
6 or less: subtract one from each hit die but never less than 1

From the rules as written

13 or more:  fire any missile at +1
9 to 12: no bonus
8 or less: fire any missile at -1

From the rules as written

18: up to 12 followers, +4 reaction rolls
16 to 17: up to 7 followers, +2 reaction rolls
13 to 15: up to 5 followers, +1 reaction rolls
10 to 12: up to 5 followers
7 to 9: up to 3 followers
5-6: up to 2 followers, -1 reaction rolls
3-4: up to 1 follower, -2 reaction rolls

In the Holmes Basic rulebook, page 5, Holmes writes "A character of charisma below 13 can not hire more than 5 followers, and their loyalty will be luke-warm at best — that is, if the fighting gets hot there is a good probability they will run away. On the other hand, someone with a charisma of 18 can win over a large number of followers (men or monsters) who will probably stand by him to the death." 

This is a reference to the charisma table in OD&D Vol 1, page 11. There is a slight discrepancy as in the OD&D table a score of 10-12 gets 4 followers, not 5.

Things get a little complicated after this. The OD&D Charisma table also has bonuses for loyalty for the these followers, which modifies a loyalty score on page 13, which in turn modifies morale, which is not explained very clearly. Holmes didn't include the rules for loyalty scores or morale, perhaps due to their complexity. 

However, the text explaining the reaction table on page 12 of OD&D Vol 1, states that the roll is "adjust[ed] for charisma", which seems to indicate that the same charisma modifiers are also used with this table. Holmes included a reference to this in Basic on page 11, where the text explaining the reaction table there sasy "The DM should maek adjustments if the party spokesman has high charisma or offers other special inducements". Hence for our expanded table here, I've converted the loyalty bonuses to reaction adjustments. Moldvay treated this similarly in his version of Basic.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Some Thief Options for the Holmes Ref


Dwarf: +5% Open Lock, +15% Remove Trap, +5% Move Silently, +5% Hide in Shadows

Elf: +5% Pick Pocket, +10% Move Silently, +15% Hide in Shadows

Hobbit: +10% Open Lock, +5% Remove Trap, +5% Pick Pocket, +10% Move Silently, +10% Hide in Shadows, Hear Noise +1

These are from the Greyhawk OD&D supplement, and are presumably the "special rules" found in OD&D that Holmes referred to in the Holmes manuscript.


Human thieves can specialize, raising a skill by lowering another by an equal amount, to a minimum of 5%. This can be done with each of the five skills that increase each level other than Climb Walls and Hear Noise. Thus, a specialist has 50 percentage points (50%) that can be adjusted at first level.

These are some specialists that are possible at first level:

Picklock: 55% Open Lock

Disarmist: 55% Remove Trap

Filcher: 55% Pick Pocket 

Sneak: 55% Move Silently

Skulker: 55% Hide in Shadows

By maxing these out, the other four skills will be at only 5% each (not including Climb Walls and Hear Noise). Many other combinations are possible, e.g. 35% Open Lock, 25% Remove Trap, 5% other skills

Higher levels:
At levels 2-6, a thief gets 25 more points per level to be distributed among the five skills,
At levels 7-8, a thief gets 35 more points per level
At levels 9-11, a thief get 50 more points per level
At levels 12 and up, a thief gets more 25 points per level

This option inspired by similar rules in 2E AD&D. The total points for first level and higher levels matches the progression found in the Greyhawk Supplement.


As the prime requisite of thieves is dexterity, it will affect their abilities as follows:

Dexterity of 15 or more: add 10% to each thief skill except hear noise
Dexterity of 13-14: add 5%
Dexterity of 9-12: no bonus
Dexterity of 7-8: subtract 10%
Dexterity of 6 or less: subtract 20%

These value of these bonuses and the Dex ranges are the same as the prime requisite XP bonuses on page 6 of Holmes. The idea is inspired by Gary's OD&D houserules, which mention a bonus for a Thief skill based on Dex, and the more complicated Dex modifiers in 1E AD&D. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dice of the Gods


A suited man juggles five polyhedra dice - is this an early DM? No, more likely it is supposed to be a math teacher.

These photos were posted to the Acaeum recently (see this thread), and show a set of dice found with a OD&D White Box set. The dice themselves are the standard Polyhedra Dice sold by TSR in the '70s, which per Jon Peterson were sourced from a California company, Creative Publications. But the packaging they are in is something I've never seen before. The title, Polyhedra Dice, is identical to the title TSR used in their catalogs and product lists of the era (follow link to see an example). While the dice obscure some of the text, I can make out the letters "CREAT..." near the green 8-sider, indicating the original packaging was indeed supplied by Creative Publications, not TSR or another company.

Most of these dice that I've seen are ones from the Holmes Basic set, where they came in small sealed bag without a paper insert. The set was also sold separately (see catalog link above), and I had assumed these were sold in the same form. But possibly at some point TSR re-sold sets with the original CP packaging, or possibly this set was ordered directly from CP.

The back of the insert begins with the following paragraph:

"To the ancient Greeks the five regular solids (tetrahedron - 4 faces, hexhedron - 6 faces, octahedron - 8 faces, dodecahedron - 12 faces, icosahedron - 20 faces) were known as the "dice of the gods". They were prized for their beauty and believed to have strange, cosmic meanings"

Following this is a list of suggestions for using the dice, which are mostly obscured by the dice themselves.

See also: 
The Marked 20-sided Die
TSR Percentile Dice in the '70s

The dice set together with Men & Magic. Photo source same as above.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Danse Macabre Filmstrip (1963)

A re-post from 2013:

For Halloween, here's something haunting that I remember watching in music class in late elementary school, around the same time I discovered D&D (1982). It's a 1963 educational filmstrip with fantastic watercolors by Harold Dexter Hoopes, set to the eerie music of Danse Macabre by Saint-Saens. It was unavailable on the web until a few years ago but now there are multiple versions on YouTube, one of which has better colors but includes a loud "filmstrip advance" beep throughout. There isn't much info available on the internet about the artist Hoopes. There was even a blog dedicated to restoring the individual frames of this filmstrip but it seems to have stalled out at frame 20.

There's also a later second edition of the filmstrip done in the mid-80s with art by David Prebenna, later an illustrator of Sesame Street/Muppet toddler books. It's cartoony and less haunting, but also worth watching.

Memories of this filmstrip led me to include "Danse Macabre" in my One Hit Point Monsters.

Happy All Hallow's Evening!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Maze of Peril Chapter 1, Scene 2: "Rumors of the Fabulous Treasures of the Underworld"

This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club, indexed here.

The second short "scene" of the Maze of Peril is a few paragraphs of compact world-building that expands the setting outward from the Green Dragon to the surrounding town and the Underworld beneath it. I quoted most of this section in a 2012 post, The Underworld of Holmes. As I wrote there, the term "The Underworld" is straight out of Vol 3 of the Original Dungeons & Dragons rules, "The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures", being the original term used to refer to the vast multi-layer dungeons of the game.

The narrator tells us that Zereth and "every man in the [Green Dragon] tavern" knows the rumors of the treasure of the Underworld. Holmes uses a favorite turn of phrase, "fabulous treasures", which also appears in the introduction to the Basic rulebook ("The dungeons are filled with fearsome monsters, fabulous treasure and frightful perils") and the Sample Dungeon ("Whispered tales are told of fabulous treasure and unspeakable monsters in the underground passages"). 

The rumors draw all sorts of adventurers and other types to the "tiny town", indicating that it is special in the land in its relation to the Underworld. The name of the town, Caladan, is first given here, and is noteworthy in that it was previously used by Frank Herbert as the name of the homeworld of the Atreides in Dune. Chris Holmes said that his father was a fan of Herbert but didn't know of any other specific reason for its use.

The description of the Underworld, like the name, is very much in line with OD&D: "corridors of wealth, they were also tunnels of deadly peril" and "there must have been many layers of dungeons and underworlds laid down, one atop the other". But Holmes takes this concept further by giving a putative origin for these dungeons: they were built by a mysterious prehistoric race. This echoes the introduction to the Sample Dungeon, where "the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, pre-human city". As I wrote previously, this theme is "reminiscent of the pre-human alien civilization described in Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness (1931), who built vast underground cities in remote locations". Holmes never reveals any more details about the mysterious builders, so on this blog I later took the idea one step further, positioning Lovecraft's creatures in that story as Holmes' architects of the Underworld, to create a "new" monster for Holmes Basic called the Ancient Builder. The write-up for this monster now appears in the recently released Blueholme Journeymanne rules as the "Old Ones" entry in the Monster List.

While the rumors of the Underworld are well known in Caladan, the entrances are not. The narrator indicates that Zereth has been looking for information about an entrance but has not been successful. One reason that the entrances are not well known is that "many of the rash adventurers who set forth for the secret entrances to the fabled Underworld were never heard from again". Again, this fits with the story's origins in actual OD&D games, where many first level parties perish on their first expedition below.

In the next scene, Zereth will finally succeed in learning of an entrance.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Maze of Peril Chapter 1, Scene 1: "The Green Dragon Tavern Was Crowded, Dark, Noisy"

This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club, indexed here.

Having gone through the front matter, we move onto the actual stories. As a reminder, if you haven't read the stories yet, this is where the real spoilers will begin. I know, however, that exposure to spoilers will sometimes increase interest...

The first story in the book is the novel the Maze of Peril, which is the lengthiest Boinger and Zereth tale (11 chapters), and also the last published in 1986, at least until this volume which includes a previously unpublished story. As I go through each chapter, I'll refer to the parts of the chapters as "scenes". Essentially wherever Holmes placed a gap in the text, I'll refer to as a separate scene. This post will cover the first scene in Chapter 1. 

The Maze of Peril begins on page 1 of Tales of Peril with a title page, and then re-prints the original dedication from 1986 publication, which is made out to Gary Gygax, for the game; "Chris, Eric, Jeff and others" for creating the characters; and Tolkien, Lovecraft and Sprague de Camp for "literary inspiration". In Holmes' 1981 book, Fantasy Role-Playing Games, he talks further of literary inspiration for fantasy worlds, again mentioned Tolkien and de Camp among others; a quote from which can be read here. And in his 1980 essay, Confession of a Dungeon Master (reprinted further on in Tales of Peril), he mentions Lovecraft as one world-builder (along with Burroughs, Howard, Haggard, Merrit and Smith) that he drew upon for use in creating bits of his D&D campaign.

See also articles I've written about Holmes on Tolkien, Holmes and the Cthulhu mythos, and Holmes and de Camp.

Next there is a newly added two paragraph preface by Chris Holmes introducing the story. He reveals that his father initially hoped to publish more Boinger and Zereth novels, but had trouble finding a publisher for Maze of Peril, and then moved on to other projects. Chris further indicates that the story is a "close recreation of one of our first adventures in my father's dungeon".  

On the next page, the story begins. Chapter 1 is titled "Entrances", which I believe has a dual meaning: the entrance of the characters into the story, as well as the entrance to the Underworld that they discover.

I love the beginning of this story. It's exactly what you'd expect for a novel based on a D&D game, with an archetypical meeting of the characters in a tavern prior to their first adventure. And here we get to watch Boinger (along with his friend Bardan the Dwarf) and Zereth meet for the first time, and in the famous Green DragonTheir meeting here also echoes the words from the introduction to the Sample Dungeon in the earlier Holmes Basic rulebook: "Humans and non-humans from all over the globe meet [in Portown]. At the Green Dragon Inn, the players of the game gather their characters for an assault on the fabulous passages beneath the ruined Wizard's tower".

The duo of Boinger and Zereth brings to mind other famous adventuring pairs, particularly Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Boinger and Zereth are interesting in that neither is human. As Holmes wrote in the quote above, human and non-humans gather at the Green Dragon. And with the addition of Bardan, the group includes each of the three original non-human player character races in OD&D: hobbit, elf, dwarf.

Zereth demonstrates his magic with a cantrip-like effect, heating Boinger's wine. The magic creates a "blue glow". Boinger enjoys the heated wine, saying that it improves the flavor. This is the first glimpse into his recurring love of food & drink.

Holmes scatters descriptions for the characters throughout. I'll collect them here as I read.

Boinger: Wears a grey hooded cloak, jacket of chainmail and sandals on his furry feet. From the "Meadow Country to the South". 

Zereth: Black hair, brown eyes, swarthy, high cheekbones, narrow chin, even white teeth. Jagged scar across left cheek. From "Labolinn" (more recently), but originally "of the Old People, the Elidel"; elsewhere referred to as "the Elfland". (This phrasing is perhaps a reference to Dunsany's the King of Elfland's Daughter.)

Bardan: Stocky, white beard, wears a "heavy iron helm with long Norman nosepiece", white beard, gruff voice. From the "Cold Mountains".

Green Dragon Tavern: The tavern is lit by a big central fire and a few tapers. A serving table near the entry way. The table they share in the back corner has wooden benches. Stout beer is served in wooden mugs, wine is served in "a horn cup with a metal base to hold it upright".

The first section ends with the first mention of the Underworld. Holmes then cuts to a description of the Underworld of his setting, which I'll get to in the next post.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Font Bundle with Futura

Design Cuts promo image for Futura

Here at the Zenopus Archives, Futura is our font. TSR used it in not only the Holmes Basic rulebook, but also the original printings of the LBBs and Greyhawk, the first four AD&D hardcovers, and certain modules of the time period such as the Keep on the Borderlands. Specifically, a combination of Futura Book (for ordinary type) and Futura Bold (for headers), as seen in this example from the Holmes rulebook:

If you are interested in obtaining Futura for use in free or commercial OSR projects, the version by the URW typeface foundry is currently available as part of a $39 font bundle deal that includes a license for commercial use. The ordinary price for all of the fonts in the bundle is supposedly $5088. As far as I can tell, the bundling company Design Cuts is legitimate, working with the various font owners to offer the bundle. This bundle is available for about 1 more week.

I bought the bundle last week & found the URW Futura to be sufficiently well done. It's not an exact match for the version used by TSR, being slightly more compact and taller, but probably close enough for most users. More about the various electronic renderings of Futura that are commercially available can be read in this Quora article from a few years back.

I plan to update the Holmes Ref sheets using the URW Futura, and will try to post an example later in the week.