Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Holmes' 1983 review of the Call of Cthulhu RPG: Rediscovered and republished in Bayt Al Azif #2

Cover art by Jensine Eckwall

A major announcement for Holmes enthusiasts: in 1983 Holmes wrote a review of the then relatively new Call of Cthulhu RPG (by Sandy Petersen), for the inaugural issue of the short-lived Gameplay Magazine (February '83 to April '84), a periodical similar to Dragon but with much more of a general gaming focus. I was completely unaware of this major piece by Holmes ⁠— one of his last in the field of writing about RPGs ⁠— until recently when the long-lost article was rediscovered by Tony A. Rowe of the Cryptic Archivist blog. The original 1986 author bio for the Maze of Peril novel mentions that Holmes had articles in several magazines including Gameplay, but after finding a computer game review he wrote in a later issue (detailed in the Holmes bibliography) I had assumed that was all he had written for that publication. Not so. The review, which is a two full pages as originally published, is written in his characteristic engaging and genre-fan style and includes anecdotes and advice based on CoC games that he himself had run, as well as providing more fodder for a Holmes "Appendix N"

And now, with the permission of Chris Holmes, I am thrilled to announce that this article is once again in print in the second issue of the Cthulhu RPG magazine Bayt Al Azif, along with brand new illustration by Chris of a scene from one of those actual-play stories (!), and a half-page of commentary on the review by myself (bringing the total to 3 full-pages):




(link includes my DrivethruRPG affiliate number)

Both digital and hardcopy are available through the above link. This second issue is longer ⁠— 108 pages ⁠— than the the first, and once again includes a wide variety of articles of interest to the Cthulhu RPG enthusiast, including multiple scenarios set in different eras. Here's a screenshot of the Table of Contents:




Thanks to Tony for locating and scanning the original article, to Chris for agreeing to reprint it and providing accompanying art, and to the editor Jared Smith for accepting it for his magazine and doing the layout.

See also the earlier post about my article for the first issue of Bayt al Azif.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Holmes Games at Pacificon

"Tegel Manor mapping" by Guy Fullerton showing a marked 20-sider in use

Over at K&KA Alehouse and Dragonsfoot, Guy Fullerton has posted a con report from Pacificon Game Expo 41, which took place this past Labor Day weekend in Santa Clara, CA, which includes two different Holmes Basic games he played in.


These included Tegel Manor DM'd by Thom Hall:

Open Role Playing
Fri 7 PM
to 11 PM
(4 hrs)

R-475: Tegel Manor
Presented by Thom Hall

Holmes Edition Basic D&D published by TSR
Regular signup, room for 6 players
Regular Game, New to gaming, Characters/Armies Supplied, All Ages
Location: Prospector 1 - A
Description:Bob Bledsaw's Tegel Manor published by Judges Guild in 1977. Tegel Manor, a great manor-fortress on the seacoast, is rumored to be left over from ancient days...


...and a Holmes + Greyhawk City State of the Invincible Overlord game DM'd by DF/ODD74 member peterlind, which I didn't see on the event listing.

Guy also ran two sessions of AD&D himself:

Open Role Playing
Sat 9 AM
to 3 PM
(6 hrs)

R-321: The Mere Beneath
Presented by Guy Fullerton

AD&D 1st Ed. published by TSR
Regular signup, room for 6 players
Regular Game, General gaming experience, Characters/Armies Supplied, Thirteen and older
Location: Prospector 1 - A
Description:Descend a waterfall to explore the watery caverns, and plunder an ancient Hydromancer fortress. Exploration (no plot) and danger (no fudging). Lvl 4-5

Open Role Playing
Sun 9 AM
to 3 PM
(6 hrs)

R-323: The Garden of al-Astorion
Presented by Guy Fullerton

AD&D 1st Ed. published by TSR
Regular signup, room for 6 players
Regular Game, General gaming experience, Characters/Armies Supplied, Thirteen and older
Location: Monterey - A
Description:Rumors say this secluded valley contains a garden of enchanted fruit trees, and gems the size of eggs. Your party surely has the strength to drive off the primitive beast-men within, and reap the rewards. Classic module by Gabor Lux, aka Melan. Exploration (no plot) and danger (no fudging). Lvl 6-9

Now that you've read the event descriptions, head over and read about how the games went.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Legend of Terminatur the Forest Gnome

An amazing, simultaneously heartwarming & heartbreaking story I was sent on Twitter today. This is why you should play RPGs with your relatives. I recently came across a few notes from the single time my son (age 6 at the time) ran a D&D game for me and my late mother, and wish we'd played that way again.


Link: https://twitter.com/AntnHz/status/1165011404086284289

Preview:

Antoine H. on Twitter

My grandmother passed away. Her funerals were today, but here I'd like to talk about the most important thing I couldn't spend too much time on in her eulogy: her love for Dungeons & Dragons. #DnD

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Zenopus Game at Dragonflight 40




Above are two photos from a "Beneath the Ruined Tower of Zenopus" game that was run at Dragonflight 40 in the Seattle area this past weekend. This is a venerable con, held every year since 1980, the era of Holmes Basic itself. From the event listing for the session:


"50 years ago, the citizens of Portown battered the wizard's tower to rubble. But has an even greater evil arisen? Pirates grow bold, the innocent have vanished, and ghastly screams are heard from the abandoned graveyard near the ruins. An adventure using the original (1977) Dungeons and Dragons basic rules. Pregens provided (or roll your own)."

The shots were taken by Scott M. of the Halls of Tizun Thane blog, who played in the game. Scott reports they used some of my Holmes Ref sheets; I can see the 1-page Character Creation Worksheet. I also see print-outs of Paleologos' Map of Portown.

Scott reports that during the game "[w]e followed a rumor of scratching noises at a ladies' house with her dead husband's loot in the basement" and "[I] sent in my guy Gutboy Barrelhouse (Dwarf) and a Hobbit first. We eventually got to a place where we saw flickering lights (which rats can't make) so we got the rest of the party to follow (hands and knees at first)". After that they "[e]nded up exploring the dungeons most of the session".

That sounds like Portown Rumor #18! It's great to hear about this stuff being used.

Update: BX Blackrazor now has a con report that includes the Holmes game.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Holmes' 1946 Letter to a Pulp



Above is "Advice", a letter from a sixteen-year-old John Eric Holmes to Famous Fantastic Mysteries, a fantasy and sci-fi pulp magazine, with many enthusiastic suggestions for older stories they might republish. The letter appeared on page 127 of the April 1946 issue. Many thanks to Michael Calleia for locating this artifact in the Internet Archive!

At the time of writing this letter, Holmes attended the Punahou School in Honolulu where he lived with his parents; his father Wilfred "Jasper" Holmes taught engineering at the University of Hawaii, both before and after WWII. Wilfred had remained on the island during the war, serving as an intelligence officer in the Navy, about which he later wrote a book, Double-Edged Secrets (1979). Wilfred was himself an author of fiction, having written naval adventure stories under the pseudonym Alec Hudson since the '30s, the majority published in the Saturday Evening Post.

According to an interview with John Martin, at the age of eight Eric discovered the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and was even able to meet the author at his house in Hawaii and have a Tarzan book signed. And then around the time he turned ten, Eric found "the pulps". The author bio for his short story "Martian Twilight" (1991), states that "he read S. J. Perelman's review of the first issue of CAPTAIN FUTURE in the THE NEW YORKER's "Talk of the Town," [January 1940] and discovered the pulps. He has been a dyed in the wool fan ever since". While most of his recommendations in "Advice" are for "Weird Fiction" authors, he was also a fan of the adventure side of the pulps. His son Chris Holmes relays in "John Eric Holmes - The Books" that "[h]is favorite pulp hero, next to Captain Future, was Doc Savage. He also enjoyed the Shadow, the Spider, the Avenger and Fu Manchu."

Famous Fantastic Mysteries (FFM) was published from 1939-1953, and Fantastic Novels (FN) was a companion magazine published in 1940-1941. The stories that Holmes did not favor are "The Machine Stops" by E. M. Forster Wayland Smith, and "Before I Wake" by Henry Kuttner, both of which appeared in the March 1945 issue of FFM. When he refers to them as being like the fiction in Cosmopolitan, he is not referring to a fashion magazine, but an earlier incarnation that was a popular fiction magazine published by Hearst. A story he did favor, Machen's "The Novel of the White Powder", had appeared in the November 1944 issue of FFM. Presumably, Holmes was pleased that his letter appeared together in an issue that also included a reprint of Blackwood's classic "The Willows" (1907), as teased on the cover, and perhaps suggesting that the editors had listened to his advice:





Eric would graduate from Punahou the following year (1947), when his yearbook bio noted that he "keeps busy trying to crash the pulp market". Eventually he had a single story, the military sci-fi "Beachhead on the Moon", appear in the pulp Blue Book in 1951, when he was a psychology student at Stanford.

Eric Holmes remained a lifetime fan of these authors. Thirty years after this letter, he would write an authorized sequel to Burroughs' Pellucidar series, Mahars of Pellucidar (1976), as well a further unpublished continuation, Red Axe of Pellucidar. And I've described his role in bringing the Lovecraftian Mythos into D&D in the later '70s. Chris Holmes indicates that [h]e read everyone in the "Lovecraft Circle" and his favorite of Lovecraft's influences were William Hope Hodgson and Arthur Machen". In 1988, while living in the UK, Eric sent a short report describing a meeting of the Machen Society (an appreciation club) to the fanzine Crypt of Cthulhu, published in issue 57.

From this list, we can also see how from an early age Eric Holmes was "primed" to embrace D&D when it appeared in the mid-70's. While only three of the authors he suggests are are also found in Appendix N (Burroughs, Dunsany and Lovecraft, with an earlier version in Dragon also including Blackwood), the majority were strong influences on Lovecraft; all except Burroughs, Collier, Roberts and Taine are mentioned in H.P. Lovecraft's essay Supernatural Horror in Literature.

Authors Recommended for the Pulps by Holmes in 1946, in "Appendix N" format

Blackwood, Algernon

Burroughs, Edgar Rice

Chambers, Robert W.  THE KING IN YELLOW (1895)

Collier, John

Dunsany, Lord (Edward Plunkett)  TIME AND THE GODS, THE BOOK OF WONDER (1912), THE BLESSING OF PAN (1927)

Hodgson, William Hope

Lovecraft, H.P.  THE DREAM QUEST OF THE UNKNOWN KADATH (composed 1927, first published by Arkham in 1943)

Machen, Arthur  THE GREAT GOD PAN (1894), THE THREE IMPOSTERS (1895, includes "The Novel of the Black Seal" and "Novel of the White Powder"), THE RED HAND (1895), THE HOUSE OF SOULS (1906 compilation, includes "The Shining Pyramid" (1895) and "The White People" (1904))

Roberts, Charles   IN THE MORNING OF TIME (1919)

Smith, Clark Ashton 

Taine, John  THE IRON STAR (1930)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

OD&D Half-Orcs

Orc or Half-Orc? 

An Orc by Greg Bell from OD&D Vol 1, looking more human than later depictions...

Half-orcs were first introduced into D&D in late 1977 in the Monster Manual in a section at the end of the entry for Orcs, which notes orc-human hybrids as just one type among others (orc-goblins, etc). Following Gygax's pattern of briefly introducing concepts and then expanding on them in later rulebooks, the next year's AD&D Players Handbook added them as a full-fledged character race. Here I imagine what the entries might have been had they been introduced back in the original D&D booklets and then carried forward.

Fictional LBB entry:

"Half-orcs: Generally feared, but characters are assumed to be of the rare type able to pass as human. While they may opt only for the fighting class, due to their warlike nature they may progress up to 9th level (Lord). They are able to speak the language of Orcs, and see well in dimness or dark but do not like bright light as noted in CHAINMAIL. Tribal affiliation should be noted (Orcs of the Mountains, etc) as there is often great inter-tribal hostility".

Fictional Greyhawk entry:

"Half-Orcs: Half orcish and half human, they are on average about five and half-feet in height, muscular in build, and weigh 180 pounds. Characters are assumed to be among the rare 1 in 10 half-orcs that can manage to pass as human. Like half-elves they gain some abilities from each heritage. Half-orcs have infravision and can see monsters up to 60' away in the dark."

In addition to working up to 9th level in fighter, half-orcs can work up to the 5th level (Cutpurse) as a thief, and those with 17 or 18 dexterity can work up as high as 6th level (Sharper) or 7th level (Pilferer), respectively. Half-orcs can work simultaneously as fighters and thieves, but no bonuses for abilities above the normal are then given, and earned experience is always divided evenly even if the half-orc can no longer progress in the thief class. When acting as thieves, half-orcs can wear only leather armor. 

Half-orcs with a wisdom score of 9 or more may also become Anti-Clerics (Clerics for Chaos), and only working up as high as 3rd level (Village Priest). If they so opt all experience will be divided in equal proportion between fighting and clericism."

Blackmoor would then add half-orc assassins with unlimited advancement.

Fictional Holmes entry:

"Half-Orcs — are part orcish and part human, about five and half-feet tall and muscular in build, weighing 180 pounds. Most look orcish, although the rare individual appears mostly human. Due to their competitive and combative nature they excel as members of the fighting class. Half-orcs have infravision and can see 60 feet in the dark, and can speak Common, albeit in a gruff and ungrammatical fashion, and the language of Orcs. A tribe of origin should be noted, such as Orcs of the Vile Rune, as the different tribes cooperate poorly and often fight among each other.

Also, in the CREATING CHARACTERS section add a minimum of 13 Strength and a maximum of 12 Charisma.

Notes
-The level limits are reverse engineered from AD&D. For other races, most of the maximum level limits of the LBBs are one lower than that in AD&D. So, a max fighter level of 10 in AD&D gives them a corresponding max level of 9 for the LBBs (this limit is not modified by Strength as this doesn't factor in AD&D for Half-Orc Fighters).

-For OD&D, no ability score adjustments as these are AD&D additions; dwarves, elves, and hobbits don't get ability score adjustments in OD&D.

-For the Holmes entry I modified the assumption that characters appear human, as he was less humanocentric than Gygax and half-orcs appear in several Boinger and Zereth stories:


  • "Trollshead" (Dragon #31) has a number of half-orc brigands. Being brigands, these wouldn't need to look human.
  • "The Sorcerer's Jewel" (Dragon #46) has four half-orc servants of a lady in town; this is what I was thinking of - they are quickly recognizable as half-orcs to Boinger, so that indicates they aren't mistaken for humans. So orcish-looking half-orcs are okay in town in Holmes' imagined setting.
  • "Witch-Doctor" (bonus story in Tales of Peril) also has a relatively civilized half-orc character.

See also:

20 OD&D Backgrounds which includes "Orcish".

Gygaxian Orc Tribes

Friday, July 19, 2019

Save or Die! Podcast #154



I recently had the pleasure of returning as a guest on the podcast Save or Die!, this time with DMs Carl, Courtney and Chrispy, and it is now available for listening:
Save or Die! Adventure 154 - Holmes Basic
"The three hosts are together again in the latest Save Or Die! where we talk Holmes Basic with our guest the Arch Zenopus himself Zach of the Zenopus Archives. A SOD favorite gets reexplored as we take a deep dive into what makes Holmes Basic such an endearing part of D&D history."
Also, don't miss the Actual Play of the dungeon run by Carl, the first part of which is at the end of the episode (I'm not part of this).

Links for Further Reading on Topics Discussed on the Show:

The Warlock D&D Rules

Holmes Manuscript Part 3: "Elves Muse Decide"

Holmes Manuscript Part 16, covering attacks per round in combat

Holmes Manuscript Part 10, section on Magic Missile

Holmes Manuscript Part 17, section on The Parry

Article on origins of the Ochre Jelly and Blob

Summary of Tolkien References in the Blue Book

Holmes Manuscript Part 19: "If One Wanted to Use a Red Dragon..."

Holmes Manuscript Part 46: "Zenopus Built a Tower": intro to the Sample Dungeon

Zenopus Dungeon Factions, including the Thaumaturgist

Article in a New Cthulhu Zine, Bayt Al Azif issue #1

The Tower of Zenopus in Ghosts of Saltmarsh


Earlier Save or Die episodes that may be of interest:

Side Adventure 20: NTRPGCon Wrap Up 6/14/19 --- at 17:30 Carl talks about how I guested as his version of Zenopus in his Sat night Discos & Dragons game

Side Adventure 16: Favorite Boxed Set 1/7/19 --- at 8:50 Carl talks about Holmes Basic and mentions this site

Side Adventure 14: House Rules! with guest Chris Holmes 10/6/18

Episode 124: Save vs. Zenopus 7/17/16 --- my previous occasion as guest

Adventure 136: Michael Thomas on Journeymanne Rules 5/16/17

Side Adventure 12: J. Eric Holmes Seminar NTRPGCon 8/14/16 --- Audio recording of a  panel with Chris Holmes, Allan Grohe & myself 

Episode 122: Save vs. Chris Holmes 5/11/16

Episode 117: Save vs. Blueholme 11/16/15 --- guest Michael Thomas