Monday, April 27, 2015

Tales of Peril - Teaser

I've been authorized to share the following teaser for an exciting compilation 
to be released in a few months:

BLACK BLADE PUBLISHING’S NEW PRODUCT LINEUP

Tales of Peril - The Complete Boinger and Zereth Stories of John Eric

Holmes - edited by Allan T. Grohe Jr. 

Tales of Peril is Black Blade’s first foray into publishing fiction,
and collects all of the Boinger and Zereth dungeon adventure stories
written by John Eric Holmes (best known for editing the first Basic
Set in 1977). Featuring the novella The Maze of Peril, eight other
short stories, and Holmes’ seminal article “Confessions of a Dungeon
Master”. Allan Grohe, Chris Holmes, and Zach Howard contribute
introductions and the annotated Holmes bibliography. Coming in June
2015.


(From the back cover of Black Blade Publishing's reprint of 
Rob Kuntz's module CAS2 Tower of Blood)

More info to follow in the upcoming weeks

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

First Level Pre-gen Party


Screenshot of 1st Level Pre-Gens. Click pic for a larger view


Above is a new Holmes Ref sheet, a pre-generated party of seven 1st level characters, including Fighter, Cleric, M-U, Thief, Dwarf Fighter, Elf MU/Fighter and Hobbit Thief. For reference, the sheet also includes To-Hit and Saving Throw tables for 1st levelers.

I used two rules from OD&D. The Strength-based To-Hit bonus for Fighters, and Thief rules for Hobbits (mentioned by Holmes, but not further explained). Both rules are from Supplement I, Greyhawk, which means that the party is also compatible with OD&D plus Greyhawk. 

Since there is only one type of each character, rather than rolling random stats, I used the 'standard array' from 5th edition D&D: 15 14 13 12 10 8. This means no character has more than a +1 for any stat-based modifier. So the Strength bonus for the Fighters is just a +1 to hit for Str 13-15.

Equipment is based on 110 gp for each character, similar to my earlier Equipment Packs. The MU spent 100 gp on a 1st level scroll per the Holmes rules, but the Elf bought Chain Mail and couldn't afford a scroll.

Hit points are based on the average for each class, plus any Con bonus.

The only additional info that needs to be added is a name (perhaps using the Holmesian Random Name Generator in the upper right corner of this blog), and alignment. I left out languages due to lack of space; most TSR-era pre-gens don't include this.

For more variety in the human characters, simply add a Background.

Use this sheet in a variety of ways:
-Convention games, one-shots or quick-starts with new players.
-Give each player an entire sheet, and have them pick a character or two. Or have them pick three or four characters and run the game as a Funnel ala DCC.
-Or cut up one or more sheets and give out one character to each player.
-For DMs, use this sheet for NPCs: rival party, henchmen, rescued prisoners, etc.
-Use as a reference for typical Equipment for character creation or NPCs.

Update 3/26: Corrected the sheet to include a +10% XP for the MU. The screenshot still shows the original version but the download link goes to the corrected version.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Part 48: "The Shadow on the Gnomon"

Part 48 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 41 of your 'Blue Book' (page 40 for the 1st edition) and follow along...

Room F: As Holmes puts it plainly, "This is a magic-user's room"; he is essentially the "boss monster" of this level. This room is essential to breathing life into the dungeon as it ties together elements from other rooms, including the M-U's tower and the sea caves.

In the manuscript Holmes describes the M-U as an "evil fourth leveler" (first paragraph) and a "theurgist" (third paragraph). "Theurgist" is the correct title for a fourth level magic-user in OD&D, Vol 1. Gygax or someone else at TSR mistakenly changed this to "thaumaturgist" in both locations, which is the title for fifth level. The exact changes are:

"...an evil fourth leveler who has been trying to take over the dungeons"
"...an evil thaumaturgist (fourth level) who has been trying to take over the dungeon level"
(Note Holmes' use of "dungeons" in the original, implying a larger area)

"The theurgist is a 4th level magic-user. He can do six spells..."
"The thaumaturgist (4th level magic-user) knows six spells..."

The room is described as 50 by 60 feet, which is accurately rendered on the published map. Holmes' original map shows the work bench in the southwest corner and three statues (petrified men), and these are also shown on the published map. However, another door has gone missing in the north wall. This door is shown on the original map and referred to in the text.

The charmed fighter originally had 8 "Hits" but this was upped to 11, possibly to make for a more formidable opponent. His other ability scores are unchanged, as is the high value (1000 GP) of his ruby belt.

The M-U's list of spells includes "Protection from Good" with the aside "(he is evil)". This was changed to "(he is lawful evil)" to fit the revised 5-point alignment scheme. Note that only "Protection from Evil" is explicitly described in the M-U spell lists in the rulebook. His spells and scroll are otherwise unchanged.

Holmes gives the M-U a +1 on this saving throws because "his saving throw is better than that of magic-users of the third level". This doesn't match OD&D, Vol 1, where M-Us do not get a saving throw increase until 6th level. It does go up by 3 at that point, so perhaps Holmes was using some kind of table that smoothed out the progression? This oddity wasn't changed for the published rulebook.

The M-U's stats are changed slightly, with his wisdom being decreased from 12 to 9 for reasons unknown, and his "Hits" going up from 7 to 9.

The M-Us "wand" is changed to a "special wand", presumably because it is not found on the standard Treasure Table.

Finally, the published version adds a new sentence at the end: "He will use the wand on anybody entering his hideway". Since the "hideway" and wand are up in his tower, I picture the M-U dragging statues from the tower down to this room for decoration. One idea I've had is to have one of the statues in this room be Zenopus himself.

DM Guidance
-NPCs are given a stat block with a full set of ability scores, level and "Hits"
-NPC behavior for the M-U and charmed Fighter
-Random rule: the M-U has a 50% chance of dropping his scroll while fleeing

ROOM G: This is the now-standard room filled with trash and giant rats. Is this is its first appearance in a TSR adventure?

Holmes had the room written as "Room G - is dark and gloomy". TSR changes this to "Room G - Gloomy", which fits the room's letter code better. "Garbage" might be a better descriptor, given that the floor is covered with rocks and rubbish "four feet high".

Once again, the published map is missing a door (in the south wall) shown on the original map and mentioned in the text. I'll have to put together an errata list for these.

The big change here is that Holmes' original has but a single giant rat with 1 HD, which Gygax changes to 2-8 giant rats with 2 hit points each. In the published version the text still refers to "its nest", a clue that it originally referred to just a single rat. The change follows the general trend - Holmes' original dungeon was gentler, for smaller groups, and Gygax increased the difficulty of many of the encounters.

At the time Holmes wrote this, there wasn't a separate monster entry for a "Giant Rat". Instead they fell under the "Giant Animals and Insects" entry that Holmes included in the manuscript. These creatures don't have set stats except that hit dice generally match the dungeon level, which explains why Holmes gave this rat 1 HD. Gygax deleted the entry for "Giant Animals and Insects", which left these giant rats stranded without any hit dice, though with 2 hit points it's easy to figure out they should attack as under 1 HD. The second edition of the rulebook finally revised the Monster List to include giant rats with 1/2 HD, ported back from the Monster Manual. These also do only 1-3 points of damage per hit, whereas Holmes' original would deal the default 1-6. Still, with an average of 5 rats in the room, the encounter is made more challenging.


The treasure is changed in two ways. The silver dagger originally had no value, and Gygax adds "50 gp". (This can be used as a general value for silver daggers, which are missing from the equipment list). In the original, the bag contains 50 gold pieces, which Gygax changes to electrum pieces. Holmes left copper, electrum and platinum out of the manuscript, but Gygax added these back, and put each in the Sample Dungeon.

DM Guidance:
-In Holmes' original version, this provided an example of a "Giant Animal or Insect"
-An example of hidden treasure, takes 1 turn of searching the garbage to find
-An xample of an 'improvised rule' as suggested by Holmes on page 40: the small size and abundant garbage allows the rats to hide in the shadows, but "An elf or a dwarf might spot them (on a roll of say 1 or 2 on a six-sided die)" - presumably due to infravision

ROOM H: This room introduces an underground river that ties together rooms H, K, L and M. The room is described as 80 by 50 feet with a 50-foot wide river and a 15-foot bank on each side. The map as published has the room the right size, but shows the river as only about 25 feet wide. The text describes a 20-foot ceiling, whereas earlier corridors were stated to be 10 feet high. The staircase into the dungeon is 25 feet high, so either the surface is five feet above this room or the ground above is higher here.

This room contains neither monster nor treasure, so its not surprising that there are no changes at all from the manuscript to the published rulebook.

DM Guidance:
-An example of a dangerous obstacle to be surmounted or circumvented.
-More "stealth bonuses" for high stats (as in Room A), known only to the DM - high strength (15+) prevents being swept away by the current, high constitution (12+) prevents damage from being swept away
-Some rules for swimming; if you are wearing armor you will sink unless you shed armor which takes 1 turn. Drowning damage is 1 die per turn. Room M later refers back to these as "information on drowning" and says "assume that all characters known how to swim"
 
ROOM I: This is the room with the bronze sundial and mask. Again, another room without monster or treasure with no changes as published.

The talking "bronze mask" resembles a "Brazen Head" of medieval times. 
See the Brazen Head of Zenopus.

DM Guidance:
An example of a puzzle room, where the characters gain a boon if it is solved

Go Back to Part 45: "The Occupants Are Goblins"
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Zargon Beckons



Over on Dragonsfoot, paleologos has proposed an extensive 'campaign sourcebook' to supplement the module B4 The Lost City (1982) by Tom Moldvay. The compilation will include retrospectives, background material and expansions (he did this before for B1, which you can find via this page). He is soliciting authors for various topics; see the proposed table of contents. He is also asking for artwork contributions, which inspired me to sketch the above monstrosity. Furthermore, he's started a thread on Holmes Basic section of the OD&D Discussion board to discuss any possible connections with the Holmes rules. This was one of the earliest B/X modules and there is the possibility that is was originally written for the earlier Basic set, like B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (as confirmed by Frank Mentzer).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Visualizing Castle Greyhawk

In memory of Gary Gygax (July 27, 1938 – March 4, 2008), here is a glimpse of Castle Greyhawk using his words & some relevant pictures.


Walled City[1]

"To the east of the busy walled city of Greyhawk the land is forsaken, overgrown with thorns and thistles. Oozing marsh creeps slowly down. The copses are huddles of weird, bloated trees. The wiry grass seems to grasp at the feet of any who dare to tread upon it. In the center of this unwholesome place, on a rock-boned prominence, hulks the ruin of the grim Greyhawk Castle..."[2]


Castle[3]

"The fallen west gate of Greyhawk Castle was at hand, and through this mouldering portal the party passed. In a few moments they had entered the great central keep, heaved open an inner door, and carefully proceeded down a set of winding stone steps---steps worn with age and slippery with dampness. They had entered the dungeons."[2]



Castle Courtyard with Keep[4]

"... Old Greyhawk Castle was 13 levels deep. 

The first level was a simple maze of rooms and corridors..."[5]


One version of Castle Greyhawk Level 1[6]

"The second level had two unusual items, a nixie pool and a fountain of [endless] snakes.

The third featured a torture chamber and many small cells and prison rooms..."[5]


Castle Greyhawk Level 3[6]

"The fourth was a level of crypts and undead. 

The fifth was centered around a strange font of black fire and gargoyles. 

The sixth was a repeating maze with dozens of wild hogs (3 dice) in inconvenient spots, naturally backed up by appropriate numbers of wereboars. 

The seventh was centered around a circular labyrinth and a street of masses of ogres. 

The eighth through tenth levels were caves and caverns featuring trolls, giant insects, and a transporter nexus with an evil wizard (with a number of tough associates) guarding it. 

The eleventh level was the home of the most powerful wizard in the castle. He had balrogs as servants. The remainder of the level was populated by Martian white apes, except the sub-passage system underneath the corridors which was full of poisonous critters with no treasure. 

Level twelve was filled with dragons. 

The bottom level, number thirteen, contained an inescapable slide which took the players “clear through to China”, from whence they had to return via “Outdoor Adventure”.

It was quite possible to journey downward to the bottom level by an insidious series of slanting passages which began on the second level, but the likelihood of following such a route unknowingly didn’t become too great until the seventh or eighth level

Side levels included a barracks with orcs, hobgoblins, and gnolls continually warring with each other, a museum, a huge arena, an underground lake, a giant’s home, and a garden of fungi."[5]

Notes:

[1] Art (uncredited) from Outdoor Geomorphs Set One: Walled City by Gary Gygax (TSR, 1977). The sample encounters from this set reference City of Greyhawk locations, so the art is possibly a picture of the city. 

[2] Excerpts from The Expedition into the Black Reservoir by Gary Gygax (El Conquistador, 1975).

[3] "Bodenburg Castle was used as the original model for the ruined upper works of Greyhawk Castle. Gygax had one in his basement at 330 Center Street" - caption for historical display by Paul Stormberg at Gary Con VI. Photo is by Allan Grohe (grodog).

[4] Siege at Bodenburg Map Inset. Source: The Army Men Homepage.


[5] Excerpt from "How to Set Up Your Dungeons & Dragons Campaign" by Gary Gygax (Europa #6-8, April 1975) & "'Greyhawk' had a fountain on its second level which issued endless numbers of snakes" (Greyhawk, 1975).

[6] Two Levels of the Real Castle Greyhawk by Random Wizard (2013). See also Gygax Castle Greyhawk Map thread at the Knights & Knaves Alehouse. These were maps that Gary was using to run the Castle at conventions in the last decade of his life. Please note that these maps, while appearing old, may not be the original maps for these levels; notably, the first dungeon level of the published Castle Zagyg uses a different map.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Holmes Basic Testimonials


     2015 update: Today is the 85th anniversary of the birth of J. Eric Holmes, Feb 16th, 1930. I'm reposting this testimonial thread for anyone who wishes to express their appreciation. Feel free to comment again if you added one previously.

    A few months ago I heard from Chris Holmes, who wrote: "What a bunch of touching tributes you guys wrote.  I was delighted and moved to read them.  I liked the mention of Dad’s enthusiasm and style.  He was infectiously enthusiastic about many things, not surprisingly he was one of the most popular professor's at USC med school ...  I have enjoyed the Zenopus Archives a lot and you should thank your contributors for me."

    On Chris Holmes' behalf, as well as my own, I thank you all for reading and commenting on this thread and the rest of the blog.

     2013 update: If you haven't contributed previously, or want to add more, please leave a comment below. I plan to bump this post annually on this date. Thanks to everyone who  responded last year!

     And some great news: Thanks to Dave at There's Dungeons Down Under, I was just alerted to a tweet from Steve Winter a few days ago that the original artwork by David Sutherland III for the Holmes Basic set has been found in a crate at the Wizards headquarters! I'd never heard anything about this art before and just assumed it was lost to the sands of time. Steve comments: "I'm pretty sure it's going to get a beauty treatment (new frame, protective glass, etc.) and hang in the gallery by #DnD R&D."

     Original Post: Today marks the birthday of J. Eric Holmes (1930-2010). As a tribute I was hoping everyone could tell us why they like the Holmes Basic Set. To facilitate this I've added a new section titled "Holmes Basic Testimonials" to the Zenopus Archives website, which will link to threads (this post & various forums) where you can talk about the Bluebook.

     Tell us how you started with Holmes Basic, or remember it fondly for other reasons, or came to appreciate it later, or are using it now, or just plain like reading through it.

     Why do I like the Holmes Basic set? Well, it was my first D&D set, and left an indelible impression on my psyche. But I also like it because because it's a concise edit of the original D&D invention by an enthusiastic volunteer who was both a player of the game and long-time fan of fantasy literature. It's not necessarily perfect but has a strong vibe of "this game is awesome so I want to share it with as many folks as possible, so here's an introductory version". 

     I could go on and on, but I'd like to hear from everyone else.

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


Holmes Day 2015

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Dr. Holmes (1930-2010), and I've bumped my "Testimonials" post from previous years. When I do this, it goes to the top of my blog but doesn't enter my RSS feed. Hence this marker post. If you haven't done so before (or want to again), please go there and leave a comment:

Holmes Basic Testimonials

Or write one on your own blog! Here are some posts from 2013 by other bloggers: http://initiativeone.blogspot.com/2013/02/holmes-d-testimonial.html http://dreamscapedesign.net/2013/02/16/john-eric-holmes-m-d-1621930-2032010/ http://docschottslab.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/an-origin-story/