Monday, June 25, 2018

Dimestore Bulette

They are still out there waiting to be unearthed! Above is a 1970s dimestore bulette that I recently rescued from the bottom of a bin of plastic dinosaurs at a vintage toy store. This is the Chinese-manufactured toy upon which the D&D monster was based. I had several sets of these 'Prehistoric Monsters' when I was a kid, well before I heard of D&D. We called this one Blaster, and it had two powers ---- it could "explode" itself, and travel through the ground, similar to a bulette but more like phasing.

Holmes himself owned several of these bulettes. For a picture, see this post ---

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Skull Mountain Variant by Darlene

At North Texas RPG Con last weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Darlene, an artist for TSR who did the original World of Greyhawk maps in the 1983 boxed set. I asked her to sign my original copy of the WoG Glossography, one of the books from the set. I picked this because part of her beautiful map is shown on the cover, but she relayed that she had also designed the graphics. She stared at title page for a few seconds, remembering her work.

In addition I bought a copy of her 1982 card game, Jasmine: The Battle for the Mid-Realm, which you can see here on BGG. On the bottom side of the clear box for the game I spied a Skull Mountain-esque picture I'd never seen before on one of the cards. See above.

Darlene has a page about Idshoii on her blog, which verifies that it's not just a castle, but a carving at the top of a mountain:

"Ildshoii Castle, carved from shiny black obsidian rock, rose high above a crown of volcanos. The dark castle was the domain of Melantha, the ruler of Medrylthorn ..."

Update: Here is Darlene's own intro page for the game:

JASMINE: The Battle for the Mid-Realm Collector Card Game

Friday, May 11, 2018

Maze of Peril Ch 1, Scene 6: "A Map of the Dungeons Explored So Far"

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

After deciding on a direction, the party heads east for their first bout of dungeon crawling.
Zereth and Olaf remain in the front, with the others following in a slightly different order. Zereth strings his bow (a realistic touch) and draws a "black feathered arrow", and holds them together in his left hand, ready.

They reach the first north-south cross corridor previously reported by Zereth (scouting ahead) as being 70' from the entrance stairs. Nothing can be seen down these passages. They continue east and pass another "broad side corridor" where "dried slime covered the floor and even the walls". Holmes' original playing map for these adventures indicates the reason for this - this passage leads south to the Purple Worm's lair. I love that there is a Purple Worm lair so close to the entrance of a first level dungeon.

Continuing east, Olaf then tumbles into a covered pit trap, ten feet deep, and is attacked by a grey speckled and fanged serpent, seemingly of ordinary size but presumably poisonous. It fails to bite through Olaf's leather boots and he quickly dispatches it with his sword.

They haul Olaf out with one of their ropes, and the trap door swings back into place. Bardan comments on the trap maintenance (oiled hinges and a fed snake), and then is moved to front of the party because of his "innate familiarity with the Underground made him more likely to detect pits and traps". This is an ability of dwarves straight out of OD&D, Vol 1: "they note slanting passages, traps, shifting walls and new construction in underground seetings". Bardan doesn't just "sense" these traps, but taps the ground ahead with the butt of a short spear from supplies carried by the mule.

Boinger starts mapping the dungeon, using charcoal on parchment. If we could see this map, it might look something like this:

Detail from a map by J. Eric Holmes, scan by Tristan Holmes
This is a detail from one of Holmes' original maps for the games that this story was drawn from (shown with permission from his son Tristan Holmes, who made the scan). Each square represents 10', with the main east-west passage being exactly 25' wide as noted in the previous entry of this series. On the left can be seen "Stairs Down" and "Stair to Level 2" (which was not noted by Boinger and company). The north-south passage in the middle is the first cross corridor. The wide passage from the south wall is the slimy area, which leads to the Purple Worm's lair. Finally, on the right is the pit trap, with "Trap Door live cobra" noted beside it. So at this point in the story Holmes is following his original map fairly closely.

Moving east again, the party passes more "dark side corridors, some less than five feet wide" on the north. They approach an interesting intersection with a large "round pit" at the center, illuminated by light from a hole in the ceiling extending back up to the surface.

A group of orcs comes up behind them, but they hear a cry and are not surprised. Boinger has time to get out his "short horn bow". Boinger and Zereth fire arrows at the orcs before melee is joined, much like the order of combat that Holmes gives in the Basic rulebook: "...This is followed by any missile fire, if the distance to the monsters permits, and then melee is joined..." 

This is the first combat of the book, and is told from Boinger's perspective. He fires two arrows, the first killing one orc, and then engages in melee with another orc that he defeats after some tense exchanges. Holmes' combat descriptions are vivid - the orc's breath is foul, its blood hits Boinger's face, he feels nauseated after killing it.

The orcs are Tolkien-esque, even more so than D&D as they are also referred to as "goblin-creatures" (Tolkien primarily calls them goblins in the Hobbit and orcs in the Lord of the Rings). The orcs have hog-like faces with thick red tongues, and are armed with wide-bladed falchions, iron and leather helmets and chainmail. They cry out  "Nyah-gastur", which appears to be made up by Holmes, but to me has echoes of the Lovecraftian names Nylarathotep and Hastur.

Zereth: Black Feathered Arrows

Olaf: Thick Leather Boots

Boinger: Short Horn Bow

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

David Sutherland Day 2018

Sutherland's art from the title page of the Basic rulebook

2018 update:

It's once again David Sutherland Day so I've bumped this post (previously bumped last year). David would have been 69 today. Feel free to add a new comment below about his work.

Of note, there is now a Sutherland appreciation group on Facebook called:

The Scaly Sacrarium of Sutherland

And did you know that David Sutherland made his own customized lizard warriors that resemble his drawing from the Foreword of Holmes Basic? The one at the top of this blog? See this 2013 post on the Zenopus Archives for more on this:

DCSIII Customized Saurians

Original post from 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:

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Save for Half Episode 10: Holmes Basic D&D

Episode 10 of the podcast Save for Half is dedicated to Holmes Basic D&D!

Here's the blurb: "It’s the grandaddy of Basic D&D, the blue book edited by Dr. J. Eric Holmes! This little gem from the late 1970s brings us the question of trying to sell RPGs in mass market stores. It also begs other questions, such as how many ogres you need to mug to level up, why unicorns blow, and what vampires are doing in a game that limits players’ characters to levels 1-3? All this and more will be answered on this episode of Save for Half! No ogres were harmed in the making of this episode, not even the ones with 500 gold pieces in their bags."

The links section kindly includes a link to this blog.

Listen here:

Save for Half Episode 10: Holmes Basic D&D

Two of the hosts, DMs Liz and Mike, were previously on the Save or Die podcast and I joined them on the 124th episode.

Click on the "Podcasts" label below for links to previous podcasts of interest to the Holmes Basic aficionado.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Into the Borderlands review by paleologos

Photo of the Black Blade booth by Guy Fullerton, from his Gary Con X album
(click photo for a larger view)

Advance copies of Into the Borderlands were on sale at Gary Con earlier this month, as shown above in a photo of the Black Blade Publishing booth. Also on the table are copies of Tales of Peril and issues one and two of the Holmes Basic art-inspired zine Fantastic! Exciting! Imaginative!

Dragonsfoot member paleologos purchased a copy of Into the Borderlands at the con and has now posted a comprehensive review of the book over there in the Reviews section:

Into the Borderlands (Goodman Games, 2018)

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Maze of Peril Ch 1, Scene 5: "The Ancients Worked on a Grand Scale"

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

Boinger and company now prepare to descend the staircase into the dungeon. They leave their horses behind, hobbled, but bring the mule with them. This is in line with the Basic rulebook: "Mules can often be taken into dungeons and they can carry 3,500 gold pieces. Horses can usually carry more, but lack the ability and calm necessary for dungeon expeditions", which is in turn adapted from OD&D Vol 2, "Only mules are agile enough to be taken in dungeons".

The marching order is specified, very much like a D&D party entering a dungeon. The "advance party" has a front rank of Zereth, with lit torch, and Olaf, and Haldor behind them with a second torch. Following are Murray, Bardan and finally Boinger leading the mule. The mule has shod feet that make loud "clomp-clomp" noises in the dungeon.

They descend straight down the ancient stone stair to a passageway of roughly cut stone blocks. Compare with Sample Dungeon in the Basic Rulebook: "The stairway from the surface leads twenty-five feet straight down and ends in the corridor marked START on the Dungeon Master's map."

The east-west corridor is immense, 25' high and 25' wide, leading Boinger to comment that the "ancients worked on a grand scale". Murray is less impressed, replying "this is nothing...The dungeons are endless. Some of the old books say they extend to the heart of the earth". Murray's comment indicates he is familiar with the description of the Underworld given earlier in the chapter. While the Sample Dungeon in the Basic Rulebook has standard-sized corridors (10' wide, 10' high), some of the rooms are similarly large scaled. 
Room A, for example, is 120 by 100 feet in size.

They unexpectedly find that the floor of the corridor is coated in "a trail of opalescent grey slime". Opalescent is an obscure word meaning that something shows "a glimmer of different colors when rotated or seen in different angles" (per I imagine the slime trail is illuminated in this manner as the party moves its torches about.

"Opal displaying Opalescence", from

Zereth identifies the slime as coming from a "Worm", and that it is "nearly dry. Made hours ago", suggesting some familiarity with this. The others don't question this, so they must have at least heard of what he is referring to. They then refer to it as a "creature", and worry about it encountering it, giving the sense that it is a large creature. If you are familiar with D&D, you'll certainly suspect that they are talking about a Purple Worm, although Holmes has added the detail about the slime, perhaps based on the trails of snails and slugs or simply the sliminess of earthworms.

The party debates over whether to head east or west, worrying about whether they will come up behind the monster if they go west, or have the entrance cut off if they go east.
Zereth scouts each direction in the dark using his infravision. Bardan says he thinks that Zereth can see better than him in the dark, though in D&D they both have infravision to 60'.

When Zereth returns, his eyes reflect green in the torchlight, suggesting a tapetum lucidum like found in many animals, for example cats, giving improved night vision. Holmes researched neurobiology using cats as a model animal, for example see this abstract.

Zereth reports a cross corridor 70' in either direction. While Boinger has a snack (a recurring theme), Bardan and Zereth decide to head east, based on Bardan sensing more corridors in that direction. Per the Basic Rulebook (and OD&D), dwarves are attuned to underground construction, being able to "detect slanting passages, traps, shifting walls and new construction about one-third of the time" (i.e., 1-2 in 6).

In the next scene we'll see what they find when head east down the dark corridor.


Murray: Long robe, conical hat - again this is in line with the standard D&D wizard as seen on the cover of the Basic rulebook.