Monday, January 30, 2012

Jean Wells, author and illustrator

Jean Wells' illustration of the Eye of the Deep from the original Monster Manual

     
     It's been reported that Jean Wells, former TSR employee best remembered for authoring the module B3 Palace of the Silver Princess, has passed away at age 56. The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope has information from her former TSR co-worker Steve Sullivan, who provided art for B3.

     Her other work for TSR is often overlooked in the attention given to the events surrounding the recall of the original orange-covered B3 and republication with a green-cover (revised by Tom Moldvay). However, in addition to writing B3, Jean was also the original Sage for the Sage Advice column in Dragon magazine, and contributed art to several TSR products such as the fourth revision (Aug 1979) of the original Monster Manual, where she provided the Eye of the Deep (see above), Giant (Sumatran) Rat, Otyugh (with "Dave"), and probably Violet Fungi (the signature is illegible). These were the last illustrations added to the original Monster Manual. The Eye of the Deep was always a favorite of mine.

     In the original orange-covered B3, she drew the area map on page 5 (signed Jean Wells), and the half-page illustration of Travis on page 15 is signed "JW, SS" (presumably Jean Wells, Steve Sullivan). Some other pictures are unsigned (possibly cropped) and could be hers as well.

Jean Wells' area map from the original orange-covered B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (1981) module

     She's also credited with interior art for Lost Tamoachan (which I've never seen), the original tournament version of C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan.  See here at Tome of Treasures. That site also has a partial list of her TSR credits, which I used together with the above information to put together a partial bibliography:

Jean Wells - TSR Bibliography
Monster Manual (1979) - Interior Art for Aug 1979 revision
S2 White Plume Mountain (1979) - Editor
Lost Tamaochan (1979) - Interior Art and other help
Rogues Gallery (1980) - Design (Co-Author), Editing, Layout; includes her character Ceatitle
B2 Keep on the Borderlands (1980) - Editor
B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (1981) - Author and Interior Art
A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords (1981) - Interior Art
Polyhedron #3 (Winter 1981) - Interior Art ("Plant Creature" = Jupiter Blood Sucker from B3)
Polyhedron #4 (Jan 1982) - Interior Art (illustration of Duchess and Candella)
Sage Advice column in Dragon (years?)

This is undoubtedly incomplete, so let me know if you know of anything else.

See also Grognardia's excellent two-part interview with Jean from 2010: Part 1. Part 2.

Jean Wells' illustration of her characters Duchess and Candella who appear in B3, from Polyhedron #4 (1982).



Adding the DMG Sample Dungeon to B2

B2 Wilderness Map showing the seldom used road to the ruined monastery

     While reading Timrod's posts on the 1E DMG Sample Dungeon, and re-reading the original material (pg 94-100), I noticed some similarities to B2 that would make it easy to combine the two.

     Timrod mentioned Gygax's description of the ruined monastery as being near the edge of a fen on a low mound connected by a causeway, and surrounded by "a few clumps of brush and tamarack here and there (probably on bits of higher ground)". This immediately brought to mind the B2 Wilderness Map, the lower half of which shows fens (home of the lizard man mound) and a tamarack stand (where the large spiders dwell). Tamarack is a type of larch, a conifer unusual in losing its needles in the winter, that grows in boggy areas in the northern central U.S. and Canada. And perhaps the Wisconsin wilderness that Gygax was familiar with?

     In addition to the visible entrance to the ruined monastery, a "refuse-strewn flight of steep and worn stairs leading downward" to area 1, Gygax also mentions a "secret entrance/exit from the place" when describing the large-scale area map (not shown in the DMG). I suspect that the secret exit is hidden in the "fairly dense cluster of the same type of growth approximately a half mile beyond the abandoned place" that Gygax notes without other reason (as Timrod notes). This exit must be some distance away if it is shown on the area map but not the map of the monastery grounds (also mentioned but not shown). I would also guess this exit connects to the stairs going up in area 39 of the crypts. These stairs go up only 20 feet, whereas the entrance stairs go down 30 feet, so they could lead to a tunnel 10' under the surface that leads further south. The entire crypt area is secret from the monastery cellars, so it would make sense if it led to a secret exit from the place. The evil cleric and hobgoblins in area 35-37 may be using this exit to come and go from the dungeon, particularly since the secret door in area 3 seems difficult to traverse. Based on these assumptions, I'd place the approach to the monastery to the north, with the swamp and secret exit to the south. Gygax further described the approach as starting with a "two mile trek along a seldom used road".

     To put all of this together with the B2 map, I've added a dashed line to indicate the disused road leading to the monastery. The squares on the B2 map are 100 yards, which means the dashed line shows a little over a mile, and the monastery is about another mile along the road on the northern edge of the fens to the north of the river. The "5" is simply to mark the direction to the new area on the map.

     Gygax suggests starting the adventure in a village, with a villager (in reality a thief) telling the party of the monastery and guiding them there, but it would be easy enough to place this individual in the tavern of the Keep. Or even just placing rumor of the monastery in the list of rumors.

     Gygax only briefly indicates the dwellers in the ruined monastery, but these include bandits in rooms 4-5 (monastery cellars) and a 3rd level evil cleric with hobgoblins in rooms 35-37 (in the hidden crypt section). The bandits' lair could be a base for the bandits spying on the keep (Area 2 on the B2 Wilderness Map). And the evil cleric associated with evil humanoids and undead immediately suggests a connection to the Shrine of Evil Chaos (Area K) of the Caves of Chaos.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Random Freebie of the Month (Jan)

      Last month I gave away a Holmes Basic set to a random poster. I am going to try to make this a monthly feature where I give away extras or other items I don't need. This month it's a map that I have an extra copy of (photo above). It's titled "City State Campaign Map One" and was actually Judges Guild #18, first printed in 1977 - the same year Holmes Basic debuted. That's right - this map by itself was the entire product #18. It's a DM's Map so it shows all of the relevant features (#19 was the corresponding Player's Map and is mostly blank except for coastlines). The picture above shows 1/4 of the poster-sized map (it's twice folded).  As you might guess from the title this is the first map of the City State / Wilderlands series and shows the region where The City State of the Invicible Overlord is located (on a part of the map not shown above). Tegel, where the famous Tegel Manor is located, is also shown (I highlighted it above on the photo of the map).

     As before, post here if you are interested in this. In a few days I'll pick someone randomly by dice roll from the posts. Free U.S. Shipping, outside the U.S. you'll need to have PayPal to cover the shipping difference.

Update: We just made the official dice roll on one of our low-impact d12s from a Holmes Basic Set. The winner is #4! Scottsz, please send your mailing address to zenopus archives (one word) at gmail dot com.

Friday, January 27, 2012

5E Caves of Chaos, pt II


     The blog Wielding a Bohemian Earspoon uncovered this photo taken during a 5E (aka D&D Next) playtest, showing a playtest copy of "Dungeon Module B2 - The Caves of Chaos by Gary Gygax". I can't make out the rest of the credit, except perhaps for Bruce Cordell's name. WOTC previously announced they would be using this module for the playtests. The cover illustration is a 2005 re-imagining of the Caves by Michael Kormack (which I happened to see for the first time last week).

Monday, January 23, 2012

Unfrozen Caveman Dice-Chucker: DMG Sample Dungeon

     

     I have a fondness for Sample Dungeons. Not just the Zenopus dungeon - all of them from various TSR products. So I enjoyed reading Timrod's new series at Unfrozen Caveman Dice-Chucker delving into the 1E AD&D DMG Sample Dungeon (by Gary Gygax). There are two entries so far:


    As an aside, a redrawn version of the map for this dungeon appeared again as a sample dungeon in the 3.0E DMG, and then a finished 3.0E version of this dungeon by Jonathan Tweet appeared in Dungeon #84 (2001) under the title Dungeon of the Fire Opal (still available from Paizo as a pdf).

     By the way, the illustration in Timrod's blog banner is from the early versions of the Blue Book. It's by DCSIII and shows a party of three facing off against a purple worm. It was originally found below the Purple Worm monster entry but was deleted in the 2nd Edition (Nov 78) when the Monster List entries were reformatted. Not surprising as Timrod is yet another blogger who started with the Blue Book. See his 2010 post, Primordial D&D, discussing this in the wake of the passing of Holmes. 

Edit: Here's the Dragonsfoot version of the DMG Sample Dungeon. It's called The Monastery of the Order of the Crimson Monks, and is for levels 5-9:

http://www.dragonsfoot.org/php4/archive.php?sectioninit=FE&fileid=309&watchfile=0

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Tower of Zenopus - free WOTC download (2008)

START of the Tower of Zenopus Sample Dungeon

     With the talk of 1E reprints and hope for a return of the official oldschool D&D pdfs, I'll note one free D&D pdf that has remained officially available from WOTC for the past three years: the Sample Dungeon from the Blue Book. In October 2008, in conjunction with the release of the 4th edition starter set, the wizards.com website featured a retrospective on past D&D Basic Sets by Bart Caroll. This retrospective covered only the Holmes and Mentzer Basic Sets, and included free downloads from the Sample Dungeon found in each:
(be warned, the quality of the scans is poor albeit readable):

http://www.wizards.com/dnd/files/Basic_1977.pdf (Tower of Zenopus, by J. Eric Holmes)
Ignore the first page of this pdf, as the scenario actually begins on page 2. Also note, while it is labeled "1977 Dungeon", it's actually from a later revised version ('78 or '79) of the Blue Book, which replaces the original, tougher "enormous spider" with a standard giant spider.

http://www.wizards.com/dnd/files/Basic_1983.pdf (Mistamere Castle, by Frank Mentzer)

     Carroll makes a nice comparison between the two: "What did these two sets have in common? Both provided an introductory assemblage of the rules, allowing players to experience the first few levels of the game. Both provided newcomer DMs with a sample dungeon to fill out, and both suggested an evil wizard as the final adversary to an intro adventure".

     However, the retrospective also places a picture of the Skull Mountain graphic by a quote from the intro to the Sample Dungeon, perpetuating an occasional misperception that the Sample Dungeon is part of Skull Mountain, which it is not. The Sample Dungeon is under a town on the sea (Portown); Skull Mountain is a huge dungeon inside a mountain and is not described in any other way other than the cross-sectional graphic.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Blue Boxer Rebellion: What's in the Blue Box?

Blue Boxer Rebellion, another blogger who started with Holmes Basic (but who I wasn't aware of when I last updated the list), has a cool graphic breaking down the sections of the Blue Book by %:

http://blueboxerrebellion.blogspot.com/2012/01/infographic-whats-in-blue-box.html

Monsters come in at #1 with 26%, with magic items at #2 with 12%. Magic together (spells plus magic items) totals 20%.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Holmes' review of Merritt's Burn Witch Burn!


     Earlier today, James at Grognardia wrote, as part of his Open Friday column, that "today is the 128th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Merritt, the early 20th century pulp writer admired by both H.P. Lovecraft and Gary Gygax" and "During his lifetime, he was a highly successful and well-paid journalist and editor and several of his stories (Seven Footsteps to Satan and Burn Witch Burn!) were made into motion pictures. Nowadays, though, his name is barely known, let alone lauded, which is frankly a pity, as Merritt's best work is indeed worthy". James later followed up that the movie version of Burn Witch Burn! is called The Devil-Doll, rather than the movie Burn Witch Burn, which is instead based on a Leiber story.

     Later in the day I remembered that J. Eric Holmes reviewed Burn Witch Burn/Creep Shadow Creep on Amazon in 2002. It's his only fantasy review there, and just about the last thing I've found that he wrote in public. He gets the movie right as Barrymore is in The Devil-Doll (1936).

      Holmes' review of BWB/CSC on Amazon:

      "Merrit wrote spooky fantasy for Argosy Magazine in the 1920-1930s. Fans argue endlessly about which is his best. These stories are pretty good. (Shadow is a sort of sequel to Burn Witch Burn.) The evil old witch makes lifelike dolls that come to life and kill people. She is brought down by a rational doctor and a superstitious Mafia boss. Made into a movie with Lionel Barrymore as the witch (really!). Strong stuff for the time it was written."


     I've read Merritt's Dwellers in the Mirage and Face in the Abyss, which are each "lost world" adventure stories with elements of horror. I would recommend them to anyone that likes Haggard, Burroughs, Howard or Lovecraft, particularly Dwellers, which I liked the best of the two. I have yet to read BWB! or CSC!.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Caves of Chaos (2005) by Michael Komarck



     The above image was posted on the Acaeum today by darkseraphim; it's a 2005 painting by Michael Komarck titled "Caves of Chaos (2005)", which I like. I hadn't seen the painting before, nor heard of the artist. His website indicates that it is an interior illustration for the 3.5E Players Handbook II, and that prints are available for purchase:

http://komarckart.com/bk_int14.html

     In some ways the style of the landscape/clouds reminds me of "The Fountain of Vaucluse" (1841) by Thomas Cole,  which Wizard in a Bottle posted last fall as a "Keep on the Borderlands inspirational painting" (it shows a keep on a rocky plateau). The two pics could be used together to illustrate a more mountainous/rocky Keep and CoC.

I also just noticed that Mythmere blogged about this painting by Komarck last year:
Best picture from WOTC
Interior Illustration for the D&D rulebook Players Handbook II.

WOTC to reprint 1E AD&D MM, PHB and DMG


They even used the original text font (Futura) in the bullet points!

Now where's the Blue Book to go with these? ; )

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Holmes & de Camp in Dragon magazine


     Another point of intersection between J. Eric Holmes & L. Sprague de Camp is Dragon magazine. In the 1970s, Gary Gygax was corresponding with a number of authors, including at least Holmes, de Camp,  Fritz Leiber and Gardner Fox, which led to each having one or more short stories published in Dragon (Holmes' first book, Mahars of Pellucidar, was published in 1976). This lead to the coincidental simultaneous appearance or mention of de Camp's and Holmes' work in several issues of Dragon.

     Dragons #15 and #16 (June and July 1978) have a two-part reprint of The Green Magician, the final Harold Shea/Incomplete Enchanter story by de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, which was out-of-print at the time. The cover of Dragon #15 (pictured above), by Dave Trampier, illustrates a scene from this story. Interspersed with the story in each issue is a full-page advertisement for Gen Con XI (Aug 17-20, 1978) that mentions "special D&D Events for beginners DMed by J. Eric Holmes" (pg 30).


     In addition, Dragon #16 also contains a letter to the editor from Holmes, a rebuttal to a reader's letter in Dragon #14 criticizing the Cthulhu mythos article in Dragon #12 by Holmes and Kuntz.

     Dragon #31 (Nov 1979) has Holmes' first Boinger and Zereth short story for Dragon, Trollshead. In the Sorceror's Scroll column in the same issue, Gary Gygax mentions the Incomplete Enchanter as inspiring the G-series of modules (pg 28-29).

Dragon #46 (Feb 1981) has Holmes' second Boinger and Zereth short story, The Sorcerer's Jewel. This issue also has a Boot Hill scenario by Roger E. Moore called "This Here's Tyrannosaurus Tex (pg 28-29), which cites a book by de Camp and his wife, The Day of the Dinosaur (1968), for inspiration.

Friday, January 13, 2012

de Camp's Great Stone Skull

 Detail from King Conan #4 (1980), Marvel, art by John Buscema

     Today we head back to the Blue Book, where the illustrated "Sample Cross Section of Levels" features a "Great Stone Skull" on "Stone Mountain", known colloquially as "Skull Mountain". A "Great Stone Skull" also appears in the Conan story “Shadows in the Skull” by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. This story is most easily found in the book Conan of Aquilonia (1977), a compilation of four Conan stories, but was first published as the featured story in the February 1975 issue of Fantastic magazine. This places the story’s first publication before that of the Holmes Basic Set in mid-1977.

     This late story (completely non-Howard) recounts King Conan's search for the sorcerer Thoth-Amon in a region far to the south of Zembabwei. Traveling south with son Conn on flying dragons, they spot a strange rock formation:

     "Following his son's indication, Conan peered through the haze and saw a curious thing. This was a mountain of chalk white stone, the lower slope of which had been rudely carved into the shape of an immense grinning death's head. 

     Conan's barbarian heritage of superstition rose within him, bringing a gasp of awe to his lips and a prickling of premonition to his skin. The Great Stone Skull, whereof Rimush [royal soothsayer of Zembabwei] had spoken!

    Conan's blazing blue eyes stabbed through the murk. Ahead a flat, barren strip of dead earth stretched to the foot of the cliff. There, the black arch of a portal yawned. Its lintel was carved like the fanged upper jaw of a skull. From the upper works peered two round ports, like the eye sockets of a skull. It was an eerie thing to see" (pg 145-146). 

     The Great Stone Skull of the Blue Book is an entrance to a dungeon leading to an underground city ("The Domed City"). Likewise, the Great Stone Skull of the Conan story turns out to be the entrance to a dwelling of "prehuman serpent-folk", former rulers of the world, and the last allies of Thoth-Amon.

     This story was later illustrated in King Conan #4 (Marvel, Dec 1980; see detail above). While it remains to be shown conclusively whether the details of the Sample Cross Section illustration originate with Dr. Holmes or someone else at TSR (e.g., the artist, probably DCSIII), there is a feature similar to "The Pit" in Holmes' later novel Maze of Peril: an open hole leading straight down into the Underworld. Furthermore, Holmes was a fan of Conan: he wrote in his 1980 Psychology Today article that his "players have wandered ... through worlds created by ... Robert E. Howard".


Update: In 2014, we learned that the Skull Mountain drawing is by Tom Wham, and is not present in the Holmes Manuscript. Thus, it would seem that any influence de Camp's "Great Stone Skull" on this drawing would have come solely through Wham and not Holmes.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

5E Caves of Chaos

The Keep on the Borderlands, 5th edition playtest version, detail from the advertisement on the WOTC site

"When I wrote B2 I aimed at providing an exciting scenario for as wide a range of DMs and players as I possibly could. That you and your friends enjoyed it as much after 20 odd years time between adventuring in the module means that the mark I aimed at was hit well"
     -Gary Gygax, 2004, EN World forum post

     WOTC is going back to the basics for 5E - and Holmes Basic, at that. Well, at least for the first announced playtest scenario, which will use a version of B2 Keep on the Borderlands. This module was originally written by Gary Gygax specifically to serve as an introductory module for the Holmes Basic Set. It's also not really surprising, given that Mike Mearl's blog (not updated since last April) is called The Keep on the Gaming Lands. In 2010, he mentioned his "lunchtime Keep on the Borderlands game", and way back in 2008 he described the "Environs of the Caves" (what he changed about the Caves of Chaos) in a KotB game he was putting together. This also follows WOTC's trend of using updated versions of classic modules for new editions (such as Village of Hommlet and Beyond the Crystal Cave for 4E).  

     Here's the relevant portion from the Wizards website (thanks to Dungeon Fantastic for bringing this my attention earlier today):


D&D Experience, the premier convention for fans of Dungeons & Dragons, is nearly upon us. D&D Experience offers players the opportunity to playtest unreleased game material...
D&D Secret Special: Caves of Chaos Playtest

Join the first public playtest of the next iteration of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. The playtest offers players the chance to run pre-generated 1st-level characters through the Caves of Chaos, a four-hour D&D adventure. Wizards of the Coast staff will be running several tables each day. As part of the playtest, participants must sign a special non-dislcosure agreement for playtesters.
Adventure Description: For years, Castellan Keep has stood on civilization’s frontier, commanding a grand view of that dismal realm known as the Borderlands. A forlorn place, rife with monsters and terrors beyond imagining, adventurers have used this fort to seek glory and plunder in this dangerous realm, to unearth fabulous treasures and destroy foul monsters. Of all the haunts found here, none equal the Caves of Chaos in both danger and the promise of reward. Rumors abound of the wicked humanoids, the sinister monsters, and the dark priests that run amok in this dungeon. Only the most cunning and bold adventurers dare to face the dreaded caverns. Do you have what it takes to survive the Caves of Chaos?

Seminars
Charting the Course: An Edition for all Editions (Thursday)
Join Mike Mearls, Monte Cook, and Jeremy Crawford as they discuss the origin for the idea to create an edition of Dungeons & Dragons that encompasses all previous editions. The designers discuss the challenges in creating compatibility and balance, as well as the exciting possibilities such a system creates. Seminar to be followed by a Q&A session.

* * * * *

"There probably have been more copies of B2 printed than any other role-playing scenario" - Heroic Worlds by Lawrence Schick, 1991 (pg 135).

"The total print run for B2 is easily in excess of a million and a half units" - "Looking Back" by Ryan Dancey in The Story of TSR, 1999 (pg 27).



For more quotes from Gygax about B2, see Gygax on B2.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Hobbit animated (1966)

Gandalf's Tower from The Hobbit cartoon (1964)

Above is a screenshot from a little-known 1966 cartoon of The Hobbit, which is all of twelve minutes long. I saw this reported on Sacnoth's Scriptorium this morning, and just watched it over on Grognardia. Or you can read the original news (and watch the video) on Gene Deitch's blog or read a story about it on the Escapist.

Highlights:
-Reminds me of a Fractured Fairy Tale from the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show
-The art is very 60's style children's illustration...and strangely like the Cor Blok art on this year's Tolkien Calendar
-"Slag the Dragon" - mainly interested in jewelry
-The Dwarves are downsized to Thorin, a Princess, and one random guard
-Credit sequence - nice font
-Gandalf's tower - where did he live anyway?
-Gnarly trolls (or whatever they call them) that turn to trees in the sun
-Bilbo & company build a giant crossbow to shoot Slag with the Arkenstone!
-Bilbo reigns in Dale (with the Princess) before returning to the Shire (still with the Princess, naturally) until next time (LOTR, obviously).

Conan on the River of Doom

Battle of Zama, courtesy Google Images, illustrator not indicated

Previously I discussed Dr. Holmes' appreciation for the works of L. Sprague de Camp, particularly an obscure novel titled Solomon's Stone. Holmes not only a fan of de Camp - he also worked for him at one point as a contracted author! This was described in an article written by John Martin in 1995, titled "In the Burroughs Tradition: John Eric Holmes and the Mahars of Pellucidar", published in Paperback Parade #42. The article is based on an extensive interview that Martin conducted with Holmes, which naturally focused on his Pellucidar work (D&D receives the briefest of mentions). John Martin later included part of the original article in rewritten form in an Edgardemain internet article titled, "John Eric Holmes: Mahars of Pellucidar and Red Axe of Pellucidar". The original version has a bit more detail, and quotes Holmes directly, so I'll reproduced the relevant paragraphs here:

"Awhile back, he had a contract with L. Sprague de Camp to write a Conan novel "I wrote two-thirds of CONAN ON THE RIVER OF DOOM, and then they changed editors and the new editor said he didn't want a Conan book set in Africa and that project died, although I did get paid. The nice thing about dealing with L. Sprague de Camp," he said, "was that de Camp took the writer's side and wrote contracts in such a way that a write could keep the rights to his material, even if it was turned down by the publisher."

"He's thought of simply programming his computer to change Conan's name to something else and finish and submit the story elsewhere. But instead of that, "I thought of another way I wanted to come at it. I decided I wanted to do some other historical things about Africa with it and I wanted to start off with the battle of the Plains of Zama where Hannibal is defeated by Scipio Africanus, and have my hero be part of Hannibal's army that escapes into the interior of Africa, and ends up with a 'searching out of the river monsters' kind of quest," Holmes said."

Holmes' revision has never been published, and it's unclear whether it was ever finished.

I'm not sure what year his contract with de Camp would have been...sometime in the early '80s? Perhaps the Bantam Editions from 1978-1982, which L. Sprague de Camp was heavily involved with. The last of these was the novelization of the Conan the Barbarian in '82. Perhaps someone with more knowledge of when de Camp stopped editing Conan could provide some insight.

Holmes may have been drawn to the African locale based on his appreciation for Burrough's Tarzan stories. The Martin article also describes how as an eight-year old living in Hawaii, Holmes met Burroughs and had him sign a copy of Tarzan and the Leopard Men. And while on the subject of Africa and aquatic monsters, I'll also note that Holmes also wrote a fantasy supplement for Avalon Hill's Source of the Nile game, published in The Dragon #24, April 1979, where explorers in the game have a chance of finding a city of survivors of lost Atlantis who have a sacred pool inhabited by a "mosasaurus, a gigantic aquatic dinosaur which has miraculously survived the eons in the lost city".

John Martin also wrote a moving account of the memorial service for Dr. Holmes in 2010.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Vote Bluebook for 5E!

WOTC: In short, we want a game that is as simple or complex as you please, its action focused on combat, intrigue, and exploration as you desire. We want a game that is unmistakably D&D, but one that can easily become your D&D, the game that you want to run and play.

Me: Take the Holmes Basic Rulebook, clean it up a bit to make it fully compatible with AD&D 1E, expand it to 10 character levels but keep it under 50 pages. There's your 5th edition "Core". Sell it in a box with an awesome module at a price that will place one under every Christmas tree in the land. Then re-release a streamlined AD&D 1E as your 5E optional "Expansion". Done.

Holmes on Solomon's Stone by de Camp

Solomon's Stone (1957) by L. Sprague de Camp, cover art by Ric Binkley
     
Last month Theodric of Mythopoeic Rambling noted that the dedication of Dr. Holmes' novel The Maze of Peril is to three people for literary inspiration: Tolkien, Lovecraft and L. Sprague de Camp. Theodric wrote: "I can't say much of anything about his naming L. Sprague de Camp, as I believe I have only read his S&S anthology and his Compleat Enchanter. Others may have more to offer here, although, an obvious connection to be made is that both men were avid fans of Howard and Lovecraft. Perhaps there is something about de Camp's attempts to combine the zany and the scholarly in his work that attracted Dr. Holmes? Further, they have in common the effort to keep dead authors' universes alive by penning new (or finishing incomplete) works set within them."

I commented that I'd write something about de Camp and Holmes when I got a chance. So, to finally elaborate, Holmes refers to de Camp's work several times in his 1981 book, Fantasy Role-Playing Games (which predates The Maze of Peril by about five years). First, in chapter 3, Holmes includes de Camp in a discussion of "literary inspiration for the worlds of fantasy role playing games": "most fantasy games are closer to the wild, blood-thirsty worlds of Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp [than Tolkien] ... De Camp's The Compleat Enchanter discusses magic as a separate kind of reality with its own rules of logic" (page 46).

However, later in the book (chapter 13), Holmes discusses another de Camp story more extensively:

"Years before Dungeons & Dragons was invented, L. Sprague de Camp wrote a story called "Solomon's Stone," published in 1942 in the magazine Unknown Worlds. De Camp says it did have a brief appearance in book form [pictured above] but it is long out of print. The story was a fantasy in which the hero exchanges personalities with his alter-ego in the astral world. Here he discovers that the astral self of each living person on earth is the self he imagines or fantasies himself to be in his most private day dreams. The hero is an accountant in the real world. His astral self is Chevalier de Neche, a swashbuckling swordsman straight out of Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers. A friend who reads Westerns has an astral self who is Arizona Bill, the cowboy, and another is Sultan Arslan Bey with a huge harem. The story is humorous and entertaining, as all of de Camp's tales are, but having been written during World War II, part of the plot is the struggle of the good guys against the Aryans, which rather dates it as a work of fiction. I am always reminded of "Solomon's Stone", though, when I see the bizarre and wonderful characters created by my friends for the game. De Camp saw the fun and humor of everybody becoming their fantasy self but, although he was familiar with Fletcher Pratt's rules for wargaming with model ships, he didn't hit on the idea of putting the "astral selves" into a world controlled by wargamers' die roll tables (pg 209-210)"

The Maze of Peril is fiction that is highly derivative of D&D - as acknowledged by Holmes. The first dedication is to "Gary Gygax, who invented the game" and the second is to his sons and friends who created the characters while playing D&D. Based on the statements in his FRPG book, and because it is to de Camp alone rather than Pratt, I think that the dedication to de Camp for literary inspiration derives from his appreciation for Solomon's Stone.

I've read the first three books of the Compleat Enchanter series (and will eventually read the rest) and would like to read Solomon's Stone but it remains out of print and used copies are prohibitively expensive. 

I followed this with a few posts on other connections between de Camp & Holmes/Basic:
Conan on the River of Doom
Holmes and de Camp in Dragon Magazine
de Camp's Great Stone Skull

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Holmes-like Labyrinth Lord

Back to the Keep reports: "I just saw this post over on the Goblinoid Games forums. One of the posters there has created some guidelines for using Labyrinth Lord with Original Edition Characters and a short, three-page document to basically recreate the Holmes D&D rules. Super simple and very well done."

Here is the direct link for "Holmes-like D&D", as the document is titled.

The author is 3d6 (aka The Landlord), also a member at OD&D Discussion (see the interesting discussion of variable weapon damage he initiated last fall in the Holmes forum). His website, The Golden Ball Inn, has three adventures available for 1st level LL characters.