Sunday, October 6, 2013

1978 review from Gallimaufry #12

Review by Ken Bain, pg 7, Gallimaufry #12, Jan 1978 (click for larger view)

Above is a screenshot of an early review of Holmes Basic from January 1978, about six months after it was first published in the US. The review comes from Gallimaufry #12, a Diplomacy zine out of the UK that ran from 1976-1979, edited by Steve Doubleday. Scans of all of the issues can be found here at the UK Diplomacy Zine Archive. According to Google, "gallimaufry" means a "confused jumble or medley of things". The review is by Ken Bain, with a short response by Doubleday. Being in the UK, the review is most likely of the first UK edition of the Basic Set released in Dec 1977. In this edition, all of the artwork from the US version was replaced; see the foreign editions page for more info.

Cover of the first UK edition of the Holmes Basic Set, art by John Blanche. Source: Acaeum

A photo from Games Day III (17 December 1977) in White Dwarf #5 (Feb/March '78), pg 15, confirms that the UK version of the Basic Set was available in Dec 1977:

Bill Howard, Don Turnbull (pointing down at rulebook), Tony Ball and Rob Thomasson at Games Day III

I've taken the liberty of transcribing the Gallimaufry review here:

Ken Bain's review:
"This is the revised package of Dungeons and Dragons rules produced by TSR Games and for beginners constitutes a much better explanation of what the game's about and how to run expeditions than the original.

The original rulebooks seem to have been taken by the editor of this package (one Eric Holmes) and sorted out so that the single large-format rulebook that comes with the boxed set are parts of the original basic three volumed rulebooks and also some of the more useful parts of some of the supplements. E.g. theives are given as a character class. Many of the matrix tables have been much simplified and hence easier to use, involving less throwing of dice though decreasing variety in such things as wandering monsters. A possible disadvantage is the restriction to levels 1-3 - anything beyond being dealt with in "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons", which I've not seen yet. But for beginners I feel this not of great importance, as there's enough to keep one occupied for some time getting to grips with the first three levels. I've not got beyond the first level in Steve's dungeon yet.....

Ken wasn't a fan of the "low impact" dice. Source: Flickr

The rest of the package consists of a set of rather poorly-made polyhedra dice, a set of Dungeon geomorphs for when you don't feel like mapping a Dungeon from scratch, or if you want a change, and a set of things called "Monster and Treasure assortment". The purpose of this is to assist in dungeon construction and it can be used as an aid in getting expeditions going in partially-made dungeons. Basically it is a list of monsters and accompanying treasure, to be used in populating as yet empty rooms if a party stratys into an incomplete section of the dungeon. I've not tested this yet, but it looks fairly easy, is divided into levels. Monsters and treasure are determined on the throw of percentile dice. This is no more difficult than having to check for Wandering Monsters.

Overall, I found it a much more cohesive presentation of the basic rules than the original three-booklet affair (not to mention the four supplements) that enables one to start playing much more quickly and with more confidence. The presentation is much improved, especially by describing things such as monsters in alphabetical order and having a set descriptive format. I can't say how well it acts as a basis for the later booklets in the revised system as I have yet to buy the next one. As an introduction to D&D I'd give 9/10; the only reservation being the geomorphs, which are not explained and printed in light blue on a white background - not providing much contrast. Still, nobody's perfect -- not even TSR games."

Steve Doubleday's comments:
"Thanks for that review, Ken. I must say that I found it easier to find my way round this introductory booklet than than the original three-booklet set. I don't quite endorse what Ken says about running a Dungeon on the basis of this new set. I found the spell listing in particular rather limited. When I find or seed treasure in a dungeon, I like there to be a possibility of some high level spell-scrolls around the place. I didn't like the large format..its seems to me that TSR have traded the disadvantage of having to change from one booklet to another for an unwieldy 10 x 8 booklet that must get dog-eared beyond redemption pretty quickly. However, these quibbles ... apart, I thought that it was an excellent introduction, especially for someone who would not have access to regular sessions of D&D. I believe it costs around £7.00 - £7.50, and it should be available from most decent London Games Shops. If you want to know one which is fairly central and not far from a tube station, try Games Hanway Street close by Tottenham Court Road station."

A contemporary Games Centre ad from White Dwarf #4 (Dec/Jan 77/78)

The first advertisements including the UK Basic Set appear in White Dwarf #5. Here's a portion of the Games Workshop ad from that issue showing "Dungeons & Dragons (revised edition inc. Poly Dic, M& Ass. and Geo. 1" for £7.50: 


  1. I wish I could see that edition with the UK art: I really love the British old school artwork, such as in the White Dwarf mag. I never saw a single edition of D&D during my time there; though Dragon magazine was available in all the magazine shops.

    1. You can! Scans of the UK edition interior artwork are here in a post on Dragonsfoot. They are all by Fangorn (Chris Baker), and most but not all are re-drawings of the US artwork.

    2. Thanks for the link! I always like to see interpretations from different sources of the same material. The skeleton battle is my fave. And the purple worm--not a creature you expect 1-3rd level characters to face!