Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Part 32: "Commonly Found Near Graveyards, Dungeons, or Deserted Places"

Part 32 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 32 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along...


These were first mentioned by name in OD&D, Vol 3, in a list of "Other monsters to consider" following the Monster Level Tables. The list ends with five monsters not described elsewhere in the set: "...Cyborgs, Robots, Androids, Shadows, Dopplegangers."  

In Greyhawk they receive a full write-up, where we learn they are "non-corporeal intelligent creatures" but not undead. Holmes preserves this concept, as well of the rest of the entry without any significant changes other than the usual editing for brevity. Greyhawk has Shadows listed with the forces of Chaos so Holmes leaves out an alignment as typical for Chaotics.  

No changes from the manuscript to the published rulebook, other than to add a different alignment (Lawful Evil) and the variable damage from Greyhawk (1d4 per hit). In AD&D, Gygax made a big conceptual shift in these monsters, changing them to undead, as well as changing a bunch of details: upping their HD to 3+3 (from 2+2), damage to 2-5, and alignment to Chaotic Evil. In B/X, Moldvay instead follows the wording of Holmes closely, including having them as non-undead, although the alignment goes back to Chaotic. Moldvay clarifies that they look like real shadows and can alter their shape slightly.


A fundamental monster of Basic D&D, as shown by Holmes' use of them in two different rooms (B and N) of his Sample Dungeon. Skeletons first appear in OD&D Vol 2 in a dual entry with Zombies; the only mechanical distinctions between the two is that Skeletons are 1/2 HD and AC7, and Zombies are 1 HD and AC8. Holmes follows this for Skeletons except that he seems to have accidentally used the AC8. We also see here that he intended for monsters to use a d6 for Hit Dice as in the original D&D books (Greyhawk introduced the d8 for Hit Dice as an option). The published rulebook keeps the 1/2 HD (and the AC8), but changes the note to "(1-4 hit points)", in line with a d8 for Hit Dice. 

Holmes' description follows the original, including that they are motivated by a M-U or Cleric, although OD&D perhaps only intended that cleric was chaotic ("Magic-User or Cleric (Chaos)"), while Holmes has "a chaotic magic-user or cleric". The published rulebook changes the "chaotic" to "evil" and also the reference to the "lawful cleric" to "good cleric"

At the end of the entry Holmes adds two sentences not found in the OD&D entry, one describing the immunities of the undead class, and another indicating skeletons are usually silent since they don't move until they attack. For this second one he probably drew on OD&D Vol 3, page 9, "Note "Undead" never made any sound". The Blackmoor Supplement even takes this a bit farther by noting (in the section on Monks) that extremely silent creatures including Undead double the chances of surprise. Interestingly, the Monster Manual and Moldvay Basic both drop this concept of skeletons moving silently.

The entry for skeleton was originally unillustrated, but the 2nd edition (Nov 1978) adds a small picture below the entry which depicts two skeletons lying on the ground with some armor & weapons:

Skeletons by DCSIII, image courtesy Desert Scribe

Holmes closely follows the wording of the original description in OD&D, Vol 2, including the reference to the Nazgul of Tolkien. This Tolkien reference, along with many others, was removed from later editions of OD&D, but was never changed in the Holmes rulebook (the only change in Holmes being 'hobbits' to 'halflings'). So all of us kids who started with Holmes Basic got to see the direct connection between Nazgul/Spectres and Barrow Wights/Wights. 

Holmes adds one sentence of clarification to the end of the original material, "Magical weapons score full hits on spectres" (as opposed to normal and silver, which do no damage). The published rule-book makes one change, adding "low-strength" to the "spectres under the control of the one who made them", but doesn't explain further, such as quantifying the "low strength". The Monster Manual clarifies this somewhat by changing "low strength" to "half strength".


Kind of the vampire bats of D&D. They first appear in Greyhawk, seemingly bigger than in later depictions: "Large bird-like monsters with long, dangling proboscuses, the Stirges might call to mind evil-looking, feathered ant eaters". Holmes preserves this description, as well as most of the other concepts, omitting only their attraction to warm-blooded creatures. Holmes correctly translates their attack (as 4th level fighter) as a +2 on an attack rolls for a 1 HD monster. 

The only change in the published rulebook is to change Greyhawk's Treasure Type D to Type Q, one of the new types debuting in Holmes Basic. Type Q is simply a 50% chance of 1-4 gems, suggesting that Stirges have a fondness for gems, and only gems. In the Monster Manual, their treasure returns to the earlier Type D, whereas Moldvay Basic has them with Type L, which is actually the same as Type Q in Holmes.

In the original version of B2, Gygax adds a few interesting details to the 'Holmes Basic' stirge: Minotaurs love to eat stirges, and starving stirges will make so much noise that 90% of the time they ruin any chance of surprise.


Trolls go back to Chainmail, which distinguishes 'Trolls' (Ogres) from 'True Trolls (the D&D Troll), referencing Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, which features a battle with a regenerating troll. OD&D Vol 2 describes their regeneration powers in detail, quantitating it as 3 hit points per turn. Holmes follows this description closely.  

In 1979 Holmes was interviewed as part of a LA Times article, "Fantasy Life In a Game Without End", where he mentioned that "his revision attempted to preserve some of the Byzantine D&D flavor and didn't dare tamper with such beloved phrases as "loathsome trolls are tough and rubbery and have the ability to regenerate". The OD&D phrase is "Thin and rubbery, loathsome Trolls are able to regenerate..." and Holmes preserves this exact phrasing in the first sentence of his entray.

The only change to the description in the published rulebook is to change "they attack with talons or fangs" to "talons and fangs" in accord with the three attacks they are given. In Holmes the standard is a single attack for all monsters, thus this change was needed when the manuscript was revised by Gygax/TSR to add multiple attacks.

Continue on to Part 33: "Their Appearance Is As Spectral Armored Warriors"
Or Go Back to Part 31: "This Inoffensive Looking Little Creature"
Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hobbits as the Rangers of Basic

A Hobbit Ranger? From OD&D, Vol 1, Men & Magic, pg 9

Last week I was thinking about how Hobbits (later Halflings) are the 'Rangers' of Basic D&D, due to their abilities to disappear in the outdoors and their skill with missile weapons, implying they are good at hunting. Give them a tracking skill and you've got a great ranger in vein of Trotter, Tolkien's original hobbit version of Aragorn. And then I read a post by Wayne R at Semper Initiativus Unum where a hobbit in his game of his acted in just this manner.

The two abilities I mentioned have their roots in The Hobbit, and while they were mentioned in Chainmail they don't really feature in AD&D for PCs. Holmes played a role bringing these forward from Chainmail to Basic, and emphasizing the 'wild' aspect of their hiding ability.

Back when I posted Part 3 of the Holmes Manuscript commentary, I simply related there were no changes to the section on Hobbits from the manuscript to the published rulebook (pg 7), without further comment. So here I'll look into Holmes' development of this section.
Chainmail has Gygax's original description of Hobbits as they appear in D&D: 
"These little chaps have small place in the wargame, but you may want them for recreation of certain battles. Remember that they are able to blend into the background and so make excellent scouts. They can fire a stone as far as an archer shoots, and because of their well known accuracy, for every two halflings firing count three on the Missile Fire table" (pg 29).

The ability to "disappear quietly and quickly" around big people is mentioned at the start of The Hobbit, and Bilbo's skill with stones is revealed when he battles the Spiders in Mirkwood.

OD&D adds magic resistance, and refers to Chainmail for missile fire, but omits their abilities as scouts: 

"Should any player wish to be one, he will be limited to the Fighting-Men class as a hobbit. Hobbits cannot progress beyond the 4th level (Hero), but they will have magic-resistance equal to dwarves (add four levels for saving throws), and they will have deadly accuracy with missiles as detailed in CHAINMAIL" (pg 8, Vol 1).

Vol 3 of OD&D also mentions their (along with dwarves and elves) better-than-human hearing, 1-2 in 6, another skill fitting well with Rangers.

Greyhawk only adds info about thieves: 
"Hobbits can be either fighters or thieves, and as thieves they have better chances for doing most things (see STATISTICS REGARDING CLASSES) and are not limited to how high in levels they can progress" (pg 5).

But there is a Greyhawk 'Correction Sheet' that clarifies their "accuracy with missiles": 
"All hobbits add +3 to hit probabilities when using the sling." 

Synthesizing the above, Holmes gives us the following in the Basic manuscript:

The height of three feet is not explicitly stated in Chainmail or OD&D but is either taken directly from The Hobbit ("about half our height"), or extrapolated from the four and five feet stated for dwarves and elves in Greyhawk. 

Holmes clearly looked to the Chainmail entry (and perhaps The Hobbit), because he includes the ability to disappear not mentioned in OD&D. He also associates it much more strongly with wild environments than either The Hobbit or Chainmail, using the words: "out-of doors", "woods" and "undergrowth". They are really the only class/race in Basic that has an outdoor skill; not even Elves are described as having any affinity for the outdoors.

With respect to missile fire, he presumably missed the Greyhawk correction (slings at +3), and instead implements the Chainmail accuracy as a simple +1 to hit with any missile weapon. 

I couldn't find any reference to halfling-sized armor/weapons in the earlier books, so this might be a pure Holmes addition. Gygax actually takes this a bit farther in B2, mentioning elf and dwarf-sized suits of armor. Holmes also includes their enhanced hearing in another section of the rulebook.

Gygax didn't change any of the above; it all made it into the published Basic rulebook, but he also didn't include this material in AD&D. In the Monster Manual, Gygax expands the +3 to hit to also include bows, at least for NPC halflings. The Players Handbook refers to the MM entry, making it ambiguous whether PC players are meant to also have these bonuses. The PHB also omits any reference to their ability to hide in the woods, instead giving them a chance to move silently enough to surprise on 1-4 in 6, or 1-2 in 6 through a door.

Moldvay Basic (B/X) instead sticks with Holmes' version, including the 'cut down' weapons/armor, the +1 missile adjustment, and the ability to disappear under cover, here quantified as 1-9 in 10 (or 1-2 in 6 in a dungeon). They are also given two additional abilities that fit well with a 'Hobbit Ranger', including a +1 to individual initiative reaction and a -2 AC when fighting large monsters.

* * * * * 

Some possible Hobbit Ranger names from the Generator:

Glen Ael
Quetas the Searcher
Go I the Wary (!)
Dankrac Spoor
Ton Mun the Dun

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Holmesian Random Names in the Sidebar

Today Paul Gorman at Quickly, Quietly, Carefully wrote a great post called "Embedded Microgenerators for Dungeons & Dragons Blogs", complete with Javascript code examples. 
Inspired by this, I modified the code his second example for 'Magic Towers' to generate Holmesian Random Names. I placed this is a Gadget at the top of the sidebar on the right hand side of this blog. The Gadget will generate a Holmesian Random Name when clicked on. Repeated clicks will generate further names. Try it out!

Right now the names have two syllables, plus either a third syllable or a title (although there is an option for a 'null' variable for the second or third syllables, so it will occasionally make a one or two syllable name). I may tweak the options in the future but it's good enough for regular use right now.

The original version of the Holmesian Random Names tables are in this post. The new generator is based on the more extensive one-sheet pdf (which can be found here), although I took the opportunity to add more titles from Holmes' stories (e.g. "of Portown", etc). The random names can also be found automated in two other places; see this post

Post what you get below.

Here's a few I just got:
Mustas the Mutable
Zell Kan Hor
Mezas the Masked
I Traris
Gergen Sa
Mun Tar the Unknowable
Hagree the Barbarian
Jax Dre the Hunter

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dave Trampier - Basic D&D Artist

TSR promotional poster circa 1978; photo from a recent Ebay auction by the Collector's Trove

One of TSR's finest artists, Dave Trampier, passed away this past March. He was perhaps best known for the demon idol artwork on the cover of the original Player's Handbook (seen above in a poster from the era), and the long-running Dragon magazine comic strip, Wormy. It was also reported by the owner of the store Castle Perilous Games & Books that Trampier was planning on attending an upcoming game convention, after a long absence.

Here I'll take a look at Dave's work for the first Basic Set. Dave had three pieces of art in the rulebook. Two were in the first edition; one was added to the 2nd edition.

The first is an illustration of the spell Web on page 16, signed 'D.A. Trampier'. This picture is one that helps to show the 'dungeon' setting of the game. It's not clear who the villain is here, but the wizard certainly looks menacing. He wears a 'stars & moon's cap like the wizard on the cover of the rulebook, and carries an interesting three-prong staff.

The second is an illustration in the combat section of the rules on pg 18. I always associated this with Bruno the Battler's combat with a big goblin on page 21, but the details don't match: the creature here actually looks like a minotaur with a battle axe. The background here is abstract, perhaps meant to be a stone wall underground. I don't see Dave's signature, so illustration may have been cropped from his original art.

This thoughtful manticore, signed 'DAT', was added to the Monster List section of the 2nd edition of the rulebook in Nov 1978. Perhaps it was originally intended for the Monster Manual (which came out in late 1977) but wasn't completed in time? My original rulebook was pretty trashed, missing pages from the beginning and end, so I cut out this picture and turned it into a refrigerator magnet I keep with my Halloween decorations. 

In the same year a similar manticore, in a lair surrounded by treasure, also by Trampier appeared on the cover of the Monster & Treasure Assortment, Set 3, Levels 7-9. The original was tinged blue on the cover but the black & white original later appeared in the combined set in 1980.

Dave Trampier's original art that became the cover of the module B1

Trampier's work also formed the basis of the cover of the original cover of the module B1 In Search of Unknown, which in 1978 was the first module to be included in the Basic Set. The cover art on the published module is signed "DIS & DAT", indicating it is the combined work of David C. Sutherland (aka DCS) and Trampier. Dave's original version of this artwork was later shown in an early issue of Polyhedron (#5, 1982), thanks to the editor Frank Mentzer, who was given access to TSR's old art files. See a comparison with published art in this DF thread by paleologos.

Trampier didn't contribute any other work to B1 (all of the interior illustrations are by Sutherland), but he did do the cover and all interior illustrations for another introductory module of the era, T1 The Village of Hommlet (1978) This module was for the same levels as Basic D&D, 1-3, but was marketed as an introduction for AD&D rather than Basic. Above is Dave's cover art for the original version of this module, showing a montage of encounters from the ruined moathouse.

Finally, Trampier also illustrated this awesome "You'll Be Amazed" advertisement from the fall of 1978 for the D&D Basic Set and the Dungeon! boardgame, which I wrote about here. Note that it contains yet another Manticore.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Holmes on Anti-D&D Hysteria

Recently I found an interesting letter from J. Eric Holmes that I wasn't aware of previously. It was sent in to Space Gamer issue 64, July/August 1983, in response to an earlier article. Holmes shares his thoughts on the anti-D&D hysteria which started in the early '80s:

"This letter is in praise of W.G. Armintrout's "Report from the Trenches: The D&D War" in Number 61. Congratulations, sir, on a cool head and a good article. I hope everyone will read it and take its message to heart. This is no joke, folks, and it concerns every one of us. There is a very real possibility of legislation outlawing role-playing games being passed by the States individually, or even by the Congress, may God help us. Such attempts have been made in the case of videogames.

Over a year ago I agreed to do a television interview for a local Los Angeles station. They told me they were doing a "series on youth" and wanted to have a program on D&D. I had done previous TV and radio interviews on the subject, and I accepted. A very nice couple, husband and wife team, came to my house to tape the interview in my game room. They honestly identified their station, but did not tell me anything else about it. I didn't even have a TV set, and so failed to identify them as a religious station. I would have agreed to the interview anyway, hoping to appear as sane, calm and sensible, but I would have insisted on seeing the final tape. My interviewers promised to let me know when the interview and associated material would be shown, but they never did. They had interviewed people at a game store. "There was one guy," they told me, "that the other young men told us not to bother talking to. They said he was too crazy, too far out, and wouldn't make any sense. But we found him to be the most interesting of the whole group."

About halfway through my hour-long interview, the subject of demons came up. I was asked what I thought of the charge that D&D teaches demonology. "I think it's silly." There was a hushed pause before the next question. Suddenly I knew why I was being interviewed!

Didn't I believe in demons? No, I said, no more than in dragons or unicorns. They are al mythological creatures. Didn't the rules of the game have specifications for demons? Yes, they did, I admitted, picking up the Monster Manual and demonstrating that the section on demons was no longer than that on dinosaurs or on dragons.

"Of course, if you believe in demons, then probably you shouldn't play the game," continued, "even though it's perfectly possible to play the game without using demons. It' easy to understand the distress of those who do hold such beliefs."

The point is, however, that the Bill of Rights protects the rest of us from having these beliefs forced upon us against our wishes. Remember Armintrout's rules. Be confident in your own rights and beliefs.

Educate as best you can. I don't know how the video tape was edited, since my husban and wife team didn't keep their promise to tell me when it was aired, but one of my students sait and was horrified. "They tried to make you out as a terrible evil person, and I said, 'I know Dr. Holmes, he's not like that at all,' and I turned it off." Wouldn't you like to know what the guy at the game store said to these same interviewers that they thought was such good sense?

Maybe, like Armintrout suggests, we can outline this storm. He seems to have done so, I hope the rest of us can follow his sensible example."

John Eric Holmes
Shiprock, NM 


-In regard to "previous TV and radio interviews", Holmes wrote in his 1981 book that, "Beth Ann Krier of the Los Angeles Times and Jim Mitchell of Channel 2 (CBS) News in  Los Angeles, showed a genuine interest in understanding the game and in presenting it in an informational and entertaining fasion". I also have a 1982 radio interview with Odessa College in Texas listed in the Holmes Bibliography. I haven't heard any of these interviews and I'm sure there are several others I'm unaware of; if any finds anything please let me know. Holmes also covers the public reaction to role-playing games in chapter 13, "Are They All Crazy?", although there is no mention of demons there.

-The Holmes Memorial by John Martin mentions that he and his wife moved from LA to Shiprock, NM in 1982.

-I am still looking for a 1982 article by Holmes called D&D: Dangerous For Your Health?, which may cover some of the same ground.