Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Maze of Peril on sale at NK

Noble Knight is having their annual Fall Sale, and they have J. Eric Holmes' 1986 novel, The Maze of Peril, in stock for $8.96 plus shipping. As of this post, there are 12 copies 0 copies available (now listed as being "on order"). They have been re-stocking the book periodically; I'm guessing by ordering from the publisher, Space & Time Books in NY, who as of a few years ago still had a few hundred copies left from the original printing of 1000.

For the uninitiated, this 147-page novel chronicles the first meeting and adventures of Boinger the Hobbit and Zereth the Elf, who had earlier appeared in the three short stories in Dragon magazine. The story grew out of Holmes' actual OD&D games with his sons.

For a great review of The Maze of Peril, see this 2011 post on Delta's D&D Hotspot.
See also my 2006 overview pointing out similarities to Holmes' Sample Dungeon.
See also this earlier post with links to more reviews, and info if you want to try to mail order it directly from the publisher.

I have a copy on order to give away in December, in my annual "Holmes for the Holidays". Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Part 42: "Sample Floor Plan, Part of First Level"

Part 42 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 40 of your 'Blue Book' (page 39 for the 1st edition) and follow along... 


In the published Holmes Basic rulebook, the Sample Cross-Section of Levels ('Skull Mountain') is at the bottom right of page 38 (1st edition) or 39 (2nd or 3rd edition). At the top left of the next page is the header "Sample Floor Plan, Part of First Level". This is followed by several paragraphs of DM advice:

This header never made sense to me because this guidance has no reference to a "part of first level". I thought it might possibly refer to the Sample Dungeon, but that begins near the end of the next page and has a complete first level map. Now, via the Holmes Manuscript, this header is made clear: it refers to an extra sample map that Holmes included in the manuscript right after the Sample Cross-Section. 

The bottom of page 109 of the Manuscript has Holmes' Sample Cross-Section, which was shown in the previous post. The top of the next page has the following map:

Click for a larger view

The map is then followed by the same text as in the published rulebook shown above. So TSR cut out Holmes map, but left unchanged the header that referred to it. TSR added a differently phrased entry in the table of contents: "Sample Floor Plan Outline" (Holmes had no entry for this page); perhaps they meant to change it here as well. 

Why did Holmes include this map? In the manuscript, the last sentence on the previous page reads: "There should be several levels and each level should have access above and below and be made up of interlocking passages, stairs, closed rooms, secret doors, traps and surprises for the unwary". The first part of this sentence, describing the levels, is illustrated by way of the cross-section. The second map is meant to illustrate the second part, and shows each of the mentioned features: interlocking passages, stairs, closed rooms, secret doors, traps ("Pit") and surprises ("Green Slime"). The header and location suggest that it is part of the first level of the cross-section, although to my eye the location of the staircases don't match up. TSR may have cut this map because the Sample Dungeon maps shows many of the same features, though it lacks any traps indicated on the map.

So this gives us another addition to the handful of maps by Holmes. The style is similar to his other maps, particularly the labeling of the rooms by letter rather than number, which is also done on the map for the Zenopus Sample Dungeon.

The Green Slime shown directly on the map fits with the advice given further down the page: "Ochre Jellies, Green Slime, Black Puddings, etc. are randomly distributed, without treasure, usually in corridors and passageways." This sentence is from OD&D, Vol 3, page 7, so Holmes is here following the original's advice. Holmes also mentions pits as a type of trap in the text below. Holmes had several pits in the dungeon in his novel Maze of Peril, which is based on his D&D games with his sons, including a large one that leads from the surface down through the first level to a lower cavern.

Untitled Map from Fantasy Role-Playing Game by J. Eric Holmes, 1981
This is another sample map by Holmes, from his 1981 book, with these same two features:  a large circular pit in the middle of a corridor (this one with green slime in it - yikes!), and a corridor with a different member of the clean-up crew - a gelatinous cube - drawn directly on the map. This map is also similar in that it shows part of a first level, with corridors leading off the page. The map is untitled, and there's no other references to it in the text, but it's been dubbed "Halls of the Lizard King". The scan is by austrodavicus on OD&D Discussion, where there's a thread for it here.

There's a scan of the other map by Holmes from the same book here on Grognardia. This one goes with the Sample Dungeon in the book, The Eye of Arzaz, which is accompanied by a brief introductory RPG. It also has a large oval pit in one room, and the rooms are again lettered.

Continue on to Part 43: "Zap! You're Dead!"
Or Go Back to Part 41: "Dungeon Mastering As a Fine Art"
Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript

Monday, November 17, 2014

Part 41: "Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art"

Part 41 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 39 of your 'Blue Book' (page 38 for the 1st edition) and follow along...

The next two sections in the manuscript come from the first page of content (page 3) in the third volume of OD&D, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures.


Holmes changes the title from "THE UNDERWORLD" to "DUNGEON MASTERING AS A FINE ART". I can think of two reasons for this change. First, Holmes' guidance is mostly limited to dungeons, with just a brief mention wilderness treks, so he no longer needs the original's separate headers for "The Underworld" and "The Wilderness". Second, Holmes' new title helps convey the significance of the work of the Dungeon Master, and that D&D is more than just a board game. Referring to a performing or practical art like acting or photography "as a fine art" is a long-standing tradition going back more than a century. Searching Google Books turns up numerous usages from the 19th century including books such as "Dress as a Fine Art" and "Walking as a Fine Art". In his 1981 FRPG book, Holmes later wrote that "The art of the creative storyteller has been with Homo sapiens since he first learned to build fire in front of his cave and gather around it with a few companions to while away the long winter nights in friendly excitement" (pg 46). 

Immediately after the title, the manuscript has a single paragraph adapting the very first paragraph of OD&D Vol 3. This is the original source material:

And here is Holmes' edit of this material:

The first edition of the published rulebook keeps these sentences unchanged (except for adding a comma between "passages" and "stairs") but adds an additional one at the end: "The geomorphic dungeon levels provided with this game contain many suggestions and will prove very useful", referring to the Dungeon Geomorphs Set One: Basic Dungeons included in the first edition of the Basic Set.

In the second edition (Nov 1978), the Geomorphs were replaced with the new module B1 In Search of the Unknown, so this sentence was revised to "The geomorphic dungeon levels (available from TSR or your retailer) contain many suggestions and will prove very useful", and a new paragraph was added referring to the module: "The Basic Set of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS includes the introductory module "In Search of the Unknown", which will be usable for initial adventuring as well as provide ideas for dungeon construction." This paragraph was left unchanged even in the third edition when the module B2 Keep on the Borderlands replaced B1.


In OD&D Vol 3, the same page continues with an uncredited illustration of a dungeon:

The published Holmes Basic rulebook features a new cross-section, the famous 'Skull Mountain' drawing by Tom Wham, discussed in my previous post. Wham's drawing retains certain features from the original, including a split 4th level (A and B), a cavern at the bottom, and stairs, slanting passages and chutes connecting the levels.

The Holmes Manuscript also has a cross-section, but one that is different from either the original or Skull Mountain:

The dungeon cross-section from the Holmes Manuscript

This was presumably drawn by Holmes himself, or possibly his son Chris, an artist. To my eye, the handwriting is similar to that found on the two maps in Holmes' 1981 book. A nice treat, since we have only a handful of maps from the hand of Holmes.

Holmes' cross-section shares some elements with the original, most significantly a split 2nd level connected by a slanting passage and stairs, and a cavern area at the bottom. Holmes changes the chutes of the original to ladders, and adds an outside area, a ravine  reminiscent of the Caves of Chaos, housing the entrances to the dungeon. One entrance is a mine that goes straight to the 2nd level, whereas the original had two staircases entering into 1st level. Holmes' cross-section is more evocative than the original by having features such as "Hill Side", "Mine" and "Mine Shaft" labeled, as well as drawings of the ravine and trees, and stalagmites in the cave. It's possible that Wham included features from Holmes' version as Skull Mountain also contains two entrances, a main one also labeled "Entrance", and a second one, "The Pit", a vertical entrance in the same approximate location as the Mine/Mine Shaft of the manuscript. However, we can conclude that Wham added the most distinctive features of Skull Mountain, including the skull-face entrance and the domed city in the water-filled cavern.

Holmes' most significant change to the original is to limit the cross-section to three levels, aligning with the scope of the Basic rules, which includes wandering monsters for only levels 1-3. The next page of OD&D Vol 3 states that "In beginning a dungeon it is advisable to construct at least three levels at once...", so Holmes may have kept to this guidance even when constructing a much smaller dungeon than suggested by the original ("no less than a dozen levels down"). While Skull Mountain is fantastic, and perfect for stimulating the imagination of new players, Holmes' original is more line with the limits of Basic. The Moldvay set would later return to Holmes' original idea by including a similarly limited cross-section, drawn by Erol Otus:

Haunted Keep dungeon cross-section by Erol Otus, from the Moldvay Basic rulebook, 1981

Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript

Monday, November 10, 2014

Skull Mountain by Tom Wham

The "Sample Cross Section of Levels", known colloquially as "Skull Mountain", is arguably the most iconic interior art in the Holmes Basic rulebook. No other details about this dungeon are given in the text, but many beginning DMs were inspired by the evocative picture to design their own version.

The work is unsigned, like most TSR dungeon maps, and the rulebook lacks credits for art or cartography, so for the past three decades it hasn't been clear who drew it. One of the other rulebook artists, Holmes himself or his son Chris, or someone else? I assumed David Sutherland as the most likely, because the bulk of the artwork in the rulebook is his, and he later worked on cartography for D&D modules and even drew a cavernous cross-section for the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide. Or perhaps Dave Trampier. 

But for some reason I never considered that it was by the third Holmes Basic artist, Tom Wham. Last May on Facebook, Benoist P. posted the above picture to which Tom himself responded, "The black & white image is something I drew back in the 70's for the Dragon Magazine." Obviously this piece was used in the Holmes rulebook rather than Dragon magazine, but looking at it with new eyes I thought - of course! A quick search showed that only Timrod had guessed this previously. Skull Mountain is not in Wham's typical style, but in retrospect the round eye of the skull is perhaps a clue, many characters in his art having round eyes.

Tom started work for TSR in the spring of 1977, with his work appearing as early as Dragon #5 (March 1977), and credited as a staff artist starting in Dragon #7 (June 1977). The Holmes Basic rulebook was published in July 1977, so his art for it was among his earliest TSR work. He has only one signed ("TW") artwork in the rulebook, which shows a typically Whamian wizard about to be ambushed by three gnolls armed & armored very similarly to Sutherland's gnoll in the Monster Manual:

A DF poster, Rhuvein, also reported that Tom claims the sword in the Magic Item section:

Late in 1977, Tom's work would also join the two Daves in the original Monster Manual. His beholder is probably his most well-known from that book, but he also illustrated the stag beetle, blink dog, herd animal, giant lynx, mind flayer, giant pike, and three of the four sphinxes. Each of these signed with a tiny "TW". There are possibly other drawings of his where the signature is obscured or cut-off. Some, like the giant lynx, giant pike and mind flayer are in his typical cartoon style, but others like the stag beetle, blink dog and sphinxes, are more naturalistic.

Tom didn't illustrate many other dungeon cross-sections, but he did illustrate many other cross-sections, often as boards for the games he designed. His second game published by TSR in Dragon #11, Snit's Revenge, featured a large cross-section of a Bolotomus:

Snit's Revenge board, original version from Dragon #11, Dec 1977
A cross-section of the spaceship Znutar from The Awful Green Things from Outer Space 
(a favorite of mine):

TAGTOS board, original version from Dragon #22, Aug 1979

Note that in both of these game boards the individual rooms are each lettered in comic-book-style block capitals, the same as in Skull Mountain.

Here's a rare magazine cover by Tom, for Polyhedron #29 in 1986, showing the cross-section of a tower filled with busy inhabitants:

The cover of Polyhedron #26,
And more than a decade after Holmes Basic, he included another underground cross-section as one of the boards in his Mertwig's Maze game:

The Caves of Congor, one board from Mertwig's Maze, 1988 by TSR
See also Tom Wham's website, with lots of historical information about his games.

* * * * *

In my next post I'll look at the Sample Cross-Section in the Holmes Manuscript.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Part 40: "Acts Like a Cannon Blast on Walls"

Part 40 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to pages 36 and 38-39 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along... (pages 35 and 37-38 for the 1st edition)

Miscellaneous Magic Items

Nine out of the ten items in Holmes' list are from the original Miscellaneous Magic table in OD&D, Vol 2 (pg 25-26), presented in the same order as found in that table, with only the Bag of Devouring added from the greatly expanded list in Greyhawk. In the published rulebook three items are replaced, numbers 8 to 10 above. These are among the more powerful items in the original list, and are only found 1% (Horn or Mirror) or 2% (Girdle) of the time. TSR, probably Gygax himself, replaced these selections with a cursed item (the Helm of Evil/Good) and two less powerful and more common items (Rope of Climbing and the Gauntlets of Ogre Power) from OD&D Vol 2, except for the Rope, from Greyhawk.

Crystal Ball: The description in the manuscript is a rewritten version of the original description on page 36 of OD&D Vol 2. Most concepts are retained, but Holmes does not mention that lead will block vision. The published rulebook makes one minor change of  "long time" to "extended period" in the second sentence.

Medallion of ESP: Taken from the original description without much change, although  Holmes clarifies that it functions "like an ESP spell". No changes as published.

Bag of Holding: A straight re-phrasing of the original description. In the manuscript the first sentence ends, "an object 10 feet x 5 feet x 3 feet", and the published version adds "up to" and "in size" before and after these dimensions, respectively.

Elven Cloak and Boots: In OD&D Vol 2 these are together in a single entry both in the table and description, and the Holmes table retains this (see above), but in the Holmes description they are split into two entries. For the cloak, the original simply said that wearer was made "next to invisible"; Holmes quantifies this as "seen only on roll of 6 or a See Invisible spell". The published rulebook changes "See Invisible" to "see invisible", but keeps the non-standard spell name, instead of using "Detect Invisible". For the description of the boots, Holmes adds the note that the cloak and boots can be used by any character, which is in accord with Greyhawk.

Broom of Flying: Holmes converts the 24"/turn to 240 feet/turn. In the published version Gygax adds a new sentence at the end clarifying that "The command word should be magically engraved on the broom or otherwise distinguished but not impossible to obtain by the broom's owner". 

Helm of Telepathy: In OD&D Vol 2, determining the effect of the original is somewhat confusing: "Such suggestions will have a +2 effect in their likelihood of being carried out (see Vol. III for random actions of monsters). For characters in the game roll percentile dice adding 10% to the helm's wearer, and if the character fails to beat this score he will follow the suggestion" (pg 37). The table for Random Actions by monsters is found on page 12 of OD&D Vol 3, and is a simplification of the 2d6 reaction roll in Vol I. A result of 9-12 on this table gives a positive reaction, so a +2 on this table makes it more likely to gain a positive reaction (9-12 without the modifier). Holmes changes this to a saving throw, with a -2 for monsters, and a -1 for characters. Holmes also adds the idea that "an attack could be stopped once begun". No changes as published, so Gygax was okay with this for Basic.

Bag of Devouring: This is the only cursed miscellaneous magic item included by Holmes, and comes from Greyhawk, and which added many cursed magic items that resemble useful items. Holmes changes the original's "ultra-dimensional monster" to "extra-dimensional monster". No changes as published. 

Girdle of Giant Strength: This is the first miscellaneous item included by Holmes but cut from the published rulebook. The original description in OD&D Vol 2 is very short, simply that it "bestows the strength and hit probability (if greater than the wearer's own) of Hill Giant". Holmes reworded this and adds that such strength includes increased damage and rock throwing.

Helm of Evil/Good: In OD&D Vol 2 this is called "Helm of Chaos (Law)", so Gygax updates the name here to fit the expanded five-point alignment scheme. Some changes are made; the original turned a Neutral character to Lawful or Chaotic whereas here they become "totally self-seeking and do nothing to help anyone else in any way". The original required a Dispel Magic spell whereas here it is a "cleric's remove curse spell", which does not actually appear in Holmes Basic but is mentioned to be third level in the entry for the Ring of Contrariness.

Horn of Blasting: The second item cut from the manuscript. Holmes leaves out the reference to other texts from the original description ("has the effect of a double bombard (see Vol. III and CHAINMAIL)"), but otherwise includes all of the concepts from OD&D Vol 2.

Rope of Climbing: This replaced the Horn, becoming the only non-cursed magic item from Greyhawk that appears in the published rulebook. This has a very short entry in Greyhawk, so Gygax adds a few details here not in the original, including that it can support up to 10,000 gp in weight and only takes up as much space as a 10' rope when coiled up.

Mirror of Life Trapping: The third item included by Holmes but cut by TSR. The original has a very lengthy description for OD&D, about eleven sentences, and thus Holmes' entry is correspondingly lengthy. By my estimation he keeps all of the key concepts, just re-phrasing and re-arranging the text for readability.

Gauntlets of Ogre Power: This replaced the Mirror in the published rulebook, but can also be seen as a lesser powered replacement for the Girdle of Giant Strength. The original description was brief, just saying they give the "ability to strike as an Ogre and generally give his hands and arms the strength of an ogre. They do not necessarily increase hit probability however". In OD&D, Ogres do +2 damage (1d6+2, or 3-8) per hit, so the original Gauntlets clearly gave a +2 to damage, which is pretty significant in a game with no strength modifiers to damage. In Greyhawk, an Ogre's damage would be 1-10 if variable dice damage was being used, and this is used in the published Holmes rulebook. However, the Gauntlets in the Holmes rulebook "adds from 2-8 points to damage when striking with any weapon - doing 2-8 hit points merely with his fist". 

The OD&D entry also states that it does "not necessarily increase hit probability". Did this mean that they can in some situations increase your chance to hit - perhaps if your hit roll is less than an Ogres (4 HD)? The Holmes entry clears this up by saying the "gauntlets do not add to hit probability". The Dungeon Master's Guide changes this by having the Gauntlets give all of the benefits of 18/00 strength, including a +3 to hit and +6 to damage (which is fairly close to the average of 2d4 or 1d10).


Moldvay Basic retains the same ten miscellaneous items found in the published Holmes Basic rulebook. Moldvay keeps the 1 in 6 chance of detecting a character wearing an Elven Cloak. For the Helm of Telepathy, Moldvay entirely eliminates the ability to force suggestions; a character may only send thoughts. 

"Note Regarding Magic Items"

In the published rulebook, this brief section (a single paragraph) follows the Miscellaneous Magic Items and warns against testing out magic items on hirelings. This section is entiretly absent from the Holmes manuscript, indicating it was added by someone at TSR, probably Gygax. I don't believe this material appears in the original OD&D booklets, although I may have missed it. It is in line with the "Loyalty" section in OD&D, Vol 1. In Moldvay Basic, this paragraph is condensed down to a single line in the paragraph on "Identifying Magic Items", which reads, "If a retainer does this testing, he or she will expect to keep the item". 

* * * * *

That's it for Magic Items, which means we've reached the end of the material that Holmes drew from OD&D Vol 2, Monsters & Treasure. In the manuscript he follows the order of the material in the three original volumes, so the remainder of the manuscript covers material from OD&D Vol 3, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. 

Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript