Monday, February 16, 2015

Holmes Day 2015

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Dr. Holmes (1930-2010), and I've bumped my "Testimonials" post from previous years. When I do this, it goes to the top of my blog but doesn't enter my RSS feed. Hence this marker post. If you haven't done so before (or want to again), please go there and leave a comment:

Holmes Basic Testimonials

Or write one on your own blog! Here are some posts from 2013 by other bloggers:

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Part 47: "The Occupants Are Goblins"

Part 47 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 41 of your 'Blue Book' (page 40 for the 1st edition) and follow along... 

The next page of the manuscript is filled with Holmes' hand-drawn map of the Sample Dungeon, which I previewed in the first post of this series. This page was inserted after the other pages were typed, with a handwritten "119-A" in the upper right corner. Here is the original map side-by-side with the published map:

Sample Dungeon - original map (left) vs published map (right). Click for a larger view

The published map is simply a more professional rendering of the original, with all of Holmes' essential features preserved. There are a few changes, which I will mention below. TSR's cartographer for the published map is unknown, possibly David C Sutherland III. 
The original has no clear grid, although there are some repeating horizontal lines faintly visible. Holmes supplies sizes in some room descriptions, which the cartographer accurately followed in the published version.

The original is more compact. The published map has a few extra 'E' (Empty) rooms, and more small (10') corridors between rooms (possibly for clarity and/or to avoid paper-thin walls). The rat corridors interact with the northern corridors differently as published. Some of these changes may have occurred when fitting the stated sizes for the rooms onto the map.

The compass point is missing from the published map, although the second edition of the rulebook adds a small "North" arrow at the bottom of the map.

Holmes' Map is titled "Dungeon Master's Map", whereas the published version is "Illustration of Sample Floor Plan". Despite this change, the map is still referred to as the "Dungeon Master's Map" in two locations in the text (at the start and in the description of Room E).

On to the room descriptions! For each room, I'll end with a list of the supplementary DM guidance provided by Holmes.

Room A: This room is currently home to a band of goblins, which may be the first encounter if the adventurers travel straight ahead from the entrance. The manuscript describes this room as "120 ft x 100 ft" (fairly gigantic for old school dungeons) and this is accurately portrayed in the published map. This large room has a fairly central location, but Holmes doesn't supply any clues as to what Zenopus (or earlier inhabitants) used it for. The introduction to the Sample Dungeon mentioned "goblin figures" dancing on the roof in the moonlight before the tower was destroyed, which could possibly be these goblins.

The description of the room is the same in the manuscript and the published versions, except for changes related to the goblins' numbers, hit dice and treasure.

Here is the end of the first paragraph, with annotations to indicate changes to goblins #s:
"There are at least 2 [ three] goblins. The Dungeon Master should increase the number of goblins if the party of adventurers is a large one - i.e., if more than three are in the party, have three [→ five] goblins, more than five, 4 [→ seven or eight] goblins etc."

So Holmes thought that 1-3 PCs should encounter two goblins, 4-5 should encounter three, 6 or more should encounter four goblins, whereas Gygax/TSR thought these numbers were too low and upped them.

In the second paragraph, Holmes indicates that the goblins "wear leather armor and carry swords and daggers", which would give them AC7, but in the Monster List goblins have AC6 (although its unclear whether this is natural AC or due to leather+shield). This is unchanged as published.

Next, Holmes indicates that
"they can each take one six-sided die of hits, minus one point, i.e., roll a regular hit die, subtract one..." As expected, the published version changes  "six-sided" to "8-sided" reflecting the change from Holmes' original intention (d6 hit dice) to the published version (d8 hit dice).

In the third paragraph, Holmes originally had much more treasure for the goblins - 500 gold pieces in each of two sacks, and 2000 gold pieces in a treasure chest. The published version changes this to 500 silver pieces per sack, and 2000 copper pieces in the chest. Holmes probably stuck with gold pieces for simplicity (he mentions silver only once in manuscript, and copper not at all) but this is a drastic change: a 3000 gold piece treasure reduce to 140 gold piece value as published. Gygax clearly had different ideas about appropriate encounter strength and rewards.

DM guidance
-Monster strength can be adjusted to the strength of the adventuring party. This idea was originally put forth in OD&D, Vol 3, page 11: "A party of 1-3 would drawn the basic number of monsters, 4-6 would bring twice as many, and so on."
-How to roll a monster's hit points.
-Guidance on monster actions in combat (e.g. goblins will flee/surrender). This is as close as Holmes gets to covering morale in Basic.
-Example of a trap that inconveniences rather than kills (sleeping gas), as mentioned earlier in "Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art".
-Stealth Ability Score Bonus. On a failed save, the sleeping gas puts a character to sleep for d6 turns, "subtracting 1 if the character has a high constitution". The section on Constitution mentioned that it would "influence how a character can withstand being paralyzed or killed and raised from the dead, etc.", a statement that goes back to OD&D Vol 1, but no other specifics were given. So here we see one implementation of this by Holmes. D&D typically make ability score bonuses evident to the players; having bonuses that are only known to the DM is an interesting area for further discussion.

Room B:

Sample Dungeon Room B - original map (left) vs published map (right)

This room has four hidden skeletons and is very dusty, so it hasn't been disturbed in a while. Were these guards placed by Zenopus? This is another room that is potentially the first encounter of a party.

The original map shows doors at the north (closed) and south (open) ends, and this is mentioned in the text, but the published map is missing the northern door, and moves the southern door to the end of a 10' corridor. The original also has both sets of niches across from each other but the published version moves one niche 10' further south for unknown reasons, and has the north passage enter slightly to the west rather than the center.

The text describes the room as 50 ft x 50 ft, and again this is accurately mapped.

The only change here was to correct the score for a cleric to turn; the original said "must roll a 6 or more", but 7 is correct.

DM guidance
-Example of hidden monsters attacking.
-Reminder of how to determine success in turning.
-How to handle skeleton behavior when turned.

Room C - Holmes uses "C" to mean "Corridor". On the original map the "C" is near the steps marked "START", described in the introduction as leading 25-feet down from the surface. The published map follows this convention.

The original text for this read, "Room C is always an empty corridor. All corridors in this dungeon are 10 feet wide and 10 feet high. The magic user's secret corridor is 5 feet by 5 feet. Remember that at the end of 3 turns a wandering monster might appear - corridors are likely places for this to happen." The published version removes the word "always" from the first sentence, places the third sentence in parenthesis and adds that it is "(S to F)".

DM guidance
Reminder of Wandering Monster checks. The difficulty and XP/treasure for this dungeon are be significantly increased if this adhered to.

Room D - Most of this room is given over to a description of the elaborate statue/door-locking mechanism. Holmes doesn't give the dimensions of this room in the text, so the published map interprets it as a 50 ft by 70 ft room. No changes as published.

DM guidance:
Another "trap" that inconveniences rather than damages.

Room E - Holmes uses this code for all of the "Empty" rooms on the map. This is a handy shortcut for labeling all of these rooms, and is easy to remember. Most of these rooms have doors, which will slow the party down, forcing more wandering monster checks.

Holmes' original map has five empty rooms.The published version has eight. Two small rooms were added in the corridor east of Room D, and a new room was added south of Room J, where the south door led nowhere.

DM Guidance:
Earlier in "Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art", Holmes stated that "Many rooms should be empty", and in the Sample Dungeon he shows this. This echoes OD&D, Vol 3, page 6: "As a general rule there will be far more uninhabited space on a level than there will be space occupied by monsters, human or otherwise".

Go Back to Part 46: "Zenopus Built A Tower"
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ur-Known World

A portion of one of the maps, annotated based on the notes

Over on Black Gate, there's a fascinating post by Lawrence Schick, a former TSR employee who among other work wrote the classic module S2 White Plume Mountain, and edited the original Dungeon Masters Guide, both released in 1979. The post is called 'The "Known World" D&D Setting: A Secret History" and it recounts the origins of B/X's Known World campaign setting, later known as Mystara. The setting was first published by TSR in the module X1 Isle of Dread by David "Zeb" Cook and Tom Moldvay, which was included in the original Expert Set (1981). But the published setting drew one earlier campaign materials developed by Schick and Moldvay, who was his pre-TSR collaborator. Head over to Black Gate to the read article and see four pages of the original material, including two pages of notes and two pages of the map. 

The map I posted is a portion of one of those maps, with annotations in red that I added based on the notes. You can see the original positions of some well-known locations such as Glantri, Darokin and Ylaruam.

You can see how the picture-in-hex style of the published map of the Known World was influenced by the original.

* * * * *

Here are some things I love about the pre-TSR Known World: 

Created for OD&D!

Weird fiction influences are much more pronounced.  

Schick: "Moldvay did most of the initial culture write-ups, whereas I created the leading non-player characters in each homeland; I was also the Name Guy and came up with most of the location names, drawing on Dunsany, Vance, and Clark Ashton Smith for inspiration."

Schick: " every land there would be hidden cults that worshiped Lovecraftian Elder Gods."

Shoggoth in the list of languages.

Malpheggi and Quastog tribes being footnoted as "marginally human".

Kzinti, Tharks and Mahars among the non-human races.

Giganthropithici (Giant Ape-Men?) among the races that speak Ogre.

"Keraptis" appears on the list of city names...this was also the name of the wizard in Schick's White Plume Mountain.

"Tentrumtoom...K88 (ruined city & pyramid dungeon)" - precursor of B4 The Lost City? There's also a city of Cynidicea but it appears to a be living city.

Update: According to Bruce Heard in the Mystara Reborn group on FB, he didn't know about this original Known World even when he was working for TSR on the Gazetteer series (thanks to Havard for pointing this out on DF). This is useful to know because it limits the publications that would have been inspired by the original Known World campaign to products originating from Moldvay/Schick/Cook. So any new material appearing in the Gazetteers would not be from the original campaign.

See also:
OD&D Discussion thread
Piazza Discussion thread
DF Discussion thread 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Part 46: "Zenopus Built a Tower"

Part 46 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 41 of your 'Blue Book' (page 40 for the 1st edition) and follow along...


This is my favorite part of the rulebook. The introduction is highly evocative, reading almost like the weird fiction that Holmes was a fan of. As he wrote a few years later in an article for Psychology Today, “my players have wandered through bits of Barsoom and Hyperborea, through worlds created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, H. Rider Haggard, A. Merritt, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith” (from "Confessions of a Dungeon Master")

Like the Example of Play, the Sample Dungeon is modeled on a portion of OD&D, Vol 3 (in this case, the 'Sample Level' on pages 4-5), but again Holmes creates something new in his own voice. The OD&D Sample Level is just a collection of examples whereas Holmes presents his dungeon ideas as part of a coherent adventure, almost a mini-setting.

Back in 2006, Gary Gygax wrote, in response to my query, that "J. Eric Holmes did design the sample dungeon in the first D&D Basic Set". This is now confirmed by the manuscript, which includes the entire dungeon as we know it, with only minor changes by TSR in the published version.

In the manuscript, the introduction to the sample dungeon takes up exactly two pages (118 & 119), and has the same title as the published version. In fact there are only two significant changes to the introduction, both in the last paragraph. But I'll go through it line-by-line and note some possible inspirations for the story.

Background — 100 years ago the sorcerer Zenopus a tower on the low hills overlooking Portown. The tower was close to the sea cliff west of the town and, appropriately, next door to the graveyard. 

As I've written before, the sorcerer's name is very close to Xenopus, which means “strange foot” in Latin, but is also the name for a genus of African clawed frogs, which are social, aquatic, and fish-eating. The use of the name was presumably an in-joke as Dr. Holmes was a neurophysiologist and Xenopus laevis is commonly used in biology research. Holmes later used frog-men in his novel Maze of Peril. 

Going by OD&D, the title "sorcerer" would indicate that Zenopus is a 9th level M-U, but he is also referred to as a magician (level 7) or a wizard (level 11 or above), although only the latter is capitalized, at the end of the fifth paragraph ("Wizard's tower"). See here for more.

The dedication in Holmes' 1981 book (Fantasy Role-playing Games) is made to the adventurers in his games, including those "who plumbed the depths of the Wizard's Tower" - which is possibly this same adventure.

Chris Holmes mentioned to me that "You may find the wizard Zenopus in a [Clark Ashton] Smith story". Smith's work (of which I've only read a select portion - so far), is replete with wizards, but one possible candidate is the wizard Malygris, who has a tower on a hill in a city in the tales The Last Incantation and The Death of Malygris. Another is the Hyperborean wizard Eibon, who has a tower by the sea in The Door to Saturn. The location of sorcerer's tower in the town is also reminiscent of the Conan story The Tower of the Elephant (1933), as Paleologos suggested in here.

Rumor has it that the magician made extensive cellars and tunnels underneath the tower. 

In Lovecraft's The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927), the antagonist Curwen, who is occasionally described as a wizard, has a laboratory in a farm outside of town, and several of his opponents become "convinced that a great series of tunnels and catacombs ... underlay the farm". 

The town is located on the ruins of a much older city of doubtful history and Zenopus was said to excavate in his cellars in search of ancient treasures. 

The older city is also described as "pre-human", making it reminiscent of the ancient non-human civilizations described in Lovecraft's The Nameless City (1921)* and At the Mountains of Madness (1931). Holmes furthered this concept in The Maze of Peril, describing a megadungeon Underworld that stretches to the center of the earth, built by an unknown prehistoric race.

*Thanks to Falconer at OD&D74 for this suggestion.

Fifty years ago, on a cold wintry night, the wizard's tower was suddenly engulfed in green flame.  

A monstrous green flame features prominently in Lovecraft's The Festival (1925), and the town in that story (Kingsport, based on real-life Marblehead) is reminiscent of Portown. See here for  further discussion.

Several of his human servants escaped the holocaust, saying their master had been destroyed by some powerful force he had unleashed in the depths of the tower. Needless to say the tower stood vacant for a while after this, but then the neighbors and the night watchmen complained that ghostly blue lights appeared in the windows at night, that ghastly screams could be heard emanating from the tower at all hours, and goblin figures could be seen dancing on the tower roof in the moonlight. Finally the authorities had a catapult rolled through the streets of the town and the tower was battered to rubble. This stopped the hauntings but the townsfolk continue to shun the ruins. 

In the Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward, the neighbors also see and hear strange lights and noises emanating from the Curwen farm.

The entrance to the old dungeons can be easily located as a flight of broad stone steps leading down into darkness, but the few adventurous souls who have descended into crypts below the ruin have either reported only empty stone corridors or have failed to return at all. 

Other magic-users have moved into the town but the site of the old tower remains abandoned. 

One of these other magic-users may be thaumaturgist found in the dungeon, whose tower above Room S is among the streets of Portown.

Whispered tales are told of fabulous treasure and unspeakable monsters in the underground passages below the hilltop, and the story tellers are always careful to point out that the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, prehuman city, to the graveyard, and to the sea. 

Delta found a passage from Lovecraft's Pickman's Model (1927) that ends in a parallel fashion: "Look here, do you know the whole North End once had a set of tunnels that kept certain people in touch with each other's houses, and the burying-ground, and the sea?"

Portown is a small but busy city linking the caravan routes from the south to the merchant ships that dare the pirate-infested waters of the Northern Sea. Humans and non-humans from all over the globe meet here. 

Here we get a thumbnail sketch of a campaign setting. The mention of pirates is possibly a clue to the pirates hiding in the dungeon - this background material is meant to be read to the players, as indicated below.

"Non-humans" appears to be Holmes' term for "demi-humans" (a term that would first appear in the Player's Handbook) but may also include other humanoids. The town in The Maze of Peril had a serpentman or two wandering around.

At the Green Dragon Inn, the players of the game gather their characters for an assault on the fabulous passages beneath the ruined Wizard's tower. 

Holmes' Green Dragon Inn most likely comes from Tolkien rather than Greyhawk, as the one in Greyhawk hadn't been published at the time. Holmes also used the Green Dragon Inn in his Boinger & Zereth stories, including The Maze of Peril. See this post.

The Dungeon Master should read the background material above to the assembled players and then let them decide how they will proceed. The stairway from the surface leads twenty five feet straight down and ends in the corridor marked START on the Dungeon Master's map. Because of the nature of some of the traps in the dungeon, it is highly recommended that no one attempt it alone. If only one player is taking his or her character into the dungeon, the Dungeon Master should recommend employing one or more assistants. These non-player characters can then be "rolled up" and hired out for a share of the treasure. 

In the published rulebook, the second sentence above was moved to the end of the paragraph, but not otherwise changed. This seems a good change as it places it right before the room descriptions. The published version also changes "one or more assistants" to "one or more men-at-arms". Holmes' included guidance on hiring NPCs earlier in the rulebook.

(Some material in this post appeared earlier in "Holmes Basic easter eggs" on OD&D74). 

Go to Part 47: "The Occupants are Goblins"
Go Back to Part 45: "Roll the Number and See What Happens!"
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

One-Page Backgrounds

Screenshot preview of Backgrounds Reference Sheet. Use the link below for download.

Last summer I posted 20 backgrounds for human characters in OD&D/Holmes, and promised to eventually make them available as a single page reference sheet. It's been a while, but here is the link for viewing/download. It's also available via the Holmes Ref page.

I revised one entry ("Orcish" aka Half-Orc) based on comments in the original thread that it was too strong. Instead of a +1 to hit in non full-daylight and 1d6 damage without weapons, they now get Infravision, -1 to hit in full daylight, and +1 hp at first level. The +1 hp is based on Orcs being 1 HD whereas normal humans are d6 (in Holmes Basic).

This sheet omits my sources/reasoning for the different backgrounds, so see the original thread for that info.