Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Hermit Fortress


A strange rock column rises from the rocky wastes. If you dare, try to climb up to the Hermit Fortress using the ropes and platforms - but watch out for the beasts...

Friday, April 21, 2017

Gygax's Killer Die

Gary's EN World avatar featuring his Futurama character

As a follow-up to yesterday's post on the Marked 20-sided Die, here are some quotes from Gygax on his own Marked d20. Thanks to T. Foster at the Mystical Trash Heap blog for bringing this to my attention.

3/13/03
"Those low-impact d20s did get pretty round in short order--well short order in terms of gaming time. Rob Kuntz had one that would stand on a point now and again. I still have a couple that I use when playing OD&D as the DM. One with gray faces on 10 sides is a "killer" die that comes up on those faces a lot--the 11-20 range, of course! Can't find it now, but it's likely in a box of old dice somewhere in the basement here. I have a second one with red faces that's as good for the monsters' rolls, of course" (EnWorld Q&A post)

1/29/04
"As it happens I have quite a number of the old low-impact dice around here somewhere. The points on the d4 were very sharp but wore down quickly. Rob had a d20 that would stand on a worn point about one roll in 50 : )"

"Somewhere I lost my d20 with half the faces colored gray. It was my "killer die" that rolled an inordinate number of 20s, and the players really hated it : )" (EnWorld Q&A post)

Following this, T. Foster wrote
"I played with you in "Necropolis" at Glathricon (in Evansville, IN) in 1988 and am pretty sure I encountered your infamous 'killer' d20 -- it was white, numbered 0-9 twice, and rolled awfully well (for you, badly for us :) )."

2/6/04 - in response to T. Foster
"It was either my gray or red "killer die," undoubtedly. It has since sent a large number of adventurers to their doom when rolled on behalf of my OD&D game "Old Guard Kobolds." The ninth party of six or more 2nd level characters fell to them at JanCon last month" (EnWorld Q&A post)

(A few minor edits to Gary's comments to correct obvious typos)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Marked 20-sided Die

TSR's original dice set was included in Holmes Basic, Gamma World and sold separately

In the 1970s, rolling 1-20 wasn't as straightforward as today. The original dice set available from TSR included a white 20-sided dice, but it was numbered (and pre-inked) with 0-9 twice rather than 1-20. So these dice were actually d10s, and were most easily used to generate percentiles by rolling the same die twice in row or by rolling two different colored dice together. TSR even sold a separate white and pink set of Percentile Generators.

But since the beginning D&D has always needed d20s, for attacks and saving throws. The earliest D&D rulebooks don't explain how to use the 10-sided die to generate 1-20, but by the time of Holmes Basic, there was a recognized need to explain this, as the rulebook teaches two different ways to roll 1-20 with these dice. One is near the end of the book in the section "Using the Dice", which isn't in the Holmes manuscript, and so was added by TSR. This method uses a secondary "control" die to determine if the number is 1-10 or 11-20:

"For example: to generate 1-20, roll the 20-sided die and 6-sided die, and if the 6-sided die comes up 1-3 , the number shown on the 20-sider is 1-10 (1-0), and if the 6-sider comes up 4-6, add 10 to the 20-sided die and its numbers become 11-20 (1-0)".

The other method is described in the main part of the text in the section on Saving Throws (page 14). This was written by Holmes as it is found word-for-word in the manuscript:

"Numbers can be generated as follows: Mark one set of faces on a 20-sided die by coloring with a red permanent marker on one of each faces — 0, 1, 2, 3, etc. The marked faces will be considered to have a ten added to them — 1 = 11, 2 = 12, 3 = 13, etc. Unmarked
0 = 10, marked 0 = 20. This die will also be used to determine the results of combat from the combat table."

The picture at the top of this post (from an Ebay auction that indicated the dice were from a Basic set) shows an example of this: the owner has colored half of the faces of the 20-sider in a red color. The white faces represent 1-10, and the red faces represent 11-20. As I mentioned above these dice were pre-inked, so one couldn't just color the two sets of 0-9 with different colored crayons, the faces had to be marked to differentiate them.

This method is referenced again in the section "Combat Melee":

"The probability of a hit is converted into a random number of 1 to 20 (the specially marked die is recommended)" (page 18) and "A 20-sided die must be marked or colored so that
one set of sides 0-9 is different from the other set. Count 0 as a 10. The marked set is then read as if 10 had been added to the roll (11-20), treating 0 as 10 or 20. This die is used for all combat resolution" (page 19)

Holmes probably learned this marked die method from other gamers, as there are earlier examples of it. For example, below is an auction photo from last year, for an auction you may have heard about, an original woodgrain D&D set that sold for over $20,000. Included with the set in the auction was a 20-sided die and a note (with the date of ~1974 given by the auctioneer). In the note we see similar instructions, with the white half of the die being 1-10 and the orange half being 11-20.




In 1979, the 1st edition DMG still assumes use of these 20-sided d10s in the section "Dice", on page 10:

"If a d20 is used either 1-20 (assuming the use of a standard d20 which is numbered 0-9 twice without coloring one set of faces to indicate that those faces have 10 added to the number appearing) or 1-40 (assuming that one set of faces is colored) can be gotten by adding 0 if 1 or 2 is rolled on the d4 and 10 or 20 (depending on the die type) if a 3 or 4 is rolled"

The structure of this sentence is complicated, but Gygax is saying to use d4 control dice to turn 1-10 into 1-20 (for an unmarked die) or 1-20 into 1-40 (for a marked die).

This was a short-lived era as other manufacturers began cranking out dice. 

At some point (I don't have a date but will update this post if I find it), 20-sided dice that were not pre-inked appeared, which allowed for coloring the two sets of numbers with different colored crayons. You still had to remember which color was low (1-10) and which was high (11-20). I have a dice like this that I received in an auction a while back (I can't even remember what it came with):




I also don't know when the first 20-sided dice that was numbered 1-20 first appeared, but the standard d10 appeared around 1980, possibly debuting at Gen Con that year

In the last printing of the Holmes Basic rulebook, dated Dec 1979 but certainly from 1980 as it is the third version with that date, the section on "Using the Dice" was revised to refer to "the assortment of 4-, 6-, 8-, 10-, 12- and 20-sided dice" (page 46), and the portion about the control die no longer refers to 1-20. Holmes' instructions for making a marked d20 is still found in the section on Saving Throws, however.

The Acaeum reports that some sets of Holmes Basic include a set of six dice. I've never actually seen one of these sets. It does seem strange TSR would revise the rulebook to refer to the 10-sided die without actually including it. But I'd like to see it confirmed that a set shipped this way versus having dice added later. A complicating factor is that Holmes Basic set was sold up until at least 1986 (I have a catalog from then listing it), so some may have had 6-dice sets added to them at later date.

Certainly by the time of the Moldvay Basic set and Dragon Dice, both from 1981, we have the standard 1980s set of six dice, including both the 10-sided die and the 20-sided die numbered 1-20.

See also:
Veteran of the Dice Wars
TSR Ads in Boys Life 1977-1982

And Jon Peterson's articles on the history of dice in D&D: 
How Gaming Got Its Dice
The Origins of Dice Notation

Friday, April 14, 2017

Gygax Interview in Drache #3 October 1984

Cover of Drache #3, image from here
Over on the Acaeum, a poster named stebehil has been collecting and documenting all of TSR's German D&D releases in a dedicated thread. Yesterday he posted a translation of a Gygax interview from the magazine Drache, issue 3, October 1984. Drache means Dragon in German so this was the mean to be the equivalent of Dragon magazine. 

The cover of this issue is shown above, and teases the Gygax interview ("Interview mit Gary Gygax") as well a short tournament D&D Module ("D&D Turnier Modul") for a single thief character (thanks to stebehil for clarification of this info).

The wizard on the cover is very reminiscent of TSR's evil wizard Kelek (used in licensed products of the time and appearing in one episode of the D&D cartoon), particularly the color scheme and claw-like fingernails:




The interview is pretty much what you'd expect from a 1984 Gygax interview - he mentions his work in Hollywood with the D&D Entertainment Corporation - but it's fun to read a "new" one from Gygax while he was still at TSR (he left about one year later, in October 1985).

Read the Gygax interview in Drache #3 here

(Keep in mind that his answers were translated to German for the article and then back to English for this transcription, so some meaning may be garbled)

From a Holmes Basic perspective, there's one mention referring to the design of B2, so I've added that to my page Gygax on B2.

He also makes an offhand reference to an encounter that appears to be of a type he included in the Dungeon Geomorphs Set One: Basic Dungeons, which were included in the first three printings of Holmes Basic.

In the interview Gygax says:

"I also like it if you use tricks while designing a dungeon, like an illusion of a golden dragon over a basilisk, old men who are friendly the first time and deadly the second. These are fun things."

Compare with Room 1 in the Geomorph sample encounters, which are transcribed here:

1.  A rudely furnished room with an old holy man (lawful/good) who has sworn a vow of silence. He will not fight if attacked. He takes only 2 hit points. There is a pottery flask containing his drinking water in one corner; a small container near his pallet has a handful of lentils (all of his food); there are some rags hanging from a nail in the wall, and a wooden begging bowl on a rough wooded table near the door holds 1 silver piece and 3 coppers. If he is impolitely treated or his room is searched he will do nothing, but he will never aid the offenders. If so much as a single copper piece is dropped in his bowl, he will make a holy sign which will add 1 hit point permanently to all party members. After doing the latter, he will disappear when the party leaves, and he will be replaced by 1A.


a.    An insane fiend conforming generally to the description of 1. above. He will say nothing until a party is in his abode, but will then attack with two hidden daggers. He takes 12 hit points, with an armor class equal to 5 due to his 18 dexterity. He has no treasure to begin with…

Update:
I did a Google Image search of the Drache cover from above, and found that it had previously appeared on the cover of "Warte Auf Das Letzte Jahr", 1981 German 1translation of the of 1966 Philip K. Dick novel, Now Wait for Last Year. Per the ISFDB, the cover artist is Oliviero Berni. As the Kelek action figure is from 1983, this earlier date for the artwork makes me wonder if the TSR Kelek was actually influenced by this picture rather than the other way around.



Friday, April 7, 2017

New Character Sheet PDF for Download

Screen Shot of Character Record Sheet, updated 4/9/17, 1 PM

I tweaked the Character Record and now have a version ready for release:

Click Here to Download a PDF of the Character Record 

It can also be accessed from the Holmes Ref page.

This will eventually be incorporated into a new release of Holmes Ref.

If you spot any typos or errors let me know. Now roll 3d6 in order!

4/9/17 Update: I replaced the pdf with a slightly revised version (formatting, and a new wizard's tower). The link now goes to the revised pdf.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

David Sutherland Day

 
Sutherland's art from the title page of the Basic rulebook

Originally posted in 2013

Today marks the birthday of my favorite TSR artist, the late David C. Sutherland III (aka DCSIII), who passed away too young (age 56) in 2005. I've designated April 4th as "David Sutherland Day". Dave's work defines the look of D&D in 1977, when his art graced the cover of the Holmes Basic Set and first AD&D hardback, The Monster Manual. His work also defined the look of Holmes Basic, being used for the both the cover, the title page (posted above) and foreword (the lizard rider that graces the title of my blog). He was also responsible for most of the artwork for the first Basic module, B1 In Search of the Unknown.

Tome of Treasures has a page with an extensive listing of his TSR credits.

In 2012 his Basic Set artwork was featured in a line of retro t-shirts from WOTC. And in 2013 his original painting was recovered from a crate at the WOTC offices.

Please post a comment on what your favorite work(s) of his.

Here are a few somewhat obscure pieces from Swords & Spells (1976) that are very much in the same style as the Holmes title page piece: