Wednesday, December 5, 2018

1973 Preview of Mythical Earth Minifigs


"Middle Earth wizard painted as Saruman in his 'coat of many colours'; a vicious-looking man-orc; a rather stocky elf; axe-wielding dwarf, and of course, a hobbit. Dwarves are sold in strips of two, the second figure armed with a spear, hobbits in strips of three armed with sword, short sword and spear." - original caption

In 1973, Miniature Figurines, perhaps better known as Minifigs, a British-based manufacturer of metal miniatures for wargames, began production on one of the first lines of fantasy miniatures. (Another very early line by Jack Scruby Miniatures is discussed in this recent article at Playing at the World.)

The line of 25 mm minis was called 'Mythical Earth' --- obviously inspired by Tolkien. The preview photo is from Airfix Magazine, August 1973, and shows some of the first figures in the line, including (from left to right) painted versions of ME4 Wizard, ME1 Man-Orc with Sword, ME2 Wood Elf with Bow, ME3 Dwarves (one of two figures) and ME6 Hobbits (one of thee). Chainmail was in existence at this time, but the publication of D&D in January 1974 was still a number of months away. 

In the Playing at the World article linked above, Jon mentions that the "Mythical Earth" was not the original name for this line, but was a rebranding to avoid suit by the Tolkien Estate. This appears to be reflected in this preview as it only uses the name "Middle Earth" and not "Mythical Earth".

It's stunning to realize that when this article was first published, in August 1973, J.R.R. Tolkien was still alive, though not for long as he passed away the following month on September 2nd, 1973.

The preview was part of the "New kits and models" column in Airfix, author unlisted but probably Editor Bruce Quarrie or Editorial Director Darryl Reach:

"In their 25 mm range. Miniature Figurines  have sent us the first samples in a new series of ‘Middle Earth' figures. Wargamers who are also addicted to Professor J. R. R. Tolkien's epic fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings will be delighted with these figures, which currently include a wizard, man-orc, dwarf, elf and hobbit, illustrated here. Future releases will include Riders of Rohan. Dunedain, and Nazgul mounted on pterodactyl-like winged  beasts. Orcs and further examples both of the Free Peoples and Sauron's minions. Readers of Wargamers Newsletter will realise that there is considerable demand for fantasy figures of this type, and Miniature Figurines are to be congratulated on such an imaginative venture. The figures will undoubtedly be especially popular in America, where Tolkien is a great cult figure, and in this context it is worth noting that the firm are soon to be opening a factory in the States."
Thanks to Shining Knight pointing out this article in this thread on the Dragonsfoot.

A pdf of the magazine can be found over on the Internet Archive.

A gallery of the entire Mythical Earth line can be seen on the Lost Minis wiki.

The line eventually grew to 101 figures. Despite the focus on Middle Earth, it had a few oddities, such as ME51 Frog Man (perhaps Gollum? But why avoid using his name when you already using Hobbit, Huorn, Rohan, Dunland and Harad?), ME100 Centaur, and the final figure ME101 Pan.

J. Eric Holmes owned minis from this line. I previously wrote about his Green-Painted ME58 Dragon and also about a ME4 Wizard in the photo from the Tales of Peril dust jacket.

(Article originally drafted in April 2018 but just revised & posted today)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

1977 Gen Con X Souvenir Program


Gen Con X Souvenir Program, 1977. Source: Gen Con Guru

The Holmes Basic Set debuted in the summer of 1977, with TSR selling it at Origins in July, and then at Gen Con X in August. In this year Gen Con was held at the Playboy Resort in Lake Geneva for the first and only time, a site that is now the Grand Geneva Resort where Gary Con has now been held for a number of years.

I'd seen the covers of the 1977 Souvenir Program before, for example at the Gen Con Guru, but Demos Sachlas (editor of the B1 and B4 fan sourcebooks) just sent me a few photos of the interior that he took of a display copy at Gary Con last March. Page 19 is an ad for the Basic Set, which is now the earliest ad for it that I've seen:


Basic Set advertisement from the Gen Con X Souvenir Program. Source: Demos Sachlas

This advertisement is similar to the first one that ran in Dragon magazine, the next month in issue #9. Of note, these ads use a black and white excerpt of the original artwork rather than a picture of the actual box set cover.



Differences between these two ads include:
-the earlier ad is two-tone black/red, like the rest of the program, later ad is just black
-the later ad adds the subtitle "Swords & Sorcery..."
-the later ad revises "dungeon geomorphs" to "full set of dungeon geomorphs"; "polyhedra dice" to "set of five polyhedra dice"; "revised D&D booklet" to "revised D&D rules book".
-the later ad adds "*T.M. Reg. App. For", although the earlier ad includes the asterisk to which this refers, so perhaps it was removed during the program book layout
-the later ad adds the price, $9.95 plus $1.00 postage and handling
-the later ad replaces the "Other Recent Releases from TSR" and Booth information with a mail-order form

The program also includes a hand-drawn maps of the "Lake Geneva Area", which Demos suggests are by David Sutherland:



Maps of the Lake Geneva Area by David Sutherland. Source: Demos Sachlas


Of particular note is the drawing of the lake monster confronting a galley in Geneva Lake (confusingly, the town is Lake Geneva, but the lake is properly Geneva Lake):




Compare this with his lake monster from the cover the World of Greyhawk Folio (1980):

Detail from the cover of the World of Greyhawk Folio (1980). Source: TSR Archive
See this post for another Lake Monster, attacking a Rhennee barge, by Sutherland from the interior of the Folio.

Perhaps surprisingly, the advertisement for Holmes Basic is on page 19, and not on the back cover of the program, page 32, which instead advertises another new TSR game, Warlocks & Warriors, designed by Gardner Fox:

Warlocks & Warriors ad, back cover of Gen Con X Souvenir Program (1977). Source: Gen Con Guru

The illustration here is also by David Sutherland, and also appears in the Warlocks & Warriors game instructions. The wizard wears a conical "stars & moons" hat, much like the one on the cover of Basic, and the warrior has a helm with an especially realistic-looking dragon:

Monday, November 26, 2018

Maze of Peril Ch 1, Scene 7: "The Grisly Business of Swallowing the Corpses"

This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club, indexed here.

The party wins their first combat, and Zereth directs them in standard D&D post-melee activities  searching the corpses (no treasure is mentioned), retrieving arrows, guarding the passage, checking for injuries (none are noted). Murray dissuades them from hiding the corpses as a waste of time, which proves prescient.

The area where they fought the battle was described in the previous section:
"More dark side corridors, some less than five feet wide, opened to the north. A glow of light ahead resolved, as they approached, into a diffuse beam of sunlight coming down a shaft in the ceiling which illuminated a round pit in the floor. Two thick wooden doors in the south wall were visible by the sunlight, both tight shut. At the lighted shaft, Boinger noted, there was a broad cross corridor and a narrow, darker passage intersecting the tunnel they were in."
These details closely match one of Holmes' original dungeon maps, a sheet adjacent to the one shown in my previous post. In fact, the details match this map so closely that I feel Holmes must have been consulting it while writing this part of the story. Below is the relevant portion with color annotations added by myself. The main corridor runs east-west, 25' wide at a scale of 5' per square. Narrow side corridors open to the north, two doors are in the south wall, and "The Pit" is at the intersection with a broad cross corridor. The orcs attacked while the party was examining the Pit, coming up behind them from the west ("Orc Battle").


Detail from a map by J. Eric Holmes, scan by Tristan Holmes
Boinger suggests investigating the two doors, which are the first doors they've found in the dungeon. They handle these in typical OD&D fashion  Bardan and the two men-at-arms bash one open, finding nothing (room above labeled "Empty"), and Boinger listens at the other. He hears nothing, but on bashing this one open they are are surprised by an "orange mass". Zereth recognizes this an Ochre Jelly, which is a "giant amoeba" member of the "cleanup crew" of Vol 2 of OD&D, and Holmes has it attack accordingly in a nice bit of description  a "long pseudopod of glistening, translucent orange tissue thrust through the gap as the door was pulled shut". The closing door severs this pseduopod, which continues to attack, and a further slash with a sword similarly divides it into two smaller globs, in accord with OD&D ("hits by weaponry ... will merely make them into several smaller Ochre Jellies"). Bardan wisely suggests burning it with a torch, which is successful, and also in accord with the original description ("can be killed by fire or cold"). Thus they survive their second melee.

Next, Boinger's "keen ears" detect an approaching sound. While in OD&D, Vol 3, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits all have an increased chance to hear noise (1-2 in 6 versus 1 in 6), here Boinger clearly has better hearing than the elf or dwarf in the party. In Greyhawk, Hobbit thieves get an extra +1 to Hear Noise, which advances the idea that Hobbits have the best hearing of the non-humans. The sound resolves into a grating noise like someone "dragging a sack of heavy rocks down the tunnel", disturbing enough that Murray suggests they head down a side corridor. They then double back "into another corridor, this one only ten feet wide and black as pitch", where they put out their torches and wait ("Hiding Place" marked above).

Here Zereth they find a "a narrow passageway" that Zereth believes will lead "back toward the intersection", so he and Boinger use this to investigate the noise further. On the map above, this is the five-foot passage paralleling the wider north-south passage. Back at the intersection, our two heroes spy a huge Purple Worm, now in the "grisly business of swallowing the corpses" of the orcs, armor and all. Per OD&D Vol 2, Purple Worms are sufficiently large enough to swallow opponents in combat. The party had earlier noted the worm's trail throughout the main corridor, and now they have found it. They quickly head back to the party.


The original illustration of a Purple Worm from OD&D Vol 2, page 5, possibly by Dave Arneson.

Next up, we finally reach the last scene of Chapter 1!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Elmore's take on the Sutherland Dragon

Click for a larger view

This illustration by Larry Elmore is from a fairly obscure product, the manual for the 1982 adaptation of TSR's boardgame DUNGEON! for the Apple II+. It's on the last page, and is the only illustration in the manual other than the cover, which shows a B&W version of the box cover art by Jeff Easley. It may have appeared in another TSR product, but a Google Image search didn't turn anything up.

While much smaller --- perhaps a Sub-adult? --- Easley's dragon clearly shares many details with David Sutherland's Red Dragon on the cover of the Holmes Basic Set (July 1977), particularly the head - triangular, heavy brow, cheek "whiskers". Also note the V-shaped scales down the ventral portion of the neck, the slightly curved spikes down the back, even the shapes of the scales. 



Sutherland drew a similar B&W version of this same Red Dragon for the monster entry in the AD&D Monster Manual (Dec 1977) ---




Which was redone in color by Jim Roslof for the AD&D Monster Cards (1981) ---




A Red Dragon does appear as one of the monsters in Dungeon!, so Elmore may have been using one of these as a guide in order keep the look consistent between TSR products.

If you'd like to see the entire game manual, it can be found here at the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History.


You can also watch a 10-minute play-through of the game here --- Dungeon! for the Apple II

It had graphics like this screenshot, showing a Superhero versus a jolly Purple Worm ---




Update: As pointed out by John L in the comments, here is Bill Willingham's take on a similarly styled dragon, from the Moldvay Basic Set rulebook (1981). 



Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Things I've Written Published Elsewhere

Most of my RPG-related writing can be found here on the blog or on the sporadically updated Zenopus Archives site. But I do have a few articles that have been published in print or pdf. In view of my recently published zine article, I thought it was time to write up a list of these, which will have a permanent home here on the site.

Listed in reverse chronological order, these are ---


"Clerical Cosmic Horror: The Brief Era of the Cthulhu Mythos as Dungeons & Dragons Pantheon" iBayt al Azif #1, October 2018. 
With an illustration by Chris HolmesCurrently available in pdf or print (softcover or hardcover). See also this post.

"Holmes and the Lost City" in The Lost City Campaign Sourcebook, March 2018. With an illustration of Zargon by myself. 
This is a fan compilation of supplementary material for the module B4; see this DF threadCurrently available as a free pdf

"Axel the Dwarf" (NPC) in FANTASTIC! EXCITING! IMAGINATIVE! #2, Nov 2017, Inner Ham. 
With an illustration by Jon Wilson. Currently available in pdf from DrivethruRPG or in print directly from the publisher.

"Green Grabber" and "Old One" (new monsters) in BLUEHOLME Journeymanne Rules, Fall 2017, Dreamscape Design. Old One illustrated by Bradley K. McDevitt. Currently available in pdf from DrivethruRPG, or in hardcover or in softcover from Lulu. See also the original posts here and here.


"The Writings of J. Eric Holmes" and "Annotated Bibliography for J. Eric Holmes" in Tales of Peril, the Complete Boinger and Zereth Stories of J. Eric Holmes, Summer 2017, Black Blade Publisher. Currently available in print directly from the publisher. See also this post.


"Regal Lizard Man" (new monster) and "Harpy Axe" (new magic item) in FANTASTIC! EXCITING! IMAGINATIVE! #1, March 2017, Inner Ham. Currently available as a free pdf from DrivethruRPG 
or in print directly from the publisherSee also this post.

"Lesser Magic Items" (20 new magic items) in Dungeon Crawl #3, Summer 2013. With three illustrations
by John Blaszczyk. Currently available in pdf from DrivethruRPG or in print from Lulu. See also this post.

I also contributed to proofreading the original release of the 
OD&D retroclone Delving Deeper2012, Immersive Ink, currently available in pdf or free on the web.  

(All DrivethruRPG links include my affiliate number)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Article in a New Cthulhu Zine

The cover of Bayt al Azif issue #1. Art by Maria Nguyen. Click on picture for a larger view.

FYI, I have an article in the first issue of Bayt al Azif, a new magazine "for Cthulhu Mythos Roleplaying Games" (as stated on the cover), edited by Jared Smith. As Jared explains, "Al Azif" is one title Lovecraft used for the Necronomicon, perhaps referring to the howling of demons, and thus the full title of the new magazine can be interpreted as referring to the "House of the Necronomicon". It's available in both pdf and print versions, and can be previewed or purchased here at DrivethruRPG ---


(link includes my DrivethruRPG affiliate number)

The magazine is 80 pages long and includes a variety of articles of interest, including three scenarios for Call of Cthulhu. See the DrivethruRPG page for more details. Here's a screenshot of the Table of Contents ---




My article is "Clerical Cosmic Horror: The Brief Era of the Cthulhu Mythos as Dungeons & Dragons Pantheon", which is a rewrite and expansion of a topic I discussed on this blog a number of years ago. Essentially on Holmes roll in bringing the Cthulhu Mythos into Dungeons & Dragons where it served as part of the line-up of pantheons for a few years.

The best part is that the article is accompanied by a fantastic new piece of art by Chris Holmes! It's a Mythos creature, but I will keep which one a surprise (hint: it's not Cthulhu).

Happy Cthulhuween!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Locations for the Tomb of Horrors on the Great Kingdom Map

Promo image of the deluxe Art & Arcana from Amazon

"THE TOMB OF HORRORS"


Possible locations:

The highest hill in the Egg of Coot
An island lying 100 miles east of Blackmoor
In the great desert west of the Wild Coast
On the border between the Paynim Kingdom and Perrunland
At the Eastern edge of the Duchy of Geoff
In a swamp somewhere in the Wild Coast

These suggested locations for the Tomb of Horrors come from the original version of the adventur not the 1978 monochrome-colored module  but an even earlier iteration that was produced in 1975 for running as a tournament at Origins I in Baltimore, Maryland. This version is finally available as an extra included with the "special edition" of the new D&D art book Art & Arcana. You can see its cover in the promo image above; it's the small beige booklet featuring the original artwork by Tracy Lesch of the infamous Green Devil Face, which was later memorably rendered in color on the back of the 1981 reprint. Given its early date, it's a purely OD&D version of the tomb and is a great addition to the meager assortment of "TSR" adventures for OD&D.

These original suggested locations fit well with the "Great Kingdom" (early World of Greyhawk) map that I've discussed in previous posts such as Megarry's copy of the Great Kingdom Map, and suggest that Gygax may have been using this map for Greyhawk at the time. For reference, here is the map image 





On this map, the Egg of Coot lies in the center north, with hills in the northern region of the realm to possibly house "the highest hill". Blackmoor is to the south on the coast of the Great Bay, with plenty of space for an island "lying 100 miles east" in the bay, or depending on the scale, past the island kingdoms of the "Sea". To the west and southwest of Blackmoor, the Paynim Kingdom borders on Perrunland. Much further to the south lies the Duchy of Geoff, the eastern edge of which borders on the Kingdom of Faraz (not mentioned in the Tomb). Only the twice-mentioned Wild Coast is missing from this map, but the "great desert west of the Wild Coast" may be the Sea of Dust, suggesting the Wild Coast is to the south where the coast past of Keoland.

In the published version of Tomb of Horrors, the suggested locations were changed to:


The highest hill on the Plains of luz
An island (unmapped) In the Nyr Dyv
In the Bright Desert
At the western border of the Duchy of Geoff
Somewhere in the Vast Swamp south of Sundi
On an island beyond the realm of the Sea Barons

These revised locations correspond more closely to the published World of Greyhawk, although note that they were suggested in 1978, which was still several years before the World of Greyhawk Folio was first published in 1980.

The Egg of Coot was changed to "the Plain of Iuz"; Iuz occupies a somewhat similar north-central location in published Greyhawk and has "the Howling Hills" to the north.

The second entry, the island, was relocated to an unmapped island in Nyr Dyv, and second island was added "beyond the realms of the Sea Barons", which is closer in spirit to the island to the east of Blackmoor, particularly if the islands shown on the Great Kingdom map were an early version of the Sea Barons.

The desert was changed to "the Bright Desert", which on the published Greyhawk map is to to the east, rather than west, of the Wild Coast across the Woolly Bay. The "great" bit is dropped, presumably because the Bright Desert is much smaller than the Sea of Dust.

The eastern border of Geoff was changed to the western, presumably because that borders the great Crystalmist mountain range.

The swamp location was changed to "south of the Sundi", which means the Vast Swamp south of the County of Sunndi (member of the Iron League) on the Darlene map.

Finally, the suggestion of the border of Paynim/Perrenland was completely removed. In the Darlene map, the Plains of the Paynims no longer directly borders Perrenland; there are several new kingdoms between — Tusmit, Ket.

When the World of Greyhawk folio was finally published in 1980, the true location of the Tomb was finally revealed as being in the Vast Swamp:

There are many tales and legends concerning this area, but the most likely is that of the TOMB OF HORRORS (ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAONGS MODULE S1), the lost burial place of a lich who once ruled the morass and beyond into the cockscomb of Tilvanot. (a peninsula in the shape of a rooster's comb).

And then the expanded 1983 Word of Greyhawk boxed set further fixed the location as "probably" in "the heart of the Vast Swamp, in hex K2-97".

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Greg Stafford's story about getting OD&D

As you've probably heard, game designer Greg Stafford passed away last week at the age of 70. While I haven't played any of the systems he is best known for (Runequest, Pendragon, Ghostbusters), I have in recent years played and ran Call of Cthulhu, the best known game produced by the company he started, Chaosium.

From 2006-2015, Greg participated in a Q&A thread over on the Acaeum, 107 posts total. There are lots of great posts worth reading there, but given the focus of my blog, I'd like to highlight the first one, a fun story about how he may have received the first ever sold copy of OD&D --- 

"I'm mainly a Chaosium guy, of course, but I'd like to share one tale about D&D to start, from WAY back when. 

I used to work for Bergamot Brass Works, a belt buckle company out of Lake Geneva, WI after high school. Real hippy job. I'd take buckles, hitch hike around and sell them to shops, etc. After a while, though, I moved to California. My friend of the time remained there, selling buckles (we were called Buckle-itis). 

Through various circumstances I'd decided to publish my first boardgame, White Bear & Red Moon, on my own. As I was finishing up work on it, I got a package in the mail from my old partner Jeff. His cover letter swaid, "I was picking up my catalogues from the printer the other day and there was this guy waiting for his stuff. I asked what it was, and he said it was a fantasy game. I said, 'Hey, my buddy in California is doing one too! Can I buy one from ya?'" 

Of course the guy was happy to, and so Jeff sent me this strange little booklet called Dungeons & Dragons. 

Later on I thought, "Heck, I wonder if that was the first one ever sold?" Well, I asked Gary Gygax if he remembered this incident and he did, and confirmed that it was the first one ever sold. 

MAN, do I ever now wish that I'd not lent it to my DM and never gotten it back!!"

Thursday, October 11, 2018

GAMMA WORLD IS HERE...

1978 promotional poster for Gamma World

FYI, just about forty years after they were originally released, the original Gamma World rules, now known as the first edition or 1E, are now available on Drive Thru RPG in both PDF ($10), Print-On-Demand ($20), or both ($22) ---

Gamma World 1E on Drive Thru RPG 
(link includes affiliate number)

Gamma World, by James Ward and Gary Jaquet, was first published in 1978 and was developed from Ward's earlier Metamorphosis Alpha RPG (1976). As the co-authors wrote in Dragon #18, "The creation of the boxed game of Gamma World was brought about when the need for a planet based version of Metamorphosis Alpha presented itself. The distances and possibilities presenting themselves on a planet were far more vast than those of a star ship. Also, through the course of playing MA, many new concepts were created and old ideas evolved into things far different from what was given" (from "GAMMA WORLD: First Report; Setting Up The Campaign" in the column From the Sorceror's Scroll in Dragon #18, Sep 1978).

The PDF is of the third printing from 1981, with a TSR Face Logo. Earlier printings had the Lizard Logo or the Wizard Logo (August 1978). I've checked the 2nd and 3rd printing against each other and didn't note any rules differences, just some slight differences to the logos, copyright info and product listings. I don't have access to a 1st printing, so I don't know whether any corrections were made from 1st to 2nd.

A Gamma World "Sneak Preview" appeared in Dragon #8, July 1977, the same month that Holmes Basic was first available at Origins 77. It was titled "Introduction to: Gamma World", and was an early draft of the Introduction that later appeared in the rulebook. It was attributed as an "Excerpt from "The Black Years" --- Hald Servin, 2562", with no further explanation. However, based on a further article "More Excerpts from the Journals
of Hald Sevrin" by Gary Jaquet in Dragon #19, it appears that he is "Hald Sevrin". 

In Dragon #15 (June 1978), an advertisement on page 18 announces two new TSR releases for Origins 78, Gamma World and the AD&D Players Handbook. This was repeated in Dragon #16 (July 1978), and the next two issues have, "This is Gamma World" advertisements that use the same artwork as the poster shown above, and specifically mention the poster as being available.

The back of the original Gamma World boxed set stated that "The GAMMA WORLD™ rules are also suitable for use with the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS rules." This compatibility can be seen by looking at a stat block from the "Monster & Treasure Listings" in the back of the Gamma World 1E rulebook ---

07. Yexil (2) HP: 42, 35; AC: 6, Move: 4/15; AT: bite does 3d6 damage, laser eye beam does 5d6 damage (25m range); MU: totally resistant to cold attacks.

They left HD out of these listings (similar to the OD&D M&TA listings, although those have a "To Hit AC9" score), but it can be found elsewhere in the write-up (10 in this case). It'd be trivial to just throw this at a (A)D&D party as an encounter. 

In 1979, the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide included a section, "Mutants & Magic" (pg 113-114), on conducting cross-over campaigns between the two rulesets in either direction.

It took a few years, but the original rules were eventually supported by several products, including the sandbox module GW1 Legion of Gold (1981) by Gary Gygax, Luke Gygax and Paul Reiche III, the module GW2 Famine in Far-go (1982) by Michael Price, and a Referee's Screen with a mini-module, The Albuquerque Starport, also by Reiche. None of these are available on Drive Thru RPG yet, but hopefully will eventually appear. There was also a module in Dragon #52 (August 1981, Cavern of the Sub-Train, by the original co-author, Gary Jaquet.

I must note that they still haven't released Holmes Basic in PDF or POD....!!!

Update: I saw some pics on FB of the POD product. Since the file format puts the box cover on top, it results in a booklet with a color cover - a nice touch. The original booklet cover is the first page on the inside. The blue map from the box is also included in the interior, across two pages.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

J. Eric Holmes Yearbook Entry


Click on the picture for a larger view

This is John Eric Holmes' yearbook entry from his senior year of high school, from the 1947 issue of The Oahuan, a publication of the Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii --- the same school President Obama would graduate from several decades later, in 1979.

The bio is neat as it attests to his long interest in the pulps and writing --- "Eric keeps busy trying to crash the pulp market" and is "planning to make writing a career". It also suggests he will study chemistry in college, although he ended graduating from Stanford in 1951 with a degree in psychology.

Posted with permission of Chris and Tristan Holmes.

I've added this to the J. Eric Holmes Photo Gallery

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The J. Eric Holmes Photo Gallery

Photo from the back cover of the U.S. printing of Fantasy Role-Playing Games (1981)

Announcing: The J. Eric Holmes Photo Gallery

This is a collection of annotated photos from various publications. I've had it up for a while on the Sites page, slowly adding photos, but hadn't posted anything about it here. Currently there are nine photos, with a few more to come.

Check it out!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Lizardmen PCs for Holmes Basic

Illustration by Greg Bell from Greyhawk (1975)

     Lizardmen --- are swamp-dwelling saurianoids about seven feet in height when fully grown. Members of the more advanced hut-dwelling tribes can speak a hissing version of Common in addition to their own tongue, and occasionally seek out employment as muscle in more civilized areas. A character should have a 13 or greater strength in order to be a lizardman. They progress as members of the fighting class, but due to their size and strength gain a bonus hit point at first level and attack on the Monster Table for 1 to 8 points of damage when employing a weapon. Claws and teeth also allow them to attack for 1 to 6 points of damage without weaponry. Their scaly hide affords protection equivalent to chainmail (armor class 5) but due to their affinity for swimming they shun metal armor of any type other than a shield. They move at twice normal rate in water.


Notes
---Adapted from comments I first left to a post in the Holmes G+ group, with some changes on further reflection.

---Holmes has lizardman guards in two Boinger & Zereth stories, The Sorceror's Jewel and In the Bag. One speaks with a hiss and the other wields a halberd (much like the image above). Holmes uses the term "saurianoid" in In the Bag, and "saurian" in the other story.

---The height of seven feet, and the concept of more advanced hut-dwelling tribes, comes from the Monster Manual.

---The stat details comes from the Holmes Basic entry: AC 5, HD 2+1, AT 1, D 1-8 with spear or club. The bonus hit point at first level leads to a total HD of 2+1 at second level, meaning a 2nd level lizardman fighter here is equivalent to the monster version.

---Compared to a first level human fighter they get +1 HP and +1 damage, but with a loss of 2 points of AC (no plate mail). If using variable damage for weapons, you can give them a +1 to damage or step the dice up one notch (d8 to d10, etc). Using the Monster Table (which varies slightly between OD&D and different printings of Holmes) for attacks means a lizardman fighter will generally attack better than a human fighter of equivalent level, but their AC will remain much worse without magic armor (e.g., no plate mail +2). In addition to shunning metal armor, magic armor would generally not be available that fits their size and proportions.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Ochre Jelly Inspiration?

Illustration from Worlds of Fantasy #1 (1968)

I've just finished reading Conan of Cimmeria (1969), the second volume of the famous Lancer/Ace series of Conan paperbacks from the late 1960s (the second in internal chronology, not publication order). Nowadays one can easily find compilations of pure Howard material, but back then these slim paperbacks were the main way to encounter Conan. This particular volume is a dog's breakfast of Howard Conan stories; a non-Conan Howard story edited to be Conan; a Howard draft finished by de Camp; and pastiches written completely by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. The origin of each story is helpfully identified in the front matter of the book.

The de Camp/Carter stories are essentially filler connecting the Howard tales --- brief stories about Conan encountering some menace while traveling from one region to another. Though less exciting than the Howard stories I've found them to be competently written, and quick reads. And certainly suitable as inspiration for D&D encounters.

The first pastiche in the book is The Curse of the Monolith and was originally printed as Conan and the Cenotaph in the magazine Worlds of Fantasy #1 (1968). The illustration above shows the monster which threatens Conan in this story. It is described as a "huge lump of quivering, semi-translucent jelly", pulsing with "throbbing, bloated life" and glistening wetly as it beats "like a huge, living heart". It first extends a single "slippery pseudopod" that exudes "a digestive fluid, by means of which is consumed its prey", later joined by more pseudopods. Elsewhere it is described as a "wet jelly", "living jelly", "jelly-beast" or a "slime-monster". 

The description of course immediately brings to mind the "clean-up crew" of D&D, and in particular the Ochre Jelly. These creatures appeared fully formed in the original D&D rules, with Ochre Jelly, Black (or Gray) Pudding, Green Slime, Gray Ooze all being described in Volume 2, Monsters & Treasure. They are not, however, in Chainmail or the pre-publication "Guidon D&D" draft from 1973, which means they were added to the D&D draft at some point between "Guidon" and the first publication of D&D in Jan 1974. So the The Curse of the Monolith was available well before their first appearance.

In OD&D we learn that the Ochre Jelly "is a giant amoeba which can be killed by fire or cold, but hits by weaponry or lightening [sic] bolts will merely make them in to several smaller Ochre Jellies. Ochre Jelly does not affect stone or metal, but it does destroy wood, and it causes one die of damage per turn it is in contact with exposed flesh. It seeps through small cracks easily".

The jelly of the monolith is not specifically described as an amoeba, but has pseudopods, a term that is closely associated with amoebas. The jelly-beast is not described as being ochre in color, instead being semi-translucent and turning pink after feeding. But its abilities and vulnerabilities are similar to the Ochre Jelly. It dissolves flesh but not stone, like the Monolith on which it lives,  or metal, such as a rusty dagger of a former victim that Conan finds. And Conan finally destroys the jelly with fire, which is one of the vulnerabilities of the Ochre Jelly. Compare with the Black Pudding and Green Slime, which are also vulnerable to fire but can dissolve metal, or the Gray Ooze, which is immune to fire.

I don't want to read too much into this, because it is certainly possible that these similarities are pure coincidence. There are many stories out there about the inspiration for the oozes --- the Blob, the Green Slime movie, etc. Rob Kuntz mentions these in a 2009 blog post, Origin of the Black Pudding? Roots in CA Smith Conceptions? These stories don't generally call out the Ochre Jelly specifically, so I'm not sure whether it originated with Arneson or Gygax.

The Ochre Jelly may have just been created as an alternatively colored "goo monster" to the Black Pudding and Green Slime, and then given different characteristics to distinguish it. But the frequent use of the name "jelly" in the story coupled with its similar abilities and vulnerabilities is certainly worth noting in a list of possible inspirations.

See also ---
Holmes on Solomon's Stone by de Camp
Conan on the River of Doom (unfinished Conan novel by Holmes; de Camp was editor)
de Camp & Holmes in Dragon Magazine

Update: Re-reading the summary of the Blob, which I saw many years ago, I see that it grew redder to more victims it consumed, which is a specific detail very similar to the color change of the jelly-beast in the Conan story. This suggests that de Camp and Carter had this movie in mind for their story, ala Conan meets the Blob.

Update #2: Here on DF, Gygax credits the Black Pudding to Arneson --- 

"Dave Arneson evidentally disliked English black pudding, made up an amoeboid monster of that name which I glommed onto..figuratively of course. 

If he was thinking of Shoggoths when he envisaged the critter, only Dave knows..."

The "glommed onto" presumably refers to adding the various other members of the cleanup crew.

Here in his EnWorld Q&A, Gygax takes credit for the Ochre Jelly, but disclaims any influence other than nature ---

"Because of the large and varied ecology of the D&D dungeons and underground, it was necessary to have scavengers of all sorts, so I made up the gelatinous cube, carrion crawler, ocher jelly, etc. There was no particular inspiration save for nature--amobeas, insect larva, and imagination."

Update #3: Here's a link to Dave Arneson indicating (in 2008) that he read the Ace/Lancer Conan series. Thanks to Geoffrey McKinney for finding this (see his comment below).

Official Dave Arneson Q&A at ODD74