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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Danse Macabre Filmstrip (1963)

A re-post from 2017, and 2013 before that:

For Halloween, here's something haunting that I remember watching in music class in late elementary school, around the same time I discovered D&D (1982). It's a 1963 educational filmstrip with fantastic watercolors by Harold Dexter Hoopes, set to the eerie music of Danse Macabre by Saint-Saens. It was unavailable on the web until a few years ago but now there are multiple versions on YouTube, one of which has better colors but includes a loud "filmstrip advance" beep throughout. There isn't much info available on the internet about the artist Hoopes. There was even a blog dedicated to restoring the individual frames of this filmstrip but it seems to have stalled out at frame 20.

There's also a later second edition of the filmstrip done in the mid-80s with art by David Prebenna, later an illustrator of Sesame Street/Muppet toddler books. It's cartoony and less haunting, but also worth watching.

Memories of this filmstrip led me to include "Danse Macabre" in my One Hit Point Monsters.

Happy All Hallow's Evening!

2020 Update:

Re-posted with an improved video now available on YT.

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #6: Bat Cave (aka Bloody Mess)

This is an installment of The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, which starts here.

6. BAT CAVE (aka BLOODY MESS): The only entrance to this cave is the tunnel from Area 5 to the south, a narrow (single-file only), winding, and rubble-filled passage. Moving north through this passage, characters will note increasing humidity, a strong acrid smell, and reddish guano on the floor. 

The cave itself is oval, about 20 ft. east-west and 30 ft. north-south, with many stalactites, some dripping water. The floor is covered in bloody red guano-covered rubble, making it slippery and difficult to traverse (all attacks by characters are made at -4, with a modified 1 on the attack indicating the attacker has slipped). The area is pitch black during the day due to the winding passage blocking light from the south.

Bats. A large colony of vampire bats has taken up residence here, exiting to the surface through the chimney in Area 5. Unless already awakened by noise to the south (see Area 5), during the day they will be asleep on the ceiling, hidden among the stalactites. Characters moving about this room have a 1 in 6 chance of waking them per person in the room, per round (i.e., 2 in 6 for two, 3 in 6 for three, etc), at which point they will begin flying about, hungry for blood. If awakened here, 1d8 of the bats will begin attacking each round.

Vampire Bats21-40 (20 + 1d20): DX 18, AC 3 (9 while attached), HD 1/8, hp 1 each, AT 1 bite for 1 point damage, attaches on a successful hit and then automatically drains 1 hp per round for two rounds, at which point it is full and will detach and fly away.

Vampire Bat from "The Handy Natural History" (1910), by Ernest Protheroe. Source: Wikimedia

Old Well. In the northeast corner of the room, there is a 3'-wide hole in the floor where water dripping from the ceiling and running across the floor pools 8 ft. down. A rusted chain is fixed to a piton near the edge, and hangs down into the water. The chain is about 12 ft long, and a metal bucket is attached to the end of the chain, below the surface of the water. If the bucket is pulled up it will be filled with bloody-looking water (fouled by the guano). Etched on the bottom of the bucket is a rough map showing Areas 5-7, including the secret passage in Area 7.

The only exit from this room is back to the south. Follow the link on the above map.

To be continued...

Trivia: As I mentioned back in the One Hit Point Monster post, in the Combat section of the Basic rulebook, Holmes provides a vampire bat as an example of "a small fast creature" that would have a lower armor class (AC3) than one would expect based solely its natural armor.

Friday, October 16, 2020

"Frontiers in Brain Research": Audio of Holmes' Neurology Lecture at Worldcon in 1978

Flyer for World Con 36 aka Iguanacon. Click for a larger view.

Here's a forgotten artifact that has just resurfaced
an audio recording of a lecture given by J. Eric Holmes at Worldcon 36 in 1978 (aka Iguanacon; each one has a unique name). It's titled "Frontiers in Brain Research"  Holmes was a professor of neurology at USC — and is almost hour and half in length! 

A direct link to the recording, which you can download & listen to like a podcast:

Frontiers in Brain Research

(214.5 MB mp3, length 1:29:22)

The recording starts with announcement identifying it as a product of Cassette Communications Corporation, a company that made recordings at the con and then offered them on sale for $6 a tape to con-goers. Here is their flyer from World Con 36:

Click on the image for a larger view

Per the flyer, if you ordered six tapes ($30), you received received a bonus "custom album" holder; I found a picture of one of these from an old Ebay auction of Harlan Ellison recordings:

There are a few technical glitches in the recording: Holmes was already speaking when the recoding began, so there is no introduction, although it is still clearly near the beginning where he is outlining what he will be talking about. There is also a break in his speech not too far in where the recording seems to have been stopped and started again. And there is some background hiss, not unexpected for those of us that remember audio cassette recordings.

But overall this is a real treat: we get to hear Holmes speaking clearly (the first time I have heard his voice!) and at length on a topic that he knows extremely well. He keeps it light with periodic jokes and the audience is very enthusiastic, asking many questions; the last half-hour or so is a Q&A following the lecture.

The recording is hosted on AZFandom (Arizona Fandom), "a site dedicated to Arizona fandom from its beginnings in the late 1960s to its future in the years to come", which has a page for conventions held in Arizona, including one for Worldcon 36, which includes a section of audio recordings.

The Sci-Fi & Fantasy Fan preservation site Fanac also has a page with a wealth of documentation of Worldcon 38 / Iguanacon.

Per the Pocket Program, Holmes gave his lecture from 11:30 am to 12:45 pm on Saturday, September 2nd, 1978 in the Phoenix Room of the Hyatt Regency, shown here: 

Sketch of the Hyatt from the convention program

I asked Chris Holmes about this, and he recalls attending this convention with his father but no other details. To put this in context, t
his was less than a month after they had attended Gen Con XI (Aug 17-20), where J. Eric Holmes was a Guest of Honor, gave a lecture on "Fantasy Literature, Fantasy Art & Fantasy Gaming", and ran two D&D games, D&D For Beginners and D&D on Barsoom.

Chris (left) and J. Eric Holmes (right) at Gen Con XI. Source: Dragon #20

Full page ad for Gen Con XI that mentions Holmes, which ran in Dragon #15 and #16.

Holmes had a history of presenting research in his area of study for the science fiction fan, having written several science articles for the magazine Analog Science Fact and Fiction, including:

He later went on to co-author, with David F. Lindsley, a college textbook titled Basic Human Neurophysiologywhich was published in 1984 by Elsevier:

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #5: Smugglers' Bunk

This is an installment of The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, which starts here.

Area 6

Area 7

SMUGGLERS' BUNK: This is a dry, sandy cave, roughly oval (30 ft east-west by 20 ft north-south) with three visible exits, south (sloping down to Area 3), north (Area 6, a narrow and rubble-filled passage) and east (Area 7). During the day, the room is dimly lit by a narrow natural chimney to the surface in the center of the ceiling (30 ft. high), although there are also several rusty torch sconces affixed to the walls.

Each turn spent searching this room has a 1 in 6 chance of waking a colony of vampire bats in Area 6 to the north. If this happens, 1d4 bats will begin arriving each round. 

Vampire Bats21-40 (20 + 1d20): DX 18, AC 3 (9 while attached), HD 1/8, hp 1 each, AT 1 bite for 1 point damage, attaches on a successful hit and then automatically drains 1 hp per round for two rounds, at which point it is full and will detach and fly away.

Firepit. Beneath the chimney is a rock-ringed shallow pit, once used for fires by the smugglers but now filled with sand. Digging in the sand will at first reveal only layers of old ashes, and then sand again, but several feet beneath this sand there is a waterproof, locked box of bronze (worth 50 g.p. itself) containing 500 pieces of eight (large silver coins equal to electrum in value), 3 gems worth 100 g.p. each and an etching showing the location of a lost pirate fortress (DM's choice; one possibility is the Judges Guild module the Corsairs of Tallibar by Mike Wilson).

Junk. Scattered around the room are five decaying wooden sleeping pallets, along with a number of discarded personal effects, half-buried in the sand. Much of it is worthless (rusted utensils, ceramic shards, broken bottles), but each turn spent searching the area will turn up one of the following (roll 1d6), but also give a chance of waking the bats (see above).

i. A broken cutlass with a fancy engraved hilt, worth 100 g.p. to a weaponsmith.

ii. A hook hand, well-preserved because it is made of bronze, and worth 150 g.p.

iii. Fish-shaped piece of wrought iron; actually a key to the locked door in the old office (Area TBD).

iv. A wax-sealed fifth of fine spiced rum; 1d10 swigs remain, with each swig giving a temporary boost of 1d4 hp, usable once per day per person.

v. Strangely well-preserved cavalier boots, which are boots of nimble feet, with 20 + 1d4 charges remaining.

vi. A decaying leather case holding a fine skeletal spyglass, which when used will give x-ray vision (as a potion) for 1 turn per day but also bestow a minor illusionary curse lasting 1 day that makes the viewing eye appear as an empty socket, even if covered with a patch, reducing Charisma to 3. The power of the spyglass only lasts as long it is kept on the eye; once removed, the single charge is expended for that day. Per OD&D Vol 3, x-ray vision allows the viewer to see through up to 10 ft. of rock or 6 inches of iron and to a total distance of 30 ft.

The adventure continues in several directions from here. Follow the links on the above map; if there is no link, the area is not yet posted.

Chronologically on this blog, the next posted installment was Area 6.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #4: End of the Line

This is an installment of The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, which starts here.

Area 3

4. END OF THE LINE: The rusty rails from Area 3 extend east into tunnel 10 ft. wide and high, the walls and floor of which show occasional signs of being worked to widen and smooth the passage. The tunnel slopes up slightly to the east, and there is no natural light here. Every so often an odd bit of timber, rope or metal, or empty rum bottle lies discarded at one side or the other of the tunnel. Heading east, at 20 ft. there are old timbers shoring up the ceiling. 

Cave-in. At 40 ft., the passage ends at a mass of collapsed rubble and a few timbers, which covers the rails and completely blocks the way further east, which once continued towards Portown.

Discards. Scattered about on the floor in front of this area are a torn open backpack and several other pieces of equipment, all that remains of a failed attempt by a previous explorer to flee down this passage from the carrion crawler in Area 3. The pack is empty but contains a concealed pocket holding a large rough agate (worth 100 g.p. if properly polished; see Area 3 for the reputed property of agates) and the other equipment consists of 3 torches, an empty tinderbox, a rusty dagger, an oil flask, and another apparent oil flask that on closer inspection will be revealed to be filled with a red liquid (a potion of healing).

Despite the name, this is not the end of the adventure, merely a dead end in one direction from Area 3. 

Chronologically on this blog, the next posted installment was Area 5.

Monday, October 5, 2020

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave illustrated: The Old Rowboat


"The Old Rowboat" by Lore Suto. Click for a larger view.

Above is another new illustration by Lore Suto for Area 3 (Grotto with Rocky Beach) of The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave. I will be adding the image to that post, but I'm also posting it here to highlight it.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #3: Grotto

This is an installment of the Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, which starts here.

Area 5

Area 2 Area 4

Area 8

3. GROTTO WITH ROCKY BEACH: The east end of the sea cave tunnel (Area 2) opens into a large natural cave, roughly circular with a 50 ft. diameter. The sea water extends into the grotto in a semi-circular pool, ending at a rocky beach, varying in radius from 10-20 feet, dependent on the tide. A carrion crawler currently lairs here.

Pool. At the entrance to the cave, the depth of the water in the pool ranges from 3 feet at low tide to 13 feet at high tide. At any time, there is a 3 in 6 chance the carrion crawler is hanging on the wall over the pool, fishing in the water. If so, there is a 2 in 6 chance it will attack a character as they enter (check for each as they enter), surprising on 1-4 in 6.  

Carrion Crawler: DX 12, AC 7, HD 3+1, hp 14, AT 8, D 0 + paralysis.

If the carrion crawler is not fishing, it will either (4 on the initial die roll) be on a wall of the cave, or (5-6) under the old rowboat described below.

The Crawler in the Grotto by Lore Suto
(click on image to enlarge, particularly if a moire pattern is visible)

Rocky Beach. The remainder of the grotto is a pebble and stone-covered beach that was once the unloading area for the smugglers. From the beach, there are three other exits visible, all natural passages, heading to the north (sloping up to Area 5), east (Area 4, see Rails below), south (sloping down to Area 8). During the day, the area is dimly lit by natural light filtering down the sea cave tunnel (except at high tide), and from the north.

An inspection of the rocks of the beach will turn up numerous bones, mostly of fish, but several that are human, evidently those of previous explorers who became victims of the carrion crawler.

Agates. For each turn spent searching the rocks, there is a 1 in 6 chance of finding a beach agate, up to a maximum of 1d10 agates. The base value of each is 10 g.p., with a chance of being worth more per the rules of the Gems table (i.e., a 1 in 6 chance of being worth 50 g.p., and if so there is a 1 in 6 chance of being worth 100 g.p., etc.). As agates are reputed to improve sleep (AD&D DMG, pg 26), optionally allow a character who keeps one of 100 g.p. or greater on their person at all times to gain 1 extra hit point per night of rest.

Rails. A rusted pair of rails for a small cart start about 10' ft. from the east wall and extend off down the eastern passage (Area 4). There is no cart is present.

"The Old Rowboat" by Lore Suto, click on the image for a larger view

Old Rowboat. In the northeast portion of the cave, above the high tide line, is an old turned-over rowboat, under which the carrion crawler rests. The wood of the boat is remarkably well-preserved for its age due to waterproofing with pine pitch. It can hold 4 people, and will float but unless re-waterproofed will slowly fill with water from leaks between boards. It is too large to fit through the entrance to the sea cave (Area 1). A pitted iron anchor rests against the grotto wall near the rowboat, but there are no oars present.

The adventure continues in several directions from here. Follow the links on the above map; if there is no link to an area, it has not been posted yet. Chronologically on this blog, the next posted installment was Area 4.

A hearty thanks to Lore Suto for kindly contributing the original art featured above!

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Maze of Peril video review by captcorajus

The Maze of Peril (1986), cover art by Dan Day

Space and Time Books continues to restock copies of the original 1986 printing of The Maze of Peril in their Amazon store, as I previously reported

Click here or on the cover image in the right side bar to get a copy 
(the link includes my Amazon affiliate number)

Over on Youtube, captcorajus has a new video review of the book, titled "OSR Musings: Maze of Peril". captcorajus is a Holmes fan; I've featured two of his RPG Retro Reviews before, one of the Holmes Basic Set as a whole and the other of the Tower of Zenopus Dungeon. And this past February (just before coronavirus shut everything down), I had the pleasure of meeting and having him play Bardan the Dwarf in my game at Scrum Con!

I will note as a warning that if you haven't read the book yet, this review does include a significant number of spoilers regarding the plot.

OSR Musings: Maze of Peril

Stepping away from game and module reviews this week, I take a look at the Dungeons & Dragons inspired adventure by the author of the D&D Basic Set, John Eri...

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #1-2 & Intro

This is the start of The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, a new adventure I am posting on the blog as I write it. Below are the Background, Location, Area 1 and Area 2. Subsequent posts are limited to a single area. The dungeon can be navigated using the links surrounding each map. Note that the posts in this series are subject to revision as it progresses.

The coda to the Sample Dungeon (aka the Ruined Tower of Zenopus) poses several unanswered questions that are meant to inspire avenues for the new DM to expand the adventure. One of these asks, "Do the pirates have other treasure troves hidden in the sea caves?", referring to the group in Room M. I used this as the basis of Rumor #13 in the d20 Portown Rumors (also included in the Ruined Tower of Zenopus conversion). Below is one sea cave system that can be used for such a sea cave.


BACKGROUND: Years ago, this natural cave system was the preferred route for smuggling goods into Portown, because it leads from the sea all the way into the town proper. This changed on the night of magical destruction of the Tower of Zenopus, an event which shook the land enough to collapse both the cliff face over the entrance to the smugglers' cave and a section of the main passage through the tunnel. This rendered it unsuitable for smuggling, although it is still possible to traverse the system with some difficulty. After the town knocked down the remains of the tower of Zenopus, the smugglers eventually began using the caves there instead.

LOCATION: This sea cave is located at the base of the sea cliff to the west of Portown, to the south of the Zenopus dungeon.

Encounter Areas:

Area 2

What remains of the opening is barely visible at the top of a pile of boulders, coated in barnacles and seaweed, that rises from the water line. At low tide, 10 feet of rock is exposed, at mid-tide, 5 feet, and at high tide, the entrance is just below the surface. 

A boat can be rowed alongside the slippery pile without too much difficulty, but climbing up it will require some dexterity, with a slip dropping a character into 5 (low tide) to 10 feet (mid-tide) of choppy sea water. One person at a time can fit through the narrow entrance by scooting sideways while on their belly.

Once inside, there is a less slippery scramble down to the sea water covering the floor of the cave tunnel, which is of similar depth to the water on the outside, depending on the tide.

Area 1 Area 3

2. SEA CAVE TUNNEL: The cave tunnel is about 10 feet wide, and runs east-west 200 ft., with the eastern end leading into the water in a grotto (Area 3). The tunnel slopes up about two feet along the length of the tunnel. The water of the tunnel is filled with numerous large (2' long), trapped fish. These will bump into anyone walking through the water of the tunnel in an alarming but harmless manner. 

This adventure continues in Area 3.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Grognardia interviews Chris Holmes

If you missed it, the newly resurrected Grognardia blog posted a new interview with Chris Holmes this past Friday. Chris answers ten questions, with lots of stories about discovering D&D in the mid-'70s.

Chris also recently guested on the Save for Half podcast, Episode 26.5: North Texas RPG Con, and back in the spring was on the Appendix N Book Club podcast, Episode 67 Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan At the Earth's Core

Interview: Chris Holmes

Today's interview was a real treat for me. Chris Holmes, son of Dr J. Eric Holmes, kindly agreed to answer my questions about his own experiences with roleplaying, as well as the life and works of his father, whose Basic Set was the very first RPG I ever owned. 1.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Holmes Basic in Sunny Rolls the Dice

Sunny Rolls the Dice (2019) is the third in a series of graphic novels about Sunny, a teen growing up in suburban Pennsylvania in the 1970s. It is co-created by Jennifer L. Holm, a Newberry Honor author, and her brother Matthew Holm, an illustrator, and is semi-autobiographical, inspired by the Holms' own childhood, particularly Jennifer's.

The first two books in the series are Sunny Side Up (2015) and Swing It Sunny (2017), and a fourth, Sunny Makes a Splash, is in production. I've currently read the first and third ones and greatly enjoyed both of them, but 
Sunny Rolls the Dice is a particular favorite for its loving treatment of Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s. The series starts in 1976 and proceeds chronologically, so with the third book starting in mid-1977, it's the right time for Holmes Basic, and sure enough that's what Sunny encounters when she first plays D&D with kids in her neighborhood, appropriately in her family's newly finished basement rec room:

The Holms take pains to include details faithful to the era in which the series is set, and I'm impressed that here they appropriately show an early edition of the Holmes set that includes a Monster & Treasure Assortment Set 1: Levels 1-3 and a set of five polyhedral dice. In a minor nitpick that only an early D&D fan will notice, the colors of the accessories are off (the M&T Set 1 should be yellow - Set 3 was blue - and the dice are the wrong colors), but the illustrations are spot on, including a d20 showing a "0" instead of a "10" or "20".

The story also heavily features the original Monster Manual, and the back of the book includes a photo of a young Holm with her own copy. I get this; learning about monsters was what originally attracted me to D&D.

The appearance of D&D in this story is not just period window-dressing; the game is a pivotal part of the plot, as you may have guessed from the title of the book.

To hear the author herself talking about this book and her experiences with D&D growing up, listen to this recent Save or Die interview with Jennifer Holm. A big thank you to DM Carl at Save or Die for letting me know that Holmes Basic was featured in this book.

You can preview the first section of the book, up to the beginning of Sunny's first D&D game, over at Amazon:

(All product links include Amazon or DMsGuild/DrivthruRPG affiliate #s)

Friday, September 11, 2020

Blood of Prokopius: Towards a Holmesian Dungeon

Attention Holmes True Believers,

Interesting post alert! 

Today, the blog Blood of Prokopius has a post, Towards a Holmesian Dungeon, that is well worth your time:

Towards a Holmesian Dungeon

What follows is not anything particularly new. Many of these ideas have been present within the hobby and explored throughout the years I have been maintaining this blog. My interest here is codifying what I consider to be the characteristics of a dungeon that can truly be called Holmesian - by which I mean a dungeon that puts into practice what the Holmes Basic Edition presents as Dungeon.

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Sea-Changed (New Monster)

Ariel's Song from the Tempest as illustrated by Virgil Finlay

A new monster for your Portown, Saltmarsh or other coastal D&D campaign, inspired by this thread on ODD74which shows a photo of a skull undergoing a "sea change". As a bit of further explanation, the modern expression "sea change" originates in Shakespeare's The Tempest (click on the image above to enlarge it so you can read the full quote), which was memorably referenced by Gary Gygax in the Example of Play in the original AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. I've taken it one step further by using it as the basis for a monster.

The Sea-changed

Move: 60 feet/turn
Hit Dice: 1 + 1
Armor Class: 5
Treasure Type: special
Alignment: lawful evil
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d6

Sailors whisper that a corpse that comes to rest in the brine may undergo a mysterious and sinister transformation, rising again in a calcified skeletal form known as "the sea-changed". 

The sea-changed seek to spread their animating force to the living by touch of calciferous claws or an equally mineralized weapon or tool used during life such as a cutlass, harpoon or even anchor.

A hit with such will, in addition to inflicting damage, encrust the area of the wound with the sea-change unless a successful saving throw versus poison is made. Failure results results in the loss of one point of dexterity per day as the calcification spreads. Once dexterity reaches zero, the victim will be transformed into one of the sea-changed.

The spread can be kept at bay, but not cured, through daily application of vinegar. It is rumored among sailors that the merfolk know the secret of how to reverse the sea-change.

Each sea-changed has a 1 in 10 chance of having pearlescent eyes (roll on the gem table for value).

The sea-changed are subject to turning as zombies.

9/24 Update: Added an alignment, which I had inadvertently left out: Lawful Evil like mummies, wights, wraiths & spectres in Holmes. Thanks to Lore Suto on Twitter for pointing this out to me.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Original Printing of The Maze of Peril on Amazon

The cover of The Maze of Peril (1986)
9/18: The seller has continued to add new copies as the listed ones sell out; 3 available right now.

8/15: 5 copies in stock right now.

8/9: It sold out yesterday and then was back in stock today, and then sold out again. I suggest checking back each morning to see if it has been relisted. 

8/8: It's back in stock. The price is $9.95 which is $3 higher than before. 3 copies are listed as being available as of the time of this update.

8/7: Apparently there was a fair bit of interest in this and only a limited number listed on Amazon, which are now sold out. I'm hoping they have more stock available and will relist it soon. I'll update this post again if they do.

The Maze of Peril, J. Eric Holmes' 1986 fantasy novel, is now available for convenient order via Amazon from the original publisher, Space & Time Books. Follow this link to find itThe Maze of Peril (Amazon Associate link) or click on this image:

(Amazon Associate link)

For the uninitiated, this novel details the meeting of Boinger the Halfling and Zereth the Elf and their first grand adventure. They had previously appeared in three short stories in Dragon magazine, and before that in several campaign stories in the Alarums & Excursions D&D APAzine. 

This new retail outlet was brought to my attention via a thread on Dragonsfoot, and a commenter there that purchased the book confirmed with photos that this is remaining stock from the original 1986 printing

The cost via Amazon is just $6.95, which is the original cover price, plus shipping & tax. This is the same price I ordered my copy from them via check almost twenty years ago. Tavis of the Mule Abides reported back in 2008 that 1,000 copies were originally printed and about half had been sold at the time.

The novel has since been reprinted in Tales of Peril by Black Blade Publishing (click here for ordering information) along with the short stories and other writings of J. Eric Holmes.
Despite the reprint, I still have a fondness for the original printing. Reading this book kickstarted my interest in the work of Holmes which eventually led to this blog. 

The original printing is zine-sized, with shiny cardstock covers and 147 pages plus endpapers. It has a few features not found in the reprint, including the pastel blue cover art by Dan Day (echoing the Holmes Basic rulebook color?) and a frontispiece illustration by Gregario Montejo. There are two excerpts from the story before the frontispiece, and another on the back cover (which you can see in the Dragonsfoot thread linked above). There is also an author bio for Holmes along with each of the artists.

Several reviews of the book:
Dragonsfoot review (2006) - by myself, points out the many similarities with Holmes Basic
Carjacked Seraphim review (2010)
Delta's D&D Hotspot review (2011)

And a few years ago I began a Tales of Peril Book Club and made it through most of the first chapter of the Maze of Peril (warning, spoilers abound). I hope to return to this series eventually.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Combining OD&D Attack & Saving Throw Tables

Attack Matrix I annotated with the Saving Throw Categories

Above is a hypothetical format for combining two tables in OD&D: Attack Matrix I, which is used for PCs when they attack, and the Saving Throw Matrix

It's easy to do this because both rely on d20 rolls, and both tables advance the classes in the groups of levels (3 levels for Fighters, 4 levels for Clerics, 5 levels for Magic-Users). 

A 1st level fighter needs the same score (12) to Save Versus Poison as to hit AC 7, and the other saving throw categories likewise correspond to AC6 to AC3; i.e., Wands = AC6, Stone = AC5, Breath = AC4, Spell = AC3, as annotated above.

The higher levels match well enough. There is a bit of discrepancy in the spots where the Saving Throw table jumps differently. 

But a Fighter 10-12 saves 9/8/7/6/5 in the combined table versus 10/8/8/7/6 on the Saving Throw table. That's not more than a 5% difference between any two rolls.

In order to retain the relative saving throw bonus/penalties between classes, the following adjustments would also be used:

Magic-Users get a -1 to Poison, Wands and Breath, and a +1 to Stone at all levels, plus a +1 to Spells for each rank they are in (+1 at 1-5, +2 at 6-10, +3 at 11-15 etc). 
Clerics get a -1 to Spell & Breath, a +1 to Wands at all levels, and a +1 to Poison for each rank they are in (+1 at 1-4, +2 at 5-8, +3 at 9-12 etc).

This table can also be used to adjust the saving throw values. Poison by default would be AC7, but you could have weak poison (AC9) or a strong poison (AC5). One could also add a new easier category, like "Falling" at AC8, perhaps increasing the "AC" for every additional 10' fallen.

This is similar to using difficulty class (DC) values in 5E. To illustrate this, here is a further modified version with Descending AC replaced by Ascending AC/Difficulty Class:

Looking at OD&D in terms of 5E, one would view the saving throws in terms of Difficulty Class (DC), with Poison having a DC12, Wands having a DC13, Turned to Stone having a DC14, Dragon Breath having a DC15, and Spells having a DC16.

The table at the top of this post could also be used with Holmes Basic, which uses the OD&D tables, but with the addition of a Normal Man column prior to the Level 1-3 column (this was an addition to Holmes' manuscript by Gygax/TSR).

(Adapted from several posts in this recent thread in ODD74)

Monday, July 27, 2020

First Adventures in Dungeoneering: 1976 Gygax article

Gary Gygax Day by Jim Wampler

For Gary Gygax Day 2020I'd like to share "First Adventures in Dungeoneering", a heretofore mostly forgotten article that Gygax wrote for the Europa zine, issue #12-13 (Feb/Mar 1976). This was one of his follow-ups to his now fairly well known 1975 article to the same zine called "How To Set Up Your Dungeons & Dragons Campaign" (issue #6-8), which you can find a link to here on GrognardiaMany thanks to Allan Grohe of From Kuroth's Quill and Black Blade Publishing for discovering this article and making a transcript that he posted here in a thread over at the OD&D Discussion forum last year.

Being published in early 1976, this article is still firmly in the era of OD&D; the AD&D Players Handbook was still about two years off. This was during the era when Gygax was promoting/explaining D&D through articles & letters sent to various gaming publications. Allan has a list of many of these on his website here. Since the field of role-playing games was still in its infancy, many these publications were related to wargaming or Diplomacy, including Europa (published in Europe as suggested by the name) as seen the description in issue #6-8: 

The article is a gem because it contains an otherwise unpublished "Example of Play" for OD&D, written up in part as a dialogue between the DM and players in a manner similar to the original one in OD&D, Vol 3 and the later examples in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. I've always greatly enjoyed Gygax's play examples not only for their entertainment value but also for insight into how he ran games and for the bits of his designs that are shown. Holmes and Moldvay continued this tradition by writing new Examples of Play for their respective Basic rulebooks.

The bolded, bracketed numbers below correspond to notes I've added following the article. I've grouped them at the end of the relevant paragraphs to make them less distracting.


You have been thoroughly hooked on Dungeons & Dragon (D&D), and during the last few days every spare moment has been spent happily preparing several dungeon levels. Great care and thought have been employed to do things just so - and of course you have spent a bit of time laughing fiendishly at the thought of what the hapless dungeoneers will encounter in choice areas! Actually, you certainly don't want your players to get killed, for then they'd miss seeing just how cleverly you've set them up! They don't want to buy the farm either (unless the dice were unkind indeed). Think about that. 
A good referee does not wish to deliberately set his players up for certain death in the game - although there are sometimes one or two players who... Anyway, by the same token you should not set out to aid them either. The whole purpose of the game is for the players THEMSELVES to face the challenge presented by the dungeonmaster's maze, to defeat it, or be defeated by it without help or hindrance. If they are clever they should survive and gain great rewards, and if they are stupid they should finish themselves off rapidly. This implies that you have located and numbered monsters carefully, so that the players can usually fight them on even terms, outwit them, or run like hell, i.e., one doesn't put invisible stalkers on the first level. If there are errors they will quickly be spotted on the first adventure, and they should be corrected before the next! In fact that is why I urge that a separate key listing monsters and treasure be kept for each level, rather than writing the information right on the map. With all this in mind, let's move on to the actual game. 
Several players are gathered in some secluded place, and you have a good spot set up where they cannot see your dice rolls or map. It is a good plan to give them at least a half an hour to get everything together. Magic-Users will have to decide what spell they are going to take. Everyone will be selecting basic equipment, figuring costs and encumbrance. Although spell selection always takes a bit of time, we have pretty much settled upon the following as 'standard equipment':
dagger, 50' rope, 10' pole, 12 iron spike, small sack, leather back pack, water/win skin, lantern, 3 flasks oil, holy water/vial, quart wine, iron rations.[1] 
Your players can simply compute the price of what they set out as standard and save much time and effort. Additional items and encumbrances can then be noted aside as additions to the standard. 
Your players will also have to appoint their leader and mapper. At this point everything is all ready for the first descent into the deepest dungeon! So let us move on to a typical account of a first trip, assuming that the players have moved outdoors to a ruined city which is reputed to have dungeons beneath it. The ‘dungeonmaster’ will be indicated as ‘D’, the party of the players as ‘P’. 
D: “You have found the ruins of the deserted city of Detresed. You can see that there are streets going northeast, northwest, and north. Most of the ruins are nondescripts, but due north you note that there are several larger structures, one or two of which are in less disrepair than the others.” [2]
After going northwards a few hundred feet, and getting complete descriptions of the ruined edifices visible to them, the party selects a ruined structure which appears to have been a temple, and they enter cautiously. After thorough exploration they decide to ignore a set of steps they have located, for a vast stone idol hid a narrow shaft penetrating very deep beneath the temple. The latter would not normally have been located, but careful checking and perseverance found a secret door in the idol’s back. The party descends some 40’ into a large, circular arched chamber. It is 30’ in diameter and has eight doors. [3-5] 
P: “There is no sense debating, let’s take the door to the west, for it seemed that there were more ruins above in that direction than in any other direction. One member of the party will carefully try the door to see if it will open normally. All others will have their weapons drawn and ready in case there is someone or something behind it!” 
D: “Door opens normally (without ANY sound, in fact), and beyond you see a 10’ wide corridor going north.” 
P: “The door didn’t make ANY noise when we opened it?! Hmmmm. Examine the hinges.” 
D: “They were oiled – greased lock.” [6] 
P: “Oh, oh! Watch out! These doors are USED. Helmets off, everyone. Listen at all of the other doors.” [7] 
After some time spent so listening, noise is detected behind the door to the east and that to the southeast. And meanwhile the dungeonmaster has checked, but the party is lucky and no wandering monster has happened along during the interim. The brave adventurers ready themselves, creep close to the eastern door, and ready an attack. Two of the six will watch the southeast, one will open the east door, and the three with bows will have their weapons ready as the door is flung wide. 
P: “We are set. Open the door!” 
D: “You see, ahh ((die roll)) 4 hobgoblins attending some sort of cleric. They are dressed in black and blood red garments. Now, did you surprise them? ((die roll of 3)) NO! Initiative check – you are at plus 1 because you prepared. ((The check shows that the party is able to attack before the cleric and his servitors will be able to react at all.)) The enemy is approximately 15’ away, by the by.” [8-10]
P: “Loose arrows, drop bows, draw swords, and charge. If I can manage to cast a Sleep Spell during all this I’ll do so, but I will be careful not to cast it so as to include our men in its effect. The two watching the other door will maintain position.” 
The dungeonmaster now checks to see which arrows score hits, whom the hits are scored upon, and how much damage is done. Simultaneously, he determines if the magic-user who opened the door will be able to get a spell prepared and cast – about equal odd for and against due to preparation and positioning. It is successful, and 4 of the hobgoblins fall to the floor snoring. The cleric was not named as a specific target, and as he is a 4th level (Evil Priest)  the general area spell doesn’t affect him. He shouts loudly, points, and an attacker is struck by a Light Wound Spell. Undaunted they press on, eager to close with the cleric and slay him. The next melee turn is spent by the party closing, with the cleric backing and raising his finger to deliver another Light Wound. Just as the party is about to hack and slew this evil opponent they hear shouts from the chamber without: “Beware! HOBGOBLINS! There are more who serve this priest…” [11-13]
P: “Two of the fighters will finish the cleric off as quickly as possible. I will go to the door we just entered, with the other fighter, to help the rest of the party, but while he goes directly to aid them, I’ll stop and kill the sleeping hobgoblins here.” 
A general melee now ensues in the chamber and in the room where the cleric fights on. Seeing that the party’s two fighters and cleric are seemingly holding their own against 6 hobgoblins, the magic-user creeps up behind the badly wounded Evil Priest and delivers the ‘Coup de grâce’. This frees them all for immediate attack upon the remaining hobgoblins. Good thing, too! One fighter and the cleric are down, and there are three hobgoblins attacking the remaining man. After a long round of attacks and counters the party finally wins, although only three remain alive – the magic-user leading it, an elven fighter, and a fighting man. 
P: “Well, let’s quickly check the bodies and the rooms for any treasure. The priest’s quarters will be searched especially well by the elf.” 
D: “You find some silver pieces in the pockets of the hobgoblins ((a dice roll determines how many for each)), and in the robes of the cleric you find a pouch with 100 gold pieces. Nothing else is found.” 
P: “Let’s all go check out that room some more… I am not satisfied that we’ve located everything. But to be on the safe side, let’s spike the door shut good and tight, and the fighter will keep an eye on it also just in case.” 
Several turns are spent in this manner, and finally a small trap door in the floor is discovered. It is lifted to reveal a hidden trove – an alabaster idol worth not less than 500 gold pieces. As the party is in bad shape, they elect to return immediately to the surface. Their comrades are buried, their own wound treated, and before passing on the idol to some merchant, they minutely examine it. It too reveals a small magical compartment, and after several days the magic-user manages to open it. Therein lies a map to a temple on the 4th level – a place veritably stuffed with treasure, but strongly guarded by many hobgoblins and powerful men and monsters. Better still, there are some very valuable gems hidden in the compartment too! When the survivors share the wealth and experience, they are all well-pleased and rewarded, all going up a level. Time now for them to seek some powerful allies and many met-at-arms for a special expedition to that temple… [14-15]
The above may not be exactly typical, for many first adventures are spent trying to figure out where the party is, for mapping CAN be a difficult task until you get the hang of it. Also, many first-timers take on monsters too powerful for them, or don’t use ‘hit-and-run’ tactics as they should. Again, I have had first time parties who had adventures just about like the one above. 
This should enable you to ready your dungeons. How about a questions and comments section from all of you next time? And I’ll try to answer in the next…

  1. Gygax's "Standard Equipment" could serve as an "Equipment Pack" for OD&D, with a price of 69 gold pieces: dagger (3) + 50' rope (1) + 12 spikes (1) + small sack (1) + backpack (5) + water/wine skin (1) + lantern (10) + 3 flasks oil (6) + holy water/vial (25) + quart wine (1) + iron rations (15). Characters rolling 30-60 gold won't be able to afford this, but dropping the holy water would bring it down to 45. Clerics could switch out the dagger for a mace, for a total of 71 gp. Notably, this pack doesn't include other armor/weapons. Since Holmes uses the same costs, we could also use this in Holmes without change, except perhaps adding a Tinderbox (3) --- the only "new" equipment in the Holmes price list. OD&D encumbrance would be dagger (20) + "Miscellaneous Equipment (rope, spikes, bags, etc)" (80) = 100, plus armor and any additional weapons.
  2. Allan notes that the name of the ruin "Detresed" is "deserted" spelled backwards, a trademark Gygax name-pun. 
  3. The ruined city brings to mind the never released Outdoor Geomorphs Set Three: Ruin. And the "lost, ruined city of the Old Suloise" that "is said to be hidden somewhere in the Suss forest..." (World of Greyhawk folio, pg 26), the same forest where, in the novel Artifact of Evil, Gord & company explore a "three-tiered structure ... a large building, probably a temple of some sort".
  4. The vast stone idol naturally recalls the cover of the AD&D Players Handbook.
  5. The circular 8-door room is a bit like the octagonal entrance room in the Delving Deeper level from Hall of Many Panes, but with twice as many exits. He used a similar shaped room in Castle Greyhawk and in the Dungeon Geomorphs (where the room is circular); see the linked post for images.
  6. Here it is interesting to see an example of an OD&D dungeon door that is *not* stuck because it is in regular use. This edges away from the OD&D idea that all dungeon doors open for monsters but not players.
  7. The rules for listening at doors in OD&D Vol 3 do not specifically require that helmets are taken off, but this does appear later in the Dungeon Masters Guide.
  8. Gygax also used an evil cleric (3rd level) plus hobgoblins in the DMG Sample Dungeon (in areas 35-37, but only mentioned in the Wandering Monster table for the Crypt Areas). There's also the evil Adept (2nd level) with a Gnoll guard on the first level of the Greyhawk dungeon, who has one spell: Cause Light Wounds, much like the priest here. And in the Moathouse dungeon in T1 The Village of Hommlet module, there is Lareth (a 5th level cleric) with his Gnolls, Bugbears and Ogre.
  9. Allan notes that "the hobgoblins wear red and black, which corresponds with their description in the MM---"Hobgoblins favor bright, bloody colors and black leather"; this also matches the red shields of the Hobgoblins of the Pomarj heraldy from the Greyhawk folio and boxed set". I add that the Evil Priest in B2 has his room decorated in the same colors: "a red carpet, furniture of black wood with velvet upholstery of scarlet, and a large bed covered with silken covers of black and red cushions and pillows".
  10. The +1 to initiative for "being prepared" given here is an interesting addition. The OD&D FAQ in Strategic Review #2 (Summer 1975) that first describes initiative mentions giving a bonus for dexterity, but not for preparation.
  11. The note "4th level (Evil Priest)" is consistent with the level titles for Anti-Clerics in OD&D Vol 1, either page 34 or 35 depending on the printing.
  12. The priest's method of casting the "Light Wound Spell" from a distance is very interesting & quite different than Cause Light Wounds in AD&D, which requires touch. The pointing is reminiscent of "Finger of Death", making the spells seem like low/high level versions of the same power. It should be noted that "Cure Light Wounds" in OD&D Vol 1 doesn't include any mention of requiring touch, so it is possible at this point that neither Cure nor Cause Light Wounds required touch. The "Light Wound Spell" spell also doesn't require the "course of one full turn" listed for Cure Light Wounds in OD&D Vol 1, although that reference is possibly just be inconsistent terminology for "one full round".
  13. The "enemy" is only 15' away, but the party has to spend a "melee turn" (presumably meaning melee round) closing with the priest, who is "backing" and casting.
  14. B2 The Keep on the Borderlands also has two alabaster statues. One of alabaster & gold (3000 gp) in the Loan Bank in the Keep, and a 30 lb one of alabaster & ivory (200 gp) in the Bugbear Chieftain's Room. This later one is also hidden (in a chest on a hidden high ledge), but lacks any secret magical compartments.
  15. The "map to a temple on the 4th level – a place veritably stuffed with treasure, but strongly guarded by many hobgoblins and powerful men and monsters" is a good example of OD&D Treasure Map.