Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Tower of Zenopus in Dragon+ Issue 32!



Wander over to the Wizards site, where you will find that the latest issue of Dragon+ features the Tower of Zenopus, both old and new:




...And There Be Snowy Owlbears!

This electronic publication is the successor to Dragon magazine, and runs a regular column by Bart Carroll called "D&D Classics", who has written history pieces for WOTC for years, including a few mentioned on this blog previously (here and here). It uses the earliest masthead for "The Dragon" as a header (see the image up top).

This month's installment of "D&D Classics" has three parts: "Color Me Adventurous", "The Green Dragon Inn" and the "Tower of Zenopus". The first relates to the 1979 AD&D Coloring Album and the second to the Greyhawk version of the Green Dragon Inn (rather than Holmes' version), and with a tie-in to the Green Dragon in the "Maps of the Month" column.

The "Tower of Zenopus" section includes links to two free pdfs: the original dungeon (the same available on their website since 2008), and an excerpt of the section of Ghosts of Saltmarsh that briefly describes the Tower of Zenopus adventure site. 

It also plugs The Ruined Tower of Zenopus at DMs Guild, and for new content features an interview with me, where I answer six questions posed by Bart Carroll! A thank you to Bart for asking me to do this. The kid in me is geeking out a bit on finally getting into Dragon...

Click here to read "D&D Classics" in Dragon+ #32

Click here to see the full Table of Contents for Dragon+ #32

Click here to find The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild

Click below on the "RTOZ review" label to find reviews of the Ruined Tower of Zenopus

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Fen Orc on the Ruined Tower of Zenopus





Fen Orc is relatively newish but very productive blog I'd recommend to any fans of this one. Per the sidebar, like many of us of a certain age, the author "got into D&D back in the '70s with Eric Holmes' 'Blue Book' set". Early on Fen Orc got my attention with a review (perhaps the first!) of my mini-dungeon, Beyond the Door to Monster Mountain and a look at the Legacy of Zenopus

Fen Orc has also been hard at work on material for you to use at the table, including a compilation of scenarios, the Fen Orc Almanac, which are compatible with Holmes Basic/Blueholme, and also a 2nd level for the Zenopus dungeon, Beneath the Ruined Wizards' Tower, which is pay-what-you-want on Drive Thru RPG.

I meant to highlight this earlier, but back in March, Fen Orc wrote an almost poetic review of The Ruined Tower of ZenopusHere is a lovely excerpt:
"Two bucks buys you 18 pages, faultlessly formatted and a beautiful cover painting (Thomas Cole’s 1838 Italian Coast Scene with Ruined Tower) that seems to symbolise the whole project: the crumbling tower is the monument of Holmes’ Basic D&D; the idyllic shepherd tending his flock in the shadow of the tower, that is Zach; the little boat out among the islets, that’s us, wondering if we should put ashore: in a moment the shepherd will stand up and wave to us to drop anchor. There’s treasure here, you see, that Zach knows about, in a place long neglected."

Read the full review here:

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus by Zach Howard

We are entering the post-modernity of roleplaying games. The author is dead. How quaint it is to look back on the modern era (the 1970s and '80s) with its assumptions about authorship and ownership, of texts with single discourses, of official 'canons'. It's not like that now, what with retro-clones and open gaming licences and Old School Revivals.
Click on the "RTOZ review" label below to find more reviews of the Ruined Tower of Zenopus

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus is available on DMs Guild

Monday, June 22, 2020

Reviews from R'lyeh on Bayt Al Azif #2



Reviews from R'lyeh recently reviewed the second issue of the Call of Cthulhu RPG zine Bayt Al Azif (link below), in a column entitled, "A Cthulhu Collecteana II".

As I announced last fall, this issue of this zine includes a reprint of J. Eric Holmes' 1983 review of the Call of Cthulhu RPG, along with some commentary on his review by myself. This was a follow-up to the article I wrote for the first issue about Holmes role in bringing the Cthulhu Mythos to D&D in the '70s. Each issue can be found at DrivethruRPG in either PDF or Print format:



(links include my DrivethruRPG affiliate number)


The R'lyehian reviewer Pookie provides an in-depth review of the issue, concluding:
"Overall, Bayt al Azif Issue 02 is a good second issue, much improved on the first. Its better sense of professionalism is combined with a good range of voices, scenarios, and articles about Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying"
And specifically regarding Holmes' review, Pookie writes:
"The second review is actually of Call of Cthulhu itself, but not of Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition. Rather, ‘“It is not dead which can eternal lie…” Game Review: Call of Cthulhu’ is actually a review of Call of Cthulhu, First Edition by J. Eric Holmes, the editor of the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set RPG. This is fascinating continuation of Zach Howard’s ‘Clerical Cosmic Horror: The Brief Era of the Cthulhu Mythos as Dungeons & Dragons Pantheon’ from Bayt al Azif Issue 01 and he adds a commentary to the end of the review. Together they provide a contrast between a time when Cthulhu was just beginning to appear in the gaming hobby and its prevalence today."

Read the rest of the review here: 

A Cthulhu Collectanea II

s with editorial, 'Houses of the Unholy', which really takes stock of the progress of the magazine from the first issue to this one. So it is somewhat reflective in nature before it sets out what the -fulfilled and unfulfilled, the highlights, and the trends. From , .

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Scrum in Miniature: The Lost Art of Games Workshop's Holmes Basic

Scrum in Miniature: "Magic Swords (p. 35): Tom Wham (TSR, top) / Chris Baker, a.k.a. Fangorn (GW, bottom)"


My fellow Scrum Club member Joe has started a series called the "Lost Art of D&D" on his blog Scrum in Miniature, and the second installment covers the replacement art by John Blanche and Fangorn that was used by Games Workshop in the first printing of Holmes Basic rulebook, first released in December 1977. The post goes through the rulebook and shows each replacement work contrasted with the original from the U.S. version (example above).

In a 2001 interview, Gary Gygax was asked about the UK version, and responded:

"Yes, I saw the work, and I approved. Ian [Livingstone] and Steve [Jackson of Games Workshop] convinced me that their audience didn't like the illustrations used in American versions of the game, so I gave them the okay to produce their own. I had a copy of the Basic Set rules, but it was lost when Lorraine Williams took over TSR..."

Lost Art of D&D No. 2: Games Workshop's Holmes Basic (1977)

After Games Workshop attained the license to print a co-branded edition of TSR's 1977 Dungeons & Dragons basic rules book, they set about putting their own stamp on it, designing a new cover and replacing a number of the illustrations they deemed too crudely drawn for their U.K. market.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Lee Gold: 45 Years of Alarums & Excursions!

Alarums & Excursions #1, June 1975. Source: RPG Geek

As of this month, Lee Gold has been publishing the APAzine Alarums & Excursions for 45 years! During this time she has missed only a few months, which means that this month's issue is a jaw-dropping #535, pethe RPG Geek page. Lee not only assembles every issue, she also contributes her own column Tantivy:


Lee Gold's Tantivy from A&E #1. Source: RPG Geek

A lengthy 2019 audio interview with Lee can be found here on YouTube, and follow the link at the bottom of this page to read a new profile of Lee over at the DM David blog.

A little more on A&E: it's an APAzine (Amateur Press Association zine), which means that it is assembled from contributions from various subscribers. When it started in the '70s, it was the closest thing to what we would now recognize as an internet forum for D&D discussion, with content and comments going back and forth between contributors. Issues are dense with content, ideas and discussion and can be over a hundred pages in length. This is where J. Eric Holmes got his start writing D&D articles, along with many other RPG designers of the '70s, '80s and beyond, which DM David covers.

You can subscribe to, contribute to, or buy pdfs of back issues of A&E here at Lee's site. I own the first 29 issues in pdf, and if you are interested in the early history of D&D and RPGs they are well worth the money. I also own one copy in paper, issue #30:


Alarums & Excursions #30, January 1978 with cover art by Troy Hughes

Meet the Woman Who by 1976 Was the Most Important Gamer in Roleplaying After Gary

In 1976, after Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax, the most important person in roleplaying games was a Los Angeles woman named Lee Gold. She still contributes to the hobby and still runs a campaign using her Lands of Adventure (1983) game. Lee who? And what happened to Gary's co-designer Dave Arneson?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A Dungeon Map is now included with the Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild!

Screenshot of the new Dungeon Master's Map for The Ruined Tower of Zenopus

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus now includes a map of the dungeon!

Yesterday I uploaded two separate dungeon map files to the Ruined Tower of Zenopus page on DMs Guild (as previously teased). These should be available for download by anyone who has already purchased the module, and for any new purchases. If you go to your account on DMs Guild there is a section near the top that says "Updated Files", which hopefully will show this product as updated on May 26th. 

This map is derived from the map I made in Gridmapper a few years ago and posted here.

The two maps are variations of the same map; the first is a Dungeon Master's Map, a preview of which is shown above, and the second is a Player's Map. In addition to being labeled differently, the Player's Map has the room letters removed, along with the secret doors and corridor between Rooms S and F.

Each map comes as a png file with a size of 8400 pixels by 8190 pixels, a large size that is optimized for use in Roll20, but is also printable. See the notes for each use below. Each file is a little over 4 MB. 

Each square on the map(s) is 10' wide, as in the original. A few corridors are not to scale due to the limitations of Gridmapper (or perhaps my lack of skill in using it). The secret corridor between Rooms S and F should only be 5' wide, and the rat tunnels should only be 3' wide (I noted the latter on the map). 

Using in Roll20:

-Create a New Game. The Zoom should be set to 100% by default, but set it to that if not.

-Click on the Page Toolbar icon. There should be a Page called "Start". Hover your mouse over it and a gear will appear to the left titled "Page Settings". Click and a "Page Settings" menu will open. Change the Settings as follows: 

-Under "Page Size", set the Width to 60 and the Height to 58.5. Under "Cell Width", change the size from 1 to 0.5. 

-Leave the Page Toolbar by clicking on the page called "Start". Now go to the toolbar on the left, and click on the "pin" icon (second from top). A menu will open. Change from Objects and Tokens to "Maps & Background". If you don't do this, your map will import as a token and the grid will not overlay the map.

-Again confirm Zoom is set to 100%. Drag the map file (the DM's or Player's Map) from your desktop (or folder) to the Roll20 Page workspace. This will import the map. In the workspace, drag the map until the upper left corner of the imported map is exactly aligned with the upper left corner of the workspace. This should line up the map exactly with four 5' squares inside each 10' square on the map.

-You can change the color of the grid in the Page Toolbar if you'd like the 5' squares to be darker or lighter (you can even set them to white so they are invisible).

-Note if you are using the Player's Map, you will need to add the Secret Passage between Rooms F and S if the PCs find it. This can be done either by drawing it on the map using the Roll20 drawing tools, or I think you can cut and paste the corridor from the DM's Map and import it into Roll20 and overlay it on the map in the appropriate spot.

Printing the Map: The map can be printed on a sheet of paper, but be warned that since the background is black and fills the negative space, it will use a lot of black ink or toner. The map file is only 75 dpi but is so large it should print at a fine resolution when shrunk to the sheet of a paper. I tested this and it printed fine using a "Shrink to Fit" setting, which was about 7% of the original size.

I hope to make a more printer-friendly option available in the future.

Product Link:
The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild


Click here to read reviews of the RTOZ by various bloggers

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus Reviewed on EN World

Screenshot of the thumbnail of the post on the EN World front page

DM's Guild Roundup, written by Sean Hillman, is a monthly or bi-monthly column on En World that highlights various DM's Guild releases with short reviews. The Ruined Tower of Zenopus appears in the most recent installment (posted earlier this week), which carries a modified title: "DM's Guild Extra: Community Reviews" and focuses on "three smaller offerings. One of these is an enhancement for your campaign, while the other two are adventures that can be set in your campaign". Full disclosure: I submitted the ROTZ to the column for review in reply to the February column. Here is an excerpt of Hillman's review of the RTOZ:

I enjoy all the products I review, but this adventure was of particular interest to me. The Ruined Tower of Zenopus appears in the original Basic D&D by John Eric Holmes as the Sample Dungeon. Many adventurers began their role-playing careers in this dungeon or other dungeons inspired by it. Zach Howard has brought this dungeon into the modern day with a 5E conversion...
Read the rest of the review here:

DM's Guild Extra: Community Reviews (click here)


Product Link:
The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild


Click here to read other reviews of the RTOZ

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus Goes Gold!

Updated image for the product page

Interest in the The Ruined Tower of Zenopus has remained fairly steady at DMs Guild over the last few months, no doubt aided by the forced increase in screen time everyone is subjected to during these days of quarantine, and (in the last week) the sale at DMs Guild I posted about earlier this week. As a result the adventure has now hit another DMs Guild milestone: Gold Best Seller...!

As a thank you to everyone who has purchased the adventure, and to help it be more useful for on-line play during these dark days, I will soon be adding a re-drawn map as a separate file. DMs Guild allows redrawn maps as long as they support a product rather than being sold alone. Everyone who has already purchased the product should be able to download the new map for free.

This map is derived from the map I made in Gridmapper a few years ago and posted here. I've tested and found it very suitable for import into Roll20, and have optimized the size for aligning with the grids in their interface. I've also made DM and Player versions, so there will actually be two map files of this sort. Here is a preview of the Player's Map, with room lettering and some other features erased:




I've also been working on a hand-drawn map that will be more printer-friendly than the original or the Gridmapper map.

Product Link:
The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild


Click here to read reviews of the RTOZ by various bloggers

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus is on sale this week




DMs Guild is having a "Play It Forward" promotion through this Sunday (May 17th), which gives each author of a purchased product 100% of the revenue instead of the usual 50%. Furthermore, many products are 20% off, and the Ruined Tower of Zenopus is one of these selected items, which means it is currently only $1.59!


Product Link:
The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild


Click here to read reviews of the RTOZ by various bloggers


Ad design by the 1000 Foot General

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Holmes Ref: Dungeoneering Reference Sheet

Screenshot (click on image for a larger view)

Another week, another Holmes Ref sheet!

This one is a true DM's aid for dungeon exploration using the Holmes ruleset, covering Time, Movement, Light, Surprise, Wandering Monsters, Reaction Rolls etc.

DUNGEONEERING REFERENCE SHEET (click here to download)

A few notes:

---The 1/12 movement rate for combat rounds comes from two sources:
(a) the rates given by Holmes in the section "Combat Rounds, Time and Movement in Melee" on page 20, where indicates that movement in melee "is usually at a sprint; an unarmored man can move 20 feet per melee round, a fully armored man only 10 feet".
(b) the extension of the above rules on page 3 of the first printing of B2 Keep on the Borderlands, which repeats the above rates, plus give 5 feet per round for Armored & Encumbered, and states that a monster's melee move can be determined by dividing the monster's move by 12 (although this really should be 6, see below).
---Monster Movement. The column for "Monsters" on the Time & Movement table doubles the movement rate for monsters. This corrects a problem I noticed a number of years ago regarding the relative movement rates of characters as compared to monsters, as explained in this thread on ODD74.

To reiterate: OD&D had movement rates of 12" (120' in the dungeon) for light foot, 6" (60') for heavy foot, and 3" (30') for encumbered heavy foot. These are given in the Encumbrance Table on page 15 of OD&D Vol 1. 

But OD&D Vol 3 further explains that characters get two moves in a 10 minute turn, and thus gives a movement rate of 120' for a fully armored character (which is equivalent to heavy foot). Thus, the 60' rate for heavy foot (fully armored) is actually 120' in the dungeon.

Holmes, when making the Movement table for Basic, incorporated this double move into the listed rates, and thus giving an Exploring rate of 240' feet for unarmored (i.e. light foot), 120' for metal armor or encumbered (i.e., heavy foot) and 60' for metal armor & encumbered (i.e., encumbered heavy foot). 

However, the Movement table in Holmes does not include monsters, and the Monster List in Holmes does not incorporate this same double move per turn, and instead simply gives a Move stat for each monster that is as exactly given in the list in OD&D Vol 2. 

Without giving monsters these two moves, characters are going to be moving twice as fast relative to monsters. You can see this if you scan a list of monster movements (for example, in my Monster Reference Table), and note that the 240 feet/turn Exploration rate for an Unarmored men given in the Movement table is faster than any monster Move stat on the list other than Horses and some flying beasts. If you further compare the 240 feet/turn Exploration to the humans in the monster lists in Holmes, which including Bandits and Berserkers (each in leather armor), you will see that they have a move of 120 feet/turn, half of that of characters.

So to correct this, I've included a Monsters column, where it is noted that the movement for a monster in a turn should be double their Move stat from the Monster List. This doubling applies to ally of the movement rates: Exploring, Walking Normally, Running and Combat.

---The Phosphorescent Fungus is from the Sample Dungeon, Room L. Holmes also used this in the Maze of Peril. Real world fungal bioluminescene is known as foxfire. As I've written previously, "Margaret St Clair's The Shadow People, an Appendix N book that I read and enjoyed, has an extensive worldwide underworld lit by foxfire, but I don't know whether Holmes was familiar with this book."

---The Swimming rules are from the Sample Dungeon, Rooms H and M.

As usual, please let me know if you spot any typos & ask questions about anything unclear.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Holmes Ref: Rolling up an Adventurer



Another Holmes Ref sheet - actually a two-parter this time!

Rolling Up An Adventurer Ref. Sheet (click here to download)

The first page is shown above and gather together the six standard abilities and modifiers, as appearing in Holmes and also including the expansions I posted a few years back (...has it really been that long?).

To make things more interesting I've included six alternate old school options for generating ability scores. 

The first, which I've termed The Bullpen, reflects the habit of early Lake Geneva players of rolling up multiple characters until they got one they liked, naturally with high stats. This was eventually immortalized in the AD&D DMG as Method IV of character generation, where 12 sets of 3d6 stats are rolled up and one is picked. A variation on this practice was also seen in Alarums & Excursions #2 (July 1975), where a character generation sheet (link goes to Playing at the World) suggested rolling three sets of stats for one character, or five sets of stats for two characters. I've added a restriction I've seen suggested occasionally (here or here, for example) that the extras are to be saved as replacement characters.

The Arnesonian method was mentioned here on ODD74 by Dave Arneson himself in 2008. That's right, Dave was a member of the forum and made over a 170 posts in 2008 and 2009 before he passed away.

The Gygaxian method comes from Method I of the AD&D DMG and Gygax's houserules for running OD&D games in the '00s.

The Holmesian method comes from Holmes early A&E article, "Warrior-for-Hire". It was intended for NPC men-at-arms, but there's no reason it couldn't be generalized it to PCs.

The Ivesian method was detailed by Wesley D. Ives in Alarums & Excursions #14 (August 1976), stated to be used in his Homlas campaign.

What I've termed the Swansonian method is simply an additional roll for a bonus ability for a character rolled up RAW. The first version of this kind of table by Mark Swanson was featured in the very first issue of Alarums & Excursions in mid-1975. It was presented by Lee Gold as Mark Swanson's Special Abilities, and was popular enough with A&E contributors to become known as "Swanson Abilities" by other A&E contributers. See the character generation sheet at Playing at the World linked above for an example of such a use. Jon also discusses the "Swanson Abilities" in his commentary in that post, which was the first to bring it to my attention. The Complete Warlock in 1978 included a variation on these, called "Table of Special Abilities", but includes more defects than bonuses. Gygax eventually developed a version of these called Knacks for his Lejendary Adventures RPG in the late 90s.

Swanson's original list was actually two lists, one for clerics/fighters and one for magic-users. I've instead made a single table for all characters with 50 entries, some inspired by Swanson's list but many others simply brainstormed while perusing Holmes Basic. See the screenshot below.

If you note any typos in either page, please let me know below in the comments and I will eventually correct and repost the sheets.

As with the previous new sheet (the Equipment Reference Sheet), these will eventually be incorporated into a new version of Holmes Ref. The various existing Holmes Ref sheets and compilations can be found here.

Update 4/29: Revised version posted at the same link. Correct typos found by myself and others and clarifies some wording in places. Screenshots still reflect the original version, so check the pdf if you note a typo in the screenshot.

Click on the image for a larger view

Monday, April 20, 2020

Quest: The Underworld of Tekumel boardgame

Image Source: Paul Stormberg and Bill Hoyt via The OSR Grimoire blog

For a time in the 1970s, TSR considered publishing a boardgame that was a sequel their popular DUNGEON! boardgame but based on the setting (Tekumel) of Empire of the Petal Throne, their second RPG. Publicly this went as far as a mention in the fifth Strategic Review (the magazine that later became The Dragon) in late 1975, where Tim Kask wrote:
"Also a little in the future is an EPT-based game on the order of DUNGEON!. However, the similarity is merely superficial. It is a really promising game in its own right, played on a beautiful board" (h/t to the OSR Grimoire).

Kask doesn't name the game or its designer, but Jon Peterson reported in 2015 that it was created by Bill Hoyt, a member of both Dave Arneson's and M.A.R. Barker's game groups and a publisher of game products under the "WAW Productions" imprint. Hoyt played in Tekumel and facilitated the publication of the Empire of the Petal Throne by TSR, who gave him a finder's fee and a "Presented in Association" credit for WAW. TSR also reprinted several WAW titles (see Jon's post for details), and then considered publishing the Tekumel boardgame, which Hoyt proposed calling "Quest", whereas Gygax favored "Catacombs". More recently Jon wrote on ODD74 that:
"TSR held on to Quest for like three years, from 1975 to 1978, and then opted not to publish it. Doing board games was expensive, and in 1978 anyway, Dungeon! sales weren't growing anything like core D&D sales, so from a strategic investment perspective, TSR wanted to put their money elsewhere. Gygax did offer to try to radically simplify the game, to make it something even less complicated than Dungeon!, but Hoyt didn't seem amenable to that. Gygax assumed Hoyt would take it to the Tekumel people after they rejected it; I don't know what if anything came of that. 
I just think it's neat that Bill was able to get it published in the form shown at the top of this [post]..."

Chirine Ba Kal, another member of Barker's group, provides more context in a Q&A thread:
"[That is] Bill Hoyt's wonderful game, "Quest", that he created with [creator of Dungeon] Dave Megarry's help; it's a Tekumel version of "Dungeon", and it's a lot of fun to play. Bill made six prototype copies of the game, and was kind enough to give me one for my archives. 
Bill goes way back; he's the "William Hoyt of W.A.W." mentioned in the TSR editions of EPT, and was one of the people - along with Gronan [Mike Mornard] - who persuaded Phil [aka MAR Barker] to publish in the first place."

While the game has never been published for general release, for the past few years Bill Hoyt has been running the game using his prototypes at Gary Con as part of Paul Stormberg's Legends of Wargaming series; here is the description from the Gary Con XII listing:
"Legends of Wargaming event! 
This is your chance to play Quest! the unpublished Empire of the Petal Throne board game designed by original Blackmoor player, Bill Hoyt! A variant of the Dungeon! board game, players will instead face the mysteries, magic, and monsters of Tekumel! 
After a brief introduction on the history of the game’s design, Bill will lead up to 12 players into the Tekumel Underworld! 
Empire of the Petal Throne by Professor MAR Barker is one of the most lavishly conceived fantasy worlds of all time! When TSR published Empire of the Petal Throne in 1975 and it was a natural success. 
TSR followed this up with a line of miniatures and a set of wargame rules, Legions of the Petal Throne by Dave Sutherland III. 
At the same time, Dave Megarry's Dungeon! was TSR's most popular board game. Indeed it was one of Gary's favorites. 
Bill Hoyt sought to capitalize on these popular products by creating a game that tapped into both: Quest! 
Designed in the mid-1970s, this game was one of the many games considered for publication by TSR. Fortunately for us Bill still has a few demo copies on which participants can play."

At these games, Hoyt shows off the fantastic cover of the game, which is the image that appears at the top of this post, and can also be seen in this Facebook post. The same OSR Grimoire post linked above also has a photo of Hoyt running the game for several players, and others can be spotted on Facebook

The cover depicts a battle in the Underworld between two groups. The warriors to the right presumably represent the players of the game, including two humans - one an archer - and (I think) a "slender, stick-like" six-limbed Pe Choi, "often found in human armies". On the ground is a fallen Shen, "dragon-like" and with "gleaming black scales", presumably a member of the same group based on the color of its armor. The opponents to the left include two reptilian Sro, having "long, dragon-like heads" with "jagged-toothed beaks and six-limbs including "a pair of small arms" that "can wield a broadsword in each hand". They are led by a sinister figure that is likely a "Skull-Priest of Sarku", a deity known also as "the Five-Headed Lord of Worms, Master of the Undead, the Demon of Decay", and whose "minions paint their faces to resemble skulls". (All quotes in this paragraph are from TSR's Empire of the Petal Throne, 1975).

I'm not sure who the cover artist is; there appears to a signature in the lower left corner but is not readable at the current resolution. I will update this post if I learn more.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Chris Holmes on the Appendix N Book Club podcast



Chris Holmes, son of J. Eric Holmes and an RPG illustrator, is the guest on the latest episode of the Appendix N Book Club podcast!

In this episode they discuss Tarzan at the Earth's Core, a crossover between Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan and Pellucidar series. J. Eric Holmes wrote an authorized sequel to the latter that was published in 1976, Mahars of Pellucidar.
"Chris Holmes joins us to discuss Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “Tarzan at the Earth’s Core”, contemporary fantasy fiction, the Holmes Basic set, the varying levels of dignity given to the black characters, IP crossovers, surprisingly positive depictions of Germans, “Mahars of Pellucidar”, magic dirigibles, the developmental biology of reptiles, informal vs codified ways of encouraging heroism in RPGs, the incredible speed in which pulp characters learn new languages, the future of Pellucidarian fandom, and much more!"

Here is the link to the show:

Episode 67: Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “Tarzan at the Earth’s Core”


Demos S. aka paleologos who writes the OSR Grimoire blog gets a shout-out from Chris for helping to facilitate the show.

And make sure you listen all of the way to end for a surprise announcement from Chris regarding his father's books!

Monday, April 13, 2020

Smaug vs the Sutherland Red Dragon

Left: Smaug by Tim Kirk (1975). Right: the cover of the Holmes Basic Set (July 1977). 
Click on the image for a larger view

David Sutherland painted a cover for the Holmes Basic Set that remains one of the most iconic early D&D illustrations. It literalized the title of Dungeons & Dragons, showing a dragon in a dungeon. The viewpoint is as if we are members of the party of adventurers who have just entered the chamber and disturbed the huge red dragon resting on its seemingly endless bed of gold and treasures.

This image has influenced the cover art of many successor sets ranging from later TSR D&D Basic Sets to the Pathfinder Beginner Box. Sutherland's take on the Red Dragon appeared in other D&D products of the era, including the Monster Manual and Monster Cards.

Sutherland's dragon was in turn possibly influenced by an earlier image of red dragon on a pile of gold that was published about two years before Holmes Basic. This was a stunning depiction of Smaug by Tim Kirk that appeared in the 1975 Tolkien Calendar, which included works done as part of his MFA from Cal State. In particular, note the similar (but not identical) poses of the dragons, the head "whiskers" of the dragons, and the wide ventral neck scales. There are also similarities in the treasures embedded in the pile of gold, including urns, chests and embedded swords. There's even an arching shape over the head of each Dragon (vaulted ceiling for Smaug, entrance archway for the Sutherland Dragon).


Source: The Complete Guide to Tolkien Calendars

Kirk's illustration in turn appears to be a modernization of Tolkien's own "Conversation with Smaug", which appears in the Hobbit itself. Note the skulls on the floor around the pile of gold and the skulls in Kirk's pile:




By the mid-70s, Tolkien's Middle-Earth books had grown extremely popular and the 1975 calendar was the first to feature art from an artist other than Tolkien himself. It's easy to imagine that a fantasy artist such as Sutherland would have encountered this calendar. But there is one other bit of evidence that Sutherland was familiar with the Tolkien Calendars. The 1976 Tolkien Calendar (which would have been published in mid-to-late 1975) included art by the Brothers Hildebrandt, including this image of very pig-faced orcs: 


Source: The Complete Guide to Tolkien Calendars

And Sutherland was the one who slightly thereafter introduced pig-faced orcs into D&D, via his illustrations in Swords & Spells (July 1976 per the Acaeum), Holmes Basic and the Monster Manual.






Orcs by David Sutherland from Swords & Spells (July 1976)