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

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Gygax's D&D Revision Plans 1977


Here's a very early description by Gygax of the plans for Basic and AD&D that I've never come across before. It's from Alarums & Excursion #21, April 1977, but is copied from an earlier source. The A&E contributor is Martin Easterbrook of Surrey, UK, who writes that the above is "a short extract I've 'pirated'" from "Walter Luc Haas' gameszine EUROPA". Martin doesn't mention the issue or date of the EUROPA zine, and I haven't been able to locate a copy of the original to confirm. The only issue of EUROPA that is widely available is #6-8 from 1975, which contains the now well-known Gygax article "How To Set Up Your Dungeons & Dragons Campaign". Edit: See update below.

Notes
-Gygax indicates that the revision is to include all of the material from the D&D booklets as well as magazine articles, which at that point included the seven issues of the Strategic Review and the first few issues of Dragon. Elsewhere Martin mentions that he has not yet obtained Dragon #5.

-"[A] beginner's guide" --- Gygax credited Holmes with this idea, so presumably he was already working on "D&D for Beginners", as he titled the manuscript for what became the Basic rulebook. And we actually know that Holmes had finished his manuscript by February of '77, which is before this issue of A&E. But as I noted above, we don't know when exactly Gygax's statements appeared in EUROPA. Note also that there is not yet any mention of the specific terms Basic or Advanced.

-They were considering putting not only the Basic rulebook and dice in a boxed set, but also all of the revised D&D books: "[t]he entire package will be available boxed, with dice included". The planned size was already that of the eventual Basic Set, 8.5 x 11. This is given an exclamation point because all previous D&D booklets were digest-sized. No mention of hardcovers, so the idea of having all of the rulebooks in one box (as in OD&D) seems reasonable.

-No mention of the Monster Manual, presumably at this point it was going to be included in the "large referee's manual". The revised and expanded GD&H eventually became Deities & Demigods.

-The reference to "only one combat system" indicates that the Chainmail combat system would no longer be referenced, as is the case with AD&D.

-"There will be no additional formal material" --- it's not clear if Gygax means that the books will be limited mainly to a revision & clarification of existing material, without adding new material, or if he means that there will be no additional supplements once these books are published (imagine that).

-Overly optimistic timeline. The Basic Set came out in July of 1977, so not too far off from "near spring", and while the Monster Manual came out in very late December, the other books were delayed by years --- PHB - 1978, DMG - 1979, and D&DG - 1980.

I've also added a transcription of Gygax's statements to the "Gygax on Holmes" page.

Update: Thanks to Allan Grohe (grodog) for tracking down the original publication in Europa issue #15-17, January 1977. The text is same as given in A&E. That places this plan prior to Holmes finishing the Basic manuscript.