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.

-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.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Gygax's "Dungeon Delving" Playtest Reports

The map for Pane 8 "Red (Rose)" of the Hall of Many Panes

Here's a post to celebrate Gary Gygax's birthday, which was yesterday --- he would have been 80 this year. 

Last December I wrote about Gary's "Dungeon Delving" map from his lengthy 2005 module the Hall of Many Panes, written for his Lejendary Adventures system. In that post I looked at how it shared many features with his dungeon level designs from the 1970s. As a follow-up here I collect his reports from when he was play-testing this level with his home group, sixteen years ago in the summer of 2002.

These posts were all made on his gygax-games mailing list, one of the many online groups/forums that he frequented in the last decade of his life. The list ended up as a yahoo group and are still available here in a super-clunky archive that I assume could disappear at any time if yahoo goes under. They are precious few actual play reports from Gygax himself, so I think it is important to preserve these.

I've extracted the play reports from the above messages, removing some of the out-of-game info, although you can follow the links to find the full posts. I also corrected obvious spelling mistakes and typos where I noted them. I've also annotated where each room is located on the published map so you can follow along with the group's progress. To do this, it will probably help to open two browser windows, one with the narrative, one with the map.

The starting characters, per Gary's descriptions ---
Artimus the Rogue
Chahlor the Dwarf
Deogolf the Mage
Xagnar the Renowned (elsewhere described as a roguish hero)
Otto the Forester
Lovie the Veshoge (NPC run by Gary)
Longer descriptions of these characters can be found in the published Hall of Many Panes module, as well as in this 2007 EnWorld post by Gygax.

The Playtest Reports ---

6 June LA Game Session Message 5750, posted 6/8/02

"...After a quick R&R session, they then went on, tapped a hexagonal pane of red, and... DUNGEON CRAWL TIME!  That's right, fans, they are now in a "dungeon as of the days of yore," and they must needs find the long and arduous means of escaping.

The initial octagonal chamber, the center of which they arrived in has [nine] marble statues in it [Room 1, START]. They left the center so as to see the front sides of these figures--all ordinary sorts, from a noblewoman to a goose girl. Heading for an exit, they had stones dropped from the gloomy heights above my several angry male mandreagles. They left by one of the four exit doors, found another chamber, left there and went through several corridors, and are now in a small room in which there is a self-proclaimed "wishing well" [Room 29]." 

LA Game Campaign Session: 13 June Message 5764, posted 6/14/02

"...So with Artimus the team searched the room they were in with some care, but did not venture down the 6-foot diameter, 20-foot deep shaft with water at the bottom. After expending only a couple of gold pieces ($500) each, and one golden beryl worth a cool $5,000, the heroes departed the Wishing Well room as not likely to prove useful to their immediate mission--getting out of the stinking dungeon!

Led by the doughty Otto, the party soon came to another door in the maze of passages and chambers they have barely begun to explore. An armored warrior with a great mastiff greeted them, inviting them in if they were "no friends of vile cats" [Room 7]. After sharing wine with him they were about to set off for a pub somewhere on the level, a place owned according to the warrior by "Bobo and Bruno." Lovie attacked the chap when his back was turned.

Although she missed, she had used her Psychogenic Mind Reading Power to discover the fellow was a werebeast about to attack the party. It turned out the dog was also one, and in a fast and furious fight, the pair were laid low. Fortunately (from the players' standpoint only, I assure you), only one of the group failed to avoid being slowed and made 50% less effective that normal from the drugged wine that drank. Robbing the dead, the team took a bottle of the drugged wine, seven gold coins, and a considerable number of magical fungi they found hidden in the victims' small room. Chahlor the dwarf went so far as to take a necklace from the warrior-werebeast's neck, a chain from which depends a red disk. He now sports it as a trophy.

Delving further east and south, then heading west, they encountered a chameleon slime masquerading as a ceramic pot of water [Room 8], took some rather severe acid Harm to person and armor, but... Otto had brought along many pound of bicarbonate of soda. Continuing acid damage was ended, and with that and some Power activation, the poor slime was cruelly murdered for merely following its instinctive drive, its need for nourishment...

The savage marauders then entered a hall in which a figure on a leather chair of throne-like sort demanded they come close so they could speak [Room 9]. The callow adventurers did not, discovered it was a leather golem, and began to destroy yet another inhabitant of the place into whose presence that had come unbidden. Sadder still, the golem's associate, a mad ulf savant, was unable to turn any of the raiders to stone, then fell prone when caught in a Sticky Power effect that was cast by the merciless Deogolf. Chahlor then used an unchivalrous wand Power, Eggary's Extreme Smiting, to nearly slay the unhappy and unbalanced ulf--a figure no court in this land would hold responsible for his actions of self-defense, the protection of his golem included.

Just as the much-abused ulf arose and was moving to strike a mighty blow at the intruders, he again fell prone in the sticky area... Yours truly was greatly dejected. The party was much pleased, nay, overjoyed, at that. So they struck the coup de grace without compunction..."

HOMP, Thursday 20 June Adventure Session Message 5857, posted 6/21/02

"...Initially discovered on the ulf were some way-too-big dockalven composite armor and a heavy cutting sword which were unceremoniously loaded onto Otto, all quite untested. A very thorough search and looting followed. $1,700 in silver service pieces was insufficient, so the party kept up their depredations, found a secret cache under the stone chain in which the golem had sat. Therein 90 gold coins ($45K), and $50K each in loose gems & crystals, and gold jewelry were discovered and looted. Still unsatisfied, the rapacious band then examined a large pool in an alcove. Artimus nearly died when his hand contacted a small but highly poisonous little fish therein. Much consultation, several more near-fatal stings, and then more consultation and various attempts to rid the water of the camouflaged and well-hidden piceans followed. When asked, Lovie used her Psychogenic Ability Apport & Teleport Power to empty the pool of water. A tedious hunting for and slaughter of some 100 small fish was next. Then came a careful hands-on examination of the pebbled bottom of the pool. This discovered many plaques, a memory tablet, and a Hand of Destruction (copper) with 9 topaz crystal rounds--this Lovie demanded and received.

Leaving the thoroughly-trashed chamber, the team set off to discover more hapless victims. Instead what followed was a refreshing tour of the many maze-like passages of the level:) The number of encounters seemingly bypassed on purpose was a delight to the LM's heart. That two sheets of mapping paper, on both sides, were needed to attempt to chart the path followed--that actually quite unsuccessfully--was even more heartening, as much as their being within about 50 feet of "Bobo's & Bruno's Pub" and missing it [Room 21].

They did discover an arrow trap that did some Harm:)

After several game hours of wandering hither and yon thus, they came to a small chamber with the mixed stench of rotting and ozone pervading the place [Room 15]. As they were reading for something, that something came to them. A rather large shock wyrm emerged, delivered considerable lightning Harm to four of the heroes... Otto ran away having suffered 40 Harm. Chahlor took double Harm of 38, plus half that delivered to his clone (20), so he was in some distress too. Unfortunately two armor-bypassing blows, one from Chahlor, the other from Xagnar, slaughtered the justly self-defending wyrm. Had Lovie been able to strike ahead of Xagnar, her deadly sword thrust (01) would have done for the poor brute.

Some gold coins were discovered in a side passage from which the wyrm had emerged [Room 15A]. At the end of that way was a shaft plunging many hundreds of feet down to where it is likely the wyrm laired as 'home." Another long discussion followed as to whether or not, and how, they might explore that lower cavity. Xagnar was all for pushing Chahlor's clone into the shaft. After much ado, the party left. Too bad, as the wyrm's parents, too large for the shaft, were waiting expectantly for manna from above...

Heading east along a long passage, Chahlor was evidently feeling unclean, so he went for a deep duck into a 10-foot pool of water the denizens of the dungeon use for drinking.

Thereafter a detour south brought the band of marauders into a place where heavy, spear-headed iron bars crashed down to trap them in a 10' x 30' area ["C" near bottom edge]. Regrettably, the party was in need of rest, so they settled down there assuming that iron bars provide them with relatively safety in their "retreat." It is the LM's duty to disabuse them!"

27 June LA Game Campaign--more Dungeon Crawling Message 5938, posted 7/1/02

"Having left the bold band "overnighting" in a cage trap, there was considerable surprise when a new face was amongst the party when they awoke, that belonging to Vendar:
Vendar, a stout soldier who grew up in the hamlet of Burrflint, which is little more than a wide spot near the intersection of two major roads.  He worked in his parents’ tavern serving customer and stabling horses.  He yearned for adventure and travel and would listen to all of the stories, no matter how outrageous, that the travelers told when they were enjoying a mug of his father’s fine ale. When he was 15 years old he ran away from his parents and enlisted in a free company of mercenaries. Finding that much routine duty and little excitement was to be had in a mercenary band, Vendar left to find more exciting employment as a soldier of fortune, came across a strange fellow who offered him the adventure of a lifetime, and in accepting the challenge found himself in a closed mini-cosmos with a party of would-be heroes seeking to find and free a captive demi-god ... 
The "strange fellow" in this case looked like a dwarf-sized leprechaun, called himself "The Mors."

While the iron grate could be lifted a bit, lacking any levers the party decided to try another tact. Deogolf used an enchantment, and the whole group passed through the stone easily, were on their way.

There was much wandering through long and maze-like passages, for by this time the adventurers realized they had been subjected to some form of magical transportation in this dungeon. After working around an open pit in the floor, then long exploring, they were surprised by a pair of bale wretches--twice! [Room 25] Finally cutting off the vile living dead things' heads, the team took what was there in the coffins, and an indigo square pendant on a necklace lying on an altar.

Next they came to a fortress-like room where an ancient and reclusive savant of some sort dwells [Room 28]. He answered a number of questions for the group, then as they became somewhat threatening, disappeared. They left his abode undisturbed, went back to exploring, and eventually discovered a bathing pool in which Chahlor and Lovie took a dip together (ever wonder what dwarf-veshoge sprats would look like?) [Room "From 18"].

Noted there was: There are 12 large towels stacked in a corner, written on the wall by them, with a narrow slit in the stone below the writing is: “$500 per bather, towel included. Deposit coins in slot.” Lovie, first in, discovered a necklace with a square blue pendant, and she now wears it. Chahlor and Lovie need to decide if they will pay the outrageous bathing and town fee now...

Leaving the pool area, the party entered a chamber in which many bones and skeletons were strewn against the far wall [Room 23]. Watching those remains with eagle eye, the "harpooner" (domlithican) on the ceiling above managed to spear two of the group and knock them out with its poison. Fortunately for all, heavy armor and excellent weapons use enabled the others to free Deogolf and Vendar before they were drawn up for consumption. After some further attacks, the monster was laid low."

Thur. 11 July LA game Campaign Session Message 6136, posted 7/12/02

"...After some considerable time spent attempting to discover just where they were in the dungeon, Chahlor assumed the task of mapping, and Xagnar conceived of carving numbers into various doors to see if they were being transported hither and yon as they suspected. Through much effort, they discovered they were indeed being magically moved, were unable to connect explored and mapped portions of the level, but gained much the expense of any encounters of active sort. The party did get an exceptional amount of exercise walking the length and breadth of the level, only to backtrack in both cases.

The team did discover a covered pit trap, with spikes, Chahlor leaping back in time but Otto plunging in, missing even the one spike that seemed certain to skewer him, and coming out with mere bruises and contusions. They then discovered a cage trap, worked a lever, suffered some minot harm from arrows released, but escaped the cage ["C" in NW].

Nearing exhaustion the party then came upon a large hall in which there were eight brass pillars [Room 24]. In its foyer there was a pool of corroded copper. Vendar discovered when he investigated it that it contained a most hungry and aggressive flowing slime. An activation, a lucky cut from Chahlor too, ended its assault, although Vendar and his armor alike suffered some considerable Harm from its acid.

Upon stepping into the hall, they found all save the floor of white marble was of polished brass. 18 torches flared into light as if by magic, and later on Chahlor attempting to grab one to use as a stick weapon discovered they spat out gouts of flame at anyone too near... The Avatars saw three great urns of brass before the inner faces of the far columns, and before them a great magic circle inlaid in brass in the floor. Avoiding the latter, Xagnar lifted the lid of the first urn. Presto! It was a brass golem, and it smote lustily upon the unsuspecting fellow.

He fled with the golem in pursuit, and soon Chahlor and Deogolf shattered the construct with their Powers. Another jar was struck by Chahlor's activation, it becoming a brass golem with four arms, but again meeting destruction from Extraordinary energy. The same thing happened with the third brass urn, it transforming into a six-armed golem that was all-too-quickly blasted to bits.

In the ruins of the first golem Xagnar discovered a miniature golem with command words upon it. Artimus succeeded in convincing Xagnar that he should bestow the figurine unto him, much to Alex's chagrin. The remains of the second golem produced a figurine of an oni imp with command words, it being taken up by Vendar.

As Chahlor picked up a necklace with an orange pendant of hexagonal shape and a brass bound tome, the latter smoked, incandesced, burst into flames from which appeared a most irate oni. It smote Chahlor soundly. Five of the Avatars smote back, but only Chahlor, Xagnar, and Deogolf's enchantments were of effect. Eventually it came down to three persons fighting it, all save Deogolf at a distance, rather badly wounded. As the demon used an energy coil to harm and paralyze Chahlor, Xagnar and Deogolf finished the oni."

LA Campaign Session 18 July Message 6422, posted 7/20/02

"...After the party rested and did some healing in the hall of brass, they exited and all-too-soon discovered a nearby room was one in which they had encountered and expunged a pair of bale wretches [Room 25]. That discovery, of course, enabled them to put several map sections into their proper order. There was much grumbling and lamentation from the LM at that point.

Thus intelligenced, the team began exploration so as to improve their dungeon map, and even a wandering blindsnake had no effect on that determined, if slow, effort.

They marched east and west, north and south, so as to get the lay of the land, so to speak. Although this exercise bypassed many interesting things, they did discover a chamber with a large iron chest--and the four flatadders dwelling in the area [Room 12]. Being surprised by them, considerable venom went into the team before the snakes were cruelly slaughtered. Lovie the Veshoge was struck twice and her Health was in single digits. Healing was again in order, as was an exploration break of 12 hours game time whilst adventurers slept, regained AEPs.

Thereafter Chahlor, leading the way and mapping, the Avatars continued on. Suddenly the dwarf disappeared from sight, leaving only the lingering echoes of a shriek of surprise. A huge kru-krad ape had snatched him up from where it lurked in the rafters of the newly entered space [Room 11]. Thumped soundly, Chahlor was cast down, but managed to avoid being stunned. Thus he and several others learned how nasty these creatures are in melee. More healing followed.

In the process of continued mapping, it was next discovered that an area with stairs up [A1] transported them some considerable distance away to the north [A2]. In working their way back southwards again, a secret door was noted by Otto and Lovie. The party followed, found a circular chamber with tools in it [Room 5], then the starting big chamber [Room 1]. As mandreagles tossed down rocks, broke a bright bubble thus, Xagnar was elected to use his bracers of brachiation to clear them from the place. This he did with effect, killing eight males and 16 females of the vicious creatures, the few survivors then fleeing the place in haste.

Much laden with tools, armor and arms taken from various encounters, the party settled down in the great hexagonal chamber for a breather while they decided what they should do with their excess baggage. The LM vociferously urged the use of the hand cart left in the circular chamber in which the tools were discovered, but Xagnar kept warning of the encumbrance and noise associated with such a vehicle."

LA Campaign Adventure Session 26 July Message 6533, posted 7/26/02

"...Much of the time was spent in moving about in the dungeon, checking the path followed against the map, and making corrections to that work. In actual fact, the pile of partial maps was reduced to only a couple, as the main one was corrected and expanded. This was enabled by the marking of dungeon doors with numbers and very careful exploration.

...After eating, healing, resting, recovering AEPs, there was consideration of taking a hand cart from a nearby chamber so as to be able to carry all the shields, armor, and weapons the party had collected. When it became clear that the vehicle was noisy, slow, and would attract attention, that plan was abandoned--along with the shields, armor, and arms--those being piled up in the room.

Leaving the big octagonal chamber that had been the happy home for many mandreagles before their slaughter, the team exited using the same path as their original departure. thereafter in more thoroughly exploring the area there, they discovered a pair of feline werebeasts masquerading as a human female and her black lion guardian animal [Room 6]. Chahlor signaled Lovie to use her Psychogenic Ability to check on the pair, but this was spotted by the werebeasts. As the random die rolls indicated Chahlor and Kahlar [described as a doppleganger of Chahlor] were attacked, it was apparent that the werebeasts considered the dwarfs as the leaders of the party. The pair struck, the black lion overbearing Kahlar, mauling him savagely, and keeping the doppleganger out of action, while the one in human form beat soundly on the actual Avatar, Chahlor, and then others. Of course that left plenty of others to beat back, and in sort order the two werebeasts were cut to pieces. Finding a necklace, valuables, and four boli of health, robustus, three of moderatus sort, the team left there.

Following that action the main exploration operation began. Noting landmark areas and door numbers, the party moved through long stretches of the subterranean labyrinth, revisited the healing pool where a mere $500 (one-ounce gold coin) enables healing (13-16), AEP restoration (9-12) and the use of a towel to dry off:) [Room "From 18"]

During this lengthy trekking, avoiding assiduously areas suspected to transport the party, there were two relatively bright spots--the triggering of an arrow trap, and that of a previously-visited covered pit with spikes set in its bottom. As in the initial mishap, Chahlor and Otto were leading the way, the dwarf avoiding falling in, Otto plummeting down. This time not only did the Forester miss falling on the one spike that might have penetrated, his fall broke it! The only consolation was the 13 points of shock Harm from the fall, this bypassing any and all protection, of course.

Having thus established the eastern boundaries of the level, the party began a systematic exploration of the blank map areas there in the northeastern portion. By so doing they stumbled upon and were totally surprised by an url [Room 26]. That worthy pitched two rocks, just making his hitting chance with rolls of 85 and 84, delivering excellent Harm thereby. He then grabbed his huge flail and smacked full four of the intruding Avatars smartly. Sadly, he missed his next two attack rolls, and the team did for the url thus. As they were gloating over their triumph, two more rocks flew into the group. Both would have hit, but alas Xagnar has an Extraordinary protection that lowers initial attack success by 50%, so he was missed. Vendar, already wounded, fell with health of -5 from the stone that struck him. The dwarf had available a magical stone, however, that restored full 60 Health points to his fallen comrade, so that attack was not fatal after all.

Two trolls that served the url came into the fray from their southern quarters [Room 27] and fought valiantly but hopelessly. They too were cut down, after delivering some stout blows to their opponents--Kahlar (then replaced by Chahlor) and Xagnar.

Loot from this wanton killing amounted to some fair amount of coin two, necklaces and five amber ammunition crystals for Lovie's hand of destruction.

Feeling relatively safe in the lairs of such fell creatures, the battered Avatars settled down to refresh themselves with food, pillaged ale, rest and sleep."

HOMP Campaign Session 15 August Message 6769, posted 8/16/02

"...The team had stopped for a rest period in the "baseball-home-plate-shaped" temple chamber with decorations and three deital-figure statues of Egyptian like sort [Room 19]. There play commenced. After leaving two gold coins in each of the three offertory dishes on the altars, and one $5,000 topaz before the figure that resembles Osiris, the team went on.

The puzzled LM wondered why no prayers and requests for anything accompanied the offerings, but such is life.

After the party left, the offerings were magically transferred into the "Fund for the restoration of communications between deities and mankind."

Mapping continued, as the wretched dwarf cartographer further developed and completed the means by which the team could access all portions of the dungeon level with easy and know their exact location. Bah!

By searching the blank areas, the party soon came upon a heretofore undiscovered side chamber from the starting octagonal one, picking up there a lantern and jug of lamp oil (kerosene) [Room 4]. Going back, they then found a small chamber in which a "jolly and kindly priest (necromancer) dwelled [Room 17]. As they broke bread with him he summoned his 60 blackrat friends, activated Bone Splinters Power too, dreaming he had a chance of inflicting some severe damage upon the namby-pamby adventurers. As he was about to follow up with a Reaper's Scythe Power attack, Chahlor used his want to nearly kill the fellow with an Eggary's Extreme Smiting. That blew the necrourge's activation, and in the following ABC he was slain while attempting to escape through a secret door. Much loot was taken, but there was no sign of a necklace and pendant.

Searching on seeking the two missing keys to their escape from the labyrinth, and now fully able to move around with relative surety, the party next came into a rectangular chamber with nine murals painted on its walls [Room 18]. Ignoring some very interesting pictures, Chahlor touched one with a buxom maid offering a tankard of ale, was sent instantly to the Ogre Brothers Pub [Room 21], and the rest followed. After a "day" of boozing and loafing, and a night of rest there in the best bedroom, the bold band went back to exploring.

Sadly, their map was such that Chahlor was able to lead them directly to a side chamber, a large place that was the residence of a sorcerer, and currently the haunt of that one's spirit, a fright [Room 13]. As they went into the bedchamber portion of the place it manifested itself..."

LA Campaign Game Session 22 August Message 6853, posted 8/24/02

"...the fight with the living dead fright went badly--for the fright. It did gain a lot of P Base Rating points to as to strike frequently in semi-material form, but even with its high protection the team unloaded so much on the critter that it didn't stand a chance. In upshot it managed to drain only one point permanently, when Ottos Avoidance failed and he ran off. (Note to all LMs: Have one fright for every two Avatars, and the latter will be meat on the table!)

With the destruction of the fright, the usual looting frenzy followed, and what was thought to be possibly of value but not immediately identifiable was stashed in the two Commodeous Carryalls the team had taken from the ogresses [Room 22]. Thus laden, and with the eighth necklace, the party went looking for the ancient sage. With Chahlor's map being about 95% correct, this was an easy matter. When he was not in the Ogre Brothers Pub, they simply went to his area [Room 28], knocked, and were admitted.

He asked for the simple meaning of the following:
"In pinetaris; in oaknoneis.
"In mudeelsare; in claynoneis."

Eventually that was stated by Vendar.

Then they got the clue for the location of the eighth necklace, and Chahlor nailed it all too quickly, led the way, managed the opening of the secret door alone, taking the arrows, and thus the last key for escape from the dungeon was gained [Room 14]. Both Vendar and Chahlor received 50 extra General Merits for their efforts.

Back at the octagonal chamber where the adventure began, there was a period of experimentation with the necklaces. Then following the most obvious relationships between each shape and the statues, they got the right order for all eight on the first try! That earned an extra 50 for all the party members, so their Merits were 300 for the session and 300 for exiting.

Much the worse for wear, the party exited through the rose pane that appeared with the proper placement of the necklaces, hastened to the brownies' for R&R, and examined and divided up the extensive loot. Vendar now has a two-handed sword that has a P bonus of 15, harm added of 13-16, all supernatural Extraordinary. Xagnar received Winged Heels boots. The two Commodeous Carryalls remain with Chahlor and Otto. Lovie got some dandy ammunition crystals for the Hand of Destruction, so she can't complain. Deogulf garnered a number of Enchantment Powers on Plaques, so he thus needs now only some Memory Tablets to be well pleased indeed.

Happily, the bold adventurers did not stop by the pub to bid adieu to the ogre brothers..."

Monday, June 25, 2018

Dimestore Bulette

They are still out there waiting to be unearthed! Above is a 1970s dimestore bulette that I recently rescued from the bottom of a bin of plastic dinosaurs at a vintage toy store. This is the Chinese-manufactured toy upon which the D&D monster was based. I had several sets of these 'Prehistoric Monsters' when I was a kid, well before I heard of D&D. We called this one Blaster, and it had two powers ---- it could "explode" itself, and travel through the ground, similar to a bulette but more like phasing.

Holmes himself owned several of these bulettes. For a picture, see this post ---

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Skull Mountain Variant by Darlene

At North Texas RPG Con last weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Darlene, an artist for TSR who did the original World of Greyhawk maps in the 1983 boxed set. I asked her to sign my original copy of the WoG Glossography, one of the books from the set. I picked this because part of her beautiful map is shown on the cover, but she relayed that she had also designed the graphics. She stared at title page for a few seconds, remembering her work.

In addition I bought a copy of her 1982 card game, Jasmine: The Battle for the Mid-Realm, which you can see here on BGG. On the bottom side of the clear box for the game I spied a Skull Mountain-esque picture I'd never seen before on one of the cards. See above.

Darlene has a page about Idshoii on her blog, which verifies that it's not just a castle, but a carving at the top of a mountain:

"Ildshoii Castle, carved from shiny black obsidian rock, rose high above a crown of volcanos. The dark castle was the domain of Melantha, the ruler of Medrylthorn ..."

Update: Here is Darlene's own intro page for the game:

JASMINE: The Battle for the Mid-Realm Collector Card Game

Friday, May 11, 2018

Maze of Peril Ch 1, Scene 6: "A Map of the Dungeons Explored So Far"

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

After deciding on a direction, the party heads east for their first bout of dungeon crawling.
Zereth and Olaf remain in the front, with the others following in a slightly different order. Zereth strings his bow (a realistic touch) and draws a "black feathered arrow", and holds them together in his left hand, ready.

They reach the first north-south cross corridor previously reported by Zereth (scouting ahead) as being 70' from the entrance stairs. Nothing can be seen down these passages. They continue east and pass another "broad side corridor" where "dried slime covered the floor and even the walls". Holmes' original playing map for these adventures indicates the reason for this - this passage leads south to the Purple Worm's lair. I love that there is a Purple Worm lair so close to the entrance of a first level dungeon.

Continuing east, Olaf then tumbles into a covered pit trap, ten feet deep, and is attacked by a grey speckled and fanged serpent, seemingly of ordinary size but presumably poisonous. It fails to bite through Olaf's leather boots and he quickly dispatches it with his sword.

They haul Olaf out with one of their ropes, and the trap door swings back into place. Bardan comments on the trap maintenance (oiled hinges and a fed snake), and then is moved to front of the party because of his "innate familiarity with the Underground made him more likely to detect pits and traps". This is an ability of dwarves straight out of OD&D, Vol 1: "they note slanting passages, traps, shifting walls and new construction in underground seetings". Bardan doesn't just "sense" these traps, but taps the ground ahead with the butt of a short spear from supplies carried by the mule.

Boinger starts mapping the dungeon, using charcoal on parchment. If we could see this map, it might look something like this:

Detail from a map by J. Eric Holmes, scan by Tristan Holmes
This is a detail from one of Holmes' original maps for the games that this story was drawn from (shown with permission from his son Tristan Holmes, who made the scan). Each square represents 10', with the main east-west passage being exactly 25' wide as noted in the previous entry of this series. On the left can be seen "Stairs Down" and "Stair to Level 2" (which was not noted by Boinger and company). The north-south passage in the middle is the first cross corridor. The wide passage from the south wall is the slimy area, which leads to the Purple Worm's lair. Finally, on the right is the pit trap, with "Trap Door live cobra" noted beside it. So at this point in the story Holmes is following his original map fairly closely.

Moving east again, the party passes more "dark side corridors, some less than five feet wide" on the north. They approach an interesting intersection with a large "round pit" at the center, illuminated by light from a hole in the ceiling extending back up to the surface.

A group of orcs comes up behind them, but they hear a cry and are not surprised. Boinger has time to get out his "short horn bow". Boinger and Zereth fire arrows at the orcs before melee is joined, much like the order of combat that Holmes gives in the Basic rulebook: "...This is followed by any missile fire, if the distance to the monsters permits, and then melee is joined..." 

This is the first combat of the book, and is told from Boinger's perspective. He fires two arrows, the first killing one orc, and then engages in melee with another orc that he defeats after some tense exchanges. Holmes' combat descriptions are vivid - the orc's breath is foul, its blood hits Boinger's face, he feels nauseated after killing it.

The orcs are Tolkien-esque, even more so than D&D as they are also referred to as "goblin-creatures" (Tolkien primarily calls them goblins in the Hobbit and orcs in the Lord of the Rings). The orcs have hog-like faces with thick red tongues, and are armed with wide-bladed falchions, iron and leather helmets and chainmail. They cry out  "Nyah-gastur", which appears to be made up by Holmes, but to me has echoes of the Lovecraftian names Nylarathotep and Hastur.

Zereth: Black Feathered Arrows

Olaf: Thick Leather Boots

Boinger: Short Horn Bow

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

David Sutherland Day 2018

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

2018 update:

It's once again David Sutherland Day so I've bumped this post (previously bumped last year). David would have been 69 today. Feel free to add a new comment below about his work.

Of note, there is now a Sutherland appreciation group on Facebook called:

The Scaly Sacrarium of Sutherland

And did you know that David Sutherland made his own customized lizard warriors that resemble his drawing from the Foreword of Holmes Basic? The one at the top of this blog? See this 2013 post on the Zenopus Archives for more on this:

DCSIII Customized Saurians

Original post from 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Save for Half Episode 10: Holmes Basic D&D

Episode 10 of the podcast Save for Half is dedicated to Holmes Basic D&D!

Here's the blurb: "It’s the grandaddy of Basic D&D, the blue book edited by Dr. J. Eric Holmes! This little gem from the late 1970s brings us the question of trying to sell RPGs in mass market stores. It also begs other questions, such as how many ogres you need to mug to level up, why unicorns blow, and what vampires are doing in a game that limits players’ characters to levels 1-3? All this and more will be answered on this episode of Save for Half! No ogres were harmed in the making of this episode, not even the ones with 500 gold pieces in their bags."

The links section kindly includes a link to this blog.

Listen here:

Save for Half Episode 10: Holmes Basic D&D

Two of the hosts, DMs Liz and Mike, were previously on the Save or Die podcast and I joined them on the 124th episode.

Click on the "Podcasts" label below for links to previous podcasts of interest to the Holmes Basic aficionado.