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Saturday, November 27, 2021

TSR's 1976 "Lower Prices" Dice Ad (that shares text with Holmes Basic)

Over on Ebay, Jim Ward has been auctioning items accumulated from his career working at TSR, and among them I noted this early advertisement for dice from TSR that I don't recall seeing before. It appears to be from 1976, as the reverse side is an announcement for the new Metamorphosis Alpha RPG. TSR produced a number of these monochrome advertising sheets in the 1970s, some of which were also used as ads in magazines.

The lengthy explanatory text at the bottom of the page especially caught my attention because it's extremely similar to the "USING THE DICE" section found near the end of the Holmes Basic rulebook. Back in the last post of the Holmes Manuscript series, I presumed that this section originated with TSR, as it is not found in Holmes' manuscript.

Image originally posted in the Holmes Basic G+ Community (archived here)

The above image is from a 2nd or 3rd printing of the rulebook, but the "Using the Dice" text is the same in the 1st printing. Below is a transcription in which I've bolded the text that is the same as in the "Low Impact" Ad:

        Players need not be confused by the special dice
called for in DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. By using the
assortment of 4-, 6-, 8-, 12- and 20-sided dice, a wide
range of random possibilities can be easily handled.
        For a linear curve (equal probability of any
number), simply roll the appropriate die for 1-4, 1-6, 1 -
8, 1-10 , or 1-12. If some progression is called for,
determine and use the appropriate die (for instance, 2-
7 would call for a 6-sided die with a one spot addition).
For extensions of the base numbers, roll a second die
with the appropriately numbered die. For example: to
generate 1-20, roll the 20-sided die and 6-sided die,
and if the 6-sided die comes up 1-3 , the number shown
on the 20-sider is 1-10 (1-0), and if the 6-sider comes up
4-6, add 10 to the 20-sided die and its numbers become
11-20 (1-0). This application is used with the 12-sided
die to get 1-24. If 1-30 or 1-36 are desired, read the 6-
sider with the 20- or 12-sided die, with 1 -2 equalling no
addition, 3-4 adding 10, and 5-6 adding 20. This
principle can be used to generate many other linear
        For bell curves (increasing probability of numbers
in the center, decreasing at both ends), just roll the
same die two or more times, roll several of the same
type of dice, or even roll two or more different dice.

The introductory sentence has been replaced with two sentences, and one extra sentence covering modified ranges has been added, but otherwise the text is almost identical. From this we can see how another portion of the text of the Holmes Basic rulebook was constructed from some pre-existing text. I don't know whether this text is original to this ad, or if there is yet another source text from which it was taken. I assume the author here is Gygax based on the lengthier "Dice" section in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.

A later version of the "Using the Dice" text that is revised to include the chits can be seen in my recent post, Jim Ward on the Why of Chits.

See Also
Dice of the Gods (Creative Publications Dice Packaging)

Friday, November 12, 2021

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave: Random Encounters

A random encounter table for the The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, which starts here.

Illustration of a Large Rock Crab by Lore Suto

d12 Wandering Monsters and Other Encounters

When the players spend a turn searching, there is a 1 in 12 chance of an encounter per turn.

If an encounter occurs, roll d12 to determine which:

1. A large rock crab, camouflaged as a rock or stalagmite, strikes out at a random party member with previously hidden claws. Double chance of surprise (1-4 in 6)Unlimited in number.

Large Rock Crab (1): DX 9, AC 6, HD 1/2, AT 2 pinchers for 1d4 each. 

2. pack of feral cats, descendants of smugglers' pets, begins circling the party just beyond their light source, meowing raucously for food. Providing food will quiet them. Otherwise, the noise will keep increasing until something else is attracted to the noise (roll again on the table), at which point it will suddenly cease.

3. A juvenile carrion crawler reaches down from a wall or ceiling in an attempt to paralyze a random party member. This is the spawn of the carrion crawler in Area #3; these are encountered alone, and there are only 8 in total throughout the cave system.

Juvenile Carrion Crawler (1): DX 15, AC 9, HD 1, AT 2 only (due to small size), D 0 + save vs poison at +4 or paralyzed.

4. The ghost of a peddler, who long ago provided the smugglers with goods, approaches. He is friendly and eager to sell goods to the party. He can procure any type ordinary equipment available at twice the cost of the rulebook prices. However, these items are actually brought forward in time from the past, and return there after one day.

5. An aggregation of aggroaches on the hunt scurries towards the party. See the full writeup of the aggroach here

Aggroach (variable): DX 10, AC 7, HD variable, AT 1 bite for 1 point.

Roll a d12 for size and numbers: 

1-6      =  2d6    least  (1 hp)
7-9      =  1d10  large  (HD 1/2)
10-11  =  1d6    huge  (HD 1)
12       =  1d4    giant  (HD 2)

6. A cloud of miasma settles in the area, sickening the party. Each must Save vs. Poison or make all die rolls at -1 for 3 turns.

7. A vampire bat, part of the colony in Area 6swoops in and attempts to bite a random party member. 

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

8. A group of torches appears in the distance in the dark. Once in the light, they are revealed as floating torches. These are corpse lights, a type of minor undead formed from the spirits of smuggler lackeys who died in the caves.

Corpse Light (floating torch) (3d4): DX 10, AC 7, HD 1/8 (1 hp), AT 1 torch for 1 point of damage. Undead, turned as skeletons with a +2 on the roll.

9. A partial skeleton, just an upper torso, drags itself into view and begins inexorably crawling towards a member of party. On 1 in 4 it still wears a minor piece of jewelry worth 10d4 gp.

Partial Skeleton (1): DX 10, AC 7, HD 1/8 (1 hp), AT 1 claws for 1 point of damage. Undead, turned as skeletons with a +2 on the roll. 

10. A stalactite or chunk of rubble, disturbed by the group's movements, falls from above on a random party member. Treat as an attack by a 1 HD monster, with a hit doing 1d6 damage.

11. A small piercer drops from the ceiling on a random person in an attempt to find a meal. 

Piercer (1): DX 3, AC 3, HD 1, AT 1 drop for 1d6 per HD.

12. Roll for surprise. On a 1 or 2, a random adventurer realizes that the wet rock they are standing on is actually a grey ooze, which has begun dissolving their boots. Otherwise, they  are merely standing near the ooze.

Gray Ooze (1): DX 3, AC 8, HD 3, AT 1 for 2d8.

Chronologically on this blog, this post was made after Area 10 and before Area 11.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Jim Ward on the Why of Chits

The Chit Sheets, Front and Back.
Source: The Dice Collector

Later printings of the Holmes Basic D&D set came with an infamous sheet of chits, pictured above, in place of dice. I myself was one of those kids that received such a set, which only added to my confusion in understanding how the game was placed, despite the instruction sheet included for using the chits. It's long been rumored that the change was due to a dice shortage in face of D&D's popularity, and thus increased need for dice, but former TSR employee recently related (here on FB), how it was actually the result of management decisions by TSR during a time they were developing their own dice:

Young Jim Ward and the Dice Monster

© all rights reserved by James M. Ward 

“Young Jim Ward” was a history teacher in a small rural school when the call came in. I had just finished writing Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes, Deities & Demigods for AD&D, and Metamorphosis Alpha the first science fiction role-playing game. I told Gary Gygax that as soon as he could pay my teacher’s salary of 13,400 dollars I would move back to Elkhorn and join his company. In 1980 he was able to do that and I moved. 

“Young Jim Ward” started out in the sales department as the inventory controller. It was my job to order the boxes and parts for the games and especially the D&D box set. It was selling 100,000 units a month, steady as clock work. One of “young Jim Ward’s” jobs was to make sure the Hong Kong dice came in on time to fill the next batch of 100,000 boxes. It was a responsibility I took very seriously. 

It took exactly six months for 100,000 sets of poly dice to be made, ship from Hong Kong over the water, and be delivered to the boxer in Madison; Patch Press at the time. Naturally, being a careful person “young Jim Ward” ordered the dice two months early so that 100,000 boxes in December had their dice ordered 8 months out. So in May “young Jim Ward” was ordering dice for the December publication and everyone was fine with that. 

I’m proud to say there were some problems with getting things in on time before me. After “young Jim Ward” started, we were never late on getting product out. This included the day Patch Press printed 16 pages of the monster manual pages in the player handbook [sic*] and shipped the 100,000 to our warehouse. 

So one day “young Jim Ward” is doing his job and the vice presidents of the company have a meeting and decide it would be much more cost effective to make our own dice. I had no problem with the concept. I told them my dice schedule and young Jim Ward went back to work. Two months later, the Vice President in charge of getting the dice molds made comes into my office and says I can stop ordering Hong Kong dice. I became very alarmed and asked the question, do we have finished dice molds? His reply was no but he was sure we would have finished molds in a few short weeks. That was why I could stop ordering dice. “Young and diligent Jim Ward” didn’t want to stop ordering dice since there wasn’t a finished dice mold yet. He went to his Vice President and got permission to order the next month’s 100,000 dice. 

Weeks later the other Vice President comes storming into the sales office. “I thought I told you not to order dice,” he shouted. “Do we have a working dice mold?” I asked very meekly even though I wasn’t feeling meek. I had a job to do. “No we don’t, but that doesn’t matter, we will when we need the dice.” He stormed out of the office and I heard the lecture. I was told if a vice president of the company gave me an order I had to do it. I didn’t order the next month’s dice and it almost killed “young Jim Ward” with worry. 

For two months “young Jim Ward” got real sneaky and tracked the progress of the dice mold. On the day we were going to be late if we didn’t have Hong Kong dice “young Jim Ward” sent out a memo detailing the schedule and our need for 100,000 sets of dice. “Young Jim Ward” gave it to all of the vice presidents. An hour later the mold VP brought the memo back to my office and threw it in my face. “We will have dice when we need them. You are not to worry about this matter any more.”

Naturally, “young Jim Ward” started to worry even more. I asked my Vice President if I would send out memos every week (I wanted every day, but held myself in check) on the dice issue. He made me send out one a month. On the day when it would be too late to order dice to get them in December I sent out a memo detailing that fact. All the vice presidents got together and were assured we would have dice. “Young Jim Ward” was ordered not to send out any more memos on the dice. Raw blades of inventory agony transfixed “young Jim Ward’s” body as the weeks went by. Still sneaky, I knew exactly what condition the dice were in that were being made by the mold. I begged my VP to talk to Gary about the matter. He did and Gary went to the dice mold VP and asked to see what type of dice were being made by the new molds. That VP opened his desk to pull out several pieces of what looked like popcorn with numbers on them. Clearly they would not be used for the D&D box set. Gary went to me and told me to order dice and get them as soon as possible. He also told me never to listen to anyone who said not to order dice again. That dice VP got a written reprimand and I got a huge smile on my face. 

For three ugly months we used cardboard counters and a coupon for dice in our box sets. The only people happy about that were the prisoners in jail as they couldn’t get games with dice in them. From then on the dice VP didn’t like me at all and every time I was promoted into another position he would tell my supervisor what a trouble maker I was.

* It was the Dungeon Masters Guide that was misprinted with the pages of the Monster Manual, in what is designated the "Second Alpha" printing here on the Acaeum.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

"Game Wizards" Has Arrived!


Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons is the title of the new book by Jon Peterson of Playing at the World fame. I had eagerly awaited it since hearing about it, and had pre-ordered from Amazon, and it arrived in the mail today, like magic, on its official release date. Shelfie above. 

After checking out the images in the book, I naturally looked up Holmes & the Basic Set in the index and skimmed some of those parts. This lead to reading more parts before I forced myself to stop, so I can start at the beginning. But my early verdict is that it is very readable.

(" As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases ")

In the weeks leading up to the release, Jon made a related series of "behind the scenes" posts to the Playing at the World blog:

There were also several tie-in media articles:

Polygon: How a pending lawsuit changed the original D&D Basic Set (a "never-before-seen piece that was cut from the final book")

Wired: The Missing Teen Who Fueled ‘Cult Panic’ Over D&D ("This story is adapted from Game Wizards")

Friday, October 1, 2021

Sutherland Dragon Details

As promised in my earlier post about on the exhibit of the Holmes Basic cover art ⁠— aka the Sutherland Dragon ⁠— here are several close-ups of different portions.

The Fighter

The greens are more apparent, including in details such as the "emeralds" circling the pommel of the sword poking out from the treasure pile.

In the dragon's chest in the upper portion of this image you can clearly see multi-colored gems encrusted between the belly plates. A few are even gleaming, a detail which doesn't show up well because the gleams are white on a yellow background. 

Note Sutherland's signature, just visible below the shield. This portion of the image appeared on the bottom edge of the box set cover, where a bit more of his name can be seen than here.

The Magic-User

Here we see the wizard unobscured by the TSR logo and the other writing on the box cover.

Sutherland's attention to the lighting is very apparent in the yellow highlights and deep shadows applied to the wizard's blue robe.

The Dragon

Yellow bands of light radiate out from the wizard's torch, a detail that doesn't reproduce well on the boxed set cover. 

The motion lines accentuate the mood that the dragon has just been surprised. Sutherland used motion lines in other illustrations, particularly sword swings, such as on the title page of the Holmes Basic rulebook, as can be seen here.

As a reminder, the exhibit featuring this painting is at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA through Halloween, and then will be at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, TN from May 20 to September 5, 2022, and then at the Flint Institute of Art in Flint, MI from September 23, 2002 through January 8, 2023.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Ten Years of the Zenopus Archives

Ten years ago today, I made the first post to this blog, "What lies in the (undiscovered) deeper levels where Zenopus met his doom?", which was titled after Holmes' question in the coda to the Sample Dungeon. It was essentially just a teaser post, with just two links, both still active: one to the Zenopus Archives site, which was already under construction, and one to the Holmes Basic subforum on ODD74. But soon after that I started to post regularly, which ballooned to 65 posts in the last four months of 2011, and then 130 the next year, a pace that I have not kept up with since. But I have kept at it, and now it's ten years later, which is almost three times as long as the original era of Holmes Basic, and I have no plans for stopping.


TSR celebrated their 10th Anniversary with a Collector's Set, so I'm doing the same with 10 years of highlights, a sort of "Collector's Set" for the Zenopus Archives:


Caves of Chaos Revealed


Warlock or How to Play D&D without playing D&D?


The Cthulhu Mythos in D&D in the 1970s


20 Backgrounds for OD&D

Fearsome Monsters


Visualizing Castle Greyhawk

Beyond the Door to Monster Mountain


Con Report for NTRPGCon 2016

Gygaxian Orc Tribes


Holmes Ref 2.0

Tales of Peril Book Club


Gygax's "Dungeon Delving" Playtest Reports


The Holmes Basic G+ Community Archive

In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus at Gary Con

The Master's Lair, A Play Report


Release of The Ruined Tower of Zenopus 


d20 Unexpectedly Intelligent Monsters in the Monster Manual

Holmes Basic Cover Art: Exhibited!

Thursday, September 2, 2021

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus: September Starter Sale

DMs Guild is having a "September Starter Sale", with select introductory adventures up to 30% off through September 7th, and The Ruined Tower of Zenopus has been selected, so it is currently only $1.39!

As a reminder, if you missed the announcement last fall, the pdf now includes a full-page illustration by Chris Holmes (son of J. Eric Holmes) and a printer-friendly dungeon map. The purchase also includes a separate png file of the dungeon map suitable for VTTs (optimized for Roll20).

For old-school enthusiasts, here on the blog I also offered notes on retro-converting it:

Running It Retro, Part I 

Running It Retro, Part II

The adventure went Platinum back in January (1,001 sales), and is now close to 1,500 sales. However, the next badge (Mithril) at DMs Guild doesn't come until 2,501 sales are hit.

Find it here:
The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild

Click here to read reviews of the RTOZ by various bloggers