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The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave: Index of Posts

An index of posts describing the Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, an adventure for Holmes Basic characters levels 2-4.                    ...

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Pacesetter Games: Islands of Peril

Cover of the standard edition

Islands of Peril is the latest adventure from Pacesetter Games 
written by Bill Barsh based on the 1970s maps and notes of J. Eric Holmes (with permission from the Holmes estate).  This follows last year's Things Better Left Alone dungeon adventure; read my post about that one here. I contributed a Foreword to this one, where I give an overview of the original maps that it is based on. Note that this one is a sandbox wilderness, and is the first of a two-part series of island-based adventures.

The adventure was released last weekend at North Texas RPG Con, where Chris Holmes is a regular attendee. To quote Pacesetter's announcement: 

"This year we bring you Islands of Peril: Book One. This massive island (wilderness) adventure includes five fully-detailed islands within Holmes' home campaign. Designed for Classic D&D using character levels 1-4, there are numerous sandbox style adventure locales on each of the islands. PCs can explore the Crying Cyclops Isle, Shadow Island, Isle of the Creeping Doom, Barrow Island, and Isle of Ash. Each features unique adventures and encounters within this first installment featuring the maps and notes from Dr. Holmes, the father of Basic Dungeons & Dragons.

We have three versions to choose from; softcover, hardcover, and special edition hardcover. In case you missed Things Better Left Alone last year, we have brought it back into print (it sold out last year at NTX). Available in both softcover and brand new hardcover edition.

Lastly, but most importantly, Chris Holmes, the son of Dr. Holmes, is attending the convention. Find him at the con or at our booth and have him sign your copy! Not only did he provide us with the original hand-drawn maps (included in each book), he contributed his artistic talents to the illustrations in each book.

If you cannot make it to the convention, look for the books at"

Find three different hardcopy versions of Islands of Peril, as well the PDF version, here on the Pacesetter games website:

Pacesetter Games: Islands of Peril

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Gygaxian Monster Paralysis: Permanent?

Letter from Gygax to an fan (1989)

A not uncommon question about the rules in Holmes Basic is: "How long does the paralysis inflicted by Carrion Crawlers, Gelatinous Cubes or Ghouls last?"

This is asked because, in the Holmes rulebook, an attack by each of these monsters inflicts paralysis unless a saving throw is made, but none of the respective entries indicate how long the victim remains immobilized. One might assume that it wears off at some point after an encounter is over, or one might turn to the Wand of Paralyzation, which in Holmes has a duration of 6 turns for a failed save. Other than that, there's no specific guidance.

The lack of durations reflects the OD&D source material that Holmes relied on when editing the manuscript for the Basic rulebook. Carrion Crawlers and Gelatinous Cubes were introduced in the Greyhawk supplement, but neither specifies any duration for the paralysis they inflict. Ghouls were introduced earlier, in Vol 2 (Monsters & Treasure), where it says, "As stated in CHAINMAIL for Wights, Ghouls paralize any normal figure they touch, excluding Elves" (page 9). In Chainmail, the entry for "Wights (and Ghouls)" does make clear that their paralysis lasts for "one complete turn" of that game (page 33, 2nd edition), and while it is clear that Holmes did consult those rules for some aspects of Basic (such as the Parrying rule), for whatever reason he did not include this information, and neither did Gygax when he revised the manuscript before publication.

If Gygax eventually recognized that the omission of durations for paralysis in OD&D and Holmes Basic was an oversight, he had an opportunity to correct that in the AD&D Monster Manual, which came out about 6 months after Holmes and revised most of the existing D&D monsters. But he did this for only one of the three, the Gelatinous Cube, which now paralyzes for 5-20 (5d4) rounds. Notably, this duration also corresponds to the revised duration for the Wand of Paralyzation given in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, published a few years later in 1979.

The Monster Manual still lacks durations for the Carrion Crawler and Ghoul as well as a number of new sources of paralysis: the breath weapon of Silver Dragons, the touch of Ghasts, the tentacles of the Giant Portuguese Man-O-War, and the secretions of the Slithering Tracker. 

Why the seeming reluctance to add durations for monster paralysis? Later TSR products varied quite a bit in attempting to fill in the "missing" durations (look below for a list), which suggested that it was simply an oversight that was only slowly corrected. But was there another reason?

A recently uncovered 1989 letter from Gygax to a fan in Ecuador, posted on FB (see the image up above), sheds some light on his original view of paralysis. Unexpectedly, Gygax writes: 

"Paralysis might be permanent. I finally gave in and said 5-20 minutes, but... I like it better as permanent until removed by something. You choose."

As an AD&D round corresponds to one minute, the 5-20 minutes noted here corresponds exactly to the 5-20 rounds that newly appears for the Gelatinous Cube in the Monster Manual, and for the wand in the Dungeon Masters Guide.

Thus, Gygax's comment surprisingly suggests that the reason he didn't include a duration for monster paralysis in early D&D products was because he viewed such paralysis as "permanent until removed by something"...! 

His "something" is vague and not further explained in the letter. One possibility would simply be the same thing that restores hit points in OD&D: a return to base for complete rest. Per OD&D Vol 3: "On the first day of complete rest no hit points will be regained, but every other day thereafter one hit point will be regained until the character is completely healed. This can take a long time" (page 35). Others include those given in later rulesets: the second iteration of the Basic rulebook (Moldvay Basic) in 1981 newly allowed for Cure Light Wounds or Healing Potions to remove paralysis, and for AD&D, Lenard Lakofka created a new 3rd level cleric spell, Remove Paralysis, that appeared in Dragon #58 (February 1982) and then was compiled in Unearthed Arcana in 1985

While "permanent" paralysis may seem harsh, if viewed in the context of a game also replete with "save or die" poisons, "save or permanent paralyzation" fits in as a permanent consequence that is not quite as bad as death.

* * * * *

As an addendum, with regard to Carrion Crawler & Ghoul paralysis, later TSR D&D products gave a variety of answers to this:

---In T1 The Village of Hommlet (1979) by Gygax, ghoul paralysis is given a duration of 3-12 (3d4) turns.

---In Dragon #37 (May 1980), the Sage Advice column written by Jean Wells answered the question, "How long does the paralysis caused by a carrion crawler, ghast or ghoul last?" with "I have always assumed it to be 24 hours. However, since the duration of the paralysis is not clearly defined in any of the books, I suggest that each DM decide the duration in his particular campaign" (page 12). I note that a duration of a full day is much closer to the "permanent until removed by something" suggested by Gygax than any of the other suggested durations listed here.

---In Dragon #39, a followup Sage Advice column clarifies the above: "According to Lawrence Schick, Vice-President for Production and Design at TSR Hobbies, the paralyzation caused by carrion crawlers is of the same duration as that caused by ghouls— 3-12 turns. Paralyzation caused by a ghast takes twice as long—6-24 turns—to wear off". This duration for ghouls is the same as given in T1.

---In Moldvay Basic (1981), the paralyzation of Carrion Crawlers, Gelatinous Cubes, Ghouls and new Thouls is standardized as a shorter 2-8 (2d4) turns.

---In Polyhedron #2 (Autumn 1981), in the Dispel Confusion column, Gary Gygax answered the question, "How long does (or should) paralysis caused by a carrion crawler last? And what, if any, are the effects of multiple hits by this creature?", with: 

"Paralysis from creatures lasts as long as paralysis from a wand: 5d4 (5-20) rounds (DMG page 136). Multiple hits from a carrion crawler (or any other paralyzing creature) forces multiple saving throws on the part of the victim; when any one is failed, the other hits have no further effect on the paralysis (damages still apply if given, such as by a ghoul or ghast)." 

This is the only published source that really matches Gygax's later letter in giving a generalized 5d4 rounds for paralysis. 

---In TSR's Monster Cards (1982), part of the AD&D line, Ghoul and Carrion Crawler paralysis are instead each given a duration of 2d6 turns. These cards include revised entries from the Monster Manual, so are often viewed as "official" revisions for AD&D.

---In the AD&D 2E Monstrous Manual (1989), we see a different duration for each monster: Carrion Crawler, 2d6 turns; Gelatinous Cube, 5d4 rounds; Ghoul, 1d6+2 rounds; and the Ghast, 1d6+4 rounds.

Monday, May 20, 2024

The Making of OD&D Book: What Might the D&D "Precursors" Be?


The Making of OD&D comes out in less than a month, and the approximately 600-page tome was revealed "in the flesh" last week on the official D&D account on Twitter, with the above photo of an advance copy captioned: "The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons... it's BIG!" 

If you haven't ordered the book yet, it can be found on Amazon for $99, and with a price-drop guarantee:

The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons: 1970-1977

Based on the Table of Contents that I re-posted at the beginning of this month, let's take a closer at what might be in the interesting section "Part 1: Precursors", which covers the ancient era before the first draft of D&D (1973). I don't have any particular insider knowledge, so these are simply my best educated guesses based on titles alone:

   Grayte Wourmes (page 10) 

   Fittingly for a game that includes "Dragons" in the title, the Precursor section starts with material that is clearly from a series of articles about Dragons that Gary Gygax wrote in 1969-1970 for the Diplomacy zine Thangorodrim (named after the mountains home to Morgorth's fortress Angband), describing White, Black, Green, Blue and Mottled (aka Purple Worm) Dragons.

   Maps of the Great Kingdom (page 18)

    The use of plural "Maps" suggests this will include at least two maps. One may be the original Great Kingdom map from Domesday Book #9 (1970/1971), which was previously reprinted on page 32 of Playing at the World (2012) by Jon Peterson. 

    Another may be a later one showing the territories of the Great Kingdom; one version of this map was uncovered by Dave Megarry in 2017; see my post from that year titled "Megarry's Copy of the Great Kingdom Map".

    Medieval Weaponry in the Encyclopedia Britannica (page 20)

    In 2014, Jon Peterson wrote in a post on his Playing at the World blog that, "Gygax did indeed rely heavily on the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica for medieval information in the early 1970s for certain particulars, though that would be a story for another time". So it seems we are getting that story now. 

    I also note that on EnWorld in 2002, Gygax mentioned his "set of Eleventh Edition ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA that my most honored maternal grandfather bequeathed to me". The Eleventh Edition of EB has its own Wikipedia page.

   Chainmail's Fantasy Supplement (page 26)

    This is, obviously, the fantasy section that makes up about a quarter of the Chainmail miniatures rules. From the preview page that has been shown, the book will reprint the version from the 2nd Edition, published by Guidon Games in 1972.

    Gygax on Armor (page 46)
    This may be an article that Gygax wrote for Panzerfaust #43, April 1971, which Jon Peterson discussed on his blog in 2014.

    The Battle of the Brown Hills (page 50)

    This is a relatively well-known Chainmail scenario between the forces of Law and Chaos that Gygax wrote up for Wargamer's Newsletter #116, published in November 1971. These days you can play in it on a sand table as part of the Legends of Wargaming series run annually at Gary Con thanks to Paul Stormberg. This year it was run in the basement of 330 Center Street, where Gygax lived when he worked on the initial D&D rules.
    Arneson's "Medieval Braunstein" (page 54)

    In a 2014 post on the Playing at the World blog, Jon Peterson described a document with this same name "A surviving set of instructions for a 1970 medieval multiplayer game".
    Blackmoor Gazette and Rumermonger 2 (page 58)

    This is an issue of a campaign newsletter put out by Dave Arneson. The first issue can be seen here on the Playing at the World blog.
    "Points of Interest in Black Moor" (page 60)
    An article by Dave Arneson that originally ran in Domesday Book #13 (July 1972), and was later reprinted in the First Fantasy Campaign supplement published by Judges Guild.

    The Wizard Gaylord (page 64)
    Likely the same "surviving character sheet from the Blackmoor Campaign, that of Pete Gaylord's character the Wizard of the Wood (best known from the brief biography in First Fantasy Campaign)" that previously appeared on page 367 of the Playing at the World book (2012).

    Loch Gloomen (page 68)
    Blackmoor historian Dan Boggs described, in a 2014 post on his blog Hidden in Shadows, how in the spring of 1972, play in the Blackmoor campaign moved to an area known Loch Gloomen, or Lake Gloomy. Material from this era appears in a section titled "Loch Gloomen" in the First Fantasy Campaign. So this is likely some of the surviving original material from this era written by Arneson.

    Outdoor Survival (page 72)
    Excerpts from the rules of the board game Outdoor Survival, published by Avalon Hill, which was in the list of recommended Equipment in OD&D Vol 1 (Men & Magic) and heavily influenced the rules for Wilderness Exploration in Vol 3 (The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures).

    Gygax/Arneson Blackmoor Correspondence (page 76)

    Personal letters between Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson prior to the development of the first draft of D&D.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Fifty Years of D&D: Table of Contents

Fifty Years of Dungeons & Dragons has been out for two days now, and copies have begun to arrive in the mail. Here you can see my co-author Tony's copy, together with his collection of reference material for the essay we wrote (Tony has one of the best collections anywhere of J. Eric Holmesiana). Read more about our essay and the book both here and on Tony's blog. If you haven't order your copy yet, you can get it here on Amazon:

50 Years of Dungeons & Dragons

And I'm happy to announce that the full Table of Contents can now be found on the MIT Press site here, along with a preview of the first page of each chapter. For convenience, I've copied the ToC over to here & annotated with links to other books by a few of the authors that I'm aware of:

PREFACE - page xi

1. Is This The Golden Age Of Dungeons & Dragons? - page 1
by Premeet Sidhu, Marcus Carter, and José P. Zagal (co-author of the new Seeing Red: Nintendo's Virtual Boy, also from MIT Press)

Introduction To Designer Vignettes - page 13
by Sam Mannell

Designer Vignettes I - page 15

2. Fantasy Games At Fifty: An Academic Memoir - page 17
by Gary Alan Fine (author of the 1983 book Shared Fantasy)

3. Exploration And Experience: The Game Changers - page 23
by Jon Peterson (author of The Elusive ShiftGame Wizards, and the forthcoming second edition of Playing at the World).

4. Combat In Dungeons & Dragons: A Short History Of Design Trajectories - page 43
by Evan Torner

5. “Doctor Holmes, I Presume?”: How A California Neurology Professor Penned The First Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set - page 63
by Tony A. Rowe And Zach Howard

6. Reflections On The Open Game License: An Interview With Ryan Dancey - page 79
by Michael Iantorno

7. Playing Custom: A Curious History Of Dungeons & Dragons–Based Digital Games Modifications - page 91
by Mateusz Felczak

8. A Return To The Magic Circle: Dungeons & Dragons And Friendship & Magic Fifty Years On - page 109
by Stephen Webley

Designer Vignettes II - page 119

9. “You’re Going To Be Amazing”: The Mercer Effect And Performative Play In Dungeons & Dragons - page 121
by Esther Maccallum-Stewart

10. The Other D&D: Religion(S) In Dungeons & Dragons From Deities & Demigods To Today - page 141
by Adrian Hermann

11. Spelling With Dice: The Role Of Dungeons & Dragons In Contemporary Speculative Fiction 161
by Dimitra Nikolaidou

12. Classrooms And Dragons: Learning From Dungeons & Dragons - page 179
by Premeet Sidhu

13. An Ensemble Of (Role-)Players? Exploring The Influence Of Performance On Dungeons & Dragons - page 197
by David Harris And Josiah Lulham

14. Forging Family Through Queer Dungeons & Dragons - page 211
by Jay Malouf-Grice

Designer Vignettes III - page 229

15. “Race” And Race: Longitudinal Trends In Dungeons & Dragons Character Creation - page 231
by Amanda Cote And Emily Saidel

16. Hack The Orcs, Loot The Tomb, And Take The Land: Reflections On Settler Colonialism, Indigeneity, And Otherwise Possibilities Of Dungeons & Dragons - page 259
by Daniel Heath Justice

17. Seeking The Unimaginable: Rules, Race, And Adolescent Desire In Dungeons & Dragons - page 275
by Aaron Trammell And Antero Garcia

18. Defamiliarizing Dungeons & Dragons: Playing Out Western Fantasy In Singapore - page 283
by Kellynn Wee

19. Soft Communities And Vicarious Deviance In Dungeons & Dragons - page 301
by Victor Raymond (who blogs at the Sandbox of Doom) and Gary Alan Fine

Designer Vignettes IV - page 323

20. D&D&D&D&D: Imagining Dungeons & Dragons At 150 And Beyond - page 325
by Jonathan Walton

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Fifty Years of D&D: Out Today!

As I wrote three weeks ago, today is the release date for Fifty Years of Dungeons & Dragons, a new retrospective compilation published by The MIT Press celebrating the half-centennial of D&D. It includes a chapter that I co-wrote, along with Tony Rowe, about the work of J. Eric Holmes. For more details, see my earlier post, "50 Years of D&D: Forthcoming Book from MIT Press".

The book is now available for regular ordering from various booksellers. Here is the Amazon order page:

50 Years of Dungeons & Dragons

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

"The Making of Original D&D: 1970-1977": Table of Contents

Above is a screenshot of the Table of Contents for the forthcoming book, The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons: 1970-1977, which I've written about previously. This was shown at a 50th Anniversary Panel at Gary Con in March, and later shared on D&D Beyond, and now can be seen on the Amazon order page, where the book is available for pre-order for $99, and with a price-drop guarantee:

The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons: 1970-1977

There's over 576 pages of content in this book, and the page numbers confirm the previously reported but still-stunning news that the tome will include all or most of the original 1973 OD&D draft (pages 84-181), the three OD&D LBBs (pages 202-328), the Greyhawk supplement (pages 356-415), the Blackmoor supplement (pages 430-497), the Eldritch Wizardry supplement (pages 506-569), plus a slew of material from correspondence, drafts, player notes, and magazine articles.

For posterity (including future searchability), here is a text transcript of the contents, into which I've inserted some of the promotional images for the book in their appropriate places:

Table of Contents

Preface (page 4)
Foreword (page 6)

Pages 8 and 9

Part 1: Precursors (page 9) (Read more about what these documents are here)
    Grayte Wourmes (page 10)
    Maps of the Great Kingdom (page 18)
    Medieval Weaponry in the Encyclopedia Britannica (page 20)
    Chainmail's Fantasy Supplement (page 26)
Pages 28 and 29
    Gygax on Armor (page 46)
    The Battle of the Brown Hills (page 50)
    Arneson's "Medieval Braunstein" (page 54)
    Blackmoor Gazette and Rumermonger 2 (page 58)
    "Points of Interest in Black Moor" (page 60)
    The Wizard Gaylord (page 64)
    Loch Gloomen (page 68)
    Outdoor Survival (page 72)
    Gygax/Arneson Blackmoor Correspondence (page 76)

Part 2: The 1973 Draft of Dungeons & Dragons (page 79)
    Greyhawk and the Revised Great Kingdom Map (page 80)
    The First Draft of D&D (page 84)
    The Twin Cities Draft (page 182)
    The Mornard Fragments (page 188)
    The "Clean-Up Crew" (page 198)

Part 3: Original Dungeons & Dragons (page 201)
    Expanding the Rules (page 201)
    Draft Versus Published Version (page 202)
    The Brown Box and the White Box (page 202)

Pages 288 and 289

Part 4: Articles & Additions  (page 329)
    Monsters' Attacks and Damage (page 330)
    Greyhawk Player Maps (page 336)
    Gygax in Europa (page 338)
    The Strategic Review 1 (page 348)
    Greyhawk (page 356)

Pages 199, ?, and 414

    Excerpts from the Strategic Review (page 416)
    Blackmoor (page 430) 
    Additional Excerpts from the Strategic Review (page 498)
    Eldritch Wizardry (page 506)
    The Dragon (page 570)
    Gods, Demi-gods and Heroes (page 574)

Afterword: A Whole New Game (page 576)

While it remains jaw-dropping that WOTC is publishing a book of this nature, and the contents themselves are far beyond what anyone would have predicted, just for completeness sake I will note a few items that are apparently not included:

---The contents only list Chainmail's Fantasy Supplement, so it looks like it will not include the entirety of Chainmail, making it a bit less useful as a complete resource for OD&D, as running OD&D using Chainmail combat also requires the non-Fantasy portions. However, you can get a reprint of the complete Chainmail for less than $10 at DMs Guild, so it's easy to find this material.

---Gods, Demigods & Heroes is listed in the contents, but starts only two pages before the Afterward, so obviously this section is just a brief look at this supplement rather than the whole book.

---There's no mention of Holmes Basic in the contents; thus, if there's any coverage it will the be in Afterword ("A Whole New Game"). I haven't seen an exact page count for the book, so I don't know how long the Afterword is. Based on the originally announced title for the book, which included the dates "1970-1976", I wasn't expecting anything about Holmes Basic in it; but when the title was tweaked to "1970-1977", it seemed possible that it might get at least a page or two of its own, possibly discussing the Holmes Manuscript, which is based purely on OD&D. 

As noted above the book is over 575 pages as it is, so I'm not really surprised that there was indeed some limit to the expansiveness of the material that they could include.

See also these other posts:

The Making of OD&D Book: What Might the "Precursors" Be?

"How Dungeons & Dragons Started" (video about the book)

"The Making of Original D&D: 1970-1977": Everything we know about this upcoming WOTC book

Megarry's Copy of the Great Kingdom Map

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

50 Years of D&D: Forthcoming Book from MIT Press

Over the past five years, The MIT Press has curated an impressive series of Game Studies books, including several of great interest to myself and readers of this blog: Appendix N: the Eldritch Roots of Dungeons & Dragons (published by Strange Attractions and distributed by MIT Press), and several by Jon Peterson: The Elusive Shift, Game Wizards, and the forthcoming second edition of Playing at the WorldThe full list of books in their series can be viewed here.

The latest book in the series, out on May 14th, is Fifty Years of Dungeons & Dragonsan anthology tied to this year's half-centennial of D&D. It contains various chapters written by the likes of Jon Peterson, Gary Alan Fine (author of Shared Fantasy), and Daniel Justice, and edited by Premeet Sidhu, Marcus Carter and José P. Zagal, all academics at various universities

Having written the above, I find myself a bit stunned to also announce that I was able to contribute to this volume...! 

Specifically, among the contents is a chapter on J. Eric Holmes that I have co-written, along with Tony Rowe of the Cryptic Archivist blog, titled "'Doctor Holmes I Presume?' How a California Neurology Professor Penned the first Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set".

I haven't seen a physical copy yet, but the book is slated to be a 392-page, 6 by 9 inch papeback with 16 black & white illustrations and the color cover posted above (I'm not sure who the artist is, but I will update this when I find out). I will share the full contents of the book in a future post (Update: the Table of Contents are now posted here).

It's currently available for pre-order on Amazon ($34.99), and with a price drop guarantee:

50 Years of Dungeons & Dragons

And there is also a Kindle version available for $25.99. Other booksellers offering it can be found through the MIT Press page.

Many thanks to Tony for asking if I wanted to work on this with him, submitting the proposal for our chapter, and generally organizing and driving things forward!

See also:

Playing at the World Revised Edition Out in July, with a cover by Erol Otus!

"The Making of OD&D: 1970-1977": Everything We Know About this Book


Tony has now also written about the book: "Book update: Fifty Years of Dungeons & Dragons"

50 Years of Dungeons & Dragons: Table of Contents