Wednesday, December 5, 2018

1973 Preview of Mythical Earth Minifigs


"Middle Earth wizard painted as Saruman in his 'coat of many colours'; a vicious-looking man-orc; a rather stocky elf; axe-wielding dwarf, and of course, a hobbit. Dwarves are sold in strips of two, the second figure armed with a spear, hobbits in strips of three armed with sword, short sword and spear." - original caption

In 1973, Miniature Figurines, perhaps better known as Minifigs, a British-based manufacturer of metal miniatures for wargames, began production on one of the first lines of fantasy miniatures. (Another very early line by Jack Scruby Miniatures is discussed in this recent article at Playing at the World.)

The line of 25 mm minis was called 'Mythical Earth' --- obviously inspired by Tolkien. The preview photo is from Airfix Magazine, August 1973, and shows some of the first figures in the line, including (from left to right) painted versions of ME4 Wizard, ME1 Man-Orc with Sword, ME2 Wood Elf with Bow, ME3 Dwarves (one of two figures) and ME6 Hobbits (one of thee). Chainmail was in existence at this time, but the publication of D&D in January 1974 was still a number of months away. 

In the Playing at the World article linked above, Jon mentions that the "Mythical Earth" was not the original name for this line, but was a rebranding to avoid suit by the Tolkien Estate. This appears to be reflected in this preview as it only uses the name "Middle Earth" and not "Mythical Earth".

It's stunning to realize that when this article was first published, in August 1973, J.R.R. Tolkien was still alive, though not for long as he passed away the following month on September 2nd, 1973.

The preview was part of the "New kits and models" column in Airfix, author unlisted but probably Editor Bruce Quarrie or Editorial Director Darryl Reach:

"In their 25 mm range. Miniature Figurines  have sent us the first samples in a new series of ‘Middle Earth' figures. Wargamers who are also addicted to Professor J. R. R. Tolkien's epic fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings will be delighted with these figures, which currently include a wizard, man-orc, dwarf, elf and hobbit, illustrated here. Future releases will include Riders of Rohan. Dunedain, and Nazgul mounted on pterodactyl-like winged  beasts. Orcs and further examples both of the Free Peoples and Sauron's minions. Readers of Wargamers Newsletter will realise that there is considerable demand for fantasy figures of this type, and Miniature Figurines are to be congratulated on such an imaginative venture. The figures will undoubtedly be especially popular in America, where Tolkien is a great cult figure, and in this context it is worth noting that the firm are soon to be opening a factory in the States."
Thanks to Shining Knight pointing out this article in this thread on the Dragonsfoot.

A pdf of the magazine can be found over on the Internet Archive.

A gallery of the entire Mythical Earth line can be seen on the Lost Minis wiki.

The line eventually grew to 101 figures. Despite the focus on Middle Earth, it had a few oddities, such as ME51 Frog Man (perhaps Gollum? But why avoid using his name when you already using Hobbit, Huorn, Rohan, Dunland and Harad?), ME100 Centaur, and the final figure ME101 Pan.

J. Eric Holmes owned minis from this line. I previously wrote about his Green-Painted ME58 Dragon and also about a ME4 Wizard in the photo from the Tales of Peril dust jacket.

(Article originally drafted in April 2018 but just revised & posted today)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

1977 Gen Con X Souvenir Program


Gen Con X Souvenir Program, 1977. Source: Gen Con Guru

The Holmes Basic Set debuted in the summer of 1977, with TSR selling it at Origins in July, and then at Gen Con X in August. In this year Gen Con was held at the Playboy Resort in Lake Geneva for the first and only time, a site that is now the Grand Geneva Resort where Gary Con has now been held for a number of years.

I'd seen the covers of the 1977 Souvenir Program before, for example at the Gen Con Guru, but Demos Sachlas (editor of the B1 and B4 fan sourcebooks) just sent me a few photos of the interior that he took of a display copy at Gary Con last March. Page 19 is an ad for the Basic Set, which is now the earliest ad for it that I've seen:


Basic Set advertisement from the Gen Con X Souvenir Program. Source: Demos Sachlas

This advertisement is similar to the first one that ran in Dragon magazine, the next month in issue #9. Of note, these ads use a black and white excerpt of the original artwork rather than a picture of the actual box set cover.



Differences between these two ads include:
-the earlier ad is two-tone black/red, like the rest of the program, later ad is just black
-the later ad adds the subtitle "Swords & Sorcery..."
-the later ad revises "dungeon geomorphs" to "full set of dungeon geomorphs"; "polyhedra dice" to "set of five polyhedra dice"; "revised D&D booklet" to "revised D&D rules book".
-the later ad adds "*T.M. Reg. App. For", although the earlier ad includes the asterisk to which this refers, so perhaps it was removed during the program book layout
-the later ad adds the price, $9.95 plus $1.00 postage and handling
-the later ad replaces the "Other Recent Releases from TSR" and Booth information with a mail-order form

The program also includes a hand-drawn maps of the "Lake Geneva Area", which Demos suggests are by David Sutherland:



Maps of the Lake Geneva Area by David Sutherland. Source: Demos Sachlas


Of particular note is the drawing of the lake monster confronting a galley in Geneva Lake (confusingly, the town is Lake Geneva, but the lake is properly Geneva Lake):




Compare this with his lake monster from the cover the World of Greyhawk Folio (1980):

Detail from the cover of the World of Greyhawk Folio (1980). Source: TSR Archive
See this post for another Lake Monster, attacking a Rhennee barge, by Sutherland from the interior of the Folio.

Perhaps surprisingly, the advertisement for Holmes Basic is on page 19, and not on the back cover of the program, page 32, which instead advertises another new TSR game, Warlocks & Warriors, designed by Gardner Fox:

Warlocks & Warriors ad, back cover of Gen Con X Souvenir Program (1977). Source: Gen Con Guru

The illustration here is also by David Sutherland, and also appears in the Warlocks & Warriors game instructions. The wizard wears a conical "stars & moons" hat, much like the one on the cover of Basic, and the warrior has a helm with an especially realistic-looking dragon:

Monday, November 26, 2018

Maze of Peril Ch 1, Scene 7: "The Grisly Business of Swallowing the Corpses"

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

The party wins their first combat, and Zereth directs them in standard D&D post-melee activities  searching the corpses (no treasure is mentioned), retrieving arrows, guarding the passage, checking for injuries (none are noted). Murray dissuades them from hiding the corpses as a waste of time, which proves prescient.

The area where they fought the battle was described in the previous section:
"More dark side corridors, some less than five feet wide, opened to the north. A glow of light ahead resolved, as they approached, into a diffuse beam of sunlight coming down a shaft in the ceiling which illuminated a round pit in the floor. Two thick wooden doors in the south wall were visible by the sunlight, both tight shut. At the lighted shaft, Boinger noted, there was a broad cross corridor and a narrow, darker passage intersecting the tunnel they were in."
These details closely match one of Holmes' original dungeon maps, a sheet adjacent to the one shown in my previous post. In fact, the details match this map so closely that I feel Holmes must have been consulting it while writing this part of the story. Below is the relevant portion with color annotations added by myself. The main corridor runs east-west, 25' wide at a scale of 5' per square. Narrow side corridors open to the north, two doors are in the south wall, and "The Pit" is at the intersection with a broad cross corridor. The orcs attacked while the party was examining the Pit, coming up behind them from the west ("Orc Battle").


Detail from a map by J. Eric Holmes, scan by Tristan Holmes
Boinger suggests investigating the two doors, which are the first doors they've found in the dungeon. They handle these in typical OD&D fashion  Bardan and the two men-at-arms bash one open, finding nothing (room above labeled "Empty"), and Boinger listens at the other. He hears nothing, but on bashing this one open they are are surprised by an "orange mass". Zereth recognizes this an Ochre Jelly, which is a "giant amoeba" member of the "cleanup crew" of Vol 2 of OD&D, and Holmes has it attack accordingly in a nice bit of description  a "long pseudopod of glistening, translucent orange tissue thrust through the gap as the door was pulled shut". The closing door severs this pseduopod, which continues to attack, and a further slash with a sword similarly divides it into two smaller globs, in accord with OD&D ("hits by weaponry ... will merely make them into several smaller Ochre Jellies"). Bardan wisely suggests burning it with a torch, which is successful, and also in accord with the original description ("can be killed by fire or cold"). Thus they survive their second melee.

Next, Boinger's "keen ears" detect an approaching sound. While in OD&D, Vol 3, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits all have an increased chance to hear noise (1-2 in 6 versus 1 in 6), here Boinger clearly has better hearing than the elf or dwarf in the party. In Greyhawk, Hobbit thieves get an extra +1 to Hear Noise, which advances the idea that Hobbits have the best hearing of the non-humans. The sound resolves into a grating noise like someone "dragging a sack of heavy rocks down the tunnel", disturbing enough that Murray suggests they head down a side corridor. They then double back "into another corridor, this one only ten feet wide and black as pitch", where they put out their torches and wait ("Hiding Place" marked above).

Here Zereth they find a "a narrow passageway" that Zereth believes will lead "back toward the intersection", so he and Boinger use this to investigate the noise further. On the map above, this is the five-foot passage paralleling the wider north-south passage. Back at the intersection, our two heroes spy a huge Purple Worm, now in the "grisly business of swallowing the corpses" of the orcs, armor and all. Per OD&D Vol 2, Purple Worms are sufficiently large enough to swallow opponents in combat. The party had earlier noted the worm's trail throughout the main corridor, and now they have found it. They quickly head back to the party.


The original illustration of a Purple Worm from OD&D Vol 2, page 5, possibly by Dave Arneson.

Next up, we finally reach the last scene of Chapter 1!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Elmore's take on the Sutherland Dragon

Click for a larger view

This illustration by Larry Elmore is from a fairly obscure product, the manual for the 1982 adaptation of TSR's boardgame DUNGEON! for the Apple II+. It's on the last page, and is the only illustration in the manual other than the cover, which shows a B&W version of the box cover art by Jeff Easley. It may have appeared in another TSR product, but a Google Image search didn't turn anything up.

While much smaller --- perhaps a Sub-adult? --- Easley's dragon clearly shares many details with David Sutherland's Red Dragon on the cover of the Holmes Basic Set (July 1977), particularly the head - triangular, heavy brow, cheek "whiskers". Also note the V-shaped scales down the ventral portion of the neck, the slightly curved spikes down the back, even the shapes of the scales. 



Sutherland drew a similar B&W version of this same Red Dragon for the monster entry in the AD&D Monster Manual (Dec 1977) ---




Which was redone in color by Jim Roslof for the AD&D Monster Cards (1981) ---




A Red Dragon does appear as one of the monsters in Dungeon!, so Elmore may have been using one of these as a guide in order keep the look consistent between TSR products.

If you'd like to see the entire game manual, it can be found here at the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History.


You can also watch a 10-minute play-through of the game here --- Dungeon! for the Apple II

It had graphics like this screenshot, showing a Superhero versus a jolly Purple Worm ---




Update: As pointed out by John L in the comments, here is Bill Willingham's take on a similarly styled dragon, from the Moldvay Basic Set rulebook (1981). 



Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Things I've Written Published Elsewhere

Most of my RPG-related writing can be found here on the blog or on the sporadically updated Zenopus Archives site. But I do have a few articles that have been published in print or pdf. In view of my recently published zine article, I thought it was time to write up a list of these, which will have a permanent home here on the site.

Listed in reverse chronological order, these are ---


"Clerical Cosmic Horror: The Brief Era of the Cthulhu Mythos as Dungeons & Dragons Pantheon" iBayt al Azif #1, October 2018. 
With an illustration by Chris HolmesCurrently available in pdf or print (softcover or hardcover). See also this post.

"Holmes and the Lost City" in The Lost City Campaign Sourcebook, March 2018. With an illustration of Zargon by myself. 
This is a fan compilation of supplementary material for the module B4; see this DF threadCurrently available as a free pdf

"Axel the Dwarf" (NPC) in FANTASTIC! EXCITING! IMAGINATIVE! #2, Nov 2017, Inner Ham. 
With an illustration by Jon Wilson. Currently available in pdf from DrivethruRPG or in print directly from the publisher.

"Green Grabber" and "Old One" (new monsters) in BLUEHOLME Journeymanne Rules, Fall 2017, Dreamscape Design. Old One illustrated by Bradley K. McDevitt. Currently available in pdf from DrivethruRPG, or in hardcover or in softcover from Lulu. See also the original posts here and here.


"The Writings of J. Eric Holmes" and "Annotated Bibliography for J. Eric Holmes" in Tales of Peril, the Complete Boinger and Zereth Stories of J. Eric Holmes, Summer 2017, Black Blade Publisher. Currently available in print directly from the publisher. See also this post.


"Regal Lizard Man" (new monster) and "Harpy Axe" (new magic item) in FANTASTIC! EXCITING! IMAGINATIVE! #1, March 2017, Inner Ham. Currently available as a free pdf from DrivethruRPG 
or in print directly from the publisherSee also this post.

"Lesser Magic Items" (20 new magic items) in Dungeon Crawl #3, Summer 2013. With three illustrations
by John Blaszczyk. Currently available in pdf from DrivethruRPG or in print from Lulu. See also this post.

I also contributed to proofreading the original release of the 
OD&D retroclone Delving Deeper2012, Immersive Ink, currently available in pdf or free on the web.  

(All DrivethruRPG links include my affiliate number)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Article in a New Cthulhu Zine

The cover of Bayt al Azif issue #1. Art by Maria Nguyen. Click on picture for a larger view.

FYI, I have an article in the first issue of Bayt al Azif, a new magazine "for Cthulhu Mythos Roleplaying Games" (as stated on the cover), edited by Jared Smith. As Jared explains, "Al Azif" is one title Lovecraft used for the Necronomicon, perhaps referring to the howling of demons, and thus the full title of the new magazine can be interpreted as referring to the "House of the Necronomicon". It's available in both pdf and print versions, and can be previewed or purchased here at DrivethruRPG ---


(link includes my DrivethruRPG affiliate number)

The magazine is 80 pages long and includes a variety of articles of interest, including three scenarios for Call of Cthulhu. See the DrivethruRPG page for more details. Here's a screenshot of the Table of Contents ---




My article is "Clerical Cosmic Horror: The Brief Era of the Cthulhu Mythos as Dungeons & Dragons Pantheon", which is a rewrite and expansion of a topic I discussed on this blog a number of years ago. Essentially on Holmes roll in bringing the Cthulhu Mythos into Dungeons & Dragons where it served as part of the line-up of pantheons for a few years.

The best part is that the article is accompanied by a fantastic new piece of art by Chris Holmes! It's a Mythos creature, but I will keep which one a surprise (hint: it's not Cthulhu).

Happy Cthulhuween!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Locations for the Tomb of Horrors on the Great Kingdom Map

Promo image of the deluxe Art & Arcana from Amazon

"THE TOMB OF HORRORS"


Possible locations:

The highest hill in the Egg of Coot
An island lying 100 miles east of Blackmoor
In the great desert west of the Wild Coast
On the border between the Paynim Kingdom and Perrunland
At the Eastern edge of the Duchy of Geoff
In a swamp somewhere in the Wild Coast

These suggested locations for the Tomb of Horrors come from the original version of the adventur not the 1978 monochrome-colored module  but an even earlier iteration that was produced in 1975 for running as a tournament at Origins I in Baltimore, Maryland. This version is finally available as an extra included with the "special edition" of the new D&D art book Art & Arcana. You can see its cover in the promo image above; it's the small beige booklet featuring the original artwork by Tracy Lesch of the infamous Green Devil Face, which was later memorably rendered in color on the back of the 1981 reprint. Given its early date, it's a purely OD&D version of the tomb and is a great addition to the meager assortment of "TSR" adventures for OD&D.

These original suggested locations fit well with the "Great Kingdom" (early World of Greyhawk) map that I've discussed in previous posts such as Megarry's copy of the Great Kingdom Map, and suggest that Gygax may have been using this map for Greyhawk at the time. For reference, here is the map image 





On this map, the Egg of Coot lies in the center north, with hills in the northern region of the realm to possibly house "the highest hill". Blackmoor is to the south on the coast of the Great Bay, with plenty of space for an island "lying 100 miles east" in the bay, or depending on the scale, past the island kingdoms of the "Sea". To the west and southwest of Blackmoor, the Paynim Kingdom borders on Perrunland. Much further to the south lies the Duchy of Geoff, the eastern edge of which borders on the Kingdom of Faraz (not mentioned in the Tomb). Only the twice-mentioned Wild Coast is missing from this map, but the "great desert west of the Wild Coast" may be the Sea of Dust, suggesting the Wild Coast is to the south where the coast past of Keoland.

In the published version of Tomb of Horrors, the suggested locations were changed to:


The highest hill on the Plains of luz
An island (unmapped) In the Nyr Dyv
In the Bright Desert
At the western border of the Duchy of Geoff
Somewhere in the Vast Swamp south of Sundi
On an island beyond the realm of the Sea Barons

These revised locations correspond more closely to the published World of Greyhawk, although note that they were suggested in 1978, which was still several years before the World of Greyhawk Folio was first published in 1980.

The Egg of Coot was changed to "the Plain of Iuz"; Iuz occupies a somewhat similar north-central location in published Greyhawk and has "the Howling Hills" to the north.

The second entry, the island, was relocated to an unmapped island in Nyr Dyv, and second island was added "beyond the realms of the Sea Barons", which is closer in spirit to the island to the east of Blackmoor, particularly if the islands shown on the Great Kingdom map were an early version of the Sea Barons.

The desert was changed to "the Bright Desert", which on the published Greyhawk map is to to the east, rather than west, of the Wild Coast across the Woolly Bay. The "great" bit is dropped, presumably because the Bright Desert is much smaller than the Sea of Dust.

The eastern border of Geoff was changed to the western, presumably because that borders the great Crystalmist mountain range.

The swamp location was changed to "south of the Sundi", which means the Vast Swamp south of the County of Sunndi (member of the Iron League) on the Darlene map.

Finally, the suggestion of the border of Paynim/Perrenland was completely removed. In the Darlene map, the Plains of the Paynims no longer directly borders Perrenland; there are several new kingdoms between — Tusmit, Ket.

When the World of Greyhawk folio was finally published in 1980, the true location of the Tomb was finally revealed as being in the Vast Swamp:

There are many tales and legends concerning this area, but the most likely is that of the TOMB OF HORRORS (ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAONGS MODULE S1), the lost burial place of a lich who once ruled the morass and beyond into the cockscomb of Tilvanot. (a peninsula in the shape of a rooster's comb).

And then the expanded 1983 Word of Greyhawk boxed set further fixed the location as "probably" in "the heart of the Vast Swamp, in hex K2-97".