Sunday, December 3, 2017

Maze of Peril Ch 1, Scene 3: "Murray the Mage, It Is"

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

After the description of the Underworld, the story returns to the table in the Green Dragon where Boinger, Bardan and Zereth discuss their "proposition" concerning the Underworld.

Boinger and Bardan reveal that their partner Murray the Mage has found a secret entrance to the Underworld by studying the "old legends" (one of the "Entrances" referred to by the title of the chapter). 

This is the first mention of Murray, another major character in the story. Like the others, Murray is based on a PC in Holmes' original campaign - in this case played by Chris' friend Eric Frasier, who wrote an essay for Tales of Peril called "My Time as Murray" (page 299).

Boinger explains that Murray will go with them on the expedition, since he doesn't completely trust his partners. They all laugh at this, which we learn is uncommon for Zereth - "he rarely allowed himself more than two" smiles per evening.

They launch into a very D&D-esque "discussion of magical detection schemes, march distances, horse power, mercenary men-at-arms, supply dumps and rations". No further details are given here, but some are revealed during the start of the adventure proper.

A note from the bar is delivered, which turns out to be from Murray himself, who was surreptitiously watching them before departing. Boinger exclaims "Mother of Mithra" - the first of several references in the novel to real world religions.

The note indicates that Murray finds Zereth acceptable and that he will get a "regular share". In his early D&D games Holmes used a rule where hirelings got a half-share of treasure, unless exceptional, as explained in the 1976 Alarums & Excursions article Warrior-For-Hire, also reprinted in Tales of Peril.

This is the last scene in the Green Dragon in the first chapter. The next scene jumps ahead to the start of the party's delve into the Underworld.


Murray: Tall, white hair, hooked nose, high-pitched voice, an "old fud" per Boinger. Except for the voice, these are reminiscent of many Gandalf-esque wizards in the days of OD&D. Known as miserly - per Boinger, it is typical that Murray did not tip the barmaid for delivering the note (Boinger gives her a copper piece). Murray as lived in Caladan "for some time now, studying the old legends".

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

D&D on Barsoom Art by Chris Holmes

Back in August I posted a scan of a flyer for a "D&D on Barsoom" game session that J. Eric and Chris Holmes ran at Gen Con around 1980 or so. 

As a follow-up to that post, here are three fantastic illustrations of Barsoomian creatures that were used in the game, including an Apt, Callot (Martian Dog) and Plant Man. The artwork is by Chris Holmes. Thanks to Billy Galaxy for letting me photo these and post these. 

Along with each picture I've included the original Burroughs text describing each creature:

"The apt was our most consistent and dangerous foe.

It is a huge, white-furred creature with six limbs, four of which, short and heavy, carry it swiftly over the snow and ice; while the other two, growing forward from its shoulders on either side of its long, powerful neck, terminate in white, hairless hands, with which it seizes and holds its prey.

Its head and mouth are more similar in appearance to those of a hippopotamus than to any other earthly animal, except that from the sides of the lower jawbone two mighty horns curve slightly downward toward the front.

Its two huge eyes inspired my greatest curiosity. They extend in two vast, oval patches from the center of the top of the cranium down either side of the head to below the roots of the horns, so that these weapons really grow out from the lower part of the eyes,which are composed of several thousand ocelli each.

This eye structure seemed remarkable in a beast whose haunts were upon a glaring field of ice and snow, and though I found upon minute examination of several that we killed that each ocellus is furnished with its own lid, and that the animal can at will close as many of the facets of his huge eyes as he chooses, yet I was positive that nature had thus equipped him because much of his life was to be spent in dark, subterranean recesses."

---The Warlord of Mars (1919) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

"...In response to her call I obtained my first sight of a new Martian wonder. It waddled in on its ten short legs, and squatted down before the girl like an obedient puppy. The thing was about the size of a Shetland pony, but its head bore a slight resemblance to that of a frog, except that the jaws were equipped with three rows of long, sharp tusks.

Sola stared into the brute's wicked-looking eyes, muttered a word or two of command, pointed to me, and left the chamber. I could not but wonder what this ferocious-looking monstrosity might do when left alone in such close proximity to such a relatively tender morsel of meat; but my fears were groundless, as the beast, after surveying me intently for a moment, crossed the room to the only exit which led to the street, and lay down full length across the threshold.

This was my first experience with a Martian watch dog, but it was destined not to be my last, for this fellow guarded me carefully during the time I remained a captive among these green men; twice saving my life, and never voluntarily being away from me a moment."

---The Princess of Mars (1917) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

"But it was not these inspiring and magnificent evidences of Nature’s grandeur that took my immediate attention from the beauties of the forest. It was the sight of a score of figures moving slowly about the meadow near the bank of the mighty river.

Odd, grotesque shapes they were; unlike anything that I had ever seen upon Mars, and yet, at a distance, most manlike in appearance. The larger specimens appeared to be about ten or twelve feet in height when they stood erect, and to be proportioned as to torso and lower extremities precisely as is earthly man.

Their arms, however, were very short, and from where I stood seemed as though fashioned much after the manner of an elephant’s trunk, in that they moved in sinuous and snakelike undulations, as though entirely without bony structure, or if there were bones it seemed that they must be vertebral in nature ...

Its hairless body was a strange and ghoulish blue, except for a broad band of white which encircled its protruding, single eye: an eye that was all dead white—pupil, iris, and ball.

Its nose was a ragged, inflamed, circular hole in the centre of its blank face; a hole that resembled more closely nothing that I could think of other than a fresh bullet wound which has not yet commenced to bleed.

Below this repulsive orifice the face was quite blank to the chin, for the thing had no mouth that I could discover. The head, with the exception of the face, was covered by a tangled mass of jet-black hair some eight or ten inches in length. Each hair was about the bigness of a large angleworm, and as the thing moved the muscles of its scalp this awful head-covering seemed to writhe and wriggle and crawl about the fearsome face as though indeed each separate hair was endowed with independent life.

The body and the legs were as symmetrically human as Nature could have fashioned them, and the feet, too, were human in shape, but of monstrous proportions. From heel to toe they were fully three feet long, and very flat and very broad.

As it came quite close to me I discovered that its strange movements, running its odd hands over the surface of the turf, were the result of its peculiar method of feeding, which consists in cropping off the tender vegetation with its razorlike talons and sucking it up from its two mouths, which lie one in the palm of each hand, through its arm-like throats.

In addition to the features which I have already described, the beast was equipped with a massive tail about six feet in length, quite round where it joined the body, but tapering to a flat, thin blade toward the end, which trailed at right angles to the ground.

By far the most remarkable feature of this most remarkable creature, however, were the two tiny replicas of it, each about six inches in length, which dangled, one on either side, from its armpits. They were suspended by a small stem which seemed to grow from the exact tops of their heads to where it connected them with the body of the adult.

Whether they were the young, or merely portions of a composite creature, I did not know."

---The Warlord of Mars (1919) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Expanded Ability Scores for the Holmes Ref


For all characters:

15 or more: +1 to hit, damage and open doors
7 to 14: no bonus
6 or less: -1 to hit, damage and open doors

From Gygax's OD&D House Rules, compiled here; also in line with the bonuses for NPCs mentioned in the Holmes Basic version of Keep in the Borderlands (e.g. the imprisoned Hero in the Caves of Chaos gets a +2 to hit and damage due to level and 18 strength). Also not far off from that used in Warlock, which Holmes used prior to editing the Basic rules. In Warlock Str 16+ gives a +1 to hit, and Str 13-17 gives +1 damage, 18 +2 damage.

11 or more: one extra language per point over 10
10 or less: no extra languages

From the rules as written

15 or more: +1 to saving throws versus mental attacks (charm, fear, illusion, hold, etc)
7 to 14: no bonus
6 or less: -1 to saving throws versus mental attacks (charm, fear, illusion, hold etc)

Extrapolated based on the otherwise unexplained Wisdom Adj on the 1977 OD&D character sheet and the later AD&D PHB. Uses the same range as Gygax's house rules, where 15+ gains a bonus.

18: add 3 to each hit die
17: add 2 to each hit die
15 to 16: add 1 to each hit die
7 to 14: no bonus
6 or less: subtract one from each hit die but never less than 1

From the rules as written

13 or more:  fire any missile at +1
9 to 12: no bonus
8 or less: fire any missile at -1

From the rules as written

18: up to 12 followers, +4 reaction rolls
16 to 17: up to 7 followers, +2 reaction rolls
13 to 15: up to 5 followers, +1 reaction rolls
10 to 12: up to 5 followers
7 to 9: up to 3 followers
5-6: up to 2 followers, -1 reaction rolls
3-4: up to 1 follower, -2 reaction rolls

In the Holmes Basic rulebook, page 5, Holmes writes "A character of charisma below 13 can not hire more than 5 followers, and their loyalty will be luke-warm at best — that is, if the fighting gets hot there is a good probability they will run away. On the other hand, someone with a charisma of 18 can win over a large number of followers (men or monsters) who will probably stand by him to the death." 

This is a reference to the charisma table in OD&D Vol 1, page 11. There is a slight discrepancy as in the OD&D table a score of 10-12 gets 4 followers, not 5.

Things get a little complicated after this. The OD&D Charisma table also has bonuses for loyalty for the these followers, which modifies a loyalty score on page 13, which in turn modifies morale, which is not explained very clearly. Holmes didn't include the rules for loyalty scores or morale, perhaps due to their complexity. 

However, the text explaining the reaction table on page 12 of OD&D Vol 1, states that the roll is "adjust[ed] for charisma", which seems to indicate that the same charisma modifiers are also used with this table. Holmes included a reference to this in Basic on page 11, where the text explaining the reaction table there sasy "The DM should maek adjustments if the party spokesman has high charisma or offers other special inducements". Hence for our expanded table here, I've converted the loyalty bonuses to reaction adjustments. Moldvay treated this similarly in his version of Basic.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Some Thief Options for the Holmes Ref


Dwarf: +5% Open Lock, +15% Remove Trap, +5% Move Silently, +5% Hide in Shadows

Elf: +5% Pick Pocket, +10% Move Silently, +15% Hide in Shadows

Hobbit: +10% Open Lock, +5% Remove Trap, +5% Pick Pocket, +10% Move Silently, +10% Hide in Shadows, Hear Noise +1

These are from the Greyhawk OD&D supplement, and are presumably the "special rules" found in OD&D that Holmes referred to in the Holmes manuscript.


Human thieves can specialize, raising a skill by lowering another by an equal amount, to a minimum of 5%. This can be done with each of the five skills that increase each level other than Climb Walls and Hear Noise. Thus, a specialist has 50 percentage points (50%) that can be adjusted at first level.

These are some specialists that are possible at first level:

Picklock: 55% Open Lock

Disarmist: 55% Remove Trap

Filcher: 55% Pick Pocket 

Sneak: 55% Move Silently

Skulker: 55% Hide in Shadows

By maxing these out, the other four skills will be at only 5% each (not including Climb Walls and Hear Noise). Many other combinations are possible, e.g. 35% Open Lock, 25% Remove Trap, 5% other skills

Higher levels:
At levels 2-6, a thief gets 25 more points per level to be distributed among the five skills,
At levels 7-8, a thief gets 35 more points per level
At levels 9-11, a thief get 50 more points per level
At levels 12 and up, a thief gets more 25 points per level

This option inspired by similar rules in 2E AD&D. The total points for first level and higher levels matches the progression found in the Greyhawk Supplement.


As the prime requisite of thieves is dexterity, it will affect their abilities as follows:

Dexterity of 15 or more: add 10% to each thief skill except hear noise
Dexterity of 13-14: add 5%
Dexterity of 9-12: no bonus
Dexterity of 7-8: subtract 10%
Dexterity of 6 or less: subtract 20%

These value of these bonuses and the Dex ranges are the same as the prime requisite XP bonuses on page 6 of Holmes. The idea is inspired by Gary's OD&D houserules, which mention a bonus for a Thief skill based on Dex, and the more complicated Dex modifiers in 1E AD&D. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dice of the Gods


A suited man juggles five polyhedra dice - is this an early DM? No, more likely it is supposed to be a math teacher.

These photos were posted to the Acaeum recently (see this thread), and show a set of dice found with a OD&D White Box set. The dice themselves are the standard Polyhedra Dice sold by TSR in the '70s, which per Jon Peterson were sourced from a California company, Creative Publications. But the packaging they are in is something I've never seen before. The title, Polyhedra Dice, is identical to the title TSR used in their catalogs and product lists of the era (follow link to see an example). While the dice obscure some of the text, I can make out the letters "CREAT..." near the green 8-sider, indicating the original packaging was indeed supplied by Creative Publications, not TSR or another company.

Most of these dice that I've seen are ones from the Holmes Basic set, where they came in small sealed bag without a paper insert. The set was also sold separately (see catalog link above), and I had assumed these were sold in the same form. But possibly at some point TSR re-sold sets with the original CP packaging, or possibly this set was ordered directly from CP.

The back of the insert begins with the following paragraph:

"To the ancient Greeks the five regular solids (tetrahedron - 4 faces, hexhedron - 6 faces, octahedron - 8 faces, dodecahedron - 12 faces, icosahedron - 20 faces) were known as the "dice of the gods". They were prized for their beauty and believed to have strange, cosmic meanings"

Following this is a list of suggestions for using the dice, which are mostly obscured by the dice themselves.

See also: 
The Marked 20-sided Die
TSR Percentile Dice in the '70s

The dice set together with Men & Magic. Photo source same as above.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Danse Macabre Filmstrip (1963)

A re-post from 2013:

For Halloween, here's something haunting that I remember watching in music class in late elementary school, around the same time I discovered D&D (1982). It's a 1963 educational filmstrip with fantastic watercolors by Harold Dexter Hoopes, set to the eerie music of Danse Macabre by Saint-Saens. It was unavailable on the web until a few years ago but now there are multiple versions on YouTube, one of which has better colors but includes a loud "filmstrip advance" beep throughout. There isn't much info available on the internet about the artist Hoopes. There was even a blog dedicated to restoring the individual frames of this filmstrip but it seems to have stalled out at frame 20.

There's also a later second edition of the filmstrip done in the mid-80s with art by David Prebenna, later an illustrator of Sesame Street/Muppet toddler books. It's cartoony and less haunting, but also worth watching.

Memories of this filmstrip led me to include "Danse Macabre" in my One Hit Point Monsters.

Happy All Hallow's Evening!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Maze of Peril Chapter 1, Scene 2: "Rumors of the Fabulous Treasures of the Underworld"

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

The second short "scene" of the Maze of Peril is a few paragraphs of compact world-building that expands the setting outward from the Green Dragon to the surrounding town and the Underworld beneath it. I quoted most of this section in a 2012 post, The Underworld of Holmes. As I wrote there, the term "The Underworld" is straight out of Vol 3 of the Original Dungeons & Dragons rules, "The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures", being the original term used to refer to the vast multi-layer dungeons of the game.

The narrator tells us that Zereth and "every man in the [Green Dragon] tavern" knows the rumors of the treasure of the Underworld. Holmes uses a favorite turn of phrase, "fabulous treasures", which also appears in the introduction to the Basic rulebook ("The dungeons are filled with fearsome monsters, fabulous treasure and frightful perils") and the Sample Dungeon ("Whispered tales are told of fabulous treasure and unspeakable monsters in the underground passages"). 

The rumors draw all sorts of adventurers and other types to the "tiny town", indicating that it is special in the land in its relation to the Underworld. The name of the town, Caladan, is first given here, and is noteworthy in that it was previously used by Frank Herbert as the name of the homeworld of the Atreides in Dune. Chris Holmes said that his father was a fan of Herbert but didn't know of any other specific reason for its use.

The description of the Underworld, like the name, is very much in line with OD&D: "corridors of wealth, they were also tunnels of deadly peril" and "there must have been many layers of dungeons and underworlds laid down, one atop the other". But Holmes takes this concept further by giving a putative origin for these dungeons: they were built by a mysterious prehistoric race. This echoes the introduction to the Sample Dungeon, where "the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, pre-human city". As I wrote previously, this theme is "reminiscent of the pre-human alien civilization described in Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness (1931), who built vast underground cities in remote locations". Holmes never reveals any more details about the mysterious builders, so on this blog I later took the idea one step further, positioning Lovecraft's creatures in that story as Holmes' architects of the Underworld, to create a "new" monster for Holmes Basic called the Ancient Builder. The write-up for this monster now appears in the recently released Blueholme Journeymanne rules as the "Old Ones" entry in the Monster List.

While the rumors of the Underworld are well known in Caladan, the entrances are not. The narrator indicates that Zereth has been looking for information about an entrance but has not been successful. One reason that the entrances are not well known is that "many of the rash adventurers who set forth for the secret entrances to the fabled Underworld were never heard from again". Again, this fits with the story's origins in actual OD&D games, where many first level parties perish on their first expedition below.

In the next scene, Zereth will finally succeed in learning of an entrance.