Monday, August 14, 2017

D&D on Barsoom art by Chris Holmes


Dungeons & Dragons on Barsoom, artwork by Chris Holmes, 1980

This fantastic artwork by Chris Holmes shows John Carter battling a Thark, perhaps Tars Tharkas. Chris told me that the sheet was used a player recruitment sheet at a long ago Gen Con and it seems most likely this was 1980 (the art is signed "Chris Holmes 80"). 

The text reads: "Dungeons and Dragons on Barsoom. A Fantasy Role Playing Game on Edgar Rice Burroughs world of Mars. For 8 players Exp. Level 3. Free Event. No Prize. Meet at 10:00 AM SUNDAY Morning and we will try to find a place to play. Sign up below. Chris Holmes", with an update: "We are just to the left of this note".

J. Eric Holmes and Chris had run this same game at Gen Con 78 and 79 as listed in the program books for those conventions. The 1979 program book has the following brief description: "Ever wondered what happened when your character got teleported to Mars? Find out in this small tourney. One session." 

There are no games listed for the Holmes in the 1980 booklet, so I didn't know they had also run this scenario there too until I saw the above.

If you'd like to see more art work by Chris, the gallery on his website was updated recently. Plus there's artwork of his throughout the new Tales of Peril book

Gen Con 50 is this week. I won't be there, but if you are there is a museum where there will be a typed draft of original D&D.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Zenopus Dungeon Factions

Some thoughts on using the encounters in the Sample Dungeon as "factions" vying for control of the dungeon:

Thaumaturgist (Rooms F and S) - This evil magic-user's goal is "to take over the dungeon level". Allies include a charmed smuggler (2nd level fighter) and a pet giant snake. Other resources include his tower (home base), a wand of petrification and a captured ape in a cage.

Per Holmes' advice, I've generally had him react to intruders by fleeing and ordering his lackey to attack, but in the Portown Rumors I positioned him as a potential employer in town. Why not have him play the same role if first encountered in the dungeon? He might parlay with the PCs to get them to aid in taking over the dungeon. An easy first mission would be cleaning out the giant rats in nearby Room G. Other targets might be the goblins in Room A, the giant spider in Room J, the giant crab in Room L,  the pirates/smugglers in Room M, the ghouls in Room P, or any wandering monsters he's encountered.

Following Zenopus' demise, "[o]ther magic-users have moved into town", which I've taken to mean the thaumaturgist, but it also implies at least one other. Perhaps there is a rival M-U also searching for ancient treasures in the dungeon.

Another option is to have the thaumaturgist as a former apprentice of Zenopus who turned his master to stone and used him as the rotating statue in Room F. In this type of scenario there's the potential for restoring Zenopus with the scroll of stone to flesh. Another twist would be to place on the thaumaturgist on the town council, or perhaps as an advisor to one of the lords on the council.

Goblins (Room A) - this group lives in this huge room (120 x 120 feet, the largest in the dungeon) as evidenced by the beds (one for each goblin), tables and benches. Their total number is not defined as Holmes suggests adjusting it on the number of PCs. If goblins are encountered as wandering monsters on this level they could also be part of this group. If more goblins sneak into the area and join the group they may try to expand their area of control.

The only other clue that Holmes gives for goblins' motivations is survival - they will flee or surrender if half the number is killed, and will bargain duplicitously in order to escape. They have knowledge of "the dangerous trap rooms" although it is not clear what this refers to. The ambushing giant spider in nearby Room J is a possibility although it was much weaker in Holmes' original draft (only 1 HD), so I'm not sure if that is what Holmes was referring to. 

The goblins' room is very close to the entrance to the dungeon, with no other encounters between, and they could easily slip to the surface to steal food from the town; in Portown Rumors this activity is responsible for one of the rumors.

They have a good deal of coin (1000 SP, 2000 CP), which means they might be working for someone, perhaps the thaumaturgist. If the PCs offer more money, the goblins would probably provide information or cooperation for the time.

One of their chests is trapped with a sleeping gas. In my version I've added that they know how to make this gas and store in it breakable vials, for use as "sleep bombs" (ala the Green Goblin) to help them escape.

Pirates (Room M) - Another group of indeterminate number; there at least four but with a 1 in 4 chance every turn of 2-5 more arriving with no limit indicated. This group is mainly concerned with maintaining their sea cave hideout in the sea cave. They have a dangerous "guard dog" in the form of the hungry octopus they feed as they row in to keep from attacking them. They are also described as smugglers but are probably not currently moving the goods into town through the dungeon due to the various dangerous monsters in the way. But having them use the dungeon for transport could be a motivation for having them vie for control of the dungeon. Alternately, if their lair is threatened they may go seeking revenge on the offending party. 

The force in Room M are all described as normal men, but they had at least one former member who was a 2nd level fighter (now charmed by the thaumaturgist). This raises the possibility of stronger leaders that are currently elsewhere. If they feel threatened by the town they might assemble a larger force and stage a raid. In this way the current force in Room M could be used as advance force similar to the bandits watching the Keep in the wilderness in B2. 

They have Lemunda the Lovely prisoner. Did they kidnap her with the goal of ransoming her? Or did they catch her spying on them and are now debating what to do?

Ghouls (Room P) - These undead are tied to the cemetery in an ambiguous manner. The room contains some smashed coffins (their own or someone else's?) and the east door "leads to a short dirt tunnel which ends blindly under the cemetery". The coda to the adventure indicates something is going on there: "What inhuman rites are being practiced deep in the ghoul haunted passages beneath the graveyard?" This implies cult activities, which could be another faction. Perhaps the cultists are animating dead bodies - skeletons, zombies, ghouls. The cult would have a leader, possibly an evil curate (5th level Cleric) and many lower level acolytes (Level 1). Perhaps they carry a "sigil" that keeps their undead minions from attacking them. To increase the presence of this faction in the Sample Dungeon, we could add a roving band of cultists to a Wandering Monster table for the level.

Rats (Rooms G, N and RT) - These are not intelligent, but there are many ("there is no end to the rats"). Add a controlling were-rat or two (or even a vampire!) with a base somewhere in the rat tunnels and there's another faction vying for control of the dungeon.

Townsfolk - While the citizens of Portown are not ordinarily encountered in the dungeon, they've got a stake in it since it is under their town and the denizens may pose a threat. Per the coda of the adventure, the townspeople may not take kindly to trouble stirred up from below ("tampering with Things Better Left Alone"). This brings the possibility of invoking the "Angry Villager Rule" - "Anyone who has viewed a horror movie is aware of how dangerous angry villagers are"  (see OD&D, Vol 3, page 24).

However, if the PCs gain some prominence - such as by rescuing Lemunda - the town leaders would probably support any efforts to defeat any and all of the above factions. The form of government is not specified, but Lemunda's father (who I've named Leomund) is described as "a powerful lord in the city above". This implies more than one "lord" to the city, and the intro refers to "the authorities", so perhaps there is a ruling council of lords. Gygax's guidance regarding the Castellan in B2 (see page 7) could be useful for role-playing a town leader such as Leomund and his reaction to the party's exploits.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Portown Adventuring Eras

This is a brief outline of the history of Portown, including adventures that could be set in each time period. The dates are set in YBB (Years Before Basic) or YAB (Years After Basic). Some are from the Holmes Sample Dungeon, the rest are extrapolations:

Prehistory: A "pre-human city" of "doubtful history" exists in the future site of Portown. A vast layered underworld is constructed by the Ancient Builders.


~500 YBB: Portown is founded to link "caravan routes from the south to the merchant ships" traveling the Northern Sea. Catacombs beneath the town are constructed, where the former Lords and Ladies of Portown are buried in sarcophagi (see Room N).

100 YBB: Zenopus arrives, builds a tower on the hill over the sea cliffs to the west of town and near the graveyard. Green Dragon Inn established.


~75 YBB: Zenopus excavates beneath his tower in search of ancient treasures. Adventure of the era: Zenopus hires PCs to investigate pre-human tunnels under his tower.


50 YBB: Zenopus vanishes when his tower in engulfed in green flame. "Several of his human servants" escape and relate that he was destroyed by "a powerful force he unleashed in the depths of the tower".
Adventure of the era: Investigate disappearance of Zenopus

~45 YBB: Town demolishes 'haunted' tower.
Adventure of the era: Investigate haunted tower prior to demolition

~5 YBB: Thaumaturgist arrives, builds or moves into a short tower (Room S) not far from the Zenopus ruins.


0 YBB/YAB: Present day. Lord Leomund (Level 10 Fighter) is the ruler of Portown. His daughter Lemunda has just gone missing. The Green Dragon Inn is a popular gathering place for adventurous types. Pirates and smugglers are very active on the Northern Sea. Bodies are going missing from the graveyard, possibly being transformed into ghouls (as in Room P) by cultists. 

Adventures of the era: Sample Dungeon as written, including rescue Lemunda. 
Investigate cult activities; possibly adapt a Call of Cthulhu scenario?

5-35 YAB: Quiet years. Old dungeon entrance sealed by Lord Leomund.

40 YAB: Lady Lemunda (now a L10+ Fighter) now ruler. Adventure of the era: Return to the Tower of Zenopus, deal with new threat(s) in the old dungeon. Pirate & cultists have merged/transmogrified into Dagonites.

(Revised from a post on G+, thanks to Andy C for suggesting I add the "pre-history" era)

See also: Portown Rumors (which are all in relation to the "Present Day" time period)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Return to the Tower of Zenopus

As I wrote in my last post, this weekend marks 40 years since Origins III in 1977, the first known public release of the Holmes Basic Set. How I am celebrating?

Well, first off - my contributor copy of Tales of Peril arrived, and I opened it up late last night. It's a beautiful book. More on that later.

I'm thinking about a Holmes-inspired game I'd like to run at Gary Con next year. One idea I've had is a Return to the Tower of Zenopus. This would be set 40 years (naturally) after the events of the original when the smugglers were defeated and the dungeon entrance was sealed. Lady Lemunda is now the ruler of the town and trouble is stirring in the old dungeon. I would re-stock the dungeon using material from Maze of Peril, due to the thematic similarities. The pre-generated characters would be Boinger, Zereth & Murray (drawing from their character sheets in Tales of Peril) plus Hortensa, Geoffrey, Brother Ambrose, etc.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Seligman on Holmes Basic



As I've written previously, the earliest reported public availability for Holmes Basic is at Origins 1977, which ran from Friday July 22nd to Sunday, July 24th at Wagner College on Staten Island, NYC. This weekend is the 40th anniversary of this event!

The above information is from a convention report by Bill Seligman (who has a blog here) in the August 1977 issue of the APAzine, The Wild Hunt (via Jon Peterson and Playing at the World).

Lee Gold is now offering pdf copies of early Alarums & Excursions issues (ordering details are here), and in these I found that Bill also included a convention report in issue #25 (dated 16 August 1977) as part of his contribution, "I WOULD HAVE MADE A GREAT PLATINUM DRAGON #10" (APAzines are compilations of mini-zines by each contributor).

Here's what Seligman had to say about the new Basic Set:

First, in his comments directed to previous A&E contributors:
"Eric Holmes: the new revised D&D is written extremely well, at least. Kudos to you, sir, at least future DMs will not have to struggle with what we had." (numbered page 3 of Seligman's min-zine, unnumbered page 83 of A&E #25)

Later, his news & thoughts on the new set:
"But now, for some even bigger news: THE NEW REVISED AND TRULY PROOFREAD VERSION OF D&D IS OUT!!! Well, not the whole thing, just the basic version, for $10.00, This includes dice, a dungeon geomorph (yuk) and a set of pre-allocated rooms for 1-3 levels (yuk). The whole set is designed for setting up to third level characters and up to the third level of the' dungeon. Further versions of D&D will expand the current one to the Nth level. The next D&D book to be put out will be on monsters — there will be 378 of them. It will be out in October [actually published in Dec - Z]. Future releases will be an advanced D&D playing volume, a Dungeonmasters guide, and a revised Gods, Demi-Gods, and HerphS, each of which will be 8'-1/2 by 11 inches and bound like a paperback.

What I think of Basic D&D-- it is far, far better written than the original. There are a lot, more examples. Including examples of melee, spell use, encumberance, and setting up a dungeon level. Naturally the spell system and combat system is the Gygaxian one — what did you expect? Kask [at Origins] justified this too -- he said that D&D is based on Vancian magic, and that it restricts high-level mages, who would otherwise control the whole game. I wish they had not included the geomorphs and dungeon example, since too many neo-DMs will use them with no individual changes when they first start out. However, if you are starting a D&D campaign, from the 1st level, then get this book. It is available w/o dice, geomorphs, pre-allocations, and box for $5.00, with for $10.00.

One thing though -- in the monster encounter charts, they list creatures like Leprechauns and Troglodytes which are not listed in the monster descriptions. Kask said that if a person never saw a Lucky Charms commercial or read a fairy tale there was nothing he could do --but normally somebody could work up something for those monsters. I disagree - assuming a true neo, he would not be able to assign the monster any hit points that were reasonable - he would not even really understand what hit points were for. But, Kask said, Leprechauns would be explained in the next book." (numbered page 4 of Seligman's mini-zine, unnumbered page 84 of A&E #25)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Once and Future Romero


Yes, that's Ed Harris in the Knightriders film poster!

I was saddened to hear that George Romero passed away a few days ago. I have fond memories of a time about fifteen years ago when we lived near a great video store (remember those?) that had prominent shelves dedicated to certain directors: Romero, Herzog, Altman, etc. While I love Romero's zombie films, Knightriders (1981) is actually my favorite of his. It's an ensemble drama (Altman-esque) about a troupe of knights who joust on motorcyles at Renaissance Festivals. It's got his signature social commentary. Starring a young Ed Harris (pictured above) in the King Arthur-type role and Tom Savini in the Mordred-type role. A must see.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Draft of OD&D

Over on Playing at the World, Jon Peterson announced late last week that the 50th anniversary of Gen Con would feature a museum dedicated to the history of the gaming hobby from its origins through recent times. As part of this there's big news for those of us who study the early history of D&D: "You will be able to see some amazing artifacts like this: a first draft of Dungeons & Dragons." Not the Dalluhn manuscript that he has written about previously (which now appears to be a later variant), but a newly uncovered draft. 

On ODD74, Jon wrote more about this document:
"The original larger draft weighed in at about 100 pages double spaced, and we might suppose it corresponds to the 100 page draft that Gygax sometimes mentioned in his later recollections of the development of D&D. Let's call that larger draft "Guidon" D&D. It was perhaps the earliest complete draft, though the photocopies ["Mornard Fragments"] of it that Mike [Mornard] received feature a number of hand corrections that date from a later time than when GD&D was first typed up."

From this draft, Jon shares text that would become part of the cover of the booklets. It's a beautiful sight:


We can see the typist originally typed "Campaigns" and then altered it to make it singular and added "Games". And "& Pencil" was added later, ironically, in pencil.

Further changes were made for the printed covers (here Men & Magic, Vol 1):



Here "Campaign Games" becomes "Wargames Campaigns" and is moved to after "Medieval". And rather than using the components as adjectives to describe the game, the subtitle here uses them as components "Playable with" the campaigns. These components incorporate the "Pencil" addition and drop the word "Board". But the reference to a board remains in the text of the printed game: "The use of paper, pencil and map boards are standard" (pg 5, section "Scope".

That's all we know so far. This document has been speculated about for decades. I'm looking forward to learning more about it!