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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.                    ...

Friday, September 30, 2011

Obscure TSR art related to B1-B3, pt III

Paleologos over at DF has found another illustration by Jean Wells meant for B3 that was published in Polyhedron (issue #3, pg 10, "Plant Creature"). This one illustrates the Jupiter Blood Sucker, a new monster from the original orange covered B3 that didn't make it into the revised version. Paleologos suggests it is the precursor to the Vampire Rose in the revised version.

Previous entries in this series: pt I, pt II

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Zenopus map redux

A few days back I posted a picture of Greyhawk's Green Dragon Inn from the AD&D Coloring Album written by Gary Gygax (published by Troubadour Press, 1979 under license from TSR). This reminded me of a connection to the Blue Book: the map in the Coloring Album (by Greg Irons) is a redrawn version of the map in the Blue Book (possibly by David Sutherland based on a design from Holmes). This was originally brought to my attention in a review of the Album by Kent Kelly on the Acaeum. I've posted about this before on the DF and OD&D74 forums, so to justify revisiting the topic again I've made an improved visual (see above). I scanned the entire oversized map from the Coloring Album, which took three scans that then had to be stitched back together (if you look closely you can see the staples where the map overlaps the center of the book). I then juxtaposed this with the Blue Book map for a side-by-side comparison (click on the map above for a larger view).

The Coloring Album is a strange chimera of two different activities. The first is the coloring book: an illustrated story of adventurers who meet at the Green Dragon Inn in Greyhawk City and begin a quest in "search of a fabulous treasure". The pages alternate telling the story with fantastic full-page scenes of the party encountering various AD&D monsters. The other activity is a board game entitled Adventures in the Dungeon, also by Gygax [2020 Update: Lawrence Schick wrote the game text, per a post he made on FB]. This game is somewhat like Dungeon!, features different characters from the coloring book story, and uses the map pictured above (found in the center of the coloring book). Some of the monsters in each are the same, some are different. The rules for the game are explained in short paragraphs at the bottom of each page that tells the coloring book story.

As you can see above, while the Coloring Album map changes a few features, overall the two maps are very similar in layout. A few of the encounters even have the same monster in the same location:
Room G / 3 - Giant Rats
Room J / 11 - Giant Spider
Room M / 7 - Giant Octopus (but no pirates in the coloring book)

All of other monsters are replaced in the Album:
Room A / 1 - Goblins -> Remorhaz
Room B / 2 - Skeletons -> Demon
Room C / 8 - Corridor (empty) -> Carrion Crawler
Room D / 9 - Statue (non-living) -> Otyugh
Room E - Empty -> empty, unnumbered
Room F / 4 - Thaumaturgist -> Ogre Mage
Room H - river -> river, unnumbered
Room I - brazen head -> Gorgon
Room K - Giant Crab -> empty, unnumbered
Room L - Phosophorescent Fungus -> empty, unnumbered
Room N / 13 - Crypt with non-standard Skeleton & flying dagger -> Crypt with Iron Skeletons of Grusyin
Room P / 1 - Ghouls -> Beholder
Room RT - Giants Rats -> empty, unnumbered
Room S - Giant Snake -> Ochre Jelly
Room S1/S2 - Ape -> no equivalent

Thus, a low level Basic dungeon is transformed into a high level dungeon for a simplified AD&D game. In a future post I'll review the rules for the board game (update: this is here).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

KoDT vs Sutherland Dragon

Maxwriter on the OD&D Discussion Forums alerted me to this a few weeks ago. The cover of Knights of the Dinner Table #177 (July 2011) pays tribute to David Sutherland's iconic cover of the Holmes Basic Set, with Brian as the wizard and Dave as the fighting man. It's by artist George Vrbanic.

Coincidentally, I just read a KoDT compilation for the first time this past summer: Bundle of Trouble #23 (KoDT 77-80), which includes the "Dawgs of War" strip. I found it addictive & hope to read more, though the sheer number of issues is a bit overwhelming.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Green Dragon Inn, pt II

As a follow up to last week's post on the Green Dragon Inn mentioned in the Blue Book, I spent a little time looking in to the publication history of the Green Dragon in Greyhawk, which I'd read was owned at one point by Robilar, PC of Rob Kuntz.

As it turns out there is far less material on Greyhawk's Green Dragon than I had thought. While it apparently goes back to 1972 in the original Greyhawk campaign, it barely made it into print by TSR. This Dragonsfoot thread indicates that the first print reference to this Green Dragon was in the Official AD&D Coloring Album from 1979. I have a copy of this, so I pulled it out to see what it said:

"Here at the Green Dragon, a busy inn in a town on the shores of the Lake of Unknown Depths, a group of adventurers have met to plan a daring expedition in search of a fabulous treasure. They sit at an outside table, quaffing amber ale and charting their course to wealth beyond belief ... The innkeeper, his wife and the stableboy are all busy caring for the wants of the adventurers, for they known the party will soon set forth on their quest  - possibly to return loaded with bright gold!"

That's about it, other than the accompanying picture (see above) by Greg Irons, who illustrated the entire album in fantastic detail. See more pictures from it here.

I found a "Green Dragon Tavern" in Dragon #37 (May 1980), but it's actually yet another one, found in a town in the module The Pit of the Oracle by Stephen Sullivan. What's ironic is that this same issue has a Sorcerer's Scroll column where Gygax states that "The City of Greyhawk might make a 1981 publication date, certainly 1982, and about the same time  the series which will eventually represent the whole of the Dungeons of Castle Greyhawk will begin" and further provides information on Robilar (and other Greyhawk notables), but without mention of the Green Dragon.

I also have Artifact of Evil (1986, TSR), which is a Gord the Rogue novel by Gygax, where the Green Dragon is the location of a brief meeting between Gord and his druid friend, Curly Greenleaf. The "Green Dragon Inn" is described as "a place frequented by foreigners, mercenaries, tough adventurers, and others of less savory aspect" (pg 35). There's another appearance in Night Arrant, a later Gord novel published after Gygax left TSR that I don't have a copy of.

So it appears that most of what is now known about the original Greyhawk Green Dragon is from much more recent interviews and columns. Holmes' Green Dragon was first mentioned in the Blue Book, which was published in the Fall 1977. While it is possible he heard of the Greyhawk Green Dragon directly from Gygax or others at TSR, it is more likely a separate creation with a name inspired by Tolkien's Green Dragon in the Shire.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sacnoth's Scriptorium

Continuing with another Tolkien-related post...

Sacnoth's Scriptorium is a blog I follow, by John Rateliff, author of the excellent The History of the Hobbit (2007). See here for an interview with Rateliff about THotH. Besides having the original draft of the Hobbit (and a fascinating unfinished 1960 revision), the two volume THotH is crammed with detailed short essays on a wide variety of Tolkien topics related to the subject matter.

Also of interest to gamers, Rateliff previously worked for TSR and WOTC. A long while back he wrote a great series of retrospective articles for free downloads of classic TSR modules available on the WOTC site, including one for the original orange-covered B3 Palace of the Silver Princess. And in relation to the legacy of Holmes Basic, he was the author of Return to the Keep on the Borderlands (1999), part of TSR's Silver Anniversary series.

His blog covers a wide range of topics, personal and professional. Yesterday's post is a review of the Red Eye of Azathoth, a new scenario for The Call of Cthulhu.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Summary of Tolkien References in the Blue Book

And so we come to the end of this year's Tolkien week.

Here's a summary of Tolkien references in the Blue Book.

Tolkien references carried over from the text of the OD&D booklets:

Hobbits: The 1st print (Lizard Logo, Fall 1977) uses "hobbits" throughout. The 2nd print (Lizard Logo, Jan 78) changes most to "halflings" but still uses "hobbits" in five locations. In the 2nd edition (Wizard Logo, Nov 78) and later printings a sole reference to "hobbits" remains, in the description of the spell "Cure Light Wounds". 

Balrogs: There are two references to Balrogs on page 14 of all printings; discussed previously

Nazgul & Barrow Wights: A reference to the "Nazgul of Tolkien" in the Monster List entry for Spectre (pg 32), and to
"Barrow Wights (as per Tolkien)" in the entry for Wight (pg 33). These are straight from the original entries for Spectre and Wight in OD&D, Vol 2 (Monsters & Treasure), pg 9, and are in all printings of the Holmes rulebook.

It's clear from the above that Holmes edited the Blue Book from one of the earlier printings of the OD&D rulebooks (i.e., prior to the removal of the Tolkien references). While all of these references were removed from the OD&D booklets, only "hobbits" was removed from the Blue Book.

Tolkien references added by Dr. Holmes:

-"lawful werebear" (pg 7); most likely a reference to Beorn in The Hobbit; discussed previously.
Update: this may also reference the Beorning class from the 1976 Manual of Aurania

-"Drego the thief" (pg 12). The name "Drego" is a very hobbit-sounding name; it is particularly close to Drogo, the name of Frodo's father in The Lord of the Rings. Update: From the Holmes Manuscript, we know that Holmes originally had "Bingo" as the name here, which *is* directly from the Lord of the Rings, being Bilbo's uncle.

-"The imaginary universe of Dungeons & Dragons obviously lies not too far from the Middle Earth of J.R.R. Tolkien's great Lord of the Rings trilogy" (pg 40); discussed previously.

-"Green Dragon Inn" (pg 41); discussed previously.

* * * * *

Update: The first printing also includes TSR's Battle of the Five Armies game in the price list at the back of the rulebook; this was deleted in the 2nd printing as I noted here.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Skull Mountain review on

Tenfootpole has a new review of the Skull Mountain module, Jeff Sparks' take on the famous Blue Book cross section of levels, published in 2010 by Faster Monkey Games (and still available for purchase on their website) for the Labyrinth Lord system (a B/X retroclone). He's also posted the review in this review thread on Dragonsfoot, which has an earlier review by petespahn.

See also last year's review by Grognardia.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Holmes on Tolkien

Happy Hobbit Day!

Today I've gathered up various quotes from Dr. J. Eric Holmes about Tolkien's work:

Dungeons & Dragons Basic rulebook, 1977
"The imaginary universe of Dungeons & Dragons obviously lies not too far from the Middle Earth of J.R.R. Tolkien's great Lord of the Rings trilogy" (pg 40).

This is one of the stronger statements in an early D&D rulebook associating the game with Tolkien's work. Gygax generally tried to distance the game from Tolkien.

Basic D&D points of view, Dragon #52, August 1981
"[In the new Basic set] there is a page-long list of "inspirational source material" which is more complete than the one given in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. I didn't have such a list in the first edition; this is someone else's inspired idea. I wish I'd thought of it. Do you know there may be people out there playing a D&D game who have never read The Lord of the Rings?"

Fantasy Role-Playing Games (book), November 1981
"Literary inspiration for the worlds of the fantasy role-playing games comes from many sources. The fantasy worlds of Dungeons & Dragons and Chivalry & Sorcery are based on the myth and fairy tale. This field of literature is dominated by the work of one man in this century: J. R. R. Tolkien. Without the popularity of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, fantasy role playing would not have found the wide public it now enjoys. Despite this, most fantasy games are closer to the wild, blood-thirsty worlds of Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, and L. Sprague de Camp ... As Dungeon Master, I have drawn extensively on the works of A. Merritt, Andre Norton, Clark Ashton Smith, Lord Dunsany, Edgard Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard" (pg 46).

"In the 1960's and 70's another phenomenon occurred which was to change the face of wargaming forever. J.R.R. Tolkien's wonderful book The Lord of the Rings was published in paperback and was discovered by an immense audience of young people. This epic adult fairy tale, without doubt the greatest work of fiction produced this century, inflamed the imagination of an entire generation. The story, as most readers now, involves the clash of great armies of men, elves, dwarves, goblins and magical creatures. The prelude to the epic, a children's classic, The Hobbit, is the tale of a quest to steal a dragon's hoard of gold. It wasn't long before wargamers were introducing armies of orcs and dwarves into their medieval battle plans" (pg 63).

The comment regarding the "greatest work of fiction" is prescient in view of LOTR winning readers' polls for the best book of the 20th century.

"The world of D&D is based on the legends, fairy tales and literature of Western Europe, with a scattering of items from other cultures. To some extent it resembles the Middle Earth of J.R.R. Tolkien's grand epic, The Lord of the Rings. The D&D world is filled with far more marvels than Tolkien's classic, however ... In many ways it is more like the ancient Hyperborean world of Robert E. Howard's Conan or the magic-ridden universe of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser than it is an imitation of Tolkien. The rules of D&D conform to Tolkien, however, and to a lesser extent to a common background of myth, fairy tale and literature" (pg 70-71).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Green Dragon Inn

A further Tolkien allusion placed in the Blue Book by Dr. Holmes is the name of the inn in Portown in the Sample Dungeon:

"At the Green Dragon Inn, the players of the game gather their characters for an assault on the fabulous passages beneath the ruined Wizards' tower" (pg 41).

This name comes from the one in the Shire in The Lord of the Rings, which also independently inspired a Green Dragon in Greyhawk City owned by Robilar (PC of Rob Kuntz). According to Wikipedia, Green Dragon is "a popular name for public house in England and Wales". For example, see the screenshot above grabbed from Google Images.

Dr. Holmes later used the Green Dragon in one of his Boinger and Zereth stories (The Sorceror's Jewel, Dragon #46, February 1981), where the inn is the residence of the heroes. Several events take place at the inn. In the beginning of the novel Maze of Peril (1986), a prequel to the earlier short stories, Boinger and Zereth meet for the first time at the Green Dragon. Boinger and companions hire Zereth to accompany them while exploring a newly discovered entrance to the ancient Underworld. The town in Maze of Peril, Caladan, is similar but not identical in detail to Portown.

Finally, in his 1981 book on FRPGs, Dr. Holmes refers to a "player character sitting in the Green Dragon Inn or the Spaceport Cantina does not overlook a slighting remark from the cat-man at the next table. His hand drops to the hilt of his well-worn broadsword, or the handle of his laser pistol. "When you say that, stranger, smile so your whiskers stick out!""

See also

Green Dragon Inn Part II, where I look into the history of the Green Dragon Inn in Greyhawk.

Green Dragon Miniature, painted by Holmes

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Centaurs and Samurai and Werebears, Oh My

Werebear by Dave Trampier from the original Monster Manual (1977)

Tolkien Week continues...

In yesterday's Balrog post, I quoted a memorable line from page 7 of the Blue Book:
"Thus, an expedition might include, in addition to the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarven, hobbitish), a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese Samurai fighting man" (pg 7).

As I noted, here the example of a Balrog PC has been changed to a centaur, werebear and Samurai. The most likely inspiration for "lawful werebear" in this list is Beorn from the Hobbit. Beorn travels with Bilbo and Gandalf twice, once to the edge of Mirkwood, and once on the return trip from the Lonely Mountain, a member of the "party". Thus, even though the reference to the Balrog has been changed the example retains a Tolkien influence. I consider this one of the Tolkien allusions added to the Blue Book by Dr. Holmes (there a few, which I will discuss further in another post).

I don't know of any references by Dr. Holmes to a werebear in his other writings (campaign descriptions or stories). In the Monster List, werebears have the alignment "neutral/chaotic good", but this is a change from OD&D Vol 2, which has werebears as "Law/Neutral". The use of "lawful" without a good or evil appears to be a residual reference to the 3-point alignment system of OD&D. 

A few years later White Dwarf #17 (Feb 1980) ran an article titled "My Life As a Werebear" that includes rules for werebear character classes & several other monsters. 

Samurai as a fighter subclass first appeared in DRAGON #3 (Oct 1976), prior to the Holmes Basic set.

Centaurs are found in OD&D, Vol 2 (pg 4 & 14) but missing from the Monster List in the Blue Book.  Dr. Holmes mentions a centaur PC in his personal campaign in his 1980 Psychology Today article "Confessions of a Dungeon Master", and a centaur also appears as a minor character his novel Maze of Peril (1986). 

In an article in Dragon in 1981, Dr. Holmes also mentioned that he allowed players any type of character they wished, and in his 1981 book on FRPGs he wrote that: 

"Most game systems rather rigidly specify what kinds of characters players may assume, but the majority of referees are lenient. If a player particularly wants to be an unusual or inhuman character, many referees will let him. It's not unusual to encounter player characters that are werewolves, Vulcans, samurai, centaurs or whatever. Fantasy role playing is, after all, an exercise in imagination".

Update: see this follow-up post.

Monday, September 19, 2011


I've just updated my profile for the blog, and I've decided to post it here:

I started with D&D in 1982 at the tail end of the Holmes Basic era. My first set was Holmes Basic with B2 and chits. Two brothers who were neighbors had the same set, and the Monster Manual (which I found simply enchanting) and showed me how to play.

My first character was a magic-user named Greedo (after one of my favorite Star Wars figures) who quickly ended up with a +10 dagger, +10 ring of protection and an artifact that could summon the creatures of the Zodiac. It was a blast, and I was hooked.

These days I am a player in an AD&D group. I've been with my current group for over a year now, and we've been exploring T1-4 since last fall. We play twice a month, in person.

I can be found at the Acaeum and OD&D Discussion forums as Zenopus, Dragonsfoot as Zenopus77, and Knights & Knaves Alehouse as Zenopus Archives.

Balrog PCs gone missing

Yesterday I discussed the sources for the two references to Balrogs in the Blue Book. For the second day of Tolkien week, I'll discuss another instance where Holmes did not retain a reference to Balrogs.

OD&D, Vol 1, Men & Magic, originally mentioned Balrogs under "Other Character Types":

"There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top, i.e., a player wishing to be a Balrog would have to begin as let us say, a "young" one and progress upwards in the usual manner, steps being predetermined by the campaign referee" (pg 8).

And there was actually a Balrog PC in Gygax's Greyhawk campaign, though I'm not sure if this was before or after Men & Magic was first published. In the OD&D Discussion forums, Mike Mornard (Gronan of Simmerya) told us:   

Interestingly, I played a Balrog in Greyhawk. Yes, THE Greyhawk. Of course, I started as a 1 HD, very weak Balrog. THAT is the problem, and why Gary later changed his mind; there is virtually constant pressure from the player of an unusual character to power up her or his character, and only a referee of the judgement, skill, and determination of Gary, Rob, and Dave can juggle this without totally unbalancing the game.

According to a post on Tome of Treasures (from the work of forum member harami), the reference to Balrog PCs persisted through the 5th printing of the OD&D set (~Spring 1976), finally being changed for the sixth printing (~late 1977) to replace "Balrog" with "Dragon". The other references to Balrogs (as well as Hobbits and other Tolkien references) were also removed from the 6th printing of  OD&D.

The first printing of Holmes (~early Fall 1977), was made prior to these changes and retained many of the original Tolkien references in OD&D, such as using "hobbits" instead of "halflings". Holmes, however, changed the sentence from page 8 of Men & Magic to read:

"At the Dungeon Master's discretion a character can be anything his or her player wants him to be. Characters must always start out inexperienced and relatively weak and build on their expedition. Thus, an expedition might include, in addition to the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarven, hobbitish), a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese Samurai fighting man" (pg 7).

Thus, while Holmes retained several other references to Balrogs in the Blue Book, here he chose to replace the example of a Balrog PC with a centaur, werebear and Samurai, presumably because these are less extreme variants for a beginning DM to handle. The revised sentence is well remembered due to the evocative imagery of these non-standard types in conjunction with the wide distribution of the Basic Set. The idea of a Balrog PC might be more widely remembered if Holmes had retained the original example.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

1980 Review from Complete Book of Wargames

Jeffrey Fleming ( has kindly provided me with a transcription of a 1980 review of the Holmes Basic Set:

The Complete Book of Wargames, by the Editors of Consumer Guide with Jon Freeman, published by Simon & Schuster, 1980 (excerpt)

Dungeons & Dragons, Basic Set (1977)
SUBJECT: Fantasy role-playing rules are provided for an initial campaign.
PLAYING TIME: This is discretionary; typically, four to six hours.
KEY FEATURES: With the addition of a few new spells, this is straight Dungeons & Dragons— but only part of it. Essentially, this is a condensation and reorganization of material from the first three rule books plus the supplements that directly pertain to starting a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Only things appropriate to the first three character levels are included, so all the charts and tables are truncated. Also, included are a set of play aids useful for the beginner: polyhedral dice, a monster and treasure list for random encounters, and a set of “dungeon geomorphs”—uncoded modular sections that can be arranged in different ways to construct a dungeon setting quickly.
COMMENTS: Basic Dungeons & Dragons is only a starter set and effectively obsolete a few weeks after you get a campaign going. It was written (“edited,” if you prefer) by someone outside the TSR establishment who knew a noun from a verb, and the difference shows. It’s still a long jump short of perfection, but you can read this and generally understand what’s going on. The playing aids are useful, if only as examples. It’s still preferable to participate in an ongoing campaign, but if you must venture into RPG country without a guide, this is the first place to visit.
            Presentation—Very Good
OVERALL EVALUATION: Good but incomplete.

I've added a new section to the website that will cover contemporary reviews.

A few thoughts:
This is a review of one of the earlier printings of the Basic Set. The Geomorphs and M&TA were gone by the second edition of Nov 1978, so this review was a bit out of date by the time book was published. By 1980, the Basic Set was already on to its second module (B2). 

The recognition of Holmes' editing skills is nice, though a bit harsh on the grammar of the LBBs, which I don't think are as poorly written as commonly perceived. Holmes, after all, in many places uses language directly from the LBBs.

Balrogs in the Blue Book

Today is the first day Tolkien Week, which is the week containing Hobbit Day (Sep 22, the birthday shared by Bilbo and Frodo). To kick it off I'll discuss the Balrogs in the Blue Book.

The Blue Book contains two references to Balrogs, each on page 14. These refer to the original OD&D text rather than being additions by Holmes. The first mentions that they are highly resistant to magic, and is a reference to the original entry for Balrogs in Monsters & Treasure (pg 14). The second reference describes Balrogs as being able to shatter Hold Portal spells. This is from the original description of the Hold Portal spell in Men & Magic (pg 23), and was probably inspired by the Balrog who broke Gandalf's spell on the door when the Fellowship was in Moria. While the OD&D books were eventually revised to remove these references to Balrogs, they were never removed from the Blue Book. 

Suppose you want to use a Balrog in your Holmes Basic or expanded game? I'd suggest looking to the original entry from the early printings of Monsters & Treasure. A transcription can be found here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Obscure TSR art related to B1-B3, pt II

Paleologos continues his excellent art archaeology over at DF, this time turning up a Jean Wells illustration from Polyhedron #4 that shows Duchess and Candella from B3. See here. And Frank Mentzer popped in to confirm this.

Tangentially, I'll add that B3 (and B4) has some notes on the using the module with the Holmes Basic Set.

Holmes Expert Set from TSR catalog

In a previous post on Rules Expansions, I mentioned a late 1980 Gateway to Adventure catalog that shows the Holmes Basic Set side-by-side with an unpictured but soon-to-be-released Expert Set. A screenshot of this is above, taken from a scan of a page posted by TheMilford at the Tome of Treasures in 2009. As you can see, it's actually just the booklets that are advertised rather the whole sets. (If anyone has this catalog, please let me know if there is another entry for the sets).

While the listing shows the cover of the Blue Book, it is given the product code 2014, which was used for the Moldvay Basic Set rulebook. Most likely the new rulebooks were in production but not ready for photography at the time this catalog was prepared. The same page also shows the first print of B2 (written for Holmes) rather than the revised B/X version, and also has an unpictured listing for the module B3 (the first module for Moldvay), "the newest of the instructional settings for the D&D Basic Set".

Still, if you saw this catalog in 1980 you would probably have assumed that the forthcoming Expert Set was going to be a companion to the existing Holmes Basic Set, rather than the significant revision with new cover artwork that eventually appeared in 1981. Earlier in the year (Dragon #35, March 1980), Gygax had revealed that "Design is now hard at work on the second boxed D&D game, the Expert Set. It will take players through at least 12th level of experience, tie in the best of the “Original” material, and actually add some new classes, spells, magic, monsters and so on." In context, this appeared to be an Expert Set that would complement the Holmes Basic Set. The above catalog entry is the closest TSR got to advertising this mythical Holmes Expert Set.

Further thoughts:

Does anyone remember seeing this catalog at the time? Later copies of the Gateway to Adventure Catalog with the same cover, including the one I have from a Moldvay Set I found at a Goodwill in the mid-80s, replace the above entries with the B/X Sets. The copy from the Tome of Treasures site was found with a first print Cook/Marsh Expert Set.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Great use of the Sutherland Dragon for an ongoing blogger challenge:

[OSR Challenge] A September of Short Adventures

Revised Gray Book

Traveller at the Acaeum reports a minor revision to the Gray Book, to fix "a problem with haste and slow spells not explaining how they affect the targets".

I've updated the link on the Rules Expansions page on my website.

The Gray Book

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Variable Weapon Damage for Holmes - What If?

The Blue Book states that the attacker "then makes another dice roll, with one 6-sided die, to see how many points of damage were done by the hit (The more complex system used for advanced play allows for varying damage by different weapons and by various sorts of monsters)" (pg 18). While the aside is at odds with the Monster List, which does include variable damage for monsters, the rules do not provide for variable damage for weapons. But what if Holmes had chosen to include variable weapon damage for characters? Here is a hypothetical table:

This table is derived from a similar table on page 15 of Greyhawk, which was the only published "complex system for advanced play" allowing for variable weapon damage available at the time Holmes edited the Blue Book.

The Holmes equipment list is nearly identical to that from OD&D, so all of the Holmes weapons are found in the Greyhawk table, and are reproduced here. I included weapons referenced in the Holmes rules but not found in the equipment list: sling stone, javelin, club, war hammer and quarter staff. Of these, the war hammer and sling stone are found in the Greyhawk table. For javelin, club and quarter staff I used values from AD&D. The exception is javelin, which I changed to 1-4 (in line with Moldvay) to balance its far greater range versus the spear.

The notation on two-handed weapons comes from Holmes, page 20, which refers to the "heavy two-handed sword, battle axe, halberd, flail, morning star, and most pole arm". All of these are also indicated in the Greyhawk table as needing 4' or more of space on each side of the wielder.

I've also added the costs for each weapon for comparison purposes.

One complaint regarding variable weapon damage is that the magic-user suffers, being reduced to doing only 1-4 points of damage. This can be offset by allowing the magic-user to use the quarter staff.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rules Expansions - for higher level play

The Rules Expansions section of the site is newly revised following discussion on OD&D74.

Historic Rules Expansions
1. Extrapolate from the Holmes Basic rulebook. Internally consistent rules for 4th level characters, at the very least, can easily be generated by extending the tables in Holmes (although they will not necessarily match other versions of the game). Higher levels begin to require more work as magic-users would have the undescribed 3rd level spells, though some of these can be matched to magic items with similar effects. Hints for higher levels are sprinkled throughout the rulebook and the module B2.

2. Use OD&D. Dr. Holmes edited the Basic rulebook from the original D&D books and supplements, and thus the rules are in many ways closest to OD&D + some of Greyhawk. At the time of release of the Holmes Basic set in the fall of 1977, no AD&D rulebooks were available. Furthermore, the Holmes Basic set was originally packaged with the Monster & Treasure Assortment Levels 1-3, a product designed for OD&D. The M&TA assortment was eventually replaced by the module B1, which contained some further references to rules from Greyhawk. Thus, the OD&D rules are perhaps the most natural to use if expanding Holmes Basic.

3. Use AD&D. The Holmes Basic rules direct the player to AD&D for expanded play, including higher levels, in nine different locations. In Dragon #35 (March 1980), Gygax told us that the references to AD&D were added to Dr. Holmes' original draft by TSR. It's unclear whether or not they simply added the word "Advanced" where Holmes had written "Dungeons & Dragons". The rules themselves are closer to OD&D than AD&D. A few new M-U and Cleric Spells that later appeared in the Player's Handbook in 1978 were added to Holmes Basic.

4. Use the 1981 Expert Set rulebook (edited by Cook/Marsh). In Dragon #35, Gygax also revealed that "Design is now hard at work on the second boxed D&D game, the Expert Set. It will take players through at least 12th level of experience, tie in the best of the “Original” material, and actually add some new classes, spells, magic, monsters and so on." In context, this appeared to be an Expert Set that would complement the Holmes Basic Set. A late 1980 Gateway to Adventure catalog shows the Holmes Basic set side-by-side with an unpictured but soon-to-be-released Expert Set. However, when the Expert Set finally arrived in 1981 it was accompanied by an entirely new Basic Set that replaced the Holmes Basic set (although TSR continued to have the original in stock through the Mail Order Hobby Shop until at least 1986). To aid owners of the original Basic set who did not wish to buy a new set, the Cook/Marsh rulebook contained a section on page X4 titled "Using D&D Expert with an early edition of D&D Basic" which began "If your copy of the D&D Basic rules has a blue cover with a picture of a dragon on it, then this section is for you". This section then provides a summary of the "new material found in the 2nd edition of D&D Basic".


Thanks for Falconer on OD&D74 for inspiring the above list.

Modern Rule Expansions

Holmes Companion
by Meepo - a concise 4-page expansion covering levels 4-9

Holmes Level 12 by aldarron and greyharp - thread describing creation

Holmes House Rules Supplement by oltekos

Holmes Treasury by delve

The Gray Book by Traveller

Holmes77 by RC Pinnell aka Thorkhammer
(plus a rules expansion called Classic77)

Swords & Wizardry is an OD&D retroclone. The Core Rules 4th printing (May 2011) includes an optional "Blue Book" order of events for combat.

BlueBook for Swords & Wizardry by foxroe - S&W forum thread about this

Resources for expanding the rules

List of changes made to the Holmes Basic rulebook


List of References Not Described
(References to Monsters, Weapons, Magical Items, Higher Level Play not described in the rulebook, and references to other rulebooks)

Typical Monster Dexterity Scores

See also: 
Jeff's Gameblog: Expanding Holmes Parts I & II (using the Blue Book alone)
Hill Cantons: Holmes Expert Boxed Set: What If? - More on the Holmes Expert Set

Monday, September 12, 2011

Revised: References to Weapons not found in the Equipment List

On the page "References in the rulebook that are not described" (which can be a tool for clarifying/expanding/integrating Holmes), revised Part B "REFERENCES TO WEAPONS NOT FOUND ON THE EQUIPMENT LIST" to include references to war hammers, clubs and cutlasses.

The war hammer is missing from the Holmes equipment lists, despite the 1st print of Holmes mentioning a War Hammer +1 (pg 35, Armor and Weapons list), +2 (pg 35, explanation of Magical Weapons) and +3 (pg 6, Dwarves). This does not originate in Holmes, since the Men & Magic equipment list is also missing a war hammer while Monsters & Treasure has a War Hammer +1, +2 and +3 in the Miscellaneous Weapons magic item list (pg 24). Greyhawk includes only a "Dwarven Hammer" in the variable weapon damage table that does 1-6 damage (pg 15).

Clerics: “mace or the quarter staff” (pg 6)

Poisoned Weapons: “a curare tipped blowgun dart” (pg 19)

Missile Fire: Table includes Horse Bow (Short Composite Bow), Sling Stone and Javelin (pg 20); “…unless in a very high roofed area, all slinging, as well as long range fire, is not possible” (pg 20)

Example of Combat: ""Bruno the Battler" smashes open a dungeon door and is confronted by a big goblin in chainmail armed with a scimitar." (pg 21)

Lizard Man entry: "They are at least semi-intelligent and use such weapons as spears and clubs" (pg 29)

Nixie entry: “they carry javelins” (pg 30; 1st only)

Sample Dungeon, Room M: The pirates "are armed with cutlasses" (pg 43/44)

Sample Dungeon, Room N: "skeleton ... armed with a curved scimitar" (pg 44/45)

Obscure TSR art related to B1-B3

Dragonsfoot member paleologos recently made some interesting posts about obscure TSR art:

The original Trampier version of the B1 cover (published in Polyhedron #5)

A castle by Erol Otus (from Polyhedron #1) that resembles his picture of The Keep on the back of B2

Art from the French version of B3 by Darlene (I've never seen these pictures before)

UK rulebook fifth printing

Acaeum member dwarf has provided me with this scan, which provides evidence of a previously undocumented fifth printing of the UK rulebook, distinguished by the absence of prices in the product list on the back cover. The text of this printing otherwise appears to correspond to the US "2nd Edition, Nov 1978". I'm calling this the fifth printing because TSR rulebooks without prices are generally later than the ones with prices.

I've updated the Foreign editions page to note this:

Posting notices at inns and taverns

I'm going to start posting updates to the Zenopus Archives site here on the blog. Since ZA is a Google Site, it's easy to have a blog associated with it. If you follow this blog you can see when I've made an update without going to the site.

To start with, here are the most recent significant updates to the site:
8/27 - Extensively revised the page for B2
8/21 - Discussed 1980 Gateway to Adventure catalog listing
8/21 - Discussed Basic Set 1st printing
8/18 - Gygax on B2 page now has a few quotes from Holmes on B2
8/13 - Link to "Beneath The Ruined Tower of Zenopus" pod-play drama!
7/12 -  Added The Arduin Adventure to Miscellaneous
- Revised Artists of Holmes Basic page & Jim Roslof Art Bibliography