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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Centaurs and Samurai and Werebears, Oh My

Lycanthrope, Werebear Pictures, Images and Photos

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".


  1. An interesting degree of flexibility in the face of what would come later--particularly the Vulcan bit.

  2. D&D in the 70s (pre-AD&D) was certainly a more wahoo time. In Dragon #52, Holmes also mentions running an alien (Dreenoi from Starguard) as his own personal PC.

  3. Does anyone have any ideas about how to get hold of a copy of that Holmes article?

  4. Theodric, the Holmes article from Dragon #52 was transcribed in full in this post on the Sword & Shield blog.