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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.                    ...

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Airfix Robin Hood

Airfix Robin Hood figures, as shown on Plastic Soldier Review

I've never had many miniatures, although I will (soon?) be getting a large batch of them  from the Reaper Bones Kickstarter. Recently I was looking for some cheaper plastic figures for my kids to play with, and I was surprised to see that the Airfix Robin Hood sets mentioned by Gygax in Chainmail in 1971 are still available new. On page 8, he wrote: 

"The LGTSA Medieval Minatures Rules ... may be used equally well with any scale -- including the inexpensive Airfix "Robin Hood" and "Sherriff of Nottingham" 25mm plastic figures."

Apparently these sets were reissued a few years ago, and thus can still be purchased new on Amazon or Ebay for $10 or less. The figures are the same although the color of the plastic may be different.

From the reviews on Amazon I think these figures will be too fragile for the kids, so I ended up ordering a set of larger (60 mm) Jecsan Crusader Knights off Ebay. Though I'm still tempted to get a set of the cheap Airfix figures to join the forthcoming Bones minis.
Some folks paint the Airfix figures in elaborate fashion:

The same Robin Hood set shown above, but painted by Ratch as posted here


I remembered that Gygax also wrote in a 1972 article, "Fantasy Battles", about using the Airfix Robin Hood figures as Hobbits vs 40 mm Elastolin figures.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Quote of the Week: Holmes on The Hobbit

     "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" - J. Eric Holmes, Fantasy Role-Playing Games, 1981, pg 46.

The animated Hobbit film premiered 35 years ago in November 1977, just about six months after the Basic Set was first released in June 1977. A big year that also saw the release of Star Wars in May, Tolkien's Silmarillion in September, and the first AD&D hardcover, the Monster Manual, in late December.

More Holmes on Tolkien

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holmes for the Holidays II (the winner is...)

Click for a larger view

Original Post from 12/12 (see updates below):

Ho, Ho, Holmes! 

For the holidays, I will once again be giving away a surplus Holmes Basic box set, pictured above, that I acquired during the past year. Same rules as last year: if you are interested, add a comment in reply to this post. By the end of the weekend I'll treat the list of comments as a table and roll randomly for the winner, using dice from a Holmes Basic set. The goal here is to get Holmes Basic to someone who doesn't yet have one, so if you already flush please don't participate.

I'll cover postage (media mail) for any U.S. address. I can ship to other countries but I ask that you cover the difference (any amount over $4) in shipping by PayPal; so if you are overseas please only participate if you have a PayPal account and willing to chip in the extra.

More details on the item:
The rulebook is a 2nd edition, Nov 1978, and is in very nice shape. The inside is very clean - no marks that I could see - although the map of the Sample Dungeon has a slight printing defect - part of the background is gray rather than black. The reference sheet is attached. The B1 module is in excellent shape but more usd, with most of the keys filled in with pencilled numbers & letters from the monster & treasure list. There's also a smudge inside the cover and a piece of tape stuck to the page with the lists. The box is fairly worn with some split and taped corners, creases, and torn-off surfaces. But it still does its job of sturdily protecting the contents. Alas, no dice are included.

Update: Note that I have moderation on for any posts over 1 day old, so your comments to this post will not appear until I approve them. I set this up so I could get rid of that onerous captcha but keep spam comments at bay. I have been getting occasional spam comments in the posts I made about the WOTC T-shirts, so I'm going to leave the moderation on. After you post a comment, you should see this message:

Update #2, 12/17: Okay, I'm stopping the commenting now. 30 commentors. Will roll the dice soon.

Update #3, 12/19: Tonight I had my trusty assistant make the roll. To generate a random 1-30, we used the method suggested in the back of the Holmes rulebook: "If 1-30 or 1-36 are desired, read the 6-sider with the 20- or 12-sided die, with 1-2 equalling no addition, 3-4 adding 10, and 5-6 adding 20" (pg 45 of the 2nd printing). Note that the original white 20-sided die from the Holmes set is numbered 0-9 twice. And here is the result:

2 + 20 = 22. By my count, the savage halfling is the winner! I have sent an email to the address on his blog notifying him. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays 2012 to all! 

Until next year!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Treacherous Pathway to Quasqueton

Click for larger view
 A brief follow-up to yesterday's post: I later noticed that in this drawing Sutherland may have included the "treacherous pathway which leads up to the craggy outcropping of black rock". It's marked above in red. The portion at the bottom especially appears to be a path, marked by Sutherland with horizontal lines, which curve behind the rocks with the stump. Past these rocks it may then continue up the cliffside to the top. On the other hand, the treacherous pathway is supposed to lead to a cave opening to the first level of the dungeon rather than the watch tower. Perhaps the cave is right behind the rocks with the stump. 

By the way, the watch tower is not detailed in the module, but attempts have been made to flesh it out, for example the one here on Dragonsfoot by Shadowshack.

Update: The crevasse to the right might be another location for the entrance cave. I've circled this on the picture.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Quote of the Week: Quasqueton Exterior

The watch tower of Quasqueton as depicted by David Sutherland; scan from Old School FRP

"Far from the nearest settlement, away from traveled routes, and high upon a craggy hill, the new construction took shape. Carved out of the rock protrusion which crested the heavily forested hill, this mystical hideaway was well hidden, and its rumored existence was never common knowledge. Even less well known was its name, the Caverns of Quasqueton ... Vast amounts of rock were removed and tumbled off the rough cliffs into large piles now overgrown with vegetation. A single tower was constructed above ground for lookout purposes, even though there was little to see other than a hilly, forested wilderness for miles around" (pg 6; bolding added for emphasis)

"The Caverns of Quasqueton ... are hewn from a great rock outcropping at the crest of a large wooded hill. Winds buffet the hill continuously, blowing and whistling through the trees, vines, and other vegetation which blanket the prominence on all sides" (pg 7)

"A cave-like opening, somewhat obscured by vegetation, is noticeable at the end of a treacherous pathway which leads up to the craggy outcropping of black rock. By sweeping aside some of the vines and branches the opening becomes easily accessible to human-size explorers. The opening leads straight into the rock formation, with a 10'
wide corridor leading the way to a large wooden door ... " (pg 8)

-from B1 In Search of the Unknown, 1978 by Mike Carr     

Notes: The image above is a great visual aid for players from the back cover of the original monochrome version of B1, which was included in some versions of the Basic Set. When the module was revised in 1981 for the Moldvay Basic set and reissued with a new brown-colored cover, this image was unfortunately not included.

(I'm starting this quote of the week feature to highlight some of my favorite passages from Holmes Basic & the writings of J. Eric Holmes)  

Update: This image possibly shows the pathway/entrance to Quasqueton. See this post for an annotated image. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Holmes Blog Profile: Bogeyman Tone

     Bogeyman Tone is a relatively new blog, started this past Nov by a brand new (!) D&D player, and subtitled "Getting used to the Holmes way of things…"

     Early on, he posted:

     "As a newbie to the the whole D&D lark I’ve made the decision to use Holmes as my introductory rule-set. I’m attracted to the simplicity of early edition D&D and Holmes obviously has that in spades. My understanding of the Holmes edition is that it can also be dangerous and unforgiving, another appealing characteristic as I grew up with the gothic grimdark of the Warhammer world and it’s an atmosphere that I’m quite attached to.  Additionally, Holmes is open-ended enough to allow all sorts of additions, bolt-ons and amendments to the rules, and I think I may eventually want to tinker."

     The author then began developing a very interesting Hollow Earth campaign using the Holmes rules with inspiration from Pellucidar and other Inner Earth tales, detailed in a series of posts. For example:

     "PCs are generated as per Holmes, except that of course they will be stone-age, primitive versions of Clerics, Fighting Men, Magic Users and Thieves (and obviously equipped as such, with an X% chance of possessing some arcane technological device of the Titans). Demi-Human classes remain the same except for the following:
  • Halflings are primitive pygmies
  • Dwarves are albino troglodyte types
  • Elves are remnants of the Atlans
     Alternatively, PCs may elect to be a Stranger in a Strange Land. The premise:
  • All hollow-earth stories involve a visitor: someone who, either by accident or design finds themselves thrust into the earth’s core and subject to frequent and harrowing adventure. Thus, the Stranger."
     In conjunction with this, he also started some interesting threads over on the Holmes forum on the OD&D Discussion boards, such as Suggestion for Gods in a Holmes Campaign.

     However, most recently he posted that his players want something more traditional, so he's going to start them with the Zenopus Sample Dungeon from the Holmes rulebook.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Holmes Basic Community on G+

I've just created a Holmes Basic Community of G+. I'll start posting links to my blog posts over there if you want to follow them there (rather than here), plus other random comments and links to other blogs that may not warrant a full post here.

It's private, so you'll have to request to join or see the content, although the community is publicly searchable on Google+ (i.e., anyone can search and find it, and then request to join). 

Below is a link if you wish to join. You'll need to be a Google Plus member first.

Holmes Basic G+ Community (link no longer active as of 2019 when G+ was shut down)

[This community lasted until April 2019, when G+ was shut down. Over 2,000 posts to the community are preserved as a blog title the Holmes Basic Community Archive]

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Skullcap Dungeon

Illustration of the entrance to Skullcap dungeon by Keith Parkinson

     I'd never looked at DL3 Dragons of Hope (1984, Tracy Hickman) before yesterday, so I didn't know that it contained a dungeon similar to the "Skull Mountain" dungeon in the Basic rulebook. Over on the Dungeon Fantastic blog, Peter has been reviewing the Dragonlance series, looking for the good bits that could be used elsewhere ("Salvaging Dragonlance"). It's interesting to me since I only had DL1 back-in-the-day, and never read any of the other modules. I knew from DL1 that some of them at least had cool maps. So after Peter mentioned the Skullcap dungeon I dug up a copy and took a look, and sure enough Skullcap is another one with an interesting map. Skullcap was once the mountain fortress of the wizard Fistandantilus, but "was blasted until only the shattered and glazed form a giant skull remain". Below is the cross-section map of Skullcap from the front inside cover of the module; cartography is credited to Dennis Kauth and Elizabeth Riedel. Much like the Holmes cross-section, the dungeon can be entered through the eyes (Area 47) or the mouth (Area 48) of the skull. As in Skull Mountain, the mouth of Skullcap leads directly to Level One of the dungeon, which is given a separate map. Then there's the large crater at the top (Area 49), which descends through a vertical shaft to the bottom of the dungeon, somewhat like "The Pit" in the Holmes cross-section. I won't give away what's found in the bottom of Skullcap, but it's certainly not for Basic level characters!

Addendum: So the question is, was Tracy Hickman influenced by the Holmes Basic cross-section, or is this coincidence?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

No Spell Scrolls for Clerics

Zereth casting a spell from a clerical scroll in "The Sorcerer's Jewel".
Art by Jim Roslof. Scan from Grognardia

One aspect of Holmes Basic that often jumps out at new readers (since it is not found in other editions of D&D) is the scrolls on the Treasure Tables that have Potion, Ring or Wand spells. Another feature that is much less frequently noted is that only magic-users can use scrolls with clerical spells!

True, clerical scrolls are not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the first printing of the Holmes Basic rulebook (later printings do add a note that second level cleric spells are included for "non-player characters and scrolls"). But the Scrolls table indicates that scrolls can contain "any of the spells previously described, under Spells or described here as potions, rings, wands, etc" (pg 36). Here "spells" must include both magic-user and cleric spells, given that scrolls can also contain non-standard spells from magic-items. The section in text describing Scrolls then goes on to state that "The spells written on scrolls can be read only by magic-users, except for the protection spells" (pg 37). Thus, together Holmes suggests that scrolls with clerical spells exist but can only be used by magic-users.

It's easy to see where this interpretation came from in the OD&D rules. Monsters & Treasure, page 24, gives a 25% chance of a scroll having clerical spells, with no further indication on who can read these scrolls, but page 32 says, "All Scrolls are spells for Magic-Users, and regardless of the level of the spell they can be used by any Magic-User capable of reading them". Furthermore, the description of Read Magic in Vol I indicates that it is the "means by which incantations on an item or scroll are read. Without such a spell or similar device magic is unintelligible to even a Magic-User" (Holmes also retains this sentence in the description of this spell in the Basic rulebook). Magic-users are also the only ones indicated as being able to make magic items in both OD&D and Holmes. I imagine this is just an oversight in the OD&D rules, with the statement about cleric scrolls in Vol 2 being added without proper clarification in the other sections of the rules. However, Holmes presumably found these statements, and the lack of a similar Read Magic spell for clerics, to suggest that clerics could not read scrolls with magic spells, and clarified the text in the Basic book accordingly.

There's also evidence that he allowed magic-users to cast cleric scrolls in own personal campaign. In his short story the "Sorceror's Jewel" (Dragon #46), Zereth the Elf casts a number of spells from scrolls provided by the "Patriarch of the Church of Saint Mellon", including one that is a "healing spell".  

There are some implications for a Holmesian campaign. How would these scrolls be made? Perhaps by a magic-user (for magic item creation) and cleric (for the spell) working together. 

Furthermore, having magic-users able to cast cleric spells from scrolls suggests that there is not much of a difference between the two types of magic. Magic-users should be able to research spells that duplicate any of the cleric spells. Perhaps clerics are just a specialized type of magic-user, one that uses rituals & mnemonics instead of spell books to refresh their spell memory each morning. Spells are only "divinely" given in that the deity provides faith to the character.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Portown by Paleologos

Portown by Paleologos. Click for a larger view
If you haven't seen it before, the map above is a fantastic rendering of Portown designed by Holmes aficionado Paleologos and posted on Dragonsfoot in 2010. It's based on the "medieval Aegean port-town of La Canea" (modern Chania in Crete), which adds versimilitude. The linked post also provides a sentence or two about each of the fifteen locations listed on the key.

Paleologos has carefully constructed the map according Holmes' few details about Portown. Zenopus' tower (Area 4, now ruins) was "on the low hills overlooking Portown", "close to the sea cliff west of town", and next to the graveyard (Area 2, also on a hill as with some real world graveyards). There's a separate cemetery placed according to the mention in the ghouls' room in the dungeon (Room P; "a short dirt tunnel which ends blindly under the cemetery"). The thaumaturgist's tower (Area 5) is also properly placed with respect to the entrance to the dungeon, but also near the city streets where the ape in his tower can potentially escape to. The sea cave (Room M) in the dungeon is connected to the sea by a 500' tunnel. In town proper, where there are less clues with respect to areas and location, there's the Green Dragon Inn (Area 12), and Warriors For Hire (Area 13) from the Maze of Peril. Area 12 also includes private residences such as the home of Lemunda's father, "a powerful lord in the city".

Monday, November 26, 2012

Maze of Peril discounted at NK

Just a quick note to say that Noble Knight is having a sale, so Maze of Peril is currently 10% off ($8.96 + shipping). The sale is ending soon (I meant to post this earlier). Nine Six copies are currently in stock.

Here's the direct link.

If you are unfamiliar, this is J. Eric Holmes' 1986 D&D novel featuring Boinger the Halfling & Zereth the Elf, the same characters from his three short stories in Dragon magazine.

It's still cheaper if you order from the original publisher, but you will have to send check or money order unlike NK which takes cards & PayPal. See my previous post for more info on ordering from the publisher.

Friday, November 23, 2012

JEH Easter Egg

Detail of Sample Dungeon map, annotated

Here's another possible Holmes Basic Easter Egg that I can't believe I never noticed before: the room letters  in the Sample Dungeon vertically spell out the initials of John Eric Holmes. This could be coincidental, but Room J is quite a ways out of sequence with Rooms H, I, K, L and M, making it possible that it was deliberately placed above the Room E (empty room) and H. Below is the full map, annotated:

Click for larger view

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Delving Deeper demo game ends with dragonslaying

     Tonight we finished the first Delving Deeper demo game, which was started back in August by the co-author Simon Bull as a play-by-post on the OD&D Discussion boards. Most of the party (including several replacements) perished, but three magic-users and an elven fighter survived and killed a young black dragon ([AC 4, HD 3+2, 12 hp]). My character, Mot the Magicien, was amazingly among the characters that survived. His luck with the dice (rolled by the DM) was extraordinary. During an early battle with kobolds he was attacked six times, each of which missed, and he made two attacks, each of which hit and killed a kobold, and he charmed another. During the finale, he hit the dragon with flaming oil and a thrown dagger, and made his saving throw against dragon breath, taking 2 hit points of damage (out of his total of 4). 

The game ended with a twist by the DM:

"Tirandir, Ædelwynn, and Mot can hardly believe their eyes as they eagerly talk of how they will divide the treasure up.

"Very well done indeed, chapsss," says Malaveque [a chaotic elven M-U], who was ever lurking in the shadows behind them.

The three heroes hear Malaveque's scroll unravel, and turn about just in time to see him uttering it while the dangerous Lizardman guards him.

Malaveque's sleep spell goes off and the players tumble immediately into a slumber to dream of fabulous treasures unjustly stolen from them!"

Tirandir, Ædelwynn, and Mot awake some hours later as the first light of dawn falls into the lair from the swampy gap in the ceiling above. All are cold, stiff and grumpy from sleeping awkwardly on the damp, broken cobbles overnight.

They immediately note that Malaveque and the Lizardman are gone. Along with the pick of the treasure!

All that remains to them is 2,000 cp, 23,000 sp, and 6,000 gp. No doubt the treacherous elf couldn't carry any more!

But at least you have your lives, and that is something to be thankful for!"

The remaining coin, however, is enough for each of us survivors to reach 2nd level.
And OOC we learned that the treacherous Malaveque was a later victim of his own greed:

"For your interest, the magic-user scroll from the dragon's hoard was cursed, and the cunning Malaveque was magically transported to an alternate (and rather unfriendly, we suppose!) plane of existence when he opened it."

By seeming coincidence, layout of the illustrated Delving Deeper booklets was also finished today, with links to download the pdfs being sent out to those who ordered the boxed set. 
For anyone interested, the unillustrated Delving Deeper rules can be downloaded for free from RPGnow or DriveThruRPG as a bundle of three pdfs.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Kingsport as Portown

Map of Marblehead, MA, inspiration for Lovecraft's Kingsport

Previously, in "How Zenopus Met His Doom", I discussed similarities between Holmes' Sample Dungeon & Lovecraft's short story, The Festival, set in the fictional New England town of Kingsport. The geography of the Sample Dungeon and Portown also fits well with Marblehead, the real-world town on which Kingsport is based. 

Holmes describes his wizard's tower as "on the low hills overlooking Portown" and "close to the sea cliff west of the town, and appropriately, next door to the graveyard". Marblehead has several cemeteries in the hills overlooking the town, including near the sea to the west of the town (which is on a peninsula so the sea is to both the east and west of it). I have no idea whether Holmes himself was aware of this, but he was familiar with books about the Cthulhu Mythos, as mentioned in his letter in The Dragon #16. Regardless, the similarities make the geography of Marblehead a useful model for a map of Portown.

In addition to The Festival, Lovecraft's fictional Kingsport is also the setting for two other Lovecraft stories: The Terrible Old Man (1921) and The Strange High House in the Mist (1931). Lovecraft scholar Joshi notes that this later tale is also inspired by two other New England locations (Magnolia; Mother Ann) having high sea cliffs, as well as "a passage in Dunsany's Chronicles of Rodriguez (1922) about the home of a wizard on the top of a crag" (Note by S. T. Joshi in The Dreams in the Witch House, pg 431).  An excellent graphic adaptation of Strange High House can be read here.

Update - An 1872 map of Marblehead, showing the Waterside Cemetery to the west:

Marblehead, MA, 1872 map

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lizard Rider by Moebius

A few weeks ago a reader named Ivan sent me the above image by the late artist Moebius (Jean Giraud), which is from his art book Chaos (Marvel, 1991). Ivan noted that the composition is very similar to the artwork by David C. Sutherland III from page 3 of the Basic rulebook, which you can see above in the banner for my blog. Each shows a rider with a pole arm and headgear, seated on the back of a giant lizard with spikes running down its back, which is perched on the edge of a rocky cliff. The tail of the lizard is even curving in the same direction in each. Ivan also pointed out that the white flyer is from Moebius' series Arzach. I don't know of any particular connection between Moebius and Dungeons & Dragons, although he was working on Metal Hurant, the original French version of Heavy Metal magazine, during the years the Holmes rulebook was in print (1977-1981). 

It occurred to me that Sutherland's image was possibly inspired by the Dewback in Star Wars, which came out in late May 1977, just a few months before Holmes Basic in July. The dewback barely appears in Star Wars, but was eventually well-known among kids due to being a Kenner toy. However, a partial shot was featured in some publicity material accompanying the film. Note the right-handed pole being held by the stormtrooper:

 This image has been stuck in my mind for years due the cartoon version featured on the bottom of the Star Wars lunchbox I owned when I was in elementary school:
1977 publicity still for Star Wars showing dewback with "sandtrooper"

Cartoon version of the same image, from the bottom of the Star Wars lunchbox. Image from Jeff's Old Toys blog.

Friday, November 9, 2012

New "basic level" AD&D adventure from WOTC

Illustration by David S. LaForce (DSL) from one of the the original A-series modules

Next summer, Wizards is releasing a hardback compilation of the A-series of modules and as a bonus it will include a new introductory module, A0 Danger at Darkshelf Quarry.

"Added to the collection is an all-new fifth adventure -- A0: Danger at Darkshelf Quarry -- that you can use to kick off an AD&D campaign that pits a group of adventurers against the evil Slave Lords! Module A0, designed for levels 1-3, sets the stage for events that unfold throughout the remainder of the "A" series.""

According to the product page, the compilation will include the original modules (rather than the later A1-4 supermodule), and is "complete with original black-and-white interior art" (like the picture shown above). If we are lucky, perhaps A0 will feature some new work by the original artists such as DSL, Dee or Otus.

A1 is for levels 4-7, and the sequels are for increasing levels up to 11 (see this chart at the Acaeum), so this is a smart marketing move on the part of WOTC, as it allows them to sell a single AD&D product for levels 1-10+. And probably with the hope that everyone that bought the reprints from this year will buy the new compilation.

As far as I know, this is the first "new" 1E AD&D module to be released by TSR/WOTC since L3 Deep Dwarven Delve in 1999 as part of the Silver Anniversary Set. Hopefully it is the first of more! It feels as if AD&D is back in print and being supported. 

Thanks to Echohawk at the Acaeum for bringing this to my attention. He also mentioned that the Unearthed Arcana reprint will include the errata from Dragon Magazine, giving a second reason to buy it (the original having notoriously poor binding).

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

More Holmes Basic T-Shirts

The Wizards merchandise website now has more old school t-shirt designs, including this one called "Red Dragon Cover" with the Holmes Box cover, minus the logo and product number. (Here's my previous post on the first shirt design). Confusingly, the website is still calling this a pre-sale, and the linked FAQ says that it ended 11/5, but the shopping cart still seems to be functioning. I haven't placed an order, but the price of each shirt is still $25, plus $1.25 tax, and the shipping calculator is giving me a quote of $9.45, for a total of almost $36 for a single shirt. It appears that additional shirts can be added to an order for about $2.

Another design shows a composite of monsters by Dave Trampier, incluiding his warrior vs minotaur (orc?) from the Holmes rulebook:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How Zenopus Met His Doom

Tulzscha the Green Flame. Source.

Earlier this year, in The Shadow over Portown, I speculated a connection between the wizard Zenopus and the Deep Ones of Lovecraft's Shadow over Innsmouth. Today, on Halloween, I'll discuss another Lovecraft story that possibly influenced Holmes' Sample Dungeon: The Festival (1925). (Warning: this post contains some spoilers if you haven't read the story. It's short if you want to read it first).

The intro of the Sample Dungeon sets up a mystery: what happened to Zenopus? We learn that on a cold night in winter his tower was "suddenly engulfed in green flame", but despite this several servants escaped and the tower stood until toppled by the authorities. The servants report that Zenopus was destroyed by some powerful force he unleashed in the depths of his tower. The end of the adventure refers to the "(undiscovered) deeper levels where Zenopus met his doom".

The "green flame" stands out as an interesting detail. It could be offhand, but knowing Holmes' fondess for Lovecraft, I searched and found that a monstrous green flame features prominently in The Festival. I hadn't read this before, but it was in one my Lovecraft compilations, and while reading it I noticed the setting reminded me a lot of Portown.

The story begins with the narrator traveling on a cold winter night (Yule) to the ancient sea town of Kingsport (fictional, but based on Marblehead, MA). Eventually his kin lead him to a hilltop church in the town, where he descends into underground passages: 

"I knew we must have passed down through the mountain and beneath the earth of Kingsport itself, and I shivered that a town should be so aged and maggoty with subterraneous evil". 

In a subterranean chamber, he witnesses his kin worshiping a pillar of green flame:

"...suddenly there spread out before me the boundless vista of an inner world - a vast fungous shore litten by a belching column of a sickish greenish flame and washed by a side oily river that flowed from abysses frightful and unsuspected to join the blackest gulfs of immemorial ocean" and "...what frightened me most was that flaming column; spouting volcanically from depths profound and inconceivable, casting no shadows as healthy flame should, and coating the nitrous stone with a nasty, venomous verdigris. For in all that seething combustion no warmth lay, but only the clamminess of death and corruption."

Lovecraft never names the green flame, but the Call of Cthulhu RPG calls it Tulzscha.

After witnessing further horrors, the narrator leaps into the underground river and is swept out into the harbor, to be rescued later. This is reminiscent of the river in the Sample Dungeon, which can sweep characters from one room to another and connects to the sea.

The famous final paragraph of The Festival even mentions dead wizards in a quote from the Necronomicon: 

"The nethermost caverns...are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl." 

So The Festival and the Sample Dungeon share:

     -a seaport town on a cold, wintry night
     -a structure on a hill overlooking the town, with labyrinthine tunnels beneath
     -a monstrous green flame spouting from the depths
     -an underground river that connects to the sea
     -references to dead wizards 

These could merely be coincidence, but the shared detail of the green flame is certainly intriguing, and using the Festival as inspiration, we might speculate that Zenopus made contact with the green flame while excavating his cellars, but on that cold winter's night it claimed him and emanated up through his tower. But the green flame is cold and did not destroy his body, which remains in the depths and instructs the worms...

Happy All Hallow's Eve!

See also other posts on Holmes & Lovecraft:
The Underworld of Holmes
The Shadow over Portown
Dr. Holmes and the Cthulhu Mythos in Deities & Demigods
Dr. Holmes and the Cthulhu Mythos, part II
Dr. Holmes and the Cthulhu Mythos, part III
Kingsport as Portown

Monday, October 29, 2012

Influences on Holmes Basic Initiative

In a Knights & Knaves Alehouse thread, Stonegiant wrote:

"It is also quite easy to see where [the Eldritch Wizardry alternate initiative] system [for OD&D] gave birth to the initiative system in the Holmes' Edition"

In response I wrote:

Holmes was certainly aware of this system, but determining sources for his initiative system is difficult. OD&D lacks initiative except for a statement that Dex determines "speed with actions such as firing first, getting off a spell", and Holmes includes a revised version of this that adds "strike the first blow". But the OD&D statement could be interpreted as either using Dex scores directly, or just a Dex initiative modifier (which is what Gygax actually suggests in the FAQ in Strategic Review). The Warlock Supplement (1975), which Holmes used extensively when he started playing, seems to be the first to explicitly suggest comparing Dex scores for order of spell casting. Eldritch Wizardry (1976) uses adjusted dexterity but only for actions other than melee or movement. Metamorphosis Alpha (1976) uses Dex scores to determine order of all actions in combat (missile or melee). I think Holmes was aware of all of these and synthesized them into his own form. The Holmes rulebook doesn't go strictly by Dex each round, instead using Dex separately in each "phase" of combat, using the same order of phases as Warlock (Spell, Missile, Melee).

See also:
The Influence of Warlock on Holmes Basic Combat, Part I

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shifting Orcish Alignments

A brief history of Orcish Alignments I just posted in response to the query, 
"Shouldn't orcs be chaotic evil?":

"They were Chaotic Evil before they were Lawful Evil.

In the beginning (OD&D, 1974), when there were only three alignments, they were Neutral or Chaotic. This lasted for three years, until Holmes Basic (mid-1977), where they are Chaotic Evil. The Holmes Basic set uses the then-new five-point alignment system, and Holmes the editor may have just appended an "evil" on to the Chaotic from OD&D. By later that year (Monster Manual, Dec 1977), Gygax had changed them to Lawful Evil, possibly because they are tribal and will follow a strong leader, as mentioned above."

See also: Neutral Orcs in OD&D

Update: In the DF thread, Matthew looked up the alignment table from Strategic Review #6 (1976), and Orcs are listed as Chaotic Evil. I'd guess that Holmes went by this table, because other monsters in the Blue Book seem to follow this table. For example, monsters that were Chaotic in OD&D such as Goblins, Minotaur and Spectres are listed as Lawful Evil on both the SR table and in Holmes.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Delving Deeper pdfs now available for free download

Simon Bull (aka waysoftheearth) has just announced on the OD&D Discussion forum that the free pdfs of Delving Deeper, a new OD&D clone, are now available for download from RPGnow. They are unillustrated except for the fantastic covers by Mark Allen. There are three volumes (see below). As I mentioned previously, I helped out (with others) with the proofreading of these volumes.

Here are the blurbs from RPGnow:
What is the Delving Deeper RPG?
Delving Deeper is an emulation of the original fantasy role-playing game.
Meticulously forged over two long years of development, Delving Deeper invites you to recreate the original role-playing experience as it was in its earliest days...

Volume I: The Adventurer's Handbook: Be an indomitable fighter and carry a bright sword and steely armor into battle. Be an enigmatic magic-user and bend the very laws of reality to your will. Be a righteous cleric and deliver judgement to the blasphemers. The choice is yours — who will you be?  Herein are guidelines for creating and running a character in the medieval-fantasy world of Delving Deeper.

Volume II: The Referee's Guide: Yours is the highest calling. While players run individual characters, you run the rest of the world! You design the dungeons, you build the towns and cites, you sow the plots and schemes of squabbling goblins and feuding Kings across the entire world. Herein are guidelines for designing, exploring, and running a living medieval-fantasy world for Delving Deeper. 
Volume III: The Monster & Treasure Reference: What foul monster lurks beneath this bridge or beyond that door? What fabulous treasure does this abomination or that horror guard?Herein are the answers to these questions and many more. This essential reference is brimming with inspiration for the Delving Deeper referee, offering challenges and rewards for first-time adventures and for hardened stalwarts alike.


Holmentzer Basic blog series

Over on the DON'T LET IT KILL YOU blog, the author is writing a series on using the Holmes rulebook together with the Mentzer DM's book. Here are the entries so far:

Holmentzer Basic
Holmentzer Monsters: Intro
Holmentzer Monsters: A-D

Starting with the third entry, he's going through the monster lists in Holmes and Mentzer and comprehensively comparing them (and vis-a-vis Moldvay Basic as well). It's interesting to note the differences in iconic monsters (such as the Carrion Crawler) between editions, and see where the text of the Holmes edition remained essentially the same.