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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, February 16, 2019

Holmes Basic Testimonials

2019 update: Today is the 89th anniversary of J. Eric Holmes birthday! Please feel free to add your own testimonial to the comments below.

If you missed it major new addition to the Zenopus Archives site this past year was the addition of a J. Eric Holmes Photo Gallery.

2018 update: This year we celebrate Holmes' birthday in the middle of the 40th anniversary year of Holmes Basic (July 2017-July 2018). As a tribute, I'll be running two session of Return to the Tower of Zenopus at Gary Con in a few weeks (I had to cancel these).

There will also be a "Ruined Tower of Zenopus - 40 years later" event, by a different author, at the North Texas RPGCon this year in June! (this game was played with Chris Holmes in attendance)

And Beyond the Door to Monster Mountain - a Holmes Basic mini-scenario available here - will be run for the second year in a row at Dundracon this coming Sunday.

If you missed it, last July Chris Holmes was on the 3rd season of the short podcast Tell Me About Your Character, talking about his third favorite D&D character (after Boinger and Zereth) in the games he played with his father in the '70s. (this podcast seems to be no longer available)

And since Holmes' birthday last year we've seen a lot of great releases:

Tales of Peril, a gorgeous hardcover compilation of Holmes' stories of the adventures of Boinger the Halfling and Zereth the Elf, debuted at North Texas last June and shortly thereafter was available for direct order from Black Blade Publishing. I've been slowly blogging my way through the book in a series called the Tales of Peril Book Club, although at the moment it is on hiatus while I prep my con scenario.

The Blueholme Journeymanne rulebook was released by Dreamscape Design, and expands the Blueholme Prentice rules up to 20 levels. It is chock-full of evocative art thanks to all of the Holmes fans out there who funded the Kickstarter for the art.

Jon of Appendix M released two issues of his zine Fantastic! Exciting! Imaginative!, which is inspired by the art found in the Holmes Basic rulebook. The content is by various members of the Holmes Basic groups on G+ and Facebook, including one article in each by myself. Join up if you want to contribute to the next one! These can be found at DTRPG: Vol 1 (free pdf) and Vol 2 ($4 pdf).

On Free RPG day I released Holmes Ref 2.0 an expanded compilation of my reference sheets for Holmes Basic referees. I hope to release a further expansion this year.

Each year I bring this post forward and invite you to add new testimonials. I've moved my posts from previous years to an archive page on the Holmes Basic site, but everyone else's comments from previous years remain below. Feel free to comment again if you've commented before.

See also:
Testimonal Thread at OD&D Discussion
Testimonial Thread at Knights & Knaves Alehouse  
Testimonial Thread at Dragonsfoot
Testimonial Thread at the Acaeum

(DTRPG links include this blog's affiliate # which gives us a 5% credit for each purchase)


  1. I have never seen a Holmes basic set. There were some guys in the grade ahead of me that claimed to have a "blue book" D&D... but I never quite believed that it really existed. The fact that all mention of it was expurgated from mid-eighties gaming material lends it an air of forbidden knowledge. That TSR was going through the process of figuring out how to launch new Dungeon Masters, first with some extras, then with B1, then with B2 makes it a fascinating piece of gaming history. Considering how long the boxed role playing game was *the* standard... being the first one is pretty significant. But mostly... people that were cooler than me played this in a time when there were fewer distractions to draw regular people away from the game table. I'm basically jealous of the generation that had this as their starting game.

  2. The Blue Box was what opened up the vista of RPGs to me.

    The cover alone is what sold me! I purchased it with allowance money that I had saved and when I got home, I opened the box. I was simply amazed at this untrodden land and tried to get the lay of the land. At first, I didn't quite understand it well. Placing a red dragon in my first dungeon was evidence of that - It was Dungeons & Dragons, right? Shortly, I got the hang of the rules and I was happily DMing a coherent game.

    The Holmes set holds fond memories for me.

  3. Your last paragraph says it all!
    I'd also stare at that iconic box cover for hours at the hobby shop that sold it just waiting to get a copy on this mystery called a "role playing game", just waiting to open this box up and see what mysteries were inside. I wasn't disappointed! The odd plastic dice, the B1 module (a mystery in and of itself) was a perfect storm of whatever it was a boy of 10 was looking for. The cover still sends me back.

  4. I was a latecomer to the Holmes edition, but ran the sample dungeon from it successfully in my South Province campaign 15 years ago and, 2 years ago, ran a too-short 8 session campaign using the Holmes ed. rules that I quite enjoyed, and barely required any house rulings for.

  5. January 20th, 1977 I bought my first copy of Holmes Basic at the local dept. store "Rinks". I think it was about 7 or 8 dollars. I had received War of the Ring from SPI for Christmas, not sure how I'd heard about Dungeons and Dragons. I think I had been reading about Melee or Wizard and came across information about the game. So I got it for my birthday!

  6. I saw the advertisement for this boxed set every month in "Boy's Life", the magazine I got as a cub scout and wanted it so much, it just looked so cool. When I finally found it and saved my allowance up to get it, it changed my world. Dr. Holmes, every bit as much as E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, stands in the pantheon of gaming legends.

  7. Holmes is my favorite ruleset because:

    It's writing is enthusiastic. It didn't talk down to me as a kid but rather stretcheed my 10 year old brain. It unashamedly references Tolkien in several places. It's art is evocative and reminded me of well-loved books. It hits the sweet spot with regard to monsters: it included just the right ones in its short space. Finally, its sample adventure, written by the good Doctor himself, is perfect.

  8. Holmes Basic was the first ruleset I used. We'd been playing some weird version a friend had made up that felt like an old text adventure game, but when another friend bought theHolmes Basic was the first ruleset I used. We'd been playing some weird version a friend had made up that felt like an old text adventure game, but when another friend bought the Basic Set, I realized how much more rich and varied an experience the game could be.

    Holmes's rulebook was also the perfect intersection between rules codification and open-endedness. Even though I soon 'graduated' to AD&D, I realized a short time ago that I've always been playing Holmes Basic, with extra rules that I incorporated from whatever sources I liked. Basic Set, I realized how much more rich and varied an experience the game could be.

    Holmes's rulebook was also the perfect intersection between rules codification and open-endedness. Even though I soon 'graduated' to AD&D, I realized a short time ago that I've always been playing Holmes Basic, with extra rules that I incorporated from whatever sources I liked.

  9. Just like Thomas, I was captured by the enthusiastic writing.

    For me, this wasn't back in the day though. The Bluebook predates me by half a decade. I didn't get into earlier editions of D&D until about 2 years ago, and when I did it was with the Bluebook facsimile from the TSR Silver Anniversary set.

    There's so much love for the game in Holmes' text that I coulnd't help being inspired. Although I use Labyrinth Lord for rules, I'd like to think that I play in the spirit of Holmes.

    1. I blogged about my love for the Holmes set here:

      It was my introduction to D&D and it is the one rules set that captures the game's sense of wonder. Still a fan.

  10. Blue Book was what I started on. It was a little old when I got my hands on it (The BECMI sets were just being published). But it was what my friends played and I was loaned the book and fell in love. This was the best edition of the game; because of nostalgia, but also for brevity and concision. Thank you Dr. Holmes.

  11. As a Moldvay kid, my recent love of HD&D is because of all the fascinating little nuggets sprinkled throughout the blue book. My current favorite is the Dexterity Initiative order rule. Happy Birthday, Doc.

  12. The Holmes set was my first exposure to any kind of pre-Type III D&D. I found it at a thrift store and thought it was some kind of old novelty jigsaw puzzle or something and instead opened it to find a version of D&D entirely unlike anything I'd ever seen before (I was actually always more interested in the TSR catalogue-leaflet than the actual game as a kid, though. Divine Right and Dungeon and Gamma World all seemed fantastically mysterious and exciting when I was 11)

  13. JEH's Basic set was my introduction to D&D, and, coincidentally, Dragon 58 was the first issue I bought. It included "In the Bag", which was Eric's last piece (fiction or otherwise) published in the magazine.

    To JEH: may he repose in comfort and ease with his friends and inspirations ERB, HPL, CAS, REH, EGG, and others also populating the three-letter-acronym heaven :D


  14. i got into Holmes backwards-style...was mainly running Moldvay, but got interested in OD&D & finally picked up the Blue Book which actually helped explain OD&D into AD&D to me... As I had always prefered taking on some AD&D elements to Moldvay, Holmes appeared as the perfect balance, though retaining a bit more OD&D, which I have come to prefer...

  15. When I was but a wee lad my parents would give me some money and take me shopping for my birthday. i'd been playing Avalon Hill wargames for a couple years and had the barest of exposure to napoleonics and microarmor. I had heard the oldtimers grumbling about D&D but had no idea what they were talking about.
    On a birthday shopping trip to a hobby shop that sold wargaming products there were allthese wonderful lead fantasy miniatures, they were wonderful, after digging through them for a while I noticed the basic dungeons and dragons game set (holmes version of course). I was delighted there was a game I could use some of these wonderful fantasy miniatures with. I bought a few packs of goblins and dwarves, just enough for a skirmish and the D&D set.
    When I got home and started to read the D&D rules for the first time I was totally amazed by what I had discovered. It wasn't a wargame it was something so much more. I've been plating for over 30 years and that basic set and a few lead miniatures are the cause.

  16. Here's a comment by Jesse of QUESTONIA: D&D from the Art School Set that disappeared after he posted it last night:

    The Holmes set was my first exposure to any kind of pre-Type III D&D. I found it at a thrift store and thought it was some kind of old novelty jigsaw puzzle or something and instead opened it to find a version of D&D entirely unlike anything I'd ever seen before (I was actually always more interested in the TSR catalogue-leaflet than the actual game as a kid, though. Divine Right and Dungeon and Gamma World all seemed fantastically mysterious and exciting when I was 11)

  17. I was introduced to D&D through a friend's attempt to get a Mentzer Red Box game going, but due to 'rules issues', I didn't actually start playing RPGs until I discovered Fighting Fantasy. Though my 'real' campaign didn't begin until I was inspired by the atmosphere of NES games like Ultima: Exodus, CastleVania I and II(Simon's Quest especially), and Faxanadu. I created my own rules using D6s from my boardgames and vague memories of Mentzer, and Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks for the 'feel', allowing any races/classes people cared to play. Luckily for me and my players, we had a blast!

    Years later, I tried to get into AD&D and AD&D 2nd Edition, but the games didn't grab me.(In the meantime, I discovered the awesomeness of another Old School classic: Tunnels & Trolls 5.0!) Then I came across and began reading of the history of the game ranging back to OD&D. My interest in the older rules sets was piqued, and I decided to check them out, sans Mentzer.

    I picked up B at my local game store and X at my local Con. Upon reading, I found Moldvay/Cook/Marsh to be excellent, and very playable, with a great vibe, and it didn't seem as 'watered down' as Mentzer. I immediately decided on them as my D&D rules of choice. Soon thereafter, I acquired its clone Labyrinth Lord, and that cemented my decision that B/X would be my 'classic' D&D.

    Then, I saw an auction of the Blue Book on E-bay, and decided to go for it. It wasn't OD&D, but it would be an interesting read, right? After perusing it, I realized it was more than some historical artifact(the supposed 'intro' to AD&D), it was a viable rules set that encouraged tinkering, was very free form with combat, wasn't hung up on 'humanocentrism' or 'balanced' classes, encouraged wild imagination, and was as easy to utilize as B/X. Not only that, but the author, a professor of neurology at that(!), was so enthused about D&D, it was gripping. He *loved* the game, and the attitude became infectious. This 'authorial voice' is seemingly entirely absent today, and is rare in older games, honestly.(With the exception of anything written by Ken St. Andre!) The Blue Book is so engaging, I find myself re-reading it at odd moments and pondering what J. Eric Holmes' games were like in actual play. Not to mention discovering those bits n pieces of Holmes found nowhere else in the D&D family! This was the best $5.00 I've spent since I acquired my T&T 5.0 UK Digest Edition! And that's high praise, trust me! :-)

    Since then, I've looked over the full Mentzer sets, the Denning/Brown revision of BECMI, and *its* Stuart edit, the White Box, and the misnamed D&D Adventure Game(Actually a 'Fast-play' version of AD&D 2nd Edition!), and found most of them serviceable, and OD&D in particular to be interesting, but none of these can hold a candle to Holmes, imo!

    Sadly, I've yet to play a Holmes campaign. I fully believe if my nascent group had started with these rules(or at least Moldvay's), I would've been an active D&D'er! But, honestly, it hardly matters, as the inspiration the Blue Book provides to me and any future readers will more than make up for my past 'loss'.

    I'm tracking down hard copies of Holmes' works on RPGs slowly, and hopefully soon I'll have his entire Fantasy Adventure corpus. His works should *really* be in print!

    Happy belated Birthday, Surgeon of the Underworld! And off to the Blue Book I go once again!

    Great post about an iconic figure in the Game!

  18. Two word answer: Skull Mountain.

    'Nuff said.

  19. More reasons why I love Holmes:

    Skull mountain: someone's got to do a megadungeon based on this map! And the megadungeon must be Holmsean (written like the sample dungeon and taking its thematic and atmospheric cues from the Blue Book).

    The examples of melee: Bruno the Battler was a true hero to me. Now, my six year old son's character is named Bruno the Battler. Mogo the Mighty was pretty cool too.

    The DEX as initiative is a good idea.

    Humor: "The minotaur is a bull-headed man (and all of us who have debated game rules are well acquainted with such)."

    The Introduction: I just re-read it, and it is the best short summary of what the game is all about to be found. Compared to the Moldvay Basic intro, Holmes brims with enthusiasm and is much more informative. Love it!

  20. While White Box OD&D was nearly incomprehensible to the layman, Holmes Basic was reader friendly and encouraged imagination. In hindsight AD&D was not really an improvement over OD&D unless you believe "more is better". For me Holmes D&D hit the "sweet spot" between complexity and accessibility.

    Dr. Holmes, in addition to being a wargamer and RPG pioneer, was also a prominent Edgar Rice Burroughs fan. I have often wonder what a Barsoom RPG written by Holmes would have been like....

    1. A year later and I've just noticed something. Perhaps it's just coincidence but to my eye the MU on the cover of Holmes basic bears some resemblance to Dr. Holmes himself.

  21. I'm a relative newcomer to Holmes, having been raised on Moldvay, Cook and Marsh B/X. I only discovered Holmes late in 2012, and it wasn't love at first sight - initially I couldn't make heads or tails of it. However, with a little help from the Zenopus Archives and the Holmes forum on the OD&D Discussion Boards I soon grew to appreciate the quirky-verging-on-weird nature of Holmes D&D. Hopefully one day I'll be able to say "and the rest is history" ...

    Happy Birthday, Dr. Holmes!

  22. I didn't run Holmes rules, but the Tower of Zenopus example taught me how to be a better dungeon designer in high school.

  23. The Holmes rulebook was the first RPG I ever saw and owned. Looking through its pages while standing in the game shop, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of wonder, magic and excitement. Those feels are still with me 32 years later every time I hold the Holmes rulebook in my hands.

  24. Had a little too much to put into the comments field. But basically, it made me the GM I am today..

  25. Holmes was my first introduction to D&D in late 70's. My cousins and I played every weekend. This version will always be one of my favorites and am glad I get to share it with my daughter now. I believe this is the version to use if you want to introduce someone to the game. Then proceed on to other versions if you choose.

  26. This edition is what started it for me back in 1977. Still one of my all time favorites.

  27. I learned how to play D&D from the Moldvay set, but the original Holmes set was the first RPG item I purchased with my own money. Probably the best 75 cents I've ever spent. I tell the full story in my blog post here:

    In the wake of the OSR movement, I rediscovered Holmes with an appreciation for his uncomplicated rules, good play advice, and encouragement to bend the rules to create interesting characters (oh, those halcyon days when TSR encouraged different play styles, rather than forming a rigid AD&D "tournament" rule set and taking legal action against small press supplement and module publishers). Holmes was the first "California Gamer" to have an strong influence back in Lake Geneva, something that makes this California native proud.

    He was also an entertaining writer. While most fantasy writers spun Tolkien-esque epics about saving the world from evil, Holmes wrote about a couple of guys just trying to earn a gold piece without having to find real work. That falls more in line with the PCs I've played than Frodo ever did. I go into further detail in my blog post here:

  28. For the longest time I didn't know about Holmes (or B/X for that matter) because I grew up with Mentzer's BECMI (the first version of D&D that got translated into German back in the day) and then switched to AD&D. But when I finally got my copy of Holmes a few years ago, I was amazed at how much game he was able to pack into 48 pages. True, there was some weirdness to it as well, some things that just didn't feel right to me, having grown up on a different kind of D&D diet. But man, what a great job condensing the absolute chaos that was OD&D into something a mere mortal could enjoy in a (largely) straightforward way. I wish I was editor enough to succeed in condensing B/X (my personal favorite these days) into 48 pages. So here's to Dr. Holmes and all the wonderful things he achieved with his little booklet!

  29. This was also posted at DF & K&KA. The Holmes Basic is quite possibly the longest D&D project I've attempted since mapping out the 'real' version of the Western half of the Oerik continent on Oerth, so I am sharing this here too! ;)

    Holmes was my first set, and aside from the game itself, the TSR catalogue pamphlet "The Gateway to Adventure!" really opened my eyes to the sort of games that I had dreamed of playing since reading The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings just a few years before.

    Holmes Basic really emphasized that this was a tool kit for designing your own dungeons/monsters and characters, without ever really defining the tools. The amount of imagination and creativity to a 12-13 year old was indeed boundless and not hampered by a set of unifying & codified rules.

    I quickly moved on to AD&D & BX, but Holmes was that jump-start to unleashing my imagination. This was recently reactivated a couple years ago, as I work on a Holmes' Portown setting and set of rules that bridge the gaps between Holmes Basic, 0e and Greyhawk.

    Its too bad that the pressures of modern life have forced me to put D&D on the back-burner, at least until I can get a regular Holmes/0e or even BX D&D gaming fix!

  30. Another reason Holmes is the best: the introduction to the sample dungeon. Ruined tower, dead wizard, graveyard, crypts, dungeons, green glow, dancing goblin figures, paranoid townsfolk, pre-human city under town. Its got that special mix called inspiration. Oh, and the last sentence of the dungeon: Things Better Left Alone.

  31. In the fall of 1978, my friend John brought his copy of the Holmes rules to our high school wargaming club. He loaned them to me to read (and...ahem...photocopy at my mom's office on that greasy, light-sensitive paper the machines used in the late 70s) and on a cool Friday afternoon, ran me and our friend Rob through the sample dungeon in the book. My life was forever changed. And I've still got those photocopies. :)

  32. In the late Spring of 1979 or 80, my friend Ivan Kolodny and I were at a farm in the Catskills (what two city kids were doing on a farm is a story in itself). There was no television, and it always seemed like there was a ton of time on our hands. On our last day there, he showed me a game he had just learned to play and I rolled up a character (a Halfling, I think). I was completely hooked, and nagged my parents constantly to get this new thing Dungeons and Dragons.

    Fast forward to Christmas. I had already bought a set of polyhedral dice and an issue of “Dragon” Magazine (the only things I could afford on my allowance). Finally, I tore open a box-shaped object that rattled (more dice) and saw that I now owned “Basic Dungeons & Dragons.” I read it cover-to-cover, and was soon DM’ing a campaign with my little sister (who was six at the time), playing a Cleric. Over time, various of her stuffed animals joined the campaign as PCs. When two gnolls failed a morale check, I had them join as first level fighters. By this time, Moldvay was on the market, and I occasionally had difficulty figuring out why “my” D&D was different from everyone else’s. I felt, then and now, that the artwork on the Holmes set was far superior.

    I transitioned to “Advanced” D&D as I moved into puberty, and rarely looked back, but I held onto that frayed (and now coverless) copy of Holmes all of these years, and recently used the Tower of Zenopus as a model for a new campaign with a group of adult players. It still holds up as a great, imaginative creation.

  33. The Holmes Box was my introduction to D&D, and to RPGs in general, in fact. It wasn't an 'original' purchase, but rather was found at a garage sale, around 1980 or so. Rulebook, pastel B1 module, and the original dice. I supplemented it with the B/X era Expert set before moving up to AD&D. But I always have a sentimental feeling for Holmes. I'm glad to see it get some exposure and love, out of the shadows of the B/X and BECMI.

    Unfortunately that original box is long lost, with lots of other things from my younger days. But in my rebuilt collection, I now have two. One exactly as I had had, the other with B2 and an uncut page of chits.

  34. I got my start with Holmes Blue Box. I gave my original copy to my little brother when I moved out. Last I knew, he still had it.
    I finally bought a new book last year. The art brings back memories. Some art I always mis-remember, and think it's in one of the AD&D books.
    Last year at Gary Con, I asked Tom Wham to sign my copy. He said, "I didn't do anything in that." I opened to one of his illustrations, then he said, "Well, look at that, I guess I did." before signing it.