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Monday, March 4, 2013

Gygax on Holmes

Gary Gygax passed away five years ago today, as noted elswhere. In tribute, here's a compilation of his quotes about Dr. Holmes and his work on the D&D Basic Set. The time period ranges from 1977 (the year the Basic Set was first published) to the last year of Gary's life. I started this list in 2010 before I started the blog so it hasn't been posted here before. It's been updated a few times, and I am always on the lookout for more quotes if you find any.

December 1977
“Help in the form of ideas, suggestions or even actual work for us as J. Eric Holmes did for us is always welcome." (Dragon #11, pg 6, guest editorial)

May 1978
“Organizational work was in progress when correspondence with J. Eric Holmes, professor, author and incidentally a respected neurologist, disclosed that the Good Doctor was interested in undertaking the first stage of the project — the rewriting and editing necessary to extract a beginner’s set of D&D from the basic set and its supplements. The result of his labors is the “Basic Set” of D&D”. (Dragon #14, May 1978, Sorcerer's Scroll column titled "D&D relationships, the parts and the whole")

June 1979
“D&D has been edited (by the eminent J. Eric Holmes) to provide an introductory package, and the contents of that offering have recently been expanded to include a beginning module.” (Dragon #26, pg 29, Sorcerer’s Scroll column titled “D&D, AD&D and Gaming”)

March 1980
 “As we realized that “Original” D&D (the first three booklets and the supplements) wasn’t anywhere near adequate for the needs of the readership it was attracting, it was decided that a simplified, clarified, introductory piece was needed. Shortly after this was decided, as if by divine inspiration, J. Eric Holmes got in touch with us and actually volunteered his services for just such an undertaking. All of you know the result, of course.”

"By the time the final manuscript from Eric was in our hands, the rough of the Monster Manual was also finished, rough outlines of Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide were typed up, and several portions of both works were likewise in manuscript form. We had two choices to consider with the new Basic Set: As it took players only through three experience levels, they could thereafter be directed to the “original” works, or we could refer them to AD&D ... Faced with a choice between chaos and a clean slate, we opted for the latter.

"Pieces and parts of the various components of AD&D were grafted into the Basic Set rules manuscript so that D&D would be more compatible with the Advanced game. Readers were directed to AD&D throughout the Basic Set ... our production people had no idea then just how well it would all work out in the end, because much of the AD&D system was still on rough notes or in my head at the time. It turned out to be relatively acceptable as an interim measure, too." (Dragon #35, pg 13, From the Sorcerer’s Scroll, “What’s ahead for TSR?")

Summer of 1980
"But we knew initially, probably in early 1975, that we had to do a more clearly done introductory piece. We began looking at it. Dr. Holmes was kind enough to volunteer. I got talking with him and Eric and I arrived at a very happy agreement and he took that over." (Gryphon magazine interview with Rudy Kraft, as quoted on Grognardia

Summer of 1981
In an RPGA interview with Gygax, the interviewer (presumably Frank Mentzer) says "We've been explaining to people how the first set was for hard-core gamers, and then the audience became more widespread. The version written by J. Eric Holmes was a little bit easier, and now the latest version is easily understandable by anyone willing just to spend the time to read it". The reviewer then asks Gygax about the direction of the D&D game, to which he responds without specific reference to Holmes or Basic D&D (Polyhedron #1, pg 5, "RPGA INTERVIEW with E. Gary Gygax").

10/17/02 & 12/5/02 - in threads describing work on a Lejendary Adventure primer
"The plan is to create a sort of short-term intro to the system ... So in that regard it is akin to the J. Eric Holmes approach to the D&D game." (Dragonsfoot forum post)


"What we hope to manage is to have sufficient information across the board to enable play for a group for a limited period of time--enough to determine if the game is "right" for the group. That's what the Basic Set of D&D was for, and that was a good idea that J. Eric Holmes came up with." (Dragonsfoot forum post)

11/14/02 - in response to a question about whether the "cross section of Stone Mountain with a Great Stone Skull" was ever a complete product
"The dungeon was never fleshed out as a product, just shown as an example. Now that you mention it, I wonder why we never did make it into a product, as it would have had a ready and waiting audience." (Enworld forum post archived at greyhawkonline)

11/30/02 - in response to a question regarding "splintering of the market"
"All that said, the splintering of the market occurred when AD&D was published, albeit that was a minor one, and I covered the matter fairly well by including some of the concepts I had devised for AD&D in the revised D&D game edited by J. Eric holmes. Thus the two systems were somewhat compatible adventure material, including monsters, from AD&D could be adapted without much trouble, to the D&D system, and vice versa." (post on the gygax-games yahoo group)

September 2003
"John Eric Holmes—Dr. Holmes—contacted me. His son played, and he was like ‘you know, I’d really like to clean up Dungeons & Dragons. And I said ‘that’s good, but I’m working on an advanced game. Why don’t you pass the stuff through me?’ So as he passed the stuff through me, he organized the basic rules, and then I passed on the stuff that I was working into Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, so there would be a smoother transition between the two, in case somebody wanted to switch from one to the other."
(interview with Computer Games Magazine, as reprinted here)

"When I was immersed in writing AD&D in 1976, J. Eric Holmes approached us about doing a revision of the D&D set of three booklets and supplements. I was delighted to have him do that, and when he turned in his initial draft, that became the Basic Set for D&D, I was far enough along with AD&D rules to add a good bit from the latter to the D&D game so as to keep them as compatible as possible in mechanics." (Enworld forum post archived at greyhawkonline)

"J. Eric Holmes pushed hard for a revision, the Basic Set rules, so I agreed. When I got his ms. it seemed a good plan to add in a few of the new rules I was in process of writing for AD&D." (Enworld forum post archived at greyhawkonline)

2/3/05 - in response to a query regarding the mention of a witch class in the Basic rulebook
"That mention slipped by me, and all I can assume was that either Eric was planning to force such a class upon me, or else someone editing the work thought it a good joke to play. i never had a PC class of that sort in mind for the game." (Enworld forum post archived at greyhawkonline)

"Thoughts and practices at TSR? Heh! As it happened, I reviewed Eric/s ms. and put in the material I was creating for the new AD&D system, thus making a transition from D&D to AD&D easier for those who wished to do so. In short, I was 99% of the creative force in regards to the D&D/AD&D game until I put Frank Mentzer in charge of the D&D line."

"The Basic Set was not meant to be AD&D, or an introduction to it despite what someone at TSR put into the work. There was never any intention of melding the two games. that should be obvious from the continuation of the D&D game product line, its direction being different from AD&D's." (Enworld forum post archived at greyhawkonline)

"Rest assured that Dr. Holmes came to me first to propose the work, and I was in charge of the ms. when it was turned over. That is how it came to have new material quite similar to the AD&D game--I was writing the PHB at the time, and I wanted D&D to have some of the new features of the AD&D game. To cut to the chase, I thought that Eric did a fine bit of editing with the set." (Enworld forum post archived at greyhawkonline)

2/19/06 & 5/19/07 - responses to queries regarding the authorship of the Sample Dungeon.
"Yes, J. Eric Holmes did design the sample dungeon in the first D&D Basic Set."
(Dragonsfoot forum post)

"The Tower was Eric's...possibly with input from his son who was a young teenager back then." (Dragonsfoot forum post)

"The set edited by John Eric Holmes was more like AD&D than D&D in many respects, because at the time he turned over the ms. I was completing my own for the AD&D PHB. I included material from the latter into the D&D game to update it." (Dragonsfoot forum post)

8/11/06 - in response to a query regarding Gygax's involvement in the D&D product line
"A very big part, as all of those works were derived from my own. I also reviewed and approved the final drafts. In the Holmes Basic Set I inserted all of the now character information found there that was not in OD&D." (Dragonsfoot forum post)

"John Eric Holmes approached me to do an edited beginner's version of the D&D game at the time I was in the throes of designing the AD&D game. Eric's son was a dedicated D&D gamer, and after chatting with the Good Doctor and his son, I gave the go-ahead. When the ms, was turned over to me for approval, I inserted a goodly number of the new AD&D game rules so as to upgrade the D&D system as well. The Basic Set sold very well, and it was to TSR's benefit that Holmes' did that version, and it cost the company nary a red cent."
(Dragonsfoot forum post)

"Oops! I forgot to mention that Dr. Holmes was a neurosurgeon, and he did no additional FRPG material. However, he did write a novel based of ERB's hollow earth setting, Red Ax of Pellucidar.  I found it most entertaining, a worthy addition to the Burrough's series. He was going to do an additional novel, but the Burrough's Estate decided to refuse permission. Pity that..." (Dragonsfoot forum post)

6/6/07 - in response to a note correcting the title of Holmes' published Pellucidar novel
"Thanks! As a matter of fact Lorraine Williams stole my autographed copy of Mahars of Pellucidar as well as a copy of Eric's ms. of Red Axe of Pellucidar given to me by him. I was working from memory, and clearly it was fuzzy." (Dragonsfoot forum post)


  1. Wow! Thanks a lot for this collection of quotes! I never read the Holmes Basic, only the BECM... I think I've got to do that, one day.

  2. Great stuff, Zenopus! Adding this to my Holmes Files.

  3. Thanks for compiling that Z.

    Mr. Gygax does some fine fence sitting there. Holmes Basic is great for transitioning to AD&D but at the same time it is part of the non-A D&D and definitively not Not AD&D!?