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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Part 31: "This Inoffensive Looking Little Creature"

Part 31 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 31 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along...


In the manuscript, Holmes labels them "Pegasus" but the published rulebook changes it back to the plural Pegasi, as originally used in OD&D. The manuscript has just two sentences, derived from the original source. Holmes has them with a Lawful alignment and only serving Lawful characters; the published rulebook changes both of these to Lawful Good.

The OD&D description says they "fight as heavy horse", which Holmes has as "fight as a heavy war horse". In the context of the Holmes rulebook, this statement is not clear. Pegasi have 2+2 HD, but fight as a 3 HD creature? Monsters with 2 to 3 HD have the same "to hit" rolls per the table on page 19. This is probably a relic of a reference in OD&D to Chainmail, where there are entries for "Heavy Horse" on the Combat Tables on page 40.


Arrrr! This is the last 'monster' included in the manuscript by Holmes that was deleted by TSR, and it's yet another man-type. From OD&D Vol 2, Holmes included Bandits, Berserkers, Buccaneers, Cavemen, Dervishes, Mermen, Nomads and Pirates, omitting only Brigands, but only the first two made it into the published rulebook. In the case of Pirates, it's easy to see why TSR deleted it - most of the information here is also found in the section on Buccaneers. The original material in OD&D Vol 2 simply says "Pirates are the same as Buccaneers except they are aligned with Chaos". Holmes made two changes to this - Buccaneers have an alignment of 50% Neutral/50% Chaotic and Pirates have a 20% chance of "Chain Mail, Heavy Crossbow" instead of 10%. Holmes entry on Buccaneers even has a note "Pirates are always chaotic" which covers the only OD&D difference.

Holmes used Pirates in his Zenopus Sample Dungeon, Room M, and they conform to the rules given here (1 HD, AC7, 2-12 GP). So in the original manuscript this 'monster' in the Sample Dungeon was represented in the Monster List.


Pixies go all the way back to Chainmail, where they are grouped with Sprites. Holmes draws part of the text for his manuscript directly from the Chainmail entry, specifically the "defenders note minor shadows and air distortions" and the note that they can fly for three turns and then rest.

Gygax keeps the manuscript entry unchanged but adds three short sentences to the published rulebook: "They use short bows, small spears, and daggers. Their royalty are powerful magic-users. All are friendly with elves and fairies".  Chainmail grouped "Fairies" with "Elves", and this continued with Greyhawk, listing "fairies" among the types of elves (pg 5), and the Monster Manual as an alternate name for Gray Elf. Interestingly, Moldvay Basic drops these last three sentences, ending where the Holmes manuscript. Nowhere else does the concept of 'pixie royalty' appear, although the Monster Manual gives them a number of spells.

Purple Worm

The Purple Worm also goes back to Chainmail, where it is a type of dragon: "Finally, the Purple, or Mottled, Dragon is a rare, fightless worm with a venomous sting in its tail" (pg 35). OD&D Vol 2 separates the Worm from the Dragons, and gives it a much more detailed description, which Holmes follows closely in the manuscript. He changes the chances of swallowing on a hit from any "over 20% of the minimum total, or 100% in any case" to "Any hit more than 2 over the minimum". He also changes the first part of the last sentence from "never check morale" to "unintelligent". The published rulebook splits the third sentence into two sentence, adding detail on how to handle a hit by the tail: "and if it hits a saving throw vs. poison must be made".

The first edition has an illustration by David Sutherland of a purple worm battling a fighter, magic-user and cleric (a similar grouping as on the title page). This was deleted from the second edition when the monster section was reformatted.

Update: Prior to Chainmail, Gygax wrote a series of articles about colored dragons in the Diplomacy zine Thangorodrim. For the fifth installment, in issue #9 (Aug 1970), he wrote about the Purple Worm: “Of doubtful species, the Mottled or Purple Worm must be included in any study despite the possibility that it is not a true dragon. The creature has no wings and no internal form of weapon unlike other dragons. Yet its body shape conforms otherwise to the kind as does its general behaviour. The Purple Dragon has a venomous sting in the tip of its tail, one drop of which is enough to fell an Oliphant. It is sly and treacherous. The species is found only on the Islands Umbar."

Rust Monster

Rust Monsters first appeared in Greyhawk, and Holmes follows the entry closely but with the typical editing to condense it. Holmes refers to them as "inoffensive looking little creatures" although the original uses "inoffensive" without "little". The published rulebook makes two changes to the manuscript. The first sentence refers to "ferrous metal" in the manuscript, as in Greyhawk, but "ferrous" is dropped in the published rulebook. Does this imply that the rust monster can affect non-ferrous metals such as bronze armor/weapons or even a silver dagger? The rulebook also changes the last sentence from "eats the rust" to "eats the rust and corroded metal", clarifying the monster's dietary habits.

It's unclear if Holmes knew how the rust monster was envisaged by Gygax & company at the time he worked on the manuscript. I believe the first picture of the Rust Monster appeared in the Monster Manual in December 77, six months after the Basic Set was released. The picture in there, by David Sutherland, is based on a plastic monster toy manufactured in Hong Kong that inspired the D&D monster created by Gygax & company. For more on this, see this post by former TSR artist Tony DiTerlizzi.

Continue on to Pt 32: "Commonly Found Near Graveyards, Dungeons or Deserted Places"
Or Go Back to Part 30: "It is, Of Course, Ochre-Colored"
Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript

A pack of plastic rust monsters. Source: Tony DiTerlizzi


  1. That's quite cool, I never noticed that bit in Chainmail about purple worms (not that I'm overly familiar with Chainmail). So purple worms started out as stoorworms, before morphing into something more like Herbert's sandworms. I wonder when that happened - was it due to the artwork, or did the artwork follow established practice? I know Holmes used sandworms in one of his short stories (which is why they made it into BLUEHOLME™).

  2. Good question. Above I added another quote from an earlier source that I remembered. It shows more clearly how he envisioned the Purple Worm prior to OD&D. I guess he decided to split it off for OD&D. Vol 2, pg 5, has a picture of the Worm looking like the standard D&D version.

  3. Good article and thanks for the link about the plastic monsters. I find it interesting that we owe the existence of several classic D&D monsters to some offhand overseas product.

  4. Even more interesting - the original article only says the "mottled or purple worm" has no wings, but otherwise it's like a normal dragon. So more like Tolkien's early wingless dragons, it wasn't even a legless wyrm at first. Quite a transformation!