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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.                    ...

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Return of the Fantasy Trip

"At the beginning of my career, long before GURPS, I created a roleplaying game called The Fantasy Trip. For decades, the rights have been held by Metagaming, a publisher which is no longer in operation. I'm very pleased to announce that I have regained the eight TFT releases that I wrote myself: Melee, Wizard, Death Test, Death Test 2, Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, In the Labyrinth, and Tollenkar's Lair.

This is just an initial announcement, to invite you to celebrate with me a day that has been a long time coming!

I have no idea yet about release schedules. I will probably have to answer most questions with "I don't know yet" - but feel free to use the button below to go to the forum discussion of this post, and try me . . . or just share memories of the game!" (links added by myself)

In his 1981 book Fantasy Role-Playing Games, J. Eric Holmes reviewed the first two releases of this system, Melee and Wizard (pictured above), writing that the combat rules, "may be too slow for some players, but they have an air of authenticity which is lacking in the simpler combat systems" (pg 114).

Holmes further notes that, "I have used the "roll less than your dexterity (strength)" system in the practice game earlier in this book". This refers to the sample RPG system that Holmes provides in the book to show how the games work, along with an adventure for it, the Dungeon of Arzaz. While Melee used the 3d6 roll for combat, Holmes instead uses it for a system of "feats" - i.e., "feats of strength", "feats of dexterity" etc, that is more like an ability score check of later D&D. (Holmes uses a Chainmail-like 2d6 roll for combat)

You can read more about "Holmes' Other Game" in a thread from 2009 on ODD74

I've also written before about the appearance of the 3d6-roll-under-stat check in early D&D, which actually predates Melee as an isolated mechanic, but not as a generalized system.

As to myself, I've never owned or read Melee, Wizard or the Fantasy Trip, so I will be looking forward to any reissues of the original material that Steve Jackson puts out. Per his post here, a Kickstarter for a reissue of Melee may be the first project.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Holmes for the Holidays 2017

After an absence of a few years, "Holmes for the Holidays" is back for 2017! 

This year I'm giving away a copy of Holmes' Mordred that I liberated from languishing on the shelf of a local used book store earlier this year. A photo of this book is above.

A bit about this book. It's an authorized direct sequel to the original "Buck Rogers" novel Armageddon 2419 A.D, published by ACE in 1980. Although the publication of this was almost certainly spurred by the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century TV series that started airing in 1979, there's no relationship between the two other than the white outfit that Rogers is wearing on the cover. And due to licensing differences between the original novel and the original comic strip, Rogers is not even called "Buck" here, instead he's just "Rogers" throughout, which is short for the original "Anthony Rogers" name. Holmes talked about this once in an interview with John Martin of Erbmania:

"In writing "Mordred," Holmes told me he originally included a line in which Anthony Rogers tells someone: "You can just call me Buck." But the editors told him: "No, he CAN'T just call him Buck!" Due to various copyright considerations, the name "Buck" was not available for use by ACE Books. The company owned only the rights to the novel concept, and didn't own anything else associated with Buck Rogers properties."

I read Mordred back in 2012, and posted a short review in a comment to a post on the space 1970 blog about this book series. Here's what I thought back then:

"Holmes' story is a faithful continuation of Nowlan's Armageddon 2419 novel (a fix-up of the original two stories), which was republished by Ace in a mass market paperback in Aug 1978, possibly in advance of the TV show. While the original novel is clearly the "primary invention", in some ways I found Holmes' Rogers story (which begins 60 years later after the death of Wilma) to be more engaging (better/more dialogue and characterization), though the endless descriptions of dis ray attacks (also shared with the original) were still a bit taxing to this reader."

* * * * *

For the give-away I'm using the same system as before: if you are interested, add a comment in reply to this post within the next two days. The two days are the time limit before moderation starts on posts on this blog. After two days, I'll st
op accepting entries and treat the list of comments as a table and roll randomly for the winner, using dice from a Holmes Basic set.

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. I'll estimate the exact shipping and refund the difference if I overcharge at all.
This is intended for folks who don't have a copy of the novel, so please don't post if you already have a copy.

* * * * *

12/17 Update, including the Results:

I recruited a dice elf to make the roll for me. There were 18 entries, so we used a spread of 1-20, with a 19 or 20 being re-rolled if it came up. To generate 1-20, we used dice from a Holmes set: a white twenty-sided die (numbered 0-9) and an orange six-sided die as a "control die". If the d6 comes up 1-3, the white die is read as-is, and if the d6 comes up 4-6, 10 is added to the white die. After a few practice rolls, we made the official roll...

...which indicates that number 5 is the winner! That's Patrick Usher. Patrick, please get in touch with me at zenopusarchives at

Thanks to all who entered the contest. I hope to do a few more of these type of contests during the year next year as I have accumulated some extra stuff around here. Stay tuned, and happy holidays!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Gygax's Dungeon Level from Hall of Many Panes

The "Dungeon Delving" map from Hall of Many Pane

I recently found a cheap second-hand copy of the Hall of Many Panes boxed set, a mega-adventure written by Gary Gygax and published by Troll Lord Games in 2005, with dual stats for 3.5E D&D and the Lejendary Adventures (LA) RPG. The Hall was playtested by Gary back in 2002 using LA, his preferred system in his last decade. I was subscribed to his Gygax-Games email list back then and remember his regular play-test reports.

This is my first time owning the final product, so I'd never seen the "Dungeon Delving" Map that was one of the "Many Panes" (Pane 8 / Rose). In the text, Gary describes it at as a "dungeon of the days of yore". Once a party enters via the pane, they are stuck on the level and must explore it thoroughly until they figure out how to leave again.

The published map is a bit of an oddity, as the cartographer seems to have taken a scan of Gary's original map (whatever the source may be), made a negative image out of it, and then drew right over that digitally. The graph from the original paper can be seen in white, as well as many of Gary's notes - some written over completely, some written over partially, and some not written over at all, like the pool in Room 9. The cartographer must have had some trouble following the original notations because, as T. Foster has pointed out, the final map has a number of discrepancies between it and the text of the module.

The design is interesting because it's a rare published example in Gary's early style of dungeons, as glimpsed in the tips in OD&D Vol 3, TSR's Dungeon Geomorphs and the unpublished levels of Castle Greyhawk (CG). In the '00s, Gary kept the original castle notes in a binder that he would use to run it at conventions, under OD&D rules, and a few of the levels were photographed by players of these games. The two most well-known images are of Levels 1 and 3, which I've included below for comparison (see also Visualizing Castle Greyhawk). On the whole, "Dungeon Delving" is closest in style to CG Level 3:

Castle Greyhawk Level 3 ("binder" version)

Below is a list of elements in "Dungeon Delving" that are found in Gygax's other dungeons. Note this list contains spoilers if you think you might ever play through Hall of Many Panes.

Diagonal Passages: In "Dungeon Delving" the central START area is an octagonal room similar in design to the hexagonal room in the northern half of Level 3 (see above). In each, a door leads out to a diagonal passage in four directions: NW, NE, SW, SE - essentially an X-shape with a room at the intersection.

Gary's use of diagonal passages was first illustrated way back in the "Sample Level" in OD&D Vol 3; see Area 3 in the image further down this page. The note for this explained, "This area simply illustrates the use of slanting passages to help prevent players from accurately mapping a level (exact deviation from cardinal points is difficult for them to ascertain)."

His "Solo Dungeon Adventures" article in Strategic Review #1 (Spring 1975) is a close relative of these early dungeons, and was later reprinted as Appendix A: Random Dungeon Generation in the Dungeon Masters Guide. In this, Table III: Side Passages includes an entry that the "passage "X's" (if present passage is horizontal or vertical it forms a fifth passage into the "x")".

Diagonal passages and even a few "X-shaped" rooms can also be found in the Dungeon Geomorphs, originally published in 1976-1977, for example in Geomorph A from Set 1:

Geomorph A from Dungeon Geomorphs Set 1: Basic Dungeon (1976)

Room-Labyrinths: A prominent feature of the early dungeons are the maze-like series of empty rooms, which Gygax terms a "room-labyrinth" in OD&D Vol 3. Area 2 of the "Sample Level" illustrates this (see below), with the note stating, "This is a simple room-labyrinth, generally leading nowhere, but "[Room] A would be a room containing a monster and treasure". The section on "Distribution of Monsters and Treasures" further explains, "As a general rule there will be far more uninhabited space on a level than there will be space occupied by monsters, human or otherwise" (page 6). The random distribution instructions that follow give each room a 1-2 in 6 chance of having a monster, which means that on average 33% of the rooms will be occupied. 

The Dungeon Geomorphs are also chock-full of the room-labyrinths (see above). The original notes for the Dungeon Geomorphs restricted this even further: "Approximately 25% of the rooms and large spaces should contain monsters, treasures and other notable items. For every five such rooms there should be approximately one trap. Slanting passages, teleportation areas, slides and the like should be added sparingly thereafter -- one or two such items per level is a fair guideline".

Detail of the map from S1 Tomb of Horrors

Some other less filled-in Gygax dungeons have isolated room-labyrinths. The infamous Tomb of Horrors has a small room-labyrinth south of Area 8. One section of this leads to a false door concealing a spear trap (more on those below), and the other is a series of secret doors (Area 9) leading to the next area of the dungeon (Area 10). His last publication, Castle Zagyg, also has a room-labyrinth (Area 103) consisting of over 30 10' by 10' rooms with 50 (!) different doors, part of the defenses of his beloved Old Guard Kobolds.

Castle Greyhawk Level 1 ("binder" version)

Transporters: "Dungeon Delving" has three different two-way transporters; A1 & A2 are corridor/stair transporters, and B1/2 & B2/1 and B3/4 & B4/3 are two sets of room transporters. The L-shaped A1 & A2 transporters are in a style similar to those on the Level 1 CG map as pointed out by T. Foster here

Back in the Tricks and Traps section of OD&D Vol 3, the list of suggestions by Gygax include "Intra-level teleportation area, so that a player will be transported to a similar (or dissimilar area on the same level, possibly activated by touching some items (such as a gem, door, or the like)". The "Sample Level" in OD&D Vol 3 also includes two different examples of transporters, one a two-way room-based transporter, the other a one-way corridor transporter, although neither is explicitly "intra-level". See areas E and F below. 

Likewise, in the original notes for the Dungeon Geomorphs he suggests "putting in areas where those who entered are teleported to a similar spot elsewhere". Tomb of Horrors also has a number of teleporters.

The original version of the OD&D Vol 3 "Sample Level"

Pits: In "Dungeon Delving", the pits are marked with X's and are generally at intersections of corridors, similar to the example in the OD&D "Sample Level". See above, the "X" near Room I. The note for this states,  "Note the pit (X) at the four-way intersection containing a secret door on its south surface" (pg 5). The use of X's to marked covered pits became standard in D&D modules, at least for a time, for example the infamous pit in the Kobold lair in the Caves of Chaos.

The text for "Dungeon Delving" indicates that its pits are of three types, all 10' deep: an unboxed X to indicate an open pit, a boxed X to indicate a covered pit, and a boxed X with a cross-bar to indicate a covered pit with spikes at the bottom. I don't actually note any of the third type on the map itself, which suggests one of the mapping errors noted above.

Arrow/Spear Traps: An "A" on the "Dungeon Delving" map indicates an arrow trap that fires three arrows from the dungeon wall when the square is stepped on. Area 14 also has a more interesting variant on this. 

There are no arrow traps in the OD&D Sample Level, but the sample encounters for the Dungeon Geomorphs Set 1 have one that fires when a door is opened. Arrow and spear traps are part of the line-up in the Trick/Trap Table in "Solo Dungeon Adventures", and are part of the standard line-up in the trap tables in the Dungeon Masters Guide, including Appendix A: Random Dungeon Generation Tables and Appendix G: Traps. Tomb of Horrors has a number of door-triggered spear traps.

Cage Traps: A "C" on the map indicates a "cage trap" where "spike-ended bars fall from the ceiling above to enclose the exit(s) from the place". There are two of these, each opened differently. In the south, one side must be levered a foot off the floor to cause the bars to raise. In the north, a trapped lever near the cage must be pulled to raise it.

OD&D Vol 3 mentions a "return passage blocked by bars", although no other details are given. Appendix G: Traps in the Dungeon Masters Guide includes "Passage, blocked by falling bars". Most famously, the Moat House dungeon in the Village of Hommlet has a hidden grate that will fall to block the exit when a false door is pulled open; it can be raised by use of a hidden winch.

Sloping Passages: Along the NE edge of "Dungeon Delving" is a passage that "slopes up going north 300 feet, so as to bring those traversing it back to the normal level of surrounding dungeon without noticing the incline. Going south the slope is downwards, so as to require the flight of steps up to regain the level of the dungeon proper". This means that if approached from the north, the steps will appear to lead up a level, and if approached from the south, the steps will appear to lead down a level. This is straight out of OD&D Vol 3, which suggests, "Steps which lead to a slanting passage, so the player may actually stay on the same level..." The reverse is also suggested in the Sample Level, where "D" indicates a passage to a lower level with such a gentle slope that "even dwarves won't recognize it".

Carved Face: Area 14 also has a "huge leering face chiseled into the stone wall", reminiscent of other Gygaxian carved faces, including the "great bas-relief face" in the Tricks and Traps list of the Greyhawk Supplement, and of course the Face of the Great Green Devil in the Tomb of Horrors.

Weird Statues: In Dungeon Delving, the START area also has nine statues, a number that reminds me of the infamous room in CG with nine statues - actually imprisoned demigods, later freed by Robilar. The statues here do not similarly house prisoners, but are important to solving the dungeon level. The use of weird statues was suggested in several of the "Trick and Traps: (Additions)" found in the Greyhawk Supplement.

Evil Human Lair with Escape Route: Room 17 of "Dungeon Delving" is called the "Jolly Priest" and is home to an evil priest masquerading as good, ala the "jovial priest" in the Keep on the Borderlands. The description includes his plans for escape via a secret door and nearby passages, which is another design element Gygax often included in his dungeons. 

In the note for Area 8 of the OD&D Sample Level, "The western portion contains the room of some evil man [Room J], complete with two secret doors for handy escape". Likewise, the evil priest in the Caves of Chaos has a secret escape door from his chamber in Area K. And in the evocative yet incomplete DMG Sample Dungeon, the Wandering Monster Table indicates an evil cleric lairs in Areas 35-37, which contain two concealed doors - presumably an escape route.

See also: Gygax's Playtest Reports for the "Dungeon Delving" Level from HoMP

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Maze of Peril Ch 1, Scene 3: "Murray the Mage, It Is"

This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club, indexed here.

After the description of the Underworld, the story returns to the table in the Green Dragon where Boinger, Bardan and Zereth discuss their "proposition" concerning the Underworld.

Boinger and Bardan reveal that their partner Murray the Mage has found a secret entrance to the Underworld by studying the "old legends" (one of the "Entrances" referred to by the title of the chapter). 

This is the first mention of Murray, another major character in the story. Like the others, Murray is based on a PC in Holmes' original campaign - in this case played by Chris' friend Eric Frasier, who wrote an essay for Tales of Peril called "My Time as Murray" (page 299).

Boinger explains that Murray will go with them on the expedition, since he doesn't completely trust his partners. They all laugh at this, which we learn is uncommon for Zereth - "he rarely allowed himself more than two" smiles per evening.

They launch into a very D&D-esque "discussion of magical detection schemes, march distances, horse power, mercenary men-at-arms, supply dumps and rations". No further details are given here, but some are revealed during the start of the adventure proper.

A note from the bar is delivered, which turns out to be from Murray himself, who was surreptitiously watching them before departing. Boinger exclaims "Mother of Mithra" - the first of several references in the novel to real world religions.

The note indicates that Murray finds Zereth acceptable and that he will get a "regular share". In his early D&D games Holmes used a rule where hirelings got a half-share of treasure, unless exceptional, as explained in the 1976 Alarums & Excursions article Warrior-For-Hire, also reprinted in Tales of Peril.

This is the last scene in the Green Dragon in the first chapter. The next scene jumps ahead to the start of the party's delve into the Underworld.

The scene ends with Zereth joking that he has no choice but to join the party as he has "but five silver pieces left" in his purse. All of the prices in Men & Magic, O&D Vol 1, are in gold pieces, making it the standard purchasing unit. Silver and copper only appear as part of treasure hoards in Monsters & Treasure, OD&D Vol 2, with a standard exchange rate of 1 GP = 10 SP = 50 CP noted on page 39. So Zereth's 5 SP here is equal to 1/2 of a gold piece.


Murray: Tall, white hair, hooked nose, high-pitched voice, an "old fud" per Boinger. Except for the voice, these are reminiscent of many Gandalf-esque wizards in the days of OD&D. Known as miserly - per Boinger, it is typical that Murray did not tip the barmaid for delivering the note (Boinger gives her a copper piece). Murray as lived in Caladan "for some time now, studying the old legends".

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

D&D on Barsoom Art by Chris Holmes

Back in August I posted a scan of a flyer for a "D&D on Barsoom" game session that J. Eric and Chris Holmes ran at Gen Con around 1980 or so. 

As a follow-up to that post, here are three fantastic illustrations of Barsoomian creatures that were used in the game, including an Apt, Callot (Martian Dog) and Plant Man. The artwork is by Chris Holmes. Thanks to Billy Galaxy for letting me photo these and post these. 

Along with each picture I've included the original Burroughs text describing each creature:

"The apt was our most consistent and dangerous foe.

It is a huge, white-furred creature with six limbs, four of which, short and heavy, carry it swiftly over the snow and ice; while the other two, growing forward from its shoulders on either side of its long, powerful neck, terminate in white, hairless hands, with which it seizes and holds its prey.

Its head and mouth are more similar in appearance to those of a hippopotamus than to any other earthly animal, except that from the sides of the lower jawbone two mighty horns curve slightly downward toward the front.

Its two huge eyes inspired my greatest curiosity. They extend in two vast, oval patches from the center of the top of the cranium down either side of the head to below the roots of the horns, so that these weapons really grow out from the lower part of the eyes,which are composed of several thousand ocelli each.

This eye structure seemed remarkable in a beast whose haunts were upon a glaring field of ice and snow, and though I found upon minute examination of several that we killed that each ocellus is furnished with its own lid, and that the animal can at will close as many of the facets of his huge eyes as he chooses, yet I was positive that nature had thus equipped him because much of his life was to be spent in dark, subterranean recesses."

---The Warlord of Mars (1919) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

"...In response to her call I obtained my first sight of a new Martian wonder. It waddled in on its ten short legs, and squatted down before the girl like an obedient puppy. The thing was about the size of a Shetland pony, but its head bore a slight resemblance to that of a frog, except that the jaws were equipped with three rows of long, sharp tusks.

Sola stared into the brute's wicked-looking eyes, muttered a word or two of command, pointed to me, and left the chamber. I could not but wonder what this ferocious-looking monstrosity might do when left alone in such close proximity to such a relatively tender morsel of meat; but my fears were groundless, as the beast, after surveying me intently for a moment, crossed the room to the only exit which led to the street, and lay down full length across the threshold.

This was my first experience with a Martian watch dog, but it was destined not to be my last, for this fellow guarded me carefully during the time I remained a captive among these green men; twice saving my life, and never voluntarily being away from me a moment."

---The Princess of Mars (1917) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

"But it was not these inspiring and magnificent evidences of Nature’s grandeur that took my immediate attention from the beauties of the forest. It was the sight of a score of figures moving slowly about the meadow near the bank of the mighty river.

Odd, grotesque shapes they were; unlike anything that I had ever seen upon Mars, and yet, at a distance, most manlike in appearance. The larger specimens appeared to be about ten or twelve feet in height when they stood erect, and to be proportioned as to torso and lower extremities precisely as is earthly man.

Their arms, however, were very short, and from where I stood seemed as though fashioned much after the manner of an elephant’s trunk, in that they moved in sinuous and snakelike undulations, as though entirely without bony structure, or if there were bones it seemed that they must be vertebral in nature ...

Its hairless body was a strange and ghoulish blue, except for a broad band of white which encircled its protruding, single eye: an eye that was all dead white—pupil, iris, and ball.

Its nose was a ragged, inflamed, circular hole in the centre of its blank face; a hole that resembled more closely nothing that I could think of other than a fresh bullet wound which has not yet commenced to bleed.

Below this repulsive orifice the face was quite blank to the chin, for the thing had no mouth that I could discover. The head, with the exception of the face, was covered by a tangled mass of jet-black hair some eight or ten inches in length. Each hair was about the bigness of a large angleworm, and as the thing moved the muscles of its scalp this awful head-covering seemed to writhe and wriggle and crawl about the fearsome face as though indeed each separate hair was endowed with independent life.

The body and the legs were as symmetrically human as Nature could have fashioned them, and the feet, too, were human in shape, but of monstrous proportions. From heel to toe they were fully three feet long, and very flat and very broad.

As it came quite close to me I discovered that its strange movements, running its odd hands over the surface of the turf, were the result of its peculiar method of feeding, which consists in cropping off the tender vegetation with its razorlike talons and sucking it up from its two mouths, which lie one in the palm of each hand, through its arm-like throats.

In addition to the features which I have already described, the beast was equipped with a massive tail about six feet in length, quite round where it joined the body, but tapering to a flat, thin blade toward the end, which trailed at right angles to the ground.

By far the most remarkable feature of this most remarkable creature, however, were the two tiny replicas of it, each about six inches in length, which dangled, one on either side, from its armpits. They were suspended by a small stem which seemed to grow from the exact tops of their heads to where it connected them with the body of the adult.

Whether they were the young, or merely portions of a composite creature, I did not know."

---The Warlord of Mars (1919) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Expanded Ability Scores for the Holmes Ref


For all characters:

15 or more: +1 to hit, damage and open doors
7 to 14: no bonus
6 or less: -1 to hit, damage and open doors

From Gygax's OD&D House Rules, compiled here; also in line with the bonuses for NPCs mentioned in the Holmes Basic version of Keep in the Borderlands (e.g. the imprisoned Hero in the Caves of Chaos gets a +2 to hit and damage due to level and 18 strength). Also not far off from that used in Warlock, which Holmes used prior to editing the Basic rules. In Warlock Str 16+ gives a +1 to hit, and Str 13-17 gives +1 damage, 18 +2 damage.

11 or more: one extra language per point over 10
10 or less: no extra languages

From the rules as written

15 or more: +1 to saving throws versus mental attacks (charm, fear, illusion, hold, etc)
7 to 14: no bonus
6 or less: -1 to saving throws versus mental attacks (charm, fear, illusion, hold etc)

Extrapolated based on the otherwise unexplained Wisdom Adj on the 1977 OD&D character sheet and the later AD&D PHB. Uses the same range as Gygax's house rules, where 15+ gains a bonus.

18: add 3 to each hit die
17: add 2 to each hit die
15 to 16: add 1 to each hit die
7 to 14: no bonus
6 or less: subtract one from each hit die but never less than 1

From the rules as written

13 or more:  fire any missile at +1
9 to 12: no bonus
8 or less: fire any missile at -1

From the rules as written

18: up to 12 followers, +4 reaction rolls
16 to 17: up to 7 followers, +2 reaction rolls
13 to 15: up to 5 followers, +1 reaction rolls
10 to 12: up to 5 followers
7 to 9: up to 3 followers
5-6: up to 2 followers, -1 reaction rolls
3-4: up to 1 follower, -2 reaction rolls

In the Holmes Basic rulebook, page 5, Holmes writes "A character of charisma below 13 can not hire more than 5 followers, and their loyalty will be luke-warm at best — that is, if the fighting gets hot there is a good probability they will run away. On the other hand, someone with a charisma of 18 can win over a large number of followers (men or monsters) who will probably stand by him to the death." 

This is a reference to the charisma table in OD&D Vol 1, page 11. There is a slight discrepancy as in the OD&D table a score of 10-12 gets 4 followers, not 5.

Things get a little complicated after this. The OD&D Charisma table also has bonuses for loyalty for the these followers, which modifies a loyalty score on page 13, which in turn modifies morale, which is not explained very clearly. Holmes didn't include the rules for loyalty scores or morale, perhaps due to their complexity. 

However, the text explaining the reaction table on page 12 of OD&D Vol 1, states that the roll is "adjust[ed] for charisma", which seems to indicate that the same charisma modifiers are also used with this table. Holmes included a reference to this in Basic on page 11, where the text explaining the reaction table there sasy "The DM should make adjustments if the party spokesman has high charisma or offers other special inducements". Hence for our expanded table here, I've converted the loyalty bonuses to reaction adjustments. Moldvay treated this similarly in his version of Basic.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Some Thief Options for the Holmes Ref


Dwarf: +5% Open Lock, +15% Remove Trap, +5% Move Silently, +5% Hide in Shadows

Elf: +5% Pick Pocket, +10% Move Silently, +15% Hide in Shadows

Hobbit: +10% Open Lock, +5% Remove Trap, +5% Pick Pocket, +10% Move Silently, +10% Hide in Shadows, Hear Noise +1

These are from the Greyhawk OD&D supplement, and are presumably the "special rules" found in OD&D that Holmes referred to in the Holmes manuscript.


Human thieves can specialize, raising a skill by lowering another by an equal amount, to a minimum of 5%. This can be done with each of the five skills that increase each level other than Climb Walls and Hear Noise. Thus, a specialist has 50 percentage points (50%) that can be adjusted at first level.

These are some specialists that are possible at first level:

Picklock: 55% Open Lock

Disarmist: 55% Remove Trap

Filcher: 55% Pick Pocket 

Sneak: 55% Move Silently

Skulker: 55% Hide in Shadows

By maxing these out, the other four skills will be at only 5% each (not including Climb Walls and Hear Noise). Many other combinations are possible, e.g. 35% Open Lock, 25% Remove Trap, 5% other skills

Higher levels:
At levels 2-6, a thief gets 25 more points per level to be distributed among the five skills,
At levels 7-8, a thief gets 35 more points per level
At levels 9-11, a thief get 50 more points per level
At levels 12 and up, a thief gets more 25 points per level

This option inspired by similar rules in 2E AD&D. The total points for first level and higher levels matches the progression found in the Greyhawk Supplement.


As the prime requisite of thieves is dexterity, it will affect their abilities as follows:

Dexterity of 15 or more: add 10% to each thief skill except hear noise
Dexterity of 13-14: add 5%
Dexterity of 9-12: no bonus
Dexterity of 7-8: subtract 10%
Dexterity of 6 or less: subtract 20%

These value of these bonuses and the Dex ranges are the same as the prime requisite XP bonuses on page 6 of Holmes. The idea is inspired by Gary's OD&D houserules, which mention a bonus for a Thief skill based on Dex, and the more complicated Dex modifiers in 1E AD&D. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dice of the Gods


A suited man juggles five polyhedra dice - is this an early DM? No, more likely it is supposed to be a math teacher.

These photos were posted to the Acaeum recently (see this thread), and show a set of dice found with a OD&D White Box set. The dice themselves are the standard Polyhedra Dice sold by TSR in the '70s, which per Jon Peterson were sourced from a California company, Creative Publications. But the packaging they are in is something I've never seen before. The title, Polyhedra Dice, is identical to the title TSR used in their catalogs and product lists of the era (follow link to see an example). While the dice obscure some of the text, I can make out the letters "CREAT..." near the green 8-sider, indicating the original packaging was indeed supplied by Creative Publications, not TSR or another company.

Most of these dice that I've seen are ones from the Holmes Basic set (update: see below), where they came in small sealed bag without a paper insert. The set was also sold separately (see catalog link above), and I had assumed these were sold in the same form. But possibly at some point TSR re-sold sets with the original CP packaging, or possibly this set was ordered directly from CP.

The back of the insert begins with the following paragraph:

"To the ancient Greeks the five regular solids (tetrahedron - 4 faces, hexhedron - 6 faces, octahedron - 8 faces, dodecahedron - 12 faces, icosahedron - 20 faces) were known as the "dice of the gods". They were prized for their beauty and believed to have strange, cosmic meanings"

Following this is a list of suggestions for using the dice, which are mostly obscured by the dice themselves.

See also: 
The Marked 20-sided Die
TSR Percentile Dice in the '70s

Update: See Playing at the World on Identifying Dice of the 1970s. Note that the dice in this the CP sets are not exactly the same as those found in Holmes Basic. Most notably, the d6 in these Creative Publication sets is pink versus the orange-red of the d6 of the Holmes Basic sets. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Maze of Peril Chapter 1, Scene 2: "Rumors of the Fabulous Treasures of the Underworld"

This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club, indexed here.

The second short "scene" of the Maze of Peril is a few paragraphs of compact world-building that expands the setting outward from the Green Dragon to the surrounding town and the Underworld beneath it. I quoted most of this section in a 2012 post, The Underworld of Holmes. As I wrote there, the term "The Underworld" is straight out of Vol 3 of the Original Dungeons & Dragons rules, "The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures", being the original term used to refer to the vast multi-layer dungeons of the game.

The narrator tells us that Zereth and "every man in the [Green Dragon] tavern" knows the rumors of the treasure of the Underworld. Holmes uses a favorite turn of phrase, "fabulous treasures", which also appears in the introduction to the Basic rulebook ("The dungeons are filled with fearsome monsters, fabulous treasure and frightful perils") and the Sample Dungeon ("Whispered tales are told of fabulous treasure and unspeakable monsters in the underground passages"). 

The rumors draw all sorts of adventurers and other types to the "tiny town", indicating that it is special in the land in its relation to the Underworld. The name of the town, Caladan, is first given here, and is noteworthy in that it was previously used by Frank Herbert as the name of the homeworld of the Atreides in Dune. Chris Holmes said that his father was a fan of Herbert but didn't know of any other specific reason for its use.

The description of the Underworld, like the name, is very much in line with OD&D: "corridors of wealth, they were also tunnels of deadly peril" and "there must have been many layers of dungeons and underworlds laid down, one atop the other". But Holmes takes this concept further by giving a putative origin for these dungeons: they were built by a mysterious prehistoric race. This echoes the introduction to the Sample Dungeon, where "the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, pre-human city". As I wrote previously, this theme is "reminiscent of the pre-human alien civilization described in Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness (1931), who built vast underground cities in remote locations". Holmes never reveals any more details about the mysterious builders, so on this blog I later took the idea one step further, positioning Lovecraft's creatures in that story as Holmes' architects of the Underworld, to create a "new" monster for Holmes Basic called the Ancient Builder. The write-up for this monster now appears in the recently released Blueholme Journeymanne rules as the "Old Ones" entry in the Monster List.

While the rumors of the Underworld are well known in Caladan, the entrances are not. The narrator indicates that Zereth has been looking for information about an entrance but has not been successful. One reason that the entrances are not well known is that "many of the rash adventurers who set forth for the secret entrances to the fabled Underworld were never heard from again". Again, this fits with the story's origins in actual OD&D games, where many first level parties perish on their first expedition below.

In the next scene, Zereth will finally succeed in learning of an entrance.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Maze of Peril Chapter 1, Scene 1: "The Green Dragon Tavern Was Crowded, Dark, Noisy"

This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club, indexed here.

Having gone through the front matter, we move onto the actual stories. As a reminder, if you haven't read the stories yet, this is where the real spoilers will begin. I know, however, that exposure to spoilers will sometimes increase interest...

The first story in the book is the novel the Maze of Peril, which is the lengthiest Boinger and Zereth tale (11 chapters), and also the last published in 1986, at least until this volume which includes a previously unpublished story. As I go through each chapter, I'll refer to the parts of the chapters as "scenes". Essentially wherever Holmes placed a gap in the text, I'll refer to as a separate scene. This post will cover the first scene in Chapter 1. 

The Maze of Peril begins on page 1 of Tales of Peril with a title page, and then re-prints the original dedication from 1986 publication, which is made out to Gary Gygax, for the game; "Chris, Eric, Jeff and others" for creating the characters; and Tolkien, Lovecraft and Sprague de Camp for "literary inspiration". In Holmes' 1981 book, Fantasy Role-Playing Games, he talks further of literary inspiration for fantasy worlds, again mentioned Tolkien and de Camp among others; a quote from which can be read here. And in his 1980 essay, Confession of a Dungeon Master (reprinted further on in Tales of Peril), he mentions Lovecraft as one world-builder (along with Burroughs, Howard, Haggard, Merrit and Smith) that he drew upon for use in creating bits of his D&D campaign.

See also articles I've written about Holmes on Tolkien, Holmes and the Cthulhu mythos, and Holmes and de Camp.

Next there is a newly added two paragraph preface by Chris Holmes introducing the story. He reveals that his father initially hoped to publish more Boinger and Zereth novels, but had trouble finding a publisher for Maze of Peril, and then moved on to other projects. Chris further indicates that the story is a "close recreation of one of our first adventures in my father's dungeon".  

On the next page, the story begins. Chapter 1 is titled "Entrances", which I believe has a dual meaning: the entrance of the characters into the story, as well as the entrance to the Underworld that they discover.

I love the beginning of this story. It's exactly what you'd expect for a novel based on a D&D game, with an archetypical meeting of the characters in a tavern prior to their first adventure. And here we get to watch Boinger (along with his friend Bardan the Dwarf) and Zereth meet for the first time, and in the famous Green DragonTheir meeting here also echoes the words from the introduction to the Sample Dungeon in the earlier Holmes Basic rulebook: "Humans and non-humans from all over the globe meet [in Portown]. At the Green Dragon Inn, the players of the game gather their characters for an assault on the fabulous passages beneath the ruined Wizard's tower".

The duo of Boinger and Zereth brings to mind other famous adventuring pairs, particularly Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Boinger and Zereth are interesting in that neither is human. As Holmes wrote in the quote above, human and non-humans gather at the Green Dragon. And with the addition of Bardan, the group includes each of the three original non-human player character races in OD&D: hobbit, elf, dwarf.

Zereth demonstrates his magic with a cantrip-like effect, heating Boinger's wine. The magic creates a "blue glow". Boinger enjoys the heated wine, saying that it improves the flavor. This is the first glimpse into his recurring love of food & drink.

Holmes scatters descriptions for the characters throughout. I'll collect them here as I read.

Boinger: Wears a grey hooded cloak, jacket of chainmail and sandals on his furry feet. From the "Meadow Country to the South". 

Zereth: Black hair, brown eyes, swarthy, high cheekbones, narrow chin, even white teeth. Jagged scar across left cheek. From "Labolinn" (more recently), but originally "of the Old People, the Elidel". This term, Elidel, is perhaps Holmes' version of Tolkien's term for the elves, Eldar. The name is also similar to Eldil, a race of angelic creatures in Lewis' Space Trilogy. Zereth's home is also referred to as "the Elfland". (This phrasing is perhaps a reference to Dunsany's the King of Elfland's Daughter.)

Bardan: Stocky, white beard, wears a "heavy iron helm with long Norman nosepiece", white beard, gruff voice. From the "Cold Mountains".

Green Dragon Tavern: The tavern is lit by a big central fire and a few tapers. A serving table near the entry way. The table they share in the back corner has wooden benches. Stout beer is served in wooden mugs, wine is served in "a horn cup with a metal base to hold it upright".

The first section ends with the first mention of the Underworld. Holmes then cuts to a description of the Underworld of his setting, which I'll get to in the next post.