This is the blog. Click here to go to the Zenopus Archives website.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Return to the Tower of Zenopus

As I wrote in my last post, this weekend marks 40 years since Origins III in 1977, the first known public release of the Holmes Basic Set. How I am celebrating?

Well, first off - my contributor copy of Tales of Peril arrived, and I opened it up late last night. It's a beautiful book. More on that later.

I'm thinking about a Holmes-inspired game I'd like to run at Gary Con next year. One idea I've had is a Return to the Tower of Zenopus. This would be set 40 years (naturally) after the events of the original when the smugglers were defeated and the dungeon entrance was sealed. Lady Lemunda is now the ruler of the town and trouble is stirring in the old dungeon. I would re-stock the dungeon using material from Maze of Peril, due to the thematic similarities. The pre-generated characters would be Boinger, Zereth & Murray (drawing from their character sheets in Tales of Peril) plus Hortensa, Geoffrey, Brother Ambrose, etc.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Seligman on Holmes Basic

As I've written previously, the earliest reported public availability for Holmes Basic is at Origins 1977, which ran from Friday July 22nd to Sunday, July 24th at Wagner College on Staten Island, NYC. This weekend is the 40th anniversary of this event!

The above information is from a convention report by Bill Seligman (who has a blog here) in the August 1977 issue of the APAzine, The Wild Hunt (via Jon Peterson and Playing at the World).

Lee Gold is now offering pdf copies of early Alarums & Excursions issues (ordering details are here), and in these I found that Bill also included a convention report in issue #25 (8/16/77) as part of his contribution, "I WOULD HAVE MADE A GREAT PLATINUM DRAGON #10". Note that APAzines are compilations of mini-zines made by each contributor. 

As part of this report, Bill had several paragraphs devoted to the new Basic Set. First, he addressed Holmes directly as part his comments made to previous A&E contributors:

Eric Holmes: the new revised D&D is written extremely well, at least. Kudos to you, sir, at least future DMs will not have to struggle with what we had. (numbered page 3 of Seligman's mini-zine, unnumbered page 83 of A&E #25)

Second, his information & thoughts about the new set:

But now, for some even bigger news: THE NEW REVISED AND TRULY PROOFREAD VERSION OF D&D IS OUT!!! Well, not the whole thing, just the basic version, for $10.00, This includes dice, a dungeon geomorph (yuk) and a set of pre-allocated rooms for 1-3 levels (yuk). The whole set is designed for setting up to third level characters and up to the third level of the' dungeon. Further versions of D&D will expand the current one to the Nth level. The next D&D book to be put out will be on monsters — there will be 378 of them. It will be out in October [actually published in Dec - Z]. Future releases will be an advanced D&D playing volume, a Dungeonmasters guide, and a revised Gods, Demi-Gods, and Heroes, each of which will be 8'-1/2 by 11 inches and bound like a paperback.
What I think of Basic D&D-- it is far, far better written than the original. There are a lot, more examples. Including examples of melee, spell use, encumberance, and setting up a dungeon level. Naturally the spell system and combat system is the Gygaxian one — what did you expect? Kask [at Origins] justified this too -- he said that D&D is based on Vancian magic, and that it restricts high-level mages, who would otherwise control the whole game. I wish they had not included the geomorphs and dungeon example, since too many neo-DMs will use them with no individual changes when they first start out. However, if you are starting a D&D campaign, from the 1st level, then get this book. It is available w/o dice, geomorphs, pre-allocations, and box for $5.00, with for $10.00. 
One thing though -- in the monster encounter charts, they list creatures like Leprechauns and Troglodytes which are not listed in the monster descriptions. Kask said that if a person never saw a Lucky Charms commercial or read a fairy tale there was nothing he could do --but normally somebody could work up something for those monsters. I disagree - assuming a true neo, he would not be able to assign the monster any hit points that were reasonable - he would not even really understand what hit points were for. But, Kask said, Leprechauns would be explained in the next book. (numbered page 4 of Seligman's mini-zine, unnumbered page 84 of A&E #25)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Once and Future Romero

Yes, that's Ed Harris in the Knightriders film poster!

I was saddened to hear that George Romero passed away a few days ago. I have fond memories of a time about fifteen years ago when we lived near a great video store (remember those?) that had prominent shelves dedicated to certain directors: Romero, Herzog, Altman, etc. While I love Romero's zombie films, Knightriders (1981) is actually my favorite of his. It's an ensemble drama (Altman-esque) about a troupe of knights who joust on motorcyles at Renaissance Festivals. It's got his signature social commentary. Starring a young Ed Harris (pictured above) in the King Arthur-type role and Tom Savini in the Mordred-type role. A must see.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Draft of OD&D

Over on Playing at the World, Jon Peterson announced late last week that the 50th anniversary of Gen Con would feature a museum dedicated to the history of the gaming hobby from its origins through recent times. As part of this there's big news for those of us who study the early history of D&D: "You will be able to see some amazing artifacts like this: a first draft of Dungeons & Dragons." Not the Dalluhn manuscript that he has written about previously (which now appears to be a later variant), but a newly uncovered draft. 

On ODD74, Jon wrote more about this document:
"The original larger draft weighed in at about 100 pages double spaced, and we might suppose it corresponds to the 100 page draft that Gygax sometimes mentioned in his later recollections of the development of D&D. Let's call that larger draft "Guidon" D&D. It was perhaps the earliest complete draft, though the photocopies ["Mornard Fragments"] of it that Mike [Mornard] received feature a number of hand corrections that date from a later time than when GD&D was first typed up."

From this draft, Jon shares text that would become part of the cover of the booklets. It's a beautiful sight:

We can see the typist originally typed "Campaigns" and then altered it to make it singular and added "Games". And "& Pencil" was added later, ironically, in pencil.

Further changes were made for the printed covers (here Men & Magic, Vol 1):

Here "Campaign Games" becomes "Wargames Campaigns" and is moved to after "Medieval". And rather than using the components as adjectives to describe the game, the subtitle here uses them as components "Playable with" the campaigns. These components incorporate the "Pencil" addition and drop the word "Board". But the reference to a board remains in the text of the printed game: "The use of paper, pencil and map boards are standard" (pg 5, section "Scope".

That's all we know so far. This document has been speculated about for decades. I'm looking forward to learning more about it!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Chris Holmes on Tell Me About Your Character

Listen to Chris Holmes 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 [link is now dead]

Update: Unfortunately, as of March 2018 the TMAYC podcast is defunct, per their Patreon site:

However, the podcast is still listenable via the internet archive here: