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Saturday, November 27, 2021

TSR's 1976 "Lower Prices" Dice Ad (that shares text with Holmes Basic)



Over on Ebay, Jim Ward has been auctioning items accumulated from his career working at TSR, and among them I noted this early advertisement for dice from TSR that I don't recall seeing before. It appears to be from 1976, as the reverse side is an announcement for the new Metamorphosis Alpha RPG. TSR produced a number of these monochrome advertising sheets in the 1970s, some of which were also used as ads in magazines.

The lengthy explanatory text at the bottom of the page especially caught my attention because it's extremely similar to the "USING THE DICE" section found near the end of the Holmes Basic rulebook. Back in the last post of the Holmes Manuscript series, I presumed that this section originated with TSR, as it is not found in Holmes' manuscript.



Image originally posted in the Holmes Basic G+ Community (archived here)


The above image is from a 2nd or 3rd printing of the rulebook, but the "Using the Dice" text is the same in the 1st printing. Below is a transcription in which I've bolded the text that is the same as in the "Low Impact" Ad:

        Players need not be confused by the special dice
called for in DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. By using the
assortment of 4-, 6-, 8-, 12- and 20-sided dice, a wide
range of random possibilities can be easily handled.
        For a linear curve (equal probability of any
number), simply roll the appropriate die for 1-4, 1-6, 1 -
8, 1-10 , or 1-12. If some progression is called for,
determine and use the appropriate die (for instance, 2-
7 would call for a 6-sided die with a one spot addition).
For extensions of the base numbers, roll a second die
with the appropriately numbered die. For example: to
generate 1-20, roll the 20-sided die and 6-sided die,
and if the 6-sided die comes up 1-3 , the number shown
on the 20-sider is 1-10 (1-0), and if the 6-sider comes up
4-6, add 10 to the 20-sided die and its numbers become
11-20 (1-0). This application is used with the 12-sided
die to get 1-24. If 1-30 or 1-36 are desired, read the 6-
sider with the 20- or 12-sided die, with 1 -2 equalling no
addition, 3-4 adding 10, and 5-6 adding 20. This
principle can be used to generate many other linear
curves.
        For bell curves (increasing probability of numbers
in the center, decreasing at both ends), just roll the
same die two or more times, roll several of the same
type of dice, or even roll two or more different dice.

The introductory sentence has been replaced with two sentences, and one extra sentence covering modified ranges has been added, but otherwise the text is almost identical. From this we can see how another portion of the text of the Holmes Basic rulebook was constructed from some pre-existing text. I don't know whether this text is original to this ad, or if there is yet another source text from which it was taken. I assume the author here is Gygax based on the lengthier "Dice" section in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.

A later version of the "Using the Dice" text that is revised to include the chits can be seen in my recent post, Jim Ward on the Why of Chits.

See Also
Dice of the Gods (Creative Publications Dice Packaging)

Friday, November 12, 2021

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave: Random Encounters

A random encounter table for the The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, which starts here.


Illustration of a Large Rock Crab by Lore Suto


d12 Wandering Monsters and Other Encounters

When the players spend a turn searching, there is a 1 in 12 chance of an encounter per turn.

If an encounter occurs, roll d12 to determine which:

1. A large rock crab, camouflaged as a rock or stalagmite, strikes out at a random party member with previously hidden claws. Double chance of surprise (1-4 in 6)Unlimited in number.

Large Rock Crab (1): DX 9, AC 6, HD 1/2, AT 2 pinchers for 1d4 each. 

2. pack of feral cats, descendants of smugglers' pets, begins circling the party just beyond their light source, meowing raucously for food. Providing food will quiet them. Otherwise, the noise will keep increasing until something else is attracted to the noise (roll again on the table), at which point it will suddenly cease.

3. A juvenile carrion crawler reaches down from a wall or ceiling in an attempt to paralyze a random party member. This is the spawn of the carrion crawler in Area #3; these are encountered alone, and there are only 8 in total throughout the cave system.

Juvenile Carrion Crawler (1): DX 15, AC 9, HD 1, AT 2 only (due to small size), D 0 + save vs poison at +4 or paralyzed.

4. The ghost of a peddler, who long ago provided the smugglers with goods, approaches. He is friendly and eager to sell goods to the party. He can procure any type ordinary equipment available at twice the cost of the rulebook prices. However, these items are actually brought forward in time from the past, and return there after one day.

5. An aggregation of aggroaches on the hunt scurries towards the party. See the full writeup of the aggroach here

Aggroach (variable): DX 10, AC 7, HD variable, AT 1 bite for 1 point.

Roll a d12 for size and numbers: 

1-6      =  2d6    least  (1 hp)
7-9      =  1d10  large  (HD 1/2)
10-11  =  1d6    huge  (HD 1)
12       =  1d4    giant  (HD 2)

6. A cloud of miasma settles in the area, sickening the party. Each must Save vs. Poison or make all die rolls at -1 for 3 turns.

7. A vampire bat, part of the colony in Area 6swoops in and attempts to bite a random party member. 

Vampire Bat (1): DX 18, AC 3 (9 while attached), HD 1/8 (1 hp), AT 1 bite for 1 point damage, attaches on a successful hit and then automatically drains 1 hp per round for two rounds, at which point it is full and will detach and fly away. 

8. A group of torches appears in the distance in the dark. Once in the light, they are revealed as floating torches. These are corpse lights, a type of minor undead formed from the spirits of smuggler lackeys who died in the caves.

Corpse Light (floating torch) (3d4): DX 10, AC 7, HD 1/8 (1 hp), AT 1 torch for 1 point of damage. Undead, turned as skeletons with a +2 on the roll.

9. A partial skeleton, just an upper torso, drags itself into view and begins inexorably crawling towards a member of party. On 1 in 4 it still wears a minor piece of jewelry worth 10d4 gp.

Partial Skeleton (1): DX 10, AC 7, HD 1/8 (1 hp), AT 1 claws for 1 point of damage. Undead, turned as skeletons with a +2 on the roll. 

10. A stalactite or chunk of rubble, disturbed by the group's movements, falls from above on a random party member. Treat as an attack by a 1 HD monster, with a hit doing 1d6 damage.

11. A small piercer drops from the ceiling on a random person in an attempt to find a meal. 

Piercer (1): DX 3, AC 3, HD 1, AT 1 drop for 1d6 per HD.

12. Roll for surprise. On a 1 or 2, a random adventurer realizes that the wet rock they are standing on is actually a grey ooze, which has begun dissolving their boots. Otherwise, they  are merely standing near the ooze.

Gray Ooze (1): DX 3, AC 8, HD 3, AT 1 for 2d8.

Chronologically on this blog, this post was made after Area 10 and before Area 11.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Jim Ward on the Why of Chits


The Chit Sheets, Front and Back.
Source: The Dice Collector

Later printings of the Holmes Basic D&D set came with an infamous sheet of chits, pictured above, in place of dice. I myself was one of those kids that received such a set, which only added to my confusion in understanding how the game was placed, despite the instruction sheet included for using the chits. It's long been rumored that the change was due to a dice shortage in face of D&D's popularity, and thus increased need for dice, but former TSR employee recently related (here on FB), how it was actually the result of management decisions by TSR during a time they were developing their own dice:


Young Jim Ward and the Dice Monster

© all rights reserved by James M. Ward 

“Young Jim Ward” was a history teacher in a small rural school when the call came in. I had just finished writing Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes, Deities & Demigods for AD&D, and Metamorphosis Alpha the first science fiction role-playing game. I told Gary Gygax that as soon as he could pay my teacher’s salary of 13,400 dollars I would move back to Elkhorn and join his company. In 1980 he was able to do that and I moved. 

“Young Jim Ward” started out in the sales department as the inventory controller. It was my job to order the boxes and parts for the games and especially the D&D box set. It was selling 100,000 units a month, steady as clock work. One of “young Jim Ward’s” jobs was to make sure the Hong Kong dice came in on time to fill the next batch of 100,000 boxes. It was a responsibility I took very seriously. 

It took exactly six months for 100,000 sets of poly dice to be made, ship from Hong Kong over the water, and be delivered to the boxer in Madison; Patch Press at the time. Naturally, being a careful person “young Jim Ward” ordered the dice two months early so that 100,000 boxes in December had their dice ordered 8 months out. So in May “young Jim Ward” was ordering dice for the December publication and everyone was fine with that. 

I’m proud to say there were some problems with getting things in on time before me. After “young Jim Ward” started, we were never late on getting product out. This included the day Patch Press printed 16 pages of the monster manual pages in the player handbook [sic*] and shipped the 100,000 to our warehouse. 

So one day “young Jim Ward” is doing his job and the vice presidents of the company have a meeting and decide it would be much more cost effective to make our own dice. I had no problem with the concept. I told them my dice schedule and young Jim Ward went back to work. Two months later, the Vice President in charge of getting the dice molds made comes into my office and says I can stop ordering Hong Kong dice. I became very alarmed and asked the question, do we have finished dice molds? His reply was no but he was sure we would have finished molds in a few short weeks. That was why I could stop ordering dice. “Young and diligent Jim Ward” didn’t want to stop ordering dice since there wasn’t a finished dice mold yet. He went to his Vice President and got permission to order the next month’s 100,000 dice. 

Weeks later the other Vice President comes storming into the sales office. “I thought I told you not to order dice,” he shouted. “Do we have a working dice mold?” I asked very meekly even though I wasn’t feeling meek. I had a job to do. “No we don’t, but that doesn’t matter, we will when we need the dice.” He stormed out of the office and I heard the lecture. I was told if a vice president of the company gave me an order I had to do it. I didn’t order the next month’s dice and it almost killed “young Jim Ward” with worry. 

For two months “young Jim Ward” got real sneaky and tracked the progress of the dice mold. On the day we were going to be late if we didn’t have Hong Kong dice “young Jim Ward” sent out a memo detailing the schedule and our need for 100,000 sets of dice. “Young Jim Ward” gave it to all of the vice presidents. An hour later the mold VP brought the memo back to my office and threw it in my face. “We will have dice when we need them. You are not to worry about this matter any more.”

Naturally, “young Jim Ward” started to worry even more. I asked my Vice President if I would send out memos every week (I wanted every day, but held myself in check) on the dice issue. He made me send out one a month. On the day when it would be too late to order dice to get them in December I sent out a memo detailing that fact. All the vice presidents got together and were assured we would have dice. “Young Jim Ward” was ordered not to send out any more memos on the dice. Raw blades of inventory agony transfixed “young Jim Ward’s” body as the weeks went by. Still sneaky, I knew exactly what condition the dice were in that were being made by the mold. I begged my VP to talk to Gary about the matter. He did and Gary went to the dice mold VP and asked to see what type of dice were being made by the new molds. That VP opened his desk to pull out several pieces of what looked like popcorn with numbers on them. Clearly they would not be used for the D&D box set. Gary went to me and told me to order dice and get them as soon as possible. He also told me never to listen to anyone who said not to order dice again. That dice VP got a written reprimand and I got a huge smile on my face. 

For three ugly months we used cardboard counters and a coupon for dice in our box sets. The only people happy about that were the prisoners in jail as they couldn’t get games with dice in them. From then on the dice VP didn’t like me at all and every time I was promoted into another position he would tell my supervisor what a trouble maker I was.


* It was the Dungeon Masters Guide that was misprinted with the pages of the Monster Manual, in what is designated the "Second Alpha" printing here on the Acaeum.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

"Game Wizards" Has Arrived!

 

Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons is the title of the new book by Jon Peterson of Playing at the World fame. I had eagerly awaited it since hearing about it, and had pre-ordered from Amazon, and it arrived in the mail today, like magic, on its official release date. Shelfie above. 

After checking out the images in the book, I naturally looked up Holmes & the Basic Set in the index and skimmed some of those parts. This lead to reading more parts before I forced myself to stop, so I can start at the beginning. But my early verdict is that it is very readable.


(" As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases ")


In the weeks leading up to the release, Jon made a related series of "behind the scenes" posts to the Playing at the World blog:






There were also several tie-in media articles:


Polygon: How a pending lawsuit changed the original D&D Basic Set (a "never-before-seen piece that was cut from the final book")

Wired: The Missing Teen Who Fueled ‘Cult Panic’ Over D&D ("This story is adapted from Game Wizards")

Friday, October 1, 2021

Sutherland Dragon Details


As promised in my earlier post about on the exhibit of the Holmes Basic cover art ⁠— aka the Sutherland Dragon ⁠— here are several close-ups of different portions.


The Fighter



The greens are more apparent, including in details such as the "emeralds" circling the pommel of the sword poking out from the treasure pile.

In the dragon's chest in the upper portion of this image you can clearly see multi-colored gems encrusted between the belly plates. A few are even gleaming, a detail which doesn't show up well because the gleams are white on a yellow background. 

Note Sutherland's signature, just visible below the shield. This portion of the image appeared on the bottom edge of the box set cover, where a bit more of his name can be seen than here.


The Magic-User



Here we see the wizard unobscured by the TSR logo and the other writing on the box cover.

Sutherland's attention to the lighting is very apparent in the yellow highlights and deep shadows applied to the wizard's blue robe.


The Dragon


Yellow bands of light radiate out from the wizard's torch, a detail that doesn't reproduce well on the boxed set cover. 

The motion lines accentuate the mood that the dragon has just been surprised. Sutherland used motion lines in other illustrations, particularly sword swings, such as on the title page of the Holmes Basic rulebook, as can be seen here.

As a reminder, the exhibit featuring this painting is at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA through Halloween, and then will be at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, TN from May 20 to September 5, 2022, and then at the Flint Institute of Art in Flint, MI from September 23, 2002 through January 8, 2023.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Ten Years of the Zenopus Archives



Ten years ago today, I made the first post to this blog, "What lies in the (undiscovered) deeper levels where Zenopus met his doom?", which was titled after Holmes' question in the coda to the Sample Dungeon. It was essentially just a teaser post, with just two links, both still active: one to the Zenopus Archives site, which was already under construction, and one to the Holmes Basic subforum on ODD74. But soon after that I started to post regularly, which ballooned to 65 posts in the last four months of 2011, and then 130 the next year, a pace that I have not kept up with since. But I have kept at it, and now it's ten years later, which is almost three times as long as the original era of Holmes Basic, and I have no plans for stopping.



 Source


TSR celebrated their 10th Anniversary with a Collector's Set, so I'm doing the same with 10 years of highlights, a sort of "Collector's Set" for the Zenopus Archives:


2011


Caves of Chaos Revealed


2012

Warlock or How to Play D&D without playing D&D?


2013

The Cthulhu Mythos in D&D in the 1970s


2014

20 Backgrounds for OD&D

Fearsome Monsters


2015

Visualizing Castle Greyhawk

Beyond the Door to Monster Mountain


2016

Con Report for NTRPGCon 2016

Gygaxian Orc Tribes


2017

Holmes Ref 2.0

Tales of Peril Book Club


2018

Gygax's "Dungeon Delving" Playtest Reports



2019

The Holmes Basic G+ Community Archive

In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus at Gary Con

The Master's Lair, A Play Report


2020 

Release of The Ruined Tower of Zenopus 



2021

d20 Unexpectedly Intelligent Monsters in the Monster Manual

Holmes Basic Cover Art: Exhibited!

Thursday, September 2, 2021

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus: September Starter Sale


DMs Guild is having a "September Starter Sale", with select introductory adventures up to 30% off through September 7th, and The Ruined Tower of Zenopus has been selected, so it is currently only $1.39!

As a reminder, if you missed the announcement last fall, the pdf now includes a full-page illustration by Chris Holmes (son of J. Eric Holmes) and a printer-friendly dungeon map. The purchase also includes a separate png file of the dungeon map suitable for VTTs (optimized for Roll20).

For old-school enthusiasts, here on the blog I also offered notes on retro-converting it:

Running It Retro, Part I 

Running It Retro, Part II

The adventure went Platinum back in January (1,001 sales), and is now close to 1,500 sales. However, the next badge (Mithril) at DMs Guild doesn't come until 2,501 sales are hit.

Find it here:
The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild


Click here to read reviews of the RTOZ by various bloggers 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Dice Dragon (New Monster)


TSR's Dragon Dice (1981). Art by Jim Roslof.
Detail of photo by Brian Stillman as found here


Dice Dragon

Move: 60 feet/turn, 240 feet/turn flying
Hit Dice: 1+1
Armor Class: 2
Treasure Type: Q
Alignment: neutral (75%)/chaotic good (25%)
Attacks: 1 bite
Damage: 1d6

These winged but legless micro-dragons, purple-and-blue with a yellow underbelly, are even smaller than their distant kin, the pseudo-dragons, but just as intelligent. Typically lairing in inaccessible crags or the tallest trees in the wilderness, dice dragons are occasionally found in association with thieves or gamblers, as they have an innate fondness for games of chance, particularly those involving dice, hence their common name. Indifferent to coins, they more eagerly wager for gems or precious stones, communicating via a raspy hiss and manipulating the dice with their tail, and storing their winnings in a small container, around which they coil while at rest.

Dice dragons defend themselves with their sharp bite or, thrice a day, a small puff of faerie fire, which does no damage but outlines one target in glowing light for 4d4 rounds (giving attackers a +2 to hit the target).

* * * * *

Notes

This new monster is inspired by the art on the packaging for the first set of polyhedra dice that I found after getting a Holmes Basic set with chits, TSR's Dragon Dice (1981), which was their first set of branded dice. My original set - which I still have some of - was pale blue as shown in the advertisement here in a 2012 retrospective on Grognardia. As can be seen there, the marketing promoted the plastic part of the packaging as a "reusable carrying case", hence the container portion of the write-up. 

This art is by Jim Roslof, who also did the cover the B2 Keep on the Borderlands; see here for a "bibliography" of his work on the Zenopus Archives site.

The "neutral/chaotic good" alignment is in accord with Holmes Basic, where some monsters - including all dragons - are written with a dual alignment, and some (like dwarves) are given percentages.

I chose to incorporate a "flame" breath weapon in line with the illustration, but used faerie fire to make it more interesting than just an ordinary flame, and because it seems fitting as it affects the roll of a die. It also helps differentiate it from other old school D&D mini-dragons:
  • The Pseudo-Dragon from the original Monster Manual, which appears as a miniature red dragon but can change color, and has a poison stinger instead of a breath weapon.
  • The Faerie Dragon from the Dragon #62 (and then the Monster Manual II), and breathes "euphoria gas".
  • The Pocket Dragon from the module M2 Maze of the Riddling Minotaur, which resembles a miniature green dragon and has a venomous bite.
All of the above have legs, but I also came across the amphiptere, which as used in heraldry is typically legless, but seems to have been written up in later systems as a miniature wyvern, for example there's a 5e version here.

I also kept in mind Pip the venomous "minidrag", who is winged and legless, from Alan Dean Foster's sci-fi Pip and Flinx series (1972 and on), which I started reading back in high school.

Friday, August 20, 2021

The Holmes Basic Set Cover Art: Exhibited!


"The Sutherland Dragon" on display, photo by myself


About two weeks ago, while on vacation, I saw a cryptic post on FB implying that the original Holmes Basic Set cover art  which I often refer to as "The Sutherland Dragon", after the artist  was on display in public ... somewhere. After a bit of searching, I confirmed that it was indeed being exhibited, as part of the show Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration at the Norman Rockwell Museum in the town of Stockbridge in western Massachusetts. I hadn't heard of the show until that moment, but at the time I just happened to be within reasonable driving distance of the museum, and would not be as close again for some time, so a quick decision was made to take a previously unplanned side trip to the museum!

A Painting Rediscovered

Not all original D&D art still exists, but I've known for a while that Sutherland's painting does, because back in 2013 Steve Winter reported on Twitter that it had been found, like the Lost Ark of the Covenant, "in a crate in WotC's warehouse". Steve provided a photo, observing that the "detail is amazing", which showed that the art had slipped inside its framing while in storage:




(As an aside, I joined Twitter for the first time just so I could comment on Steve's tweet, which eventually led to regular usage, and I recently passed 700 followers).

At the time, Steve also wrote on his blog Howling Tower about the find, which he coincidentally posted on Holmes' date of birth.

I also have a vague recollection of hearing later that it was now hanging up at the WOTC offices. I've played in several games with Steve at NTRPG Con and Gary Con over the years since (Gamma World, for example), so I may have asked him about it at one point.

Update: I was reminded on Twitter that on page 394 of Art & Arcana (2018), there is a small inset showing a WOTC employee holding the Sutherland Dragon with the caption: "Wizards employee Curt Gould poses in front of the beast with a red dragon of his own — the original Dave Sutherland basic box painting that he discovered in a Wizards of the Coast warehouse in 2013". The painting is in the same frame as the current exhibit. This may have been the source of my vague recollection mentioned in the paragraph above.

The Exhibit Curator on Sutherland's Illustration

The Enchanted exhibit opened in mid-June, after which the museum held a virtual symposium, which included a keynote talk (archived here on Google) by the exhibition curator, Jesse Kowalski, who at one point shows Sutherland's art (at ~41:00) and says that "it is probably the painting I was most thrilled to have in the exhibit", and that "I believe it is the first time on view to the public. It's on loan from Wizards of the Coast", and while "...it's not the best painting, however, it's such an iconic work that started a whole generation of kids in the basement rolling dice".

Visiting the Museum

After driving several hours we arrived in Stockbridge, where Rockwell had lived, and then at the museum, which is in a beautiful leafy setting with picnic tables and sculptures, which currently includes a complimentary exhibit of contemporary fantasy sculpture, titled Land of Enchantment: A Fantastical Outdoor Sculpture ExhibitionIn addition to the museum proper, which counts George Lucas and Steven Spielberg as donors, Rockwell's actual studio is also on the grounds, having been moved there from another location in town. 

Update: Thanks to a user on reddit, I've learned that Stockbridge is also famous as the setting of Arlo Guthrie's song Alice's Restaurant.

Seeing The Sutherland Dragon

After paying our entry fee and applying my sticker, I zipped through the rooms of the exhibit until I found what I was there for, which was hung next to another classic from the same era, David Trampier's Pseudo-dragon from the AD&D Monster Manual:




It was stunning to finally see the Sutherland Dragon in the person. 
The colors in the original are *much* brighter than the published image on the box cover, and many details are more apparent, such as the colorful, glinting gems stuck in the crevices between the dragon's belly scales, like Smaug in the Hobbit. I'll make a follow-up post with a few closer photos of details of the painting, so here I'll just talk about some overall impressions of the painting as it is on display in the exhibition.

The painting, which the wall text indicates is "acrylic on board", has been re-framed since 2013, and now includes triple matting (see the picture at the top of this blog). I imagine this was done by Wizards of the Coast, who the wall text indicates are still the owners. The catalog for the exhibit (see below for more on this) lists the size as 24 5/8" x 22", which I believe refers to the entire framing, or perhaps just the painted board inside. The new matting is more aggressive than in the earlier frame, limiting the visible portion of the painting to about 10" by 12", which is just a bit larger than the original box cover, which is about 9" by 11". I can guess why this was done, as it has the effect of focusing the presentation on the action of the scene: the wizard and warrior confronting the looming red dragon. And it also emphasizes that Sutherland was painting something just a bit larger in scale than what was needed for the product as published. 

Unfortunately, WOTC's new matting covers up some significant details from Sutherland's original painting. Like other TSR boxed games from this era, the cover art was printed not just on the top of the box lid, but also wraps around to the sides. In the case of the Holmes Basic Set, the left, top and right sides each show the blocks of dungeon walls, which were all part of Sutherland's painting. Since this is an exhibition focusing on illustration, I would have preferred to see the entire painting, along with discussion of how Sutherland arranged a composition that was intended for a wrap-around box top. 

The matting also shifts the "visible portion" of the painting downward from the published box cover, which covers up most of a significant detail that is visible at the top of the published box cover: the archway that connects the top of the columns and frames the dragon. As a positive, this shift keeps uncovered most of what was shown on the bottom box edge, allowing for an fuller unobstructed view of the two adventurers, which I enjoyed seeing.
 
For a visualization of what the entire painting might look like if the current matting was removed, here is a mock-up of the original art posted on the Xeveninti blog back in 2010. It was made by scanning the entirety of the original box (cover and all four sides), editing these together, and editing out the graphics:




I hope I don't sound too negative here; this was simply an observation I made while viewing the painting and thinking about it. My overall experience at the museum was terrific, I was thrilled to see the painting in person, and it is wonderful that it has been preserved ("it belongs in a museum!") and has been made available for public showing by WOTC.

Exhibition Catalog

I bought a copy of this at the gift shop, and you can purchase it online here. It's nicely done, edited by the curator of the exhibit, and lavishly filled with color images from the exhibit, plus other images not in the exhibit. There's an 11-page section called "Gaming", which includes a ~1/3-page image of the Sutherland painting — I, of course, wish they made this one full page like some of the other illustrations in the book — and a really nice large scan of Trampier's Pseudo-dragon, as well as other gaming art, including an Elmore and an Easley that were also in the show.

Thy Deadline

If you want to see the exhibit in person in Stockbridge, get there by October 31st of this year!

Update: Mike S. on FB found info here on where the show will later move to:

  • May 20 to September 5, 2022: Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, TN
  • September 23, 2022 to January 8, 2023: Flint Institute of Art in Flint, MI

Future Posts

I plan to make a few follow-up posts with some closer shots of the Sutherland Dragon, and also a few of the other artworks in the exhibition, including Trampier's Pseudo-Dragon. I'll update this section with the links once they are up.

See also:

Smaug versus the Sutherland Dragon

David Sutherland Day

Sutherland Dragon in Lego

Dragon+ 5 Wallpaper inspired by Sutherland Dragon

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave #10: Driftwood Hermitage

This is an installment of The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, which starts at Area 1.


Area 9



||



Sea  ===C  10. Driftwood Hermitage

(C = concealed)

10. DRIFTWOOD HERMITAGE: The water-filled passage from Area 9 opens into the north end of a large natural cavern, dimly lit during the day via cracks in the ceiling. On the eastern side, a wide rock ledge rises two feet from the water, and on this rests a large wooden hut built against the cavern wall.

If the PCs enter during the day, roll a d6 to determine where Mar Nes the Hermit, a former crabber who is now a wereshark, is currently located:

1-3: in the shelter, asleep

4: in the shelter, awake

5: swimming underwater, and immediately aware of the party

6: out of the cavern, with a 1 in 10 chance of returning each round

At night, Mar Nes will typically be out in the sea hunting for fish.

Ledge and Hut Exterior. The water is 20' deep throughout the cave, and the ledge rises straight from the bottom, so a boat can easily be pulled up alongside it. 

On closer inspection, the hut is built from large driftwood and decorated with a variety of sea shells. A curtain of old ropes serves as a door, to the back of which are tied several buoy bells that will clang loudly if passed through.

The Hermit Crabber. If the hut is approached and Mar Nes is awake, or awakened by someone attempting to enter, he will cry out that they should speak through the door as he has a contagious skin disease (e.g. leprosy). This is not true, although his rough skin does have an unnatural grey tone. He will also give a fake name (Grink) that townsfolk will not recognize, and claim to have climbed down here years ago through a crack in the ceiling that is no longer accessible.

While not pleased to have his lair discovered, Mar Nes is inquisitive and will try to learn more about the PCs by acting the part of a hermit. He will trade information about the caves for food (other than seafood) or alcohol. Being a smuggler in his youth, he knows the general layout of the cave system prior to the cave-ins, including the tunnel above the waterfall in Area 9. He also knows of the Sea Changed in Area 8, which he avoids, and how to slow the change with daily application of vinegar.

However, if any character possesses the unholy symbol from Area #7, there is a 1 in 6 chance each round that it will trigger Mar Nes changing into wereshark form and charging forth in an attempt to take it.

In truth, after decades successfully crabbing out of Portown, Mar Nes was bit by a wereshark when pulling up a crab trap. He fended it off with his lucky silver knife, but was infected with lycanthropy. Abandoning town, he remembered these caves and found this spot to lair in, hunting for fish in the sea at night. Due to his force of personality, he has maintained a fair degree of control over his lycanthropy. He occasionally returns to Portown in human form to sell old treasures from shipwrecks for money for his family, and to bring pretty seashells to his beloved young great-granddaughter.

Mar Nes the Wereshark (DX 8, AC 3, HD 5, HP 31, #AT 1 bite x 3d6, immune to normal weapons in shark form)

Hut InteriorInside are rough furnishings, including a sleeping mat and sitting logs. Hidden behind a loose rock in the back wall is a cavity holding a barnacle-encrusted gold brooch worth 50 gp, or double that if properly cleaned, several seashells, and an oilskin wrapping holding drawings made by a young child.

Underwater TunnelThe only other exit from the cavern is submerged ten feet beneath the surface of the water in the west wall, where a ten-foot wide underwater tunnel leads several hundred feet to the west to the sea.

There is only one above-water exit from this area, which is the passage from Area 9. There is also a tunnel concealed underwater that leads west several hundred feet out to the ocean.

Chronologically on this blog, the previous post installment was Area 9 and the next posted installment will be Area 11.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

d20 Unexpectedly Intelligent Monsters in the Monster Manual (1977)



Tom Wham's classic comic commentary on unexpectedly intelligent monsters


Happy Gary Gygax Day 2021! 

To celebrate, here's a post about Gygax and Arneson's monsters:

Every competent adventurer expects to encounter intelligent monsters like dragons, minotaurs and vampires, but in other cases brainpower and the ability to communicate lurk where they might not be expected. This type of twist didn't feature much in the original monster list in Monsters & Treasure (Vol 2 of OD&D), but really started to take off in the monsters added in the supplements (particularly Blackmoor and Eldritch Wizardry) and in the Strategic Review. These were eventually compiled, along with more additions, in the AD&D Monster Manual, with each monster now having a formal Intelligence stat. Many of the "secretly intelligent" monsters remain under-appreciated and/or underused, at least with respect to their intellect. Let's take a look at them, and since it's D&D, I've written it up as a table so you can roll one to use as a potentially "chatty" encounter in your next dungeon:

d20 Unexpectedly Intelligent Monsters in the Monster Manual

1. Ape, Carnivorous: "Low (upper)" (7). The ordinary ape, listed as "Ape, (Gorilla)", has Low (5-7) intelligence, but its "larger, stronger and very aggressive relative" is at the upper end of that range, having a "fair intelligence (IQ 70+) and being "very cunning". Disturbingly, these smarts correspond with a sinister craving, as it "hungers particularly for human flesh"...

2. Beaver, Giant: Low to Average (5-10). While the other unusually-sized rodent in this book, the Giant Rat, is only semi-intelligent, the Giant Beaver at the high end approaches the average for human intelligence, i.e., 10.5 on a 3-18 bell curve. Furthermore, their description indicates an interest in coins, trading, and building dams for profit, which means that they are essentially an unexpected and woefully underused NPC race for characters to interact with. The details in the Monster Manual go back to the original writeup in the Blackmoor supplement, which also includes "gourmet bark" (!) in the list of valuables they will trade for. Dan Boggs has speculated in a post on ODD74 that they were one of the monsters written up by Dave Arneson himself. To me, they feel like an amalgamation of the prehistoric giant beavers that existed in the U.S. until relatively recent times, which were similarly 6 feet long, and Mr & Mrs Beaver from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

3. Beetle, Boring: Animal (1). With six different varieties of giant beetle, each one needed a distinguishing trait, and for the Boring Beetle this feature is a hive mind. Thus, alone among beetles, the Boring Beetle has an intelligence score above zero, which fuels alternative-agriculture skills in the form of farming "molds, slimes and fungi substances", and (per rumor, but in D&D the monster rumors are always true, right?) developing "a communal intelligence which generates a level of consciousness and reasoning ability approximating that of the human brain". As with the Giant Beaver, these details go back to the Blackmoor supplement, and likely Arneson, which elaborates on these farming practices: they grow "yellow mold for food, as well as cultivating many of the other vile jellies and slimes often encountered in dungeons" and "[t]hey start their nauseating cultures by gathering various dead bodies and rotting offal and add a small bit of the substance to stimulate growth (sort of putrid Petrie dishes)" I think the implication here is that their practices are partly responsible for the "the clean-up crew" being so prevalent in dungeons! Not quite so, ahem, boring?

4. Dolphin: Very (11-12). While everyone knows that Dolphins are on the intelligent side for animals, in D&D they boast a score above the average for humans, and towering over their underachieving cetacean kin, the whales, who can only boast a score of Low (5-7). Furthermore, ten percent of dolphins go so far as to form "underwater communities" that are sufficiently organized to employ guards from other species, such as swordfish or narwhals. This is yet another creature first written up for the Blackmoor supplement, but Boggs places their authorship with contributor Steve Marsh, later thanked in the Monster Manual for "for devising the creatures for undersea encounters which originally appeared in BLACKMOOR". The original writeup places even more emphasis on their "great intelligence", as they can communicate with other dolphins using telepathy, and in battle employ a "war harness", a rig with "a long wicked spear that protrudes in front"...!

5. Gray Ooze: Animal (1). Most of the clean-up crew cohort are non-intelligent, including Black Puddings, Gelatinous Cubes, Green Slimes and Ochre Jellies, but the Gray Ooze is a slightly higher order of creature, having animal intelligence. And with great size they can transcend even this modest brain-power: "In exceptionally large individuals an intelligence of a sort is well developed. Furthermore, these exceptional individuals have a latent psionic ability..." that includes a psychic crush attack. This ability was first added in an entry in Eldritch Wizardry in the section on Psionics. Now you are now probably wondering, "Do psionic Grey Oozes dream of deliquescing sheep"?

6. Invisible Stalker: High (13-14). In OD&D, these were "an extra-dimensional monster" conjured by the 6th-level magic-user spell of the same name, but here they are revealed to be from the Elemental Plane of Air. Unlike their clerically-summoned cousins, the Aerial Servants, who are only semi-intelligent, or garden-variety Air Elementals, who are of low intelligence, the Invisible Stalker is extremely bright, which is probably why they so often resent being whisked from their home to do a magic-user's grunt work. Note that the entry for Air Elemental also indicates that on the plane of air are "certain intelligent air elementals which have special abilities beyond the above". 

7. Lynx, Giant: Very (11-12). See Tom Wham's cartoon at the top of the page, which sums it all up much better than this wordy blog post.

8. Mimic, Lesser: "Semi- to Average" (2-10). Mimics have a much wider range in intelligence than most monsters because, as the text reveals, there are actually two types: the larger "killer mimic", which is only semi-intelligent and "the slightly smaller, intelligent sort". The smart ones are "generally friendly if offered food", which is a rare instance of the Monster Manual using the term "friendly" in reference to a non-humanoid monster, and even better, they may "tell a party about what they have seen nearby". To aid in this advanced food-gathering tactic they have evolved a facility for languages, typically being able to speak "several other tongues such as common, orcish, etc" in addition to their own.

9. Mold, Yellow: "Non- (see below)" (0). While the typical Yellow Mold is not a deep thinker, or even a thinker at all, here size once again begets unexpected brainpower: "When formed into great colonies of at least 300 square feet in area this growth will form a collective intelligence about 1 time in 6. If this should happen the yellow mold will be aware mentally and psionically" and can attack equivalent to "the most powerful form of id insinuation." As with the Grey Ooze, this ability was first noted in Eldritch Wizardry. In addition to a psionic attack, the mental awareness suggests the colony might be communicated with via telepathy, assuming you took "Yellow Mold" as one of your languages.

10. Neo-Otyugh & Otyugh: Very (11-12) & Average (8-10). I've combined these because they obviously should have been one entry in the Monster Manual like the Mimic. I mean, the Neo-Otyugh entry is basically just: "bigger and smarter otyugh". These creatures dwell in the same ecological niche as the trash compactor monster in Star Wars, although they were published first, with the Neo-Otyugh appearing in the 1976 tournament version of the Lost Caverns of Tsojconth (see a pic here at the OSR Grimoire). Nobody expects a trash monster to be an Einstein, but unexpectedly the Otyughs are often as smart as the average human, speaking their own language and being "semi-telepathic, thus often able to communicate with other life forms when the otyugh so desire". Which is presumably useful for telling the boss when the dungeon septic tank needs to be cleaned out.

11. Octopus, Giant: Animal (1). While only a single point smarter than their dimmer cousins the Giant Squid, Gygax casts these overgrown cephalopods in a completely sinister light that appears to hint at even greater mental prowess. Specifically, they have an alignment of "Neutral (evil)", are "malicious", have "a cunning intent" and can form gangs with other members of their species "to overwhelm a larger ship if the opportunity presents itself". This evil disposition is a distinct change from their earlier writeup in the Blackmoor supplement, where they were "generally peaceful" and only attacking ships "after provocation". 

12. Owl, Giant: Very (11-12). While less unexpected than the other entries here in view of the association of owls with intelligence, giant owls "will sometimes befriend other creatures" and "speak their own language". A value is still given for their eggs, because humans are horrible.

13. Roper: Exceptional (15-16). This living stalagmite with octopus arms turns out to have the highest intelligence of all the monsters in this list, being way smarter than most humans. It was originally written up in Strategic Review #2 in very similar format, including a "Highly Intelligent" stat. There is no further mention of this intellect in either source, but it goes to show that in D&D, one would be foolish to underestimate "a mass of foul, festering corruption".

14. Shambling Mound: Low (5-7). Being a walking pile of swamp moss, one might expect a score of "Non-" here, but no, "Shamblers" (in Gygaxian slang) are actually smarter than a number of Fighters, as per the AD&D Players Handbook, with an intelligence of 5 or lower one can only be a Fighter. There's no other mention of any particularly brainy behavior, but I'm guessing that this score is a result of its comic book inspiration ala Swamp Thing, Man-Thing or the Heap.

15. Slithering Tracker: Average (8-10). This awesomely-named, plasma-draining, cleaning-crew-adjacent monster is often overlooked, most likely because there is no picture of it (but see the never published one here by Bill Willingham). They are much smarter than any of their relatives, perhaps having evolved such intelligence to aid in tracking their prey. A candidate for your next ranger character?

16. Spider, Giant, Phase & Giant Water: Low (5-7) or Semi- (2-4). Spiders in general follow the trend noted above of "bigger is brighter": Large Spiders (HD 1+1) are "Non-" (0), Huge Spiders (HD 2+2) are "Animal (1)", Giant Water Spiders (HD 3+3) are "Semi- (2-4)" and Giant Spiders (HD 4+4) and Phase Spiders (HD 5+5) are "Low (5-7)". There's not much elaboration on the intelligence of the Giant or Phase spiders in their entries, other than that they will flee superior foes (Giant Spiders) or that they will (in more erudite fashion) "seek to evade encounters which are unfavorable" (Phase Spiders), which based on their powers brings to mind Bilbo using the One Ring to avoid unwelcome visitors at Bag End. Giant Water Spiders, despite being only semi-intelligent, exhibit the most interesting of the noted spider behaviors, being approachable if offered food, and thus occasionally becoming pals with aquatic folk like nixies.

17. Strangleweed: Animal (1). Nobody expects an "intelligent kelp". Need I say more...? This is another undersea encounter originally devised by Steve Marsh for the Blackmoor supplement, although the word intelligent does not appear there.

18. Toad, Ice: Average (8-10). This oft-overlooked variety of overgrown amphibian has almost human-level intelligence, which is much, much higher than the "Animal (1)" intelligence of the typical Giant Toad. Furthermore, Ice Toads even have their "own weird language", which might prove useful when asking them for directions to the Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl.

19. Trapper: Highly (13-14). As this creature is the dungeon-floor counterpart of the more awesomely-named Lurker Above, one might predict a similar "Non-" intelligence, but instead the Trapper is a good degree smarter than the average human. This is perhaps an evolutionary necessity to stay ahead of all those suspicious adventurers. They are further described as "clever" and able to create a "protuberance which resembles a chest or a box", perhaps suggesting a relation to the more intelligent breed of Mimic (see above).

20. Wolf, Winter: Average (8-10). As with the Giant Lynx and Ice Toad, the Winter Wolf is a cold-climate species that is more intelligent than its temperate-dwelling relatives; in this case, both regular and dire wolves, each of which are only semi-intelligent. Winter Wolves are even a cut above the low-intellect Worgs, which based on Tolkien alone one might predict would possess a bit of cunning. What is it about the arctic that fosters intelligence in Gygaxia? As with the other arctic-intellects, they speak "their own language", but being "Neutral (evil)" and having a "foul disposition", I'm sensing a cultural rivalry with the neutrally-inclined Giant Lynx and Ice Toads.

Honorable mentions (since I wanted to keep the above list to 20 entries)Perytons and Umber Hulks, each of "Average (8-10)" intelligence, and each speaking their own language. Perytons were new for the Monster Manual, but Umber Hulks were first written up for the Greyhawk Supplement, but without any note of intelligence or language.

Coda 
Some of these cryptically intelligent races, such as the Giant Beaver, Ice Toad or even Mimic, might even be suitable for use as PCs, particularly in OD&D or Holmes Basic. As it says in OD&D, Vol 1 (and is echoed in Holmes Basic), "There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top". While Gygax infamously later changed his mind on this for AD&D, there was a time when he allowed it in his own games; for more on this, see Balrog PCs gone missing.

See also previous posts for Gary Gygax Day: