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 (dated 16 August 1977) as part of his contribution, "I WOULD HAVE MADE A GREAT PLATINUM DRAGON #10" (APAzines are compilations of mini-zines by each contributor).

Here's what Seligman had to say about the new Basic Set:

First, in his comments directed 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 min-zine, unnumbered page 83 of A&E #25)

Later, his news & thoughts on 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 HerphS, 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

http://www.tellmeaboutyourcharacter.com/episode/3/8

Monday, June 26, 2017

Tales of Peril Ordering Details

Tales of Peril at the Black Blade booth at NTRPG Con. Photo by Allan Grohe

I am excited to share that Tales of Peril - the Complete Boinger & Zereth Stories of John Eric Holmes - is now available for order. For details on how to order see this post on Allan Grohe's blog:

How to Order Tales of Peril (and other books) from Black Blade Publishing

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Lesser Magic Items

One of the new additions to Holmes Ref 2.0 is a table of Lesser Magic Items. The material in this table originally appeared with illustrations, in Dungeon Crawl #3 (2013), a zine edited by Wayne Rossi (still available; follow the link for more info). I've now made the Holmes Ref version available as a separate sheet:

Click here to read/view the table of Lesser Magic Items

Reproduced below for reference is the text of my original article (with a few new edits).

* * * * *

In the introductory module B2 Keep on the Borderlands, Gary Gygax wrote, "If only two or three player characters are to adventure, be sure to have a non-player character or two go along, as well as a few men-at-arms. In addition, give the player characters a magic dagger or some magic arrows and at least one potion of healing - family bequests to aid them in finding their fame and fortune when they go against Chaos" (pg 2).
 
This is great advice, but instead of standard D&D items, why not give each new character a more unusual low-power magic item? Some examples are provided below in the form of a table. Have each character roll a d20 for one starting item. Simply re-roll if it is a type the character can't use due to class restrictions. After an item is used, replace that entry with another of your own devising. Many of the items below have charges or doses, and are intended to be used up and replaced by greater magic items found while adventuring. These items were designed with Holmes Basic D&D in mind, but should be usable with any old school D&D rules, and can also be used as standard monster/NPC treasures. 

1. Brazen Head - Appears as a human head of brass. Once per day, if fed five gold coins, it will relay one local rumor, which may or may not be true. It must be carried uncovered or it will start wailing. It will also talk randomly while adventuring, providing advice or commentary that may or may not be helpful.

2. Dungeon Dust - A jar of desiccating dust harmful to the "cleanup crew": slimes, oozes, jellies, puddings, molds, gelatinous cubes, etc. A successful hit with a handful inflicts 2d6 damage. Contains 1d6+2 handfuls.

3. Foxfire Lantern - The interior of this hooded lantern contains a living phosphorescent fungus. The lantern sheds light in only a 5' radius, but it will never go out as long as the fungus is fed rations daily. To keep the lantern lit the character owning it must always buy and carry an extra supply of rations.

4. Golden Throat - A potion that vastly improves the imbiber's parleying skills for 6 turns, giving a +6 on reaction rolls. The flask contains 1d6 + 2 doses.

5. Harpy Axe - If this hand axe is thrown and does not strike a target in range (30') it will return to thrower's hand, up to three times per day. Harpies are said to enchant these to be reusable during aerial combat.

6. Healing Salve - One dose will heal 1 hit point per character per day. Additional doses during that same day have no effect. Comes in a jar with 1d20 + 20 doses total.

7. Hearing Cone - A small cone that enhances the ability to listen at doors, +1 per charge used. The number of charges to be used must be chosen before listening. Has 1d100 charges.

8. Heat Shield - This shield has the power to Resist Fire, once per day, as the Cleric Spell. After being exposed to fire 1d20 + 20 times it reverts to a normal shield.

9. Image Mirror - Once per day this ordinary-looking steel mirror can store the reflection of a creature, which can be used later that day as a Mirror Image (per the M-U spell). The image will imitate the motions of the wielder, and as the spell it disappears if touched. After 1d20 + 20 images the mirror loses its power.

10. Loadstone - A small stone carved in the shape of a mule. If a charge is expended, the wielder's movement rate is improved by one category for the rest of the day. 1d20 + 20 charges.

11. Lucky Rat's Foot - The mummified foot of an albino Giant Rat. It allows the re-roll one Saving Throw of choice per day. It absorbs the bad luck and loses power after 1d6 + 2 successful re-rolls are made.

12. Mask of Restfulness - This soft mask is worn over the eyes while sleeping. It doubles overnight healing, but the character cannot be awoken unless the mask is removed, in which case benefit is lost for that night.

13. Nimble Feet - Boots that allow the wearer to strike first during one combat of choice each day (giving a dexterity of 19 for purposes of Holmes Basic initiative). After 20 + 1d20 combats the boots lose their power.

14. Nutcracker - This small (1') wooden construct remains inactive until a command word is spoken. Once activated, it will serve the character, including in combat. It has the following stats: AC4, 1 hp, attacks as a Normal Man with a miniature sword for 1 point of damage. Fights at +2 vs Giant Rats.

15. Miniature Item - A large item magically reduced to palm-sized. Once per day it can be commanded to return to full size or shrink. The speaker of the command word must also touch it to cause the change, which is slow (1 turn). Once enlarged it will not shrink until the next day, and vice versa. It will change 1d20+20 times before remaining full size. Roll 1d6 for item: 1= 10' Ladder, 2= Wagon, 3= Small Boat, 4= Large Chest, 5= 18' pike, 6= 10' Boulder (rollable by combined 36 strength).

16. Resolute Arrow - A sturdy arrow that never breaks whether it hits its target or not, and can always be found

17. Ring of Escape - If placed against a stone ceiling, this ring will expand to the diameter of a man-hole cover and provide a magical passage upwards to the first space above, up to 30'. The tunnel is easily climbable by anyone that can reach the ceiling. After use, a command word will cause the ring to appear at the top of the passage. It will function only once per day, and has 1d20+20 charges.

18. Thirsty Waterskin - Once per day, this ordinary-looking waterskin will locate the closest fresh, drinkable water.

19. Troll Cheese - This loaf-sized lumpy green cheese tastes "off" but is edible, and provides enough food for one person to survive for one day, although no hit points are gained if resting. Furthermore, the cheese will regenerate overnight if not fully eaten. Stomach acid prevents the consumed portion from regenerating inside the eater. Fire, including cooking, will destroy it.

20. Vermin Slayer - A sword +0, +1 vs ordinary or giant vermin such as insects, spiders, rats and bats.

Notes: 
The Brazen Head is a variation on the item of the same name from medieval lore. Holmes had another version in Room I the Sample Dungeon.

The Foxfire Lantern is inspired by the phosphorescent fungus found in Room L of the Sample Dungeon. There is a real-world glowing fungus called Foxfire.

The Harpy Axe is inspired by one of the earliest D&D games I played in. Our characters, riding on a magic carpet, battled harpies wielding returning axes. Thanks to Donald S., our DM.

Troll Cheese is inspired by a "dwarven cheese" I remember reading about in a fairy tale long ago.