Wednesday, March 25, 2015

First Level Pre-gen Party

Screenshot of 1st Level Pre-Gens. Click pic for a larger view

Above is a new Holmes Ref sheet, a pre-generated party of seven 1st level characters, including Fighter, Cleric, M-U, Thief, Dwarf Fighter, Elf MU/Fighter and Hobbit Thief. For reference, the sheet also includes To-Hit and Saving Throw tables for 1st levelers.

I used two rules from OD&D. The Strength-based To-Hit bonus for Fighters, and Thief rules for Hobbits (mentioned by Holmes, but not further explained). Both rules are from Supplement I, Greyhawk, which means that the party is also compatible with OD&D plus Greyhawk. 

Since there is only one type of each character, rather than rolling random stats, I used the 'standard array' from 5th edition D&D: 15 14 13 12 10 8. This means no character has more than a +1 for any stat-based modifier. So the Strength bonus for the Fighters is just a +1 to hit for Str 13-15.

Equipment is based on 110 gp for each character, similar to my earlier Equipment Packs. The MU spent 100 gp on a 1st level scroll per the Holmes rules, but the Elf bought Chain Mail and couldn't afford a scroll.

Hit points are based on the average for each class, plus any Con bonus.

The only additional info that needs to be added is a name (perhaps using the Holmesian Random Name Generator in the upper right corner of this blog), and alignment. I left out languages due to lack of space; most TSR-era pre-gens don't include this.

For more variety in the human characters, simply add a Background.

Use this sheet in a variety of ways:
-Convention games, one-shots or quick-starts with new players.
-Give each player an entire sheet, and have them pick a character or two. Or have them pick three or four characters and run the game as a Funnel ala DCC.
-Or cut up one or more sheets and give out one character to each player.
-For DMs, use this sheet for NPCs: rival party, henchmen, rescued prisoners, etc.
-Use as a reference for typical Equipment for character creation or NPCs.

Update 3/26: Corrected the sheet to include a +10% XP for the MU. The screenshot still shows the original version but the download link goes to the corrected version.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Part 48: "The Shadow on the Gnomon"

Part 48 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 41 of your 'Blue Book' (page 40 for the 1st edition) and follow along...

Room F: As Holmes puts it plainly, "This is a magic-user's room"; he is essentially the "boss monster" of this level. This room is essential to breathing life into the dungeon as it ties together elements from other rooms, including the M-U's tower and the sea caves.

In the manuscript Holmes describes the M-U as an "evil fourth leveler" (first paragraph) and a "theurgist" (third paragraph). "Theurgist" is the correct title for a fourth level magic-user in OD&D, Vol 1. Gygax or someone else at TSR mistakenly changed this to "thaumaturgist" in both locations, which is the title for fifth level. The exact changes are:

" evil fourth leveler who has been trying to take over the dungeons"
" evil thaumaturgist (fourth level) who has been trying to take over the dungeon level"
(Note Holmes' use of "dungeons" in the original, implying a larger area)

"The theurgist is a 4th level magic-user. He can do six spells..."
"The thaumaturgist (4th level magic-user) knows six spells..."

The room is described as 50 by 60 feet, which is accurately rendered on the published map. Holmes' original map shows the work bench in the southwest corner and three statues (petrified men), and these are also shown on the published map. However, another door has gone missing in the north wall. This door is shown on the original map and referred to in the text.

The charmed fighter originally had 8 "Hits" but this was upped to 11, possibly to make for a more formidable opponent. His other ability scores are unchanged, as is the high value (1000 GP) of his ruby belt.

The M-U's list of spells includes "Protection from Good" with the aside "(he is evil)". This was changed to "(he is lawful evil)" to fit the revised 5-point alignment scheme. Note that only "Protection from Evil" is explicitly described in the M-U spell lists in the rulebook. His spells and scroll are otherwise unchanged.

Holmes gives the M-U a +1 on this saving throws because "his saving throw is better than that of magic-users of the third level". This doesn't match OD&D, Vol 1, where M-Us do not get a saving throw increase until 6th level. It does go up by 3 at that point, so perhaps Holmes was using some kind of table that smoothed out the progression? This oddity wasn't changed for the published rulebook.

The M-U's stats are changed slightly, with his wisdom being decreased from 12 to 9 for reasons unknown, and his "Hits" going up from 7 to 9.

The M-Us "wand" is changed to a "special wand", presumably because it is not found on the standard Treasure Table.

Finally, the published version adds a new sentence at the end: "He will use the wand on anybody entering his hideway". Since the "hideway" and wand are up in his tower, I picture the M-U dragging statues from the tower down to this room for decoration. One idea I've had is to have one of the statues in this room be Zenopus himself.

DM Guidance
-NPCs are given a stat block with a full set of ability scores, level and "Hits"
-NPC behavior for the M-U and charmed Fighter
-Random rule: the M-U has a 50% chance of dropping his scroll while fleeing

ROOM G: This is the now-standard room filled with trash and giant rats. Is this is its first appearance in a TSR adventure?

Holmes had the room written as "Room G - is dark and gloomy". TSR changes this to "Room G - Gloomy", which fits the room's letter code better. "Garbage" might be a better descriptor, given that the floor is covered with rocks and rubbish "four feet high".

Once again, the published map is missing a door (in the south wall) shown on the original map and mentioned in the text. I'll have to put together an errata list for these.

The big change here is that Holmes' original has but a single giant rat with 1 HD, which Gygax changes to 2-8 giant rats with 2 hit points each. In the published version the text still refers to "its nest", a clue that it originally referred to just a single rat. The change follows the general trend - Holmes' original dungeon was gentler, for smaller groups, and Gygax increased the difficulty of many of the encounters.

At the time Holmes wrote this, there wasn't a separate monster entry for a "Giant Rat". Instead they fell under the "Giant Animals and Insects" entry that Holmes included in the manuscript. These creatures don't have set stats except that hit dice generally match the dungeon level, which explains why Holmes gave this rat 1 HD. Gygax deleted the entry for "Giant Animals and Insects", which left these giant rats stranded without any hit dice, though with 2 hit points it's easy to figure out they should attack as under 1 HD. The second edition of the rulebook finally revised the Monster List to include giant rats with 1/2 HD, ported back from the Monster Manual. These also do only 1-3 points of damage per hit, whereas Holmes' original would deal the default 1-6. Still, with an average of 5 rats in the room, the encounter is made more challenging.

The treasure is changed in two ways. The silver dagger originally had no value, and Gygax adds "50 gp". (This can be used as a general value for silver daggers, which are missing from the equipment list). In the original, the bag contains 50 gold pieces, which Gygax changes to electrum pieces. Holmes left copper, electrum and platinum out of the manuscript, but Gygax added these back, and put each in the Sample Dungeon.

DM Guidance:
-In Holmes' original version, this provided an example of a "Giant Animal or Insect"
-An example of hidden treasure, takes 1 turn of searching the garbage to find
-An xample of an 'improvised rule' as suggested by Holmes on page 40: the small size and abundant garbage allows the rats to hide in the shadows, but "An elf or a dwarf might spot them (on a roll of say 1 or 2 on a six-sided die)" - presumably due to infravision

ROOM H: This room introduces an underground river that ties together rooms H, K, L and M. The room is described as 80 by 50 feet with a 50-foot wide river and a 15-foot bank on each side. The map as published has the room the right size, but shows the river as only about 25 feet wide. The text describes a 20-foot ceiling, whereas earlier corridors were stated to be 10 feet high. The staircase into the dungeon is 25 feet high, so either the surface is five feet above this room or the ground above is higher here.

This room contains neither monster nor treasure, so its not surprising that there are no changes at all from the manuscript to the published rulebook.

DM Guidance:
-An example of a dangerous obstacle to be surmounted or circumvented.
-More "stealth bonuses" for high stats (as in Room A), known only to the DM - high strength (15+) prevents being swept away by the current, high constitution (12+) prevents damage from being swept away
-Some rules for swimming; if you are wearing armor you will sink unless you shed armor which takes 1 turn. Drowning damage is 1 die per turn. Room M later refers back to these as "information on drowning" and says "assume that all characters known how to swim"
ROOM I: This is the room with the bronze sundial and mask. Again, another room without monster or treasure with no changes as published.

The talking "bronze mask" resembles a "Brazen Head" of medieval times. 
See the Brazen Head of Zenopus.

DM Guidance:
An example of a puzzle room, where the characters gain a boon if it is solved

Go Back to Part 45: "The Occupants Are Goblins"
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Zargon Beckons

Over on Dragonsfoot, paleologos has proposed an extensive 'campaign sourcebook' to supplement the module B4 The Lost City (1982) by Tom Moldvay. The compilation will include retrospectives, background material and expansions (he did this before for B1, which you can find via this page). He is soliciting authors for various topics; see the proposed table of contents. He is also asking for artwork contributions, which inspired me to sketch the above monstrosity. Furthermore, he's started a thread on Holmes Basic section of the OD&D Discussion board to discuss any possible connections with the Holmes rules. This was one of the earliest B/X modules and there is the possibility that is was originally written for the earlier Basic set, like B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (as confirmed by Frank Mentzer).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Visualizing Castle Greyhawk

In memory of Gary Gygax (July 27, 1938 – March 4, 2008), here is a glimpse of Castle Greyhawk using his words & some relevant pictures.

Walled City[1]

"To the east of the busy walled city of Greyhawk the land is forsaken, overgrown with thorns and thistles. Oozing marsh creeps slowly down. The copses are huddles of weird, bloated trees. The wiry grass seems to grasp at the feet of any who dare to tread upon it. In the center of this unwholesome place, on a rock-boned prominence, hulks the ruin of the grim Greyhawk Castle..."[2]


"The fallen west gate of Greyhawk Castle was at hand, and through this mouldering portal the party passed. In a few moments they had entered the great central keep, heaved open an inner door, and carefully proceeded down a set of winding stone steps---steps worn with age and slippery with dampness. They had entered the dungeons."[2]

Castle Courtyard with Keep[4]

"... Old Greyhawk Castle was 13 levels deep. 

The first level was a simple maze of rooms and corridors..."[5]

One version of Castle Greyhawk Level 1[6]

"The second level had two unusual items, a nixie pool and a fountain of [endless] snakes.

The third featured a torture chamber and many small cells and prison rooms..."[5]

Castle Greyhawk Level 3[6]

"The fourth was a level of crypts and undead. 

The fifth was centered around a strange font of black fire and gargoyles. 

The sixth was a repeating maze with dozens of wild hogs (3 dice) in inconvenient spots, naturally backed up by appropriate numbers of wereboars. 

The seventh was centered around a circular labyrinth and a street of masses of ogres. 

The eighth through tenth levels were caves and caverns featuring trolls, giant insects, and a transporter nexus with an evil wizard (with a number of tough associates) guarding it. 

The eleventh level was the home of the most powerful wizard in the castle. He had balrogs as servants. The remainder of the level was populated by Martian white apes, except the sub-passage system underneath the corridors which was full of poisonous critters with no treasure. 

Level twelve was filled with dragons. 

The bottom level, number thirteen, contained an inescapable slide which took the players “clear through to China”, from whence they had to return via “Outdoor Adventure”.

It was quite possible to journey downward to the bottom level by an insidious series of slanting passages which began on the second level, but the likelihood of following such a route unknowingly didn’t become too great until the seventh or eighth level

Side levels included a barracks with orcs, hobgoblins, and gnolls continually warring with each other, a museum, a huge arena, an underground lake, a giant’s home, and a garden of fungi."[5]


[1] Art (uncredited) from Outdoor Geomorphs Set One: Walled City by Gary Gygax (TSR, 1977). The sample encounters from this set reference City of Greyhawk locations, so the art is possibly a picture of the city. 

[2] Excerpts from The Expedition into the Black Reservoir by Gary Gygax (El Conquistador, 1975).

[3] "Bodenburg Castle was used as the original model for the ruined upper works of Greyhawk Castle. Gygax had one in his basement at 330 Center Street" - caption for historical display by Paul Stormberg at Gary Con VI. Photo is by Allan Grohe (grodog).

[4] Siege at Bodenburg Map Inset. Source: The Army Men Homepage.

[5] Excerpt from "How to Set Up Your Dungeons & Dragons Campaign" by Gary Gygax (Europa #6-8, April 1975) & "'Greyhawk' had a fountain on its second level which issued endless numbers of snakes" (Greyhawk, 1975).

[6] Two Levels of the Real Castle Greyhawk by Random Wizard (2013). See also Gygax Castle Greyhawk Map thread at the Knights & Knaves Alehouse. These were maps that Gary was using to run the Castle at conventions in the last decade of his life. Please note that these maps, while appearing old, may not be the original maps for these levels; notably, the first dungeon level of the published Castle Zagyg uses a different map.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Holmes Basic Testimonials

     2015 update: Today is the 85th anniversary of the birth of J. Eric Holmes, Feb 16th, 1930. I'm reposting this testimonial thread for anyone who wishes to express their appreciation. Feel free to comment again if you added one previously.

    A few months ago I heard from Chris Holmes, who wrote: "What a bunch of touching tributes you guys wrote.  I was delighted and moved to read them.  I liked the mention of Dad’s enthusiasm and style.  He was infectiously enthusiastic about many things, not surprisingly he was one of the most popular professor's at USC med school ...  I have enjoyed the Zenopus Archives a lot and you should thank your contributors for me."

    On Chris Holmes' behalf, as well as my own, I thank you all for reading and commenting on this thread and the rest of the blog.

     2013 update: If you haven't contributed previously, or want to add more, please leave a comment below. I plan to bump this post annually on this date. Thanks to everyone who  responded last year!

     And some great news: Thanks to Dave at There's Dungeons Down Under, I was just alerted to a tweet from Steve Winter a few days ago that the original artwork by David Sutherland III for the Holmes Basic set has been found in a crate at the Wizards headquarters! I'd never heard anything about this art before and just assumed it was lost to the sands of time. Steve comments: "I'm pretty sure it's going to get a beauty treatment (new frame, protective glass, etc.) and hang in the gallery by #DnD R&D."

     Original Post: Today marks the birthday of J. Eric Holmes (1930-2010). As a tribute I was hoping everyone could tell us why they like the Holmes Basic Set. To facilitate this I've added a new section titled "Holmes Basic Testimonials" to the Zenopus Archives website, which will link to threads (this post & various forums) where you can talk about the Bluebook.

     Tell us how you started with Holmes Basic, or remember it fondly for other reasons, or came to appreciate it later, or are using it now, or just plain like reading through it.

     Why do I like the Holmes Basic set? Well, it was my first D&D set, and left an indelible impression on my psyche. But I also like it because because it's a concise edit of the original D&D invention by an enthusiastic volunteer who was both a player of the game and long-time fan of fantasy literature. It's not necessarily perfect but has a strong vibe of "this game is awesome so I want to share it with as many folks as possible, so here's an introductory version". 

     I could go on and on, but I'd like to hear from everyone else.

See also:
Testimonal Thread at OD&D Discussion
Testimonial Thread at Knights & Knaves Alehouse  
Testimonial Thread at Dragonsfoot

Holmes Day 2015

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Dr. Holmes (1930-2010), and I've bumped my "Testimonials" post from previous years. When I do this, it goes to the top of my blog but doesn't enter my RSS feed. Hence this marker post. If you haven't done so before (or want to again), please go there and leave a comment:

Holmes Basic Testimonials

Or write one on your own blog! Here are some posts from 2013 by other bloggers:

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Part 47: "The Occupants Are Goblins"

Part 47 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 41 of your 'Blue Book' (page 40 for the 1st edition) and follow along... 

The next page of the manuscript is filled with Holmes' hand-drawn map of the Sample Dungeon, which I previewed in the first post of this series. This page was inserted after the other pages were typed, with a handwritten "119-A" in the upper right corner. Here is the original map side-by-side with the published map:

Sample Dungeon - original map (left) vs published map (right). Click for a larger view

The published map is simply a more professional rendering of the original, with all of Holmes' essential features preserved. There are a few changes, which I will mention below. TSR's cartographer for the published map is unknown, possibly David C Sutherland III. 
The original has no clear grid, although there are some repeating horizontal lines faintly visible. Holmes supplies sizes in some room descriptions, which the cartographer accurately followed in the published version.

The original is more compact. The published map has a few extra 'E' (Empty) rooms, and more small (10') corridors between rooms (possibly for clarity and/or to avoid paper-thin walls). The rat corridors interact with the northern corridors differently as published. Some of these changes may have occurred when fitting the stated sizes for the rooms onto the map.

The compass point is missing from the published map, although the second edition of the rulebook adds a small "North" arrow at the bottom of the map.

Holmes' Map is titled "Dungeon Master's Map", whereas the published version is "Illustration of Sample Floor Plan". Despite this change, the map is still referred to as the "Dungeon Master's Map" in two locations in the text (at the start and in the description of Room E).

On to the room descriptions! For each room, I'll end with a list of the supplementary DM guidance provided by Holmes.

Room A: This room is currently home to a band of goblins, which may be the first encounter if the adventurers travel straight ahead from the entrance. The manuscript describes this room as "120 ft x 100 ft" (fairly gigantic for old school dungeons) and this is accurately portrayed in the published map. This large room has a fairly central location, but Holmes doesn't supply any clues as to what Zenopus (or earlier inhabitants) used it for. The introduction to the Sample Dungeon mentioned "goblin figures" dancing on the roof in the moonlight before the tower was destroyed, which could possibly be these goblins.

The description of the room is the same in the manuscript and the published versions, except for changes related to the goblins' numbers, hit dice and treasure.

Here is the end of the first paragraph, with annotations to indicate changes to goblins #s:
"There are at least 2 [ three] goblins. The Dungeon Master should increase the number of goblins if the party of adventurers is a large one - i.e., if more than three are in the party, have three [→ five] goblins, more than five, 4 [→ seven or eight] goblins etc."

So Holmes thought that 1-3 PCs should encounter two goblins, 4-5 should encounter three, 6 or more should encounter four goblins, whereas Gygax/TSR thought these numbers were too low and upped them.

In the second paragraph, Holmes indicates that the goblins "wear leather armor and carry swords and daggers", which would give them AC7, but in the Monster List goblins have AC6 (although its unclear whether this is natural AC or due to leather+shield). This is unchanged as published.

Next, Holmes indicates that
"they can each take one six-sided die of hits, minus one point, i.e., roll a regular hit die, subtract one..." As expected, the published version changes  "six-sided" to "8-sided" reflecting the change from Holmes' original intention (d6 hit dice) to the published version (d8 hit dice).

In the third paragraph, Holmes originally had much more treasure for the goblins - 500 gold pieces in each of two sacks, and 2000 gold pieces in a treasure chest. The published version changes this to 500 silver pieces per sack, and 2000 copper pieces in the chest. Holmes probably stuck with gold pieces for simplicity (he mentions silver only once in manuscript, and copper not at all) but this is a drastic change: a 3000 gold piece treasure reduce to 140 gold piece value as published. Gygax clearly had different ideas about appropriate encounter strength and rewards.

DM guidance
-Monster strength can be adjusted to the strength of the adventuring party. This idea was originally put forth in OD&D, Vol 3, page 11: "A party of 1-3 would drawn the basic number of monsters, 4-6 would bring twice as many, and so on."
-How to roll a monster's hit points.
-Guidance on monster actions in combat (e.g. goblins will flee/surrender). This is as close as Holmes gets to covering morale in Basic.
-Example of a trap that inconveniences rather than kills (sleeping gas), as mentioned earlier in "Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art".
-Stealth Ability Score Bonus. On a failed save, the sleeping gas puts a character to sleep for d6 turns, "subtracting 1 if the character has a high constitution". The section on Constitution mentioned that it would "influence how a character can withstand being paralyzed or killed and raised from the dead, etc.", a statement that goes back to OD&D Vol 1, but no other specifics were given. So here we see one implementation of this by Holmes. D&D typically make ability score bonuses evident to the players; having bonuses that are only known to the DM is an interesting area for further discussion.

Room B:

Sample Dungeon Room B - original map (left) vs published map (right)

This room has four hidden skeletons and is very dusty, so it hasn't been disturbed in a while. Were these guards placed by Zenopus? This is another room that is potentially the first encounter of a party.

The original map shows doors at the north (closed) and south (open) ends, and this is mentioned in the text, but the published map is missing the northern door, and moves the southern door to the end of a 10' corridor. The original also has both sets of niches across from each other but the published version moves one niche 10' further south for unknown reasons, and has the north passage enter slightly to the west rather than the center.

The text describes the room as 50 ft x 50 ft, and again this is accurately mapped.

The only change here was to correct the score for a cleric to turn; the original said "must roll a 6 or more", but 7 is correct.

DM guidance
-Example of hidden monsters attacking.
-Reminder of how to determine success in turning.
-How to handle skeleton behavior when turned.

Room C - Holmes uses "C" to mean "Corridor". On the original map the "C" is near the steps marked "START", described in the introduction as leading 25-feet down from the surface. The published map follows this convention.

The original text for this read, "Room C is always an empty corridor. All corridors in this dungeon are 10 feet wide and 10 feet high. The magic user's secret corridor is 5 feet by 5 feet. Remember that at the end of 3 turns a wandering monster might appear - corridors are likely places for this to happen." The published version removes the word "always" from the first sentence, places the third sentence in parenthesis and adds that it is "(S to F)".

DM guidance
Reminder of Wandering Monster checks. The difficulty and XP/treasure for this dungeon are be significantly increased if this adhered to.

Room D - Most of this room is given over to a description of the elaborate statue/door-locking mechanism. Holmes doesn't give the dimensions of this room in the text, so the published map interprets it as a 50 ft by 70 ft room. No changes as published.

DM guidance:
Another "trap" that inconveniences rather than damages.

Room E - Holmes uses this code for all of the "Empty" rooms on the map. This is a handy shortcut for labeling all of these rooms, and is easy to remember. Most of these rooms have doors, which will slow the party down, forcing more wandering monster checks.

Holmes' original map has five empty rooms.The published version has eight. Two small rooms were added in the corridor east of Room D, and a new room was added south of Room J, where the south door led nowhere.

DM Guidance:
Earlier in "Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art", Holmes stated that "Many rooms should be empty", and in the Sample Dungeon he shows this. This echoes OD&D, Vol 3, page 6: "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".

Go Back to Part 46: "Zenopus Built A Tower"
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript