Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hand-Drawn Basic Box Cover (1980)

This charming image is a small part of an advertisement in the Spokane Daily Chronicle, December 5, 1980, which was recently featured over at 2 Warps to Neptune. See the entire page below. The Chronicle was a daily afternoon newspaper (absorbed by another still-existing daily in 1984), and the ad is by The Crescent, a Spokane, Washington-area department store chain that lasted until 1988 (thank you Wikipedia). For the holiday season the store ad is labeled "The Christmas Crescent". D&D is advertised together with a number of electronic handheld games and video game systems ("Giftable Fun For The Family"). But for some reason the advertiser has used small hand-drawn images of the D&D Basic Set and the Players Handbook instead of photos. As 2 Warps points out, the picture is pretty faithful, except for missing all of the treasure! I note the wizard is also missing his belt & shoulder bag, and the TSR logo is missing. The PHB cover is also altered, which you can read more about over on 2 Warps.

The advertising copy to the left starts "The original adult fantasy role-playing game everyone is talking about. The basic set enables a new player to get into fantasy adventure gaming smoothly and quickly." This was to be the last big holiday season for the Holmes set as the new B/X sets would be released in early 1981.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Holmes at Gen Con XII (1979)

Thanks to Tony at The Cryptic Archivist for providing a high res scan of the above photo from The Dragon #31, November 1979, which shows John Eric Holmes with his wife and son Chris talking to Tim Kask, the editor of the magazine. The photo was taken at fifth Strategists Club Banquet at Gen Con XII, August 16-19. This issue also has the distinction of including Trollshead, the first Boinger and Zereth story published in The Dragon. For more on issue #31, see this recent review on The Land of Nod blog.

Above is an advertisement for Gen Con XII from the Dragon #25, May 1979, with fantastic artwork by Kenneth Rahman aka Elladan Elrohir aka Eymoth. His tag is not to be mistaken for the EO used by Erol Otus, and can also be seen on the covers of other TSR games including Boot Hill and Divine Right (which Rahman co-designed with his brother Glenn). The same artwork, but printed in red and black was also used for cover of the convention program. A thumbnail of this can be seen on a page over at Tome of Treasures, which also gives an overview of the contents.

According to the info listed there, Holmes ran two games at Gen Con XII, "D&D For Beginners" and "D&D on Barsoom". Holmes had earlier used the title "D&D For Beginners" on his original draft of the rulebook for the Basic Set. In running the "D&D For Beginners" game, the Holmes employed an impressive game aid. Per Chris, we used "my rather large model dungeon 3'X6' ... Dad did the basic carpentry on it and together we ran "Beginners D&D" at our 2nd Gen Con". 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Chris Holmes on the Origins of the Wereshark

Chris' original illustration of the Wereshark from A&E #13, July 1976

On his website, Chris Holmes has a new article about the origins of the Wereshark. He said I could repost it here, but I'd rather have you check out his website. It's accompanied by a contemporary picture by Chris, different than the one shown above:
WereSharks Created by Dr. Holmes

Instead I'll share some supporting information:

-"Were-shark" is J. Eric Holmes' second A&E article in issue #13, July 1976, with Chris listed as a co-author. It's an early version of Chapter 2 of the Maze of Peril.

-There are no stats in the article, which is written as a campaign story, but they are compared to were-tigers ("If there are were-tigers and sharks are tigers of the sea..."), implying similar strength (5 HD in OD&D). Update: After writing this I remembered that in the story a M-U puts 4 of 5 were-sharks in a group to sleep with a Sleep spell, meaning they must have a HD of 4 or less. The 1975 Warlock version of Sleep affects "one 6-sided die of 3rd or 4th level types". This differs from the OD&D Vol 1 version which affects 1d6 of 3 HD but only 1 of 4 HD.

-Gygax sent in letters published in A&E # 2, 8 and 15, and the last letter references issue #14, so it's likely he also read issue #13.

-Holmes next mentioned the were-shark in one sentence in the Basic manuscript: "Thus we find were-wolves in Europe, were-tigers in India, were-leopards in Africa and were-sharks in Polynesia". Per Gygax, "I reviewed Eric's manuscript" and "I was in charge of the manuscript when it was turned over", which means he would have encountered the idea of the were-shark here even if he didn't see them in the A&E story. Gygax left the sentence referring to the were-sharks unchanged in the published Basic rulebook, which is where most of us encountered and wondered about it. Update: I meant to also mention that the were-shark is also significant because it is the first non-mammalian lycanthrope in D&D.

-The Monster Manual then mentions, "There are some other forms of lycanthropes, but these are very rare in the extreme". This comes after Holmes mentioned the possibility of were-leopards and were-sharks. Eventually in 1983 the Monster Manual II would include a few more of these, including Gygax's take on the were-shark.

-Holmes' were-sharks surfaced again in the Maze of Peril (1986), where we learn more about them and the Dagonites they associate with. One detail from Maze of Peril I liked is that the Dagonites clad the hulls of their outriggers with silver to "ward off the were-sharks", suggesting an uneasy alliance.

See also: Part 28: "Thus We Find Were-Sharks in Polynesia"

Monday, July 20, 2015

Holmes' Mi-Go

The Mi-Go by Erol Otus from Deities & Demigods, image from oldschoolfrp

Continuing with the Pluto theme in honor of the New Horizons fly-by, here is Holmes' OD&D write-up of the Fungi from Yuggoth.

Background: Dragon Magazine #12 (Feb 1978) included "The Lovecraftian Mythos in Dungeons & Dragons" by J. Eric Holmes and Rob Kuntz. This was the first systematic write-up of the Cthulhu Mythos for D&D, with the entries written in the style of the Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (1976) supplement for OD&D. This entry, with some editing, was later included in the Cthulhu Mythos in Deities & Demigods (1980). The entry in the Dragon article appears verbatim in Holmes' original draft of the article.

* * * * *

The Mi-Go, the Fungi from Yuggoth, the Abominable Snow Man

Armor Class - 3
Move - 15", fly 30"
Hit points - 35
Magic Ability - (see below)
Fighter Ability - 8th level
Psionic Ability - Class 5

Eight foot high, many legged, red, crab like creatures with two great bat-like wings, the Mi-Go are found in mountain wilderness, the Himalayas and Vermont. Their main base of operations in this solar system in on Yuggoth (the planet Pluto). Immune to cold, dark and vacuum, they can fly the interstellar space and teleport across interstellar distances. They can not speak but they possess machines that produce a buzzing imitation of human speech (The Whisperer in Darkness). They mine minerals or other items from the earth and will try to make alliances with human races. They sometimes kidnap humans and carry off their living brains in metal cylinders for study.

The entry for the Elder Sign also lists them as a being against which the Sign protects.

Per Gods, Demigods & Heroes pg 11, Class 5 Psionic Ability is an Attack Strength of 100, Attack Modes A, B, C, E and Defense Modes F, G, H. 

* * * * *

See also:
Yuggoth Resolves
Dr Holmes and the Cthulhu Mythos in Deities & Demigods
Dr Holmes and the Cthulhu Mythos Part II
Dr Holmes and the Cthulhu Mythos Part III
The Cthulhu Mythos in D&D in the 1970s

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Yuggoth Resolves


"There are mighty cities on Yuggoth [Pluto]—great tiers of terraced towers built of black stone like the specimen I tried to send you. That came from Yuggoth. The sun shines there no brighter than a star, but the beings need no light. They have other, subtler senses, and put no windows in their great houses and temples. Light even hurts and hampers and confuses them, for it does not exist at all in the black cosmos outside time and space where they came from originally. To visit Yuggoth would drive any weak man mad—yet I am going there. The black rivers of pitch that flow under those mysterious Cyclopean bridges—things built by some elder race extinct and forgotten before the things came to Yuggoth from the ultimate voids—ought to be enough to make any man a Dante or Poe if he can keep sane long enough to tell what he has seen.

But remember—that dark world of fungoid gardens and windowless cities isn’t really terrible. It is only to us that it would seem so. Probably this world seemed just as terrible to the beings when they first explored it in the primal age. You know they were here long before the fabulous epoch of Cthulhu was over, and remember all about sunken R’lyeh when it was above the waters. They’ve been inside the earth, too—there are openings which human beings know nothing of—some of them in these very Vermont hills—and great worlds of unknown life down there; blue-litten K’n-yan, red-litten Yoth, and black, lightless N’kai. It’s from N’kai that frightful Tsathoggua came—you know, the amorphous, toad-like god-creature mentioned in the Pnakotic Manuscripts and the Necronomicon and the Commoriom myth-cycle preserved by the Atlantean high-priest Klarkash-Ton."

- H.P. Lovecraft, The Whisperer in Darkness (1931, Weird Tales; Pluto was discovered in 1930 while Lovecraft was writing this story).

"Dave's Paladin had incurred the enmity of one of my sorceresses. She held him responsible, with some justification, for the death of her husband and swore unholy revenge. She sought out a particularly dangerous book of magic and successfully summoned the Mi-Go, the Fungi from Yuggoth, some of H.P. Lovecraft's more hideous interstellar demons. It was a moonlit night. The paladin and his friends were busily engaged in fighting a tribe of gremlins in another part of the forest. The awful Fungi swooped down on the unsuspecting knight, snatched him into the air, and vanished into the night sky before his companions had time to react.

The paladin came to in a bare stone cell. A tiny window showed him a black starlit cyclopean city. His weapons and armor had been removed. Yuggoth is modeled on the planet Pluto in the outermost reaches of our solar system. The poor paladin tried forcing his way out of his prison and tried several spells, without result. The window showed his cell to be thousands of feet up the sheer side of a black stone building. The door opened and three of the Mi-Go entered. Although Dave has never read Lovecraft, he knew he was in big trouble, confronting a fate that is really worse than death"

-J. Eric Holmes, Confessions of a Dungeon Master (1980, Psychology Today)

Find out what happened to Dave's paladin in the full "Confessions" article, which will appear in the forthcoming Holmes collection Tales of Peril

* * * * *

And "Cthulhu" has entered the list of names proposed for surface features on Yuggoth.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Holmes Video Review

Head over to Youtube to watch an RPG Retro Review of the Holmes Basic Set by captcorajus. It's 15-min long with narration over still images. Lots of historical context. 
Nicely done! Thanks to several folks on G+ bringing this to my attention.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

AD&D 1E Players Handbook PDF

"I can fit my entire spell book in one of these thumb drives"

Yesterday the original AD&D Players Handbook was given new virtual life, being made available as a pdf download from (a special section of drivethrurpg / rpgnow). It's currently priced at $9.99. One the product page there's a nice historical essay by Shannon Appelcline who has written similar essays for most of the other 1E products. I bought the pdf today so I'll share some quick impressions.

The AD&D PHB was perhaps the third D&D product I ever owned, after the Holmes Basic Set and the Monster Manual (I may have received a module or two at the same time as the MM). It was a birthday present (along with a Pac Man watch!) and can still remember reading it in bed that evening, fascinated with the new material not mentioned in Basic like half-orc PCs. So I'm happy that it is back 'in print' and thus easily available for players to access. It's also great to have the full text available electronically for quick search and copy.  

 A few minor quibbles. The pdf is of the 'Premium Reprint' released in 2012 with reset text rather than a scan of one of the original hardcopies. Thus it has the cropped/redesigned cover art from the reprint rather than Trampier's glorious original painting spread across the front and back covers. It is also missing the TSR product list found in the back of the original, which is replaced by an ad for the Gygax Memorial Project. The interior art (by Trampier and Sutherland) is also darker than in the original, resulting in some loss, the worst probably being Trampier's finely shaded Magic Mouth on page 108, which looks murky in the pdf (See here for a 2012 side-by-side photo of this art in the original and reprint, by Brendan of

The reprint introduced a few new errors in the text, likely resulting from uncorrected OCR errors. These are included in the new pdf as reported here on DF. If you are interested in getting these corrected, try leaving a comment in the review section on

Furthermore, the original print version had a number of errors in the text, which were detailed in Dragon #35. See this Acaeum page for a list. Only a few of these were ever corrected in print. The new pdf version includes the corrections that were made in print back in the '80s as noted on the Acaeum page, but does not correct the others. Thus the new pdf still has some clear errors, such as the Dex table on page 11 with half-orcs having max 14 Dex, while the Table on Page 15 has the corrected '17'.

I believe this is the first of the 1E AD&D Reprints to be released electronically, so hopefully we'll see the rest shortly. And where's that Holmes Basic pdf?