Saturday, July 4, 2015

Part 50: "The Dancing Dagger Is Hard To Hit"

Part 50 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 44 of your 'Blue Book' (page 43 for the 1st edition) and follow along... 

Room N: Holmes describes this as a tomb that is "part of the catacombs of the city", implying there are more catacombs to be discovered. It also recalls the introduction where Portown is described as "located on the ruins of a much older city of doubtful history" and "the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, pre-human city". Are these catacombs of Room N part of this older city or more recent Portown?

This is one of the larger rooms in the dungeon, described as 120 by 7 feet in the text, and is accurately drawn on the published map (right above). The east and west doors are moved slightly, ending up twenty feet out of alignment rather than centered across from each other. The rat tunnels to the north have been shifted left, and enter room N in two locations rather than one.

Instead of an obvious monster this room contains six sarcophagi each hiding a different trap, monster or treasure. If the characters open a sarcophagus Holmes has the DM roll randomly to see which of the six is opened, which is interesting because the room essentially functions as a random table.

This is an early example of the "Special" room containing a series of smaller spaces to be searched and hiding further encounters. Later examples can be found in many TSR modules such as the Room of Pools in B1 In Seach of the Unknown, the bank vault compartments in B2 Keep on the Borderlands, the six alcoves in Room 1 of C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, and the nine silver glass globes in Room 9 of S2 White Plume Mountain and the Chamber of Three Chests in S1 Tomb of Horrors. Two these modules, B1 and B2, were later included in versions of the Holmes Basic set. B2 also contains a crypt with many coffins and sarcophagi, although only one with monster/treasure. The word "sarcophagus" also appears in the glossary for B2.

Sarcophagus #1 has sleeping gas similar to Room A. In both cases it is Save vs Poison or fall asleep for d6 turns, although here there is no mention of subtracting 1 for high constitution here. There is a chance of a rat attacking every turn that is spent in the room, so if the party stays here with the sleeping character(s) they may be in for a surprise. No changes as published.

Sarcophagus #2 has the memorable "dancing dagger" that attacks if removed from the skeleton holding it. This is an interesting encounter that combines aspects of a monster and trap - combat is conducted with the dagger but it can't be defeated solely through combat as it has no hit points. Holmes gives the dagger AC3, which matches his statement on page 19 of the rulebook that a "small fast creature" might have such an armor class.

As I wrote previously in "Holmes Basic Easter Eggs" thread on ODD74, the dagger "is perhaps a variant of the Dancing Sword, which first appeared in the Greyhawk: Supplement I. The Dancing Sword itself may have been inspired by Stormbringer, which could fight while floating in the air (e.g., in The Sleeping Sorceress, 1971)."

In the revision of Basic, Moldvay included a list of Special Traps on page B52 that includes "Flying weapons which attack only if disturbed", surely a nod to Holmes' dancing dagger.

No changes as published.

Sarcophagus #3 contains a non-animated skeleton wearing treasure, which should be fun for the DM if the players expect it to animate when the treasure is removed. The skeleton wears rings and a coronet (small/simple crown) worth 3000 GP in the original. Gygax cuts this to 300 GP in the published rulebook, a trend we have observed throughout.

Sarcophagus #4 is almost a duplicate of #3 in the manuscript, another "skeletal form" wearing "jewelry worth 3000 gold pieces". Again Gygax reduces the value, to 900 GP here. 

Sarcophagus #5 has the animated skeleton everyone expects to find in one of these coffins. Holmes' original is a standard OD&D skeleton with 1/2 HD and AC7 (per Vol 2, page 3), plus the nice detail of being armed with a curved scimitar. This is despite Holmes accidentally giving skeletons AC8 in the Monster List entry in the manuscript (See Part 32 of this series). The published version increases the hit points to 7, in line with the upgrade to 1 HD they later received in the Monster Manual. This provides evidence that Gygax already had this change in mind, although he didn't update the Holmes Basic monster entry accordingly. As a result of this "sarcophagus skeleton" is non-standard, being stronger than a Monster List skeleton in hit points and armor class.

Sarcophagus #6 is another non-animating skeleton, this one holding the only magic treasure in the room, a "magic sword +1". Holmes provides an interesting form of magic item identification here: "Any warrior-type drawing the sword will feel the surge of magical power it gives."

The last two paragraphs describe the rats that may attack from the tunnels to the north every turn, which should provide ongoing tension as the party explores the sarcophagi. 

The original has the rats at AC 7, 1 HD, which matches the rat in Room G. The published version of this room changes the hit die to "4 hit points", at the high end of the 1/2 HD they eventually received in the Monster Manual (Dec 1977) and which was eventually ported back to the 2nd edition of the Basic rulebook (Nov 1978). No other changes to these paragraphs.

DM guidance:
-Part of a room description can function as a random table
-A room may have a series of hidden traps, monsters and treasures
-Some magic Items may be identified by a feeling of magic power
-Wandering monsters can take the form of the one type of monster attacking at intervals from a lair

Following the room description the published rulebook has the only art in the Sample Dungeon section, other than the map. It's a tiny but evocative piece by David Sutherland showing a party being attacked by two skeletons emerging from opened sarcophagi (although as written there's only one animated skeleton in the room). It's hard to see but the the shield of the fighter in the middle has a winged creature on it similar to the winged dragon on the shield of the fighter on the cover of the Basic box.

The UK version of the rulebook replaced the original art with new art by Fangorn, many of which are re-interpretations of the originals. Here's the new piece for this one. 

Go Back to Part 49: "Will Drop on Unwary Adventurers" 
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Chris Holmes Website

Chris Holmes, son of J. Eric Holmes, now has his own website at

There's a lot of fun stuff over there: 

-An article by Chris about his father's favorite authors, accompanied by a previously unpublished photo (an alternate of the one appearing in Holmes' 1981 FRPG book)

-A list of 100+ his father's hardcover sci-fi, fantasy and horror books that Chris has for sale; if interested you can contact him through the site

-Samples of Chris' own artwork

-A section where you can ask questions of the great Cthulhu 

For the uninitiated, J Eric Holmes' earliest D&D games were played with Chris, his brother Jeff and other friends. Two of Chris' earliest characters were none other than Boinger the Halfling and Zereth the Elf, and Murray the Mage was run by his friend Eric. These characters and others were part of Holmes' campaign prior to editing the Basic D&D rulebook. Chris provided illustrations for some of the Boinger and Zereth stories, including Trollshead in The Dragon #31.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Two or Three Figures Fighting Side by Side"

Over on Jeff's Gameblog, he asks if we've been doing minis wrong, and quotes a portion of page 10 of the AD&D 1E DMG (1979) that talks about three squares/figures per 10' wide corridor (i.e. 1" squares that represent 3.3' rather than 5'). This reminded me this idea goes all the way back to OD&D, Vol 3 (1974), where we see:

"There can be places where 300 Hobgoblins dwell, but how many can come abreast down a typical passage in the dungeons? Allow perhaps 3 in a ten foot wide passage, and the balance will either be behind the front rank or fanning out to come upon the enemy by other routes" (page 12, underlining is found in the original text)

Holmes included an interpretation of this idea in the manuscript for Basic (1977), which Gygax left unchanged as published: 
"Characters can be attacked by more than one opponent at a time; the Dungeon Master should be guided by the actual placement of the figures on a paper sketch or on the table in deciding how many opponents can engage as melee starts, always keeping in mind the dimensions of the dungeon itself. One would not expect to get more than two or three figures fighting side by side in a ten foot corridor, for example" (page 20 of the published rulebook; I covered this text in Part 16 but didn't note the original source for this rule).

Holmes possibly went with "two or three" based on the weapon length limitations presented in Greyhawk (1975). For example, a battle axe "requires not less than 4' of space on each side of wielder" per the table on page 15. Update: Holmes may also have been influenced by the rule in Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) that Jeff discusses at the end of his post, which allows for 1-4 characters depending on weapon size.

Finally, in the Keep on the Borderlands (1980), which came out after the 1E DMG, Gary elaborates on the "two or three" rule:
"In a standard 10’ wide corridor, the most common arrangement is two adventurers, side by side, in each rank; however, three characters could occupy a single rank if all of their weapons were small (such as daggers and hand axes)" (page 5; this text is found in both the original version for Holmes, and the revised version for Moldvay Basic).

Moldvay Basic (1981) itself, however, simplifies the rule to "Different marching orders may be used when opening doors, searching rooms, fighting combat, and so forth. The most common marching order is to explore in a column of two-by-two though this may vary in corridors of different width" (pg B19).

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Draw Your Own Floor Plan, III

Lava Pool Dungeon, click for a larger view

This is a belated follow-up to two posts I made back in 2013, where I scanned maps from my youth drawn on photocopies of the "Draw Your Own Floor Plan" sheet in the back of the module B2.

Again, there's no surviving key for this map, but I'll note a few features:

As previously, black squares are pits and yellow squares are falling ceiling blocks.
2: Stairs lead down to a lower room, shown in outline. I'm not sure about the zigzag.
6: End of the corridor is the mouth of a monster! Note the little eyes and arms.
7: Ramp sliding down to a pit. Update: IIRC, this is from a similar trap in Tomb of Horrors.
9: Bridge over part of the underground river influenced by the river in the Sample Dungeon.
12: Trap where pressure plates at each end trigger the spiked walls to crush together.
13: Magic Pool. Not sure how the tiny area to the south was supposed to be accessed.
14: East side of room is cavern, with a secret door in one crevice.
15: Trap door in floor leads to tunnel under river and on to room 16.
16: The trap to the north of the room is a falling net. 
17: Waterfall, drawn falling down the edge of the map.
18: Crevasse in the middle of the corridor. The style of the crevasse is from the map features Key in Moldvay Basic, page B58.
20: Platform/Altar on the edge of a lava pool. The black spot in the lava may be a rock, or some sort of monster.

See also Drawn Your Own Floor Plan I and Part II. I just updated Part I when I realized that many of my friend's trap features were influenced by the Traps list in Moldvay Basic.

The Zenopus Archives website has a gallery with all of these maps in one place.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Beyond the Door to Monster Mountain

Screenshot of Beyond the Door to Monster Mountain - click for a larger preview

Click here to download Beyond the Door to Monster Mountain

Here's something I finally had a chance to finish up. I turned the Monster Mountain micro-dungeon I posted here last year into a one-page pdf. It's written up for Holmes Basic, using the stat block from the original B2 Keep on the Borderlands - DX stat included. However, you should be able to use with any old D&D without changing anything.

It's modified a bit from the original write-up. I added one of my favorite monsters - stirges - to room 3 to explain the gem stuck in the crack in the floor. In Holmes Basic, stirges are treasure type Q, which is Gems or Jewelry only. I interpret this as a fondness for gems.

It's an intended as an introductory adventure for new players, especially kids. The dungeon is a simple puzzle, and relies on text adventure type solutions - most rooms have an obstacle that can be overcome using an item found in a different room, although this being D&D other solutions are certainly possible, as determined by the DM.

The dungeon was built out of Lego Heroica, the sadly discontinued Lego game series from a few years back. If you have a few Lego Heroica sets you could recreate the dungeon build yourself. Otherwise it should be simple to recreate with dungeon tiles or for player(s) to map.

I ran this dungeon for a child running a single 4th level fighter, but it should work for four 1st level characters. So I'd call it an introductory adventure for 3-5 character levels. 

I've also added it to the resources on the Holmes Ref page.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Part 49: "Will Drop on Unwary Adventurers"

Part 49 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 42 of your 'Blue Book' (page 43 for the 1st edition) and follow along... 

For reference, here's a side-by-side view of the rooms we'll be covering in this part:

Room J: The spider room. Holmes describes it as 60 by 50 feet with doors in all of the walls, and this is accurately rendered on the published map. The original has the doors centered in the walls (as with most rooms), while the published map moves the east and west doors up a bit, and the north door to the right. In the original the south door does not lead anywhere; to correct this the published map adds a new a empty room ('E') in this space. This
results in the map spelling out J-E-H vertically, perhaps unintentionally.

The stated height of this room, 35 five feet, is much higher than the rest of the dungeon. The stair from the surface (at "START") goes down 25 feet, and the corridors are 10 feet high per Room C. Probably Holmes made this room higher just to give the spider a hiding place. But to fit in the geography of the area Room J must be beneath a higher part of the hills/sea cliffs than the ruins of the tower of Zenopus.

Here is Holmes' original version of the spider:

A "giant spider" with 1 HD may seem surprising, but remember that at this time most giant animals in D&D did not have a fixed set of stats. I discussed this in Part 25 in the "Giant Animals and Insects" entry in the Monster List. In the entry Holmes suggested adjusting the hit die to the dungeon level, so it makes sense here that he places a 1 HD giant spider on the first level of the dungeon. Holmes used giant spiders with these same stats (AC3, 1 HD, poison bite) in the Second Example of combat; see Part 18 of this series.

As published, this spider's strength was increased enormously (literally). The 1st printing has: "An enormous spider lurks in the darkness of the roof, thirty-five feet above. He will drop on unwary adventurers. He is armor class 3 (plate mail), has 6 hit dice (31 hit points), and his bite causes 1-8 points of damage and is poisonous (-1 on saving throw dice because it is so strong)."

So, the plate-like armor was kept but the spider reclassified from "giant" to "enormous", with 6 HD. There was still no standard "Giant Spider" at this point; the 1st-3rd printings of the rulebook do not contain an entry for Spider in the Monster List.

The Monster Manual was first published in late 1977, about six months after Holmes Basic, and it finally contained a standard entry for Spider. This was eventually ported back to Basic, in the 2nd edition of the rulebook (Nov 1978), which contains a new entry for Spider, including Giant Spider. At the same time Room J was updated to change "enormous" back to "giant", reduce the HD & HP to 4+4 and 21, change the bite to 2-8 points, and remove the poison modifier. We can still use Gygax's original 'enormous spider' for a larger variety of the beast. 

In the last paragraph Holmes details how the spider makes a surprise attack :
-The spider randomly selects one character to attack.
-If the spider misses, it lands beside the character and "the battle proceeds from there"; it isn't mentioned, but presumably whoever has the higher dexterity would get the next attack.
-If the spider hits, it automatically knocks the character down and gets to attack again. Then the knocked down character attacks at -2 for one round, and then normally after that. 

This is interesting because the standard surprise roll is not mentioned, so it's not clear whether the DM should first roll for surprise. This would have been a good place to remind  a new DM of the surprise rules.

Holmes' original entry ends with, "There is no treasure in this room". The published rulebook adds a further clause describing a +1 dagger embedded in the spider. This strikes me as a very Gygaxian hidden treasure, particularly the aside that it is "evidently a souvenir from some previous battle". Presumably he thought the increase in encounter difficulty warranted a treasure. 

DM Guidance
-In Holmes' original, this provides an example of a "Giant Animal or Insect".
-Example of hidden monster, and as revised, a hidden treasure. The room hides the monster, the monster hides the treasure. 
-Rules additions for overhead attacks and knock downs.

Room K: This is the first of three cave rooms in the dungeon, and the second room traversed by the underground river, after Room H. There's not much to Room K other than being a location where "flotsam" (i.e. characters) swept away by the river in Room H ends up. This room is completely dark, so characters deposited here are in for some mucking about.

The original map has only a western shore for the room, but the published map adds a small shore on the eastern side as well. No changes to the text as published. 

Room L: The giant crab cave. This is the second cave room, and the third room with the river. Unlike room K, this room is lit by "phosphorescent fungus", which in the real world is also known as foxfire. Margaret St Clair's The Shadow People, an Appendix N book that I read and enjoyed, has an extensive worldwide underworld lit by foxfire, but I don't know whether Holmes was familiar with this book. Holmes used a similar concept in several other stories, including The Maze of Peril (pages 14 and 93; "caverns of glowing rock"), The Adventure of the Giant Chameleon ("there's some sort of glowing lichen on the rocks"), and The Sorcerer's Jewel ("The light, Boinger saw, came from a yellowish-green fungus that clung to the dark stone walls"). I hereby declare that all Holmes Basic dungeons should have an area lit by phosphorescent fungus.

In the manuscript, the giant crab has 1 HD, similar to the giant spider. In the published version, the crab is increased to 2 HD. The other stats (Move,  AC, and two attacks) are unchanged. Giant Crabs were originally in OD&D, Vol 3, in the "Special Suggestions for Monsters in Naval Adventures", where they are mentioned as being "a peril only near beaches", traveling 6" per turn, "attacking twice, once for each pincer", and having 3 HD, all of which all fits the Room L crab except for the HD. Later printings of the Basic rulebook specify that each hit does 2-12 points of damage, which comes straight from the varying attacks/damage table from the Greyhawk Supplement.

In The Maze of Peril, Boinger and Zereth encounter a giant crab, similarly hiding in the sand on the beach of an underground body of water. I wrote up a Monster List type entry for Holmes' giant crab here.

In the manuscript the description of the room ends with a single sentence, "There is no treasure in the cave". This sentence was deleted from the published version for unknown reasons.

DM Guidance:
-In the manuscript, the giant crab provides another example of a "Giant Animal or Insect". As published, it provides an example of a 'new monster' not in the Monster List.
-Another example of a hidden monster. Again, no mention of surprise rules.
-The phosphoresecent fungus is an example of variable lighting in the dungeon.

Room M: The pirate hideout. The description is one of the longest entries in the dungeon, and a centerpiece along with the thaumaturgist. These two encounters are linked via a charmed smuggler controlled by the magic-user. The cave that Holmes drew on the original map is faithfully rendered in the published version, including the details (two boats, direction to the sea), although a bit smaller than the original in relation to the other dungeon rooms, such as Room A.

There are no changes as published to the first paragraph, which describes the cave and the exit to the west. The sea cave provides an alternate (though dangerous) exit in and out of the dungeon. The entrance is about 500 feet to the west, which on the published map places the ruins of the tower of Zenopus about 1000 feet from the sea.

The second paragraph describes the pirates. Here is Holmes' original version:

In the published version, the "three pirates" per boat in the second and last sentence sentences are changed to "four" and "2-5", respectively. Their hit dice is changed from "first level (1 hit die)" to "normal men (1 6-sided hit die)". As I described earlier, Holmes included pirates in the Monster List in the manuscript, and the details here match that entry, including 1 HD, leather armor, carrying 2-12 gold pieces each, and taking prisoners (i.e., Lemunda). Gygax deleted the Pirate entry from the Monster List, and correspondingly changed this entry to make the pirates "normal men". He also added the "Normal Man" entry to the attack and saving throw tables, although nowhere else are they described. In fact, this is the only location in the rulebook where we learn that normal men have a d6 hit die rather than the standard d8 in the published rulebook.

The next paragraph describes the pirate's prisoner, the memorable NPC Lemunda. Unlike the two NPCs in Room F, Holmes' stat block for her does not include her actual hit points, just "Level 2, Hit Dice 2", and it was left this way for publication. There are no changes to Lemunda as published. The reference to Lemunda's father being a powerful lord in town gives us another detail about the Portown setting.

Next the pirates' treasure is described. Holmes' originally had 2000 and 1000 gold pieces plus the 12 gems worth 100 gp each. Gygax reduces the value of the treasure by changing the coins to 2000 silver and 1000 electrum pieces.

The final paragraph describes a hazard to be encountered if the PCs attempt to row out of the dungeon. In Holmes' original it is described as a "giant octopus", and has 2 HD. Gygax changes the name to "large octopus" and ups the HD to 3. Back in OD&D Volume 3, in the section for "Naval Adventures", Gygax described Giant Octopi as having 4 HD. Later in the Monster Manual he raised this to 8 HD. This explains why he changed the name of the Sample Dungeon to "large octopus"; it's not as big. Gygax also adds a new sentence at the end of the paragraph clarifying that the "octopus gets 6 attacks per melee round!", which was a detail in their description in OD&D, Vol 3.

Holmes previously used an octopus-like creature hiding in an underground river in his novel, Mahars of Pellucidar (1976).

DM Guidance:
-The pirates are an example of a group of 'normal men' adversaries.
-Lemunda is an example of a friendly NPC who can assist the party.
-As with the crab, this provides another example of a "Giant Animal or Insect" (manuscript) or a new monster (as published)
-Provides an example of a guardian for a secondary dungeon exit. 

Go Back to Part 48: "The Shadow on the Gnomon"
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sutherland Dragon in LEGO

Eric Harshbarger, a puzzle & game designer and professional LEGO sculptor, has re-created Dave Sutherland's original art for the cover of Holmes Basic Set as a LEGO mosaic. And at a very impressive size: 7½ x 6¼ feet! Follow this link to his website where you can read more about the project and view larger photos of the mosaic:

There Be Dragons...