Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holmes for the Holidays IV

The Maze of Peril (image recycled from last year)

Welcome to the fourth annual 'Holmes for the Holidays' where I send a present to a randomly selected reader. This year I am again giving away a brand new copy of Holmes' 1986 D&D novel The Maze of Peril.

Same system as before: if you are interested, add a comment in reply to this post within the next two days. The two days are the time limit before moderation starts on posts on the blog. After two days, I'll stop accepting entries and treat the list of comments as a table and roll randomly for the winner, using dice from a Holmes Basic set.

I'll cover postage (media mail) for any U.S. address. I can ship to other countries but I ask that you cover the difference (any amount over $4) in shipping by PayPal; so if you are overseas please only participate if you have a PayPal account and willing to chip in the extra. I'll estimate the exact shipping and refund the difference if I overcharge at all.

This is intended for folks who don't have a copy of the novel, so please don't post if you already have a copy. Last year we had about 45 entrants.


We have 40 comments, so I rolled a Holmes "d10" (a white d20 numbered 0-9 twice), with a d4 as a control dice. With this the d10 determines the "ones", and the d4 determines the "tens" (i.e., a 1 on the d4 = 1-10, a 2 on the d4 = 11-20, etc). My trusty dice elf took a few practices rolls and then I called for a winning roll:

The winner is comment #6...Kean Stuart! I have contacted him for his mailing address.

Thanks to everyone who entered, and thanks for the many kind comments about my blog.
In the next few weeks I hope to finish the Holmes Manuscript analysis, and eventually put the whole thing together into one document.

Happy Holidays & New Year!

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Holmes Manuscript Auction

One of the auction photos, showing a map by Holmes
Over on Ebay, Billy Galaxy is auctioning one of the original copies of the final version of the  Holmes Manuscript. This is the same version that I have been analyzing here at the Archives, and in fact Billy is the one who last year kindly provided me with a scan of the document for review. So if you take a look at the auction photos (twelve in total) you can get a closer look at some of the actual pages. This is one of five copies of this version that Billy has, 3 of which he will be selling, per this post on the Acaeum. The auction ends on Sat Dec 20th. I have no financial interest in the auction.

For posterity, here is the auction text:
"A rare opportunity to own a genuine late stage manuscript of "Dungeons and Dragons for Beginners" which was to become what was known to most as the basic D&D game. This is one of approximately 10 copies that were made of the original typescript manuscript that were produced by Holmes for reference and use by TSR. Consists of 132 single sided pages. Please note that ALL copies of this version of the manuscript are MISSING page 67. These copies were produced at the University where Dr. Holmes worked at the time and were bound in covers that his widow described as "whatever the cheapest thing that we could find at the time" [I note a 49 cent price tag inside the back cover - Z]. The metal binding components have begun to rust, other than that this copy is in excellent overall condition. The last page (132) is bound a bit higher than the other pages as can be seen in the photos. Please feel free to contact our retail location directly with any inquiries regarding this item and do yourself a favor and check out the wonderful and expansive review of this item on the Zenopus Archives blog."

Friday, December 12, 2014

Part 43: "Zap! You're Dead!"

Part 43 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 40 of your 'Blue Book' (page 39 for the 1st edition) and follow along... 

Below the map of the "Sample Floor, Part of First Level" the manuscript text continues without a new title, so it's actually a continuation of the "Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art" section rather than a new section (Holmes' Index has no other title for this section). Holmes continues with his coverage of material from OD&D, Vol 3, "The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures". Since this material is both greatly condensed from the source and supplemented with new ideas I'll go through each line. The manuscript text is in bold, my commentary is below each line, including changes to the published version.

"Each new room or area is given a code number and a record made on a separate page of what it contains, treasure, monsters, hidden items, etc."

This is not stated explicitly in OD&D Vol 3, but is obvious from the Vol 3 Sample Level and Key (pg 4-5). Also, OD&D Vol 1, page 5, says "the referee must ... people them with monsters of various horrid aspect, distribute treasures accordingly, and note the location of the latter two on keys, each corresponding to the appropriate level."

"Place a few special items first, then randomly assign treasure and monsters to the other rooms using the appropriate tables."

Vol 3, page 6, section "Distribution of Monsters and Treasure", says "It is a good idea to thoughtfully place several of the most important treasures, with or without monstrous guardians, and then switch to random determination for the balance of the level".

The published rulebook changes the end of the sentence to "using the selection provided in the game or the appropriate tables", indicating that use of the tables is not required.

"Many rooms should be empty. Roll a 6-sided die for each room. A roll of 1 or 2 indicates that some monster is there. Ochre jellies, green slime, black puddings, etc. are randomly distributed, without treasure, usually in corridors and passageways."

This comes from the top of page 7 in Vol 3, where a monster is only present in a room 33% of the time (1-2 in 6), and the same advice is given about the "clean-up crew" (as they are dubbed in Vol 2).

The second sentence was changed in the published rulebook to end "...usually without treasure, most often in corridors and passageways", seemingly to indicate that jellies and slimes could occasionally have treasure.

"Wandering monsters are usually determined randomly as the game progresses."

This is from Vol 3, page 10. Holmes put the rest of the material covering Wandering Monsters earlier in the manuscript, in the section he called "Traps, Closed Doors, Hidden Doors, Surprises, Wandering Monsters". Moldvay later moved this material, including the Wandering Monster tables, back to this section of the Basic rulebook.

"Traps should not be of the "Zap! You're dead!" variety but those which a character might avoid or overcome with some quick thinking and a little luck."

This is extrapolated from page 6 of Vol 3, section "Tricks and Traps", which mentions a "reasonable chance for survival" and examples of pits that are undesirable because they are too deadly.

"Falling into a relatively shallow pit would do damage only on a roll of 5 or 6 (1 die at most) but will delay the party while they get the trapped character out."

From the OD&D Sample Level, room 8 on page 5 of Vol 3, "Falling into the pit would typically cause damage if a 1 or a 2 were rolled. Otherwise, it would only mean about one turn of time to clamber out, providing the character had spikes or associates to pull him out, and providing the pit wasn't one with a snap-shut door and the victim was alone". The 1-2 in 6 for springing traps is also mentioned again, and applied more generally, on page 9 of Vol 3, "Traps are usually sprung by a roll of a 1 or 2 when any character passes over or by them. Pits will open in the same manner". Holmes also mentioned this in his earlier "Traps..." section referred to above.

In the published version, the parenthetical "(1 die at most)" is changed to "(1-6 hit points at most)", clarifying which die is meant.

"Hidden rooms, movable walls, teleportation devices, illusion rooms, dead ends, etc., make interesting variations."

In Vol 3, these features are either part of the Sample Level (pg 4) or mentioned in the list of "Tricks and Traps" (page 6). In particular the list includes the last three: "teleportation areas", "illusion rooms," and "sections which dead-end".

"Since the game (and the Dungeons) are limited only by the imagination of the Dungeon Master and the players, there is no end to the variations possible.

This is the start of the second paragraph in this section, and echoes OD&D Vol 1, page 4, "[The rules] provide a framework around which you will build a game of simplicity or tremendous complexity - your time and imagination are about the only limiting factors..."

In the published version the word "Dungeons" is changed to the lowercase, "dungeons", and the word "variations" is made singular.

"Try to keep the dangers appropriate to the levels of the characters and the skill of your players. The possibility of "death" must be very real, but the players must be able to win through with luck and courage, or they will lose interest in the game and not come back."

See page 6 of Vol 3, section "Tricks and Traps": "The fear of "death", its risk each time, is one of the most stimulating parts of the game. It therefore behooves the campaign referee to include as many mystifying and dangerous areas as is consistent with a reasonable chance for survival (remembering that the monster population already threatens this survival".

I've been busy this week, so I'll pause there for now.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Maze of Peril is Most Popular

Screenshot of NK's Most Popular list on 12/5/14

The Maze of Peril is currently on the 'Most Popular' list over at Noble Knight. I have no idea how they calculate this list, but by my count at least 20 copies sold in the last two weeks, and they re-stocked it (37 copies currently). Not bad for a book published nearly 30 years ago. Thanks to everyone who purchased a copy. (I have no financial interest in this book or Noble Knight). Noble Knight's Fall sale ends tonight, I believe, so after that the price will revert to $9.95 + shipping. For more info see my previous post.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Maze of Peril on sale at NK

Noble Knight is having their annual Fall Sale, and they have J. Eric Holmes' 1986 novel, The Maze of Peril, in stock for $8.96 plus shipping. As of this post, there are 12 copies 0 copies available (now listed as being "on order"). They have been re-stocking the book periodically; I'm guessing by ordering from the publisher, Space & Time Books in NY, who as of a few years ago still had a few hundred copies left from the original printing of 1000.

For the uninitiated, this 147-page novel chronicles the first meeting and adventures of Boinger the Hobbit and Zereth the Elf, who had earlier appeared in the three short stories in Dragon magazine. The story grew out of Holmes' actual OD&D games with his sons.

For a great review of The Maze of Peril, see this 2011 post on Delta's D&D Hotspot.
See also my 2006 overview pointing out similarities to Holmes' Sample Dungeon.
See also this earlier post with links to more reviews, and info if you want to try to mail order it directly from the publisher.

I have a copy on order to give away in December, in my annual "Holmes for the Holidays". Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Part 42: "Sample Floor Plan, Part of First Level"

Part 42 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 40 of your 'Blue Book' (page 39 for the 1st edition) and follow along... 


In the published Holmes Basic rulebook, the Sample Cross-Section of Levels ('Skull Mountain') is at the bottom right of page 38 (1st edition) or 39 (2nd or 3rd edition). At the top left of the next page is the header "Sample Floor Plan, Part of First Level". This is followed by several paragraphs of DM advice:

This header never made sense to me because this guidance has no reference to a "part of first level". I thought it might possibly refer to the Sample Dungeon, but that begins near the end of the next page and has a complete first level map. Now, via the Holmes Manuscript, this header is made clear: it refers to an extra sample map that Holmes included in the manuscript right after the Sample Cross-Section. 

The bottom of page 109 of the Manuscript has Holmes' Sample Cross-Section, which was shown in the previous post. The top of the next page has the following map:

Click for a larger view

The map is then followed by the same text as in the published rulebook shown above. So TSR cut out Holmes map, but left unchanged the header that referred to it. TSR added a differently phrased entry in the table of contents: "Sample Floor Plan Outline" (Holmes had no entry for this page); perhaps they meant to change it here as well. 

Why did Holmes include this map? In the manuscript, the last sentence on the previous page reads: "There should be several levels and each level should have access above and below and be made up of interlocking passages, stairs, closed rooms, secret doors, traps and surprises for the unwary". The first part of this sentence, describing the levels, is illustrated by way of the cross-section. The second map is meant to illustrate the second part, and shows each of the mentioned features: interlocking passages, stairs, closed rooms, secret doors, traps ("Pit") and surprises ("Green Slime"). The header and location suggest that it is part of the first level of the cross-section, although to my eye the location of the staircases don't match up. TSR may have cut this map because the Sample Dungeon maps shows many of the same features, though it lacks any traps indicated on the map.

So this gives us another addition to the handful of maps by Holmes. The style is similar to his other maps, particularly the labeling of the rooms by letter rather than number, which is also done on the map for the Zenopus Sample Dungeon.

The Green Slime shown directly on the map fits with the advice given further down the page: "Ochre Jellies, Green Slime, Black Puddings, etc. are randomly distributed, without treasure, usually in corridors and passageways." This sentence is from OD&D, Vol 3, page 7, so Holmes is here following the original's advice. Holmes also mentions pits as a type of trap in the text below. Holmes had several pits in the dungeon in his novel Maze of Peril, which is based on his D&D games with his sons, including a large one that leads from the surface down through the first level to a lower cavern.

Untitled Map from Fantasy Role-Playing Game by J. Eric Holmes, 1981
This is another sample map by Holmes, from his 1981 book, with these same two features:  a large circular pit in the middle of a corridor (this one with green slime in it - yikes!), and a corridor with a different member of the clean-up crew - a gelatinous cube - drawn directly on the map. This map is also similar in that it shows part of a first level, with corridors leading off the page. The map is untitled, and there's no other references to it in the text, but it's been dubbed "Halls of the Lizard King". The scan is by austrodavicus on OD&D Discussion, where there's a thread for it here.

There's a scan of the other map by Holmes from the same book here on Grognardia. This one goes with the Sample Dungeon in the book, The Eye of Arzaz, which is accompanied by a brief introductory RPG. It also has a large oval pit in one room, and the rooms are again lettered.

Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Part 41: "Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art"

Part 41 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 39 of your 'Blue Book' (page 38 for the 1st edition) and follow along...

The next two sections in the manuscript come from the first page of content (page 3) in the third volume of OD&D, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures.


Holmes changes the title from "THE UNDERWORLD" to "DUNGEON MASTERING AS A FINE ART". I can think of two reasons for this change. First, Holmes' guidance is mostly limited to dungeons, with just a brief mention wilderness treks, so he no longer needs the original's separate headers for "The Underworld" and "The Wilderness". Second, Holmes' new title helps convey the significance of the work of the Dungeon Master, and that D&D is more than just a board game. Referring to a performing or practical art like acting or photography "as a fine art" is a long-standing tradition going back more than a century. Searching Google Books turns up numerous usages from the 19th century including books such as "Dress as a Fine Art" and "Walking as a Fine Art". In his 1981 FRPG book, Holmes later wrote that "The art of the creative storyteller has been with Homo sapiens since he first learned to build fire in front of his cave and gather around it with a few companions to while away the long winter nights in friendly excitement" (pg 46). 

Immediately after the title, the manuscript has a single paragraph adapting the very first paragraph of OD&D Vol 3. This is the original source material:

And here is Holmes' edit of this material:

The first edition of the published rulebook keeps these sentences unchanged (except for adding a comma between "passages" and "stairs") but adds an additional one at the end: "The geomorphic dungeon levels provided with this game contain many suggestions and will prove very useful", referring to the Dungeon Geomorphs Set One: Basic Dungeons included in the first edition of the Basic Set.

In the second edition (Nov 1978), the Geomorphs were replaced with the new module B1 In Search of the Unknown, so this sentence was revised to "The geomorphic dungeon levels (available from TSR or your retailer) contain many suggestions and will prove very useful", and a new paragraph was added referring to the module: "The Basic Set of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS includes the introductory module "In Search of the Unknown", which will be usable for initial adventuring as well as provide ideas for dungeon construction." This paragraph was left unchanged even in the third edition when the module B2 Keep on the Borderlands replaced B1.


In OD&D Vol 3, the same page continues with an uncredited illustration of a dungeon:

The published Holmes Basic rulebook features a new cross-section, the famous 'Skull Mountain' drawing by Tom Wham, discussed in my previous post. Wham's drawing retains certain features from the original, including a split 4th level (A and B), a cavern at the bottom, and stairs, slanting passages and chutes connecting the levels.

The Holmes Manuscript also has a cross-section, but one that is different from either the original or Skull Mountain:

The dungeon cross-section from the Holmes Manuscript

This was presumably drawn by Holmes himself, or possibly his son Chris, an artist. To my eye, the handwriting is similar to that found on the two maps in Holmes' 1981 book. A nice treat, since we have only a handful of maps from the hand of Holmes.

Holmes' cross-section shares some elements with the original, most significantly a split 2nd level connected by a slanting passage and stairs, and a cavern area at the bottom. Holmes changes the chutes of the original to ladders, and adds an outside area, a ravine  reminiscent of the Caves of Chaos, housing the entrances to the dungeon. One entrance is a mine that goes straight to the 2nd level, whereas the original had two staircases entering into 1st level. Holmes' cross-section is more evocative than the original by having features such as "Hill Side", "Mine" and "Mine Shaft" labeled, as well as drawings of the ravine and trees, and stalagmites in the cave. It's possible that Wham included features from Holmes' version as Skull Mountain also contains two entrances, a main one also labeled "Entrance", and a second one, "The Pit", a vertical entrance in the same approximate location as the Mine/Mine Shaft of the manuscript. However, we can conclude that Wham added the most distinctive features of Skull Mountain, including the skull-face entrance and the domed city in the water-filled cavern.

Holmes' most significant change to the original is to limit the cross-section to three levels, aligning with the scope of the Basic rules, which includes wandering monsters for only levels 1-3. The next page of OD&D Vol 3 states that "In beginning a dungeon it is advisable to construct at least three levels at once...", so Holmes may have kept to this guidance even when constructing a much smaller dungeon than suggested by the original ("no less than a dozen levels down"). While Skull Mountain is fantastic, and perfect for stimulating the imagination of new players, Holmes' original is more line with the limits of Basic. The Moldvay set would later return to Holmes' original idea by including a similarly limited cross-section, drawn by Erol Otus:

Haunted Keep dungeon cross-section by Erol Otus, from the Moldvay Basic rulebook, 1981

Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript