Friday, November 17, 2017

Some Thief Options for the Holmes Ref


Dwarf: +5% Open Lock, +15% Remove Trap, +5% Move Silently, +5% Hide in Shadows

Elf: +5% Pick Pocket, +10% Move Silently, +15% Hide in Shadows

Hobbit: +10% Open Lock, +5% Remove Trap, +5% Pick Pocket, +10% Move Silently, +10% Hide in Shadows, Hear Noise +1

These are from the Greyhawk OD&D supplement.


Human thieves can specialize, raising skills by lowering others by equal amounts, to a minimum of 5%. This applies to each of the five skills that increase each level other than Climb Walls and Hear Noise. This gives a pool of 50 percentage points (50%) that can be adjusted at first level.

Some specialists that are possible at first level:

Picklock: 55% Open Lock

Disarmer: 55% Remove Trap

Filcher: 55% Pick Pocket 

Sneak: 55% Move Silently

Skulker: 55% Hide in Shadows

For each of these, the other four skills are 5% each (except Climb Walls and Hear Noise)

Higher levels:
For levels 2-6, each level yields an additional 25% to be distributed among the five skills,
For levels 7-8, each level yields an additional 35% per level to be distributed, and
For levels 9-11, each level yields an additional 50% per level to be distributed.
For levels 12 and up, each level yields an additional 25% to be distributed.

This option inspired by similar rules in 2E AD&D.


As the prime requisite of thieves is dexterity, it will affect their abilities as follows:

Dexterity of 15 or more: add 10% to each thief skill except hear noise
Dexterity of 13-14: add 5%
Dexterity of 9-12: no bonus
Dexterity of 7-8: subtract 10%
Dexterity of 6 or less: subtract 20%

This option inspired by Gary's OD&D houserules, which mention a bonus for a Thief  skill based on Dex, and the Dex modifiers in 1E AD&D.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dice of the Gods


A suited man juggles five polyhedra dice - is this an early DM? No, more likely it is supposed to be a math teacher.

These photos were posted to the Acaeum recently (see this thread), and show a set of dice found with a OD&D White Box set. The dice themselves are the standard Polyhedra Dice sold by TSR in the '70s, which per Jon Peterson were sourced from a California company, Creative Publications. But the packaging they are in is something I've never seen before. The title, Polyhedra Dice, is identical to the title TSR used in their catalogs and product lists of the era (follow link to see an example). While the dice obscure some of the text, I can make out the letters "CREAT..." near the green 8-sider, indicating the original packaging was indeed supplied by Creative Publications, not TSR or another company.

Most of these dice that I've seen are ones from the Holmes Basic set, where they came in small sealed bag without a paper insert. The set was also sold separately (see catalog link above), and I had assumed these were sold in the same form. But possibly at some point TSR re-sold sets with the original CP packaging, or possibly this set was ordered directly from CP.

The back of the insert begins with the following paragraph:

"To the ancient Greeks the five regular solids (tetrahedron - 4 faces, hexhedron - 6 faces, octahedron - 8 faces, dodecahedron - 12 faces, icosahedron - 20 faces) were known as the "dice of the gods". They were prized for their beauty and believed to have strange, cosmic meanings"

Following this is a list of suggestions for using the dice, which are mostly obscured by the dice themselves.

See also: 
The Marked 20-sided Die
TSR Percentile Dice in the '70s

The dice set together with Men & Magic. Photo source same as above.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Danse Macabre Filmstrip (1963)

A re-post from 2013:

For Halloween, here's something haunting that I remember watching in music class in late elementary school, around the same time I discovered D&D (1982). It's a 1963 educational filmstrip with fantastic watercolors by Harold Dexter Hoopes, set to the eerie music of Danse Macabre by Saint-Saens. It was unavailable on the web until a few years ago but now there are multiple versions on YouTube, one of which has better colors but includes a loud "filmstrip advance" beep throughout. There isn't much info available on the internet about the artist Hoopes. There was even a blog dedicated to restoring the individual frames of this filmstrip but it seems to have stalled out at frame 20.

There's also a later second edition of the filmstrip done in the mid-80s with art by David Prebenna, later an illustrator of Sesame Street/Muppet toddler books. It's cartoony and less haunting, but also worth watching.

Memories of this filmstrip led me to include "Danse Macabre" in my One Hit Point Monsters.

Happy All Hallow's Evening!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Maze of Peril Chapter 1, Scene 2: "Rumors of the Fabulous Treasures of the Underworld"

This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club, indexed here.

The second short "scene" of the Maze of Peril is a few paragraphs of compact world-building that expands the setting outward from the Green Dragon to the surrounding town and the Underworld beneath it. I quoted most of this section in a 2012 post, The Underworld of Holmes. As I wrote there, the term "The Underworld" is straight out of Vol 3 of the Original Dungeons & Dragons rules, "The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures", being the original term used to refer to the vast multi-layer dungeons of the game.

The narrator tells us that Zereth and "every man in the [Green Dragon] tavern" knows the rumors of the treasure of the Underworld. Holmes uses a favorite turn of phrase, "fabulous treasures", which also appears in the introduction to the Basic rulebook ("The dungeons are filled with fearsome monsters, fabulous treasure and frightful perils") and the Sample Dungeon ("Whispered tales are told of fabulous treasure and unspeakable monsters in the underground passages"). 

The rumors draw all sorts of adventurers and other types to the "tiny town", indicating that it is special in the land in its relation to the Underworld. The name of the town, Caladan, is first given here, and is noteworthy in that it was previously used by Frank Herbert as the name of the homeworld of the Atreides in Dune. Chris Holmes said that his father was a fan of Herbert but didn't know of any other specific reason for its use.

The description of the Underworld, like the name, is very much in line with OD&D: "corridors of wealth, they were also tunnels of deadly peril" and "there must have been many layers of dungeons and underworlds laid down, one atop the other". But Holmes takes this concept further by giving a putative origin for these dungeons: they were built by a mysterious prehistoric race. This echoes the introduction to the Sample Dungeon, where "the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, pre-human city". As I wrote previously, this theme is "reminiscent of the pre-human alien civilization described in Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness (1931), who built vast underground cities in remote locations". Holmes never reveals any more details about the mysterious builders, so on this blog I later took the idea one step further, positioning Lovecraft's creatures in that story as Holmes' architects of the Underworld, to create a "new" monster for Holmes Basic called the Ancient Builder. The write-up for this monster now appears in the recently released Blueholme Journeymanne rules as the "Old Ones" entry in the Monster List.

While the rumors of the Underworld are well known in Caladan, the entrances are not. The narrator indicates that Zereth has been looking for information about an entrance but has not been successful. One reason that the entrances are not well known is that "many of the rash adventurers who set forth for the secret entrances to the fabled Underworld were never heard from again". Again, this fits with the story's origins in actual OD&D games, where many first level parties perish on their first expedition below.

In the next scene, Zereth will finally succeed in learning of an entrance.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Maze of Peril Chapter 1, Scene 1: "The Green Dragon Tavern Was Crowded, Dark, Noisy"

This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club, indexed here.

Having gone through the front matter, we move onto the actual stories. As a reminder, if you haven't read the stories yet, this is where the real spoilers will begin. I know, however, that exposure to spoilers will sometimes increase interest...

The first story in the book is the novel the Maze of Peril, which is the lengthiest Boinger and Zereth tale (11 chapters), and also the last published in 1986, at least until this volume which includes a previously unpublished story. As I go through each chapter, I'll refer to the parts of the chapters as "scenes". Essentially wherever Holmes placed a gap in the text, I'll refer to as a separate scene. This post will cover the first scene in Chapter 1. 

The Maze of Peril begins on page 1 of Tales of Peril with a title page, and then re-prints the original dedication from 1986 publication, which is made out to Gary Gygax, for the game; "Chris, Eric, Jeff and others" for creating the characters; and Tolkien, Lovecraft and Sprague de Camp for "literary inspiration". In Holmes' 1981 book, Fantasy Role-Playing Games, he talks further of literary inspiration for fantasy worlds, again mentioned Tolkien and de Camp among others; a quote from which can be read here. And in his 1980 essay, Confession of a Dungeon Master (reprinted further on in Tales of Peril), he mentions Lovecraft as one world-builder (along with Burroughs, Howard, Haggard, Merrit and Smith) that he drew upon for use in creating bits of his D&D campaign.

See also articles I've written about Holmes on Tolkien, Holmes and the Cthulhu mythos, and Holmes and de Camp.

Next there is a newly added two paragraph preface by Chris Holmes introducing the story. He reveals that his father initially hoped to publish more Boinger and Zereth novels, but had trouble finding a publisher for Maze of Peril, and then moved on to other projects. Chris further indicates that the story is a "close recreation of one of our first adventures in my father's dungeon".  

On the next page, the story begins. Chapter 1 is titled "Entrances", which I believe has a dual meaning: the entrance of the characters into the story, as well as the entrance to the Underworld that they discover.

I love the beginning of this story. It's exactly what you'd expect for a novel based on a D&D game, with an archetypical meeting of the characters in a tavern prior to their first adventure. And here we get to watch Boinger (along with his friend Bardan the Dwarf) and Zereth meet for the first time, and in the famous Green DragonTheir meeting here also echoes the words from the introduction to the Sample Dungeon in the earlier Holmes Basic rulebook: "Humans and non-humans from all over the globe meet [in Portown]. At the Green Dragon Inn, the players of the game gather their characters for an assault on the fabulous passages beneath the ruined Wizard's tower".

The duo of Boinger and Zereth brings to mind other famous adventuring pairs, particularly Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Boinger and Zereth are interesting in that neither is human. As Holmes wrote in the quote above, human and non-humans gather at the Green Dragon. And with the addition of Bardan, the group includes each of the three original non-human player character races in OD&D: hobbit, elf, dwarf.

Zereth demonstrates his magic with a cantrip-like effect, heating Boinger's wine. The magic creates a "blue glow". Boinger enjoys the heated wine, saying that it improves the flavor. This is the first glimpse into his recurring love of food & drink.

Holmes scatters descriptions for the characters throughout. I'll collect them here as I read.

Boinger: Wears a grey hooded cloak, jacket of chainmail and sandals on his furry feet. From the "Meadow Country to the South". 

Zereth: Black hair, brown eyes, swarthy, high cheekbones, narrow chin, even white teeth. Jagged scar across left cheek. From "Labolinn" (more recently), but originally "of the Old People, the Elidel"; elsewhere referred to as "the Elfland". (This phrasing is perhaps a reference to Dunsany's the King of Elfland's Daughter.)

Bardan: Stocky, white beard, wears a "heavy iron helm with long Norman nosepiece", white beard, gruff voice. From the "Cold Mountains".

Green Dragon Tavern: The tavern is lit by a big central fire and a few tapers. A serving table near the entry way. The table they share in the back corner has wooden benches. Stout beer is served in wooden mugs, wine is served in "a horn cup with a metal base to hold it upright".

The first section ends with the first mention of the Underworld. Holmes then cuts to a description of the Underworld of his setting, which I'll get to in the next post.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Font Bundle with Futura

Design Cuts promo image for Futura

Here at the Zenopus Archives, Futura is our font. TSR used it in not only the Holmes Basic rulebook, but also the original printings of the LBBs and Greyhawk, the first four AD&D hardcovers, and certain modules of the time period such as the Keep on the Borderlands. Specifically, a combination of Futura Book (for ordinary type) and Futura Bold (for headers), as seen in this example from the Holmes rulebook:

If you are interested in obtaining Futura for use in free or commercial OSR projects, the version by the URW typeface foundry is currently available as part of a $39 font bundle deal that includes a license for commercial use. The ordinary price for all of the fonts in the bundle is supposedly $5088. As far as I can tell, the bundling company Design Cuts is legitimate, working with the various font owners to offer the bundle. This bundle is available for about 1 more week.

I bought the bundle last week & found the URW Futura to be sufficiently well done. It's not an exact match for the version used by TSR, being slightly more compact and taller, but probably close enough for most users. More about the various electronic renderings of Futura that are commercially available can be read in this Quora article from a few years back.

I plan to update the Holmes Ref sheets using the URW Futura, and will try to post an example later in the week.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tales of Peril - Front Matter

This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club, indexed here.

Previously I looked at the dust jacket for Tales of Peril. Here, I'll cover the "front matter" - all of the sections before the main content. I'll go over these briefly since I want to get to the actual stories, and because Allan covered a lot of this material in the previews on his blog, which are linked to below.

Signature Page - each copy of the first edition (200 numbered copies, plus comp copies for contributors) contains a page signed by Chris Holmes, Allan Grohe and myself. Allan has a picture of the signed page for copy #1 here. I had fun signing these pages in person together with Chris and Allan at the North Texas RPG Con in 2016 when we participated in a reading and discussion panel, which Allan has archived here. The signed pages were then bound into the books during printing.

Title Page - this uses the same evocative font for "Tales of Peril" as on the cover, which I believe is Perigord Regular.

Copyright Info - one page (v), the first numbered page.

Credits - one page (vi), a formal list of the contributors to the content and production. 

Thanks - one page (vii), acknowledgement of the work of various contributors and others who helped make the book possible.

Table of Contents - two pages (viii-ix). Allan shared the list of contents here. The chapters of Maze of Peril are listed out separately, a nice addition not found in the original printing. 

List of Illustration and Artwork - two pages (x-xi). Allan shared the list here. In addition to the covers by Ian Baggley, the interior art is primarily by Chris Holmes, with one story reprinting artwork by the late Jim Roslof from Dragon Magazine.

Introduction by Allan Grohe, two pages (xii-xiii). Allan gives an overview of Holmes' career, and discusses the organization of the tales in the book. These follow the development of the characters Boinger and Zereth, and so begin with the tale that chronicles their earliest adventures - the Maze of Peril. Allan briefly describes the non-fiction material in the book, and the work of the artists. Near the end, Allan teases a possible follow-up project: "Eric's cache of original manuscripts and campaign materials ... If Tales of Peril is well-received, these may be published in the future". There is a wealth of material here, I've personally seen more than a hundred images from this material, much of it hand-drawn maps by Holmes for adventures he mentioned in his writings!

Bonus content: Allan recently shared his Holmes Basic origin story, originally written up for an early draft of this introduction.

Onward to the Tales!