Thursday, June 22, 2017

Lesser Magic Items

One of the new additions to Holmes Ref 2.0 is a table of Lesser Magic Items. The material in this table originally appeared with illustrations, in Dungeon Crawl #3 (2013), a zine edited by Wayne Rossi (still available; follow the link for more info). I've now made the Holmes Ref version available as a separate sheet:

Click here to read/view the table of Lesser Magic Items

Reproduced below for reference is the text of my original article (with a few new edits).

* * * * *

In the introductory module B2 Keep on the Borderlands, Gary Gygax wrote, "If only two or three player characters are to adventure, be sure to have a non-player character or two go along, as well as a few men-at-arms. In addition, give the player characters a magic dagger or some magic arrows and at least one potion of healing - family bequests to aid them in finding their fame and fortune when they go against Chaos" (pg 2).
 
This is great advice, but instead of standard D&D items, why not give each new character a more unusual low-power magic item? Some examples are provided below in the form of a table. Have each character roll a d20 for one starting item. Simply re-roll if it is a type the character can't use due to class restrictions. After an item is used, replace that entry with another of your own devising. Many of the items below have charges or doses, and are intended to be used up and replaced by greater magic items found while adventuring. These items were designed with Holmes Basic D&D in mind, but should be usable with any old school D&D rules, and can also be used as standard monster/NPC treasures. 

1. Brazen Head - Appears as a human head of brass. Once per day, if fed five gold coins, it will relay one local rumor, which may or may not be true. It must be carried uncovered or it will start wailing. It will also talk randomly while adventuring, providing advice or commentary that may or may not be helpful.

2. Dungeon Dust - A jar of desiccating dust harmful to the "cleanup crew": slimes, oozes, jellies, puddings, molds, gelatinous cubes, etc. A successful hit with a handful inflicts 2d6 damage. Contains 1d6+2 handfuls.

3. Foxfire Lantern - The interior of this hooded lantern contains a living phosphorescent fungus. The lantern sheds light in only a 5' radius, but it will never go out as long as the fungus is fed rations daily. To keep the lantern lit the character owning it must always buy and carry an extra supply of rations.

4. Golden Throat - A potion that vastly improves the imbiber's parleying skills for 6 turns, giving a +6 on reaction rolls. The flask contains 1d6 + 2 doses.

5. Harpy Axe - If this hand axe is thrown and does not strike a target in range (30') it will return to thrower's hand, up to three times per day. Harpies are said to enchant these to be reusable during aerial combat.

6. Healing Salve - One dose will heal 1 hit point per character per day. Additional doses during that same day have no effect. Comes in a jar with 1d20 + 20 doses total.

7. Hearing Cone - A small cone that enhances the ability to listen at doors, +1 per charge used. The number of charges to be used must be chosen before listening. Has 1d100 charges.

8. Heat Shield - This shield has the power to Resist Fire, once per day, as the Cleric Spell. After being exposed to fire 1d20 + 20 times it reverts to a normal shield.

9. Image Mirror - Once per day this ordinary-looking steel mirror can store the reflection of a creature, which can be used later that day as a Mirror Image (per the M-U spell). The image will imitate the motions of the wielder, and as the spell it disappears if touched. After 1d20 + 20 images the mirror loses its power.

10. Loadstone - A small stone carved in the shape of a mule. If a charge is expended, the wielder's movement rate is improved by one category for the rest of the day. 1d20 + 20 charges.

11. Lucky Rat's Foot - The mummified foot of an albino Giant Rat. It allows the re-roll one Saving Throw of choice per day. It absorbs the bad luck and loses power after 1d6 + 2 successful re-rolls are made.

12. Mask of Restfulness - This soft mask is worn over the eyes while sleeping. It doubles overnight healing, but the character cannot be awoken unless the mask is removed, in which case benefit is lost for that night.

13. Nimble Feet - Boots that allow the wearer to strike first during one combat of choice each day (giving a dexterity of 19 for purposes of Holmes Basic initiative). After 20 + 1d20 combats the boots lose their power.

14. Nutcracker - This small (1') wooden construct remains inactive until a command word is spoken. Once activated, it will serve the character, including in combat. It has the following stats: AC4, 1 hp, attacks as a Normal Man with a miniature sword for 1 point of damage. Fights at +2 vs Giant Rats.

15. Miniature Item - A large item magically reduced to palm-sized. Once per day it can be commanded to return to full size or shrink. The speaker of the command word must also touch it to cause the change, which is slow (1 turn). Once enlarged it will not shrink until the next day, and vice versa. It will change 1d20+20 times before remaining full size. Roll 1d6 for item: 1= 10' Ladder, 2= Wagon, 3= Small Boat, 4= Large Chest, 5= 18' pike, 6= 10' Boulder (rollable by combined 36 strength).

16. Resolute Arrow - A sturdy arrow that never breaks whether it hits its target or not, and can always be found

17. Ring of Escape - If placed against a stone ceiling, this ring will expand to the diameter of a man-hole cover and provide a magical passage upwards to the first space above, up to 30'. The tunnel is easily climbable by anyone that can reach the ceiling. After use, a command word will cause the ring to appear at the top of the passage. It will function only once per day, and has 1d20+20 charges.

18. Thirsty Waterskin - Once per day, this ordinary-looking waterskin will locate the closest fresh, drinkable water.

19. Troll Cheese - This loaf-sized lumpy green cheese tastes "off" but is edible, and provides enough food for one person to survive for one day, although no hit points are gained if resting. Furthermore, the cheese will regenerate overnight if not fully eaten. Stomach acid prevents the consumed portion from regenerating inside the eater. Fire, including cooking, will destroy it.

20. Vermin Slayer - A sword +0, +1 vs ordinary or giant vermin such as insects, spiders, rats and bats.

Notes: 
The Brazen Head is a variation on the item of the same name from medieval lore. Holmes had another version in Room I the Sample Dungeon.

The Foxfire Lantern is inspired by the phosphorescent fungus found in Room L of the Sample Dungeon. There is a real-world glowing fungus called Foxfire.

The Harpy Axe is inspired by one of the earliest D&D games I played in. Our characters, riding on a magic carpet, battled harpies wielding returning axes. Thanks to Donald S., our DM.

Troll Cheese is inspired by a "dwarven cheese" I remember reading about in a fairy tale long ago.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Holmes Ref 2.0



One year ago on Free RPG Day I released Holmes Ref 1.0 (see blog post here), a 10-page compilation of various Holmes Ref Sheets. 

Click here to view/download Holmes Ref 2.0

This year's offering is Holmes Ref 2.0, an expanded version with 18 pages, including:

*Title Page with Monster Face Montage art
Character Creation Worksheet
*Blank Character Sheet - new version posted separately in April
Advancement Tables (previously called Holmes + OD&D "Bridge" Sheet)
Holmesian Random Names
Backgrounds for Humans
Cleric Spells Levels 1-6
M-U Spells Levels 1-3 
*M-U Spells Levels 4-6 - new, posted separately earlier this week
Monster Reference Table - revised to use dice notation (e.g. 1d6) vs ranges for damage
*Tips for using the Monster Table - from the pdf of the Monster Table, slightly revised
*One Hit Point Monsters
Magical Item Reference Table
*Lesser Magic Items - new sheet, material published in Dungeon Crawl #3 in 2013
Pre-generated First Level Characters 
*Pre-generated Third Level Characters - new sheet, not yet posted separately
*Draw and Key Your Own Dungeon - graph paper previously posted on Holmes Ref page
*Zenopus Archives logo with Monster Face Mountain Art 

Starred items are new to the Holmes Ref compilation.

The first and last pages can be used for the player-facing side of DIY DM screens.

I won't be surprised if there are some typos/formatting errors/etc, so please let me know & I'll make note of them for future correction.

The compilation and individual sheets are available via the Holmes Ref page on the Zenopus Archives site. Holmes Ref 1.0 will remain anyone who wants a smaller version.

Also available is the Portown Rumors 3-page pdf posted last month.

Enjoy Free RPG day. I'm playing in a 1E AD&D game at a local store later today.

Update: For reference, I added more links to the original posts about the various sheets.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

M-U Spells Levels 4-6 Ref Sheet


Another year, another ala carte reference sheet for Holmes Ref. : )

This one is the next set of spells for Magic-Users, Levels 4-6, following on from Levels 1-3. Cleric spells Levels 1-6 are all on a single sheet, so this brings the two classes even.

Holmes Basic itself doesn't describe spells of these levels, but a few are referenced in the text, such as Conjure Elemental and Stone to Flesh, which is on a scroll in the Sample Dungeon. The spell details are all sourced from OD&D Vol 1, Greyhawk and Swords & Spells, which has a spell table with some info (mostly area of effect) not found in the earlier booklets. So this table is equally usable for Holmes Basic or OD&D including Greyhawk.

The direct link is below, or you can find it on the Holmes Ref page:

Click here to download the M-U Spell Reference Levels 4-6

This will be compiled into the next release of Holmes Ref...coming soon!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Tales of Peril in print!

Tales of Peril at the Black Blade booth. Photo by Allan Grohe.

Tales of Peril: the Complete Boinger & Zereth Stories of John Eric Holmes is in print! 

Thilong-awaited compilation is making its debut this week at the North Texas RPG Con, where it is available at the booth of the publisher, Black Blade Publishing. Above is a photo of the books taken by Allan Grohe, the book's editor. After the con it will be available for mail order, per Allan here.

Until that time you can view a series of previews of the book that Allan has posted on his new blog, From Kuroth's Quill:

Tales of Peril - Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and sample art: Wereshark by Chris Holmes

Back Cover Art by Ian Baggley

Front Cover Art by Ian Baggley

Monday, May 22, 2017

Mentzer Basic Cover Art Prototype


Mentzer Basic cover art prototype.

Above is Larry Elmore's original idea for the cover art of Mentzer Basic. Frank Mentzer posted about it over on Facebook recently, with a photo of the original art taken by Jon Peterson. Here's part of what Frank wrote about it:

"Initial cover concepts were similar to the previous edition, portraying a group of adventurers with a dragon. That was almost used, but it bothered Gary [Gygax]. After the color images were ready to be finalized in oils, after a lot of plans were made, Gary changed course. He asked Larry to focus the action on just one fighter and one dragon ... and the world-famous Red Box cover emerged."

This version has more elements in common with the Holmes Basic cover art painted by David Sutherland. In addition to the huge red dragon on a pile of gold, there is a block stone archway in the background, and a wizard framing the left side of the composition, both casting a spell and providing an upraised light source (here a glowing staff, in Sutherland's a torch). 

Larry Elmore is currently offering a limited edition print of this original concept via his website. Thanks to Gus Landt for bringing this offer to my attention via a post on the Acaeum. Note that above I cropped the blank margins off the original image to focus on the painting, but that the print being offered includes the margins, which have production notes.

Update: Here's a mock-up of the Mentzer Players Manual with this artwork that Frank posted in the comments to his Facebook post:




Update #2: Over on the Acaeum, misterspock posted an auction photo of a TSR Companion Rules box mock-up. IIRC a photo of this mock-up appeared in a TSR catalog prior to the release of the set. This cover has prototype art showing the same party of adventurers - wizard in red with staff, halfling in green, fighter with the same boots and shield.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Portown Rumors PDF

Portown Rumors PDF - Page 1 - screenshot

I've taken the two versions of the Portown Rumors that were previously posted on this blog - the original and brief versions - and combined them into a single 3-page pdf. In this combined version you start with the 20 brief versions presented as a d20 rumor table similar to those found in classic TSR modules, which is then followed by the expanded versions in two-column format. Download the pdf here:

Portown Rumors PDF

Over on the ZA site, I've also added the link to the Holmes Ref and the Sample Dungeon pages. I also updated the Sample Dungeon page to refer to what we learned from the Holmes Manuscript.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Keep on the Borderlands cover study



This is a study for the famous cover of the module B2 Keep on the Borderlands by the late Jim Roslof (a bibliography of his work here). It just sold on Ebay for almost $10,100 (!). The auction listing (by the Collector's Trove, from the collection of Laura Roslof), states that "This is Jim's original color study that he used to determine how he wanted to paint the final cover art", and is in pencil, ink and watercolor on parchment paper.

The composition is very close to the finished product. Here the humanoids have more elongated snouts (and the one to the left has a pointed ear), perhaps more orc-like than the ones in the final picture, who are clearly hobgoblins with the orange-red faces and blue noses specifically described in the AD&D Monster Manual. 

Of note, the apparent caves on the hills in the background are more prominent in this study, particularly the one under the right arm of the elvish archer (who is bald here!). This supports that these holes are actually intended to depict the entrances to several of the Caves of Chaos entrances. For comparison, see this annotated cover image from an earlier blog post, Caves of Chaos Revealed: