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Updated: 20 hours 31 min ago

TSR's 1976 "Lower Prices" Dice Ad (that shares text with Holmes Basic)

Sat, 11/27/2021 - 16:56


Over on Ebay, Jim Ward has been auctioning items accumulated from his career working at TSR, and among them I noted this early advertisement for dice from TSR that I don't recall seeing before. It appears to be from 1976, as the reverse side is an announcement for the new Metamorphosis Alpha RPG. TSR produced a number of these monochrome advertising sheets in the 1970s, some of which were also used as ads in magazines.
The lengthy explanatory text at the bottom of the page especially caught my attention because it's extremely similar to the "USING THE DICE" section found near the end of the Holmes Basic rulebook. Back in the last post of the Holmes Manuscript series, I presumed that this section originated with TSR, as it is not found in Holmes' manuscript.


Image originally posted in the Holmes Basic G+ Community (archived here)

The above image is from a 2nd or 3rd printing of the rulebook, but the "Using the Dice" text is the same in the 1st printing. Below is a transcription in which I've bolded the text that is the same as in the "Low Impact" Ad:
        Players need not be confused by the special dicecalled for in DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. By using theassortment of 4-, 6-, 8-, 12- and 20-sided dice, a widerange of random possibilities can be easily handled.        For a linear curve (equal probability of anynumber), simply roll the appropriate die for 1-4, 1-6, 1 -8, 1-10 , or 1-12. If some progression is called for,determine and use the appropriate die (for instance, 2-7 would call for a 6-sided die with a one spot addition).For extensions of the base numbers, roll a second diewith the appropriately numbered die. For example: togenerate 1-20, roll the 20-sided die and 6-sided die,and if the 6-sided die comes up 1-3 , the number shownon the 20-sider is 1-10 (1-0), and if the 6-sider comes up4-6, add 10 to the 20-sided die and its numbers become11-20 (1-0). This application is used with the 12-sideddie to get 1-24. If 1-30 or 1-36 are desired, read the 6-sider with the 20- or 12-sided die, with 1 -2 equalling noaddition, 3-4 adding 10, and 5-6 adding 20. Thisprinciple can be used to generate many other linearcurves.        For bell curves (increasing probability of numbersin the center, decreasing at both ends), just roll thesame die two or more times, roll several of the sametype of dice, or even roll two or more different dice.
The introductory sentence has been replaced with two sentences, and one extra sentence covering modified ranges has been added, but otherwise the text is almost identical. From this we can see how another portion of the text of the Holmes Basic rulebook was constructed from some pre-existing text. I don't know whether this text is original to this ad, or if there is yet another source text from which it was taken. I assume the author here is Gygax based on the lengthier "Dice" section in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.
A later version of the "Using the Dice" text that is revised to include the chits can be seen in my recent post, Jim Ward on the Why of Chits.
See AlsoDice Dragon (New Monster)Gygax's Killer DieMarked 20-sided DieDice of the Gods (Creative Publications Dice Packaging)TSR Percentile Dice in the 1970s
And Jon Peterson's numerous articles on RPG dice of the 1970s.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave: Random Encounters

Fri, 11/12/2021 - 14:07

A random encounter table for the The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, which starts here.


Illustration of a Large Rock Crab by Lore Suto

d12 Wandering Monsters and Other Encounters

When the players spend a turn searching, there is a 1 in 12 chance of an encounter per turn.

If an encounter occurs, roll d12 to determine which:

1. A large rock crab, camouflaged as a rock or stalagmite, strikes out at a random party member with previously hidden claws. Double chance of surprise (1-4 in 6). Unlimited in number.

Large Rock Crab (1): DX 9, AC 6, HD 1/2, AT 2 pinchers for 1d4 each. 

2. A pack of feral cats, descendants of smugglers' pets, begins circling the party just beyond their light source, meowing raucously for food. Providing food will quiet them. Otherwise, the noise will keep increasing until something else is attracted to the noise (roll again on the table), at which point it will suddenly cease.

3. A juvenile carrion crawler reaches down from a wall or ceiling in an attempt to paralyze a random party member. This is the spawn of the carrion crawler in Area #3; these are encountered alone, and there are only 8 in total throughout the cave system.

Juvenile Carrion Crawler (1): DX 15, AC 9, HD 1, AT 2 only (due to small size), D 0 + save vs poison at +4 or paralyzed.

4. The ghost of a peddler, who long ago provided the smugglers with goods, approaches. He is friendly and eager to sell goods to the party. He can procure any type ordinary equipment available at twice the cost of the rulebook prices. However, these items are actually brought forward in time from the past, and return there after one day.

5. An aggregation of aggroaches on the hunt scurries towards the party. See the full writeup of the aggroach here

Aggroach (variable): DX 10, AC 7, HD variable, AT 1 bite for 1 point.

Roll a d12 for size and numbers: 

1-6      =  2d6    least  (1 hp)
7-9      =  1d10  large  (HD 1/2)
10-11  =  1d6    huge  (HD 1)
12       =  1d4    giant  (HD 2)

6. A cloud of miasma settles in the area, sickening the party. Each must Save vs. Poison or make all die rolls at -1 for 3 turns.

7. A vampire bat, part of the colony in Area 6, swoops in and attempts to bite a random party member. 

Vampire Bat (1): DX 18, AC 3 (9 while attached), HD 1/8 (1 hp), AT 1 bite for 1 point damage, attaches on a successful hit and then automatically drains 1 hp per round for two rounds, at which point it is full and will detach and fly away. 

8. A group of torches appears in the distance in the dark. Once in the light, they are revealed as floating torches. These are corpse lights, a type of minor undead formed from the spirits of smuggler lackeys who died in the caves.

Corpse Light (floating torch) (3d4): DX 10, AC 7, HD 1/8 (1 hp), AT 1 torch for 1 point of damage. Undead, turned as skeletons with a +2 on the roll.

9. A partial skeleton, just an upper torso, drags itself into view and begins inexorably crawling towards a member of party. On 1 in 4 it still wears a minor piece of jewelry worth 10d4 gp.

Partial Skeleton (1): DX 10, AC 7, HD 1/8 (1 hp), AT 1 claws for 1 point of damage. Undead, turned as skeletons with a +2 on the roll. 

10. A stalactite or chunk of rubble, disturbed by the group's movements, falls from above on a random party member. Treat as an attack by a 1 HD monster, with a hit doing 1d6 damage.

11. A small piercer drops from the ceiling on a random person in an attempt to find a meal. 

Piercer (1): DX 3, AC 3, HD 1, AT 1 drop for 1d6 per HD.

12. Roll for surprise. On a 1 or 2, a random adventurer realizes that the wet rock they are standing on is actually a grey ooze, which has begun dissolving their boots. Otherwise, they  are merely standing near the ooze.

Gray Ooze (1): DX 3, AC 8, HD 3, AT 1 for 2d8.

Chronologically on this blog, this post was made after Area 10 and before Area 11.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Jim Ward on the Why of Chits

Sun, 11/07/2021 - 15:28

The Chit Sheets, Front and Back.
Source: The Dice Collector

Later printings of the Holmes Basic D&D set came with an infamous sheet of chits, pictured above, in place of dice. I myself was one of those kids that received such a set, which only added to my confusion in understanding how the game was placed, despite the instruction sheet included for using the chits. It's long been rumored that the change was due to a dice shortage in face of D&D's popularity, and thus increased need for dice, but former TSR employee recently related (here on FB), how it was actually the result of management decisions by TSR during a time they were developing their own dice:


Young Jim Ward and the Dice Monster

© all rights reserved by James M. Ward 

“Young Jim Ward” was a history teacher in a small rural school when the call came in. I had just finished writing Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes, Deities & Demigods for AD&D, and Metamorphosis Alpha the first science fiction role-playing game. I told Gary Gygax that as soon as he could pay my teacher’s salary of 13,400 dollars I would move back to Elkhorn and join his company. In 1980 he was able to do that and I moved. 

“Young Jim Ward” started out in the sales department as the inventory controller. It was my job to order the boxes and parts for the games and especially the D&D box set. It was selling 100,000 units a month, steady as clock work. One of “young Jim Ward’s” jobs was to make sure the Hong Kong dice came in on time to fill the next batch of 100,000 boxes. It was a responsibility I took very seriously. 

It took exactly six months for 100,000 sets of poly dice to be made, ship from Hong Kong over the water, and be delivered to the boxer in Madison; Patch Press at the time. Naturally, being a careful person “young Jim Ward” ordered the dice two months early so that 100,000 boxes in December had their dice ordered 8 months out. So in May “young Jim Ward” was ordering dice for the December publication and everyone was fine with that. 

I’m proud to say there were some problems with getting things in on time before me. After “young Jim Ward” started, we were never late on getting product out. This included the day Patch Press printed 16 pages of the monster manual pages in the player handbook [sic*] and shipped the 100,000 to our warehouse. 

So one day “young Jim Ward” is doing his job and the vice presidents of the company have a meeting and decide it would be much more cost effective to make our own dice. I had no problem with the concept. I told them my dice schedule and young Jim Ward went back to work. Two months later, the Vice President in charge of getting the dice molds made comes into my office and says I can stop ordering Hong Kong dice. I became very alarmed and asked the question, do we have finished dice molds? His reply was no but he was sure we would have finished molds in a few short weeks. That was why I could stop ordering dice. “Young and diligent Jim Ward” didn’t want to stop ordering dice since there wasn’t a finished dice mold yet. He went to his Vice President and got permission to order the next month’s 100,000 dice. 

Weeks later the other Vice President comes storming into the sales office. “I thought I told you not to order dice,” he shouted. “Do we have a working dice mold?” I asked very meekly even though I wasn’t feeling meek. I had a job to do. “No we don’t, but that doesn’t matter, we will when we need the dice.” He stormed out of the office and I heard the lecture. I was told if a vice president of the company gave me an order I had to do it. I didn’t order the next month’s dice and it almost killed “young Jim Ward” with worry. 

For two months “young Jim Ward” got real sneaky and tracked the progress of the dice mold. On the day we were going to be late if we didn’t have Hong Kong dice “young Jim Ward” sent out a memo detailing the schedule and our need for 100,000 sets of dice. “Young Jim Ward” gave it to all of the vice presidents. An hour later the mold VP brought the memo back to my office and threw it in my face. “We will have dice when we need them. You are not to worry about this matter any more.”

Naturally, “young Jim Ward” started to worry even more. I asked my Vice President if I would send out memos every week (I wanted every day, but held myself in check) on the dice issue. He made me send out one a month. On the day when it would be too late to order dice to get them in December I sent out a memo detailing that fact. All the vice presidents got together and were assured we would have dice. “Young Jim Ward” was ordered not to send out any more memos on the dice. Raw blades of inventory agony transfixed “young Jim Ward’s” body as the weeks went by. Still sneaky, I knew exactly what condition the dice were in that were being made by the mold. I begged my VP to talk to Gary about the matter. He did and Gary went to the dice mold VP and asked to see what type of dice were being made by the new molds. That VP opened his desk to pull out several pieces of what looked like popcorn with numbers on them. Clearly they would not be used for the D&D box set. Gary went to me and told me to order dice and get them as soon as possible. He also told me never to listen to anyone who said not to order dice again. That dice VP got a written reprimand and I got a huge smile on my face. 

For three ugly months we used cardboard counters and a coupon for dice in our box sets. The only people happy about that were the prisoners in jail as they couldn’t get games with dice in them. From then on the dice VP didn’t like me at all and every time I was promoted into another position he would tell my supervisor what a trouble maker I was.


* It was the Dungeon Masters Guide that was misprinted with the pages of the Monster Manual, in what is designated the "Second Alpha" printing here on the Acaeum.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

"Game Wizards" Has Arrived!

Wed, 10/13/2021 - 02:35

 

Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons is the title of the new book by Jon Peterson of Playing at the World fame. I had eagerly awaited it since hearing about it, and had pre-ordered from Amazon, and it arrived in the mail today, like magic, on its official release date. Shelfie above. 
After checking out the images in the book, I naturally looked up Holmes & the Basic Set in the index and skimmed some of those parts. This lead to reading more parts before I forced myself to stop, so I can start at the beginning. But my early verdict is that it is very readable.

Get your copy of Game Wizards here(" As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases ")
In the weeks leading up to the release, Jon made a related series of "behind the scenes" posts to the Playing at the World blog:
Game Wizards: My New Book
Game Wizards: TSR Financials
Game Wizards: TSR Staffing
Game Wizards: D&D Development Timeline
Units of Value and the Tactical Studies Rules Partnership
There were also several tie-in media articles:
Polygon: History of Dungeons & Dragons chronicles the battle between Arneson and Gygax
Polygon: How a pending lawsuit changed the original D&D Basic Set (a "never-before-seen piece that was cut from the final book")
Wired: The Missing Teen Who Fueled ‘Cult Panic’ Over D&D ("This story is adapted from Game Wizards")
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Sutherland Dragon Details

Fri, 10/01/2021 - 21:43


As promised in my earlier post about on the exhibit of the Holmes Basic cover art ⁠— aka the Sutherland Dragon ⁠— here are several close-ups of different portions.


The Fighter



The greens are more apparent, including in details such as the "emeralds" circling the pommel of the sword poking out from the treasure pile.

In the dragon's chest in the upper portion of this image you can clearly see multi-colored gems encrusted between the belly plates. A few are even gleaming, a detail which doesn't show up well because the gleams are white on a yellow background. 

Note Sutherland's signature, just visible below the shield. This portion of the image appeared on the bottom edge of the box set cover, where a bit more of his name can be seen than here.


The Magic-User



Here we see the wizard unobscured by the TSR logo and the other writing on the box cover.

Sutherland's attention to the lighting is very apparent in the yellow highlights and deep shadows applied to the wizard's blue robe.


The Dragon


Yellow bands of light radiate out from the wizard's torch, a detail that doesn't reproduce well on the boxed set cover. 

The motion lines accentuate the mood that the dragon has just been surprised. Sutherland used motion lines in other illustrations, particularly sword swings, such as on the title page of the Holmes Basic rulebook, as can be seen here.

As a reminder, the exhibit featuring this painting is at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA through Halloween, and then will be at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, TN from May 20 to September 5, 2022, and then at the Flint Institute of Art in Flint, MI from September 23, 2002 through January 8, 2023.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Ten Years of the Zenopus Archives

Thu, 09/09/2021 - 13:57



Ten years ago today, I made the first post to this blog, "What lies in the (undiscovered) deeper levels where Zenopus met his doom?", which was titled after Holmes' question in the coda to the Sample Dungeon. It was essentially just a teaser post, with just two links, both still active: one to the Zenopus Archives site, which was already under construction, and one to the Holmes Basic subforum on ODD74. But soon after that I started to post regularly, which ballooned to 65 posts in the last four months of 2011, and then 130 the next year, a pace that I have not kept up with since. But I have kept at it, and now it's ten years later, which is almost three times as long as the original era of Holmes Basic, and I have no plans for stopping.



 Source


TSR celebrated their 10th Anniversary with a Collector's Set, so I'm doing the same with 10 years of highlights, a sort of "Collector's Set" for the Zenopus Archives:


2011


Holmes on Tolkien

Caves of Chaos Revealed


2012

Warlock or How to Play D&D without playing D&D?

How Zenopus Met His Doom 


2013

The Cthulhu Mythos in D&D in the 1970s

Holmes Manuscript Series


2014

20 Backgrounds for OD&D

Fearsome Monsters


2015

Visualizing Castle Greyhawk

Beyond the Door to Monster Mountain


2016

Con Report for NTRPGCon 2016

Gygaxian Orc Tribes


2017

Holmes Ref 2.0

Tales of Peril Book Club


2018

Gygax's "Dungeon Delving" Playtest Reports


The J. Eric Holmes Photo Gallery


2019

The Holmes Basic G+ Community Archive

In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus at Gary Con

The Master's Lair, A Play Report


2020 

Release of The Ruined Tower of Zenopus 


In Search of the Brazen Head of Zenopus at Scrum Con


2021

d20 Unexpectedly Intelligent Monsters in the Monster Manual

Holmes Basic Cover Art: Exhibited!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus: September Starter Sale

Thu, 09/02/2021 - 14:12


DMs Guild is having a "September Starter Sale", with select introductory adventures up to 30% off through September 7th, and The Ruined Tower of Zenopus has been selected, so it is currently only $1.39!

As a reminder, if you missed the announcement last fall, the pdf now includes a full-page illustration by Chris Holmes (son of J. Eric Holmes) and a printer-friendly dungeon map. The purchase also includes a separate png file of the dungeon map suitable for VTTs (optimized for Roll20).

For old-school enthusiasts, here on the blog I also offered notes on retro-converting it:

Running It Retro, Part I 

Running It Retro, Part II

The adventure went Platinum back in January (1,001 sales), and is now close to 1,500 sales. However, the next badge (Mithril) at DMs Guild doesn't come until 2,501 sales are hit.

Find it here:
The Ruined Tower of Zenopus on DMs Guild

Click here to read reviews of the RTOZ by various bloggers 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dice Dragon (New Monster)

Sat, 08/28/2021 - 16:31

TSR's Dragon Dice (1981). Art by Jim Roslof.
Detail of photo by Brian Stillman as found here


Dice Dragon
Move: 60 feet/turn, 240 feet/turn flying
Hit Dice: 1+1
Armor Class: 2
Treasure Type: QAlignment: neutral (75%)/chaotic good (25%)
Attacks: 1 bite
Damage: 1d6
These winged but legless micro-dragons, purple-and-blue with a yellow underbelly, are even smaller than their distant kin, the pseudo-dragons, but just as intelligent. Typically lairing in inaccessible crags or the tallest trees in the wilderness, dice dragons are occasionally found in association with thieves or gamblers, as they have an innate fondness for games of chance, particularly those involving dice, hence their common name. Indifferent to coins, they more eagerly wager for gems or precious stones, communicating via a raspy hiss and manipulating the dice with their tail, and storing their winnings in a small container, around which they coil while at rest.
Dice dragons defend themselves with their sharp bite or, thrice a day, a small puff of faerie fire, which does no damage but outlines one target in glowing light for 4d4 rounds (giving attackers a +2 to hit the target).
* * * * *
Notes
This new monster is inspired by the art on the packaging for the first set of polyhedra dice that I found after getting a Holmes Basic set with chits, TSR's Dragon Dice (1981), which was their first set of branded dice. My original set - which I still have some of - was pale blue as shown in the advertisement here in a 2012 retrospective on Grognardia. As can be seen there, the marketing promoted the plastic part of the packaging as a "reusable carrying case", hence the container portion of the write-up. 
This art is by Jim Roslof, who also did the cover the B2 Keep on the Borderlands; see here for a "bibliography" of his work on the Zenopus Archives site.
The "neutral/chaotic good" alignment is in accord with Holmes Basic, where some monsters - including all dragons - are written with a dual alignment, and some (like dwarves) are given percentages.
I chose to incorporate a "flame" breath weapon in line with the illustration, but used faerie fire to make it more interesting than just an ordinary flame, and because it seems fitting as it affects the roll of a die. It also helps differentiate it from other old school D&D mini-dragons:
  • The Pseudo-Dragon from the original Monster Manual, which appears as a miniature red dragon but can change color, and has a poison stinger instead of a breath weapon.
  • The Faerie Dragon from the Dragon #62 (and then the Monster Manual II), and breathes "euphoria gas".
  • The Pocket Dragon from the module M2 Maze of the Riddling Minotaur, which resembles a miniature green dragon and has a venomous bite.
All of the above have legs, but I also came across the amphiptere, which as used in heraldry is typically legless, but seems to have been written up in later systems as a miniature wyvern, for example there's a 5e version here.
I also kept in mind Pip the venomous "minidrag", who is winged and legless, from Alan Dean Foster's sci-fi Pip and Flinx series (1972 and on), which I started reading back in high school.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Holmes Basic Set Cover Art: Exhibited!

Fri, 08/20/2021 - 14:07

"The Sutherland Dragon" on display, photo by myself

About two weeks ago, while on vacation, I saw a cryptic post on FB implying that the original Holmes Basic Set cover art —  which I often refer to as "The Sutherland Dragon", after the artist — was on display in public ... somewhere. After a bit of searching, I confirmed that it was indeed being exhibited, as part of the show Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration at the Norman Rockwell Museum in the town of Stockbridge in western Massachusetts. I hadn't heard of the show until that moment, but at the time I just happened to be within reasonable driving distance of the museum, and would not be as close again for some time, so a quick decision was made to take a previously unplanned side trip to the museum!
A Painting Rediscovered
Not all original D&D art still exists, but I've known for a while that Sutherland's painting does, because back in 2013 Steve Winter reported on Twitter that it had been found, like the Lost Ark of the Covenant, "in a crate in WotC's warehouse". Steve provided a photo, observing that the "detail is amazing", which showed that the art had slipped inside its framing while in storage:



(As an aside, I joined Twitter for the first time just so I could comment on Steve's tweet, which eventually led to regular usage, and I recently passed 700 followers).
At the time, Steve also wrote on his blog Howling Tower about the find, which he coincidentally posted on Holmes' date of birth.
I also have a vague recollection of hearing later that it was now hanging up at the WOTC offices. I've played in several games with Steve at NTRPG Con and Gary Con over the years since (Gamma World, for example), so I may have asked him about it at one point.
Update: I was reminded on Twitter that on page 394 of Art & Arcana (2018), there is a small inset showing a WOTC employee holding the Sutherland Dragon with the caption: "Wizards employee Curt Gould poses in front of the beast with a red dragon of his own — the original Dave Sutherland basic box painting that he discovered in a Wizards of the Coast warehouse in 2013". The painting is in the same frame as the current exhibit. This may have been the source of my vague recollection mentioned in the paragraph above.
The Exhibit Curator on Sutherland's Illustration
The Enchanted exhibit opened in mid-June, after which the museum held a virtual symposium, which included a keynote talk (archived here on Google) by the exhibition curator, Jesse Kowalski, who at one point shows Sutherland's art (at ~41:00) and says that "it is probably the painting I was most thrilled to have in the exhibit", and that "I believe it is the first time on view to the public. It's on loan from Wizards of the Coast", and while "...it's not the best painting, however, it's such an iconic work that started a whole generation of kids in the basement rolling dice".

Visiting the Museum

After driving several hours we arrived in Stockbridge, where Rockwell had lived, and then at the museum, which is in a beautiful leafy setting with picnic tables and sculptures, which currently includes a complimentary exhibit of contemporary fantasy sculpture, titled Land of Enchantment: A Fantastical Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition. In addition to the museum proper, which counts George Lucas and Steven Spielberg as donors, Rockwell's actual studio is also on the grounds, having been moved there from another location in town. 

Update: Thanks to a user on reddit, I've learned that Stockbridge is also famous as the setting of Arlo Guthrie's song Alice's Restaurant.

Seeing The Sutherland Dragon

After paying our entry fee and applying my sticker, I zipped through the rooms of the exhibit until I found what I was there for, which was hung next to another classic from the same era, David Trampier's Pseudo-dragon from the AD&D Monster Manual:




It was stunning to finally see the Sutherland Dragon in the person. The colors in the original are *much* brighter than the published image on the box cover, and many details are more apparent, such as the colorful, glinting gems stuck in the crevices between the dragon's belly scales, like Smaug in the Hobbit. I'll make a follow-up post with a few closer photos of details of the painting, so here I'll just talk about some overall impressions of the painting as it is on display in the exhibition.
The painting, which the wall text indicates is "acrylic on board", has been re-framed since 2013, and now includes triple matting (see the picture at the top of this blog). I imagine this was done by Wizards of the Coast, who the wall text indicates are still the owners. The catalog for the exhibit (see below for more on this) lists the size as 24 5/8" x 22", which I believe refers to the entire framing, or perhaps just the painted board inside. The new matting is more aggressive than in the earlier frame, limiting the visible portion of the painting to about 10" by 12", which is just a bit larger than the original box cover, which is about 9" by 11". I can guess why this was done, as it has the effect of focusing the presentation on the action of the scene: the wizard and warrior confronting the looming red dragon. And it also emphasizes that Sutherland was painting something just a bit larger in scale than what was needed for the product as published. 
Unfortunately, WOTC's new matting covers up some significant details from Sutherland's original painting. Like other TSR boxed games from this era, the cover art was printed not just on the top of the box lid, but also wraps around to the sides. In the case of the Holmes Basic Set, the left, top and right sides each show the blocks of dungeon walls, which were all part of Sutherland's painting. Since this is an exhibition focusing on illustration, I would have preferred to see the entire painting, along with discussion of how Sutherland arranged a composition that was intended for a wrap-around box top. 
The matting also shifts the "visible portion" of the painting downward from the published box cover, which covers up most of a significant detail that is visible at the top of the published box cover: the archway that connects the top of the columns and frames the dragon. As a positive, this shift keeps uncovered most of what was shown on the bottom box edge, allowing for an fuller unobstructed view of the two adventurers, which I enjoyed seeing. For a visualization of what the entire painting might look like if the current matting was removed, here is a mock-up of the original art posted on the Xeveninti blog back in 2010. It was made by scanning the entirety of the original box (cover and all four sides), editing these together, and editing out the graphics:



I hope I don't sound too negative here; this was simply an observation I made while viewing the painting and thinking about it. My overall experience at the museum was terrific, I was thrilled to see the painting in person, and it is wonderful that it has been preserved ("it belongs in a museum!") and has been made available for public showing by WOTC.

Exhibition Catalog

I bought a copy of this at the gift shop, and you can purchase it online here. It's nicely done, edited by the curator of the exhibit, and lavishly filled with color images from the exhibit, plus other images not in the exhibit. There's an 11-page section called "Gaming", which includes a ~1/3-page image of the Sutherland painting — I, of course, wish they made this one full page like some of the other illustrations in the book — and a really nice large scan of Trampier's Pseudo-dragon, as well as other gaming art, including an Elmore and an Easley that were also in the show.

Thy Deadline

If you want to see the exhibit in person in Stockbridge, get there by October 31st of this year!

Update: Mike S. on FB found info here on where the show will later move to:

  • May 20 to September 5, 2022: Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, TN
  • September 23, 2022 to January 8, 2023: Flint Institute of Art in Flint, MI

Future Posts

I plan to make a few follow-up posts with some closer shots of the Sutherland Dragon, and also a few of the other artworks in the exhibition, including Trampier's Pseudo-Dragon. I'll update this section with the links once they are up.

See also:

Smaug versus the Sutherland Dragon

David Sutherland Day

Sutherland Dragon in Lego

Dragon+ 5 Wallpaper inspired by Sutherland Dragon

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs