Saturday, May 8, 2010

RIP: J. Eric Holmes (1930-2010)

A couple of months ago, I remember reading rumors that Dr. J. Eric Holmes, editor of the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set had died, but, so far as I know, no one was able to confirm this as fact. Yesterday, the rumors were confirmed by Allan Grohe in a post on Dragonsfoot, where he relayed information he'd received from Dr. Holmes's wife. According to this information, Holmes died on March 20 as the result of another stroke. I recall that he'd been in ill health for some time, being unable to attend at least one convention where he was to be feted as guest of honor because of a previous stroke.

This is sad news, not merely because Holmes was an important figure in the early days of the hobby (as well as an enthusiastic devotee of Edgar Rice Burroughs and other pulp fantasy authors), but also because it was through the Holmes Basic Set that I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons. Unlike the little brown books (which I never owned till much later) or the Moldvay Basic Rulebook (which was released after I was already playing), the compact Holmes Basic book -- the "blue book," as it's sometimes called -- is what drew me into the hobby before I even had any idea what I was getting myself into.

Even now, three decades later, I look on that Basic book with great fondness. Without it, I doubt I'd be here today, writing this. It's a terrific little volume and a testament to the talents of Dr. J. Eric Holmes, who turned the confusing and often-contradictory texts of OD&D into something a little less confusing and contradictory -- at least enough that one precocious 10 year-old could make his first steps down the paths to a lifelong hobby.

Requiescas in pace, Dr. Holmes.

25 comments:

  1. That's terribly sad news. Dr. Holmes also was my gatekeeper into the world of Role-playing games as well. His blue book was and still is a huge influence on how I view the game. For the many hours of enjoyment I've had playing his rules I thank him. I will always view him as one of the great pillars of this hobby.

    ReplyDelete
  2. RIP JEH. Your blue book was a little piece of magic.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I didn't get into D&D until the Moldvay editions. However, even though I am fairly ignorant on the histories of the genre, it is quite obvious that Dr. Holmes' work on that '78 edition pretty much set the mainstream table for Dungeons & Dragons as a whole.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ah, dammit.

    Everything you write here is exactly the same for me, too. (Including age when first receiving the Holmes set.)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Rest in Power.

    I have a different relationship as Holmes D&D is something quite recent to me, discovering it via the OSR last year. It's now my preferred edition and IMO probably the best edition to introduce new players too, now and back then. Dr. J Eric Holmes, thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I will remember Dr. Holmes. His blue book was the first true rpg that my brother and I played.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Though I was technically introduced to the game through AD&D (my first character was a half elf Ftr/MU/Thief) it was the Holmes Basic set that I first bought, and still have and treasure even though the book is in pretty bad shape.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I too was introduced to the world of roleplaying games by the good Doctor - the fun mix of rules started on my way to where I am today.

    God bless him.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Sad news...

    Although I started the game with the Moldvay edition, the "Blue Cover" I saw in a magazine in 1979 embodied D&D to the 12 years old kid I was then...

    Back in those days, finding a "Blue Box" was nearly impossible in France, and to me, D&D remained a mythical game until 82, when I could buy the "Red Box".

    Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Tom Moldvay and now, Eric Holmes... Looks like something is coming to an end...

    ReplyDelete
  10. Like a lot of people here I started with Blue Book and I owe that book a lot.

    I have to say Heavens gaming table must be some place by now with Gary and Nigel and Eric and Tom and so many of the greats there. Even if everyone plays Paladin ;)

    When I die in a hundred years I hope I am worthy of a spot

    ReplyDelete
  11. Though we started playing D&D with the three original books, it was the Holmes edition that marked the start of our serious playing. I also have a copy of his book, "Fantasy Role Playing," which has an honored spot in his collection.

    Rest well, Dr. Holmes, and my condolences to your family.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Another Holmes blue-box kid here. Hoisted a glass in his honor last night. Wish I'd managed to get a chance to thank him.

    Godspeed, Mr. Holmes.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I, too, began with the Holmes Basic Set, which sent me down the path towards a lifetime of adventure.

    It's sad to hear of the passing of yet another icon of the early days of role playing.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I started with Moldvay, so the holmes books don't have quite the same resonance. But having read them I have nothing but love and respect.

    And the urge to make a joke about reaching a new age category at 70 years and failing a sytem shock check, but I suppose his version lacked that mechanic.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I'm another player introduced to D&D thru Dr. Holmes rules. Without his relatively simple presentation of the game, I believe D&D would never have had traction to become the phenomenon that it did.

    I would also like to remember him for his contributions to ERB fandom. Sadly, except for the abortive TSR Tarzan game, ERB Inc. has never allowed roleplayers to (officially) explore the amazing worlds of Barsoom, Caspak, or Pellucidar. Dr. Holmes would have been the natural choice to write such a game.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I too am a blue-booker! Purchased from the games shelf of a tiny rural pharmacy, plucked from amidst the Parker Brothers & Milton Bradley. The clear prose and a little familiarity with Choose Your Own Adventure books was all an eleven year old needed to become "Patient Zero" for his local circle. A few trips through Quasqueton later, and the hook was set.

    Godspeed Dr. Holmes! The gate of wonder & cameraderie you ushered me through started something that looks fair to last a lifetime!

    ReplyDelete
  17. What do you think, James: would Dungeons & Dragons have exploded in popularity and become, for a short time anyway, a sales phenomenon, without Holmes translating the LBBs into actual English?

    I wonder if Holmes has ever really gotten the credit he deserves.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I also started with the Blue Book, just before the MM came out. I still remember the first adventure. It was like no other game I had ever played, pure magic. We pretty much all wore Plate and Shield and used 2-handed swords, until the DM realized on about the 3rd secession. What's your AC... 2...aren't you using a 2-handed sword....yeah, what's your point?

    Thank You and Rest in Peace!!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Wow, tragic news. Strange though how Moldvay die in March 2007, Gygax in March 2008, Arneson in April 2009 and now Holmes in March 2010 in consecutive years. Must be dodgy part of the year for people involved in role-playing games.


    RIP Dr Holmes

    ReplyDelete
  20. While I missed the blue book, the Moldvay books that were based on it were extremely important in my D&D life. The last few years have been terrible for rpg authors.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I started with the blue book -- it's still a marvel of concision and evocative writing. Brilliant for what it leaves out as much as for what it includes. Very sad to hear of his passing.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Another great thing about JEH was the Boinger the Halfling and Zereth the Elf stories: The Adventure of the Lost City (Alarums & Excursions, no. 17 Dec. 1976 and no. 19 Feb. 1977), Trollshead (The Dragon, no. 31 Nov. 1979), The Sorcerer's Jewel (The Dragon, no. 46 Feb. 1981), In the Bag (The Dragon, no. 58 Feb. 1982) and The Maze of Peril (ISBN 0-917053-05-2 Nov. 1986). I have all of them but all the appearances in Alarums & Excursions.

    I love these stories and think the characters are awesome. I remember reading them when I was first collecting The Dragon and have always wanted them to show up in a game, either by playing one of them or as NPCs.

    You can find more info on JEH's Boinger and Zereth series (as well as JEH's other writings) at http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=16989 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Eric_Holmes and http://www.acaeum.com/forum/about3318.html and http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=38933&start=0

    ReplyDelete
  23. What sad, sad news. In the beginning my group played Holmes Basic, though we had the white box set. I cherish those memories and the world of wonder the blue book brought me. Godspeed JEH. Say hello to Gary, Dave and Tom.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Like so many others, I also started with the Holmes basic set. But I especially enjoyed the adventures of Boinger and Zereth in Dragon magazine. In fact, they inspired what became my main characters for many years.

    ReplyDelete
  25. A detailed and heartfelt description of the July 17 Memorial Service for John Eric Holmes, by John Martin of the ERBzine:

    http://www.erbzine.com/mag31/3149.html

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.