My thanks to Dr. Holmes

I write a column for the local monthly arts and entertainment paper. My territory is gaming and re-enactment. While I generally don’t post it here I thought my readers would appreciate the May Power Word Herb:


Dr. John Eric Holmes, R.I.P.

When Gary Gygax passed it was big enough news to make NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “The Cobert Report”. A year later when Dave Arneson, the other credited author of the first version of Dungeons and Dragons, passed it didn’t make the big news, but word spread quickly in the roleplaying community. The same happened when Tom Moldvay, author of the first red box, died in 2007. I’m sure when the author of the second iconic red box version, Frank Mentzer, passes it will be news in the community as many learned to play from that versions.

None of those men, however, authored the version of D&D I and most of the second generation of players, learned from. For those who remember (or own the Great Unwashed Lumaries boxed set) the first D&D image was the blue and white dragon cover of the first basic D&D (although it was not called basic). The author of that set was John Eric Holmes, MD. He died on March 20, 2010, and the gaming community didn’t notice until May.

The original boxed set of D&D, aimed primarily at minatures gamers, was poorly organized and included many assumptions. While minatures gamers would know these assumptions people who weren’t would get lost. This was true of the supplements to it as well. After D&D’s explosion TSR needed something more accessible to a broader audience. Dr. Holmes was hired, after he volunteered, to write an introductory version of D&D.

Dr. Holmes would go on to write a series of stories and one novel that are arguably the earliest gaming fiction. Three stories of Boinger the Halfling and Zereth the Elf were published in “The Dragon” after the first appeared in the classic (and still running) gamer APA “Alarums & Excursions”. The novel was published by Space & Time.

His greatest gaming or fantasy writing success, though, was a novel of Pellucidar, Edgar Rice Burrough’s world in the hollow earth, authorized by the Burrough’s estate. “Mahars of Pellucidar” was published by Ace in 1976. He would also collaborate with Burrough’s son, who was also a patient of Holmes, although the novel was never finished. Another Pellucidar’s novel publication was blocked by the Burrough’s estate.

Finally, Holmes was a doctor. Given that the high point of his career might have been “Basic Human Neurophysiology”. He would also write a variety of non-fiction articles for a wide swath of science fiction and gaming publications. He also wrote about D&D for “Psychology Today” in “Confessions of a Dungeon Master”.

Dr. Holmes taught me to play D&D at ten and thus introduced me to a lifetime hobby. I am far from alone. He should be remembered and remembered fondly as the Doctor of D&D. Or at least remembered as RPG’s first fanboy made good.

5 thoughts on “My thanks to Dr. Holmes

  1. I'm actually running tribute game for Holmes tomorrow. Do you mind if I start the game off by reading this to my players? It's a much more touching memorial then anything I could have written.

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