Happy Birthday John Eric Holmes!

Today, John Eric Holmes would have celebrated his 86th birthday.

Though both a doctor of neurology and a science fiction author, what Holmes is best known for is the “Holmes Basic” or Bluebook edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Not pictured: the blue book inside the box.

Not pictured: the blue book inside the box.

Holmes’ son was a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, but the good doctor found the way the rules were written in the original 3 volumes + 4 supplements to be poorly presented, difficult to understand and ineffective as a tool to teach players who were new to the game.


John Eric Holmes gaming with his son.

Holmes offered his services to Gary Gygax to create a streamlined ruleset that combined the mechanical elements present in OD&D in a single document with the express purpose of introducing new players to the game.  Though long out of print and somewhat difficult to find these days, Holmes’ edition was the launching point of one of the longest running and most commercially successful lines of Dungeons & Dragons.  Dreamscape Design has lovingly crafted the only Holmes-clone, Blueholme, which I strongly recommend checking out; Holmes’ D&D is one of the few “Basic” games that retains the truly Vancian magic mechanics that many of us just house-rule in anyway.

One of the only OSR products specifically based on Holmes' work.

One of the only OSR products specifically based on Holmes’ work.

In addition to his work on D&D, Holmes wrote a number of books, including an unauthorized sequel series to ER Burroughs’ Pellucidar books, a Buck Rogers novel, and some of his own original fantasy.


If you want to know more about the man and his work, I suggest you check out Zenopus Archives, one of the largest sites online devoted entirely to preserving the legacy of J.E. Holmes.


2 responses to “Happy Birthday John Eric Holmes!

  1. His book on RPGs is pretty great too, at least for its time. I love the illustrations showing off his minis and playing area, and he has so much enthusiasm for games. No trying to appear all grown-up and sophisticated.

    I think he would would have been a lot more fun to game with than Gygax (“Save or die, and kindly wait on the sidelines while my bestie solos this adventure”) or Arneson (“Ok you’re at the market, here’s a price list for weapons, armor, and sex slaves”). 🙂

    • I keep meaning to check out more stuff that he’s written, and I’ve been keeping an eye out, but I just don’t buy books online and he’s not someone whose stuff you find lying around.

      But I absolutely agree, and I hate that he’s been reduced to such a minor footnote in the game’s history. Without Holmes, who knows what D&D would’ve ended up looking like. Or if TSR would’ve stayed afloat long enough for Gary to finish AD&D in his race against clones if there hadn’t been a toy-store edition to bolster the game’s player base and brand recognition.

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