Thursday, July 17, 2014

Part 34: "Many Monsters Carry Treasure"

Part 34 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 34 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along... (page 33 for a 1st edition rulebook)


The material in Holmes' manuscript roughly follows the sequence of the original three OD&D booklets, so the section on Treasure immediately follows the Monster List, as in Vol 2 of OD&D (Monsters & Treasure). 

Holmes starts off with an introductory paragraph that I don't see in the original sources, so I think he wrote this from scratch. There are a few changes from the manuscript to the published version. The first two sentences are unchanged, including the typo that many monsters "secrete" treasure in their lair (so that's where all that treasures comes from...), but the third sentence is deleted; it read: "These tables have been abbreviated from the GREYHAWK supplement for simplicity of use". Holmes' fourth sentence is kept, but "the various supplements" is changed to "ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS". These changes are in line with the general trend to refer readers to AD&D instead of OD&D.

The fifth sentence is unchanged, the sixth sentence is truncated and the seventh sentence is deleted. Here are Holmes' originals:

This material may have been deleted when Gygax added the note about only using the Treasure Tables for large numbers of monsters (see below).


Immediately after this Holmes provides the Treasure Table from pg 22 of OD&D, Vol 2, with a few simplifications. He leaves out the column for copper pieces, and he drops the entries for Desert and Water from Type A, leaving only the numbers for Land as the only option (and omitting the word "Land"). In the published rulebook, Holmes' version of the Table is completely replaced with a new table covering Treasure Types A-T. The Monster Manual would later extend this table to Type Z, so the table in the published Basic rulebook may represent a work-in-progress of the table destined for the Monster Manual.

Use of the Treasure Table

This is Holmes' next section, which means the manuscript is missing the sections "BASE TREASURE VALUES" (covering conversion rates), "Gems" and "Jewelry". Earlier, in the section on "EXPERIENCE POINTS AND EXPERIENCE LEVELS" (See Part 8), Holmes simply included two sentences that stated: "Jewelry and Gems are worth 50 to 500 gold pieces each. Ten silver pieces are equal to one gold piece". I believe this is the sole extent of his discussion of these topics. So for Basic, Holmes intended to simplify coins to just silver and gold, and keep gems and jewelry with simple values. Gygax (or someone else at TSR) went back to OD&D Vol 2 and put back in material from pages 31-32 covering coin conversion rates/gems/jewelry, with a few changes.

Holmes' guidance in "Use of the Treasure Table" is included in it entirety, with no changes except for the addition of one sentence at the end: "It must be stressed that treasures shown are very large and generally only for use when large numbers of monsters are encountered". This echoes the note at the end of the Treasure Table in OD&D Vol 2 (which Holmes doesn't include): "All Treasure is found only in those cases where the encounter takes place in the "Lair". Gygax added similar material to the guidance at the beginning of the Monster List (see Part 20): "The TREASURE TYPES TABLE (shown hereafter) is
recommended for use only when there are exceptionally large numbers of low level monsters guarding them, or if the monsters are of exceptional strength (such as dragons). A good guide to the amount of treasure any given monster should be guarding is given in the MONSTER & TREASURE ASSORTMENTS which are included in the game". The first edition of the Basic Set included Set 1 of the Monster & Treasure Assortments, which included 100 treasures for each of dungeon levels 1-3. So at this point in the history of D&D, Gygax was trying to steer DMs that were stocking dungeons away from the Treasure Tables and towards these lesser treasures for general use.

Maps and Magic Categories

This is Holmes' next section. The 75% chance of magic / 25% chance of map comes from a short table on page 23 of OD&D Vol 2. Holmes leaves out all of the map tables from pages 26-27, but includes the note after the tables that treasures will be "guarded by appropriate monsters". He adds the ideas that maps should be made up in advance by the DM and incomplete, inaccurate or guarded by riddles. This entire section is unchanged from the manuscript to the published text.

In the first edition of the rulebook, this section is followed by a small illustration by David C. Sutherland III of treasure,  including coins, gems & jewelry. This was removed in the second edition.

Next Time: Magic Items!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

TSR's response to Warlock

Guy Fullerton recently posted this early TSR advertisement on the Acaeum. It's from the back cover of the Spartan Simulation Gaming Journal, issue #10, August 1976. The ad looks like another iteration of the earliest D&D ad (posted on the Playing at the World blog) being identical to the 5th version that Jon posted, except for the addition of a Lizard Logo at the bottom, and a change from "VISIT A WORLD OF" to "TRY THE REAL THING!". As followers of this blog may remember, most of the the prior issue of Spartan was taken up with one of the earliest non-TSR D&D supplements, WARLOCK or how to play D&D without playing D&D. So it seems that TSR's reaction to the competition was to place this prominent ad on the back cover (the prior issue didn't even have an ad in this location) touting the genuine article.

Guy also reports on the Acaeum something else that I have never seen mentioned anywhere - issue #10 also has errata for the original Warlock, specifically a page detailing the Thievish Abilities table, which was missing from the article in issue #9. Warlock gives Thieves a lists of abilities to choose from, organized by level like spells. There's a full table in the later Complete Warlock (1978), but it was missing from the original article, so it's good to learn that it was actually published. 

As an aside, Spartan was published by Balboa Game Company, which also published the Complete Warlock. Balboa was associated with The War House in Long Beach, CA, which is still in existence, possibly with the same owner as back then (Steve Lucky). See the comments to this post. There is a combined advertisement for Balboa Game and The War House on the back of my copy of the Complete Warlock.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Part 33: "Their Appearance Is As Spectral Armored Warriors"

Part 33 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 33 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along... (page 32 for a 1st edition rulebook)


Holmes follows the original in OD&D, Vol 2, with a few changes. Holmes strangely has them listed with an alignment of Neutral, although they appear with the forces of Law in OD&D, Vol 1. The published rulebook corrects their alignment to lawful good.

The published rulebook adds a new third sentence, "They typically avoid humans" and clarifies that Dimension Door can be used "once per day", which are two bits in OD&D that Holmes left out.

Holmes translates their ability to resist magic as an 11th level M-U as an "8 or better", per the Saving Throw Matrix in OD&D, Vol 1. This was necessary as the Basic rulebook does not include higher level saving throws (although it really should for monsters with HD over 3). The published rulebook clarifies this by adding that the roll is "on a 20-sided die".


These are the most powerful undead in OD&D, Vol 2, and get a relatively long entry. Greyhawk adds a few clarifications, which Holmes inserts in the appropriate place in the text. Holmes further adds that they "cast no reflection"; the original only mentioned that a mirror causes them to withdrawn. Holmes drops a sentence about their coffins from OD&D, and the mention of vampires from the Middle East in Greyhawk. Holmes also drops "bats" from the "10 to 100 rats or bats".

The published rulebook adds a lawful evil alignment, the same as all of the other higher undead (skeletons/zombies are neutral, and ghouls are chaotic evil, but the rest are all lawful evil). This implies a "lawful" hierarchy of the higher undead. The Monster Manual keeps this for all but the Vampire, who changes to chaotic evil, messing up this hierarchy.

The description in the published rulebook makes one addition to the manuscript text, adding "(or similar holy symbol)" after cross in the list of items that vampires withdrawn from. This is the only place that the Holmes rulebook refers to a "holy symbol"; the Equipment table only has a silver and wooden cross. One year the Players Handbook came out and only referred to holy symbols.

Were-Wolf, etc. - see Lycanthrope

Holmes has this cross-reference in the manuscript, and it made it into the 1st edition. It was deleted from the 2nd edition (Nov 1978) of the rulebook, when the Monster List entries were reformatted.


The reference to "Barrow wight (as per Tolkien)" is straight from OD&D, Vol 2 before the Tolkien references were excised. I don't have a copy of this, but a compiled list of changes to the OD&D books can be seen here at Tome of Treasures. Wights actually go back to Chainmail, where they are grouped with Ghouls and paralyze their opponents for 1 turn.

Holmes follows the original with a few changes. He changes "nasty critters" to "nasty immaterial critters"; the published rulebook changes this futher to "nasty nearly immaterial creatures". Holmes adds a new second sentence: "Their appearance is as spectral armored warriors", perhaps based on his impression of Tolkien's wights in Lord of the Rings. However, this must not have been Gygax's vision, as the published rulebook deletes this entire sentence. The Monster Manual doesn't have much more of a description, but the Trampier picture shows a relatively solid, unarmored member of the walking dead. Moldvay takes a different tack, describing them as a corpse inhabited by an undead spirit.

The published rulebook makes one other change to the manuscript text, adding "under the control of the draining creature" to the end of the first paragraph. This type of relationship sort of fits in with the "lawful evil hierarchy" of undead I mentioned above. One could easily extend this to allow Vampires to control Wights, etc.


In OD&D, Wraiths have a brief entry that just describes them basically as higher-powered Wights. Holmes keeps his entry similarly short, and there are no changes to the published rulebook.

Yellow Mold

In OD&D Yellow Mold doesn't really have any stats on page 4 of Vol 2. The first four columns are blank, and the last two (for % in Lair and Treasure Type) are "Nil". Holmes basically follows this in the manuscript, but with one big change: instead of no HD, he gives it 2 HD per 10 square feet of mold. Since their is no upper limit indicated, this means that Yellow Mold can be the highest HD monster in the rules (a 80' square patch would have 16 HD, more than a Storm Giant or Purple Worm). The published rulebook keeps this HD. Moldvay keeps the 2 HD, but limits the size to 10'. The Monster Manual goes back to the OD&D concept of no HD.

The description on page 19 of OD&D, Vol 2 covers how it damages by touch and asphyxiates via spores. Holmes follows this closely and their are no changes to the description in the published rulebook. The only change the rulebook makes is to the change the Move from "Non-motile" to "Non-mobile".


As I mentioned previously, the only thing distinguishing Skeletons & Zombies in OD&D, Vol 2 is their different HD (1/2 for skeletons, 1 for zombies). Thus, Holmes entry in the manuscript is pretty similar to the one for skeletons. In fact, he keeps it so similar that he includes the same HD (1/2) and AC (7). Since he correctly separated another dual entry (Goblins/Kobolds), I think this is just an oversight on his part rather than misunderstanding of the notation.

The published rulebook keeps the manuscript text the same, except for adding one new sentence at the end: "By nature they are slow, getting only one attack every other melee round". I assume this change was to keep them in line with the Night of the Living Dead. The rulebook also changes their stats, restoring AC7 but changing the HD not to 1, but to 2. I assume this upgrade is to compensate for their every other round of attacking.

In B2, Gygax provides some twists on the Holmes Basic zombie, including amulets of protection from good that make them turn as ghouls, and Warrior Zombies.

* * * * *

That's it for the Monster List. Onward to Treasure!

Continue on to Part 34: (coming soon)
Or Go Back to Pt 32: "Commonly Found Near Graveyards, Dungeons or Deserted Places"
Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Holmes in the New Basic

The new D&D Basic Rules are out, available as a free pdf download from the Wizards website. They are longer than expected for a free pdf, 110 pages with no art (except for the last page which shows the art from the Starter Set) and this only covers material from the Player's Handbook. Later releases will include monsters from the Monster Manual, to make it a complete game.

Holmes is nicely included in the credits on the first page, being the first name listed for "further development" of the "original game", and followed by his Basic Set successors in order.

The new rules use Dexterity for initiative, though rather than directly comparing Dexterity scores as in Holmes Basic, Dexterity checks are compared (d20 roll + plus Dex modifier). 


DMDavid notes a reference to the Bugbear Lair (Cave H) from the Caves of Chaos in B2, which Gygax wrote for Holmes Basic, in the humorous disclaimer on the first page:

Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast is not responsible for the consequences of splitting up the party, sticking appendages in the mouth of a leering green devil face, accepting a dinner invitation from bugbears, storming the feast hall of a hill giant steading, angering a dragon of any variety, or saying yes when the DM asks, “Are you really sure?”

Rob Conley at Bat in the Attic references Holmes Basic when reviewing the new rules:

"Like the Basic DnD Holmes Blue Book there are references to the larger rule set embodied by the 5e PHB, DMG, and MM. I am fine with that as obviously one purpose of this FREE PDF is to be a very large brochure to sell the core rulebooks."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Part 32: "Commonly Found Near Graveyards, Dungeons, or Deserted Places"

Part 32 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 32 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along...


These were first mentioned by name in OD&D, Vol 3, in a list of "Other monsters to consider" following the Monster Level Tables. The list ends with five monsters not described elsewhere in the set: "...Cyborgs, Robots, Androids, Shadows, Dopplegangers."  

In Greyhawk they receive a full write-up, where we learn they are "non-corporeal intelligent creatures" but not undead. Holmes preserves this concept, as well of the rest of the entry without any significant changes other than the usual editing for brevity. Greyhawk has Shadows listed with the forces of Chaos so Holmes leaves out an alignment as typical for Chaotics.  

No changes from the manuscript to the published rulebook, other than to add a different alignment (Lawful Evil) and the variable damage from Greyhawk (1d4 per hit). In AD&D, Gygax made a big conceptual shift in these monsters, changing them to undead, as well as changing a bunch of details: upping their HD to 3+3 (from 2+2), damage to 2-5, and alignment to Chaotic Evil. In B/X, Moldvay instead follows the wording of Holmes closely, including having them as non-undead, although the alignment goes back to Chaotic. Moldvay clarifies that they look like real shadows and can alter their shape slightly.


A fundamental monster of Basic D&D, as shown by Holmes' use of them in two different rooms (B and N) of his Sample Dungeon. Skeletons first appear in OD&D Vol 2 in a dual entry with Zombies; the only mechanical distinction between the two is that Skeletons are 1/2 HD and Zombies are 1 HD. Holmes follows this for Skeletons, and in the stat block we see that he intended for monsters to use a d6 for Hit Dice as in the original D&D books (Greyhawk introduced the d8 for Hit Dice as an option). The published rulebook keeps the 1/2 HD, but changes the note to "(1-4 hit points)", in line with a d8 for Hit Dice. 

Holmes' description follows the original, including that they are motivated by a M-U or Cleric, although OD&D perhaps only intended that cleric was chaotic ("Magic-User or Cleric (Chaos)"), while Holmes has "a chaotic magic-user or cleric". The published rulebook changes the "chaotic" to "evil" and also the reference to the "lawful cleric" to "good cleric"

At the end of the entry Holmes adds two sentences not found in the OD&D entry, one describing the immunities of the undead class, and another indicating skeletons are usually silent since they don't move until they attack. For this second one he probably drew on OD&D Vol 3, page 9, "Note "Undead" never made any sound". The Blackmoor Supplement even takes this a bit farther by noting (in the section on Monks) that extremely silent creatures including Undead double the chances of surprise. Interestingly, the Monster Manual and Moldvay Basic both drop this concept of skeletons moving silently.

The entry for skeleton was originally unillustrated, but the 2nd edition (Nov 1978) adds a small picture below the entry which depicts two skeletons lying on the ground with some armor & weapons:

Skeletons by DCSIII, image courtesy Desert Scribe

Holmes closely follows the wording of the original description in OD&D, Vol 2, including the reference to the Nazgul of Tolkien. This Tolkien reference, along with many others, was removed from later editions of OD&D, but was never changed in the Holmes rulebook (the only change in Holmes being 'hobbits' to 'halflings'). So all of us kids who started with Holmes Basic got to see the direct connection between Nazgul/Spectres and Barrow Wights/Wights. 

Holmes adds one sentence of clarification to the end of the original material, "Magical weapons score full hits on spectres" (as opposed to normal and silver, which do no damage). The published rule-book makes one change, adding "low-strength" to the "spectres under the control of the one who made them", but doesn't explain further, such as quantifying the "low strength". The Monster Manual clarifies this somewhat by changing "low strength" to "half strength".


Kind of the vampire bats of D&D. They first appear in Greyhawk, seemingly bigger than in later depictions: "Large bird-like monsters with long, dangling proboscuses, the Stirges might call to mind evil-looking, feathered ant eaters". Holmes preserves this description, as well as most of the other concepts, omitting only their attraction to warm-blooded creatures. Holmes correctly translates their attack (as 4th level fighter) as a +2 on an attack rolls for a 1 HD monster. 

The only change in the published rulebook is to change Greyhawk's Treasure Type D to Type Q, one of the new types debuting in Holmes Basic. Type Q is simply a 50% chance of 1-4 gems, suggesting that Stirges have a fondness for gems, and only gems. In the Monster Manual, their treasure returns to the earlier Type D, whereas Moldvay Basic has them with Type L, which is actually the same as Type Q in Holmes.

In the original version of B2, Gygax adds a few interesting details to the 'Holmes Basic' stirge: Minotaurs love to eat stirges, and starving stirges will make so much noise that 90% of the time they ruin any chance of surprise.


Trolls go back to Chainmail, which distinguishes 'Trolls' (Ogres) from 'True Trolls (the D&D Troll), referencing Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, which features a battle with a regenerating troll. OD&D Vol 2 describes their regeneration powers in detail, quantitating it as 3 hit points per turn. Holmes follows this description closely.  

In 1979 Holmes was interviewed as part of a LA Times article, "Fantasy Life In a Game Without End", where he mentioned that "his revision attempted to preserve some of the Byzantine D&D flavor and didn't dare tamper with such beloved phrases as "loathsome trolls are tough and rubbery and have the ability to regenerate". The OD&D phrase is "Thin and rubbery, loathsome Trolls are able to regenerate..." and Holmes preserves this exact phrasing in the first sentence of his entray.

The only change to the description in the published rulebook is to change "they attack with talons or fangs" to "talons and fangs" in accord with the three attacks they are given. In Holmes the standard is a single attack for all monsters, thus this change was needed when the manuscript was revised by Gygax/TSR to add multiple attacks.

Continue on to Part 33: "Their Appearance Is As Spectral Armored Warriors"
Or Go Back to Part 31: "This Inoffensive Looking Little Creature"
Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hobbits as the Rangers of Basic

A Hobbit Ranger? From OD&D, Vol 1, Men & Magic, pg 9

Last week I was thinking about how Hobbits (later Halflings) are the 'Rangers' of Basic D&D, due to their abilities to disappear in the outdoors and their skill with missile weapons, implying they are good at hunting. Give them a tracking skill and you've got a great ranger in vein of Trotter, Tolkien's original hobbit version of Aragorn. And then I read a post by Wayne R at Semper Initiativus Unum where a hobbit in his game of his acted in just this manner.

The two abilities I mentioned have their roots in The Hobbit, and while they were mentioned in Chainmail they don't really feature in AD&D for PCs. Holmes played a role bringing these forward from Chainmail to Basic, and emphasizing the 'wild' aspect of their hiding ability.

Back when I posted Part 3 of the Holmes Manuscript commentary, I simply related there were no changes to the section on Hobbits from the manuscript to the published rulebook (pg 7), without further comment. So here I'll look into Holmes' development of this section.
Chainmail has Gygax's original description of Hobbits as they appear in D&D: 
"These little chaps have small place in the wargame, but you may want them for recreation of certain battles. Remember that they are able to blend into the background and so make excellent scouts. They can fire a stone as far as an archer shoots, and because of their well known accuracy, for every two halflings firing count three on the Missile Fire table" (pg 29).

The ability to "disappear quietly and quickly" around big people is mentioned at the start of The Hobbit, and Bilbo's skill with stones is revealed when he battles the Spiders in Mirkwood.

OD&D adds magic resistance, and refers to Chainmail for missile fire, but omits their abilities as scouts: 

"Should any player wish to be one, he will be limited to the Fighting-Men class as a hobbit. Hobbits cannot progress beyond the 4th level (Hero), but they will have magic-resistance equal to dwarves (add four levels for saving throws), and they will have deadly accuracy with missiles as detailed in CHAINMAIL" (pg 8, Vol 1).

Vol 3 of OD&D also mentions their (along with dwarves and elves) better-than-human hearing, 1-2 in 6, another skill fitting well with Rangers.

Greyhawk only adds info about thieves: 
"Hobbits can be either fighters or thieves, and as thieves they have better chances for doing most things (see STATISTICS REGARDING CLASSES) and are not limited to how high in levels they can progress" (pg 5).

But there is a Greyhawk 'Correction Sheet' that clarifies their "accuracy with missiles": 
"All hobbits add +3 to hit probabilities when using the sling." 

Synthesizing the above, Holmes gives us the following in the Basic manuscript:

The height of three feet is not explicitly stated in Chainmail or OD&D but is either taken directly from The Hobbit ("about half our height"), or extrapolated from the four and five feet stated for dwarves and elves in Greyhawk. 

Holmes clearly looked to the Chainmail entry (and perhaps The Hobbit), because he includes the ability to disappear not mentioned in OD&D. He also associates it much more strongly with wild environments than either The Hobbit or Chainmail, using the words: "out-of doors", "woods" and "undergrowth". They are really the only class/race in Basic that has an outdoor skill; not even Elves are described as having any affinity for the outdoors.

With respect to missile fire, he presumably missed the Greyhawk correction (slings at +3), and instead implements the Chainmail accuracy as a simple +1 to hit with any missile weapon. 

I couldn't find any reference to halfling-sized armor/weapons in the earlier books, so this might be a pure Holmes addition. Gygax actually takes this a bit farther in B2, mentioning elf and dwarf-sized suits of armor. Holmes also includes their enhanced hearing in another section of the rulebook.

Gygax didn't change any of the above; it all made it into the published Basic rulebook, but he also didn't include this material in AD&D. In the Monster Manual, Gygax expands the +3 to hit to also include bows, at least for NPC halflings. The Players Handbook refers to the MM entry, making it ambiguous whether PC players are meant to also have these bonuses. The PHB also omits any reference to their ability to hide in the woods, instead giving them a chance to move silently enough to surprise on 1-4 in 6, or 1-2 in 6 through a door.

Moldvay Basic (B/X) instead sticks with Holmes' version, including the 'cut down' weapons/armor, the +1 missile adjustment, and the ability to disappear under cover, here quantified as 1-9 in 10 (or 1-2 in 6 in a dungeon). They are also given two additional abilities that fit well with a 'Hobbit Ranger', including a +1 to individual initiative reaction and a -2 AC when fighting large monsters.

* * * * * 

Some possible Hobbit Ranger names from the Generator:

Glen Ael
Quetas the Searcher
Go I the Wary (!)
Dankrac Spoor
Ton Mun the Dun

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Holmesian Random Names in the Sidebar

Today Paul Gorman at Quickly, Quietly, Carefully wrote a great post called "Embedded Microgenerators for Dungeons & Dragons Blogs", complete with Javascript code examples. 
Inspired by this, I modified the code his second example for 'Magic Towers' to generate Holmesian Random Names. I placed this is a Gadget at the top of the sidebar on the right hand side of this blog. The Gadget will generate a Holmesian Random Name when clicked on. Repeated clicks will generate further names. Try it out!

Right now the names have two syllables, plus either a third syllable or a title (although there is an option for a 'null' variable for the second or third syllables, so it will occasionally make a one or two syllable name). I may tweak the options in the future but it's good enough for regular use right now.

The original version of the Holmesian Random Names tables are in this post. The new generator is based on the more extensive one-sheet pdf (which can be found here), although I took the opportunity to add more titles from Holmes' stories (e.g. "of Portown", etc). The random names can also be found automated in two other places; see this post

Post what you get below.

Here's a few I just got:
Mustas the Mutable
Zell Kan Hor
Mezas the Masked
I Traris
Gergen Sa
Mun Tar the Unknowable
Hagree the Barbarian
Jax Dre the Hunter