Saturday, February 16, 2013

Holmes Basic Testimonials



     2013 Update: If you haven't contributed previously, or want to add more, please leave a comment below. I plan to bump this post annually on this date. Thanks to everyone who  responded last year!

     And some great news: Thanks to Dave at There's Dungeons Down Under, I was just alerted to a tweet from Steve Winter a few days ago that the original artwork by David Sutherland III for the Holmes Basic set has been found in a crate at the Wizards headquarters! I'd never heard anything about this art before and just assumed it was lost to the sands of time. Steve comments: "I'm pretty sure it's going to get a beauty treatment (new frame, protective glass, etc.) and hang in the gallery by #DnD R&D."

     Original Post: Today marks the birthday of J. Eric Holmes (1930-2010). As a tribute I was hoping everyone could tell us why they like the Holmes Basic Set. To facilitate this I've added a new section titled "Holmes Basic Testimonials" to the Zenopus Archives website, which will link to threads (this post & various forums) where you can talk about the Bluebook.

     Tell us how you started with Holmes Basic, or remember it fondly for other reasons, or came to appreciate it later, or are using it now, or just plain like reading through it.

     Why do I like the Holmes Basic set? Well, it was my first D&D set, and left an indelible impression on my psyche. But I also like it because because it's a concise edit of the original D&D invention by an enthusiastic volunteer who was both a player of the game and long-time fan of fantasy literature. It's not necessarily perfect but has a strong vibe of "this game is awesome so I want to share it with as many folks as possible, so here's an introductory version". 

     I could go on and on, but I'd like to hear from everyone else.

27 comments:

  1. I have never seen a Holmes basic set. There were some guys in the grade ahead of me that claimed to have a "blue book" D&D... but I never quite believed that it really existed. The fact that all mention of it was expurgated from mid-eighties gaming material lends it an air of forbidden knowledge. That TSR was going through the process of figuring out how to launch new Dungeon Masters, first with some extras, then with B1, then with B2 makes it a fascinating piece of gaming history. Considering how long the boxed role playing game was *the* standard... being the first one is pretty significant. But mostly... people that were cooler than me played this in a time when there were fewer distractions to draw regular people away from the game table. I'm basically jealous of the generation that had this as their starting game.

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  2. The Blue Box was what opened up the vista of RPGs to me.

    The cover alone is what sold me! I purchased it with allowance money that I had saved and when I got home, I opened the box. I was simply amazed at this untrodden land and tried to get the lay of the land. At first, I didn't quite understand it well. Placing a red dragon in my first dungeon was evidence of that - It was Dungeons & Dragons, right? Shortly, I got the hang of the rules and I was happily DMing a coherent game.

    The Holmes set holds fond memories for me.

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  3. Your last paragraph says it all!
    I'd also stare at that iconic box cover for hours at the hobby shop that sold it just waiting to get a copy on this mystery called a "role playing game", just waiting to open this box up and see what mysteries were inside. I wasn't disappointed! The odd plastic dice, the B1 module (a mystery in and of itself) was a perfect storm of whatever it was a boy of 10 was looking for. The cover still sends me back.

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  4. I was a latecomer to the Holmes edition, but ran the sample dungeon from it successfully in my South Province campaign 15 years ago and, 2 years ago, ran a too-short 8 session campaign using the Holmes ed. rules that I quite enjoyed, and barely required any house rulings for.

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  5. January 20th, 1977 I bought my first copy of Holmes Basic at the local dept. store "Rinks". I think it was about 7 or 8 dollars. I had received War of the Ring from SPI for Christmas, not sure how I'd heard about Dungeons and Dragons. I think I had been reading about Melee or Wizard and came across information about the game. So I got it for my birthday!

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  6. I saw the advertisement for this boxed set every month in "Boy's Life", the magazine I got as a cub scout and wanted it so much, it just looked so cool. When I finally found it and saved my allowance up to get it, it changed my world. Dr. Holmes, every bit as much as E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, stands in the pantheon of gaming legends.

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  7. Holmes is my favorite ruleset because:

    It's writing is enthusiastic. It didn't talk down to me as a kid but rather stretcheed my 10 year old brain. It unashamedly references Tolkien in several places. It's art is evocative and reminded me of well-loved books. It hits the sweet spot with regard to monsters: it included just the right ones in its short space. Finally, its sample adventure, written by the good Doctor himself, is perfect.

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  8. Holmes Basic was the first ruleset I used. We'd been playing some weird version a friend had made up that felt like an old text adventure game, but when another friend bought theHolmes Basic was the first ruleset I used. We'd been playing some weird version a friend had made up that felt like an old text adventure game, but when another friend bought the Basic Set, I realized how much more rich and varied an experience the game could be.

    Holmes's rulebook was also the perfect intersection between rules codification and open-endedness. Even though I soon 'graduated' to AD&D, I realized a short time ago that I've always been playing Holmes Basic, with extra rules that I incorporated from whatever sources I liked. Basic Set, I realized how much more rich and varied an experience the game could be.

    Holmes's rulebook was also the perfect intersection between rules codification and open-endedness. Even though I soon 'graduated' to AD&D, I realized a short time ago that I've always been playing Holmes Basic, with extra rules that I incorporated from whatever sources I liked.

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  9. Just like Thomas, I was captured by the enthusiastic writing.

    For me, this wasn't back in the day though. The Bluebook predates me by half a decade. I didn't get into earlier editions of D&D until about 2 years ago, and when I did it was with the Bluebook facsimile from the TSR Silver Anniversary set.

    There's so much love for the game in Holmes' text that I coulnd't help being inspired. Although I use Labyrinth Lord for rules, I'd like to think that I play in the spirit of Holmes.

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    1. I blogged about my love for the Holmes set here:

      http://tinyurl.com/6r5yns2

      It was my introduction to D&D and it is the one rules set that captures the game's sense of wonder. Still a fan.

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  10. Blue Book was what I started on. It was a little old when I got my hands on it (The BECMI sets were just being published). But it was what my friends played and I was loaned the book and fell in love. This was the best edition of the game; because of nostalgia, but also for brevity and concision. Thank you Dr. Holmes.

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  11. As a Moldvay kid, my recent love of HD&D is because of all the fascinating little nuggets sprinkled throughout the blue book. My current favorite is the Dexterity Initiative order rule. Happy Birthday, Doc.

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  12. JEH's Basic set was my introduction to D&D, and, coincidentally, Dragon 58 was the first issue I bought. It included "In the Bag", which was Eric's last piece (fiction or otherwise) published in the magazine.

    To JEH: may he repose in comfort and ease with his friends and inspirations ERB, HPL, CAS, REH, EGG, and others also populating the three-letter-acronym heaven :D

    Allan.

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  13. i got into Holmes backwards-style...was mainly running Moldvay, but got interested in OD&D & finally picked up the Blue Book which actually helped explain OD&D into AD&D to me... As I had always prefered taking on some AD&D elements to Moldvay, Holmes appeared as the perfect balance, though retaining a bit more OD&D, which I have come to prefer...

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  14. When I was but a wee lad my parents would give me some money and take me shopping for my birthday. i'd been playing Avalon Hill wargames for a couple years and had the barest of exposure to napoleonics and microarmor. I had heard the oldtimers grumbling about D&D but had no idea what they were talking about.
    On a birthday shopping trip to a hobby shop that sold wargaming products there were allthese wonderful lead fantasy miniatures, they were wonderful, after digging through them for a while I noticed the basic dungeons and dragons game set (holmes version of course). I was delighted there was a game I could use some of these wonderful fantasy miniatures with. I bought a few packs of goblins and dwarves, just enough for a skirmish and the D&D set.
    When I got home and started to read the D&D rules for the first time I was totally amazed by what I had discovered. It wasn't a wargame it was something so much more. I've been plating for over 30 years and that basic set and a few lead miniatures are the cause.

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  15. Here's a comment by Jesse of QUESTONIA: D&D from the Art School Set that disappeared after he posted it last night:

    The Holmes set was my first exposure to any kind of pre-Type III D&D. I found it at a thrift store and thought it was some kind of old novelty jigsaw puzzle or something and instead opened it to find a version of D&D entirely unlike anything I'd ever seen before (I was actually always more interested in the TSR catalogue-leaflet than the actual game as a kid, though. Divine Right and Dungeon and Gamma World all seemed fantastically mysterious and exciting when I was 11)

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  16. I was introduced to D&D through a friend's attempt to get a Mentzer Red Box game going, but due to 'rules issues', I didn't actually start playing RPGs until I discovered Fighting Fantasy. Though my 'real' campaign didn't begin until I was inspired by the atmosphere of NES games like Ultima: Exodus, CastleVania I and II(Simon's Quest especially), and Faxanadu. I created my own rules using D6s from my boardgames and vague memories of Mentzer, and Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks for the 'feel', allowing any races/classes people cared to play. Luckily for me and my players, we had a blast!

    Years later, I tried to get into AD&D and AD&D 2nd Edition, but the games didn't grab me.(In the meantime, I discovered the awesomeness of another Old School classic: Tunnels & Trolls 5.0!) Then I came across RPG.net and began reading of the history of the game ranging back to OD&D. My interest in the older rules sets was piqued, and I decided to check them out, sans Mentzer.

    I picked up B at my local game store and X at my local Con. Upon reading, I found Moldvay/Cook/Marsh to be excellent, and very playable, with a great vibe, and it didn't seem as 'watered down' as Mentzer. I immediately decided on them as my D&D rules of choice. Soon thereafter, I acquired its clone Labyrinth Lord, and that cemented my decision that B/X would be my 'classic' D&D.

    Then, I saw an auction of the Blue Book on E-bay, and decided to go for it. It wasn't OD&D, but it would be an interesting read, right? After perusing it, I realized it was more than some historical artifact(the supposed 'intro' to AD&D), it was a viable rules set that encouraged tinkering, was very free form with combat, wasn't hung up on 'humanocentrism' or 'balanced' classes, encouraged wild imagination, and was as easy to utilize as B/X. Not only that, but the author, a professor of neurology at that(!), was so enthused about D&D, it was gripping. He *loved* the game, and the attitude became infectious. This 'authorial voice' is seemingly entirely absent today, and is rare in older games, honestly.(With the exception of anything written by Ken St. Andre!) The Blue Book is so engaging, I find myself re-reading it at odd moments and pondering what J. Eric Holmes' games were like in actual play. Not to mention discovering those bits n pieces of Holmes found nowhere else in the D&D family! This was the best $5.00 I've spent since I acquired my T&T 5.0 UK Digest Edition! And that's high praise, trust me! :-)

    Since then, I've looked over the full Mentzer sets, the Denning/Brown revision of BECMI, and *its* Stuart edit, the White Box, and the misnamed D&D Adventure Game(Actually a 'Fast-play' version of AD&D 2nd Edition!), and found most of them serviceable, and OD&D in particular to be interesting, but none of these can hold a candle to Holmes, imo!

    Sadly, I've yet to play a Holmes campaign. I fully believe if my nascent group had started with these rules(or at least Moldvay's), I would've been an active D&D'er! But, honestly, it hardly matters, as the inspiration the Blue Book provides to me and any future readers will more than make up for my past 'loss'.

    I'm tracking down hard copies of Holmes' works on RPGs slowly, and hopefully soon I'll have his entire Fantasy Adventure corpus. His works should *really* be in print!

    Happy belated Birthday, Surgeon of the Underworld! And off to the Blue Book I go once again!

    Great post about an iconic figure in the Game!

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  17. Two word answer: Skull Mountain.

    'Nuff said.

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  18. More reasons why I love Holmes:

    Skull mountain: someone's got to do a megadungeon based on this map! And the megadungeon must be Holmsean (written like the sample dungeon and taking its thematic and atmospheric cues from the Blue Book).

    The examples of melee: Bruno the Battler was a true hero to me. Now, my six year old son's character is named Bruno the Battler. Mogo the Mighty was pretty cool too.

    The DEX as initiative is a good idea.

    Humor: "The minotaur is a bull-headed man (and all of us who have debated game rules are well acquainted with such)."

    The Introduction: I just re-read it, and it is the best short summary of what the game is all about to be found. Compared to the Moldvay Basic intro, Holmes brims with enthusiasm and is much more informative. Love it!

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  19. While White Box OD&D was nearly incomprehensible to the layman, Holmes Basic was reader friendly and encouraged imagination. In hindsight AD&D was not really an improvement over OD&D unless you believe "more is better". For me Holmes D&D hit the "sweet spot" between complexity and accessibility.

    Dr. Holmes, in addition to being a wargamer and RPG pioneer, was also a prominent Edgar Rice Burroughs fan. I have often wonder what a Barsoom RPG written by Holmes would have been like....

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    1. A year later and I've just noticed something. Perhaps it's just coincidence but to my eye the MU on the cover of Holmes basic bears some resemblance to Dr. Holmes himself.

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  20. I'm a relative newcomer to Holmes, having been raised on Moldvay, Cook and Marsh B/X. I only discovered Holmes late in 2012, and it wasn't love at first sight - initially I couldn't make heads or tails of it. However, with a little help from the Zenopus Archives and the Holmes forum on the OD&D Discussion Boards I soon grew to appreciate the quirky-verging-on-weird nature of Holmes D&D. Hopefully one day I'll be able to say "and the rest is history" ...

    Happy Birthday, Dr. Holmes!

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  21. I didn't run Holmes rules, but the Tower of Zenopus example taught me how to be a better dungeon designer in high school.

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  22. The Holmes rulebook was the first RPG I ever saw and owned. Looking through its pages while standing in the game shop, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of wonder, magic and excitement. Those feels are still with me 32 years later every time I hold the Holmes rulebook in my hands.

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  23. Had a little too much to put into the comments field. But basically, it made me the GM I am today..
    http://docschottslab.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/an-origin-story/

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