Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hall of the Mountain King: Warrior-for-Hire transcription

Illustration by Chris Holmes for Warrior-For-Hire

     Jason at Hall of the Mountain King has transcribed "Warrior-for-Hire", Dr. Holmes' contribution to issue #11 (May 1976) of the L.A.-based APAzine Alarums & Excursions (this issue also has a great cover illustration by Morno of Wee Warriors fame). This article predates the Holmes Basic Set by more than a year, and is as far as I know his earliest published D&D article. A few years ago I got a copy of Holmes' contributions from Lee Gold, editor of A&E, so I've read this article before, but my copy was missing the accompanying illustration by Chris Holmes, one of J. Eric's sons). Chris illustrated many of Holmes' early articles, including two that were in Dragon - Lost Civilizations (a Source of the Nile variant) and the first Boinger and Zereth story. The halfling shown above is probably Boinger, who was one of Chris' characters.

     I posted some commentary on "Warrior-for-Hire" on Dragonsfoot a few years ago, which is repeated below. The article predates the Basic Set so it's firmly in the era of OD&D.

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     Holmes tells the reader that “you have outfitted your expedition for the dungeons of Greyhead Tower" but that your unbalanced party would “feel a lot safer with a few fighting men along” and that "advertising takes time and money, though, and you have little of either". This refers to the rules in Men & Magic, page 12, describing hiring of NPCs. The reference to the "Greyhead Tower" dungeons brings to mind the Basic rulebook Sample Dungeon describing the dungeons of the ruined tower of the wizard Zenopus.

     Holmes describes a building in town with a banner reading “Expeditions Unlimited: Hire a Warrior!” run by Ajax, a “big heavy set fellow” and “veteran of the dungeons” who “has a patch over one eye and is missing several fingers of his left hand”. Ajax guarantees that all of his 1st level fighters are lawful, 15+ strong, and fully equipped with chainmail, a helmet, shield and sword and that the terms are “full shares in any treasure, ‘stead of your usual hireling half shares”. I can’t find any specific OD&D references to half shares for hirelings. Men & Magic states that a minimum of 100 gp is necessary to tempt a human into service, although it’s unclear whether this is given prior to the expedition or a share of the treasure.

     Holmes describes the rules for generating Ajax’s fighters. "In practice, what I do is roll 3 D6 until I get a 15 or better. Those are Ajax's tryouts; those who don't measure up are turned away. Once a strength of 15-18 is rolled, then I roll the rest of the character's traits in the usual way, adjusting his strength if possible. Ajax usually has a stable of six trained fighters. Originally they were all from the local area, youths seeking fortune and adventure. Recently there has been an influx of Viking barbarians, big blonde fighters from the north. Casualties run high. Rarely does a fighter reach second level, since he accumulates experience points at half rate". The strength adjustment refers to the rules in Men & Magic, pages 10-11, where fighters can increase their strength by 1 for each reduction of intelligence by 2 or wisdom by 3, with 9 being the minimum any score can be reduced to. The half-rate experience point accumulation for the hirelings refers to the section on "Awarding Experience to Non-Player Characters" on page 13 of Greyhawk (Supplement I).

    These rules were written for OD&D but are easily applied to Holmes Basic, which has nearly identical rules for non-player characters (Holmes edited the original Basic rulebook from the OD&D rules).

     Ajax and his “Warriors-for-Hire” later reappeared in Holmes’ novel The Maze of Peril (1986). The protagonists hire two of his employees, Haldor and Olaf, who is described as a big blonde man – obviously one of the Viking barbarians. Olaf tells the party “We Warriors-for-Hire accept burial on the field of battle as part of the risks of the game” and that Ajax “loves us all as sons, of which he has none, and he begrudges each as dies, though die we do in this business”.

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