Saturday, June 29, 2013

Turns in Holmes Basic

(A section header from page 20 of the Holmes Basic rulebook)

Holmes Basic is known for having "shifting" turns. Normal turns (moving, exploring) are ten minutes long, but during combat the turns shift to ten rounds of 10 sec, yielding "combat turns" that are 100 sec.

Here are the relevant quotes from the rulebook:
"Each turn is ten minutes except during combat where there are ten melee rounds per turn, each round lasting ten seconds" (pg 9)

"There are ten "rounds" of combat per turn. Each round is ten seconds, so a combat turn is shorter than a regular turn, but results in at least as much muscular fatigue" (pg 20)

However the rulebook doesn't specify what the purpose of tracking "combat turns" is. Why not just track rounds during combat? Combat movement per round is given on pg 20, so it's not like the "combat turn" is needed for movement.

The main thing that "combat turns" would seem to apply to is spell/magic (i.e., potion) durations. However, the shortest spell duration is 2 turns, which is 20 rounds, longer than most combats. Once combat is over the spell duration then shifts back to "normal turns" for the rest of the duration. So what the different turns are used for is tracking how much of your spell turns are used up by melee rounds (10 combat actions = 1 turn) vs exploration (1 movement or search = 1 turn).

As an example, Mar Pres the Conjurer (lvl 3) enlarges Tensho the Fighter during the 1st round of a combat with an ogre. This spell has a duration of 1 turn plus caster level, so Tensho will remain enlarged for 4 turns. If the combat is 10 rounds or less, 1 turn of the spell would be used. After combat is over, 3 "regular turns" (30 min) would remain. If combat went between 10-20 rounds, a second "combat turn" would be used, so after combat Tensho would only remain enlarged for 2 more "regular turns" before returning to normal size.

In the module B2, the original version of which was written specifically for Holmes Basic, Gygax gives some useful advice on the "combat turns":

"If fighting should occur, the time reference shifts to a melee turn which is subdivided into ten, 10 second melee rounds. The concept of a melee turn is designed to simulate the quick exchange of blows in combat. For the sake of convenience, a DM can consider one entire melee turn to equal one normal turn (that is, 10 minutes), no matter how many melee rounds the combat took. The extra time is spent recovering one's breath, checking for woulds, re-sharpening blunted weapons, etc." (pg 4, section TIME)

This is practical because it results in the actual time length between combat turns and normal turns being the same, and fits with Holmes statement that combat turns result in the same amount of fatigue as a normal turns.

[the above is adapted from several recent posts in a thread on OD&D Discussion]


  1. I see what is being said and the usefulness if you track things (like spells) which may have duration in game turns that extend past the melee.

    I never ran that tight a ship in keeping paper accounts and such problems never came up.

  2. Mike Carr reiterated much of these rules in the early printings of B1 In Search of the Unknown. Under the chapter on "Time" in the section "Notes for the Dungeon Master" it reads:

    "In normal movement and exploration, each turn is considered to be ten minutes (see page 9 of the Basic D&D booklet for details). If an encounter or melee occurs, the Dungeon Master immediately (but temporarily, for the duration of the encounter) adjusts the time frame to melee turns consisting of ten 10-second melee rounds (see page 20 of the Basic D&D booklet)."

  3. I just noticed a possible discrepancy between B1 and B2 with regards to rest and healing at the end of the "Time" chapters.

    In B2, Gygax states, "player characters heal 1-3 points naturally every 24 hours of full rest." This matches the Holmes Basic D&D rulebook pg. 7, "each day of rest and recuperation back 'home' will regenerate 1 to 3... hit points."

    In B1, Carr states, "the passage of a day - or 24 hours - will mean the healing of 1 hit point of damage for each character."

    This could be interpreted as two different rules:
    - A PC heals 1 HP after one day of normal activity and a good night's sleep.
    - A PC heals 1-3 HP after one full day of complete rest and relaxation.

    1. The 1-3 HP rule is actually in the rulebook on pg 7, so Carr is the oddball here. I have the discrepancy noted on the list of changes to B1.

      Carr prepared B1 based on OD&D & that rule is closer to the OD&D version (1 hp every other day). See Was Mike Carr's B1 actually for OD&D?

    2. Interesting... Aldarron posits that Carr may have taken the rule from the Blackmoor campaign. Thanks for the links.

  4. I see a nice logic in giving spells cast in the stress of combat a shortened duration even if they extend past the end of the fight. Similarly, a cleric or magic-user with good foresight can cast his spells just before an engagement and take advantage of the longer duration. It opens up some interesting strategic possibilities for spell casters.

  5. I never played/read Holmes when I grew up, we played BECMI and then AD&D 1e. However, I also remember that we counted combat as 1 turn (10 minutes) unless it was *unusually* long. And we basically used the same "after combat you need to get your shit together again" reasoning. I wonder if Gygax says the same thing somewhere else, I don't think we carried that around with us for years and years if the only source for it were Holmes (which we didn't know) or B2 (which only one of us had a copy of, yet all of us were aware of that "rule" as it were). Weird.

  6. I use a simple technique for dungeon crawling . . . one numbered encounter = one turn . .. combat, traps, empty rooms, etc . . . I presume that players are searching for treasure, healing their wounds , gathering loot, forming plans when not beating the snot out of bad guys .. .
    few REAL combats last more than a minute especially when large beasts are concerned ... 8 minute sword fights are for movies ...