Sunday, November 24, 2013

Part 4: "...And a Half-Human, Half-Serpent Naga"

Part 4 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 7 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along...

Character Record, Hit Points, Gold: These sections are not titled in the original manuscript or the published rulebook. There are no changes to the first paragraph about recording your character, the single sentence that follows it, or the final paragraph about rolling for gold. The third paragraph about hit points has some changes in the first half, with regard to formatting and clarification. Here is the original:

And here is the published version (2nd print, which changes hobbits to halflings. The 1st print had hobbits).

Holmes' sentence near the middle, which reads "One way to generate the numbers is to roll the special dice - 8 sided, 6 sided or 4 sided, but numbered cards can be drawn from a set, or some other system used" has been edited to make the use of the dice included in the game the standard, and moved to be the second sentence of the paragraph: "To generate the numbers roll the special dice in this game - 8-sided, 6-sided, 4-sided". In addition, TSR adds three clarifying sentences starting with "For the number of "hit points"... 

Notably, Holmes' original includes the information that the "alternating elves" use a d6 for hit points. As far as I can tell he doesn't clarify when the d6 is rolled for elves - when one class gains 2nd level or both? Presumably an elf could choose to only gain levels in one class, so I guess the d6 would just be rolled whenever a higher level is gained in either class.

COST OF EQUIPMENT & WEAPONS: This section doesn't have a title in Holmes' original, so its not separated from the preceding paragraphs. Holmes did have an entry in the Contents for "TABLE Equipment and Costs". TSR changed this entry to "COST OF WEAPONS AND EQUIPMENT" in the Contents, and imported the title, with "equipment" and "weapons" reversed, here.

The information in the Table comes directly from Men & Magic and has no changes other than minor formatting (changing the headers from underlined to bold, capitalizing "Mail" in "Chain-type mail"). Holmes retains the order of weapons from Men & Magic in the table, which appears random at first glance but is actually in the same order as the twelve different weapon categories Chainmail, from shortest to longest (Pole Arms & Halberd go together). 

ADDITIONAL CHARACTER CLASSES: This was always one of my favorite sections, and provided a lot of flavor to the rulebook. Back when I only had Holmes Basic it provided a glimpse of the exciting material to come in AD&D. There are some interesting changes here. I'll quote Holmes' original in full:


Points of Interest:

(1) As many had guessed, in the first paragarph Holmes was just describing what was already available in OD&D. TSR simply changed his "DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, and the various supplements" to "ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS".

(2) No witch! Holmes does not have the famous reference to the witch being a subclass of magic-user, which puzzled many kids when they got AD&D and found it wasn't there. Gygax has said that he was never planning on adding a witch class to AD&D:

"That mention slipped by me, and all I can assume was that either Eric was planning to force such a class upon me, or else someone editing the work thought it a good joke to play. i never had a PC class of that sort in mind for the game."
-Gygax on Enworld in 2005, see here for a link to the original post

So now it appears that "someone else editing the work" added the reference to the witch.

(3) More examples of "anything" classes! Holmes original reads: "Thus, an expedition might include, in addition to the seven basic classes, an African witch doctor/magic-user, a centaur, an Amerindian medicine man/cleric, a lawful werebear, a Japanese Samurai fighting man and a half-human, half-serpent Naga". TSR cut out half of these, leaving the sentence as the familiar "a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese Samurai fighting man". All of these alternate classes were used by Holmes in his own games and are mentioned in one or another of his writings.

African witch doctor/magic-user: A witch doctor is part of Boinger and Zereth's party in The Adventure of the Lost City: Part One, Alarums & Excursions #17, November 1976.

Centaur: A centaur is a minor character that Boinger and Zereth meet in The Maze of Peril (1986, written earlier), and Holmes also mentions a centaur PC in his article "Confessions of a Dungeon Master" (Psychology Today, 1980).

Amerindian medicine man/cleric: An American Indian Cleric plays a prominent role in The Adventure of the Giant Chameleon, Alarums & Excursions #14, August 1976.

Lawful Werebear: A Beorning character is also mentioned briefly in the The Adventure of the Giant Chameleon. A Beorning character class appeared in The Manual of Aurania.

Japanese Samurai Fighting Man: A samurai is also part of the party in The Adventure of the Lost City. A samurai character class appeared DRAGON #3 (Oct 1976), and also in the Manual of Aurania.

Half-human, half-serpent Naga: A Naga PC is also mentioned in Confessions of a Dungeon Master. Nagas first appeared as a D&D monster in the Strategic Review #3 (Autumn 1975), but alternately Holmes may be referring to the Naga of Indian mythology, which have a mix of human and serpent traits but are not necessarily a human-headed snake.

UPDATE: Here's a relevant quote from Holmes from Dragon #52, when he was reviewing the new Moldvay Basic Set:

"Character classes: Player characters are restricted to being a Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Magic-User, Elf, Halfling or Dwarf. This probably covers the roles most beginning players want to try, but I am personally sorry to see the range of possibilities so restricted. The original rules (the three little brown books) specifically stated that a player could be a dragon if he wanted to be, and if he started at first level. For several years there was a dragon player character in my own game. At first level he could puff a little fire and do one die of damage. He could, of course, fly, even at first level. He was one of the most unpopular characters in the game, but this was because of the way he was played, not because he was a dragon. I enjoyed having dragons, centaurs, samurai and witch doctors in the game. My own most successful player character was a Dreenoi, an insectoid creature borrowed from McEwan’s Starguard. He reached fourth level (as high as any of my personal characters ever got), made an unfortunate decision, and was turned into a pool of green slime."

The rest of Holmes' article can be read at Sword & Shield.  

Continue on to Part 5: "Lawful, Neutral or Chaotic"
Or Go Back to Part 3: "Elves Must Decide"
Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript


  1. Wow - no witch class! Seems like somebody was really pushing the wiccan agenda back in the day who prefered to remain anonymous...

    The table for level advancement later includes fighting-men, elves, dwarves, and halflings, iirc. I take that to mean that elven hit dice are rolled when the fighting-man level is attained.

  2. I wonder if Silith the Serpent Woman, the green-skinned courtesan from The Adventure of the Lost City, was a half-human, half-serpent Naga. All his other "additional" classes have representation in the Boinger/Zereth/Murray stories.

  3. If witch doctor was just another name for magic-user and witch doctor was changed to witch, then witch would just be another name for magic-user as well. Not a separate class.

  4. I'd rather play those weird classes instead of the usual. I wonder if anyone ever played a campaign with house-rules where you could only play some odd characters like these (or make up your own).

  5. Very nice details, Zach! Looks like I'll have to pull out my Manual of Aurania for a re-read sometime soon :D

    Some random speculation, but perhaps whoever wrote the anonymous "Witchcraft Supplement for Dungeons & Dragons" article in TD#5 (published in March 1977---fortuitous timing...) was someone at TSR, who then subtly added it into the Holmes basic set as a way to try to further the addition of the Witch into AD&D? Might be worth investigating further, perhaps?


  6. My very first game had a variant class. My mother wanted to play a little fairy so it took all of a minute or less to say "ok, well use all the elf rules but you are too small for nonmagical armor or big weapons and you have to rest a turn. After flying for 3 turns." It ain't that hard to support variant characters, just don't let them be too powerful.

    1. I agree. We don't have any record of Holmes writing up any of these characters as "classes", as far as we know he may have just winged it.

  7. I know this post comes along a couple years after the OP, but I find it is still relevant!

    I'm intending on using Lew Pulsipher's Werebear, my own Centaur race as either Fighting Men, Rangers or Druids, an altered form of Mike Childers & Jeff Kay's Samurai Variant, and Stuart Marshall's Witch class for OSRIC. Mike Stewart has a good Faerie race/class variant that I'd allow as a player character race. I have no idea about the half-human/naga, but the African witch-doctor & Amerindian medicine man could be easily 'hatted' clerics.