Thursday, January 2, 2014

Part 14: "A Curare Tipped Blowgun Dart"

Happy New Year! I've been distracted by the Holidays including frequent sessions of our new Lego Heroica Set - a D&D 'Basic' if there ever was - but now return to our regularly scheduled comparative analysis.

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Part 14 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 19 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along... 


No changes from the manuscript to the published rulebook in this section. Holmes seems to have drafted this section from scratch from scattered references to poison throughout the OD&D volumes. The mention of "curare" in "curare tipped blowgun darts" is more specific  about poison than D&D usually gets, possibly a nod to his background as a neurologist.


In this section Holmes' draft has but a single short paragraph:

The original D&D rules for oil are extremely minimal: Vol 1 has "flask of oil" in the equipment list and Vol 3 says simply, "Burning oil will deter many monsters from continuing pursuit" (pg 13). That's it; there is no suggestion of hurling flasks of oil in combat. In this context, Holmes' brief paragraph makes sense. Earlier in the manuscript in the section on Wandering Monsters he included the line about deterring monsters, and here adds some clarifying info about the size and damage caused by a burning pool of oil. As far as I can tell he simply picked out these numbers himself. As with OD&D, there's no implication of use in combat.

In the published version, the first paragraph of this section is the same as Holmes' paragraph, except that the 20 foot diameter and "2 die" of damage (presumably d6) is changed to a 5 foot diameter and "2 8-sided dice" of damage. So Gygax kept Holmes' additions but tweaked the numbers. 

And then added much more. The remainder of this section in the published rulebook, consisting of four paragraphs covering use of oil in combat, is missing from the manuscript, suggesting it was written and added by Gygax. These rules are somewhat unique in early D&D, in that they rely on a d20 attack where the chance to hit is based on size rather than armor class. In a thread on OD&D Discussion, I once summarized these rules in a table:

The rules further require require a second hit on above table with thrown flaming object (torch, lantern, etc) at +2 on die roll. Once lit, damage is 1d8 for first round, 2d8 for second round, none thereafter.

There are some details that suggest these rules might be an early version of material that ended up in the complex "GRENADE-LIKE MISSILES" (pg 64) section of the 1E Dungeon Masters Guide. As far as I can tell that section doesn't have oil ignoring armor class but it does have (1) hurled oil causing damage for two rounds before burning out, and (2) requiring secondary contact with flame (unless flasks are specially prepared with a lit rag).


No changes from the manuscript to the published rulebook in this section. As far as I can tell there are no rules in OD&D explaining the effect of holy water; it simply appears in the list of equipment without further explanation. So Holmes simply has it having effects 'equivalent' (presumably 2 dice of damage) to oil but only on the undead.

Holmes later wrote a short story, The Sorcerer's Jewel (Dragon #46, February 1981), which has Boinger and Zereth using both oil and holy water in combat. In one encounter the oil is spread and then separately ignited. In another encounter Boinger uses holy water against a powerful type of undead.

Continue on to
Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that Gygax probably added the paragraphs on burning oil in combat - he specifically mentions it once or twice in B2 (stating that monsters that are attacked with burning oil will use it against the PCs in the future) and has tons of oil tucked here and there in the Caves of Chaos, presumably for desparate last stands in cases of cornered PCs...

    Also, quite interesting that Holmes might have been the one to make the explicit link between the effects of holy water being akin to burning oil against the undead!