Part 16 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 20 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along...
COMBAT ROUNDS, TIME AND MOVEMENT IN MELEE
These days this section is one of the most notorious in Holmes Basic, due to the rule that "Light weapons such as the dagger allow two blows per round". This rule, combined with single dice damage (d6) for all weapons, makes daggers twice as effective as swords and four times as effective as two-handed weapons, which "can be used only once every other round". As I once wrote, "Not a big deal if only M-Us with poor AC are using daggers, but if all
the fighters in plate & shield are also using daggers it gets
ridiculous". It's been theorized that this "broken" rule came about due to changes in Holmes' manuscript by TSR. Now with the manuscript we can finally look more closely at what Holmes intended. I'll start by quoting this entire section from the manuscript for your reading pleasure:
Now, let's go through this section sentence-by-sentence:
There are no differences in the title, or the first three sentences, between the manuscript and the published version. The ten-second rounds and ten-round turns are the same as in the section on "Time" described earlier (See Part 6). Here Holmes also gives us movement rates for each round of melee that are 1/12 of the rate per turn. One might expect the rate per round to be 1/10 of the rate per turn, since there are ten rounds per turn, but the 1/12 rate is clever because it is easier to use with the 10' squares common on maps back then, such as the Sample Dungeon. As far as I can tell Holmes came up with this himself since it is in the manuscript. And Gygax was fine with it, as he left it unchanged in the published rulebook, and expanded it in the module B2 by giving a rate of 5 feet/round for fully armored/heavily loaded, and by explicitly stating that the 1/12 calculation is to be used for determining monster movement during combat. See this OD&D thread for more on this.
In the fourth sentence we see the first difference. The manuscript says, "Each round consists of an exchange of two blows with ordinary weapons" (emphasis added), and the published version is the same except for dropping the word "two". By itself this is not a big change, and could just be attributed to editorial style; Holmes' choice of "two blows" might simply refer to the attacker's and defender's alternating attacks.
In the published rulebook the next sentence is the problematic one: "Light weapons such as the dagger allow two blows per round". The manuscript is missing this sentence. So Holmes did not single out daggers or light weapons for two blows per round and this represents a change by Gygax/TSR.
But look carefully at Holmes' next sentence, the fifth in the manuscript:
heavy two-handed sword, battle axe, halberd, flail, morning star, and
pole arm can be used only once per round". This was changed to "...once every other round" in the published rulebook. If heavy weapons can only be used once per round, this means that all other weapons (swords, maces, daggers) can be used more than once per round. So when Holmes wrote "two blows per round" what he meant is that all other melee weapons get two attacks per round. Holmes makes
this crystal clear in the melee examples, which I will cover in a future installment, where characters and monsters get two melee attacks per round.
The next two sentences in the published rulebook deal with crossbows:
light crossbow takes time to cock and load, so it likewise can be fired
only once every other round. The heavy crossbow takes twice as long to
load and fire". However, in the manuscript, there's just a single (sixth) sentence about the heavy crossbow:
So in the manuscript the light crossbow could be used once per round (as all other missile weapons) and the heavy crossbow every other round.
The rest of this section is unchanged between the original and published verison. Of note, the last sentence mentions that the DM should consider 'friendly fire' during combat if missile weapons are used, although earlier on the same page in the section on "Cover" (Part 15), Holmes said that missile fire was not permitted at all once melee was engaged.
In summary, here are Holmes' original number of attacks per round:
Normal Weapons: 2 attacks per round
Heavy Weapons (e.g., Two-handed): 1 attack per round
Most Missile Weapons, Spells: 1 attack per round
Heavy Crossbows: 1 attack every other round
[Update: The "1 attack per round" for missile weapons is my interpretation of the text. See this thread for discussion of the possibility that missile weapons should also get 2 attacks per round]
This was changed by TSR in the published rulebook to:
Light Weapons (e.g., Dagger): 2 attacks per round
Normal Weapons: 1 attack per round
Heavy Weapons (e.g., Two-handed): 1 attack every other round
Most Missile Weapons, Spells: 1 attack per round
Light Crossbows: 1 attack every other round
Heavy Crossbows: 1 attack every fourth round
In Holmes' original rules, the heavy weapons are at a disadvantage compared to normal weapons, having only the potential for half as much damage per round. But TSR's changes exaggerate this, making it twice as bad.
If you want to use Holmes' original version, I'd suggest using double damage (2d6) for heavy weapons and allowing them a free parry per round to mitigate the loss of shield (along the lines of what I suggested earlier for the published rulebook).
So, where did Holmes get the idea of two attacks per round for normal weapons?
In the absence of clear description of how combat works in the LBBs, my guess is that Holmes went back to Chainmail. The
section on combat in Chainmail has the following sentence: "A
man wielding a weapon four classes lower (1 vs. 5, 2 vs. 6, and so on)
strikes two blows during every melee round" (pg 26 of Chainmail). The
"two blows during every melee round" is very close to the "two blows per
round" that Holmes includes in the manuscript. In
Chainmail, many of the one-handed weapons are four classes lower than
many of the two-handed weapons. See the Man-to-Man Melee Table on page
41; e.g., swords (class 4) are four classes lower than pole arms (class
8). Chainmail balances this fewer blows of heavier weapons
by having them be more effective against heavier armors, but Holmes didn't include this
part in the Basic rules. Kudos to Grey
Elf at OD&D Discussion for suggesting the influence of Chainmail on the Holmes rules back in 2010).
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Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript