Friday, March 7, 2014

Part 24: "Winged Beasts of Hideous Aspect"

Part 24 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 25 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along... 

Elves: The material is sourced from in OD&D, Vol 1, page 17 (alignment) and Vol 2, pages 4 (most stats) and 16 (description). Holmes keeps the stats the same, except for alignment. The original table has Elves listed under Law and Neutrality, but Holmes represents this as "usually Lawful". The published version changes this to "chaotic good (some neutral)".

For the description, Holmes reduces the original from eight sentences to three.  The content of the first sentence is retained, referring to the two types, "wood Elves and meadow-land elves". The published rulebook changes the second type to "high elves". 

The OD&D source then presents elvish leaders: for every 50 elves, there is an elf Fighter Lvl 1-4/M-U Lvl 1-6, and for every 100, an elf of Lvl 4/8. Fighter 4 and M-U 8 were the level limits of elves in the original rules. Holmes changes this to: "When a group of 50 is encountered, they will have a leader (fighter or magic-user) of 4th to 8th level". The "fighter or magic-user" presumably refers back to Holmes' section on characters where elves could decide to be fighters or magic-users for each adventure. It also gives the appearance of allowing for Fighters up to 8th level. The published rulebook takes it back toward the original, with a "leader (fighter/magic-user) of 2-4 level/2-8 level ability", and adds "(possibly fewer)" to the number of elves.

Here we have another 'wilderness' monster that, like Centaurs and Dryads, was cut from the manuscript by TSR. The stats and text are drawn straight from the OD&D source. 

Early printings of OD&D referred to these creatures as 'Ents' per Tolkien but later printings changed them to 'Treants'. This changed was made in late 1977, after the 1st print of Holmes Basic was released, and at the same time other Tolkien references such as "hobbit" and "balrog" were generally removed from the OD&D booklets.

Fire Beetle:  This monster was added, along with several other low HD creatures, by TSR to the 2nd edition (Nov 1978) of the rulebook. As expected, it is not found in the manuscript.

Gargoyles: The material is sourced from in OD&D, Vol 1, page 17 (alignment) and Vol 2, pages 3 (most stats) and 14 (description). Holmes' stats are identical to the original, though he leaves out the alignment as usual when the monster is chaotic and evil. In the description, he adds the descriptor "of hideous aspect" and simplifies the original's 75% chance of attacking to "will attack nearly anything". He also changes "at least semi-intelligent, and usually can be relied upon to behave with forethought and planning" to "are semi-intelligent and cunning". He also inexplicably leaves out the last, important sentence that "Only magical weapons/attacks affect Gargoyles". The published rulebook restores the "at least semi-intelligent" and the final sentence: "They can only be hit with magic weapons". The published rulebook also gives them four attacks for 1-4 points of damage each. This is a simplification of Greyhawk, pg 17, which has them with "2 claws/1 bite/1 horn" for "1-3/claw, 1-6/bite, 1-4/horn". It's quite an attack upgrade from OD&D Vol 2, and the Holmes manuscript, where they get only the single standard attack of 1d6, making Gargoyles much more fearsome opponents.

Gelatinous Cube: Gelatinous Cubes were briefly described in OD&D, Vol 2, pg 22, but lacked any stats. Greyhawk remedied this, providing full stats and an expanded description (pg 39). Holmes follows this source closely, even mentioning the non-standard (2d4) damage in the the description. He simplifies "subject to normal weapons and fire, but lightning, cold, paralization, fear, and polymorph attacks do not harm them" to "subject to fire and normal weapons but not to cold, lightning or most spells". This can be considered a defensive upgrade as it seems to preclude more spells (like magic missile or sleep). The published rulebook retains this change. The Monster Manual later explained this as immunity to electricity, fear, holds, paralyzation, polymorph and sleep; Moldvay Basic simply drops the "most spells" portion. A minor change in the published rulebook is a change from "sweep through rooms" to "move through rooms" in the second sentence.

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Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript


  1. I noticed that you didn't mention the entry on ghouls.
    I thought that it was interesting that in Holmes they are beast-like, but I don't know that they are specifically identified as undead.
    I suspect that he was inspired chiefly by Lovecraft's depiction.
    Given that clerics could turn them, it might open the door to the possibility that the Holmes cleric could turn certain other creatures as well.

    1. I did skip over Ghouls without realizing it! Thanks for pointing that out; I'll have to add it. Good timing since my next entry will be for the Ghoul room in the dungeon.

      Interesting thoughts on the nature of ghouls.

  2. While I still think that the "bestial aspect" of ghouls points to Lovecraft origins (where they are degenerate mutants rather than animated corpses), in addition to the clerical turning tables, page 10 (listening at doors) clearly puts to lie my idea that ghouls may not be members of the "undead."