Thursday, April 17, 2014

Part 28: "Thus We Find Were-Sharks in Polynesia"

Part 28 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 28 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along... 


I've written about Holmes' hydras before: Blue Book Hydras. The main difference from OD&D hydras, which have 5-12 heads, is a lack of an upper or lower limit on the number of heads. Holmes specifically mentions 3-headed Hydras, which are outside the range of the original. These weaker hydras are more useful for low-level adventures. This could be taken as far as having a 1-headed hydra with 1 HD and 6 hp.

Holmes also follows the original source in having the number of heads equal the HD, with 6 hit points per head. This reflects the original d6 hit dice of OD&D. This is also one of the few monsters in the Holmes manuscript that gets more than the standard number of attacks per round - one per head. 

The only change between Holmes manuscript and the published rulebook is to change "this beast is a dinosaur with many heads" to " dinosaur-like with many heads".


Kobolds are described in OD&D, Vol 2 at pg 3 (stats) and pg 7 (description). Holmes keeps the 1/2 HD, although he writes it as "less than 1. Randomly assign 1-3 hits per Kobold". This reflects that Holmes was using a d6 for monster HD. The published rulebook changes this to "1/2 (1-4 hit points each)", in accord with d8 for HD. For treasure, Holmes follows OD&D in giving them "1-6 Gold pieces each", while the published version changes this to give them one of the new Treasure Types, J, which is 3-24 copper pieces per individual.

The original description of kobolds in OD&D Vol 2, pg 7, is minimal, simply stating that they should be treated as goblins except with a 1/2 HD. Thus, the Holmes manuscript has but a single line describing Kobolds, which is the same as the first line in the published version:  "These evil dwarf-like creatures behave much like goblins, but are less powerful". His addition of "evil dwarf-like creatures" provides some description lacking in the original, and
probably reflects their mythological origin. It wasn't until David Sutherland's drawing in the Monster Manual, published after Holmes Basic, that D&D kobolds became scaly & dog-like.

The published version adds three lines after this, describing how kobolds have chieftains and bodyguards that fight as gnolls, are resistant to magic (+3 on all saving throws except dragon breath), and have infravision.

The reference to gnolls is made despite the fact that gnolls are not included in the rulebook until the 2nd edition. In B2, the Kobold Chieftain has 2 HD, AC4 (chain & shield) and does 2-8 points of damage with a battle axe. The 2 HD and 2-8 damage are the same as a gnoll in the 2nd edition Holmes rulebook. His guards only have 1+1 HD, however. B/X follows these HD exactly for kobold chieftain/guards, but gives them damage that is "1-4 or by weapon -1". The Monster Manual has kobold leaders and guards equal only to goblins.

Later versions of D&D seem to appear to drop the magic resistance of kobolds completely. B/X has them saving as a normal man.

Lizard Man 

Lizard Men first appeared in Greyhawk. The Holmes manuscript follows the original description but adds a bit of macabre humor about their feeding habits: "...with the man served as the main course!". The original description gave them a chance of living "wholly under water or in very wet places (65%/35%)", but Holmes simplifies this to "aquatic". The Monster Manual would later describe them as "semi-aquatic".

Holmes retains their "use of weapons such as spears and clubs" from the original. Greyhawk is a bit confusing on this point because while this is mentioned in the description, under the varying dice damage, they are noted as attacking with "2 claws/1 bite" and doing "1-3/claw, 1-8/bite", with no mention of weapon type. Holmes, of course, leaves out the varying dice damage and multiple attacks in the manuscript. The published rulebook just adds in a single attack of "1-8" without noting what form of attack it is (i.e., bite or spear/clubs?). The module B2 treats them the same.

The Monster Manual and B/X go in different directions in resolving this. The MM has them with a "1-2" per claw and "1-8" bite, with the addition of hurling darts and javelins and using "clubs (treat as morning stars)" in melee, if they are of the more advanced type. B/X has them with a single attack, per Holmes, doing "2-7 or weapon +1", and noting that they use spears or large clubs (treat as maces) gaining a bonus of +1 on damage rolls due to their great strength".


Four of the five 'standard lycanthropes' go back to the original rules (werewolf, wereboar, weretiger and werebear); the other was added in Greyhawk (wererat). All were included in the published Basic rulebook, so it is surprising to see that the Holmes manuscript only includes three of them, although they are probably the three most commonly used - werewolf, werebear and wererat. So the other two were added back by Gygax/TSR.

The original entry gives little description of the various lycanthropes, so Holmes in the manuscript adds a flavorful intro, which is preserved in the published version: 

The reference to the were-shark is not surprising, as Holmes had earlier used them in his home campaign, describing them in a campaign story, "Were-shark", published in Alarums & Excursions #11 (July 1976), which later was revised to become Chapter 2, "Dark Water" of his Boinger & Zereth novel, The Maze of Peril (1986). Holmes' "Were-shark" story also mentions the Polynesian origins of the were-shark tales. Gygax later included his own version of the were-shark in The Monster Manual II (1983).

Following the list are several more paragraphs with rules for lycanthropes. This includes two rules not found in OD&D, both of which were retained in the published rulebook.

First, lycanthropes are "vulnerable to all weapons in [human] form".  Perhaps Holmes thought it would be too easy to detect a lycanthrope in human form if they were immune to normal weapons. This rule does not appear to have survived into later editions.

Update: This rule does appear in B/X, Mentzer and 2nd edition AD&D. Thanks to
C. Wesley Clough on DF for pointing this out. Unless something turns up in OD&D this seems to be a rule that Holmes added that survived through to B/X, Mentzer and 2E.

Second, lycanthropes "are repelled by wolfsbane". OD&D included "wolvesbane" in the equipment list but without further explanation. Note the two different spellings. B/X uses "wolfsbane" and elaborates on the "repelled" rule with a "to hit" roll followed by a Save Vs Poison or flee.

In the last paragraph, there are a few changes to the published rulebook. The manuscript describes Were-bears as "often lawful" and this is changed is changed to "often good".

The OD&D description of the wererat included: "They move very quiety (as a 7th level thief). They can control rats as a Vampire does" - which is a 60% chance of moving silently per Greyhawk, and 10-100 rats per OD&D, Vol 2. The Holmes manuscript includes this as "They can move more silently like a human thief and can command normal rats like a Vampire". Holmes may have dropped the reference to the 7th level thief since that level is not covered in Basic. The published Basic rulebook changes this sentence to "They can move more silently, and can summon 10 to 100 rats as a vampire", thus omitting the reference to the thief entirely. By dropping the reference to "normal rats" they make it ambiguous whether the rats are normal or giant. B/X and the Monster Manual both have them summoning giant rats, but in much smaller numbers - only 1-2 or 2-12, respectively. The Monster Manual has no reference to the silent movement, but B/X lets them surprise on a 1-4 in 6. 


Holmes' entry here follows the OD&D source very closely, including the mention of "horns" in the description. The only change to the published manuscript is to delete the reference to "horns" in the description. The second edition of the rulebook adds a picture of the Manticore by TSR artist Dave Trampier, who passed away recently.

Continue on to Part 29: "They Usually Inhabit Tunnels, Mazes and Labyrinths"
Or Go Back to Part 27: "Mules Can Often Be Taken Into Dungeons" (Griffon to Horse)
Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript

Look Ma, no horns!


  1. Recent thoughts from an OD&D game I ran: (1) The Hydra extra attacks make them possibly the best form to polymorph-self into in Vol-2 if you have a HD limit (as I do). (2) The MM lizard men damage doesn't make any sense, because the claw-claw-bite routine does better damage than any "advanced" weapon (common problem for those Sup-I multi-attack forms). (3) I just had OD&D players using wolfsbane vs. lycanthropes the other week, on the fly I came up with hit-save-death; Holmes' hit-save-flee is a great solution, thanks!

  2. It's a little embarrassing to note that in Thursday's AD&D 2e game when we were attacking a thieves guild overrun by wererats, we totally forgot about wolvesbane. We had holy water to use against the demon dude who we knew was leading all the were rats, but we forgot to buy belladonna. I don't think the DM remembered either. In any case, the +3 dwarven thrower battle axe did win the day in the end, but I guess a bit of "biological warfare" would have helped. In any case, I like the "save-or-flee" rule as well although it does seem a bit overpowered because just about anybody can buy that weed almost everywhere.