Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Part 32: "Commonly Found Near Graveyards, Dungeons, or Deserted Places"

Part 32 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 32 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along...


These were first mentioned by name in OD&D, Vol 3, in a list of "Other monsters to consider" following the Monster Level Tables. The list ends with five monsters not described elsewhere in the set: "...Cyborgs, Robots, Androids, Shadows, Dopplegangers."  

In Greyhawk they receive a full write-up, where we learn they are "non-corporeal intelligent creatures" but not undead. Holmes preserves this concept, as well of the rest of the entry without any significant changes other than the usual editing for brevity. Greyhawk has Shadows listed with the forces of Chaos so Holmes leaves out an alignment as typical for Chaotics.  

No changes from the manuscript to the published rulebook, other than to add a different alignment (Lawful Evil) and the variable damage from Greyhawk (1d4 per hit). In AD&D, Gygax made a big conceptual shift in these monsters, changing them to undead, as well as changing a bunch of details: upping their HD to 3+3 (from 2+2), damage to 2-5, and alignment to Chaotic Evil. In B/X, Moldvay instead follows the wording of Holmes closely, including having them as non-undead, although the alignment goes back to Chaotic. Moldvay clarifies that they look like real shadows and can alter their shape slightly.


A fundamental monster of Basic D&D, as shown by Holmes' use of them in two different rooms (B and N) of his Sample Dungeon. Skeletons first appear in OD&D Vol 2 in a dual entry with Zombies; the only mechanical distinctions between the two is that Skeletons are 1/2 HD and AC7, and Zombies are 1 HD and AC8. Holmes follows this for Skeletons except that he seems to have accidentally used the AC8. We also see here that he intended for monsters to use a d6 for Hit Dice as in the original D&D books (Greyhawk introduced the d8 for Hit Dice as an option). The published rulebook keeps the 1/2 HD (and the AC8), but changes the note to "(1-4 hit points)", in line with a d8 for Hit Dice. 

Holmes' description follows the original, including that they are motivated by a M-U or Cleric, although OD&D perhaps only intended that cleric was chaotic ("Magic-User or Cleric (Chaos)"), while Holmes has "a chaotic magic-user or cleric". The published rulebook changes the "chaotic" to "evil" and also the reference to the "lawful cleric" to "good cleric"

At the end of the entry Holmes adds two sentences not found in the OD&D entry, one describing the immunities of the undead class, and another indicating skeletons are usually silent since they don't move until they attack. For this second one he probably drew on OD&D Vol 3, page 9, "Note "Undead" never made any sound". The Blackmoor Supplement even takes this a bit farther by noting (in the section on Monks) that extremely silent creatures including Undead double the chances of surprise. Interestingly, the Monster Manual and Moldvay Basic both drop this concept of skeletons moving silently.

The entry for skeleton was originally unillustrated, but the 2nd edition (Nov 1978) adds a small picture below the entry which depicts two skeletons lying on the ground with some armor & weapons:

Skeletons by DCSIII, image courtesy Desert Scribe

Holmes closely follows the wording of the original description in OD&D, Vol 2, including the reference to the Nazgul of Tolkien. This Tolkien reference, along with many others, was removed from later editions of OD&D, but was never changed in the Holmes rulebook (the only change in Holmes being 'hobbits' to 'halflings'). So all of us kids who started with Holmes Basic got to see the direct connection between Nazgul/Spectres and Barrow Wights/Wights. 

Holmes adds one sentence of clarification to the end of the original material, "Magical weapons score full hits on spectres" (as opposed to normal and silver, which do no damage). The published rule-book makes one change, adding "low-strength" to the "spectres under the control of the one who made them", but doesn't explain further, such as quantifying the "low strength". The Monster Manual clarifies this somewhat by changing "low strength" to "half strength".


Kind of the vampire bats of D&D. They first appear in Greyhawk, seemingly bigger than in later depictions: "Large bird-like monsters with long, dangling proboscuses, the Stirges might call to mind evil-looking, feathered ant eaters". Holmes preserves this description, as well as most of the other concepts, omitting only their attraction to warm-blooded creatures. Holmes correctly translates their attack (as 4th level fighter) as a +2 on an attack rolls for a 1 HD monster. 

The only change in the published rulebook is to change Greyhawk's Treasure Type D to Type Q, one of the new types debuting in Holmes Basic. Type Q is simply a 50% chance of 1-4 gems, suggesting that Stirges have a fondness for gems, and only gems. In the Monster Manual, their treasure returns to the earlier Type D, whereas Moldvay Basic has them with Type L, which is actually the same as Type Q in Holmes.

In the original version of B2, Gygax adds a few interesting details to the 'Holmes Basic' stirge: Minotaurs love to eat stirges, and starving stirges will make so much noise that 90% of the time they ruin any chance of surprise.


Trolls go back to Chainmail, which distinguishes 'Trolls' (Ogres) from 'True Trolls (the D&D Troll), referencing Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, which features a battle with a regenerating troll. OD&D Vol 2 describes their regeneration powers in detail, quantitating it as 3 hit points per turn. Holmes follows this description closely.  

In 1979 Holmes was interviewed as part of a LA Times article, "Fantasy Life In a Game Without End", where he mentioned that "his revision attempted to preserve some of the Byzantine D&D flavor and didn't dare tamper with such beloved phrases as "loathsome trolls are tough and rubbery and have the ability to regenerate". The OD&D phrase is "Thin and rubbery, loathsome Trolls are able to regenerate..." and Holmes preserves this exact phrasing in the first sentence of his entray.

The only change to the description in the published rulebook is to change "they attack with talons or fangs" to "talons and fangs" in accord with the three attacks they are given. In Holmes the standard is a single attack for all monsters, thus this change was needed when the manuscript was revised by Gygax/TSR to add multiple attacks.

Continue on to Part 33: "Their Appearance Is As Spectral Armored Warriors"
Or Go Back to Part 31: "This Inoffensive Looking Little Creature"
Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript


  1. Here's that skeleton pic for you. Feel free to add it to your post. Thanks again for everything!

  2. I wonder what he meant by "Byzantine D&D flavor"?

    1. I think he was using Byzantine in the generic sense, meaning "intricate" or "complex".

  3. Thanks for your ongoing analysis!

    I love the short story Holmes wrote for The Dragon with shadows in it - that's always how I picture them, now.

    1. Ah yes, "The Sorceror's Jewel". Thanks, I forgot about that.

  4. I've always wondered why skeletons were slower movers than zombies.

  5. I'll just point out re: Shadow hit dice that all of the OD&D undead received a +1 hit dice boost in AD&D, excepting ghouls. I'm betting that when you get to zombies the Holmes manuscript shows them at the original 1 HD.

    1. Good guess (it was mine as well since in the published Holmes rulebook Zombies differ from OD&D in having 2 HD), but actually he gives them 1/2 HD, the same as Skeletons. Possibly a transcription error, or he misunderstood the notation in M&T.

    2. Wow, didn't expect that!

  6. "Interestingly, the Monster Manual and Moldvay Basic both drop this concept of skeletons moving silently. "

    B21 Under LISTENING under Doors: "The undead do not make any noise."
    B44 under the general description for Undead: (see Ghoul, Skeleton, Wight and Zombie): "They do not make noise."

    On page 60 of the DMG under LISTENING AT DOORS:
    "Silent creatures - undead, bugbears, etc. - will never be heard."

    1. Thanks for the references. I guess Holmes was just the only one to put it in the actual Skeleton monster entry.