Thursday, July 31, 2014

Part 35: "A Potent Weapon in the Hands of a Dwarf"

Part 35 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 34 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along... (page 33 for a 1st edition rulebook) 

Magic Items Die Roll 

Immediately after the section on "Maps and Magic Item Categories", the manuscript has a series of tables for magic items. As published these are all on page 36 (page 35 for a 1st edition rulebook). As I go through these, I'll skip ahead to the relevant descriptions for each.

The first table is "Magic Items Die Roll", which comes straight from OD&D Vol 2, page 23, and Holmes' only change is to combine "Armor" and "Misc. Weapons" into one entry, "Other Weapons and Armor". This table, and the paragraph of instructions following it, are unchanged as published except for correction of a typo ("20-40" for "Other Weapons and Armor" is changed to "21-40"). Moldvay Basic also uses this table without any further changes.


Holmes' original table for Swords:

At the start of the section on Treasure, Holmes wrote that the "tables have been abbreviated from the GREYHAWK supplement for simplicity of use". That he referenced the Greyhawk table, rather than just the shorter one in OD&D Vol 2, is shown here by the presence of Greyhawk items like the Sword of Cold and the Vorpal Sword. 

The first six swords in his table are found in both the original table and Greyhawk, although the Flaming Sword (#3) is simplified a bit by making it +2 vs Undead rather than +3, and leaving out the references to Pegasi, Hippogriffs, Rocs & Ents. 

The last four swords reference Greyhawk, though with some changes. The Sword of Cold is changed to a "Basic" version mirroring the Flaming Sword, +1/2 (instead of +3/5). The Sword +2 against Dragons seems a hybrid of the original's Sword +1, +3 vs Dragons, and Greyhawk's Dragon Slaying Sword +2. Greyhawk simply lists "Vorpal Blade" but here Holmes includes the bonus (+2) from page 47 of that book.

The published rulebook keeps Holmes' idea of a "Basic" ten-item table, as well as several of the swords. However, changes were made to the third and the last five swords, with the net result of only one entry that references Greyhawk.

At #3, the Flaming Sword is reverted to the original, giving +3 against Undead.

Holmes' choice for #8 is reverted to the original version from OD&D Vol 2: a Sword +1, +3 against Dragons, and moved to spot #6, replacing the second sword with a spell-like ability, Sword +1, Charm Person Ability. 

At #7, the Sword of Cold is changed to Sword +1, +2 against Magic-users and Enchanted Monsters, also from the original table. The definition of an Enchanted Monster is not explained further in this section. As we saw back in Part 10, Gygax amended the description of Protection from Evil to add some examples of Enchanted Monsters, including "elementals, invisible stalkers, demons, etc" - although none of these are found in the Basic rulebook.

Item #8 becomes Sword +3, also from the original table.

Item #9 is merely clarified from Sword +1 Cursed to Sword -1 Cursed. The original table had just a Sword -2 Cursed, and Greyhawk confusingly had this and a Sword +1 Cursed. Holmes may have thought that Sword +1 Cursed was the clearest way to explain this (perhaps because the sword resembles a Sword +1), but TSR went with the -1.

Item #10 is drastically nerfed from the awesome Vorpal Blade +2 to the Sword -2 Cursed, and doubling the number of cursed swords from 10% to 20%, a bit harsh for Basic.


This picture of a sword in a jeweled scabbard is found within the tables in the published
rulebook. It has been reported that Tom Wham indicated that this is his work.  

Moldvay Basic keeps Holmes' idea of a short list, and in fact makes it even shorter: only 8 swords. Sword +3 and Sword -2 are the dropped ones. Several of the others are simplified; the flaming sword +1 becomes a sword +1, +3 vs undead. The sword with the locating objects ability is changed to a sword that casts light on command. (Holmes indicated at pg 9 of the rulebook that all magic swords shed light).

Armor and Weapons

Holmes picked all of these except the last from the two original tables for Armor and Miscellaneous Weapons in OD&D Vol 2. For #5, he slightly modified the original's Dagger +1 vs Man-Sized, +2 vs Goblins and Kobolds by adding Orcs to the group; in the original Orcs are only included with the Dagger +2 vs Man-Sized Opponents. The cursed armor at #10 appears to be Holmes' simplification of the Armor of Vulnerability in Greyhawk, which appears to be from +1 to +4 but is actually -1 to -4. 

In the published rulebook this table is changed less than the Swords table. Item #5 is removes Orcs, to conform with the original, and at #6 a second dagger is added, the Dagger +2 mentioned above (a nice addition for M-Us). Axe +1 and War Hammer +1 are each shifted up one position, and the War Hammer +3 is deleted from spot 8. (Perhaps the Sword +3 was thought to be a better choice). The Cursed Armor is left unchanged rather than making it -1 like the Cursed Sword, possibly because at this point in D&D you were still instructed to subtract the armor's bonus from the opponent's to hit roll. Making the Armor -1 but then adding it to the opponent's hit roll would have been confusing.

The first edition of the published rulebook refers to a War Hammer +3 in the section on Dwarves (pg 6), complete with a "described later" reference, so it is not surprising to find it in the manuscript. The second edition of the rulebook removed this errant reference.

Moldvay Basic also shortens this list to 8 items. The Dagger +2/3 is dropped and the Dagger +1/2 is changed to just a plain Dagger +1. The War Hammer +1 is changed to a Mace +1. The Spear +1 and Bow +1 are dropped, and a combined Armor +1 & Shield +1 entry is added.

Now we'll skip ahead to the corresponding description under "Explanation of Magical Items"

Magical Weapons 

For this section, Holmes draws on OD&D Vol 2, pages 30-31. There's just one major change here in the published rulebook. The first seven sentences are identical, but the eighth and ninth relate to the powers of the War Hammer +3 and are thus changed. 

Holmes' original:  "The magic war-hammer +3 is a potent weapon in the hands of dwarf, for then it does 2 die of damage per hit, can be thrown 60 feet and will return to the dwarf's hand after each throw. In the hands of any other character it has normal range and damage and no return capability, merely conferring +3 on the ability to hit".

This follows the description in OD&D Vol 2, but omits the extra +3 damage versus giants.

The replacement text as published: "Magical weapons other than swords always add their bonus to both hit probability and to the points of damage scored. Thus, a War Hammer +2 adds to the chance of hitting and also does 2 additional hit points when it does strike." 

So the text about the War Hammer +3 is changed to refer to War Hammer +2, although this lesser weapon is not included in the list of items. 

Holmes unfortunately omits any description of what a Vorpal Blade does, which may have contributed to the decision to delete it from the list. 
Update: I originally posted this on July 30th, but then I accidentally erased it the next day by saving a draft in place of it. Fortunately, I was able to grab the text from going back in another broswer window and re-create the identical post. The comments were magically restored when I reposted it.

Update #2: I went back added a few notes of comparison about the corresponding table in Moldvay Basic. Holmes' overall idea of a series of short tables is kept, along with many of his particular choices.  

Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript


  1. I need to import that War Hammer +3 into my Holmes campaign!

  2. I don't think there is a thing that isn't a potent weapon in hands of a dwarf, mouldy bread, pair of socks, anything!

  3. Wow those are some truncated and pretty dry lists. Not that the weapons are unappealing, but it seems so sparse.

    A lot of things from this era seem sparse to modern sensabilities I suppose, and hold up just fine. I don't suspect these lists are any different.