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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Part 39: "The Wand Produces a Fire Ball Which Will Travel"

Part 39 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to pages 36-38 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along... (pages 35-37 for the 1st edition)

Wands and Staves

Holmes has ten wands and staves in his list, all of which are found in the original list on page of 25 of OD&D Vol 2. Nine of these make it into the published rulebook, with only the Staff of Power being swapped out for the Rod of Cancellation from Greyhawk.


The introductory paragraph is adapted from the similar one at page 34 of OD&D Vol 2. One thing that I never noticed before is that OD&D specifically excludes Detection wands and certain Staves from having charges, and Holmes keeps with this by stating that "[w]ands that have projectiles or rays are considered to do six 6-sided damage and to have 100 charges or projectiles". Since the Detection wands do not have projectiles, they do not have charges.

Wand of Magic Detection: OD&D has the wand "reveal the operation of any form of magic", whereas Holmes limits it to magic items, and has these "glow or otherwise signal its presence". No changes as published.

Wand of Secret Doors and Trap Detection: OD&D has that the wand "when held will give warning of either thing when it is brought within 2" of it" [2" is scale for 20 feet] which Holmes renders as "gives warning or points to any hidden door, panel, trap etc." Since Holmes left out the range, the published version adds, "within 20 feet" to the end of the sentence.

Wand of Fear: Holmes closely follows the original description. The published version adds a new clause at the end of the second sentence: "dropping everything they are holding and running away at top speed for 1-3 turns". The effect of dropping held weapons is similar to how surprise is treated in OD&D (25% chance) and Holmes (on a roll of 6 on a d6).

Wand of Cold: Another which follows the OD&D description closely. No changes as published.

Wand of Paralyzation: In OD&D Vol 2 and Greyhawk this is spelled "Paralization"; Holmes corrects the spelling in the manuscript. The original nonsensically says "creatures take half damage if their saving throw is made". This seems to be a direct copy from the entry for Wand of Cold, and is clearly an error in view of Vol 1 stating that making a saving throw versus "paralization" means "no effect" (pg 20). This was not corrected in Greyhawk. Holmes corrects it by having a failed save result in paralysis for 6 turns (perhaps drawing on the duration of Hold Person being 6 + level of caster?). This is left unchanged as published, and is in fact incorporated into Moldvay Basic. The duration of paralysis was generally left unstated in OD&D and Holmes, fore example no duration is given for the paralysis caused by a Carrion Crawler, Gelatinous Cube, Ghoul or a Mummy. Most likely it was just assumed to last as long as the encounter did.

Wand of Fire Balls: The original just indicates that the Wand produces "a Fire Ball exactly like the spell of the same name". Since Holmes didn't include third level spell descriptions in Basic, including this wand means he needs to add the description here. He does this by adapting the text from the spell in OD&D Vol 1. Some text he includes directly, like Fire Balls "generally conform to the shape of the space", and other he rewrites while keeping the same concepts, "On activation, the wand produces a fire ball which will travel any distance up to 240 feet desired by the user and then then explode with a burst radius of 20 feet".
The published version keeps all of the text of the manuscript, but adds a brief "(so watch out!)" at the end after the sentence about the fire ball filling the area.

Staff of Healing: The original says that it acts as Cure Light Wounds, healing 2-7 points of damage. Holmes omits the mention of the spell, and instead says that it requires a touch, per the spell. No changes as published.

Snake Staff: Holmes follows the original, but adds a new sentence at the end that it can be commanded "by the owner to release its victim". He may have inferred this from the rest of the description as well as the spell "Sticks to Snakes", which produces snakes that will "perform as he orders" (OD&D Vol 1). No changes as published version, which retains "1 die + 1 points of damage", which of course means 1d6 + 1 damage.

Staff of Striking: Holmes uses the text from OD&D, Vol 2, but also adds that only a magic-user can use it. This is actually in contradiction to Greyhawk, which indicated that it could be used by a magic-user or a cleric (pg 43). Holmes leaves out the clarification from Greyhawk, pg 48, that each use of this Staff requires a charge. The published version changes "two dice of damage" to "2-12 hit points of damage"

Staff of Power (Limited): Holmes' original text for this:

The original version in OD&D Vol 2 does not refer to the staff as "(Limited)", as Holmes does. I believe he uses this because his version is missing two of the powers of the original: Lightning Bolts and Telekinesis. I imagine he left these out because these powers are not described elsewhere in the rules, unlike the other powers, which duplicate other wands, staves or spells. The 8 dice damage and 200 charges come from notes on staves from the introductory text in OD&D Vol 2, page 34. 

Rod of Cancellation: Gygax/TSR used this in place of the Staff of Power, making it the only Rod in Basic (although the section is still just called "Wands and Staves"). It was described in Greyhawk, but there are two additions here: the length of four feet, and the +2 to hit that it gives. Neither of these bits made it into AD&D or B/X. 


Moldvay Basic (B/X) shortened the list to six, with five from the list in Holmes Basic. The addition is Enemy Detection, reintroduced from OD&D Vol 2. The others are all relegated to the Expert Set, with the Wand of Secret Door and Trap Detection being split into two separate Wands.A radical change in B/X is to charges - each wand, staff or rod contains 1d10 charges in Basic when found. Expert ups this to 2d10 for Wands, 3d10 for Staves, still far short of the 100 charges for Wands in OD&D and Holmes Basic, and 200 for Staves in OD&D. Expert also includes the Staff of Power, with all six original powers rather than the "limited" version of Holmes.

The Wand of Fire Balls is the only Wand appearing in the original version of B2 Keep on the Borderlands, by Gary Gygax. In the revised version for B/X this was changed to a Wand of Paralyzation, since the Fire Ball Wand was moved to Expert.

Holmes later made extensive use of a Wand of Fire Balls in his Boinger & Zereth novel, The Maze of Peril, which he was working on as early as 1979 and was published in 1986.

Continue on to Part 39: Part 40: "Acts Like a Cannon Blast on Walls"
Or Go Back to Part 38: "Rings Can Be Used by Anyone"
Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript


  1. Thanks for the ongoing analysis of the original manuscript!

    The snake staff is actually a pretty powerful item - capable of neutralizing almost any humanoid foe with a single hit.

    I like that there is a limited version of the staff of power to use!

    A rod of cancellation figures in the treasure horde of The Creature of Rhyl.

  2. Zach---

    I'm continuing to work through Maze of Peril, and it struck me that the use of the wand of fireballs by Ebeneezer (and Murray) reinforces the notion that a fireball has significant concussive force when cast (MoP pages 115-116 in particular) vs. the later AD&D sense that it has no blast force (PHB p. 73: "The burst of the fireball does not expend a considerable amount of pressure, and the burst will generally conform to the shape of the area in which it occurs, thus covering an area equal to its normal spherical volume.").

    Is there any further detail in the Holmes manuscripts that speak to this difference in the blast "power" of a fireball?