Saturday, November 8, 2014

Part 40: "Acts Like a Cannon Blast on Walls"

Part 40 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to pages 36 and 38-39 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along... (pages 35 and 37-38 for the 1st edition)

Miscellaneous Magic Items

Nine out of the ten items in Holmes' list are from the original Miscellaneous Magic table in OD&D, Vol 2 (pg 25-26), presented in the same order as found in that table, with only the Bag of Devouring added from the greatly expanded list in Greyhawk. In the published rulebook three items are replaced, numbers 8 to 10 above. These are among the more powerful items in the original list, and are only found 1% (Horn or Mirror) or 2% (Girdle) of the time. TSR, probably Gygax himself, replaced these selections with a cursed item (the Helm of Evil/Good) and two less powerful and more common items (Rope of Climbing and the Gauntlets of Ogre Power) from OD&D Vol 2, except for the Rope, from Greyhawk.

Crystal Ball: The description in the manuscript is a rewritten version of the original description on page 36 of OD&D Vol 2. Most concepts are retained, but Holmes does not mention that lead will block vision. The published rulebook makes one minor change of  "long time" to "extended period" in the second sentence.

Medallion of ESP: Taken from the original description without much change, although  Holmes clarifies that it functions "like an ESP spell". No changes as published.

Bag of Holding: A straight re-phrasing of the original description. In the manuscript the first sentence ends, "an object 10 feet x 5 feet x 3 feet", and the published version adds "up to" and "in size" before and after these dimensions, respectively.

Elven Cloak and Boots: In OD&D Vol 2 these are together in a single entry both in the table and description, and the Holmes table retains this (see above), but in the Holmes description they are split into two entries. For the cloak, the original simply said that wearer was made "next to invisible"; Holmes quantifies this as "seen only on roll of 6 or a See Invisible spell". The published rulebook changes "See Invisible" to "see invisible", but keeps the non-standard spell name, instead of using "Detect Invisible". For the description of the boots, Holmes adds the note that the cloak and boots can be used by any character, which is in accord with Greyhawk.

Broom of Flying: Holmes converts the 24"/turn to 240 feet/turn. In the published version Gygax adds a new sentence at the end clarifying that "The command word should be magically engraved on the broom or otherwise distinguished but not impossible to obtain by the broom's owner". 

Helm of Telepathy: In OD&D Vol 2, determining the effect of the original is somewhat confusing: "Such suggestions will have a +2 effect in their likelihood of being carried out (see Vol. III for random actions of monsters). For characters in the game roll percentile dice adding 10% to the helm's wearer, and if the character fails to beat this score he will follow the suggestion" (pg 37). The table for Random Actions by monsters is found on page 12 of OD&D Vol 3, and is a simplification of the 2d6 reaction roll in Vol I. A result of 9-12 on this table gives a positive reaction, so a +2 on this table makes it more likely to gain a positive reaction (9-12 without the modifier). Holmes changes this to a saving throw, with a -2 for monsters, and a -1 for characters. Holmes also adds the idea that "an attack could be stopped once begun". No changes as published, so Gygax was okay with this for Basic.

Bag of Devouring: This is the only cursed miscellaneous magic item included by Holmes, and comes from Greyhawk, and which added many cursed magic items that resemble useful items. Holmes changes the original's "ultra-dimensional monster" to "extra-dimensional monster". No changes as published. 

Girdle of Giant Strength: This is the first miscellaneous item included by Holmes but cut from the published rulebook. The original description in OD&D Vol 2 is very short, simply that it "bestows the strength and hit probability (if greater than the wearer's own) of Hill Giant". Holmes reworded this and adds that such strength includes increased damage and rock throwing.

Helm of Evil/Good: In OD&D Vol 2 this is called "Helm of Chaos (Law)", so Gygax updates the name here to fit the expanded five-point alignment scheme. Some changes are made; the original turned a Neutral character to Lawful or Chaotic whereas here they become "totally self-seeking and do nothing to help anyone else in any way". The original required a Dispel Magic spell whereas here it is a "cleric's remove curse spell", which does not actually appear in Holmes Basic but is mentioned to be third level in the entry for the Ring of Contrariness.

Horn of Blasting: The second item cut from the manuscript. Holmes leaves out the reference to other texts from the original description ("has the effect of a double bombard (see Vol. III and CHAINMAIL)"), but otherwise includes all of the concepts from OD&D Vol 2.

Rope of Climbing: This replaced the Horn, becoming the only non-cursed magic item from Greyhawk that appears in the published rulebook. This has a very short entry in Greyhawk, so Gygax adds a few details here not in the original, including that it can support up to 10,000 gp in weight and only takes up as much space as a 10' rope when coiled up.

Mirror of Life Trapping: The third item included by Holmes but cut by TSR. The original has a very lengthy description for OD&D, about eleven sentences, and thus Holmes' entry is correspondingly lengthy. By my estimation he keeps all of the key concepts, just re-phrasing and re-arranging the text for readability.

Gauntlets of Ogre Power: This replaced the Mirror in the published rulebook, but can also be seen as a lesser powered replacement for the Girdle of Giant Strength. The original description was brief, just saying they give the "ability to strike as an Ogre and generally give his hands and arms the strength of an ogre. They do not necessarily increase hit probability however". In OD&D, Ogres do +2 damage (1d6+2, or 3-8) per hit, so the original Gauntlets clearly gave a +2 to damage, which is pretty significant in a game with no strength modifiers to damage. In Greyhawk, an Ogre's damage would be 1-10 if variable dice damage was being used, and this is used in the published Holmes rulebook. However, the Gauntlets in the Holmes rulebook "adds from 2-8 points to damage when striking with any weapon - doing 2-8 hit points merely with his fist". 

The OD&D entry also states that it does "not necessarily increase hit probability". Did this mean that they can in some situations increase your chance to hit - perhaps if your hit roll is less than an Ogres (4 HD)? The Holmes entry clears this up by saying the "gauntlets do not add to hit probability". The Dungeon Master's Guide changes this by having the Gauntlets give all of the benefits of 18/00 strength, including a +3 to hit and +6 to damage (which is fairly close to the average of 2d4 or 1d10).


Moldvay Basic retains the same ten miscellaneous items found in the published Holmes Basic rulebook. Moldvay keeps the 1 in 6 chance of detecting a character wearing an Elven Cloak. For the Helm of Telepathy, Moldvay entirely eliminates the ability to force suggestions; a character may only send thoughts. 

"Note Regarding Magic Items"

In the published rulebook, this brief section (a single paragraph) follows the Miscellaneous Magic Items and warns against testing out magic items on hirelings. This section is entiretly absent from the Holmes manuscript, indicating it was added by someone at TSR, probably Gygax. I don't believe this material appears in the original OD&D booklets, although I may have missed it. It is in line with the "Loyalty" section in OD&D, Vol 1. In Moldvay Basic, this paragraph is condensed down to a single line in the paragraph on "Identifying Magic Items", which reads, "If a retainer does this testing, he or she will expect to keep the item". 

* * * * *

That's it for Magic Items, which means we've reached the end of the material that Holmes drew from OD&D Vol 2, Monsters & Treasure. In the manuscript he follows the order of the material in the three original volumes, so the remainder of the manuscript covers material from OD&D Vol 3, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. 

Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript 


  1. It fascinates me to see the little decisions in the old days that ended up forming future editions and their accepted 'canon'.

    1. Yes, and also how Moldvay didn't start over from scratch, but rather built on the work that Holmes did.