Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Part 44: "Knights Talk in Flowery Phrases"

Part 44 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 40 of your 'Blue Book' (page 39 for the 1st edition) and follow along... 

Continuing with Holmes' advice to new DMs, line by line:

"Once the game begins, try to keep the action moving at a dramatic pace. If the going gets rough, the characters have the option of turning around and going back to the surface. If time runs out the characters can always be left at some appropriate spot within the dismal depths, time suspended, and the action taken up again another day."

This is the start of the third paragraph, and here Holmes moves to advice without a direct antecedent in the OD&D rules. Holmes sounds like he is speaking from his own experiences as a DM, trying to fill in areas not specifically addressed in the original rules. As far as I can tell, the original rules don't specifically address dungeon delves that last more than one session, although the section on "Time" (pg 35-36 of Vol 3), suggests that "Actual time would not be counted off for players "out" on a Wilderness adventure".

"Dramatize the adventure as much as possible, describe the scenery, if any. Non-player characters should have appropriate speech, orcs are gruff and ungrammatical, knights talk in flowery phrases and always say "thou" rather than "you." When characters swear they call on the wrath of their appropriate deities, be it Zeus, Crom, Cthulhu or whatever. The dramatic talents of the Dungeon Master should be used to their fullest extent. It adds to the fun."

Here Holmes provides some simple advice on role-playing NPCs and monsters. This is also the extent to which he covers material from the Gods, Demigods & Heroes supplement from 1976, which included both Zeus (pg 13) and Crom (pg 45), but not Cthulhu, who Holmes would later write up himself for an article in Dragon #12. This is one of the first mentions of Cthulhu in a D&D rulebook, although there is at least one earlier in the Greyhawk supplement.

"One player should map the dungeon from the Dungeon Master's descriptions as the game progresses. This is easiest done if the Dungeon Master provides him with a piece of graph paper already North, East, South, West with the entrance to the dungeon drawn in".

Vol 1 of OD&D mentions maps created by the referee, but doesn't mention anything about the players creating their own versions of these, although it is a natural inference. In Vol 3, however, there are multiple references to mapping by players (pgs 5-6 and 8). Holmes' advice is more direct: the players should be mapping. Holmes also mentioned this back in the Introduction: "[The players] create their own map as they explore".

In the published Basic book, the second sentence is changed significantly to, "This is easiest done if he uses a piece of graph paper marked North, East, South, West with the entrance to the dungeon level drawn in near the center". The original seems to be advice that Holmes developed himself, and I can imagine Gygax thinking that it was going too easy on the players by giving them a start to the map. : )

"One of the players should keep a "Chronicle" of the monsters killed, treasure obtained, etc. Another should act as "caller" and announce to the Dungeon Master what action the group is taking. If the adventurers have a leader, the caller would logically be that player."

The "Chronicle" is an addition by Holmes, but the "Caller" is included in the Example of play in OD&D Vol 3, pg 12-13. In Dragon #52, Holmes wrote (in a review of the new Moldvay Basic set): "Organizing a Party, The Caller: I think this rule should have been thrown out. I put it into the first Basic Set because it was in the original invention. I have never seen a successful game where one of the players was elected caller and actually did all the talking to the DM. Usually everybody talks at once. The resulting confusion is much more lifelike; one can hear the characters dithering at the cross corridor as the monsters approach. “Run this way!” “Charge them!” “Get out of the way, I’m throwing a spell!” “Here goes the magic crossbow bolt!” “Not from the rear of the party!” “I’m climbing the wall!”"

"Both mapper and caller must be in the front rank of the party."

This sentence is not in the manuscript, so was added by Gygax, and introduces a new limitation on the party rank. Holmes doesn't use the term "rank" himself, but does mention "order" for movement and combat in the Example of Play and the paragraph immediately afterward.


As mentioned above, OD&D Vol 3 has an example of play, titled "Example of the Referee Moderating a Dungeon Expedition". Rather than including this directly, Holmes instead uses it as a model for an entirely new example of a party exploring a room, fighting orcs and being cornered by a gelatinous cube. He would later include examples of play in his 1980 article, "Confessions of a Dungeon Master" and also his 1981 book, Fantasy Role-playing Games, which starts with play examples of D&D and Traveller. 

The Example in the Manuscript is almost identical to the published version, confirming it as a delightful sample of Holmes' own voice in the Basic rulebook. There are just a few changes to the published version:

In the first line by the DM, the height of the corrider is changed from "ten feet high" to "fifteen feet high", for unknown reasons. In the Sample Dungeon, Holmes also has corridors with a height of ten feet, but this was left unchanged.

In the third line by the DM, there is a minor change from "there is nothing to hear" to "there is nothing they can hear".

When the DM describes the party entering the room, the original has "From the door it runs due east for 40 feet and then the other leg of the L runs north". In the published version this was changed to "due east 30 or so feet and then the other leg of the L runs north (They must enter and carefully examine to map a room)". Later on the original says "Other half of the room is the same dimensions as the first one", which is changed to "Other half of the room is the same dimensions as the first one, 40 feet". These changes seems to be teaching the DM to not give precise room measurements until a room is carefully mapped. 

When the Caller says the elf and dwarf will search for secret doors, the original has the DM "(Rolls a secret die) The elf finds a secret door in the northernmost wall of the L" whereas the published version expands this to "(After determining which part of the room is being searched he rolls a secret die) The elf finds a secret door in the northernmost 10 foot wall section in the eastern half of the L".

Go to Part 45: "Roll the Number and See What Happens!"
Go Back to Part 43: "Zap! You're Dead!"
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript


  1. I have always used a caller, and it makes the game play MUCH faster. In situations like combat, of course each player relates his own actions. But having a caller describe the routine actions of the party after consulting with the other players is a huge aid to play in my experience.

  2. I have found a caller role can be helpful with very large groups of players (7-8+)... but most sessions these days tend to occur with smaller groups, 3-5 players plus the DM, and is such groups the caller doesn't really add anything to the game.

  3. I also agree with use of the Caller, which I still use as DM. My rather gentle presentation of it is that (granted we will not split the party for logistical purposes), if the groups come to a complete impasse as to where to explore next, I will take the Caller's word as a decision. Usually this has the trickle-down effect of the group letting the Caller decide any arbitrary decisions (left or right, door or hallway, etc.) It really does help things move along, instead of needing total consensus in case there's one intransigent holdout.

    I actually use the phrase "standard Gygaxian corridor" to refer to a 10-foot-wide, 15-foot-high arched ceiling, as seen in the description & illustration of module T1-4 and other places. I do think it's a bit more prosaic and suggestive than a literal 10-foot flat box for corridors.

  4. Great point about the 15' ceiling height being Gygaxian. I just did a quick check; B2 doesn't mention corridor height in the Caves, but both T1 and the DMG Sample Dungeon mention a 15' ceiling in at least one corridor. In the case of the S.D., it's a "arched ceiling about 15' high" (pg 99).