Sunday, January 25, 2015

Part 45: "Roll the Number and See What Happens!"

Part 45 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 41 of your 'Blue Book' (page 40 for the 1st edition) and follow along... 

After the Example of Play, Holmes' advice for DMs continues:

This example could be played with maps and pencil and paper. If miniature figures are used, they can be arranged in battle order on the table top and the movement through passages and rooms imagined, the pieces rearranged for combat or other changes of formation. Figures are available for all the character types of Dungeons & Dragons as well as for most of the monsters. TSR Hobbies and many of the manufacturing companies will mail catalogues of unpainted lead figures, usually for a $2.00 fee.

This is the extent to which Holmes covers marching order and rank in combat. In the Introduction he wrote, "The game is more exciting and spectacular using the lead miniature figures mentioned above, which can be painted to each player's individual taste, but paper markers or chessman can be used effectively" (pg 5). Holmes also mentions minis a few other places in the rulebook, including in How to Use this Book (both pg 5), Numbers of Characters (pg 8), and Time and Movement in the Dungeons (pg 9). 

Holmes regularly used minis in his D&D games, and accumulated a large collection over the years. You can see a 1979 picture of him with part of his collection of minis here, and he dedicated a chapter of 1981 book on FRPGs to minis.

In the published rulebook, the last sentence of this paragraph is deleted. TSR's catalogue was $2 at the time, as listed in a 1977 catalog and in the product listing at the back of the Holmes Basic rulebook. However the product listing also says, "For a complete listing of D&D miniature figures, send two first class stamps". So TSR moved this info to the product listing and corrected the price for a list of minis for sale, as well as removing any mention of competitors also having catalogs.

Obviously, the success of an expedition depends on the Dungeon Master and his creation, the dungeon. Many gamesters start with a trip across country to get to the entrance to the dungeon — a trip apt to be punctuated by attacks by brigands or wandering monsters or marked by strange and unusual encounters. 

A significant portion of OD&D Vol 3, The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures (as expected from the title) is given over to wilderness travel and encounters, in particular pages 14-20. In Basic, Holmes focuses on the dungeon, with just the sentence here mentioning the possibility of wilderness travel to get to the dungeon.

OD&D included a brief entry Brigands in Vol 2, following the entry for Bandits: "Same as Bandits except +1 morale and Chaos alignment". Holmes left these out of the Basic Monster List, not even mentioning them in the entry for Bandit, even though he included most of the other 'man-types' from OD&D and mentions them here.

No changes to these lines in the published rulebook.

The party then enters the underworld, tries to capture the maximum treasure with the minimal risk and escape alive. The Dungeon Master should have all this completely mapped out, hit points and attack die rolls calculated and recorded, so that the game will proceed most rapidly at the exciting moments when the enemy is encountered. Do not hesitate to have lawful or helpful characters chance by at times, your adventurers may need a little help!

This is only place in the Basic Manuscript where Holmes actually uses the term "underworld", despite the frequent use of the term in the D&D source material. He did later use "The Underworld" prominently in The Maze of Peril; see here for his description there.

The use of "Lawful" alone here refers to the original D&D alignment system, which Holmes used throughout the manuscript. In this case it was left unchanged in the published rulebook.

The imaginary universe of Dungeons and Dragons obviously lies somewhere close to the Middle Earth of J.R.R. Tolkien's great Lord of the Rings trilogy. The D & D universe also impinges on the fantasy worlds of Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, classical mythology and any other source of inspiration the Dungeon Master wants to use.

This is the closest that Holmes comes to an "Appendix N" or recommended reading list. 
Holmes later wrote, in Dragon #52 in a review of the then-new Moldvay Basic Set, that it has "a page-long list of “inspirational source material” which is more complete than the one given in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. I didn’t have such a list in the first edition; this is someone else’s inspired idea. I wish I’d thought of it. Do you know there may be people out there playing a D&D game who have never read The Lord of the Rings?"

As published the "somewhere close" in the first sentence is changed to "somewhere not too far", adding a bit of distance, but even so this remains one of the strongest associations between D&D and Tolkien made in a published rulebook. The first edition of the published rulebook still refer to "hobbits" rather than "halflings", but this would be changed soon after starting with the second printing in Jan 1978.

Also as published, the list of authors is changed a bit, with Fritz Leiber added, and Michael Moorcock changed to Gardner F. Fox. Holmes' reference to Moorcock surprises me, as I can't recall Holmes mentioning him anywhere else. His FRPG book talks about literary references on page 46 and mentions Leiber and Howard among others, but not Moorcock.

Gardner Fox was concurrently writing short stories for Dragon magazine (the 'Niall of Far Travels' series), and designed a boardgame for TSR, Warlocks & Warriors, also published in 1977, so this may have been a bit of cross-promotion. Warlocks & Warriors is even listed in the product listing in the Holmes Basic rulebook, although it fails to mention that Fox is the creator of Warrior & Warlocks. Fox had also recently written the Kother and Kyrik series of Conanesque novels, so may have been in Gygax's mind as a worthy successor to Howard. 
Ad from 1977 TSR Catalog for Warlocks & Warriors by Gardner Fox

A final word to the Dungeon Master from the authors. These rules are intended as guidelines. No two Dungeon Masters run their dungeons the same way, as anyone who has learned the game with one group and then transferred to another can easily attest. You are sure to encounter situations not covered by these rules. Improvise. Agree on a probability that an event will occur and convert it into a die roll — roll the number and see what happens! The game is intended to be fun and the rules modified if the players desire. Do not hesitate to invent, create and experiment with new ideas. Imagination is the key to a good game. Enjoy!

A great paragraph by Holmes, one of the best in the book. It echoes the Afterward of Vol 3 of OD&D in emphasizing guidelines (OD&D: "space requires we put in only essentials only, and the trimming will oftimes have to be added by the referee and his players") and the ability of the dungeon master to improvise (OD&D: "the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way!).

The published version changes "the same way" in the second sentence to "quite the same way". No other changes.

That's the end of the direct DM guidance provided by Holmes, although there is still plenty to be had in the remaining section of the rulebook, the Sample Dungeon.

Go to Part 46: "Zenopus Built a Tower"

Go Back to Part 44: "Knights Talk in Flowery Phrases"
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript


  1. Thanks for the ongoing analysis!

    Can't wait to see the original Sample Dungeon...

  2. "... hit points and attack die rolls calculated and recorded ..."
    This makes me wonder if Holmes is suggesting that part of DM prep is making and recording several hit and damage rolls for creatures likely to be encountered.