Friday, March 13, 2015

Part 48: "The Shadow on the Gnomon"

Part 48 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...

Room F: As Holmes puts it plainly, "This is a magic-user's room"; he is essentially the "boss monster" of this level. This room is essential to breathing life into the dungeon as it ties together elements from other rooms, including the M-U's tower and the sea caves.

In the manuscript Holmes describes the M-U as an "evil fourth leveler" (first paragraph) and a "theurgist" (third paragraph). "Theurgist" is the correct title for a fourth level magic-user in OD&D, Vol 1. Gygax or someone else at TSR mistakenly changed this to "thaumaturgist" in both locations, which is the title for fifth level. The exact changes are:

" evil fourth leveler who has been trying to take over the dungeons"
" evil thaumaturgist (fourth level) who has been trying to take over the dungeon level"
(Note Holmes' use of "dungeons" in the original, implying a larger area)

"The theurgist is a 4th level magic-user. He can do six spells..."
"The thaumaturgist (4th level magic-user) knows six spells..."

The room is described as 50 by 60 feet, which is accurately rendered on the published map. Holmes' original map shows the work bench in the southwest corner and three statues (petrified men), and these are also shown on the published map. However, another door has gone missing in the north wall. This door is shown on the original map and referred to in the text.

The charmed fighter originally had 8 "Hits" but this was upped to 11, possibly to make for a more formidable opponent. His other ability scores are unchanged, as is the high value (1000 GP) of his ruby belt.

The M-U's list of spells includes "Protection from Good" with the aside "(he is evil)". This was changed to "(he is lawful evil)" to fit the revised 5-point alignment scheme. Note that only "Protection from Evil" is explicitly described in the M-U spell lists in the rulebook. His spells and scroll are otherwise unchanged.

Holmes gives the M-U a +1 on this saving throws because "his saving throw is better than that of magic-users of the third level". This doesn't match OD&D, Vol 1, where M-Us do not get a saving throw increase until 6th level. It does go up by 3 at that point, so perhaps Holmes was using some kind of table that smoothed out the progression? This oddity wasn't changed for the published rulebook.

The M-U's stats are changed slightly, with his wisdom being decreased from 12 to 9 for reasons unknown, and his "Hits" going up from 7 to 9.

The M-Us "wand" is changed to a "special wand", presumably because it is not found on the standard Treasure Table.

Finally, the published version adds a new sentence at the end: "He will use the wand on anybody entering his hideway". Since the "hideway" and wand are up in his tower, I picture the M-U dragging statues from the tower down to this room for decoration. One idea I've had is to have one of the statues in this room be Zenopus himself.

DM Guidance
-NPCs are given a stat block with a full set of ability scores, level and "Hits"
-NPC behavior for the M-U and charmed Fighter
-Random rule: the M-U has a 50% chance of dropping his scroll while fleeing

ROOM G: This is the now-standard room filled with trash and giant rats. Is this is its first appearance in a TSR adventure?

Holmes had the room written as "Room G - is dark and gloomy". TSR changes this to "Room G - Gloomy", which fits the room's letter code better. "Garbage" might be a better descriptor, given that the floor is covered with rocks and rubbish "four feet high".

Once again, the published map is missing a door (in the south wall) shown on the original map and mentioned in the text. I'll have to put together an errata list for these.

The big change here is that Holmes' original has but a single giant rat with 1 HD, which Gygax changes to 2-8 giant rats with 2 hit points each. In the published version the text still refers to "its nest", a clue that it originally referred to just a single rat. The change follows the general trend - Holmes' original dungeon was gentler, for smaller groups, and Gygax increased the difficulty of many of the encounters.

At the time Holmes wrote this, there wasn't a separate monster entry for a "Giant Rat". Instead they fell under the "Giant Animals and Insects" entry that Holmes included in the manuscript. These creatures don't have set stats except that hit dice generally match the dungeon level, which explains why Holmes gave this rat 1 HD. Gygax deleted the entry for "Giant Animals and Insects", which left these giant rats stranded without any hit dice, though with 2 hit points it's easy to figure out they should attack as under 1 HD. The second edition of the rulebook finally revised the Monster List to include giant rats with 1/2 HD, ported back from the Monster Manual. These also do only 1-3 points of damage per hit, whereas Holmes' original would deal the default 1-6. Still, with an average of 5 rats in the room, the encounter is made more challenging.

The treasure is changed in two ways. The silver dagger originally had no value, and Gygax adds "50 gp". (This can be used as a general value for silver daggers, which are missing from the equipment list). In the original, the bag contains 50 gold pieces, which Gygax changes to electrum pieces. Holmes left copper, electrum and platinum out of the manuscript, but Gygax added these back, and put each in the Sample Dungeon.

DM Guidance:
-In Holmes' original version, this provided an example of a "Giant Animal or Insect"
-An example of hidden treasure, takes 1 turn of searching the garbage to find
-An xample of an 'improvised rule' as suggested by Holmes on page 40: the small size and abundant garbage allows the rats to hide in the shadows, but "An elf or a dwarf might spot them (on a roll of say 1 or 2 on a six-sided die)" - presumably due to infravision

ROOM H: This room introduces an underground river that ties together rooms H, K, L and M. The room is described as 80 by 50 feet with a 50-foot wide river and a 15-foot bank on each side. The map as published has the room the right size, but shows the river as only about 25 feet wide. The text describes a 20-foot ceiling, whereas earlier corridors were stated to be 10 feet high. The staircase into the dungeon is 25 feet high, so either the surface is five feet above this room or the ground above is higher here.

This room contains neither monster nor treasure, so its not surprising that there are no changes at all from the manuscript to the published rulebook.

DM Guidance:
-An example of a dangerous obstacle to be surmounted or circumvented.
-More "stealth bonuses" for high stats (as in Room A), known only to the DM - high strength (15+) prevents being swept away by the current, high constitution (12+) prevents damage from being swept away
-Some rules for swimming; if you are wearing armor you will sink unless you shed armor which takes 1 turn. Drowning damage is 1 die per turn. Room M later refers back to these as "information on drowning" and says "assume that all characters known how to swim"

ROOM I: This is the room with the bronze sundial and mask. Again, another room without monster or treasure with no changes as published.

The talking "bronze mask" resembles a "Brazen Head" of medieval times. 
See the Brazen Head of Zenopus.

DM Guidance:
An example of a puzzle room, where the characters gain a boon if it is solved

Go Back to Part 47: "The Occupants Are Goblins"
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript 


  1. My wife's magic-user "Abby Kadabra" was mauled to death by the giant rats in room G in one of our first games with our son...things might have turned out differently had there only been 1 giant rat in the room!

    I've previously wondered whether the theurgist's wand was based on the white witch's wand in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

    Looking forward to seeing whether Holmes gave any more stats for the ape in the cage.

  2. I'm not certain of the Electrum Piece in the D&D game. It wasn't in 0e, but I'd have to scour Greyhawk & the other 0e supplements to be sure. I had always assumed that Holmes was the first set of rules to offer Electrum coinage, either by Holmes' original intention, or Gygax' editorial edict. ;)

    1. Electrum is mentioned very briefly on page 39 of OD&D Vol 2, and given the value of either 1/2 or twice that of gold! Easy to see why Holmes left that one out. I believe the published Holmes rulebook is the first place to definitively set it as 1/2 gold.

  3. Re-reading room H recently I was really struck by the use of ability scores *without* any dice rolls. No "roll and add modifier" or "roll below score on XdX," but just a stark line for success or failure. In this way the random element of taking risky actions is front-loaded to the character creation process rather than during each specific situation.

    I wonder how that approach affects play in the long-term?