Saturday, July 4, 2015

Part 50: "The Dancing Dagger Is Hard To Hit"

Part 50 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 44 of your 'Blue Book' (page 43 for the 1st edition) and follow along... 

Room N: Holmes describes this as a tomb that is "part of the catacombs of the city", implying there are more catacombs to be discovered. It also recalls the introduction where Portown is described as "located on the ruins of a much older city of doubtful history" and "the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, pre-human city". Are these catacombs of Room N part of this older city or more recent Portown?

This is one of the larger rooms in the dungeon, described as 120 by 7 feet in the text, and is accurately drawn on the published map (right above). The east and west doors are moved slightly, ending up twenty feet out of alignment rather than centered across from each other. The rat tunnels to the north have been shifted left, and enter room N in two locations rather than one.

Instead of an obvious monster this room contains six sarcophagi each hiding a different trap, monster or treasure. If the characters open a sarcophagus Holmes has the DM roll randomly to see which of the six is opened, which is interesting because the room essentially functions as a random table.

This is an early example of the "Special" room containing a series of smaller spaces to be searched and hiding further encounters. Later examples can be found in many TSR modules such as the Room of Pools in B1 In Seach of the Unknown, the bank vault compartments in B2 Keep on the Borderlands, the six alcoves in Room 1 of C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, and the nine silver glass globes in Room 9 of S2 White Plume Mountain and the Chamber of Three Chests in S1 Tomb of Horrors. Two these modules, B1 and B2, were later included in versions of the Holmes Basic set. B2 also contains a crypt with many coffins and sarcophagi, although only one with monster/treasure. The word "sarcophagus" also appears in the glossary for B2.

Sarcophagus #1 has sleeping gas similar to Room A. In both cases it is Save vs Poison or fall asleep for d6 turns, although here there is no mention of subtracting 1 for high constitution here. There is a chance of a rat attacking every turn that is spent in the room, so if the party stays here with the sleeping character(s) they may be in for a surprise. No changes as published.

Sarcophagus #2 has the memorable "dancing dagger" that attacks if removed from the skeleton holding it. This is an interesting encounter that combines aspects of a monster and trap - combat is conducted with the dagger but it can't be defeated solely through combat as it has no hit points. Holmes gives the dagger AC3, which matches his statement on page 19 of the rulebook that a "small fast creature" might have such an armor class.

As I wrote previously in "Holmes Basic Easter Eggs" thread on ODD74, the dagger "is perhaps a variant of the Dancing Sword, which first appeared in the Greyhawk: Supplement I. The Dancing Sword itself may have been inspired by Stormbringer, which could fight while floating in the air (e.g., in The Sleeping Sorceress, 1971)."

In the revision of Basic, Moldvay included a list of Special Traps on page B52 that includes "Flying weapons which attack only if disturbed", surely a nod to Holmes' dancing dagger.

No changes as published.

Sarcophagus #3 contains a non-animated skeleton wearing treasure, which should be fun for the DM if the players expect it to animate when the treasure is removed. The skeleton wears rings and a coronet (small/simple crown) worth 3000 GP in the original. Gygax cuts this to 300 GP in the published rulebook, a trend we have observed throughout.

Sarcophagus #4 is almost a duplicate of #3 in the manuscript, another "skeletal form" wearing "jewelry worth 3000 gold pieces". Again Gygax reduces the value, to 900 GP here. 

Sarcophagus #5 has the animated skeleton everyone expects to find in one of these coffins. Holmes' original is a standard OD&D skeleton with 1/2 HD and AC7 (per Vol 2, page 3), plus the nice detail of being armed with a curved scimitar. This is despite Holmes accidentally giving skeletons AC8 in the Monster List entry in the manuscript (See Part 32 of this series). The published version increases the hit points to 7, in line with the upgrade to 1 HD they later received in the Monster Manual. This provides evidence that Gygax already had this change in mind, although he didn't update the Holmes Basic monster entry accordingly. As a result of this "sarcophagus skeleton" is non-standard, being stronger than a Monster List skeleton in hit points and armor class.

Sarcophagus #6 is another non-animating skeleton, this one holding the only magic treasure in the room, a "magic sword +1". Holmes provides an interesting form of magic item identification here: "Any warrior-type drawing the sword will feel the surge of magical power it gives."

The last two paragraphs describe the rats that may attack from the tunnels to the north every turn, which should provide ongoing tension as the party explores the sarcophagi. 

The original has the rats at AC 7, 1 HD, which matches the rat in Room G. The published version of this room changes the hit die to "4 hit points", at the high end of the 1/2 HD they eventually received in the Monster Manual (Dec 1977) and which was eventually ported back to the 2nd edition of the Basic rulebook (Nov 1978). No other changes to these paragraphs.

DM guidance:
-Part of a room description can function as a random table
-A room may have a series of hidden traps, monsters and treasures
-Some magic Items may be identified by a feeling of magic power
-Wandering monsters can take the form of the one type of monster attacking at intervals from a lair

Following the room description the published rulebook has the only art in the Sample Dungeon section, other than the map. It's a tiny but evocative piece by David Sutherland showing a party being attacked by two skeletons emerging from opened sarcophagi (although as written there's only one animated skeleton in the room). It's hard to see but the the shield of the fighter in the middle has a winged creature on it similar to the winged dragon on the shield of the fighter on the cover of the Basic box.

The UK version of the rulebook replaced the original art with new art by Fangorn, many of which are re-interpretations of the originals. Here's the new piece for this one. 

Continue to Part 51: "Indescribable Odds and Ends"
Go Back to Part 49: "Will Drop on Unwary Adventurers" 
or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript

1 comment:

  1. Nice observation about the winged creature device on that little Sutherland piece!