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Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Monster Manual is a Holmes Supplement

Mock cover for a "Basic Set Monster Manual"

This topic just came up again on Dragonsfoot, and reminded of a post I made on OD&D Discussion early last year before I started this blog, which I've just revised: 

The Holmes Basic set was first published in mid-1977. The AD&D Monster Manual first appeared after Xmas in late Dec 1977. The rules for AD&D were still in development at the time, and the Monster Manual refers to a number of rules from OD&D or Holmes that were later changed by the AD&D Player's Handbook (mid '78) or Dungeon Master's Guide ('79).

  • The entry for Orcus in the Monster Manual indicates that his "tail strikes with an 18 dexterity which does 2-8 hit points each time it hits" (pg 17). To me this implies an attack compatible with the Holmes rules for initiative where first strike is determined by dexterity. There is one other monster in the Monster Manual that has a dexterity score in its description: Brownies have "18 dexterity" (pg 11).
  • Yeenoghu can cast "magic missile (3/day, 6/missiles/cast), each doing 2-8 points of damage and having a +2 to hit" (pg 20). In AD&D magic missiles strike unerringly, but Holmes Basic requires a "to hit" role - "Roll the missile fire like a long bow arrow" (pg 15) - so Yeenoghu's bonus to hit with a magic missile refers to this rule. This was discussed in the comments on a Grognardia post. This may indicate that Gary intended the OD&D magic missile to require a "to hit" roll. The original description of Magic Missile in the Greyhawk supplement is entirely unclear as to this, as it just describes the magic missile as "equivalent to a magic arrow". Tim Kask has stated on DF that the OD&D version did require a roll, and was purposefully changed for AD&D.

  • The Monster Manual basically has a five point alignment system like in the Holmes Basic rulebook, which in turn was derived from an article in Strategic Review #6 (Feb 1976). A few monsters in Holmes do not conform: the Displacer Beast is "neutral (evil)", and others have two alignments (e.g. Dopplegangers are "chaotic evil/neutral"). Likewise, the Monster Manual has a few monsters with "neutral (evil)" or "neutral (good)". But neither has the full-fledged nine-point alignment system that later surfaced in the Players Handbook.

  • As described by T. Foster here, no monster in the Monster Manual has an AC 10. I note that new "armorless" monsters like the Gas Spore and Nymph are AC 9, and previously described monsters like the Gelatinous Cube, Gray Ooze, and Ochre Jelly are AC 8, just like in both OD&D and Holmes Basic.

  • T. Foster lists other details compatible with OD&D: "spell-names that were changed in AD&D (e.g. raise dead fully vs. resurrection), the max. levels listed for demi-human leader-types match the level limits in OD&D (AD&D's are usually 1-2 levels higher), and ... casting-level equivalents that match the OD&D rather than AD&D tables". The last is further described by Papers&Paychecks in this thread, where he points to Nagas as a good example of the "casting-level equivalents that match OD&D". For example, the Spirit Naga has "4th level clerical ability" which is "2 - first and 1- second level spells per day" (pg 73). This is consistent with OD&D, as well as the implied progression in Holmes, where 3rd level clerics get two 1st level spells.

My conclusion is that at the time the Monster Manual came out it was most compatible with the Holmes interpretation of the original D&D rules. But what this really shows is that some AD&D specific rules were developed after Gary finished working on the Monster Manual. Let me know if you notice any other instances that align with Holmes or OD&D.

2021 Update: The errata for the Monster Manual indicates that the language regarding the tail of Orcus was different in the first printing. Thanks to jeffb on ODD74, I've learned that the change was just to add the damage for the tail ("...which does 2-8 hit points each time it hits"). Which means that the language regarding the tail's dexterity being 18 was there int he first printing.


  1. At the time I started playing, in the fall of 1977, I thought "Advanced" meant, "Now with more monsters!"

    1. Ironically, the Monster Manual only has about 30 monsters that don't appear somewhere in OD&D! See this post:

      Monster Manual monsters not found in OD&D

  2. I wonder if later printings of the AD&D Monster Manual (the ones with the different covers and yellow spines) kept the Holmes' inspired/based stats.

    Thanks for the post Zenopus!

    1. I just got a yellow spine copy the other day. I checked, Yeenoghu still has that +2 bonus to hit with his magic missile in that one.

    2. Tony: you're welcome.

      Gwydion: Thanks for checking that. I don't have a yellow/orange spine copy (later print).

      This Acaeum pages lists all of the known corrections to printings of the MM. Most were made in the 2nd or 4th printing:

      MM Errata

  3. It makes sense from a publishing point of view. Am I right in thinking that Monster Manual was published before the AD&D Player's Handbook? So anyone in 1977 would have had to use the MM with the Holmes set, possibly including Gary himself.

    1. Correct - the MM was out first at the tail end of '77. It could be used with Holmes or the original D&D set. The Player Handbook came along in mid-78; I'm not sure of the exact date but it was available by Gen Con.

  4. I think that there are few creatures in the Monster Manual that are fiercer and more brutal than some of the ones Dr. Holmes included in his edit of the oD&D rules!

    Throwing in the MM into the mix just makes an already dire situation even worse for the poor Holmes Basic dungeoneers. ;)

  5. When I first started playing in the late 70s and early 80s we would combine rules and ideas from both AD&D and basic D&D. It wasn't until two or three years of playing that we only used the advanced rules.