This is the blog. Click here to go to the Zenopus Archives website.

Note: Many older posts on this blog are missing images, but can be viewed at the corresponding page in the Internet Archive


The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave: Index of Posts

An index of posts describing the Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, an adventure for Holmes Basic characters levels 2-4.                    ...

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Part 14: "A Curare Tipped Blowgun Dart"

Happy New Year! I've been distracted by the Holidays including frequent sessions of our new Lego Heroica Set - a D&D 'Basic' if there ever was - but now return to our regularly scheduled comparative analysis.

* * * * *

Part 14 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 19 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along... 


No changes from the manuscript to the published rulebook in this section. Holmes seems to have drafted this section from scratch from scattered references to poison throughout the OD&D volumes. The mention of "curare" in "curare tipped blowgun darts" is more specific  about poison than D&D usually gets, possibly a nod to his background as a neurologist.


In this section, Holmes' draft has but a single short paragraph, which consists of the same three sentences as th
e first paragraph of this section as published, except for two details that were changed. Holmes originally had a 20 foot diameter and "2 die" of damage (presumably d6) for the pool of ignited oil, and these were changed to a 5 foot diameter and "2 8-sided dice" of damage.

The original D&D rules for oil are extremely minimal: Vol 1 has "flask of oil" in the equipment list and Vol 3 says simply, "Burning oil will deter many monsters from continuing pursuit" (pg 13). That's it; there is no suggestion of hurling flasks of oil in combat. In this context, Holmes' brief paragraph makes sense. Earlier in the manuscript in the section on Wandering Monsters he included the line about deterring monsters, and here adds some clarifying info about the size and damage caused by a burning pool of oil, as well as the how long the fire lasts ("1 turn or 10 melee rounds"). As far as I can tell he simply picked out these numbers himself. As with OD&D, there's no implication of use in combat. So Gygax kept Holmes' additions but tweaked the numbers. 

And then added much more. The remainder of this section in the published rulebook, consisting of four paragraphs covering use of oil in combat, is missing from the manuscript, suggesting it was written and added by Gygax. These rules are somewhat unique in early D&D, in that they rely on a d20 attack where the chance to hit is based on size rather than armor class. In a thread on OD&D Discussion, I once summarized these rules in a table.

The rules further require require a second hit with a thrown flaming object, such as a torch or lantern, with a +2 on die roll. Once lit, damage is 1d8 for first round, 2d8 for second round, and none thereafter.

There are a few details that suggest that Gygax's additions here might be an early version of material that ended up in the complex "GRENADE-LIKE MISSILES" (pg 64) section of the 1E Dungeon Masters Guide. As far as I can tell that section doesn't have oil ignoring armor class but it does have (1) hurled oil causing damage for two rounds before burning out, and (2) a requirement for secondary contact with flame, unless oil flasks are specially prepared with a lit rag.


There are no changes in this short section, consisting of two sentences, between the manuscript and the published rulebook. OD&D omits any explanation of the effect of holy water, as it simply appears in the list of equipment without further explanation. So Holmes simply explains it as having an effect 'equivalent' (presumably 2 dice of damage) to burning oil but only on the undead, and this was accepted without change by Gygax.

Holmes later wrote a short story, The Sorcerer's Jewel (Dragon #46, February 1981), which has Boinger and Zereth using both oil and holy water in combat. In one encounter, a flask of oil is spread and then separately ignited, and in a separate encounter Boinger uses holy water against a powerful type of undead.

Continue On to Part 15: "Hits With Arrows"
Or Go Back to Part 13: "Melee is the Most Exciting Part of the Game"
Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that Gygax probably added the paragraphs on burning oil in combat - he specifically mentions it once or twice in B2 (stating that monsters that are attacked with burning oil will use it against the PCs in the future) and has tons of oil tucked here and there in the Caves of Chaos, presumably for desparate last stands in cases of cornered PCs...

    Also, quite interesting that Holmes might have been the one to make the explicit link between the effects of holy water being akin to burning oil against the undead!