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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Part 18: "Bruno Dies a Horrible Death"

Part 18 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 21-22 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along...


Who can forget Bruno's triumph in defeating the big goblin in single combat or his horrible death from a spider bite? The highs and lows of D&D. The combat examples are some of the best "flavor text" that Holmes contributed to Basic D&D, but also do an excellent job of showing how D&D combat is run, something that was missing but sorely needed in OD&D.

The first combat example, featuring Bruno versus the goblin, is identical in the manuscript and the published rulebook. Since there are only two combatants, the example doesn't reference rounds and thus doesn't show the two attacks per round for each combatant. 


This example is substantially the same as published, but with many small changes, so I will go through it paragraph by paragraph.

First paragraph, first part:

Holmes' original encounter was with "six giant spiders with 1 hit die each", which was changed to six large spiders with 1+1 HD. Giant spiders having but a single hit die may seem strange in light of later write-ups, but many of the "vermin of unusual size" (giant spiders, rats, centipedes, etc) never received a standardized write-up in OD&D prior to Holmes Basic. The first printing of the Holmes rulebook does not even contain an entry for spiders; they were added to the 2nd edition in November 1978, after the Monster Manual had been released.

Holmes' reference to the "Wandering Monster Table" (which we covered in Part 7) probably refers to entry 8 on the level 1 table, "Spiders". As I mentioned previously, this table is the same as in Greyhawk. Back in OD&D, Vol 2, vermin are covered by entries for "Insects or Small Animals" and "Large Insects or Animals". The former indicates that "These can be any of a huge variety of creatures such as wolves, centipedes, snakes and spiders. Any hit will kill the smaller, while larger beasts (such as wolves) will receive one Hit Die". This is possibly where Holmes sourced his 1 HD for giant spiders. I'll discuss this further in the section on Monsters.

As in Part 9, Holmes used the name "Flubbit" for his wizard, and this was changed to "Malchor" by Gygax/TSR. As I mentioned previously, the name "Flubbit" originated in the description of the spell "Magic Mouth" in Greyhawk, pg 22.

First paragraph, second part

The changes here relate to the differences in the stats for the spiders envisioned by Holmes versus those of Gygax. Holmes' "giant spiders" had only a single hit dice but were heavily armored (AC3); this is scaled back to AC8 in the fourth sentence here.

In the fifth sentence, the spider's hit point calculation is changed from "comes up a 4" to "comes up a 3 (+1), equalling 4 hit points". The change was necessitated by the hit dice change from 1 to 1+1, and also provides Gygax with a way to show how hit points are calculated for a creature with a HD such as 1+1.  

Finally, the last two missed arrow shots are changed from 8 and 12 to 6 and 9, because a 12 would hit AC8. The end of this sentence is also changed from "the shaft bounce off the beast's armor" to "shafts miss!", possibly because Gygax did not envision AC8 as being armored. However, a reference in the next paragraph to the spider's "armored head" was not changed.

Second paragraph:

Here in the manuscript we see a clear example of two melee attacks per combatant in a single round, with the attacks alternating in order of dexterity. TSR changes this single round to two rounds of melee.  Thus, in the manuscript Bruno dies during the second set of blows in the "first round of melee", but in the published version he dies in the second round. Bruno's second attack roll is also changed from a 13, which would miss AC3 but hit AC8, to a 10 which just misses AC8.

Third paragraph:

In the manuscript this paragraph describes the second round of combat, but in the published version the first two sentences are re-written to remove the reference to the "second round". Each combatant is still given two attacks, but as we will see below, the published version instead counts this as two more rounds. Thus in the published version three rounds have now elapsed instead of two. 

Fourth paragraph:

In the manuscript this paragraph describes the third round of combat, but in the published version it is the fifth round, with Mogo's two swings changed to a single swing. The published version also adds a note that the saving throw is "(adjusted according to the weak poison of the spider)". This reflects the description of the "large spider" in the later published Monster Manual (Dec 1977) and the revised Basic rulebook (Nov 1978). As I mentioned above the early printings of the Basic rulebook do not include Spider in the Monster List, so in those printings this reference is cryptic. Presumably, Gygax was working off his draft of the Monster Manual material when he edited this section.
Fifth Paragraph:

Again, the reference the third round of combat ("three melee rounds have gone by") is changed to the fifth ("five melee rounds have gone by"). The only other change here is that "Clarissa the Cleric" becomes"Priestess Clarissa", perhaps to give her a "level title" rather than the title "Cleric".


This single paragraph section follows the combat examples and provides further commentary on combat. There are no changes between the manuscript and the published version. 

In this section Holmes presents a general order of combat: spells-missile fire-melee. This is not found in OD&D, but is present in the Warlock rules, which I've discussed previously; see "The Influence of Warlock on Holmes Basic Combat".

Holmes also gives some guidance on spell casting by magic-users:

"If a magic-user is not involved in the melee he can get another spell off after 1 or more melee rounds have gone by". This statement makes it clear that only a single spell can be cast per round despite regular melee weapons getting two attacks per round. It is also the closest that Holmes comes to describing a "casting time", something not generally found in OD&D (although the Eldritch Wizardry alternate initiative system touches on this). 

Holmes continues, "If he is personally attacked he can't concentrate to use his magic but must draw his dagger and defend his skin!". There is no "spell disruption" in OD&D or Holmes, and while this statement is not crystal clear, it can be interpreted that if a wizard is hit in combat he loses his concentration and won't be able to cast the next round.

For the source of this rule in Chainmail and/or Swords & Spells, see here:

Continue on to 
Part 19: "If One Wanted to Use a Red Dragon" (Intro to Monsters)
Or Go Back to Part 17: "Highest Dexterity Strikes First" (Melee)
Or Go Back to the Index: The Holmes Manuscript


  1. Really loving this series.

    Small typo: "Bruno's second attack roll is also changed from a 13, which would miss AC3 but hit AC3,..."

  2. Fixed. Thanks! Glad you are enjoying it.

  3. Yes, great series. The clarification of the two-regular-blows-per round really crystallizes things (in particular the pimple of the dagger-advantage issue in the published text).

  4. Glad to see this next installment! I was going into Holmes manuscript withdrawal...

    Still finding the 2 attacks/round quite fascinating.

    In terms of spell casting by magic-users, the fact that spells typically go off first has really influenced play style in our KotB campaign. The magic-users typically cast sleep in the first round, without having to "check initiative" as with other versions of D&D, rendering them somewhat bolder.

    1. Mitigating complaints about weak low-level M-Us since they their single spell can't be disrupted? Of course, enemy M-Us will be more powerful.

      If a MU is hit by missile fire, do you allow them to cast the next round? No spell loss, just unable to cast at the beginning of the next round.

    2. Yes, low-level magic-users become more of a threat if they can typically get the drop on their opponents and cast a spell. In B2, it's crucial, however, because of the hordes of humanoids (the magic-user only takes out the first wave).

      If they get hit by missile fire, I would probably state the spell was lost, though. (Hasn't happened, yet)

    3. Do you make the magic-use declare they are casting before a round starts?

  5. Giant spiders are in the Greyhawk supliment. 1-3 point damage. Could this have been the original source?

    1. Original source for what? The Giant Spiders in this encounter? Holmes doesn't use variable damage for monsters and there are no other stats in Greyhawk. Giant Spiders as a concept go all the way back to Chainmail.