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

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Part 20: "Monster List - Bandit to Zombie"

After a brief hiatus I return to the analysis of the Holmes Manuscript, and on a fitting day - today (Feb 16th) marks the 84th anniversary of J. Eric Holmes birth. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 80. Please turn to page 22 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along...


This is the longest section in the rulebook. The title is the same in the manuscript, meaning that the first and last monsters in the manuscript are the same as in the published rulebook.
But as we will see, the selection of monsters in between is not identical.

One omission from the manuscript and the first printing of the rulebook is a clear indication of what dice is used for monster hit dice. The Greyhawk Supplement presented an "Alternate Hit Dice and Hit Point Accumulation" (pg 10), which included changing monster hit dice from d6 to d8. Later printing of the Holmes Basic rulebook add a line in italics after the title, and before the entry for Bandit, that states "Monsters' hit dice are 8-sided". Later in the monster list we will find some clues that Holmes meant for the monsters to instead use d6 for hit dice.

The headings for the monster list entries generally follow the order of the manuscript, listing Move, Hit Dice, Armor Class, Treasure and Alignment. As an example, here are the headings for the first entry in the manuscript and the published rulebook:

Manuscript version

Published version, second printing

Armor Class - It's not present in this example, but Holmes generally specifies the armor type (i.e., "CM + S, 4"). I won't list all of these changes.

Alignment - In the manuscript many monsters are missing an alignment. As noted in Part 19, Holmes wrote earlier in the manuscript that, "If the monster's alignment is not obviously evil and chaotic this is also given here". TSR changed this for a number of monsters, but not all, adding alignments where Holmes had none.

Attacks, Damage: Note that there are no "Attack" or "Damage" entries in the manuscript as Holmes earlier indicated (see Part 13) that monsters generally do 1d6 damage. TSR added these entries at the end of the headings to indicate variable multiple attacks and variable damage.

Bandits - As can be seen above, the published rulebook changes the title from plural to singular and adds a note to the armor class ("(typically AC 6)") as well as changing the alignment and adding attacks/damage.

The lengthy entry for Bandits is almost entirely unchanged from the manuscript to the published rulebook. The material is a condensation of the lengthy entry on Bandits in OD&D, Vol 2. The only change I note from the manuscript to the published rulebook is in the last line where the treasure is changed from 2-20 silver pieces per bandit to 3-18. 

Basilisk - Holmes doesn't include an alignment for this monster, TSR adds "neutral". Holmes' entry has only three sentences that draw from the original in OD&D Vol 2; TSR adds the bit that "If it sees its own eyes in a mirror it must make a saving throw or be turned to to stone!".

I'm stopping there for tonight to get this post out and get this series back on track. Thanks for bearing with me. 

Continue on to Part 21: "Always Hungry and Always Dangerous" (Berserkers to Bugbears)
Or Go Back to Part 19: "If One Wanted to Use a Red Dragon" (Intro to Monsters)
Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript


  1. Glad to have you back!

    I remember poring over the monster list, trying to figure out how to calculate hit points. Then I reread the sentence about monsters' hit dice being eight-sided, and everything clicked.

  2. Again, an interesting point -- I've come to believe that the biggest single mistake in D&D's evolution is the switch from monster hit dice of d6 to d8. (Who has fistful's of d8's for the purpose, anyway?) It double-doesn't make sense to use d8 HD in absence of PC variable weapon damage. It's comforting to know that wasn't Holmes' initial intent.

  3. Nice to return to the manuscript - eager to see what little tidbits emerge in the monsters section.

  4. Funny, even though I've run Moldvay 81 for my kids for the past five years I've always stuck to d6 for all weapon types and d6 for hit dice, dimly aware that this lined up at least partially with Holmes. It's fun to see that simplicity and symmetry in some of the older designs.

  5. A very small point: The individual pocket-coinage for men-types (e.g., the draft 2-20 sp for bandits) are all copied from the footnotes to the OD&D Treasure Table (Vol-2, p. 23). Same for buccaneers, dervishes, and pirates. I see you noted the non-coinage source for berserkers; Holmes seems to have missed that for nomads in the draft.

    1. Good spot! IIRC, it was looking for the source of "No prisoners", Holmes' two-word second paragraph for his Berserker entry that led to me to that table as there is no other section in Volume 2 that covers prisoners. I must have failed to realize that this was also the source for the coinage in the other entries. So thank you. It's good to see additional evidence that Holmes was integrating material from different parts of the book to try to improve the organization of the original rules.