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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.                    ...

Friday, December 12, 2014

Part 43: "Zap! You're Dead!"

Part 43 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 40 of your 'Blue Book' (page 39 for the 1st edition) and follow along... 

Below the map of the "Sample Floor, Part of First Level" the manuscript text continues without a new title, so it's actually a continuation of the "Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art" section rather than a new section (Holmes' Index has no other title for this section). Holmes continues with his coverage of material from OD&D, Vol 3, "The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures". Since this material is both greatly condensed from the source and supplemented with new ideas I'll go through each line. The manuscript text is in bold, my commentary is below each line, including changes to the published version.

"Each new room or area is given a code number and a record made on a separate page of what it contains, treasure, monsters, hidden items, etc."

This is not stated explicitly in OD&D Vol 3, but is obvious from the Vol 3 Sample Level and Key (pg 4-5). Also, OD&D Vol 1, page 5, says "the referee must ... people them with monsters of various horrid aspect, distribute treasures accordingly, and note the location of the latter two on keys, each corresponding to the appropriate level."

"Place a few special items first, then randomly assign treasure and monsters to the other rooms using the appropriate tables."

Vol 3, page 6, section "Distribution of Monsters and Treasure", says "It is a good idea to thoughtfully place several of the most important treasures, with or without monstrous guardians, and then switch to random determination for the balance of the level".

The published rulebook changes the end of the sentence to "using the selection provided in the game or the appropriate tables", indicating that use of the tables is not required.

"Many rooms should be empty. Roll a 6-sided die for each room. A roll of 1 or 2 indicates that some monster is there. Ochre jellies, green slime, black puddings, etc. are randomly distributed, without treasure, usually in corridors and passageways."

This comes from the top of page 7 in Vol 3, where a monster is only present in a room 33% of the time (1-2 in 6), and the same advice is given about the "clean-up crew" (as they are dubbed in Vol 2).

The second sentence was changed in the published rulebook to end "...usually without treasure, most often in corridors and passageways", seemingly to indicate that jellies and slimes could occasionally have treasure.

"Wandering monsters are usually determined randomly as the game progresses."

This is from Vol 3, page 10. Holmes put the rest of the material covering Wandering Monsters earlier in the manuscript, in the section he called "Traps, Closed Doors, Hidden Doors, Surprises, Wandering Monsters". Moldvay later moved this material, including the Wandering Monster tables, back to this section of the Basic rulebook.

"Traps should not be of the "Zap! You're dead!" variety but those which a character might avoid or overcome with some quick thinking and a little luck."

This is extrapolated from page 6 of Vol 3, section "Tricks and Traps", which mentions a "reasonable chance for survival" and examples of pits that are undesirable because they are too deadly.

"Falling into a relatively shallow pit would do damage only on a roll of 5 or 6 (1 die at most) but will delay the party while they get the trapped character out."

From the OD&D Sample Level, room 8 on page 5 of Vol 3, "Falling into the pit would typically cause damage if a 1 or a 2 were rolled. Otherwise, it would only mean about one turn of time to clamber out, providing the character had spikes or associates to pull him out, and providing the pit wasn't one with a snap-shut door and the victim was alone". The 1-2 in 6 for springing traps is also mentioned again, and applied more generally, on page 9 of Vol 3, "Traps are usually sprung by a roll of a 1 or 2 when any character passes over or by them. Pits will open in the same manner". Holmes also mentioned this in his earlier "Traps..." section referred to above.

In the published version, the parenthetical "(1 die at most)" is changed to "(1-6 hit points at most)", clarifying which die is meant.

"Hidden rooms, movable walls, teleportation devices, illusion rooms, dead ends, etc., make interesting variations."

In Vol 3, these features are either part of the Sample Level (pg 4) or mentioned in the list of "Tricks and Traps" (page 6). In particular the list includes the last three: "teleportation areas", "illusion rooms," and "sections which dead-end".

"Since the game (and the Dungeons) are limited only by the imagination of the Dungeon Master and the players, there is no end to the variations possible.

This is the start of the second paragraph in this section, and echoes OD&D Vol 1, page 4, "[The rules] provide a framework around which you will build a game of simplicity or tremendous complexity - your time and imagination are about the only limiting factors..."

In the published version the word "Dungeons" is changed to the lowercase, "dungeons", and the word "variations" is made singular.

"Try to keep the dangers appropriate to the levels of the characters and the skill of your players. The possibility of "death" must be very real, but the players must be able to win through with luck and courage, or they will lose interest in the game and not come back."

See page 6 of Vol 3, section "Tricks and Traps": "The fear of "death", its risk each time, is one of the most stimulating parts of the game. It therefore behooves the campaign referee to include as many mystifying and dangerous areas as is consistent with a reasonable chance for survival (remembering that the monster population already threatens this survival".

I've been busy this week, so I'll pause there for now.

Continue on to Part 44: "Knights Talk in Flowery Phrases"
Or Go Back to Part 42: "Sample Floor Plan, Part of First Level"
Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript  


  1. It's an interesting juxtaposition that in a game with so many "screw-you" elements available, the explicit advice is to the contrary.

  2. Agreed. I appreciate how his vocation (and probably role as a parent too) seem to inform his approach here.

    Also,I'd like to see what you have to say in Part 44, but the link seems to be broken. (Sorry to go off topic)