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Monday, April 27, 2020

Holmes Ref: Rolling up an Adventurer

Another Holmes Ref sheet - actually a two-parter this time!

Rolling Up An Adventurer Ref. Sheet (click here to download)

The first page is shown above and gather together the six standard abilities and modifiers, as appearing in Holmes and also including the expansions I posted a few years back (...has it really been that long?).

To make things more interesting I've included six alternate old school options for generating ability scores. 

The first, which I've termed The Bullpen, reflects the habit of early Lake Geneva players of rolling up multiple characters until they got one they liked, naturally with high stats. This was eventually immortalized in the AD&D DMG as Method IV of character generation, where 12 sets of 3d6 stats are rolled up and one is picked. A variation on this practice was also seen in Alarums & Excursions #2 (July 1975), where a character generation sheet (link goes to Playing at the World) suggested rolling three sets of stats for one character, or five sets of stats for two characters. I've added a restriction I've seen suggested occasionally (here or here, for example) that the extras are to be saved as replacement characters.

The Arnesonian method was mentioned here on ODD74 by Dave Arneson himself in 2008. That's right, Dave was a member of the forum and made over a 170 posts in 2008 and 2009 before he passed away.

The Gygaxian method comes from Method I of the AD&D DMG and Gygax's houserules for running OD&D games in the '00s.

The Holmesian method comes from Holmes early A&E article, "Warrior-for-Hire". It was intended for NPC men-at-arms, but there's no reason it couldn't be generalized it to PCs.

The Ivesian method was detailed by Wesley D. Ives in Alarums & Excursions #14 (August 1976), stated to be used in his Homlas campaign.

What I've termed the Swansonian method is simply an additional roll for a bonus ability for a character rolled up RAW. The first version of this kind of table by Mark Swanson was featured in the very first issue of Alarums & Excursions in mid-1975. It was presented by Lee Gold as Mark Swanson's Special Abilities, and was popular enough with A&E contributors to become known as "Swanson Abilities" by other A&E contributers. See the character generation sheet at Playing at the World linked above for an example of such a use. Jon also discusses the "Swanson Abilities" in his commentary in that post, which was the first to bring it to my attention. The Complete Warlock in 1978 included a variation on these, called "Table of Special Abilities", but includes more defects than bonuses. Gygax eventually developed a version of these called Knacks for his Lejendary Adventures RPG in the late 90s.

Swanson's original list was actually two lists, one for clerics/fighters and one for magic-users. I've instead made a single table for all characters with 50 entries, some inspired by Swanson's list but many others simply brainstormed while perusing Holmes Basic. See the screenshot below.

If you note any typos in either page, please let me know below in the comments and I will eventually correct and repost the sheets.

As with the previous new sheet (the Equipment Reference Sheet), these will eventually be incorporated into a new version of Holmes Ref. The various existing Holmes Ref sheets and compilations can be found here.

Update 4/29: Revised version posted at the same link. Corrected typos found by myself and others and clarifies some wording in places. Screenshots still reflect the original version, so check the pdf if you note a typo in the screenshot.


  1. Love this - thanks for posting!

  2. At the top of the first column on the Swanson sheet—I think it should be d100/d%, as opposed to d20?

    1. Thanks, fixed in the file! Will post an updated version in a day or so.

  3. Arduin has pages and pages of these special abilities. Sort of fun, yeah?

    1. Yes, I think I've seen those before but had forgotten about them. It'd be neat to have a master table that lets you roll to see which version you roll on 1=Original Swanson Abilities, 2=Arduin, 3=Warlock, etc...

  4. Seeing the Prime Requisite listed next to the Ability list makes me wonder if there should be an adventuring class associated with Constitution and Charisma...though I can't think of any off-hand.

  5. Yes, I almost put a ? for those (as in, you decide). Ranger and Bard would work well with those Primes. Or perhaps for Con a "Dungeoneer" class tied into survival and endurance.

  6. My first inclination was Barbarian for Constitution. Now that you say it, maybe the OD&D Bard makes sense for Charisma. But now that I'm looking around, I see Gary introduced the Barbarian class in 1982 for AD&D and the prime req. is Strength. So a Holmes purest-leaning DM might look for something else like Dwarf/Halfling.