Saturday, April 6, 2013

Holmes-ian Surprises

Yay, I finally got my copy of John Eric Holmes' Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set from 1979. Actually the book says "Second Edition, November 1978" but who cares. The box is pretty beat up, but the booklet itself and the copy of B1: In Search of the Unknown are very good.

I spent two days reading the thing and overall I am quite happy to finally understand why some people prefer Holmes over later revisions of the "basic" D&D game. However, I also was a little disappointed: I guess I expected the editing to be of higher quality given Holmes' academic background. Short sentences in which the same word repeats with just three words in between seem? A little clunky. But again, who cares. :-)

Here are the notes I jotted down while reading through the rules, mostly about stuff that surprised me. I edited this only a wee bit before hitting "publish" so please forgive me if I still have the odd typo or misunderstanding left. Feel free to correct me in the comments!
  • Ability Modifiers: Unlike in Moldvay/Cook, the modifiers for high/low ability scores are super-unorganized, similar to what they are in AD&D and (presumably) OD&D.
  • Adjusting Abilities: The rules for improving prime requisite abilities are similarly random-ish, Moldvay/Cook just says "lower by 2 to improve prime requisite by 1" I think.
  • Encumbrance: Holmes actually emphasizes where things are, not just how much they weigh or how bulky they are; what's not to like?
  • Organization: There really is none, we go from making characters to wandering monsters, to experience points tables; luckily there is a table of contents.
  • Spells and Scrolls: Magic-Users get spells at random by checking "chance to know" based on Intelligence; scribing scrolls (relatively cheap and apparently doable at any level) is explicitly mentioned as a way to offset having only a few spells per day memorized.
  • Thieves: They have d4 hit dice which indicates being worse at fighting than clerics, but then they have access to all fighter weapons (no restrictions whatsoever) and the Strength spells works better on thieves than on clerics.
  • Weird Combat: "When the party of adventurers is attacked by several monsters, all may be involved in melee, but the hand-to-hand battles must be fought one at a time and then the result imagined as if all were going on simultaneously." (page 18) What the hell? So four adventurers (A, B, C, D) meet four orcs (1, 2, 3, 4). We first resolve A-1 by going back and forth between them for however long it takes to finish the battle. Then we resolve B-2, C-3, D-4. And regardless of how long each took, we imagine them to occur simultaneously? That's the weirdest thing I've ever heard, and it certainly doesn't work at all with movement in the mix. Like the fighter who is done after 2 rounds will just light a pipe now watching the other three guys take much longer to tear down their orcs? (And I don't think I am misreading this, there's an example right above the text I quote where combat goes back and forth between two individual opponents and not between groups.) Actually page 20 then goes on to say that after melee those not engaged may move to assist.
  • Missile Fire: Mentions the need for high ceilings (good) but rules out slings indoors (what the...)? Firing into melee is not allowed (page 20, left column) but then allowed (page 20, right column) with a mention of friendly fire but then disallowed again (page 21, end of second example)?
  • That second example also then contradicts the earlier "resolve each combat seperately" routine by having multiple PCs engage a single monster.
  • Funny Monsters: "The minotaur is a bull-headed man (and all of us who have debated game rules are well acquainted with such)."
  • Inconsistent Monsters: Zombies are described as "slow" and get to attack only every other round, but their movement is 120, same as an elf or a blink dog.
  • Light Coins: "All coins are roughly equal in size and weight, being approximately the circumference and thickness of a quarter and weighing about twice as much as a quarter." It's roughly 6 grams for a quarter, so roughly 12 grams for a coin, so roughly 38 coins per lbs. Moldvay/Cook/AD&D 1e use 10 coins per lbs. Later AD&D editions use 50 coins per lbs. Seems Holmes was on to something there.

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