Sunday, January 15, 2023

Reading Holmes Basic

No standardized ability score modifiers like in B/X.

Trading down ability scores to boost prime reqs sounds like it's literally trading down here, not just "counting as" (vs the ambiguous "use" language in OD&D)

No explicit mechanical modifiers from Charisma are evident, either in the section on ability scores or in the section on reaction rolls (DM's discretion to give a bonus for a high Cha).

Thieves are not truly good and are usually referred to as neutral or evil, so that other members of an expedition should never completely trust them and they are quite as likely to steal from their own party as from the Dungeon Master's monsters.

How's that for setting expectations?

At the Dungeon Master's discretion a character can be anything his or her player wants him to be. Characters must always start out inexperienced and relatively weak and build on their experience.

Looks like balrog's back on the playable menu, boys!

If a character is killed, then for the next game the player rolls a new character. The new character, of course, starts with no experience. A character may be allowed to designate a "relative" who will inherit his wealth and possessions (after paying a 10% tax) on his death or disappearance.

So there's none of the "once per player" inheritance business here that we see in B/X.  Having to wait until next session to bring in a replacement character is rough though!

Retirement of a successful character is explicitly called out as a reasonable thing to do.

Hiring mercenaries and henchmen is brought up quite early, just as it was in OD&D.  Searching for candidates seems quite expensive but the minimum cost to hire is quite low.

Monsters can be hired as henchmen if they're of the same "basic alignment."

Subdued monsters are "salable."

Two-axis alignment, law/chaos and good/evil.

Players may choose any alignment they want and need not reveal it to others. Note that the code of lawful good characters insures that they would tell everyone that they are lawful.

Do they have to tell everyone they're good, though?

One free language per point of Int over 10.  Wizards are all massive polyglots I guess.

Movement rates in the dungeon seem unusually high - an unarmored and unencumbered man can move 240' per turn rather than usual 120, with armored characters moving 120'.  In OD&D you might manage 120' in armor, but there's nothing pointing to 240' while unarmored and unencumbered.  Looking at 1e, we have 120' for light armor down to 60' in plate.  This would help address the complaint that dungeon movement rates are unreasonably slow...  Ahhh, but in OD&D you could make two moves per exploration turn (according to my notes anyway).  So this is about the same total as OD&D's movement rates, just as a single move per turn.

There's a note about reducing the chance to find secret doors on lower levels of dungeons.  Don't think I've seen that before.

Still has the "drop stuff when surprised" rule from OD&D, but now it's only 1-in-6 instead of 1-in-4.

Wandering monster check every three turns rather than every two.  This also lines up a wandering monster check with the rest turn.  Not sure how I feel about this.

The number of wandering monsters appearing should be roughly equal to the strength of the party encountering them. First level adventurers encountering monsters typically found on the first level of a dungeon should be faced with roughly equal numbers, i.e. a party of three would encounter 2-6 orcs, 3 - 1 2 giant rats, etc. However, if the party were second level, or the first level monsters were encountered on the second level of the dungeon, the number of wandering monsters encountered should be doubled. In a like manner, the number of monsters should be tripled for third level adventures or in the third level of the dungeon if the monsters appearing are first level. If justification is needed, simply consider that a small party is relatively quiet, thus attracting less attention than a large group, and powerful characters will similarly bring more numbers of monsters.

Emphasis mine.  Whaaaat. Scaling number of monsters appearing by party level independent of dungeon level.  Wild.  How do the monsters know that there are powerful characters about and to gather up more guys?  I don't know.

Treasure is usually divided equally among members of the party and therefore the experience is also. If, for some reason, one character gets more of the loot, such as a thief stealing gems from the saddle bags on the way home, then he should get the additional experience points.

Dohohoho.  Emphasis mine.  Again, further precedent for giving players control over how XP from treasure is allocated.

"Using or hurling missiles" is called out as a special ability for monster XP calculation purposes.  That's...  kinda reasonable, really.

XP from monsters can be reduced if they're killed by a character of higher level than their HD.  Presumably this happens before XP is totaled and allocated?  Are you supposed to track who struck the killing blow against each monster?  But it's not lossy if you just soften 'em up and then let your 1st-level henchman finish the job?  No wonder this rule fell by the wayside.

Wait dwarves don't cost any more XP to level than regular fighters, and since the level cap is only 3 that doesn't matter either.  Dwarves OP, plz nerf.

The second roll in turning is to determine number of undead turned, not number of HD of undead turned.  I kinda like that, since the target number already scales with HD.

It's really funny that they don't get around to explaining the different flavors of "level" (character level, dungeon level, spell level...) until we're already quite a ways in, after random encounter tables for different dungeon levels and a discussion of leveling characters.

MUs require "at least 1 day" to prepare spells, and can't bring their books into the dungeon.

BUT MUs can make scrolls, starting at first level.  So that's interesting; I had heard that Holmes had this rule about early scroll creation, but it makes more sense in the context of needing "at least" a full day to re-memorize spells.  And also notably, none of this is aimed at mid-level wilderness play, since Holmes only goes up to 3rd level.

There is a reading of this text (at least up to this point) indicating that fighters can't use potions - in the class description it says they can use magical arms and armor but do no other kind of magic, and then there's this list of magic items that MUs can use which includes potions right in among wands and staves.

Spell research success chance is a brutal 20%.  But again, that might not be intended to remain true for levels out of scope for Basic.

He gets to choose the spell he will memorize from his books and he does this before the expedition starts off

(emph mine) Yeah now we're thinking in expeditions.

% chance to know and min and max number of spells known by Int are much more AD&D than B/X. Makes Int a lot more important for MUs than in B/X, but also gives them probably more options at low levels (when a B/X MU might only know 1-2 spells, as many as he can memorize), but those options are likely to be worse, since your DM is like 90% likely to pick sleep for you in B/X.  This is an interesting change; I don't recall seeing anything like this in OD&D.

God I don't want to read all these spell descriptions.

No clause in Light about using it for blinding.

Have to roll to hit with Magic Missile I think?

Explicitly no save on Sleep.

Huh, Ray of Enfeeblement.  And it's a bit jank, in a system where monsters don't actually have Str scores.  Amusingly, no such clause for what happens if you cast the Strength spell on a monster.

Wow Web is 10x10x20 feet, instead of a 10' cube.

Good lord do we really need all three of Ventriloquism, Magic Mouth, and Audible Glamer?

Third level spells are listed but not described, so I don't get to see if Fireball expands to volume.

It sounds like clerics don't need to spend time "studying" to prepare their spells (eg the full day to recover), but also don't get the ability to make scrolls at 1st.

Nothing in Cure Light Wounds about removing paralysis.

Bless could be read to be single-target.

Putting melee attack resolution before the combat sequence, it almost sounds like in melee you get an automatic counterattack against anything that attacks you (but after their attack has resolved).

Ouch, direct hits from burning oil are 1d8 on the first round and then 2d8 on the second round, rather than 1d8 each of the two rounds in eg B/X.  50% more total damage!  On the other hand, it is also made clearer that igniting thrown oil is a separate attack, so the action economy is actually worse than igniting and then throwing in B/X - twice the actions for 1.5x the damage.

Also, unless in a very high roofed area, all slinging, as well as long range fire, is not possible

...  what?  Slings are the thing that you're gonna penalize indoors, not archery?  I get that clerics are supposed to have weak offense but this is just silly.

Whoa, slow combat movement speeds - "an unarmored man can move 20 feet per melee round, a fully armored man only 10 feet".

Light weapons such as the dagger allow two blows per round

But...  if all hits do 1d6 damage, why wouldn't you use a dagger?

Ooookay yeah this combat sequence is much Chainmail-ier (but using d20s for to-hit), very different from the initiative-by-side that is stock in both B/X and 1e.  Initiative is just straight Dex, and DM rolls it for monsters on the spot, but if your Dex is close enough to that of your opponent, then you both roll d6s for it.  There's an option to forego an attack in order to parry, but your weapon can break if you do.  It isn't really clear when characters not engaged in melee, making ranged attacks, or casting get to act.

No mention of morale.

6-12 adventures to gain a level of experience is given as guidance.

Skimming monster entries.

Why do dwarves and elves in the monster entries do 1d8 and 1d10 damage, but 1st-level dwarf and elf PCs don't?  Strength doesn't even modify damage here!  ...  I'm not sure it even modifies to-hit, come to think of it.

Gelatinous cube doesn't actually paralyze, just anesthetizes on a failed save vs paralysis.  So you could get eaten without realizing it, rather than freezing up.  Kinda interesting twist.

The only indication that ghouls are undead is that they're on the cleric's turning table.  The description just calls them humanoids, and doesn't note that they're immune to anything unusual!

Several monsters mention Cure Disease in their descriptions, but that's the only place it's mentioned!

Purple worms swallow whole if they beat your AC by a mere two points!  Brutal!

The description of the effects of magic weapons on wights is very strange; magic arrows do double damage, neat.  Magic weapons do "full" damage and add their bonus to damage.  Does that mean max damage on the die, which is similar to double damage in expectation?  Are wights just especially vulnerable to magic arrows for some reason?  We'll never know.

I still don't think I've seen a to-hit table by HD for monsters.

10% of magic swords are cursed.

Randomly-rolled scrolls can be of the effect of a random wand, potion, or ring (with some exclusions like three wishes).  That's actually pretty neat.  I don't know what the duration of a scroll of, say, water walking or fire resistance is, when it would normally last as long as you kept the ring on.

Magic armor is actually quite rare, and it's on the same table as misc weapons.  Armor +1, shield +1, and armor -2 are each 2% of magic item rolls.

No mention of sentient swords or artifacts ):

One player should map the dungeon from the Dungeon Master's descriptions as the game progresses. This is easiest done if he uses a piece of graph paper marked North, East, South, West with the entrance to the dungeon level drawn in near the center. One of the players should keep a "Chronicle" of the monsters killed, treasure obtained, etc. Another should act as "caller" and announce to the Dungeon Master what action the group is taking. Both mapper and caller must be in the front rank of the party.

Emphasis mine.  I've been thinking for a while that it probably makes sense to make treasurer or quartermaster an official party role, nice to see precedent.  Putting the mapper up front is a rule I haven't seen before!

You are sure to encounter situations not covered by these rules. Improvise. Agree on a probability that an event will occur and convert it into a die roll — roll the number and see what happens!

(emph mine)  You're alright, Holmes.  You got a hard job, to be a bridge between OD&D and AD&D, and you really tried to make the first three levels of OD&D a little more accessible.  And the results have some rough edges, but you have the right spirit to the end.  You're still thinking of the game like a gamer, rather than in Moldvay's literary terms.

I'm not reading this whole sample dungeon right at this moment but the map is nicely jayquayed!  Honestly much of the art in this book has been quite good.  The inner cover with the wizard, fighter, and pig-faced orcs.  The lizardman riding the giant lizard.  The beefy minotaur vs the fighter with the curved sword.  There's a cartoony streak in here but it's kind of endearing.  I think the only pieces I really don't like are the grey ooze and this tiny, mostly-empty picture of what I guess is supposed to be treasure on page 33?

Oho, here's the monster to-hit table, at the very end!


  1. "You got a hard job, to be a bridge between OD&D and AD&D"...

    ...except he didn't. Holmes wrote his rulebook and it was published before the first AD&D book was published. References to AD&D were inserted into his manuscript by TSR. Holmes based his rulebook on the original game and its first supplement. Apart from that, this is an enjoyable summary of this quirky version of the game.

    1. Interesting! I was not aware of that element of the book's history. It does make sense of the degree to which it's mostly OD&D with just a few AD&D elements sprinkled in though.

  2. Apologies for being pendantic WG, but zero AD&D elements, just some marketing references inserted to redirect readers to future products. :-)

    1. Not so fast!
      If you look at the AD&D Monster Manual-nothing has an AC of 10 (an AD&D-ism, OD&D and Holmes top at AC9). Also only Holmes' 5 alignments used in the Monster Manual. No NG, NE, LN or CN.
      Don't know if this means Gygax liked Holmes' five alignments or 5 alignments were an early AD&D thing and Gary added it to the book.

  3. 2 daggers are the best! Considering 2 handed weapons are only useable every other round