Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Holmes D&D - An Overview

In just the past few weeks, I was able to acquire a copy of the Holmes basic D&D rules. Before taking off for the quite long weekend, I had it scanned and converted it (as I do all my RPG materials these days) into an A5-sized Word document (those who wonder why FFV and the original version of the Creature Generator look the way they do... well, I make all my game books that way, no matter where they came from) and put it into my cool new D&D binder (when my Gaming Box is completed, be on the lookout for Tools of the Trade II). During this offline time, I not only went through my reformatting looking for typos, but I also made notes about the peculiarities of the Holmes rules, so I could see if they were Holmes quirks (intentional or through miscommunication or misunderstanding concerning How Thing Work is irrelevant here) or things I never noticed that are in other editions as well.

So in the spirit of Sham's D&D Cover to Cover, but in one installment because giving you too much to read in one sitting is how I critically roll, here are my notes about Holmes. Note that I won't have page numbers since I'm working on a personally formatted copy.

First off, the Holmes-edited D&D Basic Set was published in 1977, the same year that the AD&D books began to be published. Holmes was intended to be a lead-in to AD&D, and contained only rules for the basic four character classes (Fighting Man, Magic-User, Cleric, and Thief) and there are many mentions of more options being available in AD&D. But as Fighting Man in that list shows, there are many (truckloads) of artifacts that put this closer to the original 1974 D&D rules than AD&D, and part of that is what gives Holmes its flavor and why there continues to be a great fascination with this particular set of rules as not a basic set to move on to AD&D, but as the foundation for an entire game on its own.

Get your copy out and read along.

We wish to extend our sincere thanks to the following individuals who helped to make this possible through their idea contributions: Brian Blume, Ernie Gygax, Tim Kask, Jeff Key, Rob Kuntz, Terry Kuntz, Alan Lucien, Steve Marsh, Mike Mornard, and Jim Ward.

Who are Jeff Key and Alan Lucien?


While it is possible to play a single game, unrelated to any other game events past or future, it is the campaign for which these rules are designed.

Not designed for one-shots, so certain balance issues aren't issues when played as the game is intended.

In fact you will not even need miniature figures...

Just because I hate people telling me that newer D&D is just like old D&D in needing figures ("It says so right on the box!").

The most extensive requirement is time. The campaign referee will have to have sufficient time to meet the demands of his players, he will have to devote a number of hours to laying out the maps of his “dungeons” and upper terrain before the affair begins.

Lest we forget that people who tell us that the "old school" is all about improvisation and playing it fast and loose... (which is not necessarily contradictory to the above!)

There should be no want of players, for there is unquestionably a fascination in this fantasy game...

This was written in 1973, before the first edition of D&D was ever published. There was no role-playing hobby to speak of. None. Zero. If you don't have a current local group, and you want one, find one. If you're not playing, the only person to blame is the one you see when you look in the mirror. Get a game. Now.

Those wargamers who lack imagination, those who don’t care for Burroughs’ Martian adventures where John Carter is groping through black pits, who feel no thrill upon reading Howard’s Conan saga, who do not enjoy the de Camp & Pratt fantasies or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pitting their swords against evil sorceries will not be likely to find DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS to their taste.

I love when passion and personality are obvious all over the game manuals. Here is Gygax being contentious from the very start. That passion is what it's all about, not neutering opinions to reach the biggest possible audience, and poo on people that buy a game book with the expectation of being in league with the writer, or expecting to be catered to and never shocked or offended by what might be said.


Dungeons & Dragons is a fantastic, exciting and imaginative game of role playing for adults 12 years and up.

Holmes' background in neurology serves him well, as 12 years is about the age that a person's mental wiring is becoming fully developed. And this fits with both this quote and the fact that Gygax played the game with his children. "Adults 12 and up," is such a great phrase. As someone that regularly games with people less than half my age (and catches some grief for it), I appreciate this sort of thing.

...if a group is playing together, the characters can move from dungeon to dungeon within the same magical universe if game referees are approximately the same in their handling of play.

A blast from the past. Who does this these days?


The game requires at least two players, one of whom is the Dungeon Master and has prepared the dungeon, the set of dice, pencil and paper for keeping records and maps, and optionally...

Optionally is not important ("a table top to represent the locality of the adventurers with some form of markers for the characters and the monsters they encounter.") here, just the requirements. Note that the rules aren't even mentioned (which isn't to be taken for granted, as the OD&D books did mention the rules as a requirement!). So aside from the dice, everything you need to play, forever, can be found at your local convenience store. How's that for a totally rad hobby? People who claim roleplaying is an expensive hobby is clearly participating in a different hobby (such as collecting, or 4e) than I am.


This is almost the same as OD&D. Notable how the prime requisite is so important (and not required to be 9 or higher as in some other editions), and how few bonuses there are overall. Too bad D&D never embraced the "a class for every ability score as prime requisite." Are Constitution and Charisma really that difficult to find archetypes for?


Fighting Men... After they reach the fourth level of experience they also increase their ability to get hits on an opponent, but experience levels that high are not discussed in this book and the reader is referred to the more complete rules in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.

It's interesting that this is mentioned under the Fighting Man class and no other. It couldn't possibly have ever been planned this way, but thinking about the disparity in character classes, taking this literally and deciding that only fighters get better in combat could be one great way of keeping the fighter competitive at higher levels.

The cleric is forbidden by his religion from the drawing of blood.

Note that no distinction is made between good and evil clerics here. This could have interesting repercussions and definitely establishes, in Holmes at least, a firm standard of clerical behavior.

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.

Another interesting look at expected playstyles from the early days.

Elves progress in level as both fighting men and magic-users, but since each game nets them experience in both categories equally, they progress more slowly than other characters.

Even though this is very poorly explained in Holmes, given the Holmes rules' frequent reference to AD&D and using that version's perspective on this statement, I think it's clear that elves were supposed to use multi-classing rules as they work in AD&D. The only question is, if elves use d6 hit dice (instead of rolling d10/2 when gaining a fighter level and d4/2 when gaining a magic-user level), when are those rolled? I would say when the level in question is completed in both classes, but would be a house rule because that's never specified here.

If his hit score falls to zero he is dead... Each day of rest and recuperation back “home” will regenerate 1 to 3 of his hit points for the next adventure.

Unforgiving! Also worth noting that "resting out in the field" doesn't heal a single point. Use healing magic or go home and rest there or your hit points never return, although the rate of recovery once home is potentially much quicker than some other editions.


Plate Mail 50
Helmet 10

I will never understand what they were thinking making plate mail so easily accessible by beginning characters. Since no class is limited to chain mail as their best armor, only a low-money-rolling sad sack is going to have less than the best armor available at the beginning of the game. AD&D fixed this right up, but damn...

And Holmes gives no rules as to what use a helmet by itself could possibly have.


There are a number of other character types which are detailed in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. There are sub-classes of the four basic classes. They are: paladins and rangers (fighting men), illusionists and witches (magic-users), monks and druids (clerics), and assassins (thieves).

Interesting that at one point witches were going to be in AD&D as a sub-class for Magic-Users and the Monk was going to go under the Cleric.

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. Thus, an expedition might include, in addition to the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarven, halflingish), a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese Samurai fighting man.

This is like that line from OD&D where there are no limits on what a character can be. That there were no real guidelines for such things and wanting to accomodate such requests (as per the rules!) probably crashed more than one referee's campaign, I would say it's no wonder that Gygax came down so hard against this in the Dungeon Masters Guide a couple years later.


Sometimes the universe of chance allows a character to appear who is below average in everything. At the Dungeon Master’s discretion, such a character might be declared unsuitable for dangerous adventures and left at home.

Not so unforgiving on first read, but how many characters are truly below average (in this context I'd take it to mean having a score less than 9) in everything?


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.

Harsh! Definitive! And expected for an era when not everyone was expected to be the same level (or necessarily even close!) on an adventure.


The player wishing to hire a nonplayer character “advertises” by posting notices at inns and taverns, frequents public places seeking the desired hireling, or sends messengers to whatever place the desired character type would be found (elfland, dwarf-land, etc.). This costs money and takes time, and the referee must determine expenditures (rolling a 6-sided die for 100’s of gold pieces is suggested).

So much for, "Beginning characters are expected to have hirelings with them in the dungeon," school of thought.


Characters may be lawful (good or evil), neutral or chaotic (good or evil).

Five alignment system. We'll get to this more later.

Neutral characters, such as all thieves, are motivated by self interest and may steal from their companions or betray them if it is in their own best interest.

Again with the thieves as people within the party not to be trusted. It fits with the idea of the sneaky ne'erdowell, but it annoys me that the "gentleman adventurer" or "skilled explorer" concept of the thief is really kicked in the nuts in this book.

If the Dungeon Master feels that a character has begun to behave in a manner inconsistent with his declared alignment he may rule that he or she has changed alignment and penalize the character with a loss of experience points. An example of such behavior would be a “good” character who kills or tortures a prisoner.

Clear indications of what "good" means in the game, even though under some interpretations (especially using non-modern, or Guantanamoic, ideas) this isn't the ruling.


Movement Exploring/Mapping Moving Normally
unarmored, unencumbered man 240 480
fully armored man, or carrying heavy load 120 240

This is double what we're used to, and far more reasonable than later D&D movement rates. But both OD&D and Holmes use this scale (although OD&D hides it a bit by mentioning it as an aside), but neither seems to have scaled the monsters' movement to match this scale. Are we really believing a pegasus flies only as fast as a normal unencumbered man walking normally? Get out of town!


A back pack or sack will hold weight which equals approximately 300 gold pieces. For game purposes all forms of coins weigh the same. A character carrying 300 gold pieces would not be considered to be heavily loaded — assuming that the other equipment he or she carried was not excessive — for 300 gold pieces are assumed to weigh about 30 pounds. A character with 600 gold pieces is likely to be considered as being heavily loaded, as the weight of the other equipment normally carried will make the character’s load in the neighborhood of 75 pounds minimum (a fighting man will be far more loaded down, but it is assumed that such individuals are trained to be stronger and so able to carry more weight).

And there are all your encumbrance rules.


A good torch will burn for six turns, while a flask of oil in a lantern will last 24 turns. Either allow the bearer to see 30 feet.

The same for light.


Many dungeons contain traps, such as trap doors in the floor. If a character passes over one a six-sided die is rolled; a roll of 1 or 2 indicates that the trap was sprung and he has fallen in, taking one or more 6-sided, dice of damage.


A roll of 1 or 2 indicates that a door has been forced open.


When the characters come to a door they may listen to detect any sound within. A die roll of 1 for humans, 1 or 2 for elves, dwarves and halflings, indicates that they have heard something, if there is anything to hear.


If elves pass by a secret door or passage, roll a six-sided die and a 1 or 2 means they sense something there. If the party is searching for a secret door then an elf will locate it on a roll of 1 to 4, other characters on a roll of 1 or 2. Of course, the Dungeon Master will lessen these possibilities in lower levels of the dungeon.

Secret doors. Interesting that the idea is that secret doors should be harder to find as you go deeper into the dungeon.

Holmes is incredibly concise yet complete for dungeoneering.


If the party decides to flee they may be able to delay pursuit by discarding some of their possessions. Unintelligent monsters will stop to pick up food half the time (roll 1 – 3 on a 6-sided die) and intelligent monsters will stop for treasure half the time (roll 1 – 3). Burning oil will deter monsters (referee’s discretion).

I like that this is put out there as a guideline and isn't just left for referees to decide out of the blue. It gives a real incentive for players to run away if they know that there are things they can do and a spirit of the rules they can point to so a crap referee can't just say, "Tough shit, hahahah!"


Experience for treasure recovered is on the basis of 1 point for every gold piece.

That's the standard in these rules. Got it.

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.

Another incentive (and rulebook validation) for backstabbing your fellow party members.

Monsters killed or overcome by magic or wits are worth experience points to be divided among the entire party.

You don't have to kill the beasties to get the XP for them. Although I don't believethat "sneaking past" or "successfully parleying" is "overcoming."

If the defeated monster is lower in level than the character who overcomes him, less experience is gained.

The XP chart is similar to the other Basic sets (HD + Special Abilities, but not Hit Points, determine experience point values), but this bit is from the OD&D white box. Interesting mix. AD&D mentions such a thing but it sounds like such a vague notion there that I don't know anybody that ever did this in that version.

The Dungeon Master should have the option of lowering the number of experience points gained under special circumstances. If one character sneaks out of the dungeon with all the treasure while the rest of the party is being eaten, he should gain some experience points but not necessarily all of them!

I think this contradicts the bit about stealing from the saddlebags, and the other thief quote earlier. "Stealing from them is OK and advantageous, as long as you don't abandon them!" Okiedokie chief!


Note that they have Remove Trap, but not Find Trap, in the abilities.

When the determination of a percentage probability is called for, as in the thieves table above, use the 20-sided die. Roll 2 such die (or one die twice) and designate 1 die the tens and one the units. Let us say a red die will be tens. Then a roll of red 6 and white 2 with a pair of dice is 62%.

Poor bastards didn't have ten-sided dice back in those days, let alone ten sider pairs specifically designed for percentile rolls.


More important, as the spell is recited it fades from the spell-caster’s mind and he can not use it again! He must go back to his study and re-learn the spell. This takes at least 1 day. Magic-users can not bring their magic books into the dungeon with them. Always assume that more than 1 day has passed between expeditions, so that a magic-user who leaves the dungeon and goes home may start a new game with all his spells ready, but the appropriate time lag must be carefully noted.

Like the healing rules, this really discourages "camping out" in the dungeon.

The AD&D Chance to Know Spell, and Min/Max spells per level rules are here as well.


I think the only mentions of "Normal Man" in Holmes are in the saving throw charts and character combat charts.

(Use a 20-sided die)... Numbers can be generated as follows: Mark one set of faces on a 20-sided die by coloring with a red permanent marker on one of each faces — 0, 1 , 2, 3, etc. The marked faces will be considered to have a ten added to them — 1 = 11 , 2 = 12, 3 = 13, etc. Unmarked 0 = 10, marked 0 = 20. This die will also be used to determine the results of combat from the combat table.

Poor bastards not only didn't have ten-sided dice, they didn't even have twenty-sided dice that went all the way up to 20.


Magic Missile... Roll the missile fire like a long bow arrow (Missile Fire Table).

The oft-remarked upon "must roll to hit with a magic missile" which is unique to Holmes.

Read Magic... The means by which incantations on an item or scroll are read.

This spell wasn't just for reading scrolls, it was for identifying items! Somewhere between AD&D and oblivion, this excellent (and dead-simple) idea got trashed.

Detect Invisible... A spell to find treasure hidden by an invisibility spell. It will also locate invisible creatures.

Fascinating that the detecting creatures bit is secondary... Invisible treasure! Talk about old-school... that's just mean! But there it is, expected to be fairly common at least since there's a spell just to foil it.

ESP... A spell which allows the user to detect the thoughts (if any) of whatever lurks behind doors or in darkness, or whatever a creature in range is thinking.

In all my games, ever, with me as a referee or as a player, ESP has been used as an interrogation (often surreptitiously) tool. But it seems that it's quite the low-level recon tool, and another reason why the referee doesn't need to feel guilty about putting something damn nasty behind a dungeon door.

Locate Object... In order for this spell to be effective it must be cast with certain knowledge of what is to be located. Thus the exact nature, dimensions, color, etc. of some magical item would have to be known for the spell to work. A well-known object such as a flight of stairs leading up can be detected by this spell, however.

This spell seems to be in every D&D edition, but I can't remember a single player ever choosing it. I think that may have to do with the long-term dungeoneering (with multiple levels with multiple access points) being mostly a relic of the past. With adventures these days being full of features that are meant to be found (or even necessary to advance the plot!), these sorts of spells are redundant - of course you're going to find the hidden thing, right?

Phantasmal Forces... Damage caused by the illusion will be real if the illusion is believed to be real.

That's pretty straightforward.

Strength... This spell increases a fighter’s strength by 2 – 8 points, a thief’s by 1 – 6 points, or a cleric’s by 1 – 4.

F-U M-U.


Know Alignment... Thus the cleric will be able to know whether a neutral person tends towards any of the four alignments.

I think this implies that Neutral isn't an alignment, but that it signifies the lack of any alignment at all.

Silence: 15’ Radius... Allows the user to cast silence in a large area so as to prevent sound or allow his party to move noiselessly. It can be used to silence some object as well. Note conversation is not possible under a silence spell.

I have only ever seen this spell used in play as an offensive weapon to remove the threat of enemy spellcasters. The idea that it would be a good tool in covert exploration never even crossed my mind... nor, apparently, my players' minds, over the course of over two decades.


Evil clerics have basically the same spells as do good clerics. However, spells in italics are reversed for evil clerics.

I think that this implies that good and evil clerics do not have a choice about whether or not they get the straight, or reversed, versions of the spells.


(The more complex system used for advanced play allows for varying amounts of damage by different weapons and by various sorts of monsters.)

This advanced system is not included in Holmes, so the variable weapon damage is not present, but the monsters all have variable attacks and damage.

The combat tables used by D&D gamers are often extremely complicated.

Haha, how many games say that about themselves these days? And it's not even true in this case!

Melee is the most exciting part of the game, but it must be imagined as if it were occurring in slow motion so that the effect of each blow can be worked out.

I didn't quote it, but the game has ten second rounds, with turns in combat being one minute forty seconds long (ten rounds to a turn) but ten minutes out of combat (and that's not an error or oversight - the book specifically mentions this difference as intentional). Combine that fact with this quote, and I think it's pretty clear that Holmes combat is not abstracted.

Also, judging from all the talk around armor class in this version, I do believe that AC2 (plate + shield) is the absolute best there can be. At least there is not even the slightest reference to anything better (magic armor and such subtract from the attackers' to-hit roll instead of improving AC).


This section should be titled "Flaming Oil," but it is interesting that the section basically disallows the molotov cocktail option and makes the flaming oil weapon a two-step process. Douse and then ignite. But damn... the damage... d8 the first round, 2d8 the second. Holy flaming cowpats!!!


The effects of a vial of holy water on the undead are the equivalent of a flask of burning oil on other creatures.

Tons more powerful than other editions...


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

"Archery" implies arching, doncha know. But slinging as well? Tough room!


Once the party is engaged in melee, arrows can not be fired into the fight because of the probability of hitting friendly characters.

That's one easy way to deal with it.


Magic weapons are usually designated as +1, + 2, +3, etc. This means that they give the wielder that many points to add to his roll for a hit. They may have other powers, do additional damage, etc...

It is not standard for a magic weapons 'plus' to be added to the damage roll!


Light weapons such as the dagger allow two blows per round. The heavy two-handed sword, battle axe, halberd, flail, morning star, and most pole arm can be used only once every other round. The light crossbow takes time to cock and load, so it likewise can be fired only once every other round. The heavy crossbow takes twice as long to load and fire.

This has to be an editorial oversight, or at least not meant to be used unless variable damage is used. Are you really telling me they meant people to get two attacks every round with a dagger, each doing 1d6 damage with a hit, while a battle axe wielder gets one attack every other round, which may also do 1d6 damage?

Not likely. That has to be wrong.

And with a 360' charging speed, that "every other round" light crossbow isn't going to see very much use, and neither is that "every four rounds" heavy crossbow.

This does establish the battle axe, flail, and morning star as two-handed weapons though, which is contrary to how most campaigns (or at least any I've ever participated in) handle those weapons.

Remember that spells and missiles fired into a melee should be considered to strike members of one’s own party as well as the enemy.

OK, I guess it is allowed. :P


The character with the highest dexterity strikes first... If dexterities are within 1 or 2 points of each other, a 6-sided die is rolled for each opponent, and the higher score gains initiative — first blow.

Very simple and easy. Awesome and cool, even.

One problem.



It takes one melee round to draw a new weapon.

This makes perfect sense in a 10 second round. (and really makes the 1 in 6 chance to drop your weapon if you're surprised a really nasty thing!)


As a guideline, it should take a group of players from 6 to 12 adventures before any of their characters are able to gain sufficient experience to attain second level. This guidelining will hold true for successive levels. Note that it is assumed that the 6 to 12 adventures are ones in which a fair amount of treasure was brought back — some 10% to 20% of adventures will likely prove relatively profitless for one reason or another.

Why this is mentioned under the Monsters section is puzzling, but the math is pretty brutal. If I have done the calculations right, these rules suggest it taking between 7 and 14 sessions to gain a level. Playing once a week, every week, this would mean that you might be anywhere from third to seventh level, say fifth level average, assuming you don't suffer a character death. That's glacially slow compared to modern versions, but quite cool I think when thinking long-term for your campaign. Slow and steady wins the races, don't you know.

What I find interesting is that this is a Basic rulebook, designed for character levels 1 - 3, but there are all sorts of high-level beasties included in here. Black pudding, griffon, giants, four dragon types, purple worm... it can get pretty hairy. And makes me suspect there was some effort to make this a complete game in and of itself, even if the intent was to move people along to AD&D.

The hydra is interesting. In my reading, I didn't see where it defines what die is used to roll monster hit points. There is this line:

Each head is represented by one hit die of 6 points, so a three headed hydra has 18 hit points, a 6 headed one, 36.

So is a six-sider standard? Or is this just a hydra thing?


Place a few special items first, then randomly assign treasure and monsters to the other rooms using the selection provided in the game or appropriate tables. 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.

That's a decent and plainly stated standard for how full a dungeon should be. Modules, and my campaign sadly, have a lot of dungeons that are just full of stuff, and I think that does have negative ramifications for campaign play.

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

Pits aren't so deadly in Holmes, are they?

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.

Well said!

When characters swear they call on the wrath of their appropriate deities, be it Zeus, Crom, Cthulhu or whatever.

Cthulhu? Yikes.

One player should map the dungeon from the Dungeon Master’s descriptions as the game progresses.

A mapper. Yay!

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. If the adventurers have a leader, the caller would logically be that player.

The idea that the mapper and caller are character, and not just player, roles is just... odd. Maybe not the mapper. But the caller?

Obviously, the success of an expedition depends on the Dungeon Master and his creation, the dungeon. Many gamesters start with a trip across country to get to the entrance to the dungeon — a trip apt to be punctuated by attacks by brigands or wandering monsters or marked by strange and unusual encounters. The party then enters the underworld, tries to capture the maximum treasure with the minimal risk and escape alive. The Dungeon Master should have all this completely mapped out, hit points and attack die rolls calculated and recorded, so that the game will proceed most rapidly at the exciting moments when the enemy is encountered.

Another encouragement for those that prepare.

The imaginary universe of Dungeons & Dragons obviously lies not too far from the Middle Earth of J.R.R. Tolkien’s great Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Oh, Eric, you dolt. :D

A final word to the Dungeon Master from the authors. These rules are intended as guidelines. No two Dungeon Masters run their dungeons quite the same way, as anyone who has learned the game with one group and then transferred to another can easily attest.

"Don't be a tight-ass."


The Dungeon Master should read the background material above to the assembled players and then let them decide how they will proceed.

The "background material above" is five paragraphs and 388 words. Not quite Isle of the Ape levels of inanity, but anyone complaining about boxed text in "newer" TSR adventures needs to look at this and fingerpoint correctly.


Comments, corrections, arguments, and much more is very much appreciated and indeed begged for.


  1. James, I love Holmes! One of these days I'm going to Judge a D&D campaign in which Holmes is the ONLY rulebook, and all PCs and NPCs have level caps of 3.

    Look at the line right before the entry for "Bandit" in the monster roster. It says: "Monsters' hit dice are 8-sided." :D

    You are right about two-handed weapons getting only 1 attack every other round being an editorial error. James Mishler told me so, and that it is a case of the influence of weapon speed factors surreptitiously creeping into Holmes.

    For monsters' DEX scores, just roll 3d6 on the spot. :)

    I like the Holmes rules better than any other version of the A/D&D rules. It wouldn't work for Carcosa, though, since Carcosa practically begs for high-level play.

  2. I think I may have a 1st edition Holmes copy here. The monster section is shorter than most people mention... no spiders, ants, centipedes, etc. Definitely no line explaining hit dice right before the Bandit entry.

  3. I am pretty sure the reason fighters are mentioned as getting better in combat at fourth level is because they are the only class to do so at that level in OD&D, rather than because they are the only class to advance in combat ability.

    You missed one of my favourite bits from Holmes:

    "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! The game is intended to be fun and the rules modified if the players desire. Do not hesitate to invent, create, and experiment with new ideas. Imagination is the key to a good game. Enjoy!"

  4. Great post about my favourite edition of the game. I think you've fallen for one of the great misconceptions about Holmes though:

    "Holmes was intended to be a lead-in to AD&D"

    The original reason for the Holmes edit had nothing to do with AD&D at all. It was simply a beginner's intro to D&D. In December 1977, Gary said:

    "we determined to revise the whole of D&D in order to clean up the errors and fill in the holes"

    In May 1978, Gary then said:

    "Before the third supplement (ELDRITCH WIZARDRY) was in print, it had been decided that some major steps would have to be taken to unify and clarify the D&D game system. ...Organizational work was in progress when correspondence with J. Eric
    Holmes...disclosed that the Good Doctor was interested in undertaking....the rewriting and editing necessary to extract a beginner’s set of D&D from the basic set and its supplements. The result of his labors is the “Basic Set” of D&D.

    Finally, Holmes himself said the following in August 1981:

    "the D&D Basic Rulebook is written for people who have never seen a game. It is intended to teach the game to someone who’s coming to it for the first time.

    Apparently Gary later said on a forum that he edited in all the AD&D references (for marketing reasons no doubt).

    Also, I can't agree with you about the elf hit dice, but like many things in Holmes, it's so vague and contradictory, I don't think there will ever be a consensus on the issue. Personally I think Holmes took the race = class of Men & Magic and simplified it in the case of elves, which is why they "a six-sided die for hits".

    It's great to read someone else's view of the game you love and their discovery of the edition's unique flavour.

  5. Witches were a whimsy of Holmes (and a popular topic of articles in The Dragon at the time) rather than an indication of a "path not taken" for the MU. There's a post by Gary somewhere I can't find at the moment, where he makes this clear. Holmes slipped many things in his rules set passed Gygax, who was too busy with AD&D to give the Basic Set more than a cursory "edit." If you find inexplicable divergences in Holmes, odds are they're decisions by Holmes himself rather than an indications early ideas later abandoned for D&D.

    FWIW, monks were already a sub-class of clerics in OD&D, as described in Blackmoor.

    Great post. Holmes was my first rules set and I still retain much fondness for it.

  6. Great ramble through the rules! I remember being a kid with Holmes, thumbing through it over and over. I was just overwhelmed at 13/14 years old of how *cool* it was that you could play a wizard or knight.

    My copy of Holmes says "3rd Edition, December 1979" and it does say in the Monsters section:

    "Monster List - Bandit to Zombie
    (italicized) Monsters' hit dice are 8-sided"

  7. Holmes is awesome (I was introduced to D&D through Holmes). For monster DEX scores, I simply take their movement rate as their DEX score:6, 9, 12, 15, etc. This makes fast monsters attack first

  8. Whilst I can appreciate the possibility that the Homes edit of D&D was not originally intended as a lead in to AD&D, I am not sure I entirely buy into it as a reasonable interpretation of the finished text. It sounds somewhat at odds with Kask's version of events, and I do not believe that Gygax's ideas about AD&D were fixed strongly enough in 1977 for Holmes to have to "slip" ideas past him. Certainly, if he was adding in substantial references to AD&D, he must have given the manuscript more than a cursory edit.

    Anybody have a link to a more detailed discussion of events?

  9. Thanks for this. I wasn't even aware of the Holmes edition until I got plugged in to the old school community online. Nice to get a nickel tour. :)

    I like the use of term "gamesters". Too bad that never caught on.

    Too bad D&D never embraced the "a class for every ability score as prime requisite." Are Constitution and Charisma really that difficult to find archetypes for?

    Now you got me thinking. Hmmm, how 'bout this:

    STR: Fighter
    INT: M-U
    WIS: Cleric
    DEX: Halfling
    CON: Dwarf
    CHA: Elf

  10. I started with Moldvay, and to this day have never even seen a copy of Holmes. Great rundown and commmentary, Jim. I'll have to pick up an ebay copy someday.

  11. Matthew James Stanham said...

    I do not believe that Gygax's ideas about AD&D were fixed strongly enough in 1977 for Holmes to have to "slip" ideas past him. Certainly, if he was adding in substantial references to AD&D, he must have given the manuscript more than a cursory edit.

    Anybody have a link to a more detailed discussion of events?

    Holmes' article Basic D&D points of view in Dragon #52 makes for interesting reading on the subject. He said:

    When I edited the rules prior to the first edition of the D&D Basic Set, it was to help the thousands (now millions) of people who wanted to play the game and didn’t know how to get started. Gary Gygax acknowledged that some sort of beginner’s book was badly needed, and he encouraged me to go ahead with it....

    I struggled very hard to make all these things clear to the readers of the first Basic Rules and yet retain the flavor and excitement of the original rules. I even used the words of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Collectors Edition (the original books) whenever possible. I had disagreements with Gary over some items (I wanted to use a spell point system, for instance), but we kept the rules as close as possible to the original intent.

    And on the subject of Alignment he wrote:

    The first Basic Set had one of those diagrams which said that blink dogs were lawful good and brass dragons were chaotic good. I never felt that this was particularly helpful. I am sure Gary Gygax has an idea in his mind of what chaotic good (or other “obscure” alignments, etc.) may be, but it certainly isn’t clear to me.

    Which indicates to me that Gary was making editorial decisions over and above those of the editor himself - Holmes.

    Hope this helps.

  12. Strength... This spell increases a fighter’s strength by 2 – 8 points, a thief’s by 1 – 6 points, or a cleric’s by 1 – 4.

    F-U M-U.

    And not only F-U to the M-U for his strength, but even for taking this spell. There are no bonuses to strength (except XP for Fighters...) in Holmes, so this spell is useless.

  13. >>There are no bonuses to strength (except XP for Fighters...) in Holmes, so this spell is useless.

    I don't do this often, but...


    That is indeed an excellent point. :D

  14. There are no bonuses to strength (except XP for Fighters...) in Holmes, so this spell is useless.

    Only as useless as the DM, just means he actually has to think and come up with something. There are a few clues to help elsewhere in the book:

    - a character...with a strength of 3...would barely be able to lift his sword off the ground

    - ...half his normal strength. Weakness is reflected in defense, attack, and carrying ability (Ring of Weakness)

    - Creatures who lose strength will do 25% less damage than is indicated, per 4 points of strength lost (Ray of Enfeeblement)

    Yeah, it's tough I know, but the DM actually has to make stuff up. They did that back then. :)

  15. Forget the firkin' ding blast DM! As a player under Holmes if I had Strength cast on me I'd be trying all sorts of stuff: pulling columns down on Philistines, cracking open stone statues in case there's candy inside, parting the rocks of Gibraltar, crushing coal into diamonds, using telephone poles as melee weapons, etc.

  16. Great run down, James. After months of hunting for my old Holmes box, I gave up and assumed it was lost forever. Bought a spiffy copy on ebay and have been loving life ever since. I never appreciated it then the way I do now, jonesing so badly on AD&D the way I did as a teenager. Thanks for posting this. It's funny you noticed that Thieves do not actually Detect Traps in Holmes. I noticed that this is the case in Greyhawk as well, and I have been seriously rethinking my stance on the class (I still don't like a lot of the conventions introduced, but Detect Traps is the big turn-off for my sensibilities).

  17. I came in with Moldvay, but have a distinct memory of an overnight trip to visit some friends of my parents. They had a college-aged kid. They told my brother and I that he had some D&D stuff in his closet that we could look at. We dug through it and found all kinds of stuff like the Holmes set and a version of B2 which had a +1 flaming sword (I can't remember now where that was, but it wasn't in our version). I think he also had the giants modules, plus some of the other monochrome cover modules. Back then, one of the best things about D&D was that it really felt like it was something "out there" that you were discovering. This guy's closet was like finding a secret door with a treasure chest inside.

    Alan Lucien, by the way, is credited in Tomb of Horrors, as well. There are accounts that he created the original version of the module, which Gary adapted:


  18. Which indicates to me that Gary was making editorial decisions over and above those of the editor himself - Holmes.

    Hope this helps.

    Very interesting, thanks! The bit about wanting to use spell points gave me a particular chuckle!

  19. "the characters can move from dungeon to dungeon within the same magical universe if game referees are approximately the same in their handling of play.

    A blast from the past. Who does this these days?"

    RPGA and all the various "living" campaigns.

  20. RPGA and all the various "living" campaigns.

    Personally, I found Living Greyhawk to be about the least magical universe I've ever gamed in.

  21. It’s really interesting to me how Holmes’ article in Dragon 52 reveals that he wasn’t only trying to create an introduction to the game, but wanted to make changes as well.

    Despite Gary putting his foot down about some things, I think this shows that TSR never really considered any rules canonical. At least until AD&D came along, and still only partially. It was OK for oD&D, the Basic Set, and AD&D to all be slightly different variations on the same theme.

    I thought it was kind of cool that when I recently ran a classic D&D campaign the group broke down this way: One guy had started with an experienced D&D/AD&D group (essentially no Basic Set). One guy started with Holmes. I had started with Moldvay. And the gal in the group had started with Mentzer. We had the whole gamut covered. ^_^

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. Discovered this GREAT article more than TWO years after you posted it ; - ()

    Only, one point of correction -
    (speaking with authority, I am a neurologist)
    and referencing the esteemed Stanford Professor,
    NeuroBiologist Robert Sapolsky;
    the human brain does NOT develop completely by age 12.

    Myelination or wiring of the language areas (temporal lobe)
    is usually complete by adolescence; however,
    the hippocampus and frontal lobes
    (memory, impulse control, organization, planning)
    is NOT often completed until the mid-twenties.

    This explains why 18 year olds make such
    willing soldiers and/or ‘porn stars.’
    They cannot appreciate their mortality and/or the long term consequences of their behavior.

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