A knight and wizard facing a red dragon captured then, and still does now, that difficult to define yet easy to grasp sense that there was something more to exploring a dungeon than mere venality -- or at least there could be. Certainly, there is loot to be had on Holmes's cover -- quite a lot of it, in fact -- but it's long seemed to me to be a mere ornament rather than the focus of the piece. A dragon means a pile of treasure and the bigger the pile of treasure, the badder the dragon, and thus the braver the guys who resolve to go toe to toe with it.
I realize I've said this many times before, but it bears repeating: I love the "groundedness" of Sutherland's pieces. They're fantastical but they're not pure fantasy. The knight's arms and armor, even the emblem on his shield, evoke real world history rather than pure flights of fancy. The same goes for the wizard, with his stars and planets robe and conical cap, albeit to a different degree. I don't know that anyone ever dressed in such a fashion, let alone anyone claiming to wield magical powers, but that's how Western tradition has long portrayed a wizard, so seeing him there beside the knight felt right. All these elements combined to create a cover that really spoke to me as a kid and drew me right in.
Of course, so did the blurb "the original adult fantasy role-playing game for 3 or more players." I've discussed this before and I don't want to dwell on it too much, but I regret the way that, as the years have gone on, roleplaying has, in general, assumed that its target audience consisted primarily of children. That's an assumption that's not present in OD&D -- a fact Gygax confirmed -- nor is it present in Holmes.
Holmes maintains consistency with OD&D in lots of other subtle ways, too. Its interior cover, for example, recalls the subtitle of the LBBs, calling D&D "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Role Playing Adventure Game Campaigns." Gone is the references to wargames, despite the fact that both this rulebook and the LBBs note that they are "Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures." That's probably part of the reason why, even when I wasn't using them regularly, I've always associated miniatures with D&D. That's not to say I consider minis necessary for play, but I've never considered them antithetical to it nor do I think the presence of minis on a game table is somehow evidence of a less sophisticated style of play.
Also of interest on the interior cover is the copyright notice. The rulebook, or at least the printing I have, is listed as being copyrighted 1974, 1977, and 1978. The 1977 date is a reference (I believe) to the earliest printing of the Holmes rulebook, while the 1978 date is a reference to the revised printing. And of course 1974 is a reference to the publication of the LBBs, once again suggesting that Holmes presents itself as a revision of the 1974 rules rather than anything else. AD&D, by contrast, includes no reference to 1974 in its various copyright notices.
Dr. Holmes's short preface immediately states that "This book is based upon the original work published in 1974 and three supplementary booklets published in the two year period after the initial release of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS." He adds that, as an introductory work, it "limits itself to basics." Then, more intriguingly, he says:
The rules contained herein allow only for the first three levels of player progression, and instructions for the game referee, the "Dungeon Master," are kept to the minimum necessary to allow him to conduct basic games. This is absolutely necessary because the game is completely open-ended, is subject to modification, expansion, and interpretation according to the desires of the group participating, and is in general not bounded by the conventional limitations of other types of games.Holmes seems to be implying that, as an "open-ended" game, it's important that there be few instructions for the referee beyond the bare minimum needed to understand the basic rules. I found that intriguing as a kid and I find it even moreso now. It's a line of thought that's in keeping with one school of thought regarding OD&D's very spare approach to rules explication and it's definitely at odds with the direction the game would take later. The preface also includes the obligatory reference to AD&D "for players who desire to go beyond the basic game," although, at the time of its first publication, AD&D consisted solely of a single hardback volume, the Monster Manual.
Following Holmes's preface is a nearly word-for-word reproduction of Gary Gygax's foreword (properly spelled this time) to the original edition of D&D. There are a few minor changes to the foreword, mostly intended to direct readers to sections of the Holmes rulebook rather than sections of the LBBs that are non-existent in the new edition. Again, the inclusion of this foreword suggests strongly that Holmes ought to be viewed as an introduction to and development from OD&D rather than as anything else, including a "basic AD&D," as many see it.