Sunday, July 11, 2010

Blue Book, Cover to Cover (Part II)

The Blue Book also include a brief introduction in which Dr. Holmes notes that D&D is "a fantastic, exciting and imaginative game of role playing for adults 12 years and up." I don't recall reading this as a kid, being more drawn to the box cover, which didn't specify "12 years and up." With this qualification, the rulebook is aimed at exactly the same audience as the Moldvay set released in 1981.

The introduction notes that players "create their own map as they explore," which is important, in my opinion, as it emphasizes the exploratory nature of dungeon delving. Miniature figures are mentioned several times, both in the introduction and in the "How to use This Book" sections. The text says
The game is more exciting and spectacular using the lead miniature figures mentioned above, which can be painted to each player's individual taste, but paper markers or chessmen can be used effectively.
There's lots of evidence, as we'll see, that Holmes didn't think miniatures were necessary for play, but their presence, if only in a very abstract form, seems to have nevertheless been assumed as the default for most groups.

Holmes offers only 3D6 in order as a means of a character's abilities. Choice of class should be influenced by the results of the 3D6 rolls but is not bound by them. Strength has no mechanical purpose in Holmes other than as a fighting man's prime requisite. Intelligence grants knowledge of additional languages, as well as being the magic-user's prime requisite. Wisdom serves only as the cleric's prime requisite, just like Strength. So far, the abilities function exactly as in the LBBs. Constitution grants bonuses to hit dice rolls, as per Supplement I. Dexterity serves as the prime requisite for thieves and grants as bonus to hit with missiles, as in the LBBs. Although mention is made in the description of Charisma of followers and their loyalty, there are no actual rules to handle this in Holmes. It's worth noting that Holmes follows the order of abilities given in OD&D, with CON coming before DEX, rather than the reverse as in AD&D.

Prime requisite scores can adjusted upwards by sacrificing points from other abilities. The exact formulas by which points from one ability get converted into points from another varies by ability and by class, but it's generally at a ration of 2-for-1 or 3-for-1. These formulas are generally the same as those in OD&D but there are some exceptions, such as clerics no longer being able to lower Strength to gain Wisdom, for example. DEX cannot be lowered but it can be raised by thieves. CON and CHA cannot be altered at all. Unlike in OD&D, where it's implied in at least one case that these alterations to ability scores apply only to earned XP, there's no such implication in Holmes.

Character classes available are fighting men, magic-users, clerics, and thieves. All four are described as being primarily human classes, though it is noted that dwarves, elves, and halflings may be thieves, though no rules for this are presented. Instead, the reader is referred to AD&D, so it's a bit of an option question as to whether Holmes support demihuman thief characters. Demihumans throughout the text are generally treated as fighting men, although elves are noted as being "a combination of fighting man and magic-user." Thieves must be either neutral or evil in alignment, but the other three classes may be of any alignment.

Dwarves have infravision, while elves merely "see ... in the dark." Elves are also immune to ghoul paralysis, something not mentioned in OD&D. Elves in Holmes seem to function somewhat like a proto-AD&D multiclass character, but the text is unclear.
Elves progress in level as both fighting men and magic-uses, but since each game nets them experience in both categories equally, they progress more slowly than other characters.
I would assume this means that XP is divided equally between the two classes but I can imagine someone arguing that that's not the case. I wouldn't allow such an interpretation in my campaign, however. Complicating matters further is that elves use D6 for hit dice, though it's never specified when an elf gets new hit dice, since they have two classes. Halflings, despite being fighting men, get only D6 for hit dice, owing to their small size, thus opening up the notion that hit points represent, at least in part, body mass. Holmes uses Greyhawk-style hit dice and allows for 1-3 hit points regained per day of rest as opposed to OD&D's mere 1.

The list of equipment and weapons in Holmes is identical to that in OD&D, right down to the prices and the inclusion of wooden and silver crosses rather than more generic "holy symbols."

Under "Additional Character Classes," Holmes explains that AD&D introduces more character classes and races. These include half-elves (but not gnomes or half-orcs), paladins, rangers, illusionists, monks, druids, assassins, and witches. Mention of the latter class is original to Holmes, as Gygax denied in various places that there were ever plans for a witch class in AD&D. I can only presume, given Holmes's mention shortly afterward of "a Japanese samurai fighting man" that he was assuming that some of the classes in the pages of The Dragon at the time, of which the witch was one, might make it into AD&D. There's also mention of psionics and the possibility of unusual character types at the DM's discretion.

24 comments:

  1. Crosses, yes, because only Clerics tend to carry holy symbols but anybody can carry a cross. Turning undead is still a Clerical function, but Vampires will still not be able to approach someone strongly presenting a cross.

    I finally figured that out from reading Blackmoor, wherein it was noted that Vampires would recoil from any holy symbol, not just the cross.

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  2. I noticed the witch comment on my last read through of Holmes - I totally missed it back in the day.

    I'm generally in favor of variety. I think AD&D could have used more options like a Witch, some kind of skirmishing fighter - call it a Rogue, perhaps - and a Bard that was actually playable.

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  3. @Captain Jack -- It's never to late to make your own. I'm sure the Osric community would be happy to see them.

    Side Note -- I'm working on a Witch class for my current SnW game, but it's mostly just a Druid altered to put the spooky factor back in.

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  4. I'm increasingly of the feeling that the 2:1 and 3:1 factors for characteristics were not intended to be actual alterations of the characteristics in OD&D. Instead, they are applied as bonuses to the prime requisite for purposes of working out the experience gain.

    Thus for every full 2 points of Intelligence above 9, and every full 3 points of Wisdom above 9 the fighter's effective Strength was increased by 1 for consulting the experience table. The character's actual characteristics were unchanged.

    This worked well for pre-Greyhawk OD&D because the prime requisite characteristics didn't otherwise contribute to play unless one used house rules.

    Post-Greyhawk however, actually increasing the characteristics becomes advantageous for characters as it increases the derived abilities of the character. Prime requisites become much more important, in other words, since they now limit the character's abilities to perform their class role (in the sense that a fighter with Strength 12 is less effective than a fighter with Strength 15).

    Thus the Holmsean interpretation, where the characteristics are actually changed, became the much more popular one. After all, it made your character "better," at least with regard to your class abilities, even if it meant that your character became more one-dimensional (eg there is no purpose to having a smart or wise fighter). Which I think is the exact opposite of what was originally intended in OD&D. A smart and wise fighter was supposed to be a better fighter, not a worse one.

    [Disclaimer: We never altered characteristics this way and I don't know anyone who did (at least until the Dwimmermount PBEM <grin>); but then we skipped straight from OD&D to AD&D, so avoided the whole concept.]

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  5. Do you believe the change to Holy Symbol is indicative of rules sanitation or just someone realizing that not every church would use the cross as their symbol?

    I remember a friend's chuch passing out pamphlets railing against D&D (actually the examples of deprevity they used were from other RPG systems but those didn't have the name recognition of D&D) and obviously worship of deities was near the top of their list.

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  6. Crosses, yes, because only Clerics tend to carry holy symbols but anybody can carry a cross.

    I'm not sure I follow. I'd always assumed it's because early D&D, despite its occasional references to gods and goddesses (which you find in Holmes, for example), also employed an implicit "fairy tale Christianity" mixed with the iconography of Hammer horror films. In my opinion, that explains "anti-clerics" too, but I'm curious about your interpretation.

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  7. I'm increasingly of the feeling that the 2:1 and 3:1 factors for characteristics were not intended to be actual alterations of the characteristics in OD&D. Instead, they are applied as bonuses to the prime requisite for purposes of working out the experience gain.

    In OD&D proper, I agree, but, by the time of Holmes at least, the earlier intention seems to have been misread and there's text that talks about actually "reducing" on ability score in order to "add to" a prime requisite. This reading carried through into Moldvay, although the precise formulas used were altered from Holmes (who more or less followed OD&D).

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  8. Do you believe the change to Holy Symbol is indicative of rules sanitation or just someone realizing that not every church would use the cross as their symbol?

    I generally think it's more the latter, since the PHB doesn't reference crosses but rather "holy symbols." The most strident criticisms of D&D from a religious standpoint post-date this change, so it seems unlikely that they're connected, but I could be mistaken.

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  9. At the risk of speaking for someone else...

    I believe Will's point is that anyone can carry a religious icon but it doesn't become a "Holy Symbol" unless wielded by a cleric. Thus Bryolo (the word Verification for this post!) The Mostly Chaste, a Fighter by trade who also happens to be a devout follower of The Church of Whimsy, begins every day with a moment of prayer and devotion. He carries a stone egg (the primary symbol of his order) to aid in prayer. Possesion of that egg may grant hinm some protection over creatures who can not abide The Church of Whimsy but unless the egg is used by a cleric of Whimsy, it has no power to turn undead.

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  10. I believe Will's point is that anyone can carry a religious icon but it doesn't become a "Holy Symbol" unless wielded by a cleric. Thus Bryolo (the word Verification for this post!) The Mostly Chaste, a Fighter by trade who also happens to be a devout follower of The Church of Whimsy, begins every day with a moment of prayer and devotion. He carries a stone egg (the primary symbol of his order) to aid in prayer. Possesion of that egg may grant hinm some protection over creatures who can not abide The Church of Whimsy but unless the egg is used by a cleric of Whimsy, it has no power to turn undead.

    That's a fair point, I suppose, but my original comment was only that neither OD&D nor Holmes provides any reference to a generic "holy symbol" for purchase, only crosses. Indeed, illustrations of clerics and paladins typically show them wielding or wearing crosses in pursuit of their goals.

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  11. @Praetorius: "Do you believe the change to Holy Symbol is indicative of rules sanitation or just someone realizing that not every church would use the cross as their symbol?"

    My reading is that it's part of an very awkward switch from an LBB assumption of medieval Christian clerics (spell list mostly from Biblical miracles, level titles from Catholic hierarchy, etc.) to a game-preference for pagan worship.

    Call it a "realization" if you will, but in common (non-D&D) usage, the word "church" itself implies "Christian".

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  13. Fascinating... I always presumed the opposite to be true, i.e. the game began with pagan theology and was "sanitized" to a more ambiguous model.

    My introduction to the game began with the Mentzer red box set and although my group did procure a copy of the Moldvay books... we never really studied the history of the rules.

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  14. My assumption--but I have no evidence--is that someone, at some point, in some Lake Geneva campaign, said, "I want to play Heliosmashos, priest of Apollo!"

    The DM said, "Sure, fine, whatever."

    Two sessions later, something like the following dialogue ensued:

    "I turn the mummy!"

    "Do you have a cross?"

    "What? No, I'm a priest of Apollo. I have a sun medallion."

    "Well, then, you can't turn the mummy."

    "Well, that's stupid."

    "....yes. Yes it is."

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  15. Fascinating... I always presumed the opposite to be true, i.e. the game began with pagan theology and was "sanitized" to a more ambiguous model.

    It all makes sense when you realize that OD&D arose out of historical miniatures wargaming, so a medieval Christian background is simply assumed. Plus, it's important not to read the controversies of the 80s WRT Satanism and so forth back into the 70s. Even in the immediate aftermath of the James Egbert case, most of the "concern" about the game centered on players who couldn't separate fantasy from reality and not the whole Jack Chick-eseque nonsense of years later.

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  16. I'm sure that the Elven immunity to ghoul paralysis was in OD&D somewhere. Perhaps it's mentioned in the Ghoul's monster entry?

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  17. Right, it's in the ghoul entry (which is a more sensible location, really):

    "GHOULS: As stated in CHAINMAIL for Wights, Ghouls paralize any normal figure they touch, excluding Elves." [OD&D Vol. 2, p. 9]

    (Note that the elf-exclusion was not itself in Chainmail.)

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  18. Delta,

    Thanks for that. Somehow that slipped my mind (or I never knew it in the first place!).

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  19. At first it did cross my mind, then I went "Nah, James would know about that, I must be mis-remembering"... so thanks to Nathan for the additional kick to look it up.

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  20. I appreciate your assumption of knowledge on my part, but there are many details of OD&D that often slip my mind, so never feel reluctant to correct me.

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  21. So, does anyone know where that Ghoul-Elf thing came from anyway? It has always seemed so random to me.

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  22. "...so never feel reluctant to correct me."

    Watch out, teacher in grade school said that to me once and I didn't shut up for about 6 years. :)

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  23. Delta,

    Heh. Seriously, though, please continue with your corrections. I make no claims to being an expert on Holmes or OD&D, just a guy who loves them both and is trying to understand them better. Any insights you or anyone else has are greatly appreciated.

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  24. Matthew,

    On the ghoul thing, I was once told it was introduced as a balancing factor, because of the relative point costs of ghouls vs. elves in Chainmail, with elves being expensive enough that it seemed unfair for them to be able to paralyze elves with impunity. I have no idea if this is true, however.

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