Before providing a sample map -- or "floor plan," as Holmes calls it -- of one level of the Tower, Holmes briefly talks about the employment of "men-at-arms." Interestingly, he suggests they be employed primarily when only one character is attempting to explore the dungeon. This isn't evidence one way or the other regarding the decline of hirelings as an element of game play, but it is interesting. Remember that in Holmes's various articles elsewhere, including in his novel, The Maze of Peril, hirelings play important roles. Still, I thought it worth noting.
Holmes's map, as you can see, doesn't use numbers for its key but letters, which, while not unique to Holmes, is still unusual. Though his map is simple, it's not a linear design, with many viable paths of exploration. There's also an underground river and sea cave, two elements that I frequently use in my own dungeon designs. Until I looked again at this map I hadn't realized how much of an influence it had exerted over me all these years later.
The room descriptions in Holmes are lengthy, partially because he describes their contents in greater detail, but also because he often includes game rules in the descriptions. For example, Room B houses four skeletons and Holmes takes time to note that "A first level cleric must roll a 7 or more on two 6-sided dice to turn them away and then make a second roll to see how many are turned away." He clearly intended this section to serve as both a tutorial for dungeon design and a refresher course for the rules he'd already presented.
Rather than go through each room in detail, I'm instead going to offer a few impressions based on what sticks out most in reading through the map key:
- Holmes is inconsistent as to whether he includes hit points in his monster descriptions, sometimes going so far as to suggest hit points should be rolled up on the spot.
- He includes cursory morale rules in one entry, suggesting that goblins will run away or surrender if more than half their number is killed.
- A 4th-level evil magic-user and his 2nd-level fighting man henchmen note that the MU has better saves than a 3rd-level one (by +1).
- Holmes includes some basic rules for swimming, drowning, and wearing armor in water.
- There's a clever little magic mask that will answer a single question put to it once a day. This is another element of this dungeon I've used again and again over the years.
- There are rules for adjudicating knock-down.
- There's even a "princess" to be rescued, Lemunda the Lovely, as well as an octopus, which is quite nasty, having 16 hit points and 6 attacks per round.
- The sarcophagus room is a nice companion piece to Mike Carr's pool room from Module B1, with many sarcophagi, some of which contain treasure and others monsters.
- The Tower of Zenopus seems to have several entrances in and out, including one in a nearby cemetery.
- In the magician's tower, there's a cage ape that, if released, may turn on his evil master rather than attack the PCs.
- Holmes also includes a new magic item, the wand of petrifaction, in the dungeon.
Having now completed this examination of the Holmes-edited Basic Rules, I'll offer a few comments.
First, I think it's true beyond a shadow of any doubt that the Blue Book should be considered part of the OD&D family rather than a precursor to AD&D. Its AD&D connections are few and clumsy and there are enough rules differences between the two games that I don't think the Blue Book would serve as a particularly good introduction to AD&D. As an intro to OD&D, however, it's excellent, especially if one comes to it with a hobbyist mentality rather than expecting a "complete" game without the need to make the game one's own.
Second, I also think it's true that the Blue Book is probably one of the last major products published by TSR that strongly reflected a hobbyist philosophy and esthetic. That is, the Blue Book is not a "professional" product but rather the product of a talented and creative amateur sharing his love of the game with other talented and creative amateurs. It's an artifact from another time and it's little wonder to me that TSR would seek to replace it with something more "polished" in years to come.
Finally, on a personal level, it's been fascinating re-reading in depth a book that was my first introduction to the hobby. I'm amazed at how much is in Holmes that I've carried with me for three decades. I'm equally amazed at how many things I thought were in Holmes that aren't but were instead likely misinterpretations of passages in the Blue Book or house rules I adopted early and misremembered as stemming from it. I won't make the claim that the Blue Book is "the best" D&D Basic Rules ever written, because that's a very subjective claim. However, I will say that I am very glad it was my first rulebook and I wish there were one like it available today. Dr. Holmes was a great teacher and I consider myself fortunate to have learned from him.