Thursday, July 8, 2010

Musings Upon Reading Holmes

Holmes continues to exert its influence over me and I've found myself re-reading it yet again. In doing so, I've been taking note of its unique rules, things akin to its version of magic missile. Here's one that recently jumped out at me:
Most dungeons are dark. Elves and dwarves can see 60 feet in the dark, as can all monsters (and this term embraces all evil characters of the Dungeon Master), but humans and halflings will need artificial light or be reduced to half speed or less.
Now, students of the LBBs (or even Philotomy's musings) will know that this ruling is not unique to Holmes. It's derived from Volume 3 of OD&D, where it's stated that
In the underworld some light source or an infravision spell must be used. Torches, lanterns and magic swords will illuminate the way, but they also allow monsters to "see" the users so that monsters will never be surprised unless coming through a door. Also, torches can be blown out by a strong gust of wind. Monsters are assumed to have permanent infravision as long as they are not serving some character.
Still, it's an interesting conceit, namely, that simply by inhabiting a dungeon, monsters, including human adversaries, gain the ability to "see in the dark." Notice how what OD&D calls "infravision," Holmes (generally) calls by a very prosaic name. Indeed, Dr. Holmes is on record (in Dragon #52) as disliking the pseudo-scientific, naturalistic explanation of infravision. This makes me think that the scant and inconsistent references to infravision in Holmes were not original to his text but foisted on him Gygax or someone else at TSR.

This brings me to my final point. A lot of people tend to view the Holmes rulebook as a an introduction to AD&D, a position the rulebook itself seems to imply at various point and one I held as a younger person. However, in re-reading it, I grow ever more convinced that Holmes is better understood as an introduction to OD&D, which shouldn't really be a surprise if one has read Holmes's preface to his work. Seen in this light, I think Holmes becomes even more interesting and I'll have some more thoughts along this line in the days to come.

18 comments:

  1. The one thing I liked about infravision was the active/passive dichotomy: Elves and Dwarfs had passive infravision, which only received heat impressions. Orcs had active infravision, which sent out waves that bounced back, but which also gave their eyes a scary red glow in the dark. I can't recall the source for that, but I think it was the 1E DMG.

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  2. A lot of people tend to view the Holmes rulebook as a an introduction to AD&D, a position the rulebook itself seems to imply at various point and one I held as a younger person.

    Gygax admitted the AD&D emphasis in Holmes was a late addition down awkwardly in The Dragon (somewhere between 30 and 50 I think). Holmes was clearly written as a clean up of OD&D but after it was begun the AD&D project started and the links were pushed in.

    I'll see if I can find the article and provide a reference when I get home.

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  3. "Gygax admitted the AD&D emphasis in Holmes was a late addition down awkwardly in The Dragon..."

    That would also explain the heavy-handed AD&D boosting in one part of B1. It really jumped out at me when I reread it recently.

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  4. Am I the only one who doesn't care at all for infravision/ultravision, either monsters or PCs? I generally do away with it except for the rare monster.

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  5. For a true enchanted labyrinth type dungeon I always liked to think of the place as an entity that could grant powers upon it's inhabitants/protectors.

    For things that are just caves with orcs camping out in it, or sewers beneath the city, I don't usually use those suggestions that all enemies can see you and you can't see them, or that doors that are barred to you open immedi

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  6. I definitely see Holmes as an OD&D variant, rather than an introduction to AD&D. Reading through it and comparing it, you can see where big sections of the text are derived directly from the LBB.

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  7. ...atly for monsters. Nice, sentence break, eh?

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  8. Running with the whole "dungeons are mythic underworlds" theme, it'd be an interesting side effect that PC humans and halflings eventually get the ability to see in the dark, after having spent a long time in the dungeon. Sort of a "gaze long enough into the abyss and the abyss will gaze back into you" moment.

    The quasi-scientific explanation isn't really my speed, I'd probably use a more "see despite absence of light" magical effect.

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  9. I think that Holmes serves best as an introduction to the 1974 rules + the GREYHAWK supplement.

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  10. Reading through it and comparing it, you can see where big sections of the text are derived directly from the LBB.

    Prime comparison point on this is the pretty much cut and paste inclusion of the suggestions for non-standard PCs like dragons.

    Contrast it with the Monster as PC section of the 1st Edition DMG.

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  11. Prime comparison point on this is the pretty much cut and paste inclusion of the suggestions for non-standard PCs like dragons.

    It was originally balrogs, which was apparently one of the popular choices in the first couple of years. (Early issues of Alarums & Excursions have a number of references that made a lot more sense once I realized the text change.) People also played various were-creatures, statting them up as they saw fit.

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  12. The one thing I liked about infravision was the active/passive dichotomy: Elves and Dwarfs had passive infravision, which only received heat impressions. Orcs had active infravision, which sent out waves that bounced back, but which also gave their eyes a scary red glow in the dark. I can't recall the source for that, but I think it was the 1E DMG.

    The passive/active distinction is in the DMG, I am almost certain, and it's exactly the kind of pseudo-scientific explanation that I have come to dislike in the game. I much prefer Holmes's simpler -- and vaguer -- "see in the dark."

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  13. Am I the only one who doesn't care at all for infravision/ultravision, either monsters or PCs? I generally do away with it except for the rare monster.

    No, you're not the only one.

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  14. Running with the whole "dungeons are mythic underworlds" theme, it'd be an interesting side effect that PC humans and halflings eventually get the ability to see in the dark, after having spent a long time in the dungeon. Sort of a "gaze long enough into the abyss and the abyss will gaze back into you" moment.

    Funny you should say that, because something very much like this is in effect in my Dwimmermount campaign :)

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  15. Prime comparison point on this is the pretty much cut and paste inclusion of the suggestions for non-standard PCs like dragons.

    Contrast it with the Monster as PC section of the 1st Edition DMG.


    And how!

    As it turns out, I was thinking of this earlier today and will likely make tomorrow's Open Friday post riff off of it.

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  16. "...and it's exactly the kind of pseudo-scientific explanation that I have come to dislike in the game."

    I was being unclear. It wasn't the pseudoscience I enjoyed, but the idea that the bad guys had better infravision and that it gave their eyes an evil glow in the dark. I got tired of the engineers in my group arguing over how it would work, so I eventually ruled it was due to their connection to the demon god they worshiped.

    Security word: "Ovioth." Not a bad name for a demon god.

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  17. Am I the only one who doesn't care at all for infravision/ultravision, either monsters or PCs? I generally do away with it except for the rare monster.

    Nope, I don't like it either. I've done away with such things for humanoid races in my game. I prefer a naturalistic explanation, and species that did not evolve in a lightless environment don't have any reason to be able to see in the dark.

    I wrote a post about adaptations to lightless environments a while back: http://flamingtales.blogspot.com/2010/05/dancing-in-dark-adaptations-to.html

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  18. Tolkien said Elves evolved during the Lightless Years, after the Trees were destroyed. Naturally, this would then apply to Orcs.

    (Well, if you're looking for Tolkien influences on the game, that's probably one. Though fairies and elves were always coming out at night in old stories, and many said they lived in a land of perpetual twilight at best, depending on the ethnic folklore.)

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