Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blue Book, Cover to Cover (Part X)

What's really remarkable about the monster listings in Holmes is how consistent they are with the information in the LBBs and Greyhawk, to the point of having the same armor class, hit dice, treasure types, etc. There are some exceptions here and there, of course, but, even so, there's a high degree of continuity between OD&D and Holmes when it comes to monster statistics. The main differences, overall, seem to be that Holmes states outright things that are merely implied in the LBBs, as befits a book intended as an introductory text for use by beginners.

As noted elsewhere, Holmes follows Supplement I in giving monsters D8 for hit dice. They also use Greyhawk-style attacks with variable damage, despite the text's implying in places that such a complexity would be reserved to AD&D.

Holmes addresses the issue of balancing the power of monsters against the experience of the characters facing them in this way:
In setting up his dungeon, the Dungeon Master should be guided by the table given under Wandering Monsters, so that adventurers have a reasonable chance of survival. There is endless opportunity for inventiveness in the game, however, and if a high hit dice monster is desired, ways can be invented to scale it down so that a low level party can have a chance of defeating it. If one wanted to use a chimera, for instance, in a campaign with low level characters, the creature could be scaled down. Maybe it ran into a high level magic-user and was partially shrunk by a magic spell, reducing its high points. Or there might be a special magic sword, effective only against this chimera, hidden in the dungeon, and the adventurers given a hint or a legend that might lead them to it. In the interest of maintaining the balance of the game, however, a small or weak monster must not have a treasure anything like the hoard of a normal monster.
Concerns about handing out too much and too little treasure, as well as the rate of experience gain have already been touched upon here.

Bandits get a lengthy entry, as in OD&D, breaking down the full composition of a force of these men, including armor, weapons, and magical accoutrements. Interestingly, Holmes continues to use OD&D's "supernormal characters" to refer to any character who has a class and levels. Basilisks are as in OD&D, as are berserkers, though I adore the fact that their entry ends with a two-word paragraph -- "No prisoners." (This seems to be a reference to the fact that many Men have captives/prisoners amongst them). Black puddings are as in OD&D, but there is no reference to gray puddings in Holmes. Blink dogs and bugbears follow Supplement I. Carrion crawlers and cockatrices are true to OD&D. Chimeras are slightly more potent in Holmes, as its goat horns do increased damage. The displacer beast follows Greyhawk and djinni get a much-lengthened entry, elucidating their magical powers in some detail. The doppelganger entry follows Supplement I, except that Holmes spells out exactly what the creature needs for certain saving throws, as opposed to simply saying that it saves as a 10th-level fighter.

Monsters continue tomorrow.


  1. This is a great series. Thanks for doing it! :)

  2. I agree. I'm really liking this series a lot. I like seeing how this edition specifically deviated from OD&D.

    Too bad we couldn't talk you into doing a comparison of the red box, since that is what a lot of players like me started out with.

  3. I have the Holmes boxed set on my shelf. Now that I think about it, I've always felt that Holmes didn't really understand the game, in a way. He understood it to describe it. And I agree that his Blue Book is wonderful as an introduction. I think it's worth a series. But I never got the impression he was ever personally invested in the game. He's pretty detached. Positive and informative and sympathetic to the game, but I don't get the feeling he's connected to it in the slavering, emotional way of the people who wrote the LBB, or in that Hargrave couldn't stop caring about his Arduin world, and the way I was at eleven and twelve years old. I think for me and some people the game filled a need that we didn't know we had and which we didn't know ran so deep. And Holmes feels like a sympathetic, cheerful, overly rational visitor. Like a school teacher explaining something. Compare his attitude to some of the delightful nastiness that EGG would invest into some of his modules. Or the way I feel sympathy for the Dallas Egbert, Jr. story. Does that make me sound well adjusted? Probably not. But the depth of feeling some people have had for the game at times has been surprising, and I don't think Holmes was ever in touch with that source. I mean, I can watch Mazes & Monsters, and think, "Well, of course that happened!" :)

  4. Here's what I wish was added to the Holmes book: A picture of the original D&D set.

    In the face of all the all-caps-boldface-italics AD&D references, there's one cryptic reference to "the original work published in 1974 (Preface, p. 2) and I literally didn't know what that was. I didn't really know what OD&D was for a decade or two after that.

    Having the knowledge to hunt for an OD&D set would have been nice. But of course the business decision was to sell/speak only about AD&D at that particular moment, which was sucky for the game's history.

  5. >I've always felt that Holmes didn't really understand the game, in a way. He understood it to describe it. And I agree that his Blue Book is wonderful as an introduction<

    I'm very glad I got in soon enough as a kid to have started with White box and Greyhawk. Looking back on it, I remember that in my teens the guys who had the post LBB box sets were mostly people who were interested in D&D for maybe two years, but did not develop a lifelong love of the game and gaming in general. A lot of folk a bit younger than me seem to have started with them though, so I'm glad to be reminded about some of the stuff here at Grognardia, because I have not looked in one of those "'tween OD&D and AD&D" books in over 20 years. I am very suprised at how much was similar to LBB's.

  6. Were the rules for burning oil used in any other edition?

  7. I'm proud to have started with Holmes, but the thing that interests me most about this series is the differences between what's actually in the Holmes book, and my earliest memories of play.

    We played with just the Holmes box for at least one semester of school (about 4-5 months) until one of my friends came back from summer vacation with a copy of AD&D Player's Handbook.

    Yet I have no memory of things like non-variable weapon damage, or double attacks with daggers. Yet other things stick with me strongly, like the "chance to know" table for MU spells.

    Holmes plus the PHB was our mix for the next several months, along with a copy of the to-hit matrix I had gotten from somewhere (possibly Dragon magazine?), until Christmas brought me the full set of three AD&D books.

  8. After starting to read this series of articles, I was inspired to track down Dr. Holmes' book Fantasy Role Playing Games, published in 1981. The hardcover book just arrived in the mail today. I wanted to share the biographical information from the inside back flap of the dust jacket:

    "J. Eric Holmes is a physician who teaches at the Department of Neurology of the University of Southern California School of Medicine. The author of numerous scientific articles, he also writes science fiction: two of his novels, Mahars of Pellucidar and Mordred, have appeared in paperback editions. He is now at work upon two more fantasy novels.

    "Dr. Holmes is the editor of the "Basic Set" of Dungeons and Dragons rules, and he has been playing the game since 1974-as he puts it, "practically since its inception." He has conducted beginner's games at GenCon, the annual gaming convention, and he has written articles for the gaming publications, The Dragon and Alarms and Excursions."

    Note that Dragon magazine was still "The" Dragon back in those days.