Saturday, July 24, 2010

Blue Book, Cover to Cover (Part XIII)

Coins use the same values as in OD&D, while gems are slightly less valuable overall. The chart for determining the value of gems is skewed toward the low end and there is no chance for a gem being more valuable in 1000 gold pieces. Jewelry is similarly less valuable, ranging only from 300-1800 gp in value, as opposed to OD&D's 300-10,000 gp. Interestingly, both Holmes and OD&D discuss damaging jewelry through various means and how much such damage decreases its value, with Holmes lowering it by 50% and OD&D by only 25%.

The treasure type tables in Holmes are different than those in both OD&D and AD&D. In the case of OD&D, a major difference is that there are treasure types beyond Type I, although there are other differences as well, such as the inclusion of electrum and platinum coins. The percentages are also slightly different, with, for example, a 15% on one table becoming 20% on another or a range of 2-16 on one becoming 4-16 on another. Consequently, Holmes's tables are unique and it's hard for me to say whether they're closer to either OD&D or AD&D, as his tables clearly borrow from both.

Holmes retains OD&D's notion that 25% of all references to "any" in the magic items column of the treasure tables refer to maps, which is something I'm rather fond of. Except for adding together the categories of "armor" and "miscellaneous weapons," Holmes's magic items table is identical to that of OD&D, right down to the chances of an item of any given category's appearing. However, as you'd expect from an introductory game, the selection of items within each category is smaller -- just 10 in each -- and they're generated by a 1D10 roll rather than a percentile one.

Here are the items Holmes drops within each category:

Swords: Sword +1, +3 vs. Trolls (Clerics), Sword +1 Wishes Included (2-8 Wishes), Sword +2, Charm Person Ability, Sword, One Life Energy Draining Ability. Holmes also adds a second cursed sword not found in OD&D, namely the Sword -1 Cursed.

Armor and Weapons: Armor & Shield +1, Shield +2, Armor +2, Armor & Shield +2, Shield +3, Mace +2, Warhammer +2, Warhammer +3, 6" Throwing Range with Return, Spear +2, Spear +3. Holmes adds Cursed Armor -1.

Potions: Polymorph (Self), ESP, Longevity, Clairvoyance, Clairaudience, Animal Control, Undead Control, Plant Control, Human Control, Giant Control, Dragon Control, Invulnerability, Fire Resistance, Treasure Finding, Heroism.

Scrolls: Holmes's scrolls are unusual and I'll discuss at greater length in the next part of this series. For now, it's worth noting that Holmes does not include a scroll of protection from elementals (presumably because there are no elementals in his monster listing) nor does he give scrolls a chance to have more than 3 spells, while OD&D allows 7 as a possibility.

Rings: Human Control, Delusion, Protection 5' r., Djinn Summoning, Telekinesis, X-Ray Vision, Spell Turning, Spell Storing, Many Wishes (4-24). Holmes introduces the ring of plant control found in Supplement I.

Wands and Staves: Metal detection, enemy detection, illusion, lightning bolts, polymorph, negation, staff of commanding, staff of withering, staff of power, staff of wizardry. Holmes includes the rod of cancellation from Greyhawk.

Miscellaneous Magic Items: Holmes includes only 10 magic items in this category, as opposed to nearly 30 in OD&D. His selections are, as you might expect, generally geared toward the lower end of the power spectrum. I'll have more to say on this in a future post in this series.


  1. I'm intriuged by the jewelry value cap. Is it there because the game is introductory, or is Holmes trying to curb the high-value stuff for sake of environment? I rather think it's the introductory-level factor, myself, since ludicrously high-value shinies are both real-world items and a key feature of any treasure horde (as a GM, I prefer multiple small value over one large - but as a player, how could resist fighting through an entire dungeon just to hold 7500 gold in one palm?).

  2. is there any reason that this Holmes book shouldn't just be considered plagiarism? What did it add to OD&D or the hobby that couldn't be summarized in a 2 page addendum? What place does this book fill that isn't already taken by OD&D or AD&D or the supplements?

  3. It's a genuine question, Scott.

  4. is there any reason that this Holmes book shouldn't just be considered plagiarism? What did it add to OD&D or the hobby that couldn't be summarized in a 2 page addendum? What place does this book fill that isn't already taken by OD&D or AD&D or the supplements?

    I'm not sure how an authorized introductory edition of OD&D could be considered plagiarism in any sense.

    As for the rest, Holmes represents a path not taken, an alternate future for OD&D, one where the rules of the LBBs and Supplements are presented more clearly while still retaining the original game's emphasis on making the game one's own. Although marketing by TSR tried to make Holmes into an introduction to AD&D, it's not really and would better be described as a mass market version of OD&D aimed at an adult audience, an approach TSR never again tried, which is why OD&D's descendants were treated as "kiddie D&D."

  5. Your reading of them doesn't make them sound more clearly presented, although I can appreciate the value of gathering together the main strands of the supplements etc. into an easy collection. It also doesn't seem like much effort has been made to clarify much, and for every clarification there has been added confusion elsewhere. Is that your impression, or do you think this exercise in clarification has achieved its goal?

  6. Holmes was (largely) intelligible to my 10 year-old self and my friends, so I'd say that it succeeded in its goals, since, even now, there are parts of the LBBs that are unclear to me. I doubt I'd have been able to make heads or tails of OD&D back then if it'd been my first encounter with the game.

  7. The clarity of Holmes also has to be measured against the games of the day, not modern games. Probably the only game of the era that made an attempt to be more clear was Tunnels and Trolls, which unfortunately was marred by silly spell names that made it seem childish, especially to teenagers wanting to feel "grown up".


  8. "is there any reason that this Holmes book shouldn't just be considered plagiarism? "

    Because he was working for Gygax, Holmes duplicating text from the earlier books is, effectively, as if Gygax had duplicated his own writing.

    So, no, it's not plagiarism. In a sense, the real author is the company, and as such is able to reuse any material it owns as much as it wants.

  9. Frank it's funny you mention T&T, I was going to refer to it in my previous post. I suspect the failing of these introductory games is that the kind of people who want to play these games enough to buy them don't want to stop at level 3 or 5, and consider the sets insufficiently simplistic. I remember starting off on the red Basic D&D boxed set, and immediately being disappointed by the level limit, but having insufficient funds for Expert. But then when I bought T&T I was overawed by the vistas it presented me with. Even then - I must have been 11 or 12 I think - I was sure that the system of ever-increasing stats was weird and the whole thing had a childish air to it, but at least it went past level 3, i.e. was a complete game.

    I also tried Dragon Warriors (?) and an excellent one-book 16th century swords and sorcery called Maelstrom, all of which seemed more complete and compelling than my level-limited basic set, and in the end I didn't get into D&D properly until I was 15 and got hold of AD&D, which really had a feeling of being an arcane tome of mysteries. That's what I think I was looking for, not the scrubbed-down purity of a basic set.