Monday, November 6, 2023

The Giant Kingdom

One of the more underappreciated aspects of the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set is the degree to which its rulebook, prepared by J. Eric Holmes, is a very faithful editing and restatement of the original 1974 OD&D rules. Consider, for example, that both the Holmes rulebook and Volume 1 of OD&D begin with the same foreword, penned by Gary Gygax just a little over half a century ago (November 1, 1973). Here's the version found in OD&D:

Here's the version found in Holmes:
Aside from differences in typography, the two paragraphs are the same, right down to the idiosyncratic use of quotation marks and capitalization of titles. At least, that's what I had long thought, until Stephen Wendell, longtime player in my ongoing House of Worms Empire of the Petal Throne campaign, pointed something out on his own blog

In the Holmes version of the foreword, the second time the phrase "Great Kingdom" should appear, it's been replaced with the phrase "Giant Kingdom." This is clearly a transcription error, resulting no doubt from the process of re-typing the original foreword for use in the new rulebook, rather than a deliberate change. I've read that foreword in its Holmes version countless times over the decades, but it wasn't until Stephen mentioned it to me before our last EPT session that I ever took notice of it. I suppose my brain simply saw what was intended – "Great Kingdom" – rather than what's actually present in the text. The workings of the human mind can be very strange!

Though small in import, this revelation nevertheless got me wondering about how often we think we've read the words of a text when, in fact, we've unconsciously substituted our own. I suspect this happens a great deal in reading roleplaying game rules, especially when we come to the rules confident that they already know them. I'd further theorize that this is most common when it comes to Dungeons & Dragons, a game whose rules everyone thinks they "know" based on years of playing it and yet whose actual rules are often neither read nor understood correctly. 

Goodness knows I've been guilty of that many times and probably continue to do so. I'd be interested to know if readers can recall any notable examples of this in their own reading of RPGs. What sections of the rules have you misread for years, only realizing the truth later? 


  1. >
    > The workings of the human mind can be very strange!
    In my personal experience, the human mind also mostly just 'fills in the blanks', when the provided information is not 100% complete. I don't know if you have ever done this experiment, but: if you try to read a sentence that has all of the vowels removed, y cn stll rd th txt, s yr mnd jst pts th vwls bck n.

  2. Funny I just noticed the name of the post was the Giant Kingdom, I had read it as the Great Kingdom

  3. During the pandemic, my HS friends and I broke out the old Avalon Hill game Circus Maximus, meeting online and using a VASSAL module of the title. Even though we had been playing off and on for four decades, and I had run dozens of chariot races at conventions in the past — so much so that we hadn't consulted the rulebook in years — I sent everyone a new scan of the 2nd edition rules so everyone had a reference at hand...

    ... and to our collective shock, we found upon rereading the rules with fresh eyes that we had been playing the game "wrong." Well, ok, not entirely, but several passage we took as gospel had, in fact, been slowly replaced in our memory with house rules or misremembered facts over time. Strange how that happens...