Monday, August 30, 2010

Basic D&D part 16

Owl Bear: Like many other monsters in Holmes, the Owl Bear’s attack routine has been simplified. Instead of two claw attacks that deal 1d6 damage each and a bite that deals 1d12, it now has three attacks that deal 1d8 damage each. I was all set to castigate Holmes for not providing the rules for an Owl Bear’s bear-hug attack, but it seems he’s just following the lead of OD&D. Supplement I says that the Owl Bear hugs as a Werebear, but lo and behold the Werebear has no hug attack to speak of in the rules. Perhaps Gary was talking about a rule he was using at his own table, without realising that he’d never set it down in the books.

Owl Bear’s get an alignment for the first time here: Neutral.

This is also the first time that the Owl Bear’s physical appearance is specified in writing. Supplement I had an illustration that made it pretty clear, but nothing in the monster entry itself.

Pegasus: They were Lawful in OD&D, and now they are Lawful Good.

Pixie: Their Armour Class has improved significantly, from 6 to 3, and their Treasure Type has changed from C to R + S combined. What this means is that they have less copper and silver coinage, and a much higher chance for gems, jewelry and magic items. In OD&D their alignment was Neutral, but now they can be Neutral or Chaotic Good. They are otherwise the same as in OD&D, with their rules for flying fatigue brought in from Chainmail. There’s some new info provided as well, with Holmes stating that their royalty are powerful magic-users, and that they are friendly with Elves and Fairies.

Purple Worm: Holmes’ irritating tendency to simplify a monster’s attack routine strikes again. The worm’s bite damage has been lessened from 2d12 to 1d12, and its sting has been raised from 1d8 to 1d12. The only other difference from OD&D is that their swallow whole attack is no longer restricted to creatures of ogre-size or less.

Rust Monster: Their alignment is now given as Neutral, and their ability to turn metal to rust is no longer restricted to ferrous metals specifically.

Shadow: Shadows were Chaotic in OD&D, but now they are Lawful Evil.

Skeleton: Skeletons had an Armour Class of 7 in OD&D, but it is now listed as 8. Their alignment is now given as Neutral. Their immunity to sleep, charm and mind-reading spells is also specifically called out in the monster entry.

Spectre: Spectres were Chaotic in OD&D, but now they are Lawful Evil. And look, that reference to the Nazgul is still there!

Stirge: Their alignment is now given as Neutral. Holmes also gives them a +2 to attack rather than saying they attack as 4th level Fighters – a much more elegant way to model the rule. The less charts I need to look up the better.

Friday, August 27, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 15

Lizard Man: The lizard man seems to have lost its two claw attacks, now having but a single attack at 1d8 damage. If this is a weapon attack as the description implies, then I guess that Lizard Men are adapting to more civilized warfare, rather than using their bites.

Lycanthropes: Holmes has included all five types from OD&D: wereboars, werebears, werewolves, weretigers and wererats. Werebears and weretigers have had their attack routines altered. Whereas before each of them had a few attacks of smaller damage, now each gets one attack with enormous damage. The werebear dishes out more damage than just about everything else in the game. The origin area of some lycanthropes is mentioned, with werewolves being from ‘Europe’, weretigers from ‘India’, and weresharks from ‘Polynesia’. Alas, there are no wereshark stats provided.

Lycanthropes are still only affected by silver or magical weapons, but now it is spelled out that they can be damaged by normal weapons while in human form. It’s also made explicit that they are repelled by wolfsbane. And of course there are the obligatory alignment changes: wereboars changed from Chaotic to Chaotic Good, wererats from Chaotic to Lawful Evil, werebears from Lawful to Chaotic Good, weretigers from Chaotic to Chaotic Evil, and werewolves from Chaotic to Lawful Evil.

Manticore: The manticore’s alignment has changed from Chaotic to Lawful Evil. Their attack routine has also been simplified, with each claw and bite dealing 1d6 instead of the claws doing 1d3 and the bite doing 1d8.

Medusa: As in OD&D, but with the amusing note that ‘this monster is usually female’.

Minotaur: Their alignment has changed from Chaotic or Neutral to Lawful Evil. Otherwise, they are just like OD&D.

Mummies: The Armor Class of mummies has dropped from 3 to 5. Their alignment has changed from Chaotic to Lawful Evil. The mummy has also developed a greater resistance to magic weapons; in OD&D it was the weapon's magic bonus that was halved, but in Holmes the entire damage rolled is halved. There's also a whole new rule about characters being paralysed by their first sight of a mummy.

I don't know if I realised this before, but the mummy's rotting touch is utterly hardcore. That it causes you to heal at 1/10th the normal rate is bad enough, but the best you can hope for in the way of aid from clerical magic is that your healing rate will be halved from now on. Once a mummy touches you, that's it buddy – that rotting disease has you forever. Throw in the new rule about mummy paralysis and you've got one very deadly creature.

Contradiction alert: mummies are said to be vulnerable to fire, yet burning oil only does half damage to them. What gives, Holmes?

Nixies: The same as in OD&D, except that the effect of Dispel Magic on their charm spell is not given, probably because that spell is out of the range of PCs using the Basic Set. The bit about flaming swords holding their fish flunkies at bay is also omitted, for reasons less easy to fathom. Also, they now have a movement rate of 60 on land.

Ochre Jelly: The same as OD&D, with the added ability to eat through leather and cloth.

Ogre: Their Armor Class has changed from 5 to 6. Their alignment has changed from Neutral or Chaotic to Chaotic Evil.

Orc: Their Armor Class has changed from 6 to 7. Their alignment has changed from Neutral or Chaotic to Chaotic Evil. There is no longer a roll to see if Orcs in the wilderness lair in caves or a village, and the powerful monsters that live with the Orcs have been drastically scaled back – there's no longer a chance for high-level Fighters or Magic-Users, or Dragons. Orcs no longer have a chance to be guarding wagon trains full of gold, either. I suppose this is because Holmes D&D doesn't really deal with wilderness adventuring, being more focussed on the dungeon. But taken as a whole it looks to me like the orcs are falling on hard times.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 14

Before I go on, I feel the need to point out that Holmes Basic is the first D&D rule set to have a monster’s stats grouped together with its description. God bless functional design!

Gnome: In OD&D, gnomes could be Lawful or Neutral. Here, they are either Neutral or Chaotic Good. There’s a note at the end that Gnomes favour crossbows, which is something that’s never been brought up before, and doesn’t stick around in the future so far as I recall. I'm going to play it up, though. It does fit well with the 'tinker gnome' theme that crept into the race in the late 80s.

Goblin: In OD&D goblins all carried 1-6 gold pieces each. Now they carry 2-12 electrum pieces, which is the exact same value expressed in different coinage. Their alignment has changed from Chaotic to Lawful Evil. In Supplement I their standard damage was set at 1-4, but here it’s been upped to 1-6. The only other difference noted is that the Goblin King and his bodyguards don’t suffer the -1 penalty in daylight, but OD&D’s assertion that they fight as hobgoblins may have been intended to cover that.

Gray Ooze: These are exactly the same as in OD&D. The only minor difference is that it isn’t noted that gray oozes can’t dissolve wood or stone. And the psionic powers from Supplement III don’t make it either, but then again psionics aren’t present in Holmes at all.

Green Slime: Just as in OD&D, with an additional note that green slime often drops from the ceiling onto unwary adventurer. A welcome addition!

Griffon: For some reason, their Armor Class has changed from 3 to 5. They also now get a physical description, though a rudimentary knowledge of mythology would have provided that already

Harpy: The harpy’s damage range has changed, as they now do 1-4 with each attack instead of 1-3 per claw and 1-6 with a weapon. Seems reasonable, as the image of weapon-wielding harpies doesn't really sit right. They have also changed from Chaotic to Chaotic Evil. Otherwise, they’re just as in OD&D.

Hell Hound: Their alignment has changed from Chaotic to Lawful Evil. Holmes has house-ruled the breath weapon, saying that it requires an attack roll on the regular combat chart for monsters. Their supposed great stealth isn’t mentioned, nor is their tendency to hang around with fire giants.

Hippogriff: They now have an alignment of Neutral.

Hobgoblin: Their Armor Class has changed from 5 to 6; I suppose they have downgraded from chainmail to leather and shield? Although their movement rate remains unchanged... Their alignment was previously Chaotic, but now they are Lawful Evil. Otherwise they’re just like in OD&D.

Horse: Just as in OD&D.

Hydra: Just as in OD&D.

Kobold: Individual treasures for kobolds have been lessened from 1-6 gold pieces each to 3-24 copper pieces. Looks like the kobolds of the world have fallen on hard times! Their alignment has changed from Chaotic to Lawful Evil. It’s weird that kobolds are generally said to be weaker than goblins, but a kobold chieftain (who fights as a gnoll) is stronger than a goblin king (who fights as a hobgoblin). They are also described as dwarf-like, very much unlike the canine appearance they had already been given in earlier products, as well as the upcoming Monster Manual. I'm going to chalk that up to a reference to their size, rather than their appearance. Finally, they get a +3 bonus to saving throws that is unique to Holmes so far as I know. It seems he was really embracing that whole ‘dwarf-like’ thing.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Solo D&D Playtesting

Most of my D&D time of late has been taken up with designing and playtesting my abstract solo game. (Fear not, Ultimate Sandbox enthusiasts, that project keeps chugging along.) I've played through a few sessions that I want to write up here just to get a feel for how it might fit together.

My unnamed fighter had a very easy time of it on his initial dungeon foray. Early on he found a pile of copper coins in a locked chest, and the very next turn found an even larger pile of copper lying completely unguarded. Laden with copper, he left the dungeon and earned the princely sum of 17 experience points.

(The 'chest' noted above was an 'Obstacle and Treasure' result on the table. I haven't yet made up a chart for obstacles, so for this game I just had my character take a turn bypassing it, with the Wandering Monster check this entailed. Otherwise, he found a fair bit of easy treasure, but with very little reward to show for it. This seems about right so far, and will be even better when the obstacles get more difficult to get through.)

The second foray was a bit more interesting. Coming again to the same locked chest, he found it this time full of silver. Later he came to a stuck door. While battering it down he was attacked by a bandit and made short work of the fellow. Behind the door was a pit trap, but he managed to pass by without triggering it. Past that was a series of unguarded treasures, treasures behind obstacles, and one treasure guarded by a spear trap that was successfuly bypassed. Loaded with coins my fighter decided to leave the dungeon, and had to fight another Bandit and an Orc on the way out. Success, and a grand total of 168 XP.

(With yet another early 'Obstacle and Trap' result, I figure it was probably the very same one with noew treasure added. The stuck door was an Obstacle, with a wandering monster check coming up positive while trying to batter it down. A couple of traps popped up, but going with the 2-in-6 chance for triggering them meant they did not come into play at all; I might tweak this a bit. And yet again there's a lot of easy treasure lying about the place. It's still minor stuff, but I'll probably adjust those numbers down as well. The wandering monster checks as I was leaving the dungeon worked a treat, giving me a pretty desperate battle against that final Bandit.)

The third foray was really quick. I bumped into a Caveman almost instantly, cut off his head in the surprise round, and hauled out a couple thousand silver pieces. There was only 96 xp to be had, but it was a pretty good haul for a single turn.

The fourth foray was really short, and super profitable. After bypassing a few obstacles, I was surprised by a giant rat that took me down to 2 hit points. I killed it on the next round, and found a sparkling haul of 4 pieces of jewelry in its nest. Each of these was worth over 1,000 gold pieces! So after a couple of meagre outings, I finally got the big score and rocketed up to second level, just 1 xp shy of 3rd.

(This was a much bigger haul than I ever expected. I'm currently using the Mentzer treasure tables, and in those the value of all jewelry is 3d6 x 1000 gold pieces. This definitely bears some alteration!)

So the game seems to be working at the moment. The spine of it is solid, I think, and I spent a good fun hour plugging away at it. One rule I completely forgot about was fatigue. In the rules I was following the standard D&D rule in which characters must rest for one turn every hour, but during gameplay I kept forgetting to apply it. So you know what, it's gone. I don't need fiddly rules complicating this thing.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 13

Dwarves: This entry wisely directs the DM to the Dwarf PC class for special abilities. Otherwise things match with OD&D, but with several things omitted. There’s no chance given now for higher-level Dwarves to own magic items. The tendency of Dwarves to use wolves and bears to guard their strongholds didn’t make it in. The only change is that Dwarven leaders now range from level 2-7 instead of 1-6. Plus the standard alignment change, from Neutral or Lawful to Neutral or Lawful Good.

Oh, and despite being weapon-wielders in a game where all weapons deal 1d6 damage, dwarven damage is listed as 1d8. As I said for the berserker entry, shenanigans. I’ll keep it in, though; a back-to-basics approach at the Adventurers’ Guild isn’t likely to extend to monsters and NPCs, so it makes reasonable sense despite being an obvious discrepancy in the rules as written.

Elves: Again, the section on character creation is cited for elven special abilities. In OD&D they could be Lawful or Neutral. In Holmes Basic, they are usually Chaotic Good or Neutral – there’s that pesky Law-Chaos switcheroo again! There’s an interesting change to the types of elves. In OD&D, there were woodland elves and meadow elves. Now, there are Wood Elves and High Elves. So are Meadow Elves and High Elves the same thing? If so, I heartily approve of the name change. Like Dwarves above, elven leaders are now of generally higher level. Their ability to move silently is now gone, as is the invisibility given to them by their grey-green cloaks. They can’t do split-move and fire any more, either, which I guess indicates that Holmes wasn’t approaching this from a war-gaming perspective. And lastly, they don’t get a +1 damage bonus when wielding magic swords any more. This represents the first and probably the last ever time that elves get slightly nerfed.

Gargoyles: In OD&D, gargoyles were Chaotic, but in Holmes they are Lawful Evil. Their damage entry has been simplified, as they now deal 1d4 with four attacks instead of having different ranges for their horn and bite. The only other difference is that in OD&D they were given a 75% chance to attack anything or anyone, whereas in Holmes there are no mechanics to simulate their natural hostility.

Gelatinous Cube: Just like those in Supplement I, but their spell immunities are less specific.

Ghouls: Ghouls were Chaotic in OD&D, and now they are Chaotic Evil. Their damage range has been simplified, with their bite doing the same 1-3 as their claws, instead of 1-4. They get a description now, as bestial humanoids that live on dead bodies. Their paralysing touch is clarified, as it specifically states that the ghoul needs to land a hit in melee for it to take effect, and that the target gets a saving throw. And in a crushing blow to me, those killed by ghouls no longer rise up as ghouls themselves. For shame, Holmes, for shame.

Giants: Giants are now limited to throwing rocks once every five rounds. Holmes provides a method for determining rock throwing based on the catapult rules from Chainmail. It works, but I can’t help feeling that it should just be simplified to a standard attack roll. All six types of giant are presented here. Hill giants have now gone from Chaotic to Chaotic Evil. Stone giants are slightly shorter than in OD&D, as are frost giants. Plus, frost giant damage is listed simultaneously as 4-24 and 2 dice +1. The latter is from OD&D and the former is from Supplement I; I think I’ll go with the more recent rule, the one from Supplement I. Fire giants and cloud giants have the same discrepancy. Unless this is supposed to be their damage for throwing rocks? Fire giants have changed from Chaotic to Lawful Evil. Cloud giants are two feet shorter. Also, their damage range has a probable typo – it reads 6-63, but in Supplement I their damage range was 6-36, so it looks like an error to me. Storm giants have gone from Lawful to Chaotic Good. Otherwise, same as before.

Giant Ticks: Ticks previously had an 80% chance of carrying disease, but now they all do. At least the disease doesn’t drive you insane any more…

Monday, August 16, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 12

Chimera: In OD&D they could have an alignment of Neutral or Chaotic, but in Holmes Basic they are now Chaotic Evil. There’s also a small change to their damage dice. In Supplement I, the goat head is said to inflict 1-4 points of damage with a horn. Here it inflicts 2-8, which makes me wonder if in Supplement I you were supposed to roll the 1d4 damage for each horn. It’s clarified that the dragon head will breathe fire 50% of the time in any combat round, and that it is limited to 3 times per day. The damage dice is also upped from 3d6 to 3d8.

Cockatrice: Cockatrices were given no alignment in OD&D, but here they are listed as Neutral. They also get a physical description for the first time, as a chicken with a serpent’s tail.

Later supplements gave the cockatrice abilities relating to the Astral and Ethereal Plane, but they aren’t printed here, probably because it’s not a factor for the low levels that the Basic Set deals with.

Displacer Beast: Displacer beasts were listed as Chaotic in Supplement I, but in Holmes Basic they are said to be Neutral with Evil tendencies. Some other details are also dropped, such as their enmity with Blink Dogs (although it did get mentioned in the Blink Dog entry). The biggest change comes with saving throws. In Supplement I they saved as 12th level Fighters, which gave them some very good defences. In Holmes they are simply said to have a +2 to saving throws, further research of which has led me to discover that there’s no mechanism in this rule set to figure out saving throws for the toughest monsters. Unless I’m missing something...?

Djinni: It is clarified that djinni-created steel lasts for but 1 turn, and that their illusions can include sound. Their carrying ability is also different, with bigger loads tiring them more quickly. It’s clarified that creatures under 2 hit dice are killed outright if caught in their whirlwind form, and that stronger creatures still take 2-12 damage. They also now have an alignment of Neutral.

Doppleganger: Their alignment was listed as Neutral or Chaotic in Supplement I, and here they are either Chaotic Evil or Neutral; that seems much the same to me. Their ability to change shape is now limited to humanoids up to 7 feet tall.

Dragons: Only four types of dragon are given in Holmes: White, Black, Red and Brass. I suppose Holmes wanted to include the classic fire-breathing variety, then rounded things out by including the three weakest types. All dragons now deal 4-24 damage with a bite, instead of the variation by type presented in Supplement I. The alignment of Dragons from OD&D was either Neutral or Chaotic. White and Black dragons can still be Neutral or Chaotic Evil, while all Red Dragons are now Chaotic Evil. Brass Dragons in Supplement I were Lawful or Neutral, but here they can be Neutral or Chaotic Good – and if that switch from Law to Chaos isn’t an indicator that alignment is now serving a completely different function, then I don’t know what is. Their chance to use their breath weapon in any given round has slightly decreased. Cone breath weapons now have a smaller diameter at the dragon’s mouth. Dragon’s now have a larger chance to be small or large, and for the first time small dragons are specifically female, and large ones are specifically male. And there are now two extra age categories as well – young adult and ancient – which has also resulted in the age ranges for some categories increasing. It’s interesting to note that now only sleeping dragons can be subdued; in OD&D, characters could elect to subdue a dragon at any time. The method used for determining subdual is also much simpler, but also makes it harder for the PCs to accomplish; I can get behind both of these things. A maximum duration of one month is also now given for subdual, which wasn’t present before.

There’s a ton of information from OD&D that didn’t make it into Holmes Basic. There are no numbers given for the chance to find a dragon asleep, even though it’s mentioned in the rules for subduing. Likewise, there is no chance given for dragons to be able to speak. No info is given on the preferred habitats of each dragon. None of the resistances to various energy attacks are here. There’s also nothing about encountering dragon families. In short, there's a whole lot of simplifying going on.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Solo D&D Play

I have a habit of flitting about from project to project. One week I'm obsessed with writing a novel, the next I'm programming a text adventure, and the week after that I'm trying to write a mega-gamebook that provides linking material between all of the Fighting Fantasy series. This week, I've started developing rules for D&D solo play that abstract dungeon exploration. So just for the heck of it, I'm going to post some of that work up here. I've been using Mentzer Basic as my guide for the rules here, with some AD&D thrown in for good measure. And it's definitely incomplete. I haven't included any of the random tables, which are the heart of the game, really. But the basic framework is provided below.

And no, my tables and charts didn't format properly.


The Regular Game Turn:

For every turn in which you are exploring the dungeon, you must follow the procedure below.

Step 1: Wandering Monsters: At the beginning of every second turn, you must roll to see if you have encountered any wandering monsters. Roll 1d6. On a result of 1, you have encountered a wandering monster. Use the Random Monster tables in Appendix A to determine what type of monster you have encountered, then use the Encounter rules to resolve it. This will take up the entire turn. Remember that wandering monsters usually have no treasure. If you do not encounter a wandering monster, proceed to Step 2.

Step 2: Encounter Check: Roll on the following table to see what you have discovered in the dungeon this turn:

Encounter Check Table

Roll: Result:

1-4 No encounter
5-6 Monster
7-8 Monster and Treasure
9-10 Trap
11-12 Trap and Treasure
13-14 Treasure
15-16 Obstacle
17-18 Obstacle and Treasure
19 Stairs
20 Special

No encounter: You have found nothing of significant interest in the dungeon this turn.

Monster: You have encountered a monster. Use the Random Monster tables in Appendix A to determine what type of monster it is, then resolve the encounter using the Encounter rules. There is a chance that the monster will have some treasure, as noted under each individual monster entry.

Monster and Treasure: Determine the monster type as noted above. The monster is also guarding a treasure of some sort, determined by using the Random Treasure tables in Appendix D. Note that this is in addition to any personal treasure the monster may have as noted in their monster entry.

Trap: Roll on the Random Trap tables in Appendix B to see what kind of trap you have encountered.

Trap and Treasure: You have found some treasure, as determined on the Random Treasure table in Appendix D, but it is guarded by a trap. Check the Random Trap tables in Appendix B to see what sort of trap it is. You may ignore this and proceed to the next turn if you wish, or you may choose to try and take the treasure, in which case you must bypass or trigger the trap, as detailed later in the Trap section.

Treasure: You have found some unguarded treasure that you may take with ease. Roll on the Random Treasure table in Appendix D to see what it is.

Obstacle: Something is blocking your path. Roll on the Random Obstacle tables in Appendix C to see what it is and how to resolve it. You must get past the obstacle to proceed. Otherwise you may choose to take another path through the dungeon, in which case see the rules for Backtracking.

Obstacle and Treasure: The obstacle is not blocking your path, but is instead stopping you from claiming some treasure. Roll on the Random Obstacle tables in Appendix C and the Random Treasure tables in Appendix D to determine what is here. If you want to claim the treasure, you must get past the obstacle. Otherwise, you may choose to continue exploring and proceed to the next turn.

Stairs: You have found some stairs leading up or down to a different dungeon level. Roll on the Random Stairs table in Appendix E to see what type they are. You may choose to ignore the stairs and keep exploring the same level you are on, or you may take the stairs to the new level.

Special: You have found a special sort of room not covered by any of the previous categories. Roll on the Random Special table in Appendix F to see what you have discovered.


It is important to keep an accurate record of your game turns as they progress. This will become necessary when you want to leave the dungeons, and will also be needed for various other situations, as well as helping track durations for spells and light sources. Your record should look something like this:

Turn Event

1 No encounter
2 Wandering monster: 1 orc
3 Found treasure: 100gp
4 Took stairs to Level 2
5 Pit trap: killed


You are assumed to be moving carefully and making an accurate map of the dungeon. Doing so prevents you from becoming lost. You may choose not to map, in which case your exploration will be quicker. If you do so, you need only check for wandering monsters half as often as normal. However, you have a 1-in-10 chance of becoming lost every turn. Dwarves are better at navigating the underground passages of the dungeon, and so they only have a 1-in-12 chance of becoming lost. See below for the consequences of being lost.

Becoming Lost:

There are a number of ways you may become lost, with teleportation and not mapping being the two most common. If you become lost, you will be unable to leave the dungeon until you find a familiar area again. Characters have a 1-in-10 chance per turn of finding a familiar area, except for Dwarves, who have a 1-in-8 chance. If you have become lost by somehow being transported to a new dungeon level, you will only be able to find familiar territory once you return to a dungeon level you had previously explored.

Leaving the Dungeon:

You may decide to leave the dungeon at the start of any turn. To do so, total up the number of turns you have played, and then divide them by two. This is the number of times you must check for Wandering Monsters before you reach the dungeon exit. Note that you may not leave the dungeon if you have become lost.


If you come to an obstacle that you cannot pass, you may backtrack along your path until you find a new area to explore. On each turn you roll for Wandering Monsters as normal, but do not make the usual Encounter Check. Instead, you have a 2-in-6 chance of finding a new area to explore. Only then can you start making Encoutner Checks again.


Your character must have a light source to see in the dungeon, unless you are a Dwarf or an Elf. Some common light sources are listed below, along with the number of turns they last for.

Light: Duration:

Candle 3 turns
Torch 6 turns
Lantern 24 turns

Note that your character will need a tinderbox to light a torch or a candle, and flasks of oil to light a lantern. If you run out of light sources in the dungeon, you will be effectively blind. See below for the consequences of blindness.

Fatigue and Resting:

Your character must stop and rest every 6th turn, due to fatigue. During this turn you do not check for Encounters, but you must still roll to see if you have encountered a Wandering Monster. You may choose to go without rest, but you will suffer a -1 penalty to attack and damage. This penalty is cumulative, so if you ignore this rest period twice, you will have a -2 penalty. The penalty disappears as soon as you rest for a turn.


Your character’s movement may be slowed if he carries too much equipment and treasure. Normally your character is unencumbered, but if you become encumbered you must roll twice as many times for Wandering Monsters as normal. See the Equipment section for more rules on encumbrance.


Your character cannot see. You suffer a -4 penalty to saving throws, attack rolls, and armour class, and you have double the normal chance to be surprised by monsters. You are automatically lost, and do not have a chance to find a familiar area until the blindness wears off. Otherwise, your only real chance of survival is to find another light source, or to stumble across stairs heading to the surface.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 11

MONSTERS: The monster section opens with some broad advice on using monsters in the campaign. It goes through how the monster entries are laid out, how the DM should stock his dungeon, provides some advice on using powerful monsters against weak PCs, and even gives some guidelines on handing out treasure and experience. I do wonder about Holmes’ estimate that it will take from 6-12 adventures for a character to get from 1st to 2nd level – in my experience, beginning characters are usually up a level after 1 or 2 sessions. That’s with Mentzer Basic and AD&D 2e, though, so the Holmes rules could net different results. And you have to love the bit here about 10-20% of adventures being profitless.

BANDIT: In OD&D, if over 100 bandits were encountered, there would be an 8th or 9th level fighter present. That’s not the case in Holmes Basic, but otherwise the presence of high-level leaders is the same. They now carry 3-18 silver pieces instead of 2-20. In OD&D they had a 50/50 chance of being Neutral or Chaotic in Alignment. Now they can be Lawful Evil (25%), Chaotic Evil (25%) or Neutral.

BASILISK: The basilisk is now described as a small reptilian monster. It’s clarified that victims of the basilisk get a saving throw to avoid being turned to stone. Characters can also now safely view the creature’s reflection without turning to stone.

Later OD&D supplements gave the basilisk abilities relating to the astral and ethereal planes, but given the low levels of characters in Holmes Basic they don’t need to be printed here.

Basilisks were listed as Chaotic in Chainmail, and not given an alignment in OD&D. Here they’re said to be Neutral, probably because of their non-intelligence. I'll chalk the Chainmail alignment up to the Chaotic side capturing basilisks to use in warfare.

BERSERKER: Much the same as in OD&D. Their +2 to attack against ‘normal men’ has been clarified here to include kobolds, goblins, and orcs, the obvious intent being that the ability affects humanoids of 1 hit dice or less. I also call shenanigans on their damage range of 1-8. Remember that in Holmes all weapons deal 1d6 damage, and all types of men deal damage by weapon, so what’s going on here? I guess I can attribute it to their berserking.

BLACK PUDDING: The same as in OD&D, but there’s no mention of the Gray Pudding. It’s clarified that they can be killed by a flaming sword. Plus, it actually gets a physical description for the first time, as a black amorphous blob that can grow as big as 30 feet in diameter.

BLINK DOG: The same is in Supplement I, but the random determination of when they teleport has been taken out. Their alignment has been changed from Lawful to Lawful Good.

BUGBEAR: The same as in Supplement I, but their alignment has been changed from Chaotic to Chaotic Evil.

CARRION CRAWLER: Just as in Supplement I, but they are now given an alignment of Neutral.

D&D Basic Set part 10

MAGIC WEAPONS: The brief treatment of magic weapons given here in the combat section matches fairly well with the OD&D rules. We'll see if that's still the case when Holmes gets into more depth in the magical items section.

As for magical armour, Holmes is going for the simpler system introduced in Supplement I. In OD&D, the shield's magical bonus only comes into play one-third of the time. In Supplement I, this is changed so that the bonuses always work together. Holmes has gone with the latter, and in the interests of simplicity I'm happy.

COMBAT ROUNDS, TIME AND MOVEMENT IN MELEE: The big change here is that a combat round is now 10 seconds instead of 1 minute. I'm not sure why Holmes bothered, to be honest, but it does head off the inevitable questions about why characters only get one attack per minute from those who can't wrap their heads around the abstraction. The biggest change this makes is that now characters and monsters can't move as far per round as they could before. Otherwise it has very little effect mechanically, unless you want to take spell durations and the like into account.

The next few sentences are the one bit where Holmes loses me completely. Dagger-wielders here are given the ability to attack twice per round, while those wielding heavy weapons like two-handed swords can only attack every other round. And yet, every weapon deals 1d6 damage. There's a wonky rule if ever I've seen one, and it's been duly noted by every other blogger that's ever analysed Holmes. It's probably an attempt to duplicate a similar rule from the Man-to-Man combat rules in Chainmail, but those rules factored in weapon type vs. armour. This one doesn't, and so it's majorly flawed. I'd be inclined to house-rule it, but given the strictures of my campaign I have to include this ridiculous design.

So here's what I'm thinking. As I've mentioned earlier, the transition in my campaign from OD&D with supplements to Holmes Basic is being handled by a change of leadership within the Adventurers' Guild, and the back-to-basics ethos that came with it. But looking at the above rule, there's a certain type of character class that benefits here. One that primarily uses small weapons in melee. That is, of course, the Thief. So I'm thinking that maybe the new guild leadership is under the thumb of the Thieves' Guild, who are changing the regular training to benefit themselves. About the time the players hit 3rd level this manipulation could be exposed, and that's when the leadership gets overthrown and the AD&D rules start to filter in.

WHO GETS THE FIRST BLOW?: Basically, in Holmes D&D the guy with the highest Dexterity goes first in melee. Again, it's a big advantage to Thieves, isn't it? The system from Chainmail that factored in weapon lengths and speeds was much better than this rule, which I guess was extrapolated from a line in OD&D about Dexterity influencing initiative. There's also a problem in that you need a Dexterity score for everybody for this rule to work, but there are none provided in the monster descriptions. It's easy enough to roll on the spot, or just to assume that most monsters have a Dexterity of 10, but it's still an oversight.

THE PARRY: There were rules for parrying in Chainmail, but Holmes hasn't gone with those. His rules are simpler, just granting the defender a bonus to AC in exchange for forgoing his next attack. And if the attacker rolls exactly the number needed to hit, he breaks the defender's weapon.

MELEE RESOLUTION - CONQUER, WITHDRAW, SURRENDER OR DIE!: That's the best sub-heading in the book, without a doubt. But the section doesn't live up to the hype, simply providing some cursory rules for retreat and surrender.

COMBAT EXAMPLE: The first combat example details a simple exchange of blows between a big goblin and "Bruno the Battler". All it shows is how to do regular attack rolls and damage, but it does provide me with an NPC to have hanging around the Adventurers' Guild. Bruno is presumably a fighter, and we learn that he has a Dexterity of 13, wields a sword, and wears chain mail and a shield. He also has 6 hit points, which probably makes him first level.

SECOND COMBAT EXAMPLE: The second example has a whole adventuring party having a random encounter with six giant spiders. The adventuring party is made up of the aforementioned Bruno, Malchor the Magic-User (who has previously appeared in the book), Mogo the Mighty (presumably another Fighter), and Clarissa the Cleric, among unnamed others. The adventurers take out the spiders, but poor old Bruno is killed by a poisonous bite. Alas, I must scratch him from my list of active NPCs. His surviving comrades will talk about him should they meet the PCs, though.

As for them, we learn the following. Malchor can cast the Sleep spell. It looks like Bruno and Mogo were both armed with bows. Mogo has a Dexterity of 9, wields a sword, wears chainmail, and has but 3 hit points. Clarissa has a Dexterity of 6 and wields a mace.

It's interesting to note that in this example Holmes does suggest rolling Dexterity for monsters on the spot, so at least that little discrepancy is dealt with. But I'm still wondering, why did Mogo and the spider have two attacks each after Bruno's death? Or was it simply a short way to describe the passage of two rounds?

The comments at the end state that readied spells go off first, followed by missile fire, then melee. And that's as much as we get on initiative, folks.

Monday, August 02, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 9

Melee Combat: Combat in Holmes is much the same as all forms of old-school D&D; roll 1d20, look on a chart to see what Armor Class you hit, and roll damage if you landed a blow. All melee damage for weapons is rolled using 1d6, which is a throwback to OD&D. The variable damage by weapon type that was introduced in Supplement I is mentioned briefly as an option in advanced play. Monsters still get their variable damage, though. Sometimes it’s good to be the DM.

The charts used for combat are described by Holmes as ‘extremely complicated’, which is pretty laughable if you’ve ever taken a look at stuff like Rolemaster. The chart is otherwise the same for PCs here as it was in OD&D. The biggest change is for Normal Men. In OD&D they fought as 1st level fighters, but now they are slightly worse than that. The chart for monsters attacking is also much the same as in OD&D, except that the hit dice categories are very slightly tweaked.

Armor class is briefly discussed and expanded upon. Although each number from 9 to 2 is assigned a specific armor type, in general this only applies to humans and humanoids. The various non-human creatures are assigned a number based on the toughness of their hide, their size, and their speed, with armor type not really being a factor. Mechanically it doesn’t mean anything, but it’s the first time AC gets talked about in this way.

Poisoned Weapons: I’m not entirely certain what the rules here mean. Anyone hit by a poison attack must ‘make his saving throw against poison or paralysis and also take the number of damage points indicated by the die roll’. So what happens to a character who fails his save? I assume a failed save vs. poison means death, and the rule about taking damage just refers to the monster’s standard attack damage.

Fire: We gets some new rules for setting oil on fire, as well as the use of flaming oil as a weapon. The siege rules for Chainmail had previously discussed burning enemies with oil, and they were also updated for Swords & Spells. In OD&D, burning oil is briefly mentioned as a way to deter pursuers. But here it’s full-on Molotov cocktail time, with the oil dealing a massive 1d8 on the first round and 2d8 on the second. When you consider that every weapon deals only 1d6, that’s huge. Attacking with oil ignores Armor Class as well, using only Dexterity and size to determine how difficult the target is to hit. Honestly, flaming oil is easily the deadliest option available to characters in the Holmes rulebook.

Wraiths and spectres are immune to burning oil, as are all fire-wielding monsters. Wights and mummies take half damage, and I have to say that the last one surprises me. I’ve played a bunch of D&D inspired games in which mummies are extra-susceptible to fire, so it’s kind of weird to see the opposite in effect here.

Holy Water: This item could be purchased in OD&D, but there were no mechanical benefits described in those rules. Presumably it was up to the referee to house rule it based on general vampire lore. Here holy water is given the same effect on undead that burning oil has on other creatures.

Missile Fire: Ranges are given for the various missile weapons that mostly match up with those in Chainmail. The range of the javelin has been extended from 60 feet to 80 feet, and slings have been given a range whereas previously they had not been dealt with. The same bonuses and penalties still apply to firing at short and long ranges. The ranges are converted to yards when outdoors, as weapons may be fired further (this is straight out of Chainmail). Long range fire (as well as slings) is also pretty much unusable in dungeons, unless the roof is high enough.

Cover: Characters behind cover are harder to hit with missile fire. The rules also expressly forbid characters firing into melee. Way to dodge the question, Holmes!