Saturday, May 7, 2016

Holmes Basic D&D Rulebook Part 2 - Your Fighting Human is Obsolete

PART 2 OF 12

Part 1

I know it's not exactly a huge rulebook by RPG standards, but if I go line-by-line and page-by-page too strictly this is probably going to become tedious for most people to read, so I'm going to try and just stick to details that I find neat, weird, amusing, or inspiring. I love this book so far, so let's keep going!

The book briefly mentions that Dwarves and Halflings can be Thieves, but it only gives actual rules for them to be Fighting Men. I'm sure you could use the Thief rules from Supplement I: Greyhawk or from one of the many great retroclones out there to figure out how a Dwarf or Halfling Thief is supposed to work, and simply making something up would probably be pretty simple, too. Still, I wonder if it was an editing mistake that they left in a mention of an OD&D rule that isn't actually covered in the Holmes Basic book. You know what? Later on the same page, it says that the rules for Dwarf/Halfling/Elf Thieves are in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It still strikes me as weird that they'd mention demihuman thieves like they'd be covered in this book and then turn around and say "Looks like you'll just have to wait for AD&D to come out, kid."

Really, the default class list in this version of the game is the same as in B/X: Fighter (Fighting Man), Magic-User, Cleric, Thief, Dwarf (Fighting Man), Halfling (Fighting Man), and Elf (Strange Fighting Man/Magic-User Multiclass Character).

It's funny that Fighting Men "can use any weapon" because all weapons do 1d6 damage per hit, like in OD&D without the Supplements. On the other hand, the Fighting Man can use all magic weapons and all armor both mundane and magic, so it's not like the class is lacking in badness (which means goodness).

As far as mundane weapons go, Magic-Users can only fight with daggers. Not that that's a problem. Still, no staff?

Here's an unintentionally funny bit from the Cleric's description: "No swords or bows and arrows can be employed, for the cleric is forbidden by his religion from the drawing of blood." Um, about that...

"Thieves are not truly good and are usually referred to as neutral or evil, so that other members of an expedition should never completely trust them and they are quite as likely to steal from their own party as from the Dungeon Master's monsters." How rude. No wonder they started calling themselves "rogues" and "specialists." Some cool stuff: Thieves can use all of the same weapons as the Fighting Man, including magic ones, and "Thieves above the third level of experience can read magic scrolls and books and 80% of languages so that treasure maps, etc. are easy for them." Does that mean they can cast from scrolls like a Magic-User (or like the Gray Mouser in that classic story I haven't read and really need to)? What is the significance of them being able to read magic books? How do you determine which 20% of all languages they can't read, and how do they suddenly learn 80% of what are presumably all languages they encounter when they reach a certain level? I'm confused, but also intrigued and kind of delighted. It's like this very straightforward instruction book suddenly started throwing riddles at me and then stopped just as abruptly.

So, uh...Dwarf special features: betters saves against magic, 60' infravision, one in three chance of detecting traps and architectural anomalies when underground, automatically knows the languages of gnomes, kobolds, and goblins.

If I'm reading the rules correctly, Elves get to use the features of the Fighting Man and the Magic-User at the same time; no class-switching between expeditions seems to be necessary. They have to split XP equally between both classes, though, so they level up slowly. Other features: one in three chance of finding secret doors, 60' infravision, immune to being paralyzed by ghouls, automatically knows the languages of orcs, hobgoblins, and gnolls, as well as elves.

Wait a second. Dwarves don't get their own languages? The Elf description says they share "the Common speech" with humans, halflings, and dwarves. There's no mention of a Dwarven tongue. Maybe Dwarves share a native language with Gnomes?

Anyway, Halflings have to use appropriately-sized weapons, but that probably won't matter much if every weapon does 1d6 damage. They get a +1 bonus to missile weapon attacks, they get better saving throws against magic like Dwarves, and they are supposedly stealthy when outside, "having the ability to vanish into woods or undergrowth," but I don't see any rules for exactly how that works. They don't get any special languages.

Hit Dice: d8 for Fighting Men and Dwarves, d6 for Clerics, Elves, and Halflings, and d4 for Thieves and Magic-Users. Also, the Dwarf and Halfling use the Fighting Man's XP progression. You know, without considering the level caps in OD&D or AD&D, demihumans in Holmes Basic seem to be really badass. The Halfling trades a little HP for a +1 ranged attack and better saving throws - seems worth it to me, since a dagger does the same damage as a halberd. The Dwarf doesn't even need to trade in any HP; I don't see any advantages for human Fighting Men over Dwarven ones here. Is this meant to be a trap, so that players who insist on using the most powerful characters get screwed when they move to AD&D? That hardly seems fair to players who want to play demihumans because they genuinely like them and not just because they have to be the very best all the time (and I'm not even convinced that's always something worth punishing). On the other hand, I feel bad for any players who might have picked a human Fighting Man when playing Holmes Basic and then realized they were playing the worst version of their class in these rules.

I'm actually kind of in love with the idea of Halflings being more vicious and deadly than your standard human warriors. Little killing machines, like mini-Reavers. How long until every kingdom replaces its army with brutal Halfling mercenaries? Humans are obsolete on the battlefield. Let us make tea cosies from the skins of our enemies.

As for resting, the book says that PCs regain 1 to 3 lost HP per day of rest. It also seems to imply that the party will return to the surface/town at the end of every game session. I'm guessing there won't be any rules for sleeping in the dungeon, then. It probably wouldn't be a good idea, anyway, unless you brought along Ye Olde Air Mattress.

The equipment price list seems pretty standard. Animals are included, but good luck getting a horse into a dungeon. These rules don't cover wilderness adventures.

You know that bit in OD&D about how players can really play anything they want as long as the DM gives the go-ahead and the character starts out weak and has to gain XP to become the Hundred Man Slayer or whatever? A variation on that spiel is in here, which rocks. Hooray for creativity, imagination, and freedom! There's also a blurb about the "sub-classes" in the upcoming Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books; it lists Paladins, Rangers, Illusionists, Witches, Monks, Druids, and Assassins. Too bad the Witch didn't actually appear in AD&D, from my understanding. I've seen a lot of OSR blogs introduce their ideas of a Witch class, though, so it's nice to see a way in which this book spurred creativity in the community. Oh, and half-elves and psionic powers are mentioned as upcoming features, too, but the book says that it's best to get used to the basics of the game before "adding further complexities." I agree.

How many characters should a player be able to play? The book suggests one or two. I imagine "two" might be a bit safer if you've only got one or two players besides the DM, especially since these rules are for low levels. If a character dies, tough luck: roll up a new one with 0 XP. Well, a Cleric has to be at least seventh level to raise the dead, but the book does kind of imply that there's a very slim possibility of finding an NPC Cleric to do that for you. There are no resurrection spells in this book, but that need not stop anybody. Still, generally a dead character is gone, and a new one starts at first level. You can have your new character inherit the money and items of the dead one, though...after a 10% tax.

"There is no reason, however, why a character could not choose to 'retire,' wealthy and covered with glory, and let some fresh, hot-blooded adventurer take the risks." And let the new guy have all the fun? Yeah, right.

Wow, I've barely progressed through this book at all today. So much for keeping things brief. Next time: Why does the alignment chart look like a propeller?


  1. Ha! Interesting reading this analysis. From my stand-point, I can see where much of the "strangeness" of Holmes came from (having owned and read the original D&D books) as well as where it's going (having played B/X for years). Lamentations DOES use B/X as a base, but it also makes a number of adjustments to the system...if this is the first edition of "old D&D" you're looking at, I can only imagine how strange it must feel. Please trust me (and others) when we say, yes, Holmes is very codified and organized compared to the original version of the game.

    RE Thieves (read languages, read magic)

    The language reading is generally interpreted as the thief approaching a written document as a "code" and being able to piece it together by breaking the language code. This is done with an 80% chance of success (like a skill check...failure indicates an inability to decipher the text). The read magic ability does indeed allow thieves to "dabble" in magic (a la Grey Mouser), though with a straight chance of backfire. Both of these skills (and their required level) was present in every edition through 1983: OD&D, Holmes, AD&D, B/X, and BECMI/RC. Raggi's re-tooling of the thief class as a "specialist" is one of several setting-specific ways LotFP differs from its inspiration.

    1. Thanks for the clarification. Very interesting! I really like the idea of thieves being able to dabble in magic a little. The code-breaking thing makes a lot of sense, too.
      Yeah, I have the original D&D booklets and corresponding supplements (in PDF), but I haven't gotten into them too deeply yet because I bounce off of them a little bit. I expect Philotomy's Musings will help me out immensely.

  2. • "Oh, look! A language!" *rolls dice* "Hunh, I don't know that one."

    • I can remember first playing the game, and everybody played what they wanted. The mindset was different, because it was all NEW. No one was analyzing the relative "power levels" and choosing the most powerful option. it was only after a year or more of play that most people wanted to be Elves...

    • Weapons may all do the same damage, but that doesn't mean they are all the same. Try knocking that gold idol off a high shelf with your dagger -- meanwhile I'll be over here with my halberd, watching (and laughing). When you play creatively (and the GM creates, um, creatively), the 'inconsequential' differences mater.

    1. I think it's almost inevitable that a game as long-lasting and widely beloved as D&D is going to go from a honeymoon period of "let's just do whatever sounds fun" to a period of analysis and meta-gaming. There are things I like about both approaches. That's in regards to the overall trend in the fanbase - individual results will vary, of course. One thing I've come to like about the more rules-light versions of D&D, like Holmes Basic, is that I'm feeling that honeymoon thing again, and I can see that feeling being easier to renew if desired because the game has less explicit mechanical "crunch" to get in the way. Your comment about different weapons is a great example.
      Still, I confess to being stuck somewhat in a video game mindset. I like to have the advantages and disadvantages of weapons, spells, etc. explicitly stated for easier comparison (that is, analysis). It's probably just part of my personality. If I were to run Holmes Basic, I'd probably change how weapons work at the table, provided the players are okay with it.

  3. Oh, and there are *many* Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories you should read if you enjoy D&D...

    1. You're absolutely right. My backlog of fiction I need to read is enormous.
      Thanks for reading!