Saturday, May 14, 2016

Holmes Basic D&D Rulebook Part 4 - Stop, Drop, and Run

PART 4 OF 12

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

"Each turn takes ten minutes (scale time, not actual) in the characters' magical universe. In the players' universe arguments sometimes develop and a turn may take considerably longer!"

Amen to that, Dr. Holmes.

The rules in this section are mostly the same as in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which to my understanding are mostly the same as B/X, which is essentially the next edition of what I'm reading now, so that makes sense. A few things jump out at me.

There's a cool example of how the length of a turn combined with a random encounter (a purple worm in this case, one of my favorite D&D monsters) can create time pressure on the players. It mentions that the monster will be 60 feet closer to the party than it was when it first appeared if the players were to take ten minutes to search for a secret door. It doesn't mention how the DM is supposed to determine the starting location of the purple worm, though. I assume the rulebook with either cover this later (Hint from my future self: it does) or leave it up to DM fiat. I usually try to run random encounters so that they seem somewhat logical, like having the monster walk around the nearest corner in front of the party or wait in a room the party is approaching or something like that.

The book says that PCs need to stop and rest for one turn out of every six, or two turns if they have been running. I don't think I've heard of this rule before, or at least I don't remember it. Honestly, I'd probably skip this rule when the PCs are moving at exploration speed, since they are assumed to be moving pretty slowly, looking around carefully, and stopping to poke at suspicious things a little bit. (Maybe one turn every two hours would be okay. I just like to keep things moving, I guess.) I would probably still require resting if they moved any faster than that, though.

Interestingly, the default exploration speed of an unencumbered PC in LotFP, 120' per turn, is only the default speed of a fully armored and/or heavily encumbered PC in Holmes Basic, while an unencumbered and unarmored character in Holmes Basic can move 240' per turn. And those speeds are doubled for normal, non-exploratory movement! Holmes PCs are speedy! When full-out running, armored characters can go 360' per turn and unarmored/unencumbered ones can go a whopping 720' per turn.

It's nice to see time used as a major factor in the resource-management aspect of the game. Why else would anyone need to bring rations, or more than one torch? How else are you supposed to make the number of random encounters fair and impartial? This aspect of the game is something I overlooked when playing D&D 3.5 in college. I had a blast playing back then, but I'm glad that I've changed my gaming habits a bit since those days. I enjoy making time-based pressure a slightly bigger part of the games I run today. I hope my players like it, too.

Oh boy, time to talk about encumbrance. All coins weigh the same, and a backpack or sack can hold 300 gold pieces, which weigh in at 30 pounds. I'm fine with this kind of abstraction - I play a lot of video games, after all. It takes about 600 gold pieces to actually make a character heavily encumbered. Besides that, the book doesn't give a whole lot of guidelines on encumbrance - it seems pretty laissez-faire about the concept. Of course, most people with whom I've played any version of D&D are just as laid back about encumbrance, if not more so. LotFP is about the only D&D-type game I've played with an encumbrance system I actually like, rather than just begrudgingly respect, and even that can be a chore sometimes. "I think it's perfectly fair to love D&D as a whole without loving every single rule," said Captain Obvious as he taped a NOT FOR JUGGLING sign to the porcupine exhibit at the Obviousville Zoo.

Still, I like how encumbrance is handled in Holmes Basic. Simple, abstract, and mostly left up to the judgement of the DM (or perhaps the group as a whole). It gives an example inventory for a Magic-User named Malchor. If my calculations are correct, this character would (barely) count as unencumbered in LotFP as well, assuming multiples of the same item share a "slot." I like how Malchor is carrying around a quart of wine in a dungeon. I've heard of dungeon punk, but I guess this is more like dungeon crunk. I also like how the book recommends that players write down not only what items they possess, but where on their bodies or in which bag they are carrying each item. Finally, here's an interesting note: "a fighting man will be far more loaded down, but it is assumed that such individuals are trained to be stronger and so able to carry more weight" than the 75 pounds or more that would make characters of other classes heavily encumbered. It's nice to see Fighting Men excel at something besides bashing in heads.

The rules for light are pretty standard. It does mention that all monsters can see 60' in the dark, just like a Dwarf or Elf. It also says that the light of a torch or lantern will reduce the distance a Dwarf or Elf can see from 60' to the normal 30' range in which humans and halflings can see. A party of all Dwarven and Elven Thieves would be amazing as far as sneak attacks go, and they would probably save a lot of money on torches and lamp oil.

Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings have a better chance of hearing noises through doors, and Elves have a knack for just magically stumbling across secret doors without even looking for them. Wow, humans really are obsolete.

On rolling dice to open doors via brute force: "Of course, if the party has to hit the door several times before getting their roll of 1 or 2, there is no possibility of surprising the occupants of the room." I like the idea that an Open Door check isn't about whether or not a PC can open a stuck door at all, but rather whether or not they can do it quickly and/or quietly.

Doors are evil - if you don't spike or wedge them open, they tend to close by themselves, and on top of that, they open automatically for monsters if not spiked or held shut. I think this was the case in OD&D as well. Why do doors hate adventurers so much?

RANDOM ADVENTURER: Stupid door! What did I ever do to you?
DOOR: An adventurer killed my father!

I wonder if they're also double-hinged doors that swing both ways, like I seem to see in video games all the time.

If the party is surprised by monsters, PCs can drop whatever they are holding if they roll a 6 on a d6. I'm not sure what the purpose of this rule is. Maybe to make drawing a weapon faster when the party finally gets a turn? Or maybe so if they're in the middle of robbing the monsters blind they can drop the loot and play dumb?

EDIT: I think the actual point of this rule has penetrated my thick skull. Please see Part 7 for details.

Ah, here's some more information on random encounters. The DM rolls for one every three turns. If the party has someone watching for monsters, they can see or hear them from up to 120 feet away in most situations. If the DM is unsure of how far away a monster should start from the party, they can roll 2d6 and multiply that by 10 to get the distance in feet.

The WANDERING MONSTER TABLE and HOSTILE/FRIENDLY REACTION TABLE are pretty typical (which is to say, awesome). I do want to point out a very important quote from the book: "The number of wandering monsters appearing should be roughly equal to the strength of the party encountering them." The book then goes on to explain ways to justify this in-universe. The next time someone who hates Wizards of the Coast-era D&D tries to tell me that the concept of Challenge Ratings is entirely foreign to the game, I should just point them toward this quote.* That's not to say that parties should never get in over their heads or meet creatures that are over their power levels, but rather that it's okay if the players want to play a game in which the challenge is at least somewhat adjusted to match their characters' current abilities. I love how fighting is usually the worst option when confronted by monsters in, say, Lamentations of the Flame Princess (or in many non-D&D horror games like Call of Cthulhu), but I also love D&D-type games in which combat is often worth engaging in. D&D is allowed to be different things for different people in different campaigns. It's a rich, diverse game. Please don't judge people who like balanced combat and CR too harshly. For beginners at the game, like a large portion of this book's intended audience, for example, I think balanced combat especially makes sense because players need to be able to learn the rules and find out which options are easier or more effective than others. Being killed too early in the game can also kill the enthusiasm of some players.

Here's a detail about Charisma I missed in my first Holmes post: "The Dungeon Master should make adjustments if the party spokesman has high charisma or offers special inducements." Presumably, the specifics of this could be handled either by DM fiat/pure roleplaying or by a house rule.

And here's something that might explain that bit I mentioned earlier about dropping items when surprised: while fleeing, PCs can drop items like food or treasure, and there is a random chance that the pursuing monsters will stop to pick those items up, depending on whether they are "intelligent" or not. Burning oil can also deter pursuit. Maybe the intention is for a surprised party to be able to start dropping stuff like this immediately, in anticipation of fleeing after the surprise round. Maybe Malchor's dungeon wine is for distracting alcoholic owlbears. Maybe what D&D really needs are more piss-drunk purple worms. How terrifying would one of those be?

Next time: On how many LEVELS can we EXPERIENCE Holmes Basic D&D? (Three. The answer is three.)

On an unrelated note, THIS is one of the best actual play reports I have ever read. I bought the hardcover of World of the Lost. I should probably get around to reading it if it produces games this good.

*If I just constructed a straw man argument about players who don't like WotC-era D&D, I apologize, but I believe I really have seen people on the internet make such claims about the Challenge Rating system at least once or twice. And I understand the argument that using the recommended CR for a given party to build encounters balances the game in such a way as to make it too easy. If you feel that way, then I think that either A) that indicates a flaw in the execution of the CR rules and not necessarily the concept of CR itself, or B) you might just want to pit your players against higher-CR enemies, then. Option B is what one of the DMs I played with in college did, and it rocked. My point is that I think balancing encounters isn't always necessary, but it is often a good idea, and I like it when the books I'm using help me do that.


  1. One of the limiting factors of nonhumans in ad&d (and basic as well?) was that they were limited to a maximum level. So if you planned on playing too higher levels, nonhumans sucked.

    1. Yeah. I think I said in a previous post that it was unfortunate that Holmes Basic didn't mention the level limits for demihumans in AD&D, since it billed itself as a lead-in to AD&D. I wonder if anyone ever played a Dwarf in Holmes Basic, moved on to AD&D with the same character, and then felt disappointed when they realized that level limits were a thing.

  2. I consider the whole argument against "balanced encounters" to be something that was whipped up by a game of telephone over the internet, that everyone now believes is what it really is/was...

    The DMG gives guidelines for building encounters that suggests only about half of them are at the party's level. Not all. Half. And as for actual products with encounters in them, they are all over the map as to what CRs are employed, often enough bouncing *around* the level the adventure is purported to be for, without ever landing on that level. That's WotC adventures and 3rd Party stuff, too.

    It's useful to have some handle on "is this too powerful or too weak to throw at my players?" and CR did that. It was never meant to be "all CR 3 stuff for a 3rd Level party" based on the actual evidence in the core books and the other supplements (at least out of those I have).

    Whew. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

    1. Well said!
      I don't think CR is always used well, but the concept itself is useful.