Saturday, May 28, 2016

Holmes Basic D&D Rulebook Part 6 - I'm Picturing a Wizard With a Bandolier Full of Scrolls

PART 6 OF 12

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

"He can then throw the spell by saying the magic words and making gestures with his hands."

Elf games are serious business, you guys.

Clerics don't get a spell until second level, in keeping with OD&D. But they can turn undead and wear plate mail at first level, so it's not like they aren't useful.

Here's that rule I was wondering about back in Part 1: what state does a Magic-User need to be in when casting a spell?

  1. Not bound and gagged (or presumably in a similarly helpless or constrained state)
  2. Not walking or running while casting
  3. Not engaged in combat (which presumably means not attacking or being hit lest the spell be interrupted)
  4. "In some cases the spell may require substances or apparatus, such as conjuring a water elemental (5th level) requires the presence of water, a sleep spell requires a pinch of sand." Presumably this is often just a "flavor" thing and not mechanically enforced, since the example inventory of Malchor the Magic-User didn't include any "spell components," as they were called in D&D 3.5. Still, I could see a DM requiring a Magic-User to be near a body of water for a water elemental summoning spell, or an unholy altar for a demon summoning, or whatever, since they're presumably more powerful/complicated spells than Sleep or Magic Missile. (Also, 5th level spells aren't in this rulebook, obviously.)
I don't see anything that explicitly states that a Magic-User couldn't, say, cast a spell with a torch in one hand and a dagger in the other, as long as they can still make the required hand gestures with any kind of accuracy. This would probably differ from DM to DM, but I would almost certainly allow it. Besides, by my reading, drawing a weapon that is at hand (presumably in a scabbard or hanging on a belt for easy access) seems to be a "free action" (to borrow another 3.5-ism) in most cases, so putting away a dagger to cast a spell should probably be quick and easy anyway. At any rate, Holmes Basic doesn't seem to concern itself with having one's hands free for casting in anything but an abstract way. This is an approach I'm very fond of. If you're not bound and helpless and you're able to concentrate, you can probably cast a spell.

Here's an interesting bit that I think is unique to Holmes Basic: Magic-Users can't take their spellbooks into the dungeon with them. They have to go back to their "study" (presumably in town) to re-memorize spells. That's kind of weird to me. Granted, there's no reason to want to bring your spellbook into the dungeon and risk losing it in this version of D&D, since you can't rest (and thus can't memorize spells) in the dungeon, but I still find it odd that you just flat-out can't do it, with no explanation given. Presumably this is just another method of abstraction. It's not like spellbooks are too heavy or something, since the rulebook states that Magic-Users learn new spells by finding them in books in the dungeon and bringing them back to their study. FAKE EDIT: Actually, the exact wording is "The magic-user acquires books containing the spells, the study of which allows him to memorize a spell for use." I interpreted "acquires" to mean "finds in the dungeon," but now I'm wondering if it just means "acquires at character creation" or something. See below.

Also, there is no need to spend time and money to copy spells from one book to another in Holmes D&D. Just get the book back home and you're good to go. I like this. My LotFP players would be jealous. I guess this means that accomplished Magic-Users in Holmes Basic don't have a spellbook so much as a shelf full of them. That's a nice image. Very flavorful. I've always liked the idea of wizards as book-hoarding librarians with quirky super powers born from studying a ton of tomes.

FAKE EDIT: I might have been wrong about the "finding spell books in the dungeon" thing. See below.

Holmes Basic doesn't concern itself with breaking spell memorization down by a specific number of hours. Like resting to recover HP, it just flat-out takes a single day to memorize a full arsenal of spells. I like this simplicity. It meshes well with the idea that resting in the dungeon isn't an option and delves are broken up by downtime in town, which is measured in one simple kind of unit. Considering the year Holmes Basic was released, this might be a weird thing to say, but it feels "video gamey" (or perhaps "board gamey") in a way that appeals to me, since I have fond memories of a lot of non-tabletop RPGs which roughly follow this pattern.

And now for what might be my favorite unique aspect of Holmes Basic: really permissive and simple rules for scribing scrolls. Get this: it only takes 1 week of time and 100gp per level of the spell you're scribing to make a scroll! Extrapolating from those rules, scribing a ninth level spell scroll would take a while (9 weeks), but it would only cost a mere 900gp. More significantly, a Magic-User that makes a decent score on a dungeon delve could spend a few weeks scribing a bunch of cheap first level scrolls and go into the dungeon loaded with extra castings of Charm Person. Your level 1 Magic-User could start building a small army of monsters with a pretty small investment. Granted, it takes time to make scrolls, but it's cheap and it's probably more than worth it. So far, I haven't found any rules for aging, so unless there's something time-sensitive the party needs to worry about, everyone else can probably just kick back and put their feet up while the Magic-User loads up on scrolls. That one spell per day limit for level 1 Magic-Users doesn't seem so bad now.

There are some rules for creating new spells, as well. I wonder if a "new" spell created in this way has to be something actually new to the game, or if the Magic-User could also gain spells off of the rulebook's pre-existing spell list through (costly and time-comsuming) research if they get tired of sifting through books in the dungeon hoping and praying for that one spell they really want. I'd probably allow it, but I don't know if that was intended by the designers. At any rate, it's nice to see the game encourage players to be creative and proactive in such a way. LotFP has similar rules for players to create new spells, and it's something I really enjoy about magic in D&D-style games.

There is a large (80%) chance of failure in the spell research rules in Holmes Basic, though. I'm not too happy about that, since the research costs 2,000gp per level of the spell and the spell has to already be approved by the DM ahead of time. I'd personally just let the poor player have the freaking spell after spending that much, but then again, I'm a big softie.

As I alluded in Part 1, intelligence affects the minimum and maximum "Number of Spells Knowable per Level" as well as the "% Chance to Know Any Given Spell." The way this is presented is a bit ambiguous to me. Is this table just meant to be used at character creation to see what starting spells the Magic-User gets, or is this meant to be continuously referenced throughout the game. If it is the latter, that would mean that the Magic-User can only have a certain number of spells in their "study" available to memorize in the first place, which I don't really like.

Also, that would imply...wait a minute, let me flip to the TREASURE section...

There are no spellbooks on the random treasure tables, and none are listed in the treasure description. And the way scrolls are described, they are just meant for one-off spell casting and not copying down into a spellbook.

Wait, so was I wrong about the hauling of books out of the dungeon and the amassing of an awesome wizard library? Are the only ways to learn new spells through either leveling up enough to unlock a new spell level, somehow increasing your intelligence, or doing magical research with a crappy success rate and a hefty price tag? Is there no chance of finding new spells in the dungeon or getting them as quest rewards? Even if you did get them, would you be unable to add them to your collection if you're not smart enough to figure out how the fit more books on your damn shelf?

I'm sorry, but that sucks.

At least the game throws Magic-Users a bone in letting them try to pick their starting spells. That's where the "% Chance to Know Any Given Spell" comes in. You roll randomly for the spells you want, and if you don't get them you roll randomly for the spells you don't want, and if you don't get those you start over until you at least have your minimum number of spells know. That seems like an okay system, at least. It's not my favorite approach, but it's not bad. The wording of the example in the rulebook does make it kind of ambiguous whether or not this is just supposed to be done at character creation or before every adventure. If it's the latter, does that mean that the Magic-User is constantly losing access to previously-known spells and getting new ones? I didn't expect all of this to be so confusing. Most of what I've discussed in this post is on just one page of the book.

There's also a section on SAVING THROWS. It seems pretty straightforward for the most part, but it's not entirely clear to me which monsters use which saving throws. The specific part that trips me up is this: "Large or powerful creatures like demons, balrogs and dragons may be highly resistant to certain kinds of spells especially if thrown by a magic-user of lower level than their own level." I'm not sure how the DM is supposed to adjudicate this higher difficulty based on the table as presented.

I didn't expect to get so confused by this part of the book. It looked really simple at first glance. Am I missing something? Please feel free to tell me in the comments if I'm grossly misunderstanding anything here.

On the plus side, there is a lot I really like here. Especially the scroll-making rules.


  1. My interpretation, and I may be completely wrong about this, is that the magic-user tries to understand and copy spells into his "book of second-level spells" (or third, or fourth, etc.) as soon as he gains the power to cast spells of that level. If he can't get his head around a particular spell, he will never get it.

    Now the rules say nothing about where he copies those spells from ... but I read between the lines, here.

    1st level magic-users are "apprentices" (prentices, even!), so it stands to reason they copy their 1st level spells from their master's library.

    After that, they're on their own. Maybe your game world has magical libraries where newly-levelled-up magic-users go to bone up on shiny new spells, or maybe they take all those looted magic books that they couldn't understand before down off their own bookshelf. I like the latter approach.

    1. So far, this is basically how I'm interpreting it, too. I like the flavor you added, though.

  2. If I am recalling correctly (and it has been a long, long time), we used to use the "% to know spell" roll every time you found a spell... So if you found a Magic Missile spell in a spellbook, you had a chance to learn it. But maybe that particular iteration was not grok-able, and you kept searching... Maybe the next formulation would be accessible to you.

    But once you knew it, you knew it.

    We may have started that method after people decided to play Wizards, but couldn't score any useful (or fun) spells in their initial rolls. It wasn't that you could never get a Magic Missile spell; you now had to go search for a Magic Missile spell.

    1. See, this is the kind of thing I like. The quest for more spells and additional power seems like the kind of behavior that should be encouraged in your players who run Magic-Users. It makes for easy plot hooks. "You hear a rumor that a spellbook containing the fabled Fireball spell" can be all the motivation a young go-getter needs for dungeon delving, right?