Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Holmes Basic D&D Rulebook Part 12 - Summaries & Skeletons


PART 12 OF 12

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11

Let's start my wrap-up by looking at the art I haven't mentioned yet.

Image from HERE

This is the TSR logo on my copy of the book. He's like the Platonic ideal of a wizard. He's even got the Fantasia hat with all the cute little stars on it. I wonder how this dude would fare in a knife fight.

Image from HERE

Too bad there aren't any stats for lizard men or giant riding lizards in Holmes Basic, because this is a cool image. EDIT: I forgot that there are lizard men in the book. My bad! There are no giant lizards for riding in the book, however. Good thing it's so easy to create new stuff (or borrow it from elsewhere) in the classic versions of D&D. Something about the way the characters are surveying the land gives me a sense that there's this great big fantasy world out there, just waiting to be seen.

Image from HERE

How nice of that fighting man to help that Minotaur with his cardio. Much like yours truly, it looks like he could use it. Also, the weapons and armor on display are pretty stylish. I like the Greek mythology vibe going on here.

Image from HERE

I think these are meant to be Dwarves,. Very Viking/Anglo-Saxon. The silhouetted, cartoony face of the guy in the middle reminds me vaguely of an Adventure Time character, although I'm not sure which one. The variety of equipment is nice. They look like they're holding their weapons awkwardly, though. I think the guy on the left is using his ax to point out some toilet paper stuck to the shoe of a friend out of frame.

Image from HERE

I think this is my favorite piece of art in the book.

Image from HERE

Nipples? In a game for people as young as 12? It's more likely than you think. (It's only because of annoying prudes that this is even worth pointing out.) Also, these harpies are terrifying. Those poor adventurers are doomed.

Image from HERE

Git gud, chump. Hope you brought plenty of Estus.

Image from HERE

I usually think of a manticore as an enraged, flesh-rending murder-beast, but the look on this one's face is more like that of an inquisitive, slightly perturbed who-farted-beast. The tail looks appropriately pokey, though.

Image from HERE

Are those skeletons frowning? I didn't know a skeleton could frown. They must be sad because all the good skeleton music wasn't out yet in the 1970s.

Image from HERE

I think I had a toy sword and scabbard that looked more or less like this when I was a kid. They're probably still in a box in my parents' basement, like the toy shotgun they used in Doom.

Image from HERE

I never understood the candle-on-a-skull thing. Wouldn't a regular candle work way better? I like how the magic wand looks like the plastic toy wand I had as a kid (like the sword above), except with a little knob on one end. This stuff must belong to an EVIL wizard, since there's a bottle of poison just sitting out in the open.

Image from HERE

Open the tomb, face skeletal doom. That's just the way the world works.

I'm very fond of the art in Holmes Basic. It sets the mood fantastically, and I kind of wish there was more of it, although I'm not sure where they could have fit any more art in such a slim volume.

Overall, what else was I especially fond of?
  • This book can work as a very good intro to either OD&D or later editions of Basic D&D, it can probably work fairly well as an intro to AD&D (since this is what the book actually claims to be intended for), and with a little work it can even be paired with David Cook's Expert Set (or so I've heard) or simply used on its own (and expanded with house rules if desired).
  • The rules don't seem to care too much about really fiddly details like whether or not spells can be cast one-handed or while holding an item. I like this simplicity, since I think it gives players more room for creative solutions to their problems and prevents them from having to constantly second-guess whether or not they can actually do whatever simple action seems appropriate because the DM keeps citing some obscure rule buried in the book.
  • The encumbrance rules are similarly fast and loose in a lot of ways, but the few restrictions that are in place seem reasonable. I like the idea of specifying exactly how your character is carrying each piece of gear, provided this doesn't bog the game down too much and completely get in the way of the aforementioned lack of fiddly details.
  • While exploring, characters move really quickly, but have to stop and rest every so often. It's an interesting dynamic that might be worth trying.
  • The phrase "for adults 12 years and up" sends a good message about who can play and how they should conduct themselves while playing. Don't be a jerk, use your imagination, and play intelligently, and you'll probably be fine and have fun whether you're a kid or a grownup.
  • House rules and common sense rulings are encouraged.
  • Monsters are presented as often having personalities and motivations, and aren't always mindless killers.
  • Mechanically speaking, fighting women seem to be treated the same as fighting men.
  • The rules for swapping ability scores at character creation are intriguing, if a bit complicated. I like this approach more than just being stuck with exactly what you roll, and it's nice that you can still have a chance of getting decent ability scores for the class of your choice when things don't turn out as you'd hoped at first.
  • Elves are basically multi-class fighting men and magic-users at the same time, and don't have to switch between classes or chose one class or the other for a specific outing (as some have interpreted the rules in OD&D). It seems simpler and less annoying this way, and the advantages of being a multi-class character are presumably offset by the increased XP needed per level.
  • Players are encouraged to make up new classes and races, as long as they start out fairly week and get stronger over time by acquiring XP.
  • Dr. Holmes is a great writer. He generally keeps things helpful and concise while also adding in some nice little jokes and bits of flavor. The various examples of play are especially nice.
  • I don't really like alignment in D&D, but as far as alignment systems go, I like this one more than the AD&D version because it cuts out the alignments that bug me the most.
  • Fighting men are not only good at fighting, but carrying heavy loads as well.
  • To quote myself, "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 bastards that actively work against the party.
  • The tables for wandering monsters and reaction rolls strike me as well-crafted.
  • The DM is encouraged to balance encounters to the skill and capabilities of the party.
  • If monsters are chasing the party, they can be distracted or deterred by dropped food, treasure, or burning oil.
  • The tables are all easy to read and compact. They are also repeated at the end of the book.
  • PCs can draw weapons quickly as long as they're not buried in a backpack or something.
  • Scrolls are cheap and easy to make. Magic-users don't seem so puny when they're packing arsenals of scrolls.
  • There are rules for magic-users to create new spells.
  • The spell list includes a ton of cool stuff despite being so small.
  • If you hit 0 HP, you're dead. No "bleeding out" rules here. Easy to remember and appropriately brutal.
  • The words "Melee is the most exciting part of the game" appear within, giving me plenty of ammo for silly internet debates.
  • Flaming oil is awesome.
  • Ranged attacks have a +1 bonus to hit at short range and a -1 to hit at long range. I prefer this to the approach I've seen in other D&D-type games, which is to give no bonus at short range and increasing penalties at medium and long ranges. It's easier to remember and it makes medium range feel like the "proper" range for distance-based weapons while short range is more like point-blank range in that it's easier to hit a close target than usual (provided that target isn't right on top of you and swinging a sword).
  • While underground, archers can't attack at the long range increment unless the ceiling is high.
  • The rules for parrying are neat.
  • Withdrawing from melee gives your opponent a free swing at you.
  • Skeletons don't take less damage from edged or piercing weapons. It's not like a sword is incapable of inflicting blunt force trauma, you know?
  • The monster list is full of awesome creatures.
  • There is good advice for scaling down monsters.
  • As John Wilson pointed out in the comment section for Part 9, the more powerful monsters that are provided can provide a great challenge for large groups of PCs who cut through lesser enemies with ease.
  • You can identify a potion by taking a little sip.
  • Protection scrolls can be used by anyone.
  • The implication that reading a scroll activates it lends itself to some creative uses for scrolls beyond the usual ones.
  • The Ring of Regeneration is super powerful.
  • The Ring of Contrariness is hilarious.
  • Wands can be used in melee.
  • "Wands that have projectiles or rays are considered to do six 6-sided dice of damage and to have 100 charges or projectiles." Wow!
  • There's a good variety of magic items in general.
  • There are consequences for using your hirelings as guinea pigs to test out magic items.
  • The advice for stocking the dungeon is very helpful.
  • The sample dungeon is cool, and I want to run it.
  • All this and more is packed into 48 pages.
In the interest of fairness, here are a few things I didn't care for in Holmes Basic:
  • The default, mechanical uses of the ability scores aren't exactly created equal (then again, when are they?), and I'm not a big fan of the way they seem to be more useful for DM fiat than more predictable advantages and disadvantages.
  • Human fighting men seem a bit sucky compared to the other classes.
  • The book seems to have some weird prejudice against the thief class. Ditto with poison.
  • All monsters can see in the dark. I'm fine with most of them having this ability, but there are some that probably shouldn't have it.
  • Less XP is rewarded for defeating enemies below your level, which feels like overkill to me.
  • The book seems to waffle on the topic of conflict between players, and I don't like the advice to decrease the XP award for sneaking off with the party's treasure while the others are left to die. I think there are better ways to handle that situation.
  • I'm not too fond of limiting the use of thief skills to one try per situation, but I don't hate the idea either.
  • I don't like the way the rules determine what spells a magic-user knows and what spells can be learned in the future.
  • I think the chance of failure when researching a new spell is too high.
  • The need for the "Read Magic" spell is crappy.
  • Fighting men don't get a bonus to hit at levels 1 to 3.
  • The rules regarding shooting into melee are...confusing.
  • Some magic weapons only give you a bonus to hit, while others also give you the same bonus to hit and to damage. I don't see the point in creating this difference.
  • That bit about daggers hitting twice per round and large weapons only hitting once every other round should probably be ignored.
  • A lot of weapons (especially crossbows) don't seem too useful when all weapons do 1d6 damage.
  • I think the game would be better off if it either stuck closely to the idea that almost all attacks and HD are d6-based, or discarded the idea completely and used variable weapon damage. The hybrid approach taken by Holmes Basic seems to me like the worst of both worlds.
  • Only being able to level up every 6 to 12 adventures (not counting low-treasure expeditions) might be a bit harsh, especially if the players have busy or unpredictable schedules.
Overall, I enjoyed the heck out of this book, and would definitely recommend at least checking it out if you get the chance and you're interested in old-school D&D. I'd give the Holmes Basic D&D Rulebook an underground domed city accessible via giant stone skull out of 10.

After reading through this book, I'm left with a major question: how do I personally want to use it at the table? Here's the idea I'm leaning toward at the moment. The party starts out on the Dungeon Moon from Papers & Pencils (which I've mentioned before) using the Holmes Basic rules. If they make it past the third level of experience and/or escape the Dungeon Moon, we start to transition into OD&D rules. I figure this is a good fit since Holmes Basic seems in many ways like a simplified and clarified version of the rules from the three Little Brown Books and some bits from Supplement I. Also, I've really been wanting to try out an OD&D game, but as I've mentioned before, the original booklets can be a little intimidating for beginners like me. Anyway, if the party makes it to the planet below, the game becomes a West Marches-style wilderness hexcrawl using the board from Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival. In short, I think I would mash together my OD&D and Holmes Basic ideas from this post, along with the Dungeon Moon concept, adding in more ideas if they seem appropriate, of course.

I guess that wraps up my overview. If you have any thoughts you'd like to share about Holmes Basic or anything related, please feel free to leave a comment. Until next time, keep your wand of petrifaction close at hand, by Crom!


  1. Justin, as a Holmes fan I've really enjoyed re-reading the book through your fresh perspective. Regarding the lizard riding lizard dude illustration, you nailed it: every DM I knew back in the day both made his own monsters AND cannibalized the AD&D monster manual without batting an eye.

    What's next? I'd like to hear your take on In Search of the Unknown (B1), Keep on the Borderlands, or even Moldvay's version of D&D.

    1. Thank you very much!

      I'd love to do a similar read-through of B1, B2, and the B/X rules, especially since I haven't read them yet. I should probably buy them first, though. :P In terms of this kind of project, the next book I'll cover will probably be the LotFP version of Carcosa. I don't know exactly when I'll start on it, but since people seem to really enjoy this kind of thing, and I have a lot of fun doing it, hopefully it'll happen fairly soon. I'm open to other suggestions, as well!

      I also want to do a review of The Hell House Beckons, like I did for The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia, but since it's an adventure instead of a campaign setting-type thing I have less of an excuse to do a review without playing it first. Maybe I'll run it when I finally get my online game off the ground.

  2. Lizard Men appear between Kobolds and Lycanthropes in the Holmes edited basic set. No cool riding lizard however.

    1. Whoops! My bad! How did I miss that? I even wrote about every single monster in the book in Part 9. Thanks for pointing that out. I'll go ahead and fix it.

  3. The giant lists of Pros and Cons is a great way to finish off this series... becomes a handy thing to point to, if someone on the web wants to know the ups and downs of Basic play.

    Gotta remember to tune back in for Carcosa and (if you get to them) B1 and B2...!

    1. Thank you!

      I'm also curious to see what changes between Holmes and B/X, so hopefully I can read through the latter at some point.