Sunday, July 4, 2010

Why I'm looking at Holmes D&D

I'm looking at getting a campaign ready between now and September, since we will have a big enough apartment that playing at home would be more feasible, and I've been looking hard at various systems that are available for doing so. Of course there's what I had been running, OD&D with supplement content as needed, but it doesn't really have the same appeal for me that it did.

What I'd been considering is Labyrinth Lord or Rules Cyclopedia D&D - just because both are complete in one book and reasonably straightforward. But the steps they take beyond OD&D - race-as-class, ability scores becoming emphasized, and the slow growth of subsystem bloat that eventually overtook RC D&D - don't appeal to me. So I think I've found my solution: the 1977 Blue Book edited by J. Eric Holmes, although with significant amounts of house-ruling.

Holmes was unique, in that unlike anything else produced it documented D&D as it was played before it became AD&D. People used the handful of things that it added from Greyhawk - magic missile, the Thief class etc - much more than the clunky quasi-Chainmail system. The rules work pretty well, although there are a couple of obvious issues, the biggest being the lack of rules above level 3. I'm going to plug that hole with the Holmes Companion, which to be honest is basically just extrapolating out the extra data from Men & Magic.

Most of the other issues are fairly simple and involve things I had issues with in OD&D anyway. For instance, I found that plate mail has a really heavy distorting effect on certain things, as PCs immediately start off with AC2 for any but the poorest fighting-men and clerics; my solution is to come up with an expanded equipment list where plate is more expensive, throwing in a handful of goodies taken from Arduin just for fun. (It's actually pretty sane stuff, like grappling hooks, crowbars and a couple more ranged weapons - although Arduin also has prices for gladiator nets, aerial saddles and spider-silk ropes.) I also fully intend to actually use the 3/4ths of the Ready Ref Sheets I haven't gotten around to implementing, like the sweet poison rules, and to spend the next few months cribbing stuff I like from other gamers and other games.

To be clear, this is a philosophical choice. In the first five years of D&D, the game was not really played "as written" by the majority of the groups that were out there; the sketchy nature of the rules and the creative nature of the hobby scene meant that everybody was coming up with their own take on everything, and that was all for the good. And this is really the vision I've always had of classic D&D: it's part of a make-your-own-RPG kit, where a game that is uniquely yours could be constructed from bits and pieces, some of your own devising, some from commercial products, some from other referees. I think Holmes, more than 3LB OD&D, is open to that interpretation, mainly because it's a straightforward and well thought out presentation of the rules, and it includes things like thieves that were cut from OD&D for space.

Thoughts on the above thoughts are appreciated!


  1. I think you may be on to something.

    I've only played Holmes a bit, and that was in the context of an OD&D game which as you said included whatever the DM wanted. It's a good edition of the system (although initiative is still clunky).

    The main and final point is: If you and your players like it, then it's what you should use.

    And you really need to check out what The Delve has done, if you haven't already. His Holmes Treasury is a fairly complete expansion up to (I think) 10th level or so.

    It's at:

  2. Holmes is my first exposure to D&D. We played full Holmes (DEX as iniative and everything). We each had a dungeon (Mine was the Dungeon of Doom, Ron had the Dungeon of Death, and Scott had the Dungeon of Despair). We only played to third level -- that was our cap. Tactics became very important to take out the big bads.

  3. Someone anonymously posted a link to a file called "The Grey Book" on this blog, and I don't want to be rude but I did remove the link - I don't want this blog to be seen as supporting piracy. I'd heard about this "Grey Book" before, but honestly I don't find it that appealing. It brings in AD&D stats, which I've never been a fan of, and most of the other supplement cruft. My dream book is basically Holmes with the tables and spells extended to level 9, and the handful of rules that were just missing from it (morale, fighting man hits, etc) added in.


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