Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Moldvay and Holmes, and Fighters

I've been running games using the Moldvay basic set recently, and using the variable weapon damage rules therein, which are basically similar to the ones found in Supplement I: Greyhawk except that Moldvay doesn't differentiate between damage to small, medium and large creatures.

In Moldvay at least, variable weapon damage enforces the use of swords. A Moldvay sword (or a Greyhawk or AD&D one) does 1d8 damage, or 4.5 damage on average. Since an average 1 HD monster has 4.5 hp, the Moldvay fighter with a sword will kill it in one successful hit (this is enhanced by the likelihood of +1 or more to damage due to Strength). In Holmes the monster hp amounts are the same, but the fighter will only do 3.5 points of damage to it (1d6), leaving it 1 hp.

With Holmes, an orc has AC 7 and the fighting-man hits it on a 12 or better (45% of the time). Moldvay orcs have AC 6, but an average fighter should have Strength between 13 and 15 (due to additional points from other scores) and likewise hits on a 12 or better. On the whole, a fighter should hit an orc every other round. So the Holmes fighting-man should kill an orc in 4 rounds, while the Moldvay fighter takes closer to 2. If we assume that the average fighter has 4.5 HP and AC 4 (chain+shield) and the orc does 3.5 damage, the Holmes fighting-man is likely to win with 1 hit point left, while the Moldvay fighter has a good chance of getting out without a scratch.

The Holmes rules are fairly pitiless for our fighting-man. There's a lower chance of Constitution bonuses to hit dice, no Dexterity modifier to armor class, and no Strength bonuses to hit or to damage. A Holmesian fighting-man with scores of 13 in each score has only a Dexterity bonus to hit with missile weapons, while a Moldvay fighter with 13s in all three scores has +1 to hit, damage, AC and hit points. Plus, the Moldvay fighter's sword does d8 while the Holmes fighter's does only d6.

Looking at this situation, where I've said before that Holmes is clearly the magic-user's favored system, Moldvay seems to favor the oft-overlooked fighter. But one simple tweak could change the whole game: running Holmes, which is strongly rooted in OD&D, with d6 for hit dice. The earliest printings of the rulebook didn't have this, per Zenopus Archives, and without following it we find our Holmes fighting-man is much more capable. Now he kills orcs at the same rate as his Moldvay counterpart, and we didn't need to use Strength bonuses or variable damage.

The side effect of this is that clerics, who can't use swords, find themselves more or less at parity with fighters at low levels. Of course, clerics advance more slowly in fighting, and more importantly they can't use magic swords - which are far and away the most common magic weapons. The parity is sort of a good thing, though, considering how few spells clerics get at lower levels; it's sort of like they start off even but fighters branch off to more fighty stuff while clerics go towards more cleric-type doings.

The other advantage that Holmes has is that it's not locked into the B/X ruleset which does not feature multiple attacks. Pretty much any multiple-attack rules the referee chooses can be worked more easily into Holmes, using 4th level ("Hero") as the trigger point. So while Moldvay does have advantages for the fighter, Holmes is probably more amenable to being tweaked in the right direction.


  1. And interesting to note, but Blueholme rules, which are supposed to be based on Holmes,has most weapons doing damage by D6 only, regardless of weapon type.

    1. Yes, that's from Holmes (and extends from OD&D) - sorry if I wasn't clear, but all Holmes weapons do d6 damage. Blueholme Prentice Rules is pretty much Holmes, and Blueholme Compleat as I understand it will be a 14-level expanded version.

  2. I'll have to find it again but I remember reading some blog post were a guy did an analysis of B2 and found that the monsters hit points are close to the average of using d6 for hit dice and that none had 7 or 8 hit points per hit die. The conclusion was that Gary used d6s when rolling the hit points when writing the module.

    1. Yeah, I remember seeing this a good while back:


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