I had a couple of fun sessions this week running Holmes Basic D&D. I was inspired by reading the Dragonsfoot adventure ‘Endless Tunnels of Enlandin‘, which, as the author (Stefan Poag) explains, was originally created for the Holmes version of Basic D&D. I had two players, and since time was at a premium, gave them Zenopus’ Holmes pregen sheet, and had them split the seven characters thereon. We dispensed with the travel to the dungeon bit, and I placed them at the ruins above the dungeon.
My goal was just to use as much of Holmes by-the-book as possible. Using Zenopus’ pregens adds two house rules – the to-hit bonus for 15+ strength, and Hobbit thieves, who get some racial bonuses to thief skills. I also made all weapons do one die of damage with one attack per round, regardless of weapon weight. All else was as per the rules.
- Using d6 for all weapon damage doesn’t mesh well with monsters’ d8 hit dice
and the multiple d8 attacks per round some of them get. The original Holmes
draft used d6 monster hit dice, this is a much better fit. You could also
use variable weapon damage, perhaps ported directly from the Greyhawk
- Combatants in Holmes act in order of dexterity, unless their dexterity scores are within 1-2 points of one another, in which case a d6 is used to determine first attack. With 9-12 being an average dexterity for PCs, this happens quite frequently when rolling dexterity for monsters ‘on the spot’ as Holmes advises. Two of Zenopus’ pregens have a 10 dexterity, these two PCs were rolling a d6 in almost every round of combat. So combat is not as fast as it may seem at first. A better rule would be to use the tie-breaking d6 only if dexterity scores were identical, or just dispense with the d6 and treat combatants with identical dexterity scores as acting simultaneously.
- I like the 100xp per hit-die rule from pre-Greyhawk OD&D. That, coupled with 1xp per gold piece of treasure allows for fairly rapid advancement at lower levels. I’ve used this method in my S&W White Box games. I don’t see this as a bad thing, it is hard to get adults together nowadays for gaming for more than a few hours a week, maybe even per month. I’m generalizing a bit here, but I do note complaints from other gamers on forums and blogs regarding how hard it is to hold regular game sessions. Holmes uses the Greyhawk experience table, so for example you get 5xp for an Orc, rather than 100xp. The two, three-hour sessions we played netted the players only 190xp each. The alternative is to either use the 100xp per hit-die rule, increase the treasure rewards, or just give the surviving players xp bonuses after each session.
As with all old-school systems, Holmes can be quite deadly. In our first session, five PCs were killed. One was killed by a Kobold arrow, two were sucked dry by giant ticks, and two were killed by a Thaumaturge’s wand of magic missiles. In the second session, the players were far more cautious and none died, although they did teleport themselves to a deeper dungeon level, so a TPK is probably imminent, unless they can find the way back up.