Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Here's a rule I need to remember

"A character surprised by a monster may drop whatever he is holding –on a die roll of 6"
I just rediscovered this gem on page 10 of Doctor H’s All-Natural Health Tonic Elixir & Shoe Polish, more commonly known as Holmes Basic D&D. Being what it is, no rules are given for how long it takes to retrieve a dropped sword, torch, or map. Or rules for whether you need to make a roll just to find your sword in the underworld gloom. Or whether the torch sputters out or rolls away. Or rules for whether the map happened to land in a puddle and is now ruined. Which means I can be as mean-spirited about such details as my blackened little DM's heart desires. Huzzah!

Here’s a rule that I do remember and use regularly, from the same page:
"Many dungeons contain traps, such as trap doors in the floor. If a character passes over one a six-sided die is rolled; a roll of 1 or 2 indicates that the trap was sprung and he has fallen in, taking one or more 6-sided, dice of damage."
I like how the word "traps" is italicized, like it’s some foreign concept being introduced to the public for the first time. Maybe before Raiders of the Lost Ark people didn’t understand how dangerous it was to go into underground temples and steal golden idols? Professor Jones teaches us so many valuable life lessons. "Nazis. I hate these guys." being my personal favorite, and probably more widely applicable than "Don't look into the Ark of the Covenant."

On at least two runs of mine in the past six months an entire party successfully passed over a trapped area without setting it off. One time they even backtracked through the same square later during the adventure and the trap remained undisturbed. As much as it would have amused me to see one or more adventurers fall into that pit, I also really dig knowing how oblivious they were to the danger. It's my little secret.

Here's one last Holmes quote:
That's got to be one of the coolest section titles ever.


  1. The traps rule survived into Moldvay, which I used for my megadungeon project. I was unaware of that rule until this past year; you're right, it definitely heightens DM interest.

  2. The 2in6 chance to spring a trap is from OD&D, Vol. III. I like to think it's a way to bring some hurt to the squishier fellas in the second to last rank of the marching order, and to give the poor men-at-arms fodder up front a break once in a while.

    Also in OD&D, the chance to drop an item when surprised is spelled out, but it's listed at 25%. I definitely prefer the 1in6 chance in Holmes.

    Interestingly, in OD&D "ESP'ing, light and noise will negate surprise". It just won't happen. If read by the book that way Surprise is a fairly rare circumstance.

  3. Holmes will forever remain a source of knowledge and insight for me. It really is a great -- and under-appreciated -- rulebook.

  4. I'm going to gather all the Holmes supplement stuff on the net together, put it in a smaller box and keep it next to my Holmes box. I'll call it Watson.

  5. Anonymous7:58 AM

    Labrynth Lord also uses the "trap springs on 1-2" rule, which I never remembered reading anywhere and I know we never used. I thought maybe it was something that was added for LL.

    Nice to know it's the old school way.

  6. Oh I don't know, my cousin was just looking into his Ark the other day and suffered the consequences, melty face and all. If only he'd paid attention to Indy, but he's always been more of a fan of National Treasure.

    "MELEE RESOLUTION -- CONQUER, WITHDRAW, SURRENDER OR DIE" should be on a t-shirt. Or Melee Resolution is an awesome heavy power metal band, and Conquer, Withdraw, Surrender or Die is their first album.

  7. I use all of the "x in d6" rules from OD&D regularly when I run. This means that, at most points of non-combat, I roll a couple of d6s a lot. I usually pick two, one with numbers and one with pips, to distinguish easily between them. They are brilliant and unfortunately I think the fact that they aren't in Swords & Wizardry is one of the significant flaws of that game, and one reason I wouldn't run it.

  8. OMG! I never thought I'd see that again.

    I had that box set! It was the first version of D&D I owned. I remember it being a gift from my aunt and uncle. Prior to receiving it (Feb. 1978 I think) I was always using my friend's copy, an almost identical box but red-hued in color.

    Does anyone know if this is just my memory or did such a thing actually exist?

    Barking Alien

  9. Barking--that picture is of the rulebook within the box. The box cover had the same picture in colour. It wasn't quite red, but there was some heavy red elements.

    Try this this: http://www.davidlouisedelman.com/wp-content/uploads/basic-dungeons-and-dragons-2.jpg

    Anyway, I have always missed that rule too. Huh. Who knew that yuo could still be surprised all these years later. :)