Tuesday, March 13, 2012

the Holmes 65

Time for another crummy list!  Today I just want to share with you the list of monsters in the Blue Book version of D&D.  Note the badass mofos that Dr. Holmes expected first through third level characters to face.  You best be figuring out some smooth plans, because your party isn't going to be able to beat many of these dudes with sheer force!

Black Pudding
Blink Dog
Carrion Crawler
Displacer Beast
Fire Beetle
Gelatinous Cube
Giant Ant
Giant Centipede
Giant Rats
Giant Tick - I don't use these enough
Gray Ooze
Green Slime
Hell Hound
Lizard Man
Ochre Jelly
Owl Bear
Purple Worm
Rust Monster
Yellow Mold

Anyone every tried to fight all those acidic slime type monsters with lye?  That might be cool.  Also interesting is that 8 hit die giants versus max 3 hit die PCs makes for a much better Jack and the Beanstalk scenario than the usual G1-2-3 approach.


  1. The older I get the more I love the idea of having the full danger-range of monsters in play from the start of the game.

    Is this the version of Purple Worms where they're lurking underneath you wherever you go?

  2. He had Purple Worms in Mazes of Peril, which seems awfully close in feel to an actual campaign journal. My guess is that he put his money where his mouth was in this regard. (How sad that there is no Were-Shark in there).

    1. Anonymous1:30 AM

      And it specifically mentions that the wizard is level 2 and the cleric has only 1 spell. Pretty epic considering.

  3. I recall that recently in a seminar or chat about the 5E D&D plans, they are going to make monsters have more of a "playability lifespan" but having them become tougher for higher level players. It seems like a bad idea to me. My reasoning is that when player's characters come up on a band of kobolds, there is common knowledge already about how strong of an opponent they are going to be. If they encounter a Purple Worm and their characters are only level 3, they immediately think, "Hmm, maybe we better turn around". A system where orcs can be 1 HD, or 10 HD just seems unnecessary and counter productive to letting the players make intelligent and informed observations about their opponents.

    1. I agree whole heartedly. In fact I'd go a step further, based upon my experience playing the Elder Scrolls game Oblivion, which features an entire world that levels up every time you do (like that makes sense) and state that scaling enemies make you feel like you are running on a treadmill and getting nowhere fast.

  4. The first time I ever played D&D (ever role played, for that matter) I was about six and my sixteen year old brother ran the game. I rolled up a thief with 18 dexterity and 1 hit point - and was killed by a giant tick before even reaching the dungeon.
    Years later in the campaign I ran, we ruled that large amounts of alcohol essentially slowed oozes, puddings, and the like.

  5. In a d20 modern game I once used the box of baking soda from the refrigerator to fight some kind of acid blood slime. That's sorta the same idea...

  6. Funny, I brought this same topic up on the OSG group on Facebook. Tim Kask chimed in that Dr. Holmes "expected players smart enough not to mess with stuff so much more powerful than themselves", a sentiment that in and of itself represents the vibe behind old school gaming. It seems the New School crew led by Monte Cook aren't down with this idea though.

  7. Enlightening list, Holmes rocks!

  8. First joesky said like , "AGAINST THE GIENTS BY JEFF REIENTS"

    And I thought, "That'd be cool."

    Then you were all like, "Hmmm, I have had an idea for a giant-based adventure for a long time…"

    And I said, "That sounds cool."

    And now you're like, "Also interesting is that 8 hit die giants versus max 3 hit die PCs makes for a much better Jack and the Beanstalk scenario than the usual G1-2-3 approach."

    And I say, "That's cool."

  9. Love the topic and the rationale from Dr. Holmes. Besides, the DMs want to have fun with the higher level monsters too, even if there is no combat.

    I would disagree with Scadgard that Monte Cook necessarily and presently believes that PCs should be coddled with monsters near the appropriate Challenge Rating. As Cook pointed out in the 3rd Edition DMG, the danger of dangerous encounters is that the PCs might not realize how dangerous it is until it's too late. My belief is that CR was intended to be a shorthand way of giving the DM a way to approximate the dangerousness of a given encounter. Obviously, it became a crutch instead and used by many as a dictum: Thou shalt not overtax the PCs unless they are stupid. I agree this was one of the problems of both 3.x and 4e.

    In any event, a casual stroll through Monte's published scenarios indicates that he personally was not afraid of throwing in extremely dangerous monsters. Read through the Return to the ToEE and notice the Blue Dragon encounter for a party of level 4ish PCs ...

    Personally, I am elated that an energetic, productive, idea-generating fan-of-the-game like Monte is at the helm of the game's future. The 5e threads on ENWorld and elsewhere indicate that getting away from CR and adding real danger/death is on the shopping list for the next edition. If that makes Monte a leader of the "new school crew," that's fine with me.

    In fact, I have gone so far as to say (on my blog) that Monte Cook is the new Gary, the next caretaker of the game. Game design? DM chops? Creativity? Productivity? Energy and love of the game? Ability to be the public 'face' of the game?

    1. "As Cook pointed out in the 3rd Edition DMG, the danger of dangerous encounters is that the PCs might not realize how dangerous it is until it's too late"

      Well, than it's the PCs fault for taking thing for granted. They should learn the value of tactical caution after the TPK.

    2. No question. It's up to the DM early on to make it clear that things are not "balanced" and provide opportunities to learn about the danger and potentially avoid it. Whether they do so or not is another story.

    3. Anonymous2:06 AM

      Gygax and Arneson both had mega-dungeons and super successful campaigns that lived for 30 years.

      What's this guy's credentials again? Has he ever even set foot in a mega-dungeon?

    4. Ptolus? Dungeon-a-Day? I don't even play D&D and I know Monte Cook has _published_ mega-dungeons. Knee-jerk hate toward the new school is bad; there's been a real effort to learn from the OSR in other parts of the hobby (we just refuse to give up our skill mechanics and do-over points).

    5. Anon, I just want to make clear that I am not saying Monte is equal to or greater than Gygax or Arneson. I am saying that he is the torchbearer NOW, the leading D&D designer of the past 12+ years and is the game's best hope for the future, whatever that may be. I'm not sure I understand your point about mega-dungeons, though the Return to the ToEE is one example of a very long campaign including a one huge dungeon and several medium-large ones.

    6. Anonymous10:53 AM

      Monte Cook is a fool incapable of critical thought. If you pay attention to his D&D Next blog entries, every alleged "solution" that he comes up with accomplishes pretty much the exact opposite of the intended effect. We can also hold Monte Cook responsible for 3e-style multiclassing, compulsory system mastery, and making "I want to be a fighter" a trap choice.

      Don't believe the hype.

    7. Anonymous2:31 AM

      My point about mega dungeons:

      In the age of the internet it's easier to publish than to do. Anyone can, for example, slap a blog together and offer "advice on how to be a great DM" that doesn't mean he's had any time behind the screen. Anyone can slap together a brief RPG, that doesn't mean it's even been playtested. In fact it's probably safest to assume it hasn't been.

      Gygax and Arneson both had wicked campaigns, with legend spawning stuff like Sir Fang and Erac's Cousin. That's why I give their advice the time of day. Grognardia even, I know any pointers or wisdom comes from 40+ sessions kicking around in dwimmermount.

      This guy, all I know about him is he designed 3e and an unusual remix of the WoD. Does he even game in a style I care about? I'm not sure how likely that is since he designed the game that killed that style. Maybe he does, I don't know. That's why I put my criticisms in the form of questions.

  10. Before you use giant ticks I recommend going to A Monster in Paris.

  11. I've been reading through "The Caverns of Thracia" with the idea of possibly running it as the first adventure for a new gaming group. Dear lord is it tough. Based on that and this list of monsters, I'm getting the idea that a lot of old school games were not the walk in the park that something like "Keep on the Borderlands" can be.

  12. I think most of those monsters though not all can be killed if player approach to them to is like Red Army Penal Battalion, waves of henchmen, dogs, player characters and burning oil. If it all fails only NPC's and unnamed 1st level characters have been lost, this will repeated untill success is achieved. Sheer force can be had in numbers.

  13. Anonymous12:07 PM

    Last campaign I used in fact way too many Giant Ticks. Here's the deal: I made random encounter lists 1d20 for each region. Each region started with the 5-8 basic monster types that would appear in the terrain type, minus one or two, and the rest of the slots were filled with local monsters to give each region a specific flavor. Griffons are found here, pegasi there, etc.

    Well Giant Ticks ended up on a lot of the terrain types near the starting location. Badland, forest, hill, you guessed it ticks were everywhere.

    They have high AC, 3 HD, and when they hit they attach and continue drinking blood. We had one encounter where we lost 3 party members dead and several horses. The other PCs had to flee back to town sharing the pack mules as mounts, all diseased and dying, and returned later to retrieve their fallen comrades' equipment. This was just the most devastating of the Giant Tick fiascos.

    I recall Giant Ticks being a possible encounter on the way to the Isle of Dread, anyone remember?

    Worst part: no treasure from wandering Giant Ticks.

  14. The expected opposition in this edition requires the players to bring the awesome or become another random stain on the Underworld's filthy tiles somewhere down in the musty dark. I fell in love with the Blue Book as soon as I started reading Holmes' intro, but the monster selection solidified my respect for his vision of the Dungeon as a fantastical, chaotic panoply of weird, enticing, and dangerous entities.(Not least the environment itself!) I mean, 1-3 Level PCs versus foes ranging from the ½ HD Skeletons to 15 HD Purple Worms(it will swallow you whole!) to potentially ∞HD Hydrae(1 6-point HD per head, with each noggin giving a 1d6 HP attack!), not to mention the Energy Draining Undead Abominations like the Vampire, with Charm by sight, its invulnerability to mundane weapons and its ability to make *2* Levels vanish with every swipe...

    I'm with you on the notion that Giant Ticks aren't used enough! Maybe that's 'cuz people aren't terribly familiar with them, due to their short time in D&D? They debuted in 1975's Greyhawk Supplement and inexplicably vanished a short 6 years later. After their appearance in the seminal Holmes set, they weren't found in *any* of the succeeding D&D editions: Moldvay/Cook/Marsh B/X(1981), Mentzer(1983), nor the Black Box/Rules Cyclopedia(1991-1999). I've yet to uncover why. Too Metal, perhaps?

    Happily enough, they have had a resurgence of late in the retro-clones Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord(in its Advanced Edition Characters supplement). LL's is technically a variation in that it has variable Hit Dice(2-4), randomly drains 1-6 HPs a round, rather than 1-4 initially and a straight 4 thereafter, not to mention it can actually be sated by draining a number of HPs in blood equal to its maximum hit points. Happily enough, they still have that good ol' wasting disease, and *no* treasure(Hoard in LL, parlance)!

    No fantasy RPG is complete without Giant Ticks, imo. :-) I love these guys and add them, along with Purple Worms, Medusas and No Limit Hydrae, to all my fantasy campaigns!(Runequest, Rolemaster, and Tunnels & Trolls have been immeasurably enriched thereby. ;-) ) The bloated suckers have even ended up as gods on occasion. It's always fun times with overlarge, disease ridden parasites that never know when to let go! Their penchant for Death From Above stunts is just icing...

    I looked over the blue cover(B/X 1981) Isle of Dread and found no Giant Ticks, unfortunately. I'd put 'em in, myself.(And will, when I run it...) They really fit the vibe, imo.

    Giant Tick World sounds pretty cool!

  15. I've created a visual taxonomy for the Holmes monsters. Check it out at


  16. Coincidentally, I've been working on a single-page Reference Table for the "Holmes 65" (ordered by Hit Dice), which I just posted today for download. There's actually 79 entries in the table due to listing out the Dragons, Giants, Spiders and Lycanthropes separately.


  17. I've revised the MONSTER REFERENCE TABLE to include Nixies from the 1st print Holmes rulebook, so now's there an even 80 monsters on the table. The "Holmes 80" to borrow Jeff's phrasing. Available at the same link in my comments above.