Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More on the Holmes Expert Set

Thanks to all who sent me their thoughts—and cool Holmes expansion documents—on and off-blog. It struck me in the exchanges that I should clarify the thought experiment scenario from yesterday.

Imagine it's the early months of 1980. Holmes' Basic set is selling way past expectations and TSR honchos see the chance to develop a new game line of simplified rules to parallel AD&D. Fresh off the farm/campus/mental institution you've be drafted to be co-editor on this new Expert boxed set with the good doctor.

Here are the guidelines you are given to design this new line.

The “must do” list:
  1. The boxed set is to include a 48-page rulebook and a module designed to introduce Basic players to higher level play. Crappy dice/chits, geomorphs, etc. are optional.
  2. All the rules in the printings of the Blue Box up to 1980 are done deals (you're expanding an existing product after all). They cannot be annulled even if Dr. Holmes stated a preference against. You are stuck with five-fold alignment and all the rest.
  3. Though rules can't be annulled new rules can be added as elaborations to existing rules or short optional rules—especially if they were historically proposed by Holmes (or inferred from his material) or from existing TSR material like B1 and B2. Thus you can introduce knockout rules as an elaboration to the combat section or optional rules like spell points for magic users.
  4. You must also introduce new and unique material to distinguish this new line. Gygax's throwaway line in the previously-mentioned Dragon article is a commandment. There must be new classes, monsters, magic, etc.--and all this new content must be sufficiently different and simpler than the fledgling new AD&D line. Special preference to be given, of course, to classes and races mentioned by Holmes in his writings (samurai, witches, witch doctors, centaurs, werebears, dragons, vikings, amazons, and the like are all fair game as PC races and classes, for instance).
  5. Simple rules or guidelines to help DM's create new classes and races.
  6. You need to introduce wilderness exploration rules, stronghold and building construction rules, more hireling rules and generally expand play up to 12th level. Level caps must be determined for non-human races.
  7. You can use any of the material from the three LBBs and OD&D supplements, but any adapted rules should be kept simple and brief.
Now assume that many of the design choices made by B/X and BECMI editors are choices you might make such as:
  1. Introducing wilderness rules by providing a snapshot of a campaign world at the end of the rulebook and in the accompanying module. Material from The Maze of Peril, the Basic introductory adventure, and locales mentioned in Holmes' short stories likely should be used. (Here's a cool run-down from Doc and others on the OD&D forum).
  2. Possibly introducing new classes as split classes ala Mentzer's Companion rules. Players all start 1-3 levels with the standard starting classes from Basic and can switch to a sub-class or whatever. 


  1. Pretty cool indeedy, Chris. I'm not sure I exactly follow you with the split class stuff. What do you mean and why is it posed this way???

  2. too bad we cant get rid of backwards armor class; not very intuitative to newbies
    (even the raggi rebeleled against descending AC)

    I would also have one class per
    ability score
    Strength = fighters
    Dexterity = thieves
    Constitution = barbarians
    Intelligence = magic-users
    Wisdom = clerics
    Charisma = agents (MU, fighter ,thief)

    also I would base saving throws on ability modifiers
    and have a standard saving throw bonus/ base per level

  3. @Jeff
    Thanks, my Holmes dream team would have you at the helm. Somehow I think you'd get the tone right.

    I've always been an AC agnostic. I guess it was drilled into me enough back in the day that it never seems like a problem explaining it. But I do agree that "higher is better" is a much easier point to get across to a newbie.

    I've certainly noticed that the differing mechanics of rolls where low is good in some cases and high good in others confuses people.

    On attributes tied to class I am assuming you mean as the prime requisite, right? Totally agree that a scheme that kept it very simple like what you suggest would be preferable.