Thursday, October 17, 2013

Holmesian Non-system: or Who cares how you roll intiative?

I gotta be honest with you: the Holmesian initiative thing I prattled on about the other day doesn't really evoke a sense of Holmeliness to me at all.  Not in the least.  Indeed, this sort of granular rules-tinkering in general seems to defy all-that-is-Holmey about Basic D&D.  To me, no particular rules could possibly evoke Holmes, because when I played Basic D&D back in the day, the rules were only vaguely understood and were almost irrelevant to the experience.  All you needed was a rough grasp of the core concepts of a> role playing and b> using dice as arbiters of action.
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=913789
 
What made that old blue book special to me was the sense of adventure it evoked.  Just look at that cover; I distinctly remember the feeling of awe I had when I first laid eyes on it: the way the dragon was looking right past Malchor the magicuser and Bruno the battler, right at me.  You got the sense that you were part of the party facing the dragon and that if you didn't think fast you were going to be toast.  I think this image made it clear what "role playing" was all about in a much more meaningful way than any Intro to any rulebook in the genre has ever accomplished.

As the Holmes set we used back in the day came without dice, we often got our D&D on using only 6-siders plundered from board games.  We ditched the silly chits as too cumbersome--plus, by the 3rd or fourth session, several chits had gone missing.  As I recall, a 4 or higher on a d6 was considered a hit, regardless of the attacker's hit dice or the target's AC and everything did d6 damage (true to the Holmesian rules, coincidentally).  We may have cobbled something similar together for Saving throws, or perhaps ignored them entirely.  And we assumed that a 1st level magic user could cast each 1st level spell once, 2nd level MUs could cast all the 2nd level spells, etc.  It seemed completely obvious that that was how magic was supposed to be handled, there was no need to delve through the text to decipher the precise meaning of the author.  Basic D&D was a means of exploring the world in a brand new way, not a collection of rules to be tampered with and argued over by a pack of middle aged men with ADD.

Advanced D&D changed all that.  Daddy Gygax made it clear that our free-wheeling ways were the wrong way to play, and we were only too happy to absorb the new, more sophisticated rules.   We quickly digested the hardcover tomes, though, like everyone else, we couldn't swallow a few things like psionics, segments, speed factors, and about two thirds of the DMG.  But sadly, we were no longer explorers in the ways of gaming, now we were more like middle managers toeing the corporate line while foisting grief on our underlings.

So when I say that Holmesian Basic is the Official Rules of Record for the Holmsmouth Urban Megadungeon Project, it has nothing to do with how you determine initiative, how fast zombies move, or even--amazingly enough--what type of hit dice thieves get to roll.  It has more to do with a feeling fostered by the sometimes--often--cartoony artwork of Tom Wham and the Daves than by how many seconds are in a melee round.  Or with the sense of old school horror brought on by the Thaumaturge with the caged ape in his lab and the green flames that engulfed crazy old Zenopus's tower all those years ago, which was a big change for us kids who were still giddy from watching "The Empire Strikes Back" in its original run.  We were exploring not just a new genre--fantasy--but also a new way of playing games.




2 comments:

Zenopus Archives said...

I think you could easily skip initiative in Holmes. Spells go first, so there's no spell disruption, so order of melee only really matters in a round where there's a "killing blow". You could just let everyone have their turn, every round, and forget about initiative. Sort of like "simultaneous initiative" in Moldvay.

Stefan Poag said...

Basic D&D was a means of exploring the world in a brand new way, not a collection of rules to be tampered with and argued over by a pack of middle aged men with ADD... We were no longer explorers in the ways of gaming, now we were more like middle managers toeing the corporate line while foisting grief on our underlings. Quoted for truth.