Friday, March 14, 2014

Part 25: "Horrors are Naturals for Dungeons"

Part 25 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to page 26 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along...


Five types of giants are described in OD&D Vol 2, pg 8: Hill, Stone, Frost, Fire and Cloud. Holmes reproduces the table from this page and adds Storm Giants from Greyhawk, pg 34.
The Vol 2 entry begins, "As stated in CHAINMAIL, Giants act as mobile light catapaults with a 20' range", and Holmes goes to this source, using material from page 12-13 of Chainmail to describe the giants' thrown rocks. The published version keeps all of Holmes' text, including the material sourced from Chainmail, and adds a few columns to the table: "Alignment" and "Damage". The info for the "Damage" column comes from the varying dice table on page 17 of Greyhawk. However, in the last column the published version also retains the multiple dice damage from Vol 2 for the larger giants, resulting in two different ranges for damage. For example, Frost Giants are listed as doing "4-24" in the "Damage" column but 2 die + 1 damage per hit (i.e., 3-13 points of damage) in the last column. This inconsistency remained through all printings of the rulebook.

For those of you with later printings, I'll note that the first printing of the rulebook also contains two short paragraphs of text following the table that were deleted in the 2nd edition (1978) when the Monster List was reformatted:

These sentences are from Holmes' manuscript, and the subect matter is also sourced from the material in Vol 2, with the exception that the original only mentions the gold and not the rocks in the shoulder sacks. In an earlier post ("Blue Book Hydras"), I noted that the Monster Manual doesn't mention hydras in any of the entries for giants. But looking at B/X now, I note Hydras, along with Hell Hounds, are listed as guards for Fire Giants. So this early concept of Hydras as the pets of giants was retained in one later aspect of D&D.

Giant Animals and Insects

This is an important entry that was included in the manuscript but deleted from the published rulebook. It explains the various "giant vermin" that Holmes mentions throughout the rulebook. In the past, I had wondered why he mentions giants rats, spiders and other undescribed creatures in his examples and the Sample Dungeon that aren't described in the Monster List. But these actually did have a point of reference in this catchall entry that follows the lead of Chainmail, which has entry for "Giant Spiders and Insects" (pg 36) and OD&D, Vol 2, which has entries for "Insects or Small Animals" (which includes wolves, centipedes, snakes and spiders) and "Large Insects or Animals" ("includes giant ants and prehistoric monsters"), that give some general, vague guidance on stats for these creatures. Holmes' choice of words in the last sentence echoes the first sentence in the Chainmail entry, which reads "The possibilities for employing such creatures are almost endless, and the abilities and weakness of each should be decided upon prior to the game they are to be used in".

The dungeon encounter tables in Vol 3 of OD&D include some "Giant" creatures in the tables, such as "Giant Rats", "Giant Ants" and "Giant Snakes" but also just "Centipedes" and "Spiders". Greyhawk, page 18, includes some varying dice damage for these creatures, but no other stats. Most of these monsters didn't receive a full write-up until the Monster Manual, which was published after Holmes Basic. So Holmes synthesized what had come previously as this "Giant Animals and Insects" entry. He interprets a Giant Animal's hit dice as equal to its dungeon level, such as 1 HD giant rats on level 1, 2 HD giant rats on level 2, etc. It's a simple way to scale vermin by dungeon level. Earlier in the manuscript (Part 18), we saw an example of Holmes using such creatures in the Second Combat Example, where he has the party attacked by "six giant spiders with 1 hit die each", "armor class 3" and a bite that does the standard d6 of damage plus poison. 

This comes from a simpler era when giant animals weren't so codified, and DMs were expected to be able to easily come up with stats for these creatures themselves. As much as I like the original Monster Manual, I do like this simplicity - do we really need separate entries for every type giant animal? It also allows for more variety in the size of each type of giant animal.

In the published rulebook they simply deleted this entry without any corresponding replacement. This left the rulebook littered with mentions of giant vermin without any reference point in the Monster List. In particular, this created problems with the Wandering Monster Tables, as I've mentioned previously (for example see the post, "Basic Level Monster Tables 1974-1978"), although some stats for these creatures were present in the random tables in the Monster & Treasure Assortment also included in the boxed set along with the 1st edition rulebook. TSR may have thought these stats were sufficient.

Giant Ant, Giant Centipede, Giant Rats

These three entries were adding to the 2nd edition of the rulebook in 1978, after the Monster Manual was published, and are apparently adapted from the entries there. Naturally, they are not present in the manuscript.

Giant Tick 

This is the only "giant" animal that Holmes gives its own entry in the manuscript, and this reflects that it was also the first "giant" animal (along with Giant Slugs) to get its own full standard entry in OD&D, specifically in the Greyhawk supplement (although some aquatic "giant" creatures had their own descriptions in a special section for Naval Advenures in OD&D Vol 2). Holmes' description of the ticks follows the Greyhawk description closely, including a mention of the spell Cure Disease which is not described in the Basic rulebook. The published rulebook follows the manuscript, with no changes to the description and only adding a single attack for d4 damage to the stats.


This is another entry not included by Holmes in the manuscript, and thus not found in the published rulebook but was later added to the 2nd edition. This one differs from the others in that Gnolls were fully described back in OD&D Vol 2, are humanoids rather than vermin, and are even an entry on the 2nd level of the Wandering Monster table that Holmes included in the manuscript (see Part 7). Holmes may have overlooked these humanoids when compiling his Monster List, but possibly in left them out in favor of the many other types of humanoids.

Update: Andy C on G+ asked about the Tom Wham "Gnoll" illustration in the first edition rulebook. Yes, it's there near the 'G' monsters (on the top of page 26), even without an entry for Gnoll. It's not clear if Wham originally intended for the creatures were to be gnolls, although the look remarkably similar to Sutherland's gnoll in the Monster Manual (which was published after the rulebook, but possibly drawn earlier). 

Gnolls are also mentioned in the Holmes manuscript in two other places: the languages that elves speak, and the humanoids subject to Charm Person.

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Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript


  1. It's possible that Holmes left them out because it wasn't clear in OD&D exactly what they were. (Of course that didn't stop me from using OD&D gnolls in my B/X game, but nothing would.)

  2. If find the Giants to be a really interesting case... harks all the way back to Chainmail rules (skirting core to-hit-vs-AC) and almost the only places where the "inches" scale is used.

    Now I see the legacy of the damage discrepancies, but at the time I always interpreted the first column as melee damage, the last as missile damage (granted the stone giant text near the top of the column which says "throws rocks..."). In AD&D the melee damage copies the numbers from the first column, and has different missile damage on the scale of (but not identical to) the last column.

    1. I interpreted the damage discrepancies in just the same way.

    2. That's a good way to make do with the duplicative info, and perhaps even what TSR intended. But it's pretty clear from OD&D Vol 2 and Greyhawk that the two different numbers were the original and alternate damage for the "huge weapons" of giants.

    3. Totally agree of course. I didn't have those OD&D sources until the last few years.

  3. I think it's worthwhile to note that Delta discovered an error in the Chainmail catapult rules that Holmes' giant rock-throwing rule is based on: you should use the lower of the two dice, not the higher.

  4. The capacious shoulder sack is referenced in the ogre description, but it's deletion makes the "giant-like sacks" comment more obscure.