Saturday, October 4, 2014

[Actual Play] First OD&D/Holmes Campaign in 35 years

"My big brothers told me you used to run a D&D club after school. They won't let me play with them. Can you bring back the club for me and my friends?"

I told her that if she could find three friends who could consistently show up after school on Thursdays, I would run a campaign for them. But which edition? I decided to use my beloved Holmes rule set and set to making a village map and a dungeon in the old mines at the edge of town. 

I have not run an OD&D campaign since 1978, when I was exactly the same age as my young players are now.

Opening the dogeared, taped-together booklet and revisiting the character creation rules was like combing through your old camping gear in the basement — this is still good, this is broken, oh wow I forgot about this bit altogether...

Here's a summary of the tweaks I've done to make it work for me.

1. Stat-beefing. What gets me is how little your stats matter unless you're on the extreme ends of the bell curve. Why did my players cry so much back in the day about their stats? Unless you have a 15 or higher or a 7 or lower, it matters not. So I spread the love a little bit so that you get at least some bonus if you've got 12 or higher in a given stat.

2. Saves. I tossed out the standard saves and instead you roll a d20 and have to roll at or under the relevant stat. So roll vs. your CON score for poison, WIS for fear, etc.

3. Weapon damage. I think as written it's totally broken. Even in '77 we had different damage ranges for different weapons in our house rules. My patch:

Daggers do 1–4 damage but you can strike twice each round.

One-handed weapons do 1-6 damage but allow for a shield.

Two-handed weapons do 1-8 damage.

Polearms do 1-12 damage but only once every other round.

4. Spells. Clerics with high WIS get a spell at 1st level.

5. Healing and spell recharge. I use Dungeonteller-style healing, where a brief rest between fights gets you back to full HP and you get a spell back. No 15-minute adventurer work days.

What I didn't compromise on: hit points. I told the players, when you get to zero hp, you are dead. Period.

The party includes an elf fighter/cleric (illegal in Holmes, I know, but I just swapped out her magic user class for cleric, is that so wrong); a human magic-user with and enviable 18 INT and 17 CON; a human thief with no stats higher than 12; and a human fighter who hasn't acquired any weapons or armor yet, but kills stirges by popping them with her bare hands.

Their first fight was against some stirges, and two PCs out of four could have bought the farm if I had rolled differently on the blood loss die.

It was incredibly fast-moving and exciting play. I loved it. Best newbie quote, as I took out the rule book: "Whoa, there's an instruction manual too? No way!"


  1. So when are we gonna see this in print? POD is getting cheaper all the time, though postage is trying to kill it.

    Hurry! Hurry! Can't wait! Impatient!

    1. If you're talking about Dungeonteller, I would like to do a POD version but I need some serious downtime to do the layout. And downtime is scarce these days!

    2. Careful! Wishing for downtime is a scary possibility in this economy!