Thursday, October 8, 2015

48 Pages to Glory

There have been many excellent designers who've worked on Dungeons & Dragons over the years, from the initial concepts of Dave Arneson all the way down to...well, to whoever is working on the 5E design now. For the most part, it's taken a village to put together any version of D&D, even in the earliest editions: play testers, artists, editors, layout folks, etc. all had to come together to make a finished product that people could pick up and play. Singling out individuals as being "more valuable" is a little silly because none of 'em did it alone.

Be that as it may, I still hold four names in higher esteem than the others for their work. They are:

Arneson, Gygax, Holmes, and Moldvay

...and if that is terribly unfair of me, I apologize. It is what it is, and I have spent at least a little time criticizing each of them over the years for various design "missteps." Usually gently, but no one's perfect.

I have, at this point in my life, written a few game books...books heavily influenced by the work of these four men. My B/X Companion was done in the style of Moldvay's 64 page rule book, and my Five Ancient Kingdoms was written in the small, three volume fashion of the original D&D books. As I begin my newest project (stupidly, ridiculously...I have so many other irons in the fire), I set my eyes on the work of the one author whose work I've never used at the table, the one man who may have done more singly than any D&D designer in history, with the sole exception of E. Gary Gygax:

That would be John Eric Holmes.

Holmes Basic is a 48 page masterpiece. There, I've said it. Previously, I've referred to it as the "badass edition" of Dungeons & Dragons (that's meant as a compliment); these days, I don't think I've gone far enough in my praise. It is exquisitely concise, and provides near everything needed for a game. Well, a game that goes to 3rd level...but there's certainly enough here to build upon (as many folks have). I've seen many D&D campaigns (my own and others) fail to chart past the 3rd level.

What Holmes did in 48 pages is amazing. Of course, he was a brain surgeon...I think most folks would expect a bit of brilliance. Personally, I'm no rocket scientist...heck, I'm not even employed at the moment...but even so, I want to take a swing at doing this, doing what Holmes did: writing an adult fantasy role-playing game in 48 pages. That doesn't sound terribly hard does it? Even for someone of my hack writing skills?

Of course, it won't be a retroclone of Holmes...the Blueholme Prentice Rules already does a fine job of cloning John Eric. No, this will be using that "different paradigm" I was starting to talk about last month. And it will be a game designed to emulate (if possible) the feeling/style of those "good old days" I was waxing on about a couple days ago...something I want to play, in other words. Though I admit that trying to convey style AND rules in 48 pages is a pretty tall order. Really tall.

Yeah, maybe it's a pipe dream. But I'm going to give it a shot. We'll see what happens.

The plan is to go down swinging.

If any Holmes knowledgeable folks can hip me to the proper font and type size for such a project (assuming an emulation of style), I'd really appreciate the information. Not sure what I'll do about artwork at this point, though Holmes himself only used 14 or 15 small pieces (including maps). Probably more important that I just leave some blank spaces for insertion of illustrations.

More to come (I hope)!


  1. Some variety of Futura seems to be close. At least a number of homages seem to use it.

  2. Kevin Crawford of Sine Nomine Publishing analyzed TSR book Design. My copy of Holmes Basic looks like the LBBs in style.

  3. Earlier this year I made a Third Level MU Spell sheet for Holmes and tried to match the font and formatting as closely as possible. What worked the best was Futura Book BT at 9.5.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. The bold in Futura Std Book is much better than TW Cen MT, but the body text is much thinner.

  4. In MS word I typed up the left half of page 5 and it matches up very well with the following settings:

    Page size: 8.38 x 10.69
    Inner margin .57 outer margin .56
    two column equal width 3.35 spacing .55
    top margin .19 bottom margin .5
    footer .06
    Typeface Tw Cen MT 11 pt
    Indent .25
    line space 10.9
    Headers the same but in caps and bold, no indent, and single space before and after.

    Note: Futura looks nicer, but there was no setting I could adjust to get the text to line up correctly.

  5. @ Everyone:

    Thanks, folks. I really appreciate the helpful info.

  6. An admirable goal. I'd considered doing the same for my game, but have revised my plans. One thing, though: something like 3/8 of that book is modular stuff like monsters and treasure. While you do want each entry to be similar in size to Holmes, I don't think their sum matters. It's more that other 5/8 you have to worry about. So you could give your customers twice as many monsters and treasure in a 66-page book and still fulfill the basic spirit of this challenge

  7. I cannot wait to see more of this!!!

    1. @ Mike:

      Mmmm...this needs a progress report.