Friday, November 6, 2015

Holmes Rules: Subclasses

[I realize I'm not the first person to do this. Humor's good for my brain]

The Holmes Basic book has a rather famous section (for retrocloners of the Holmesian persuasion) on  additional character classes one might allow in a game of D&D. Holmes's text reads as follows:
There are a number of other character types which are detailed in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. There are sub-classes of the four basic classes. They are paladins and rangers (fighting men), illusionists and witches (magic-users), monks and druids (clerics), and assassins (thieves). There are half elves. Special characteristics for dwarves, elven, and halfling thieves are given. In addition, rules for characters who possess the rare talent of psionic ability are detailed. However, for a beginning campaign these additions are not necessary, and players should accustom themselves to regular play before adding further complexities. 
At the Dungeon Master's discretion a character can be anything his or her player wants him to be. Characters must always start out inexperienced and relatively weak and build on their experience. Thus, an expedition might include, in addition to the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarves, halflingish), a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese Samurai fighting man.
[Eric Holmes...from page 7, circa 1977]

These additional creatures were found in Holmes own home-brew games; his original manuscript for the Basic book included others (half-nagas and African witchdoctors, for example). It should also be noted that the addition of "witch" as a subclass of magic-user was not in Holmes's original manuscript, but (rather) added by some other editor, so Gygax claimed.

Holmes Basic was written before the publication of the PHB, but the subclasses listed had appeared previously (in supplements to the original Little Brown Books as well as serial publications). His discretionary classes (like centaurs and werebears) are similar to Gygax's own section on the subject in the DMG or (in the case of the human examples), cultural appropriations that add flavor to existing classes (Japanese fighters, African magic-users, Amerindian clerics).

What's fun for (admittedly weird) folks like me is taking Holmes and isolating it as a moment in if it were the last edition of D&D published by TSR...and playing "What If" with it.

What if the Advanced PHB that we know and love had never hit the shelf? What if instead the earlier OD&D supplements had been updated instead to be compatible with the "Holmes edition" of the game? What might such a thing look like?

It's this kind of thinking that leads to folks doing their own retro-Holmes knock-offs. Which is fun.

SO...having given my own line-by-line house rules earlier, it's time to get down to the fun stuff: Holmesian class write-ups. While it's a simplistic exercise, one that's been done by both bloggers and self-publishing fan-writers for years, maybe it will lead to something interesting.

[no, that's not another book teaser...I'm not doing a Holmes Companion or anything]

No, something else...but that's for a later post. Let's get down to it:

I don't care about monstrous PCs or historically flavored versions of existing classes...those aren't the kinds of things that need to be codified in stone (in my opinion). But the mentions in that first paragraph (with the exception of psionics...I'm a little irritated with psionics at the moment), are all things I can work with.

Paladins, Rangers, Illusionists, Witches, Druids, Monks, Assassins, and Half-Elves.

To make this work for me, I'm going to need to use Holmesian brevity. Let's start with a couple easy the fighter subclasses. For the paladin, I'll start with the base class found in Supplement I (Greyhawk); for the the ranger, I'll go off book a bit (though I did bother to read the old Strategic Review article where the class originally appeared).

Here you go:

Solemn, righteous.
Paladins -- fighting men (and women) who dedicate their lives to the cause of law and good (with an alignment to match) can take up the mantle of "paladinhood" if their charisma score is at least 17. In addition to their fighter advantages, paladins enjoy a +2 bonus to saving throws, are immune to fear and disease, and gain the ability to heal others by "laying on hands" (such healing can cure wounds equal to D6 plus the paladin's level OR can cure disease like the spell; this ability may only be used once per day). Paladins must give away all treasure found to charitable or religious institutions, only retaining what they need to maintain themselves, their followers, and a (modest) castle; they may possess no more than four magic items at any time, save for their armor, shield, and personal weapons (no more than four).

Paladins possess a distinct aura of goodness that will make evil monsters and characters uncomfortable in their presence (paladins have the ability to turn undead as a cleric half their level). So long as they maintain their status, any horse the paladin chooses for a mount will be a prime specimen (full hit points). A paladin that commits any evil or chaotic deed will immediately loose all special abilities, becoming a simple fighter, unless and until they can fully atone for their actions, as judged by a suitable institution (a lawful good temple or high priest, for example).

Grubby, independent.
Rangers -- fighting men (and women) who feel more at home in the wilderness can become wandering rangers, if they possess an intelligence of 11 or better, and a constitution of at least 15. Rangers have the same concealment and missile accuracy bonuses as a halfling, and can move as fast as an unarmored man even when wearing leather armor, so long as they are not burdened with a heavy load. Rangers that have a dexterity of 13 or more receive a +1 bonus to armor class, though only when unarmored or wearing armor no heavier than leather. Rangers are only surprised on a roll of 1.

All rangers have the ability to find, identify, and follow tracks at a rate equal to 50%+5% per level (maximum 95%); this may be halved due to poor weather conditions. Rangers may never own more than they (and their mount) can easily carry, nor may not have followers or hirelings of any sort. They  are loners and wanderers by nature, and avoid attachments (to both possessions and people).

[more to come...yes, I know B/X readers aren't going to be thrilled with this line of work]


  1. I'm more a B/X guy myself, but I've been thinking about Holmes lately myself. Carry on, sir! :)

    1. @ Anthony:

      Thanks for the vote of confidence!
      : )

  2. This is almost how I run my D&D campaigns: B/X "engine" with 1e options while also having an openness to other classes or races subject to approval.