Saturday, January 2, 2021

Holmes Basic

The D&D Basic Set was released in July, 1977, representing the first major reorganization of the original D&D rules, but only covering character levels 1-3.  Higher level play still required a copy of the original rules and supplements, which remained available for another few years.

D&D Basic Set (1st printing, 1977).  The painting for the iconic cover illustration by David C. Sutherland III was rediscovered in a warehouse in 2013.

The set included a 48-page rulebook edited by Dr. J. Eric Holmes, along with Dungeon Geomorphs Set One, Monster & Treasure Assortment Set One, and a set of polyhedral dice.  (The Dungeon Geomorphs and Monster & Treasure Assortments were later replaced with introductory modules.)

Dr. Holmes was an associate professor of Neurology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.  You can find out more about him, here.  The recording of a neurology lecture he gave at a science fiction convention recently surfaced, and can be accessed, here.

Zach Howard posted a fascinating, multi-part, in-depth analysis of the Holmes manuscript, comparing it to the published version of the D&D Basic Set rulebook, in a series of posts over at Zenopus Archives a while back.  Printing history and related info is available, here.

D&D Basic Set rulebook (2nd printing, 1978).  The monochrome blue cover has led to the rulebook's informal name, the "Blue Book"

Although various references to AD&D are made throughout the rulebook, the core hardcovers for AD&D 1e had not yet been published, and turned out to be slightly incompatible.  Holmes Basic is therefore regarded as a distinct version of D&D.

My own introduction to RPGs came a few years later, through the 1981 Basic Set, edited by Tom Moldvay, although I remember catching glimpses of the enigmatic Holmes rulebook from time to time, invoking the mysterious origins of the game.

When I started playing D&D with my son, I turned to Holmes as a Rosetta Stone to explore the original D&D rules and supplements, using them to cover higher levels of play, in addition to the OD&D variants published in The Dragon.

Over the next few weeks, I invite you to join me as I post about my experiences running a Holmes-based campaign, including my interpretations of the rules, as well as the methods I used for expanding play beyond the scope of the original rulebook.


  1. This book was the intro to D&D for my brother and I. Prior to our purchase I had observed a game of "OD&D" being played, but was not invited to sit in. As the Holmes book references "AD&D" as its sequel, that is the route we followed, shaking our heads over the separate "Basic" line when it debuted. I have never moved to editions other than 1st ed AD&D. (Although I've played, and still regularly play, other games.) Seeing that Holmes box always brings back pleasant nostalgic memories. Comparing its text to that from the OD&D books, I know I never would've even tried playing OD&D if that had been my only option. Too confusing.

    1. Proceeding to AD&D is a natural extension of Holmes - even the font and layout is similar! The Monster Manual, in particular, is a useful companion, as many have noted.

      B/X is ironically the least compatible - more of a reboot than anything else. We started with Moldvay, but rapidly adopted AD&D as our preferred game.

      I ended up playing and DMing 1e for my friends, while also DMing B/X for my brother's friends, before switching back to BECMI for my friends when the Gazetteers rolled out.

  2. My brother and I were introduced to D&D by my dad's friend around 1979 - I don't know now if we were playing AD&D, OD&D, or Homes D&D. My parents bought us the Holmes box set later that year - with B2. We played the heck out of it, but as Holmes told us to, we 'graduated to AD&D' by 1980. I didn't even discover B/X (and BECMI and the RC) until the early 2000's....

    I often think about what a "Holmes Expert Set" would have looked like if it didn't steer us towards AD&D.

    1. I suspect that a Holmes "Expert Set" would have simply rounded out the LBBs plus Greyhawk, possibly adding a touch of new material here or there.

      As you're probably aware, the Cook/Marsh Expert Set does include a section at the beginning for using it with Holmes - a hybrid some refer to as "Holmes/X"