Wednesday, March 18, 2009
My Conan is a 3rd level fighter
I am mostly a lurker at Dragonsfoot but there have been a series of posts begun by Geoffery of Carcosa fame that examine the potential of a "Holmes-only" campaign and a number of follow-up posts (Gods for a Holmes-only campaign and what the mortality rate might be) that I have been reading with great interest and have made a number of comments on.
What is meant by a "Holmes-Only" campaign? Basically, that the Holmes 46-page rulebook is the only rulebook. You therefore have to ignore all references to AD&D. What impact does this have on the rules? The major impact is that the game would be limited to 3rd level for all classes.
I think that the idea of a "Holmes-only" game has a lot of merit and I would love to try something like this. While I would encourage anyone to read the relevant posts on DF, the reasons I think this would be very interesting are (and some of these are intertwined:
1. The game would more accurately reflect the sword & sorcery literature upon which the earliest editions of D&D are based.
2. Magic-user spells would be limited - there would be very limited access to the spells that have a tendency to "break" encounters or scenarios such as fly, fireball, know alignment. They would only be available through magic items. How many Conan stories have the sorcerer flinging fireballs?
3. Fighters would also be limited in terms of ability to a degree that is gritty and in line with the source literature. No longer could a fighter easily face off against 20 city guardsmen without fear. Geoffrey gives the example of, " the beginning of "Red Nails" where Conan and the warrior-woman Valeria are charged by a "dragon", which is clearly a stegosaurus. Contrary to mistaken stereotype, Conan did not thump his chest and go toe-to-toe with it. Instead, Conan and Valeria ran away. Conan as typically presented in D&D would laugh and be eating the stegosaurus for lunch after a few short melee rounds. A 3rd-level Conan, however, would turn tail and flee, just like in the story."
4. Holmes has an excellent roster of monsters and magic items which, when combined, can make a party of 3rd level adventurers epic but keep both the monsters and adventurers relevant.
5. It focuses advancement on things other than levels but level advancement takes on an even bigger significance as there is only 3 levels. But, there are also other mechanisms for advancement or gaining new abilities - more tangible measures such as questing to find the scroll that has the unique spell you need to fulfill a specific task, finding more treasure so you can hire enough mercenaries to defeat the tribe of Orcs threatening the town, negotiating for the cooperation of a band of brigands to overcome a nearby dragon. Sure these things can be done with unlimited advancement but when the level limit is capped at 3rd level, these are the things that advance your character - their story and the impact they have on the world - instead of XP calculations.
Some problems with running a "Holmes-only" campaign are:
1. Finding players interested - there would be a whole array of existing attitudes and perceptions that would have to be overcome.
2. Demi-humans. Why play a fighter when a dwarf is available and not limited in terms of level caps. Likely have to give them XP penalties or exclude them completely to, once again, get closer to the S&S literature.