Monday, February 13, 2012

Weird Holmes Rule!

I was flipping through Holmes to get prepped for my upcoming post on followers & hirelings when I came across a really weird combat rule that I'm pretty sure is unique to Holmes.  And frankly, it's the worst D&D rule I've ever come across.

Here is the rule: "Each round consists of an exchange of blows with ordinary weapons.  Light weapons such as the dagger allow two blows per round.  The heavy two-handed sword, battleaxe, halberd, flail, morningstar, and most pole arms can be used only once every other round."

Really?  This is especially amazing in a game in which all weapons do 1d6 damage.

So with this rule a dagger is capable of 2-12 points of damage per round and a two-handed sword is capable of 1-6 points every other round.  The dagger is 4x as lethal!

Even if you go with the assumption that Holmes included this in preparation for the variable weapon damage from AD&D, it's still ridiculous.  A battleaxe does 1d8 and a dagger 1d4 with variable damage.  So this would equate to 2-8 points of damage for the dagger and 1d8 every other round for the axe.  So the dagger is over twice as lethal as the battleaxe even using variable damage.

What gives here?  Was this a mistake?  It clearly wasn't an inadvertent statement.  It was even followed up by a statement that crossbows similarly only allow a shot every other round.

Has anyone used this rule?


  1. Well, it certainly solves the problem of why you'd ever want to use a shield or carry a torch in your off hand. And it cuts off any whining about when your MU is out of spells and is reduced to using a dagger!

    I can't say I recall anybody ever using that; it was certainly gone by the Mentzer version.

  2. What's going on here, I think, is Uncle Gary's Far Too Rapid Last Edit of the Rules. Either a section got cut leaving this dangling or this got added without the full rule.

    1. Yeah, that seems like the only plausible explanation.

  3. We definitely only let the heavy weapons strike a blow every other round. But we house-ruled it so that folks with longer weapons got a free attack against someone attacking with a shorter weapon.

    I recall one holmes era DM I knew who went with 2 attacks rolls a round with daggers but only allowed a 1d6 for damage even if both hit.

    Certainly a bad edit of a poorly developed rule.

  4. It is also possible that you could interpret the "two blows" as the description of a single (1d6 damage) dagger attack. Of course, that's stretching it given the sentence that follows, unless you rule that the heavy, slow weapons are still doing only 1d6 damage per round but only resolving every other round (i.e., 2d6 every other round). This would even kind of make sense in that you have to "stay in the fight" for at least two rounds before you can start to rack up damage with a slow weapon, giving the dagger-wielder a sort of pseudo-initiative advantage.

    Jeff's explanation is probably more likely though.

  5. Brendan - Interesting comments. So a good house rule could be that 2H weapons only strike every other round, but they do double damage. In this case, I would let them strike in Rounds 1,3,5, etc. I wouldn't make them wait until round 2 for their first strike. Otherwise, there would be no benefit to using a 2H weapon.

  6. We somehow carried the dagger rule of 2 attacks/round over into AD&D for decades. Finally, I got sick of the party's dagger-wielder who, wearing Gauntlets of Ogre Power, was a mass-damage-inflicting monstrosity. I realized that AD&D had no such rule (though it might've been enforced by the 2 daggers/round for missile fire) and ended it.

    Funny, I never recall using the "every other round" rule for larger weapons.

    1. Gotta love the power gamers with the double dagger attacks and Gauntlets! :)

  7. I remember using both the twice a round for light weapons and every other round for heavy weapons back in the dark ages, but they quickly went by the wayside when we moved to AD&D and Moldvay/Cook/Marsh. As I recall, thieves were especially prone to using daggers, since they had the potential to dish out 2d6 x2 damage the first round if they were attacking with surprise.

  8. I call this the "broken rule". It's unusable with fixed damage unless you want every combatant using daggers. (I don't even remember seeing it when I was a kid with Holmes - we used variable damage as far back as I can remember). Some have theorized that it is a badly revised form of earlier rules from Chainmail or the upcoming AD&D weapon speed rules.

    If it is indeed some sort of editing error, then Gygax/TSR really stuck with it, because they revised the Holmes rulebook repeatedly between 1977 and 1979 and never changed this rule. Furthermore, this rule is referred to in the original printings of B2, where guards in the keep with polearms have "AT 1/2" (shorthand for 1 attack every other round). Gygax does mitigate this a bit by adding a new rule that says "a pole arm which strike the first blow when used against a charging foe" (i.e. automatic initiative win against a charging foe). See Area 1. No mention of dagger attacks anywhere in the module. The Jewel Merchant guards are armed with "sword and dagger" but are mysteriously missing an "AT" in their stats, perhaps because they realized that according to the rulebook they should have "AT 2" if using the dagger.

  9. Here's a link to an earlier discussion of this topic that mentions some of the possible sources (Chainmail or AD&D) for this rule:

    1d6 for all damage...why?

  10. Zenopus - thanks. That's some really good information on this topic. So it sounds like it may have been an incomplete and poorly worded ruling derived poorly from a completely different game (Chainmail). You really know your D&D! Thanks for helping to clarify.

  11. Well, I never use that one and I prefer OD&D these days. I prefer d6 damage with the following house rule:

    Light Weapons (dagger, sling, etc.): 2d6-H
    'Normal' Weapons (sword, 1h-spear, light x-bow, arrow): 1d6
    Heavy weapons (battle axe, pole arms, 2h-spear, heavy x-bow): 2d6-L

    In other words, for the light and heavy weapons, 2 dice are rolled and either the highest or lowest die is discarded. This makes it less likely for a dagger to do 6 points of damage and for a pole arm to do 1 point of damage.

    It's still possible, mind you, for a dagger to do 6, but it's less likely. I like it better than a +1 or -1 modifier; that would ensure that a dagger could NEVER strike home hard or that a spear could scratch.

  12. In our campaign we came up with the following solution;
    Light Weapons: 1d3 damage, 2 attacks per Strength Bonus/penalty
    Medium weapons:1d6 damage, 1 attack per round...normal Strength Bonus/penalty
    Heavy weapons: 1d12 damage, 1 attack every other round...double Strength Bonus/penalty.

    Works pretty well, and steers weaker character towards light weapons, and stong ones to heavy ones, which seems logical.

    1. This seems cool.

      So a PC who does +1 damage would do the following damage per hit:
      *Light weapons: 2-6hp of damage (4 average)
      *Medium weapons: 2-7hp of damage (4.5 average)
      *Heavy weapons: 3-14hp of damage (8.5 every two rounds; 4.25 per round)

      A PC who does +2 damage would do the following damage per hit:
      *Light weapons: 2-6hp of damage (4 average)
      *Medium weapons: 3-8hp of damage (5.5 average)
      *Heavy weapons: 5-16hp of damage (10.5 every two rounds; 5.25 per round)

      Overall, I think it has a lot of potential. The only downside is that the heavy weapon never averages more damage over the course of a fight than the medium weapon. The only way it would be advantageous to have a heavy weapon is if the wielder gets to attack in rounds 1,3,5, etc. If you make the heavy weapon wielder wait and strike in rounds 2,4,6, etc, then I don't see any reason for a heavy weapon and foregoing a shield.

      Overall, it seems pretty cool! :)

    2. We let the two-handed weapons strike in the first round for that very reason.

      Glad you like the rule!