RPG Review: Blueholme Journeymanne Rules

For a number of older D&D players, their introduction to the game came from the D&D Basic Set as written by Eric Holmes. It wasn't my start - I began with the magenta set that followed it - but some of the people I gamed with had the Holmes Basic Set.

The Holmes Basic is an interesting artifact, an intermediate step between the Original and Advanced D&D rules. Michael Thomas a few years ago developed a retroclone of the Holmes Basic rules, called Blueholme Prentice Rules. Like the original Basic Set it was a low level game. With the Journeymanne Rules the game covers levels 1 to 20.

It's a well done book that fits a lot into a slim volume - when I received it I was amazed how much it crammed into its 112 pages. This review will assume familiarity with D&D which I presume is a reasonably safe assumption.

Like every D&D game it has the classic six ability scores. As is often the case in older versions of D&D these scores aren't as important as they are in later editions. Strength and Wisdom are only important for fighters and clerics as it effects their experience points. Intelligence and Dexterity, while affecting experience for magic-users and thieves, also give bonus languages and the possibility of minor adjustments to missile combat. For magic-users Intelligence also gives their chance to learn spells and the maximum number of spells they can learn for a given level.

Blueholme, like the Holmes Basic, does not detail individual races a player might choose. Technically, they can be of any race, with the monster section listing ability modifiers for certain races. The rules suggest the referee apply an experience penalty for more powerful races. I'd have preferred some guidelines on the best way to do so - effectively, races really work best as a cosmetic aspect.

There are only four classes - the classics of the fighter, cleric. magic-user, and thief. The fighter, as he or she advances, does get a bonus to damage. Magic-users at first level can craft scrolls, though assuming random money generation, they might not have enough cash to do so when they start. That said, the ability to do so is a powerful boost for them. Clerics are similarly able to create healing potions once they learn the appropriate healing spells - though like older D&D, they don't get spells until 2nd level. Thieves remain a bit awkward for me - starting with thief abilities so low in success chance that low level thieves are likely to fail a lot. As is often the case they do advance quickly - the experience to be a 3rd level thief s just short of what's required to be a 2nd level magic-user. Characters can multi-class, advancing in two or more classes by building a combined class.

Like the very first D&D game, damage by players is always 1d6 regardless of weapon. though monsters might get a different damage die. Ranged weapons do have different ranges depending on their type. Rounds are divided into 5 phases - surprise attacks, spells, missiles, melee, and movement. In each phase combatants act from highest to lowest Dexterity, with a 1d6 roll being used to break up ties.

The listing of monsters ("creatures"), includes most of the critters one would expect. Most do 1d6 damage per attack, though there is some variation here and there. As seen in more recent retroclones, there are some nods towards science fiction here, such as the inclusion of Lovecraft's Mi-Go.

Similarly, there is a list of familiar magic items. Magic weapons provide no bonus to damage but they do give improved hit chances.

The game also has guidelines for campaign play and world generation and the rules cover henchmen, wilderness and dungeon adventures. It doesn't cover ship combat nor army battles.

I have both the PDF and hardcover version of the game from being a Kickstarter supporter. The hardcover has good binding and paper - it seems pretty durable, though, as I said, the book is surprisingly thin. I've gotten used to some thick monstrosities. The PDF is thoroughly bookmarked for easy navigation. The interior is black and white with illustrations reminiscent of older versions of D&D.

Why play this over older versions of D&D - or other retroclones? I'd say it offers a certain style. It stays much closer to D&D than games like Swords & Wizardry. And it mimics a form of D&D that never had a full expression - after the Holmes Basic D&D actually aplit into two games for many years - the Basic/Expert+ family and the Advanced D&D family. Blueholme shows another path that D&D could have taken. The versions are still close - you could take an old D&D or AD&D adventure and use it with Blueholme without difficulty. And you could also use Lamentations of the Flame Princess or AS&SH adventures just as easily.


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