Monday, May 23, 2011

Holmes & Cook: Strength Spell

The Strength spell, found in Holmes, reads as follows:

Strength — Level 2; Range: 0; Duration: 48 turns
This spell increases a fighter's strength by 2-8 points, a thief's by 1-6 points, or a cleric's by 1-4.

Upon reading this, my first reaction was to say, "to what mechanical effect?" The only mechanic given to the Strength characteristic by Holmes is the 10% experience bonus for fighters with a Strength of 13+. Since he bothers to mention thieves and clerics, Holmes must have something other than experience in mind.

Personally, I can see (and am interested in) three mechanical effects for Strength:
  • Damage
  • Opening Doors
  • Encumbrance
Within Holmes, Damage seems to have the strongest case:
  • Gauntlets of Ogre Power grant an addition 2d4 damage in HTH combat
  • A Potion of Giant Strength grants 3d6 HTH damage
  • Ray of Enfeeblement gives a 25% reduction in damage to its victims.
Encumbrance appears to have the weakest, because there really isn't a codified encumbrance rule:
A character with 600 gold pieces is likely to be considered as being heavily loaded, as the weight of the other equipment normally carried will make the character's load in the neighborhood of 75 pounds minimum (a fighting man will be far more loaded down, but it is assumed that such individuals are trained to be stronger and so able to carry more weight).
Opening Doors also doesn't seem to have much of a case, other than the fact that both Thieves and Magic Users have ways of increasing the odds of opening a door without the monster behind the door learning of their presence.

The duration of the spell (48 turns!) suggests that the spell has something to do with encumbrance or opening doors, rather than damage; however, there is already an encumbrance saving spell (Tenser's Floating Disc) that explicitly states that it can carry 5,000gp. Since encumbrance has such a weak case, I think this eliminates it as an option.

With damage, there are two directions to go: emulate the Gauntles of Ogre Power or emulate Ray of Enfeeblement. The first would add dice to damage rolls and the latter would add a % of the damage rolled. Given that Fighters seem to benefit more than Thieves or Clerics these two options could be parsed thusly:
  • Fighters +2d4, Thieves +1d6, Clerics +1d4 damage.
  • Fighters +50%, Thieves +25%, Clerics +1 damage.
Given that the average damage done per round is going to be between 3.5 and 5.5, the first option is going to be more powerful. One might also simplify the latter to:
  • Fighters +3, Thieves +2 and Clerics +1
When compared to the 2nd level Cleric spell Bless, this last option seems rather balanced. Bless affects a whole party with a +1, whereas Strength would give a potentially higher bonus to an individual; however, Bless lasts only 6 turns.

The base chance for knocking down a door is 2 in 6. If a three tiered bonus were used, it might look like this:
  • Fighters 5 in 6
  • Thieves 4 in 6
  • Clerics 3 in 6
While I am really interested in both versions (and I really like the idea of adding damage dice), I think the 48 turn duration strongly suggests the door opening application, rather than damage. There is also the reality that Ogres are said to have 18 Strength — but that isn't what gives them extra damage because 18 Str characters don't have any damage bonus. The door opening option becomes especially evocative when one remembers Holmes' description of dungeon doors:
Doors are usually closed and often stuck or locked. They have to have the locks picked or be smashed open. A roll of 1 or 2 indicates that a door has been forced open. Of course, if the party has to hit the door several time's before getting their roll of 1 or 2, there is no possibility of surprising the occupants of the room.

The Strength spell, then, becomes an especially useful tool for a party has no thief — it drastically increases the party's chance of surprising monsters in rooms. Even when a party does have a thief, it makes the party that much more stealthy.


  1. Based on duration alone, I think you're right--this spell is about opening doors when you lack a thief or MU.

    Benefit-wise, I find it interesting that Holmes put thieves before clerics. I always figured STR to be more important to a cleric than a thief, but that may be my B/X bias coming through.

    BTW, not sure if you intended it to be so, but this is the best Holmes walk-through I've read. Thanks for the great analysis--really thought-provoking!

  2. BTW, not sure if you intended it to be so, but this is the best Holmes walk-through I've read. Thanks for the great analysis--really thought-provoking!

    Indeed! This is a terrific series. I can't tell you how useful I've found it.

  3. @Erin @James

    Wow. Thanks for the compliments, gentlemen. I'm just doing this for fun...the fact that there are folks like yourselves that are finding it useful is icing on the cake.

    Benefit-wise, I find it interesting that Holmes put thieves before clerics.

    I think this is another reason why the Strength spell is about Door Opening. Thieves, being door openers by trade, benefit more than Clerics because the spell is about opening doors.

  4. I've added your blog series to my Holmes Basic page highlighting blog postings:

    Holmes Basic blog posts