I've taken a keen interest in the OSR again and I've been exploring what separate Holmes' Basic from B/X and BECMI. Thanfully, Michael Thomas of Dreamscape Design allowed me access to a PDF copy of his Blueholme Journeymanne Rules for review purposes.
For those not in the know, Blueholme Prentice and Journeymanne Rules are based on Dr. Holmes version of the first Basic DnD published by TSR, which only went to 3rd level (as so do the Prentice Rules).
The Journeymanne Rules go all the way to 20th level.
Some key aspects of Dr. Holmes and the Journeymanne Rules are that weapons only do a d6 of damage, not all Ability scores modify things in the game, Races and Classes are separate, there are far more spells than in B/X by Moldvay and Cook, and nearly any Race or Creature in the game can be used by a player.
First let's talk about the look of the book, which is 121 pages. The blue cover is well illustrated and find the imagery inviting. It channels the feel of it's inspiration very well. The interior art is all black and white and I find it's quality to be exceptional and for the pieces to hit the right tone.
What drew me to read the Blueholme Journeymanne Rules was that it delivered a complete ruleset across 20 full levels. And it fully delivers on it's mission.
If you are familiar with DnD or most retroclones you know what to expect for Ability scores. However, in Blueholme Strength and Wisdom Ability scores provide no bonus.
Races are not specifically laid out, because with some advice in Chapter 6 any monster can be used as a Race for your game and it's up to the Dungeon Master to determine what Classes are open. Additionally, the Monster descriptions provide a good overview for the DM to use.
The Classes are the Big 4 we all know and love. The biggest change I've noticed is that Fighters get a damage bonus starting at level 4, which I approve of as a fitting class feature.
Combat is as you expect with Descending AC and AC that defaults to 9 unarmored, but a section of siege weapons is included.
The Creatures section is very extensive and takes up nearly 30 pages.
The Spell section is much longer than what I've seen in DnD B/X or Labyrinth Lord and also covers nearly 30 pages. I'm very impressed with the amount of Spells presented and they go up to 7th level for Clerics and 9th level for Magic-Users.
One of the bright spots for me, as a tool for newer DMs, is Part 8's focus on running Campaigns and breaking things down by Setting, Goals, Villain, Sub-Plots, Factions, and Rumors. And further defining the setting by the Underworld, Wilderness, and the Realm.
What impresses me about Blueholme is that is very much draws inspiration for the very roots of our hobby, but it's treatment highlights how playable those roots still are, while fleshing them out and extending the game itself.
I really can't recommend Blueholme Journeymanne Rules enough. The Prentice Rules are free if you are intrigued and if you like what you read then please pick up the full rules.
Michael's work has shown me why 30+ years later Dr. Holmes version of DnD is not merely relevant but very, very playable and of a style we often don't associate with other editions.