Category Archives: Reviews And Walkthroughs

Reviews of books which don’t involve creating characters, or which otherwise don’t fit in the character creation section.

The Runes Of Doom, Part XIII

Demons

And Nobles

And Maybe Highwaymen, If I Get To Them

Actually, Everything. I Get To Everything. It’s Over. This Is The End… Frak. How Did That Happen?

I Mean, I Don’t Finish Things. I Don’t. That’s Like, My Thing. Not Finishing.

A few days ago, I finished scanning “The Runes Of Doom”. (The smart thing would have been to scan the entire book at once, but scanning is boring, so I do a handful of pages at a go, enough for the next article or two, then procrastinate doing the rest, which is why articles are often late.) So it’s sort of an end of an era, or the beginning of the end of an era, or the beginning of the end of the first era if I move on to either other Arduin books or some of the rest of my immense pile of 70s-era gaming supplements. But it’s something, dammit!

When I wrote the above, I didn’t expect this article to close out the series, or at least the original trilogy. But it does. Whoa. I’m going to pondering this for a while. INTPs don’t normally complete things unless there’s a boss and a deadline and a paycheck involved.

The Last Of The Demons Of The “Arduin Cycle”

Sl’yth: The “living manifestation of Evil and and nightmare”, Sl’yth is so foul and vile to look upon that all under tenth level (or eighth level for clerics) run in terror merely upon seeing it… if they save (written as “if save is hit”, which is perfectly understandable in context, but it’s an odd construction, nonetheless). If they don’t save, they just die of fright. In case it wasn’t clear, Dave goes on to write “Totally indescribably ugly. UGH!”. Sigh. Lookism was so prevalent back then, in those unenlightened times. It attacks with either beams or bursts of sound, and all 8th level and below “(even Clerics)” who smell it must save vs. poison or take damage and flee in sick panic, which is nasty. (I mean, nauseated and panicked? Wow.) It can extend a… my copy of the book is actually missing a letter here, it looks like “palp”… to attack. Ah, smeg it, this needs to be seen in full…

Have To Love The "Oh, And..." Style Of Writing

Have To Love The “Oh, And…” Style Of Writing

Tel-Kroath: A 13′ tall, eyeless/wingless glass giant. It’s pointed out that it’s wingless, because the default assumption is, naturally, that 13′ tall giants do have wings. I presume it has a scorpion tail, though, because it does not say it is tailless. And horns, because it does not say it is hornless. And tusks, because…. OK, that horse is dead enough. Ah, but when he flies, fans of radiant light spread out from his body, like, erm, wings. His touch turns people to glass (as per petrification, but this is vitrification), and every three turns he can shoot an eyebeam to do the same thing.

Thangumokk: An eyeless, winged (ah-hah!), scaled, tailed, copper-colored 12′ tall humanoid. When angered, his color becomes “molten”. He spits acid, breathes poison gas, and carries around “green slime grenades”. His touch paralyzes “hobbits, kobbits, kobolds, and goblins”, which implies that it somehow interacts with the gene for “shortness”. In what may be my favorite bit of characterization of demons, he enjoys appearing as a mangy dog or scruffy stray alley cat, presumably to lure in prey. His favorite food is “hobbit, etc.”, which sounds like a 90s mall store. (“Muffy and Mitzie and me are going to go down to Hobbit, Etc., ’cause there’s a cute guy working in the stockroom!”) He is the “Patron Demon of all Goblin kind”.

Thymorg: “Looks: Purple, leathery, lumpy, warty skin, stooped, 9 1/2′ tall,3-eyed (yellow) that cause confusion to anyone gazing into them within 10′ of him.” You wanna know what else causes confusion? That sentence! Well, it’s not a sentence, really, it’s more a string of words. His main attack is turning into a gaseous cloud that eats life levels. He wears the “Eye of Agamat” (cough, cough) which allows him to gaze anywhere in whichever universe he’s in. And, because we haven’t had one of these in a while, he’s the arch-enemy of BRYGHAUL.

Urandos: “Generally man-shaped”, except for the giant bat wings, three eyes, and “crinkly tin-foil” skin. He’s got an “ice” theme going. Accompanied by ice demons, appears as a polar bear or “a warrior maiden with silver hair and eyes”, and so on. He is the arch-enemy of AMON-RA. He creates ice javelins that he can throw “very accurately”, which means he gets a bonus of… erm.. I mean, it allows him to ignore… uh… no, wait, he can attack even targets that are… uh… look, he’s very accurate, OK?

Vathakk:

I've Probably Made Enough Tentacle/Japanese Schoolgirl Jokes By Now

As the “God of all Trolls”, he is clearly the Patron Demon of the Internet

Consider: As the “god of all Trolls”, he will appear 90% of the time if asked. Ninety percent??? Do trolls know this? If so, I would never, ever, ever, take on a troll in Arduin! You’d have a ninety percent chance of ending up facing a friggin’ 16 HD demon!

I’m also going to repeat my boilerplate rant about how so many creatures in early D&D and related had different AC for different body parts but no hit location rules.

Vorcas: Like “orcas”, but with a “v”. It has eight taloned (that’s eight of them, each with talons) “feet/clawed hands” and three shark-like fins running down its back, culminating in a sting ray tail with a red stinger. Topping this off, literally, is a shark-like head with emerald teeth, which can bite for 5-50 points of damage. Favorite food: Sea elf. He is constantly at war with NAGANDAS but a mysterious and unnamed “friend” keeps intervening to prevent Nagandas from winning.

That’s the end of the demons… so here’s a black scorpion.

Please Note The Size Of The Rider And Mount....

Please Note The Size Of The Rider And Mount….

And The Rest

The remainder of the book, from page 78 to page 94, consists of lists: Noble Familys (sic) of Arduin, Most Wanted Highwaymen of Arduin, Denizens Of The “Under Cities” Of Arduin, etc. This leads to an interesting conundrum. There’s really not too much to comment on or call out; there’s a ton of interesting little snippets here, but it’s pure background detail.

The most important thing I can say about it is, like the lists of coins and precious stones back in Welcome To Skull Tower, it served to greatly inspire me, as a teen, in terms of worldbuilding and thinking beyond the dungeon. Reading these lists, you get a great sense of how much there could be to create in a world, how many aspects of it there were to consider. Simply seeing the possibilities was enough to get me thinking about what I may have missed or what I could fill in.

So I’m going to show a few samples, to convey the feeling, tone, and style, and hope they’re as inspirational to others as they were to me, way back when. (Of course, it’s a very different world… books detailing every minor noble house of Westeros or the backstory of each and every creature seen in the Mos Eisley Cantina are best sellers now. It’s taken for granted that media set in fantastic worlds will show only a fraction of what’s been created as backdrop for those worlds. This was not the case in the 1970s. Tolkien’s worldbuilding was considered a unique exception, and was used as a justification for “serious” people to study and comment on the Lord Of The Rings novels, when they would otherwise dismiss anything not involving depressed middle-aged rich people bemoaning the fact they were depressed, middle-aged, and rich as “not really literature”.)

Nobles Of Arduin

Weirdling?

Weirdling?

This is the sort of thing I loved playing with… I created (in notebooks, and in early databases on PCs, that I wrote myself in BASIC or Pascal, without realizing I was, in fact, creating a database… go figure!) templates of a similar nature, where I could fill out things like “House Colors” and “Sigils” (because I could spell), without going into more detail. I figured I could always go back and flesh it out later. I still do that. It helps create the illusion of a wider world; no one need to know how much of it has been really thought out and how much is just a cool-sounding name that you came up with. (Does anyone really believe that, in 1976, when George Lucas wrote the screenplay for Star Wars, that he knew, at the moment he had Leia say, “Years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars”, that he had any idea it was going to involve long-necked aliens and Boba Fett’s dad? Especially since Boba Fett didn’t originate until well after Star Wars was out in theaters?)

Highwaymen Of Arduin

Well, Highwaypersons, Actually.

Yay, Equality!

1/2 Orc-Dwarf Druid? Anticipating 3.0 Again!

1/2 Orc-Dwarf Druid? Anticipating 3.0 Again!

It’s unfortunate that even by Arduin standards, this list is marred by spelling and other issues… “Gruesam”? “Cannible”?… because this is a truly remarkable collection of highly distinct characters, albeit compressed into virtually statless form. I mean, at best, it mentions “magik” weapons or armor, no specifics as to bonuses or other enchantment.

And when it comes to inspiration, things like this taught me to think about NPCs in terms beyond “fourth level fighting-man”, but to give them visual distinctiveness and defining personality traits and quirks. And that, in turn, feeds into my love of the kinds of systems I prefer — high detail, high-crunch, systems such as GURPS, Hero, or Pathfinder. Why? Because I want the mechanics of a character to be as rich and deep as the description. I want to make characters who live up to their imagery in play, who aren’t just some fluff text laid on the generic statistics of a “fourth level fighting-man”.

Denizens Of The Undercities

Most of my comments on the highwaypersons apply here; a brief sample to show you what they were like:

There's A Lot Of Defrocking Going On. Giggity.

There’s A Lot Of Defrocking Going On. Giggity.

At the time, I thought “undercities” was a term for “dungeons”, but later I started wondering if it meant, more literally, underground portions of the city… something between a dungeon adventure and a city adventure, a region sort-of citylike but more lawless and wild, hidden away beneath the more “civilized” realm above, yet still more orderly than the truly unexplored dungeons below.

And here’s some haggorym. Haggorym are, if I recall correctly, caveman-hobgoblin crossbreeds. Try not to think about it too much. We won’t even discuss kobbitts.

Got To Love The Club-Stake That One Guy Is Holding

Got To Love The Club-Stake That One Guy Is Holding

Notable Characters Of The Arduinian Cycle

Seriously? “Cycle” Again? Did Hargrave Take Some Kind Of Course In Mythology About The Time This Was Written, Or What? Sheesh.

One THIRD Elf???

One THIRD Elf???

Man, assuming these are actual PCs… oh wow… just reading the names makes you wonder what kind of astounding wonderment went on at Dave’s table, in between the ten thousand ways you could die before you even finished rolling your stats. (Oh, wait… that was Traveller.)

And speaking of fun ways to die… my favorite Arduin beastie of all time. This either inspired GRRM to create something very similar in “Tuf Voyaging”, or, it was inspired by them… the overlap in timelines is complicated, and GRRM was an RPGer who moved in the same circles Dave Hargrave did, so, who knows?

Otherwise Known As "Every Morning About 5 AM".

Otherwise Known As “Every Morning About 5 AM”.

The Tribes Of Arduin

Huh. I totally forgot this was in here. This was something I never really imitated, I guess. Most of my games were/are set in highly “civilized” (ideally, decadent) regions, because I have a thing for cities, ruins, etc.

Wild Hobbits, A Decade Before Dark Sun

Wild Hobbits, A Decade Before Dark Sun

Recorded Areas Of Treasure And Death Within The Arduinian Borders

(Remember, Arduin Is Only About 200 Miles Or So Across…)

(You Can’t Kick A Rock Without Revealing A Dungeon Entrance)

The Abbey On Spider Isle Is Spider Infested. Good To Know.

The Abbey On Spider Isle Is Spider Infested. Good To Know.

OK, time for some serious nerdsquee here. I mean, c’mon, look at this stuff! “An entrance to the Great Worm Road”. You cannot read that and not want to know more about the “Great Worm Road”, not if you have any soul at all. A city literally eaten by the hordes of Hell??? The last known citadel of the Kthoi? The Cavern Of The Time Lords, sealed by the Rune Weavers “with spell and fear”? Holy frak, these are awesome. What was TSR offering at the time? “Hey, uh, want to go kill some, uh, hill giants or something? They’re, uh, big. Biggish. Hill giants. Yeah. Go get ’em.” (Took a while before they got to cool stuff like “Queen Of The Demonweb Pits”.)

They’re Called “Random Encounters”, Not “Statistically Probable Encounters”

The very last page is a random encounter chart. Sort of. It determines type of encounter (patrol, normal animal, monster) and “reaction” (A flat D12 roll, ranging from “flee in terror” to “ambush”, which can lead to some oddities based on what the encounter actually is… “Hmm, you encounter ‘Local Populace’… let’s see, I’ll roll over here on this chart not actually included in the books, and I get ‘Peaceful Pottery Merchants’ and the reaction roll is ‘Advance aggressively to fight, no chance of running’. Hmm. So how much damage does a hurled vase do, anyway?”

Afterword

Lo, There Shall Be An Ending!

Lo, There Shall Be An Ending!

Afterafter Word

So, that’s the end of the trilogy. I’m probably going to switch gears for a little bit… this is the longest, most regular, thing I’ve done on this blog. I also need to get back to some fiction writing. (Got a sequel to write.) I’ve got a partially done walkthrough of an obscure 90s game, “Of Gods And Men”, that’s been languishing in the “Drafts” folder for over two years now, too. Might get that done. Who knows? As usual, I’ve got a dozen or more projects waiting for some vague attempt at focus and completion. We’ll see what happens. Always in motion, the future is.

Trying to come up with something uplifting, meaningful, and pompous here, probably involving roads, or maybe some twaddle about how the spark of inspiration finds fertile kindling in the drought-stricken undergrowth of the parched brain, but nothing’s coming. Whatever. I hope people enjoyed this expedition through the tangled jungles of nostalgia.

The Runes Of Doom, Part XII

Demons & Demons

& Demons

& More Demons

How People Ever Got The Idea Roleplaying Was Satanic, I Dunno

Of course, the only people who could believe RPGs were full of authentic demonology (which is kind of like “working homeopathy”) are people who knew absolutely nothing about either RPGs or demonology, and, yup, those are the kind of people who did. The fact is, no medieval Catholic monk, no matter how crazed they might have been after several decades of being monastic, could have, or did, come up with anything as awesome as Dave Hargrave’s creations.

I mean, there’s…

Dagonus: Three-headed (each head has three eyes) dragon with scales of silver and gold, ninety foot wingspan. (Yeah, fit that on your battlemat…) Takes half damage from stoning, which means, uhm, I dunno. Turned half to stone? “Death” magic just rebounds on the caster. Breathes fire or lightning as frequently as every other melee round, three times a day for fire, four for lightning. And he likes to get free-kay with Tiamat… or “the queen of evil dragons”, because no demon is scarier than TSR’s lawyers. (There’s a reason people used to joke TSR stood for “They Sue Regularly”. They did not, however, try to trademark “Nazi”. That one’s an urban legend.)

Gorok: A cross between a lobster and tyrannosaurus. With nine eyes. And it has extra mouths in its pincers so that when you’re grabbed, you’re also eaten. Holy fracking hell. I thought some of the things that crawl out of my imagination and into Excel sheets to be statted out were weird, but I don’t even come close to Dave Hargrave. He is the Amber of high gonzo; everything else is just a distorted shadow.

Groak: Not to be confused with Gorak, above. Groak is a giant frog with a head like a sea anemone. He is the “Lord of Swamps”. His mere touch causes all those below 5HD to go insane with pain, and also goes 6-36 acid damage, which mean the insanity doesn’t last long, as how many people level 4 and below can survive 6d6 damage?

Karong: Winning the award for “demon whose name most resembles a Don Martin sound effect”, he has three eyes, each of which does something different. The red eye burns you, the yellow eye “rots” you, and the green eye turns you into green slime. He is the “Lord of Slimes”, and also of traffic lights. (I may have made that part up…) He can telekinetically “throw” one of his “pets” (any of a number of slimes) up to 60′. Oh, and lastly, he has a “vampire like” charm, so perhaps he’ll be the love interest in a YA novel soon.

Kavring: Speaking of “vampire like charm”, this 10′ tall winged humanoid made of solid ruby also has it. Fitting the “ruby” theme, he has a plethora of fire powers, including a burning aura, flames shooting from his fingertips, polymorphing into a pheonix, etc. His favorite food is hobbit meat, and have I mentioned that I love these odd little asides? I want to know what his favorite classical composer is, too, and if he was a polearm, what kind of polearm would he be? (Myself? Glaive-guisarme, of course. What other possibility is there?)

Moloch: An actual demon, more or less. (I’m aware many of the others have names drawn from mythology; I’m too damn lazy to bother looking up which ones, precisely, and how much they differ from their source media.) He is a fire demon “13 1/2 feet tall”. Exactly 13 feet, 6 inches? Or is he really only 13 feet, 5 3/4 inches? These things matter! Continuing the theme of demonic rivalry (which is only sensible, really), he is the arch enemy of ABADDON. (Hey, it’s ALL CAPS in the text, who am I to argue?) His favorite foods? Roast unicorn and virgin elf maiden. (No one in fantasy worlds ever seems to want virgin men, for some reason. (Well, in the real world, too. Has any woman ever said “You know what really turns me on? Guys who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing in the sack.”?)) He can also burn/melt a path through solid rock at 5’/minute, so, if you’re dumb enough to summon him, do it on the lowest floor of your wizard’s tower, not the top, or you’ll have a big hole going all the way to the basement in short order.

Nagandas: Winner of the “Demon whose name sounds the most like a slang term for testicles”, as in, “Damn, that soccer ball hit me right in the nagandas!”. Also, something really wonky happens with the layout here:

With A 33 Foot Long Sticky Triple Tongue, If The Demon Thing Doesn't Work Out, He's Got A Career In Anime.

With A 33 Foot Long Sticky Triple Tongue, If The Demon Thing Doesn’t Work Out, He’s Got A Career In Anime.

I cannot tell if the idea of a demon sticking its tail in its mouth and whirling into a hell spiral is awesome or ridiculous.

Nanta: Voted most like to be confused with a fruit drink completely and totally massacre you. I normally try to avoid just posting big block scans, esp. one after the other, but there’s no way to just summarize this bastard.

He Is So Tough, People Attacking Him Need A Different Mechanic

He Is So Tough, People Attacking Him Need A Different Mechanic

Let’s just look at some of the highlights, here… and I don’t mean the kind with Goofus and Gallant.

  • He is only hit on “double zero”. So to attack him, you just roll percentile dice? With no modifiers? A peasant and a 50th level Paladin both have the same odds? Not sure.
  • Most forms of damage actually heal him.
  • Magik (sic) weapons do double damage, which is great, but they lose one “plus” per round and then disintegrate.
  • But to get close enough to hit him with a magic weapon, you will “fade out”. There’s no save or HD limit; you just vanish unless “rescued”, and then you’re undead. It seems to me this is exploitable if you want to become a spectre.
  • Attack Value:”???”. Really? “???”? Two decades before Everquest and three decades before WoW, Dave Hargrave pioneered the “this creature is so far out of your league you can’t even measure how far out of your league it is” metric.
  • No mention of specific casting ability, but I guess that’s covered by “???”.
  • Nothing about his favorite food or his “pets” or what he claims to be “lord of”. I guess he’s just too awesome to have such petty concerns.

Phroalgoea: A much more normal creature, just a 10′ tall silver-scaled winged humanoid, who can shoot deadly spines which are covered with a poison that turns orcs and elves to silver. Because, poisons turning you to silver are totally a thing. He is the lord of golems, which isn’t a typical thing for a demon to be lord of, what with the whole “golems are mindless servitors who don’t really worship anything or make bargains”, but, you know, why the frak not? Maybe he taught mankind the art of golem-making for his own purposes. He enjoys dwarf or gnome meat, animates statues, and controls non magical weapons “if allowed to concentrate”. Good luck arguing with the DM over precisely what “distracts” a demon.

Ralkul: Pals around with 6-48 mummies, 40% of which will be fireproof… sorry, all you people who learned fire kills mummies. (This was very typical of the time… monster has weakness X. Players learn it. DM introduces some version of the monster lacking this weakness. It’s kind of like how antibiotic-resistant bacteria evolve.) Anyway, Ralkul is warped and knobby old dude with one eye, elephant ears, and four arms. (He can also appear as a woman, a skeleton, or as a giant flaming skull with wings.) He is the demon king of age and corruption, and his odor is so vile that creatures of 1+1 Hit Dice (and if you think that’s “2 hit dice”, boy, have you not been paying attention…) die instantly, while others suffer various ill effects depending on their general level. He loves “rotted and putrid meat”, but isn’t picky about what species it was from.

Shabbaleth: We have a “dragon” theme going here. Also an “elf” theme. And a “gold” theme. Putting that all together, you have a giant golden “being” with a dragon’s head, four purple eyes, wings, and a tail, who sometimes appears as an elf in golden armor. He is the lord of “reptiles” but not wyverns, dragons, etc., never mind the fact he can breathe dragon fire ten times a day. In fact, he is the enemy of all dragons. He also has the by-now-expected “vampire-like charm”. He and URANDOS (to be covered in the next article) are pals, which is a nice change to the boilerplate “and his arch-foe is THISGUY” in many of the others.

The Runes Of Doom, Part XI

True Elementals

(Don’t Settle For Imitations!)

Also: New Demons

Both Lesser And “Greater”, Or “Name”, Demons

With Some Pretentiousness
(I Wasted A Bunch Of Time Experimenting With Something Different From the “Descending Asides In Shrinking Headers” Thing, But None Of It Seemed Right. So Here We Go Again.)

We’re pretty much most of the way through the Trilogy now… in the final half of the final book. Yeah, there’s six more Arduin books, and I have a ton of stuff from Dragon Tree Press and similar I can cover, but there’s something unique and special about the original trilogy. The other books and associated products came a few years later, and the RPG world changed very rapidly after the 70s, particularly after AD&D First Edition was completed. But that’s in the future. Well, it’s in the past, but it’s in the future of the past we’re focusing on now. Got it?

True Elementals

Not Sure If They’re Before Or After Lord Elementals

Wait, That’s Rolemaster

The “True” elementals are, well, elementals… the four classics, plus wood, fog, and storm. The first four are pretty standard. It’s likely that Dave Hargrave was mildly dissatisfied with the D&D incarnations, and made some modifications to bring them in line with his own way of doing things. There are some notes: Fire elementals can form themselves into walls and cylinders, water elementals can flow into any shape or hold still so they appear as a stone wall, and so on. They’re present in a horizontal table format instead of the normal monster format for no readily apparent reason. Based on the construction of the rest of the Trilogy, my guess is that Dave originally wrote them up that way and didn’t feel like retyping them in a new format.

Highlight of the new ones:

  • Wood elementals are basically ents.. humanoid trees.. and take double damage from magical fire over 10HD in intensity. That’s an interesting mechanic you don’t see often, even in modern games. A creature either takes extra damage from fire, or it doesn’t. “Takes extra damage only if the source is particularly powerful” is a nice way of modeling the idea of a creature whose nature should make it vulnerable to some substances or energy, but which still transcends the abilities of mere mortals (i.e., low level NPCs) to harm it.
  • Fog/Mist (they’re one kind) elementals can surround and suffocate you, and can resist being blown away by winds “up to half its HD”. (You may recall that fogs and mists, in general, play a big role in Arduin, and so, spells to deal with them also exist.)
  • Storm elementals can attack with lightning, wind, or “impact”, regenerate from electrical damage, and can lead the X-Men when Professor X is out of town.
  • Both Fog/Mist and Storm elementals have a “*” by them, which doesn’t refer to anything I can see on the page. Old School, people!

There’s also a set of rules which apply to all elementals, but which focus mostly on conjuration, which is interesting. Evidently, summoning elementals was a big deal in Dave’s games… well, given how powerful they were (10 sided dice for hit points? And always maxed?), the relative power of an elemental summoning spell would be much higher than that of other spells of the same level.

Elementals Are Rationed. You Will Be Issued A Book Of Ration Cards. Do Not Buy Black Market Elementals.

Elementals Are Rationed. You Will Be Issued A Book Of Ration Cards. Do Not Buy Black Market Elementals.

Lesser Demons

Clearly A Microaggression. Demon Equality Now!

It’s not entirely obvious why these aren’t just “monsters”… that is, included in the monster listings. There isn’t an evident (to me) thematic link or shared set of abilities, and this was well before “monster types” like Outsider or Aberration became mechanically important. I also can’t find a section that spells out specific powers or traits applicable to “all demons”, which would make grouping them more reasonable. Mine is not to reason why, mine is but to document the madness with awe and respect.

Acid Fiends: Also known as “Acid Demons”, these are giant acid amoebas that dissolve your weapons, ooze under doors, regenerate when disintegrated, and “stoning adds hit dice (size) to it on a 1 dice per 1 level of caster ratio!”. I’ll note a lot of Arduin monsters had some form of “damaging attack doesn’t damage, but aids” features, often very random. “Player skill” in Ye Olde Dayse mostly consisted of memorizing all of these things; DMs, in turn, kept coming up with variants.

Creeping Doom: “Looks: A pulsing crawling carpet of living purple splotched green ooze”. Yeah, we had carpets like that in my house, too. It was the 70s. We didn’t know any better.

Lightning “Elementals” (Black): Well, we’ve had True Elementals, so naturally, here’s a not-true elemental. They “blast” two life levels (but only one if you save… lucky you…). They can also “sight in” and hit for “only” 4-48 “but they reach ‘into’ the target and hit the heart or brain”… which does, erm, I’m not sure exactly. A lot of early D&D-esque stuff made use of hit locations without actually providing solid rules for what they meant. Oh, and if you’re killed by one, you “crumble to dust immediately” and a “raise dead fully” must be cast within five minutes or your soul is gone forever.

Star Demons: First, I love the name. Don’t ask me why. It seems so simple, a generic “adjective+demon” combo, but something about it is evocative to me. Second…

Fifteen Foot Tall Beings Of Black Diamond With Rainbow Wings And Prismatic Vision

Fifteen Foot Tall Beings Of Black Diamond With Rainbow Wings And Prismatic Vision..

Here’s a Ghost Crab. They were discussed in The Arduin Grimoire, so naturally, they’re illustrated here. They’re a kind of undead. You know, there are very few undead that don’t strongly resemble the being they were when alive, at least in vague outline. The idea that you die and, somehow, come back as a giant undead crab is outre and yet as logical as coming back as an undead anything. Making a mental note to write up more “polymorphed undead”.

You Know, Shaggy, I Don't Think That's Old Man MacRory Under There...

You Know, Shaggy, I Don’t Think That’s Old Man MacRory Under There…

Greater (Name) Demons Of The Arduinian Cycle

Arduinin Cycle? Seriously? I Mean, Pretentious Much?

We learn, in the introduction, that greater demons possess near-infinite power on their own planes, and the stats presented on the following pages represent their weakened, conjured, forms… and that’s enough, trust me. Hargrave warns, though, that simply massacring characters foolish enough to summon a greater demon takes all the fun out of it.

And create some “Tales From The Darkside” which can be “Amazing Stories” that you display in your mental “Night Gallery” as you take your gaming experience “One Step Beyond”.

So, how to handle these? Each demon is a large, dense paragraph. Every sentence is something memorable. Here, look at the first one:

Abaddon All Hope, Ye Who Summon Him... Get It? I'm So Witty.

Abaddon All Hope, Ye Who Summon Him… Get It? I’m So Witty.

I love that his locust has a name. And that buried in this wall-o-text is the handy notation that demons don’t give a rat’s patootie about mana points. That’s… really, really, unbalancing, even by Arduin standards, and Arduin is about as well balanced as my checkbook. Most of the spells can be pumped indefinitely with mana. I’d houserule that demons cast all spells at the minimum level — no “additional” mana to boost duration, range, damage, etc.

They’re all like that. Most are even better. This whole section is an absolute and perfect distillation of gonzo greatness, awesome madness purified and condensed into paragraph form. Concentrated, highly-refined, old-school. I’m going to try to limit myself here. Be aware that for every snippet I comment on, there’s probably ten more just as cool.

Amon-Ra: The “god” (quotes in original) of wargs and wolves. “A neutral demon.” (Uhm… ) Hates rocs and elves. He can appear as a wolf or a snake, because, why not? And he breathes poison gas.

Apharoe: I just noticed… all of the demons have Dexterity scores that look like this: “Dext 18, spells. 18, body.” I’m guessing this is relative to initiative, depending on if they plan to make a magical or physical attack in a given round? Anyway, Apharoe is another “neutral” demon, and she is 7′ tall and so beautiful that “all men” (quotes in original, not sure why…) have a 50% chance of falling in love with her, while women have a 50% chance of being jealous. Arduin was clearly in a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” phase. Once a century, she goes out into the world to seduce someone and produce a half-demon baby.

Arioch: Black-furred (“like an otter”) humanoid with a giant ruby eye. Arch-enemy of “NODENS” and messenger of “SHUG-MIGGURATH”. (No, not “Shub-Niggurath”.)

Boak: “Not a real greater demon but listed here because it is always with one.” A 10HD demon horse who breathes poison gas. He likes black dragons, but hate griffons and people who play emotional games. As a particularly nifty trick, he will reflect back any polymorph spell cast upon a him. I’ll bet that led to some fun times…

Boreas: 18′ tall, made of ice, can summon the “north wind” which is “like a Djinn wind and an ice storm combined”, and claims to be Lord Of The Ice Demons. Claims to be, you ask?

Maybe Judge Judy Could Settle This?

Maybe Judge Judy Could Settle This?

I love these tiny snippets of backstory. From such small seeds do mighty epics grow.

Hides inside a sapphire?

Calyandagg: Giant furry spider that attacks clerics on sight. (“He hates ’em!”) He has the usual assortment of deadly attacks and personal immunities and allied folk, but also… his fur can break off if it hits bare skin, work its way inside the victim, then transform into a giant maggot that eats its host from the inside out.

Cimmeries: Rider of Boak. “grossly male and very nude”. (As opposed to “slightly nude”? What?) He has a whip of balrog leather, which is pretty darn awesome, though I wonder what the balrogs think about it? Fully half the total text is taken up describing his sword, because, like most old school characters, his gear has more backstory and personality than he does.

Called Hell Key Or The Key Of Hell. Or Hell's Key, The Key Of Hell, Key For Fell, The Key Which Unlocks Hell...

Called “Hell Key” Or “The Key Of Hell”. Or Hell’s Key, The Key To Hell, Key For Hell, The Key Which Unlocks Hell…

Well, that’s about enough for now… we’re a bit a week late, but this is also longer than average. We’re done with the “C’s”. There’s seven more pages of wonderment to go in this section alone! Damn, but Hargrave was not kidding about the density of information in this “final” Arduin volume!

 

 

 

 

The Runes Of Doom, Part X

Here! Are! Your! Dragons!

Also: Got 99 Problems And a Drich Is 98 Of Them

Continuing the walkthrough of the original Arduin Trilogy. Prior bits are here, and you might also enjoy this. Today, more monsters.

As always, if you enjoy this series, please share links on appropriate forums and social media. Thanks.

Dragons, Assorted Varieties

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any monster category distinguished by adjectives is in want of more adjectives, out to the limits of sanity and beyond. So it most surely is with dragons. Even though there were ten types by the time of Greyhawk (and two singular entities), that in no way slowed the progression. Some sought to find implied niches (I love the psionic, neutral, gem dragons a lot), while others just grabbed a Sherwin-Williams catalog and stuck the word “dragon” after every entry.

The Arduin dragons follow the latter strategy. Dave Hargrave’s imagination was far too chaotic, broad, and ever-churning to be constrained by structural frameworks. We have no fewer than seven new dragons in The Runes Of Doom:

  • Dragon, Black And White (Striped): Not to confused with Dragon, Black And White (Spotted), of course. It has purple, pupil-less, eyes, and the tail splits “halfway down”. It can “breath”(sic) two cold blasts and two acid sprays per day, is 75% cold/acid proof and 50% fire proof, but takes +20% damage from thunderbolts. It enjoys eating hobbits, walks on the beach, and romantic dinners (if hobbits are on the menu).
  • Dragon, Ice: “Wait,” you cry. “We already have cold-themed dragons! They’re called white dragons!” Ah, but these are ice dragons, which are “translucent blue-white (like ice)” in hue, with eyes “like deepest space”. They breathe liquid oxygen, causing you to “freeze solid” or take damage based on the dragon’s size. (I’m guessing this means “You freeze solid on a failed save and take damage otherwise.”)
  • Dragon, Rainbow: Sadly, not also known as the Castro Street Dragon. indeed, it’s not really much of a rainbow, being only a rather mundane red dragon with white stripes and three blue heads. (Thus, it is also known — seriously, this time — as the Blue Headed Dragon.) Each head can shoot one bolt of fire, cold, or electricity per day (one of each type, per head, or nine breath attacks, total). Also, one spell per head every five minutes, which is problematic when Arduin uses 6 second rounds… let’s face it, for all practical porpoises, and impractical dolphins, it’s going to get one spell/head in a typical combat. They like elves. No word on how they feel about pina coladas or taking walks in the rain.
  • Dragon, Shadow:
    No Funny Caption. This Is Awesome.

    No Funny Caption. This Is Awesome.

    A dragon-shaped mass of shifting shadows with madness-inducing prismatic eyes, which breathes black, roiling, fog, killing all the low-HD types and blasting 13 life life levels out of the rest? Whose claws cause your flesh to rot off until you die, barring clerical healing? Plus the ability to cast up to eighth level spells, and the only thing that stops it regenerating is technological damage? Daaaaayummmm. This deserves to be written up for a more modern system. (One note: Many creatures in Arduin have some form of “Can cast Y spells of up to X level per day”… which is fine… but hard to integrate with Arduin’s mana point system, which is key to the effects of many spells, in that they have ranges, targets, or duration based on how much mana is put into it. I’ll go reread the mana rules. Maybe this is addressed.)

  • Sun Dragon: Two words: Napalm Breath.
  • Violet Dragon: This is one of my favorites, for the visuals, if nothing else… lightning crackles along its spine, and it breathes ionized, electrically charged gas. And speaking of writing things up in modern systems… probably ought to update this to PF, too.
  • Yellow Dragon: An “Eastern Dragon” (not an “Easter Dragon”, though I admit the concept has possibilities…), which is (surprise) bright yellow. Its breath weapon is a cloud of gas causing blindness, nausea, vertigo, and muscle spasms (fatal if save is failed; 3-18 damage if it is made). Furthermore, it creates a magnetic field around itself that can deflect all iron and steel weapons. Because, why wouldn’t an Asian-themed yellow dragon that breathes toxic gas have magnetic powers?

Things That Are Not Dragons

Driches: Druid (Or “anti-cleric”… that’s what we used to call evil clerics, back in the day…) liches. A very interesting concept given barely a sentence or two of description. You could do a hell of a lot with a druid-lich as the lord of a dark and twisted forest, full of undead treants and the like.

Fool’s Bane: Continuing the very important D&D tradition of “things that look like other things”.

"You see a black lion standing on a basalt floor in front of an ebony statue."

“You see a black lion standing on a basalt floor in front of an ebony statue.”

This is why true old-school players tend to be hyper-paranoid. You young punk kids today, you mostly just meet mimics that look like chests. If you ever meet a doppelganger, it’s part of some big complex plot with “role playing” and “diplomacy”. (Hint: It’s the vizier. It’s always the vizier.) Back in my day, the entire dungeon wanted to kill you. The floor? Trapper. The ceiling? Lurker above, coated with piercers. The walls? Stunjelly. The curtains? Sheet phantoms. The old sack in the corner? Bag of devouring.

Great White Owl:“Looks: giant white owl.” It it “quite intelligent” and enjoys eating kobolds and goblins, but sometimes eats hobbits “by mistake”. Yeah. And I’m supposed to be on a diet, but I sometimes get General Tso’s Chicken instead of steamed tofu “by mistake”.

Hyclops: They’ve got a wolf head, three legs, four arms, and are immune to psychic powers. They get 1-6 (roll each round) attacks per turn. Either this is something from some obscure real-world myth (the most insane monsters often are), or Dave was experimenting with random design tables.

Hydra, Black and Red and Hydra, Black and White:

Hail Hydra!

Hail Hydra!

Seems to me there’s at least as much room for additional hydras as there is for dragons. See also Shydra, below. Then run. Damn, that thing’s nasty!

Khorb: Headless giant with an eye ray that causes confusion. Wait, how does it have an eye ray if it’s headless? I think the eye is in the center of its chest, though this isn’t actually stated. Oh, and it eats you with the mouth on top of its torso. It hates orcs. Orcs aren’t too fond of it, either.

Morqs: Started off really funny, then executive meddling sent it into a death spiral of serious fail in the second season. Also, they attack like ogres, regenerate like trolls, and fight until dead like zombies. And they have no eyes and track targets by sound. And they’re androids.

Oront: “Tri-horned form of minotaur?” Question mark is in original. I like that. It’s almost as if Dave is observing the world of Arduin and making notes on what he sees. Hell, it’s how I do a lot of my creating… I let my mind drift until I see an interesting scene, then describe it.

Rippler: An “ameboid looking beast” that slithers along the ceiling, dropping down to smother its prey in “3-5 melees”. It has no other attacks. Please note this is different from how the Blue Gunky smothers you. Ah, Old School. Not only did everything have its own mechanic, you often had multiple mechanics for the same general effect or action.

Shydra: Just read it. Wow. Sometimes I am in awe of the things that crawled out of Dave’s imagination.

So...Not A Hydra With Social Anxiety Disorder, Then?

So…Not A Hydra With Social Anxiety Disorder, Then?

And remember, five heads is the minimum for hydra-types. Unless Agent Coulson is around.

Sky Scorpion: It’s a giant golden scorpion. That flies. And has two stingers. And regenerates when hit by lightning. And has “spaced armor”. And when it poisons you, you lose immunity to your own internal chemistry, so your stomach acids dissolve you. Just another day in Arduin.

Snow Golem: “Looks: obvious”.

Star Spyder:“%liar: unknown”. See my comment on the Oront.

Star Spyder

So… Anyone For Settlers Of Catan?

I mean… hell… this thing is… with the radiation mouth… and the teleporting… and the “psychic charm”… when you consider the relatively low power of Arduin PCs… wow. So, people survived Dave’s games?

Ta’Vreen: Aliens from another dimension. They, like the Argalanthi, hate Thaelestra.

Thaelastra: Hated by Ta’Vreen and Argalanthi… with good reason.

Yeah, These Guys Basically Suck.

Yeah, These Guys Basically Suck. Kill ‘Em All.

Thralls: The “gladiators” of the Thaelastra, who wear golden “collars of obedience” that will strange the wearer on command. They “can be anyone”.

Thrukk: “Attacks: Immune to this dimension’s magic!” Not sure how you attack someone with “I’m immune to your magic”, but, OK. (Ah, they also have technological weapons.) They look like “bears with hands”. Support your right to arm bears! Formerly slaves of the Ta’Vreen, “they HATE them!”. It’s worth noting these tiny drabbles of flavor text I’m providing with various monster listing are virtually all there is… no 64 page “Player’s Guide To Thrukk” out there. Back in the day, we took it and ran with it. Just the tiniest hints of backstory or relationship could spawn a dozen great ideas.

X:

"Y" and "Z" Are Rumored To Be Even Nastier

“Y” and “Z” Are Rumored To Be Even Nastier

That’s mostly it for this week. To be honest, this section was so full of goodies it was hard to force myself to pick only the best… almost all of them had some interesting or unique aspect worth commenting on.

Next time: Elementals! Lesser Demons! Greater Demons! Pages and pages and pages of Greater Demons!

 

The Runes Of Doom, Part IX

We Can Worship Like The Druids

Running Naked Through The Wuids

Drinking Strange Fermented Fluids

And Also Cover Hell Spirals And Technos And Whatever Else I Get To

(Which Turns Out To Be New Monsters)

Hey, I actually got comments on my two prior articles, and not of the “I am most expectorantly fumigated with clarity over your postblogs, with much reciprocity will I obviate the contrafibularities” variety. So I look forward to stunned silence in the future, because I can’t have nice things. Anyway, druids.

Druids entered D&D early. They began life as just a “monster” type in Greyhawk (the supplement, not the gazeteer):

The Dinosaurs Came Later

The Dinosaurs Came Later

BTW, I have both cats helping me write this. Wait, now they’re fighting over the faint traces of chicken grease left from breakfast. And Rocket, despite his negative size modifier to CMD vs. Toaster, emerges victorious. See, reading these articles is just like watching me on Twitch. A constant stream of useless extemporanea that fluffs my word count so that I… wait, I don’t get paid by the word for these… I don’t get paid at all! Back to druids.

By the time of Eldritch Wizardry, druids became a core PC class, whose power levels have fluctuated wildly over the years. Druids were the first official class to be strongly tied to a cultural archetype1. This intrigues me. They weren’t really a part of the common cultural gestalt (I love using fancy academic words I don’t really understand) of the game’s formative era. Could The Wicker Man have been an influence? Or maybe they were a part of the cultural morass surrounding the origin of D&D, just not a part that reached me, a young teen in the rural wastes of New Jersey. (And by “rural wastes”, I mean “densely populated middle class suburbs”.)

The actual Arduin incarnation of the druid was discussed earlier. Despite Dave’s proclamations to the contrary, the earliest Arduin books were clearly intended as supplements to Duother roleplaying gamesons, and so, druid spells were included from the start… and to the finish, at least of the original trilogy, which brings us to…

May The Blessings Of Dramamine Be Upon Ye

May The Blessings Of Dramamine Be Upon Ye

This is a good example of something I’ve discussed at tedious length before, and will now discuss again: Ability delivery mechanisms. What we’ve got here, boils and ghouls, is something that isn’t actually a spell… but there was no other mechanic to use to give this ability to some druids, but not all. There weren’t feats, skills, ‘talent picks’, or any other such things, so, spells would have to do.

Milnahr’s Minor Ritual For Detecting All That Which Lives: Outlines all living things with pale green “St. Elmo’s Fire”. (I am not sure if this includes invisible creatures; if so, it’s a cheap and effective way to nullify that ability.) If used on a single, targeted, creature, the druid rolls percentage dice to find out how “aware” they are of it (“what it eats, etc.”). The problems of figuring out what being 38% “aware” of a creature vs. 61% “aware” are left as an exercise for the reader.

Yalnwyn’s Spell Of The Mystik Moons (Lesser): Awesome name, right? What the spell does is summon three spheres (red, white, and blue, for some reason) which bump, trip, and otherwise “harass” the target. So..

Player: “I cast Yalnwyn’s Spell Of The Mystik Moons (Lesser) at the orc!”
DM: “OK. Your balls begin banging against the orc’s face. He tries to bite your balls.”
Player: “Hey!”
DM: “He swats them away, but they keep coming back. The orc just can’t escape your balls.”
Player: “Shut up!”
DM: “One of the other orcs tries to help, but can’t keep a good grip on your balls.”
Player: “This is because I didn’t help pay for the Chinese food last week, isn’t it?”

The spell description actually says “balls”, not “orbs”, “spheres”, or “immature and painfully obvious double entendre”. There’s no actual mechanics, the target is just “harassed”, leading to many discussions on exactly what are the combat effects of being harassed by a druid’s balls?

I’ll stop now.

Larissa’s Singing Sands Of Time Spell: Summons a whirling dust devil that makes a melodious whistling sounds, and ages the target 10 years (5 if they save). Sucks if you’re a human, but virtually all other races (per The Arduin Grimoire) have ridiculously long lifespans, and no, that’s not a euphemism.

Druach’s Spell Of The Infinite Insect: Causes the nearest insects (1, +1 for every three levels over that required for use) to grow in size to match the caster’s own hit dice. The newly enlarged (but not actually infinite) insect will fight for, carry, etc., the caster, except 5% of the time, when it is “wild” and will, I presume, attack instead. Probably worth the risks. Since both the number of giant insects and the hit dice of each scale with level, this is a damn useful spell, especially since the mana cost does not go up.

Ovore’s Spell Of The Mystik Moons (Greater): “Same as lesser but balls have the density of stone.” G’night everybody!

Never Bring A Wand To A Laser Fight

With spells done, we go on to “techno magik”. No actual rules, per se, just a half-page essay about why technology is totally cool in a fantasy universe… the ignorant peasants will consider a laser pistol to be a wand of fire, and blueprints to be mystic runes. There was, even in those early days, a constant culture clash over genre bounds and what was and wasn’t “realistic” or “believable”, and, just as it is now, and just as it shall ever be, everyone had a completely subjective, personal, and emotional opinion which they were convinced was objectively correct and the only one which any decent human being would espouse. If your female dwarves don’t have beards, you’re not playing D&D!

Here’s a techno fighting a valpyr.

The Sheer Awesome Perfection Of This Image Cannot Be Overstated

The Sheer Awesome Perfection Of This Image Cannot Be Overstated

Hell Spirals

Roger Zelazny Isn’t As Litigious As Tolkien, Right?

I Mean, Seriously, It's Not Like Anyone's Going To Make An Amber RPG Or Anything.

I Mean, Seriously, It’s Not Like Anyone’s Going To Make An Amber RPG Or Anything.

The higher level you are, the better the odds of you completing the spiral, albeit with a greater risk of encountering “a denizen of limbo or other such nasty thingy”. Failure may kill you, dump you in a random hell, or cause you to go insane. Being awarded a “You Tried Your Best!” ribbon is not an option. Sorry, millennials.

Blue Gunkies And Crunch Beetles, Part Of This Delicious Breakfast

(Not The Delicious Part)

Without further ado… monsters.

Argalanthi: 12 to 18 foot long armored bug people from outer space. Not to be confused with phraints, whom they admire, nor with thaelestra, whom they detest. They use flamethrowers, which they hold in the tentacles that surround their jaws.

Black Lion: “Looks: like a giant black lion.” OK, then.

Blue Wind: A “living fog of shadows” that kills you by smothering (1 round per point of Con to do it). It also does 4-24 points of cold damage while you’re inside it (with the new hit point rules, discussed earlier, this will surely kill you long before it it smothers you), and “10 turns after contact all victims become its host”. Even if you’re not dead yet, are feeling much better, and want to go for a walk? And what does “become its host” mean?

Blue Gunky:

Significantly More Deadly Than The Green Gloopy, But Not As Feared As The Red Glorky

Significantly More Deadly Than The Green Gloopy, But Not As Feared As The Red Glorky

Immune to “venom, fear, confusion, stoning, etc.” Et cetera? Uhm… there’s about a gazillion different types of damage in the D&D-esque games, “Et cetera” doesn’t cut it! Level “1 per 50 points”. So a 200 point gunky is considered a fourth level monster… that takes 200 points of damage to kill, attacks twice per turn for 18 points per attack (in addition to draining 12 hit points/round) and drains attributes.  Oh, and it gets stronger as it kills you. I suspect Dave brought this out when a player seriously annoyed him.

Boomers: Giant mottled red and black acid-spitting frogs that explode in a fireball that does twice their hit dice in damage when you kill them. “Things that explode when you kill them” are a major part of the ecology of any good D&D world.

Choke Weed: A plant that produces clouds of choking pollen that is particularly nasty for hobbitts (sic), but doesn’t bother orcs. Burning it “doubles its effectiveness”, leading me to think that orcs should grow fields of this around their strongholds, then ignite it when the nassssty hobbitsesss attack them.

Crunch Beetle:

"Verticle Crush" Would Be A Good Name For A Band

“Verticle Crush” Would Be A Good Name For A Band

I enjoy the weird specificity of the “20% chance T-bolts will richochet off its chiten”.

And that’s enough for this week, folks. Next time… more monsters, including seven types of dragons!

Samurai and ninja both showed up early on in Strategic Review and The Dragon, but didn’t become “real” until Oriental Adventures.

The Runes Of Doom, Part VIII

More New Magic Spells!

Or: “How To Recognize Kill Trees People From Quite A Long Way Away”

With A Digression To The Earliest Days Of The MMORPG

And The Mystery Of The Aphpodesiac

We’re back, with another round of new spells… some brilliant, some strange, some seriously WTF.

Savoy’s Silent Slayer: Creates a magic missile of “specific being” slaying, which will wait in ambush “forever!” (Exclamation point in original, and rightly so!)

Skorn’s Immaculate Sky Symbol: Another entry in the growing list of “Cool idea, but not at that level”. Creates a symbol, name, etc., which appears in the sky “with appropriate music”. Not, as far as I can tell, a magic symbol. Just… skywriting. Yeah, impressive, but at sixth level, magic-users are casting stone to flesh or disintegration… this is the kind of thing you could do with phantasmal force. About the only thing it’s got going for it is range… 100 miles per caster level. So if you want to intimidate people living a long way away, it’s good for that. (See below for more thoughts on this concept.)

Fazalla’s Friend From Beyond: Summons a “close friend” back from the dead to fight for you. It’s a little vague on details like “for how long” or “is the ‘friend’ wearing the magic items they had when they got killed, or only what you buried them with after looting their body like they were just another orc?” and the like. I think it might play out like this:

PC: OK, I’m calling up Brothgar The Bold to fight for me.
(1d6 rounds later, Brothgar appears.)
Brothgar: Forsooth, my friend! I have thought of thee often since I passed from this mortal coil! How fare thee? Are thy spouse and child well?
PC: Yeah, whatever. Hey, you see that dragon there? Go kill it.
Brothgar: Why, surely I will defend thee, but I must ask, is this the only reason thou hast disturbed my eternal peace?
PC: Look, the dragon’s immune to half my spells ’cause the DM is a douchenozzle. So just whack it with your sword.
Brothgar: We two were bonded as soulmates while I lived, yet now you treat me as a mere hireling? Fie upon thee! I side with thine enemy! (Brothgar attacks the PC)

Maryindi’s Spell Of Super Telekinesis or The Tractor-Presser Beam: Pro tip: Words like “greater”, “perfected”, “lordly”, or “supreme” feel properly Vancian when describing upgraded spells; words like “super”, not so much. Cone shaped TK that moves up to 300 lbs+30/level. A million uses around the home and office.

Savoy’s Spell Of The Silver Serpent: A+ for alliteration. Summons a flying silver cobra to fight for you, which is cool, until you notice it has 1 hit die for each level the caster is over the minimum needed to cast (+1 base hit die). If you’re casting seventh level spells, a silver cobra which starts with 1 HD is pretty much useless against anything you’re going to be fighting, flying or not.

Hadaag’s Horror, The Red Sending of Sorrow, Sarchimus’s Sending, etc.: All of these spells, and a few others, have two things in common: First, they have totally awesome names. That counts for a lot. Second, they’re all variations on “spell that summons something nasty to go kill someone who is far, far, away”… most have ranges on the order of 10 miles per caster level. It’s interesting there’s so many variants on this concept, doubly so when you consider such spells are, at most, a trivial part of modern games. They tend to be the kind of things that show up in “The Even More Compleat Spelle Compendiume Vol VI”. But there’s three on one page in The Runes of Doom, and more besides, especially if you count other long-distance spells such as Skorn’s Immaculate Sky Symbol. I can only theorize, but I think there was a lot of PVP action in Dave’s games, with players concocting ever-more devious spells to use against enemies (while out of retribution range, of course). Alternatively, Dave created these spells to use to take down uppity PCs by reminding them they could be attacked from afar.

Caowyn’s Spell Catcher:

Spell Shortstop Was Much Less Popular

Caowyn’s Spell Shortstop Was Much Less Popular

A long time ago, in an age when Windows 98 was cutting-edge, there was a game called Ultima Online. There still is, in fact. I haven’t played it since the late 1990s. I’m sure no part of it would be familiar to me. No, I’m not that senile. I know I’m writing about tabletop games. Here’s the thing: See that powerful 10th level spell up there that takes you three months to learn? Well, there was a similar spell in early UO — it would deflect the first attack that struck it back at the source of the attack. A nice surprise for a would-be assassin, right? Well, except that it took about 0.0001 seconds before someone figured out how to write a macro that would first cast some really trivial, low-level, spell, which took out the defense, followed nanoseconds later by a much more powerful attack. Caowyn’s Spell Catcher has the same problem, except, you don’t even need to use a damaging spell. Hit ’em with something like “Mend“, and then, while they’re contemplating what to do with it, follow up with Jhem’s Spell Of The Far Terminus, which teleports the victim to a totally random “time, universe, and world”.

Phanch’s Spell Of The Fell Gates Of Hell

This Would Be A Better World If All Spells Rhymed

This Would Be A Better World If All Spells Rhymed

’nuff said.

Cleric Spells

And If You Ever Find Out What An 'Aphpodesiac' Is, This Is A Great Spell

And If You Ever Find Out What An ‘Aphpodesiac’ Is, This Is A Great Spell

You’ll note that a common aspect of early game design — not just Arduin, or D&D and its derivatives, but many systems — is a kind of “arms race”. For every measure, there is a counter-measure; for every counter-measure, there is a counter-counter-measure, and so on. Nowadays, perhaps as part of the synergy between tabletop games, card games, and MMORPGs, designers are more likely to simply “nerf” a particular ability if it becomes too dominant in play. This was less doable in the pre-Internet days, especially when it could be years between supplements. (The original AD&D hardcovers took three years to come out. Think about that for a moment. These days, we get a new edition every three years, or so it sometimes seems.)

As I Was Saying...

As I Was Saying…

Pheldoe’s  Radiant Ring Of Righteous Fire: Verbal component: A famous Johnny Cash song, which also serves as the Preparation H jingle. Surrounds the caster with a ring of golden flame that does 2-24 damage to undead if they pass through it. Skeletons ‘burn 1d6 per turn’, which is confusing… does it ignite them? If so, do they keep burning until they’re un-un-dead? Or does it mean they burn while standing in the ring, which would imply non-skeletons take the damage once? Non-undead take only 1d8 damage.

Heavenly Fog Of Hiding And Help: An opaque fog surrounds the caster and does… well, it’s a fog. That surrounds the caster. Not a healing fog. Not a fog that blocks any of the approximately 78 different things that can detect you when you’re hiding in fog. Not a fog that confuses, blinds, weakens, or otherwise hinders enemies. Just… a fog. Let me note this is a fifth level spell. So is Raise Dead (in most incarnations of D&D). I don’t think “resurrecting the slain” and “imitating someone dropping dry ice into the punch bowl” should belong in the same tier. Do you?

Solomon’s Sigel (sic) Of Absolute Imapsse (sic): Fiery 10′ star of David surrounds you, blocking all (take 2-20 points and save vs. petrification (my spell checker suggests “gentrification”. Brooklyn failed its save vs. gentrification, big time.) at -5 or turn to salt if you pass through). Undead take 10-100 points and must save vs. disruption or die! Again! More die!

Holy Word Of Command: All clerical spells reverse themselves and deactivate. I’m not sure what “reverse themselves” means when connected to “deactivate”… either one, alone, makes some sense… maybe it’s a visual effect, the deactivated spells “rewind” to dwindle to nothing? Please note that it stops all, even pillars of fire! It’s important this is called out; otherwise, you’d just assume it didn’t affect pillars of fire because… pillars? Fire?

Greylorne’s Hell Storm:

Forty Weeks, One Hundred Thousand Gold Pieces, And Totally Worth It

Forty Weeks, One Hundred Thousand Gold Pieces, And Totally Worth It

That’s a good place to break for this week. Next time — Druid spells, Techno Magic, and Hell Spirals!

The Runes Of Doom, Part VII

New Magic Spells!

Come For Aphrodisiac Aura! Stay For…

Hang On, There Might Be A Better Way To Phrase That

Nah. Not Really.

OK! It’s been five weeks or so, but I finally have things back on some kind of quasi-sane schedule. Not as sane as I would like, as my plan was to start writing this at 8 AM, but it’s now 2 PM, because apparently, to some people, “vacuuming” and “spending time with your family” is more important than allegedly humorous recapping of thirty year old gaming supplements for an audience measuring in the teens! The high teens! Harrumph!

Anyway, spells. The Runes Of Doom promises “over a hundred new spells”, but I never counted them. There’s quite a few, certainly. As usual, I’ll just be going through the pages, highlighting whatever strikes my highly random fancy. (Seriously, my fancy has, like, two pages of charts I have to roll on.)

Aphrodisiac Aura:

Hey, I Promised This One...

Hey, I Promised This One…

Just in case anyone thought I was making that up…

You may notice a new field in the spell description: “Weeks To Learn”. While it’s easy to interpret what this means, it kind of comes up as a surprise; it’s not in the earlier books. Likewise, cost — presumably, that’s the cost to learn it, whether it’s by buying a scroll (in the case of this spell, one sold out of the back room of the magic store) or investing in rare and exotic inks, possibly made from succubus blood or something. (Did you ever see the AD&D 1e rules for making even the simplest magic items? The amount of effort required to make a low level potion or scroll was phenomenal, and totally disconnected from the de facto commonality of such items, which could generally be found in any kobold’s outhouse or bedding, as if you could tell the difference. But I digress.)

Dunklemeyer’s Spell Of The Tarantella: Not tarantula. Like Otto’s Irresistible Dance, except only second level. It still affects every creature in a 30′ radius, making it ridiculously powerful for such a low level spell.

Patch Spell: When cast, will replace buggy old code with new code which has new bugs. No, sorry, it patches cloth or leather. So, let me make this perfectly clear: For the cost of 2 mana, I can either a)Make all enemies within 30′ of me dance the tarantella for 1 minute/level, effectively wiping out an entire encounter with a single spell, or, I can patch 1 square foot of cloth. Hmmm. Which should I learn?

Thurldon’s Reversal: Another second level spell, the target must save vs. magic or… turn around, which means they’ll need to turn back on their next action… which means nothing because changing facing is generally a trivial action. Sure, there’s that one in a thousand times when you can make someone turn and look at their pet gorgon, or something, but the other 999 times? Tarantella, please!

Torozon’s Slippery Spell, or, The Banana Peel Sneak: Causes an area to become “zero coefficient”, which is a fancy pants way of saying “frictionless”. Cast it on the sheets after you use Aphrodisiac Aura. (By the way, the “or” convention in some spell names is really kind of cool, as it reminds me of Rocky and Bullwinkle episode titles, which were themselves parodies of the 18th and 19th century style of book titles.

Hildegarde’s Heavy Helper: Conjures a 10′ cube of wet sand. No, really. That’s what it does. Yeah, I got nothin’.

Tirinyo’s Spell Of The Wall Of Ice And Fire: Each time you cast it, you have to wait longer and longer until you can cast it again. In addition, you feel compelled to describe every meal you eat in explicit detail, and describe some other things in explicit detail. OK, it actually creates a wall of fire. Which hides a wall of ice. So when you dash through the wall of fire and take fire damage, you also hit the wall of ice and take cold damage. (The spell can also be cast where the ice wall contains the fire wall, so the flickering flames cause the ice to shimmer and glow strangely. I consider that roughly 10.59 times more awesome than the default version.)

Azorn’s Fearfull (sic) Fiery Fist Spell:

Better Than Krystallars Kalamitous Kick...

Better Than Krystallars Kalamitous Kick…

Judging from context, “size” in this case means “hit dice”, not, you know, size. That’s as intuitive as anything else around here, I guess.

Khoreb’s Curse Of The Screaming Skull

ScreamingSkull

Based On One Of The Worst Movies Of All Time

Wakes you up at night to scream, gibber, moan, and mouth obscenities at you? Why not just call it “Khoreb’s Curse Of The 2AM Drunk Dial From Your Ex”?

Noad’s Bane, or, The Blue Banshee Of Shaamt: Conjures a blue ghost to fly through a town, wailing. For a few minutes. That’s it. It doesn’t kill people who hear its wail, or drain life levels, or anything else. It just flies around wailing. This takes ten weeks and 9,500 gold to learn. Wow. That’s almost as a big a ripoff as Trump University.

Jahk’s Spell Of The Singing Star: Summons a six pointed star that sings. Hey, it does what it says on the tin! Save vs. Charm or sit, enraptured. Also of note: Until now, the spells seemed to be at least vaguely arranged by level, but this is a third level spell, where the prior spells had reached sixth level. I think we’re seeing, once again, that Dave Hargrave was transcribing individual pages of his notes, instead of reorganizing the individual data elements on each.

Otherwise Known As "Wall Of DM Screwing The Players"

Otherwise Known As “Wall Of DM Screwing The Players”

Now, this is way better than friggin’ blue mist that screams! Toss this baby in front of your enemies, and see if the DM is properly grateful for the Chinese food you got for him/her! (Often, DMs had charts and tables for just such random occurrences. These were handy, as you could pretend to roll on them before making up what you wanted to happen.)

That’ll do for now. Still recovering from many weeks of working weekends. But I needed to get something done, and so, this is it.

The Runes Of Doom, Part VI

Rules & Revisions

Lasers & Lightning Guns

Staffs & Saddlebags

Last week Two weeks ago, I mildly chided Dave Hargrave for having a few pages containing but a single chart or table, surrounded by a vast sea of emptiness. Across time and space, Dave heard me, and made sure the material covered in this week’s installment would be from densely-packed pages of small type. Y’know, I don’t remember the type being this small when I was 16. Clearly, someone has, in the ensuing decades, sneaked into my house and replaced my copies with small-type versions, meticulously replicating every duck sauce stain to lull my suspicions. No other explanation is possible.

Swords & Smiths

(Can I Maintain This Alliteration & Alliteration Shtick For This Whole Article? Let’s Find Out Together.)

From the prior page (in last week’s the previous article) on Random Lifestyle Changes, we jump right into vorpal blades. Well, not right into. That would be messy. They’re the start of a list of important MODIFIERS and RULES for various THINGS, with a LOT of KIRBY CAPS to add EMPHASIS.

  • Vorpal swords have a 20% chance of a random critical every time THAT THEY HIT. A natural 20, though, is always “head severed”.
  • Swords of Sharpness have a 10% chance of a random critical.
  • Armor takes the same damage a player does. Presumably, Dave meant “player character”. Presumably…

DM:”OK, that’s 35 points to Bronk The Queasy, and 35 to his plate mail.”
Player: “Nuh-uh! The rules say armor takes damage as the player does. Bronk took the damage, not me, so the armor is fine!”
DM: “Have it your way…” (Proceeds to hit player upside the head with 1e DMG. Player is lucky Ptolus or Hero 6e are still decades in the future.) “So that’s about eight points to the armor, then. OK?”

  • Every 20 points of damage that armor receives removes one “plus”, unless the hit was in an area not covered by the armor, which makes sense until you realize there’s no real hit location rules and no real definition of just what a suit of armor covers. For convenience’s sake, I’d say it’s everything but the face and maybe the hands. This rule makes a lot more sense in Aftermath. Ah… good ol’ location 12. But I digress.
    • If your armor is damaged, you will need a dwarf “or other qualified” smith to repair it. There’s a 5% chance of finding such a smith per 100,000 population of the area the character (not the player, this time, it says ‘character’), is in.
  • The days of a lone thief holding the passage against a charging wyvern are over! Them days is gone forever! (Wait a second… in Dave’s games, the guy playing the thief didn’t hide in shadows at the first sign of anything with more hit points than an asthmatic sea cucumber? That’s weird.)
"Of course my dwarf can hold back the dragon! He's wearing leather armor! It's just common sense!"

“Of course my dwarf can hold back the dragon! He’s wearing leather armor! It’s just common sense!”

And this, folks, is why we ultimately have rules like this.

Article writing on hold due to orange cat in need of snuggles.

(Jeopardy theme plays… OK, cat has received orders from orbital satellite telling him cuddle time is over, now it’s time to meow madly at an invisible spot on the wall. Back to writing.)

Also, we have a “simple” explanation of pumping mana. (Read the preceding two words in a Bavarian accent.)

So, each die of damage costs five-thirds of a point of mana?

So, each die of damage costs five-thirds of a point of mana?

“All weaponry that leaves the hand of the firer (such as arrows, bullets, rays, beams) and have (sic) a listed maximum AC penetration/ranges, will attack at plus five (+5) all AC’s (sic) it can penetrate!

Got that? Good. There will be a quiz later. Remember, this only applies if the maximum is listed. It does not apply to unlisted maximums! Get it straight, people, I’m sick of repeating myself! Listed maximums only!

Here’s someone doing Conan cosplay fighting a krag spi spyder.

This Drawing Is So Freakin' Awesome I'm Not Even Going To Whine About 'Spyder'

This Drawing Is So Freakin’ Awesome I’m Not Even Going To Whine About ‘Spyder’

Ballistae And Blasters

“A dagger +1, a longsword +1, + 3 against orcs, and a phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range.”
“Hey, just what you see, pal.”
(A conversation I assume occurred at Dave’s table before it was ripped off by Cameron.)

Since we just discussed those weapons which have a listed maximum range, it is only fair we present them.

Tech Weapons

I Felt The Weapon Names And Notes Were The Most Important Parts, So, I Ended Up Cutting Out The Listed Maximum Range. Oh, The Irony!

Evidently, in Arduin, anti-matter projectors are made of the same stuff they make cars from in action movies. Or maybe “hits it” should be “it hits”, and “causes it” becomes “it causes”? Hey, I’ve found reversed booleans that have hidden deep in code for many years. It’s possible!

“Metal Armor just helps!”, but if you were expecting rules for how much it helps, you clearly haven’t been reading these articles for very long.

Artifacts & Amulets

Ah, now we get to the good stuff… the phat lewt, as the kids say. What? They haven’t said that for 20 years? How about bling? Do they still say bling? Whatever, I’m not going to spend time researching it.

Amulet Of The Amazon Mother: A silver scrotum and phallus impaled by a golden arrow, this gives +3 to any amazon’s Str, Dex, and Agility, as well as a smegload of other bonuses for use when attacking men. (cough) issues (cough).

Conjure Crystal: A crystal ball that can, in addition to the usual crystal ball stuff, show illusions and, once a month, summon an elemental. Because why not?

Food Of The Gods: Causes teenagers to grow to giant size and then get mocked by Joel, Tom, and Crow. No, wait. This consists of mead, manna, and ambrosia, each of which has a 50/50 chance to raise or lower physical attributes, mental attributes, and level, respectively, by 1d8 each. You can eat it only once. It also “erases all previous deaths”, so that the maximum death counter resets. I repeat: The “revolving door afterlife” is not a recent invention!

Gauntlet Of Gripping: Not going to go there.

Horseshoes of Traveling And Leaping: Like the classic ‘boots of springing and striding’ but for, you know, your horse. I don’t know about Dave, but in my games back in the day, this would lead to some hilarious slapstick, followed by arguments about what you need to roll to stay on a horse, followed by a long digression involving saddles and alchemical glue.

Ring of Djinn Power: Often paired with the Ring Of Itty Bitty Living Space. Anyway, turns the wearer into a djinn for an hour, up to three times a day, with an increasing chance of the wearer becoming the djinn in the ring. So, first thing you do the first time you use it: Wish that the curse on the ring is lifted and you can use it as much as you want without consequence. Then, get into a two hour debate with the DM over the exact wording and interpretation of the wish.

Ring Of Righteousness Resistance: Provides +4 to saves vs. harangues by whiny millennial activists and elderly fundamentalists. Also +2 to saves against non-chaotic clerical magic and +3 to saves against conversion.

Rose Colored Spectacles Of Delusion And Untrue Sight: Causes the user to see bad things as good, good things as bad, think broccoli is actually a type of food, dislike bacon, etc. They “effect” only the user, who likes them so much they won’t take them off.

Ruby of Runaway Regeneration: Not to be confused with the Amulet Of Anarchistic Alliteration, this grants regeneration, but the body part grows back randomly… your leg might regrow as a horse’s leg, for instance. There’s no random table provided; the DM must adjudicate the effects according to how much Chinese food has been provided.

Staff of Stupidness: I am just assuming there was a cleric in Dave’s game he really didn’t like, and made sure he found this…

I Mean, There Aren't Even Rules For Some Of The Effects. Dave Must've Hated That Cleric.

I Mean, There Aren’t Even Rules For Some Of The Effects. Dave Must’ve Hated That Cleric.

Also, “stupidness” isn’t a word. I feel obliged to point that out.

Wand of Wizardry: Usually about 25% longer than regular wands. No, that’s not me being funny. (“You’re never funny!” “OK, that’s not me attempting to be funny. Happy now, imaginary peanut gallery?” “For the moment. We’re watching you.”) That’s actually what it says. (/me begins singing “A Wizard’s Staff Has A Knob On The End”) Oh, in addition to providing fodder for single entendres almost forty years later, it provides “any three single uses by type. For example, cold, paralysis, fear.” Uhm… OK. I can almost make sense of that… maybe it means you can shoot three cold rays, or three paralysis rays… but does that mean you pick a type, use it three times, and that’s it, or you get three cold, three fire, three acid, three sonic, three laser, three-as-many-different ‘types’ as you can con the DM into letting you come up with?


And so we end for now… next time, we delve into new spells, of which there are many, and at least two contain the word “aphrodisiac”.

 

 

The Runes Of Doom, Part V

The Runes Of Doom, Part V

Rules & Resurrection

With race and class out of the way, we can now move into the self-actualization of gender identity through an intersectual lens. Or, we could discuss rules for coming back from the dead. Again. (That can be interpreted as “coming back from the dead more than one time”, or “another time we’re discussing rules for coming back from the dead”. Actually, both are correct. We discussed resurrection before, but Dave Hargrave has more to say on the subject. We also look at a radical change to the hit point system, and some other stuff.

How To Reverse IRREVOCABLE Death

You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Contrary to the popular myth that old-school gaming treated death more seriously, the “revolving door afterlife” was a running gag from pretty much the earliest days of the hobby, as were attempts to jam a crowbar into said door, or at least slow down the rotation a bit. It is true that starting characters were a lot more fragile back then, and surviving to the point where you could access the magic that could bring you back was more difficult, but once you’d reached mid-levels (often very quickly if the DM was careless about magic items which could be sold for gold that in turn became XP), death was mostly a speedbump. DMs didn’t like this, of course — what was the point of having traps that killed characters in hideously fiendish ways if they were back the next day? — and so, variant rules abounded.

Digressing momentarily: There’s a strong connection between the depth of character creation and the survivability of said characters… or there should be. One common design trend in early spin-offs of D&D was to dramatically ramp up the number of steps needed to create a character, while not making it much harder to die, both in the name of “realism”. This was self-evidently frustrating and annoying. Something had to give, and since a high degree of customization was more desirable than dying easily, game design shifted towards much tougher starting characters. “Hours to create, a second to eviscerate” is no longer a popular design trope.

Anyway, back in Welcome To Skull Tower, Dave gave us some percentage chances of resurrection by race, level, and constitution. Now in the Runes Of Doom, Dave expands on that chart, adding in more conditions, explanations, variations, and perturbations.

  • You can only be resurrected within 30 days.
  • For each day from death, the chance of resurrection (from the Skull Tower chart) decreases 3%.
  • You get three trys(sic), unless you’re an elf, who only has one.
  • The second try is at a -20% chance, the third is at a -50% chance.
  • Keep track of how many trys(sic) it took to resurrect you; it matters.
And The Chance Of Resurrection Is Affected By Constitution, So...

And By “Permanently”, We Mean, “Until It’s Raised By Some Spell Or Artifact Or Something”

  • IRREVOCABLE or PERMANENT death requires a LIMITED WISH and a “raise dead fully”, a FULL WISH, or a GODLY GRANT. (All CAPS in ORIGINAL.) Saying death is “irrevocable” unless you cast a higher level spell is like saying something is not for sale, unless you have the money.
  • If you are disintegrated or 100% destroyed (which means taking over 200% of your hit points in acid or fire the like), resurrection requires THREE WISHES: One to reunite mind and body, one to reunite body and soul, and one to reconstruct the body from the free-floating atoms it has become. However, only one GODLY GRANT is required.
    • The wishes must be used within an hour of each other.
    • The wishes must be worded correctly, or the gods will “interpret” them as they see fit. The “wish lawyer” was a common feature at gaming tables in the 1970s.
  • (I’ve pointed this out before, but the fact there were so many rules for things that required multiple wishes (far more than just in Arduin), back in the day, really undermines the revisionist narrative that it was all fantasy fucking Vietnam back then. You don’t put up signs reading “Speed Limit: 150 MPH” until it’s commonplace that cars can go faster than that, and you don’t have multi-wish mechanics unless it’s assumed characters will have access to lots of wishes.) To understand anything in history, study primary sources. You cannot understand a time, or a culture, by seeing it filtered through the lens of those who came later and who have decided what is important. Read newspapers from WW2. Notice that while the headlines certainly reported on battles and suchlike, the vast bulk of the articles were so-and-so gets divorced, such-and-such won this sportsball event, some local politician made some speech as some club, and a new restaurant is opening on fifth and main. But I digress.)
  • And don’t think you can escape the long healing times of severe spinal injuries, just because your torn and mangled body has been recreated with those injuries erased!
Not Spinal Tap's Greatest Hits

Not Spinal Tap’s Greatest Hits

On a related note, the healing rules were also changed, using a perfectly logical system which, unfortunately, undermined the rationale for higher-level spells:

"Wounds Of The More Serious Sort" Are Often Inflicted by Rodents Of Unusual Size

“Wounds Of The More Serious Sort” Are Often Inflicted by Rodents Of Unusual Size

“Well, what’s wrong with that?”, you ask. “Makes sense to me!”

And it does, until you realize players are concerned with the letter, not the spirit, of the law. Under these rules, four Cure Light… I mean, Heal LesserWounds spells will restore any character, at any level, to full health. This greatly reduces the need to memorize higher-level healing spells. (Remember, at the time, there was none of this “swap out any prepared spell for a Cure spell” stuff!) It means a few Cure Light Wounds potions or scrolls can replace far more expensive and rare magic. Etc.

The Great Hit Point Revolution

However, this was partially miitgated by one of the more dramatic changes to the core D&D paradigm: Tossing (mostly) hit point inflation out the window.

  • Everyone gets 1 HP per point of Constitution.
  • Fighty and Thiefy types (including, oddly, Normals) get 1 HP/level.
  • Clericy types get 1 HP/2 levels.
  • Wizardy types (and Courtesans) get 1 HP/3 levels.

(The rules actually list a lot of classes as examples; I’m summarizing.)

  • Star Powered Mages never get extra hit points, because reasons.
  • Multiclass characters get all the hit points they’d get for their levels in each class, which isn’t a great system under the dominant multiclass rules at the time, as, given the same XP, a pure Fighter might be 11th level, while a Fighter/Thief would be 10/10… or have nearly twice as many bonus hit points as the 11th level fighter.
  • You get one-time bonus hit points determined by race, and sometimes, gender:
Half-Orcs Have Worse Hit Points Than Either Humans Or Orcs?

Half-Orcs Have Worse Hit Points Than Either Humans Or Orcs?

Fighters get +5 on top of this, Clerical types 3, and pointy-hat wearing finger-wagglers get 0. In addition, for every Constitution point over 12, you get 1 bonus hit point.

Next follows a rant aimed at “Monty Hall(sic)” players… huh. I can’t imagine why a setting known for its mu-meson swords, 50th level merchants, and 15th level spells would attract those types… it deserves to be presented in its entirety.

You Done Got Told

You Done Got Told

Guild Fees

Because, Why Not?

Following this massive revision of resurrection, healing, and hit points, we have a tiny little chart (about 1/5 page) about guild fees. This is the only thing on the page. Way to waste paper, Dave.

I Seem To Be Having Extreme Difficulty With My Lifestyle

Then we have a 1/3rd page chart of “Random Lifestyle Changes”, for when someone hits you with a Random Lifestyle Change effect, as often happened (Wands of Wimsey, any number of cursed items that could change your class, etc.)

And Onwards…

The next bit goes back to ‘highly dense page of teeny-tiny type’ mode, filled with even more rules and variations on combat. I’m on a tight schedule, so, we’ll do that next week. We’re up to Page 29, about a third done with the third book, if anyone cares.

 

The Runes Of Doom, Part IV

The Runes Of Doom, Part IV

Deodanths, Saurigs, and Phraints

Takei

(You See What I Did There…)

Last week, I noted that much of the material was a rehash of existing classes for “most other roleplaying games”, part of Dave Hargrave’s gradual evolution of Arduin from a supplement to a stand-alone system, a migration not to be completed for a long, long, time. (And by the time it was done, it had mutated far beyond its roots). This week, we look at a few things very much not found in the default assumptions of the setting zeitgeist of the era.

Undead Hybrid Elves… From The Future!

Loosely based (sort of like the relationship of “Total Recall” to “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”) on Jack Vance’s deodands, the deodanths of Arduin are “an evolutionary hybrid of ‘undead’ Elven kind and some ‘other’ dark and unknown ‘thing'”. Legend claims they are “lost time travellers from eons in the future”, where “the suns are dieing”. (Spellcheck suggests “dieting”.)

They have a “vampire-like” ability to charm/hypnotize opponents, which “requires concentration, seldom found in combat”. That’s cool. Let’s see, this ability has a range of… uhm… and the actual effects are… hmm… and the degree of concentration needed is… erm… and it can be used as frequently as.. well. Basically, it’s tossed out there with no mechanics at all, which might be acceptable (given the tenor of the age, also the soprano) for monsters, but this is in the section entitled “Deodanths As Player Characters”, which means abilities do need a little definition. I went back to the Arduin Grimoire, where they have a monster listing. Nothing there about mind control powers, but it does say they’re 50% magic resistant. Perhaps “vampire-like” means “use whatever rules you use for vampires, don’t worry if they don’t make sense for a first level fighter”? That’s my guess.

Doesn’t matter. They’re awesome even if you can’t use them to mind-control the entire dungeon at once. They are brilliant tacticians either as “sole(sic) warriors in sword to sword melee’s(sic)” or as “Star Corsairs par excellance in spaceship to spaceship battles”. Because those happen a lot in high fantasy — why else would you have a spell to summon spaceships? Duh! (And if you think I’m against mixing Swords & Starships… and wouldn’t that be a great name for a retro-RPG? Hmmm… it’s not like I don’t have enough ongoing, incomplete, projects currently1… you haven’t read most of my stuff. Genre purists can bite me. Or, perhaps, I am a genre purist, and recognize that D&D is not a rules system, it is a genre, and that genre is “Fahfrd, Merlin, John Carter, Batman, and Elric team up to fight Dracula, Sauron, and Darth Vader (and their zombie ninja minions) in the Hollow Earth. While riding dragons. Cyborg dragons. Cyborg dragon wizards!” (/me begins singing “Ultimate Showdown“)

They generally eat their prisoners, being “omniverous”(sic), but those they don’t eat, they torture, sometimes for up to a decade. So, probably not suited for Paladins, is that the message I’m getting here?

In addition to being undead elf hybrid vampires from the future, they can jump in time! They can time-skip 1-3 melee rounds forward, 1/day per level, at a cost of one point of Con, Agi, Str, and Dexterity each time, each of which takes five hours (not contiguous!) to restore.

They also jump in space —  20-30 feet horizontally, 15 feet vertically, and hate elves for “historical reasons”. (See the Skull Tower walkthrough for more on that!)

I got your Fantasy Fucking Vietnam right here, pal. Along with your “waaaah! Modern games are like video games!” cliche. Back in the real old school, we had, as player character options, time-skipping high-jumping undead hybrid elf vampires from the future! But, yeah, you go ahead and play your dwarf fighter whose highest stat is a 12, because that’s “roleplaying, not rollplaying”. Go on. Have fun with that, Groin, son of Loin, or whatever your name is. I’ve got to go kill a star spyder(sic) with my deodanth. (We’ll get to star spyders, and much, much, more, when we do monsters… but that’s a ways in the future, I’m afraid.)

We also had…

Vulcan Mantis-Men From Outer Space!

No secret, here: Phraints are one of my favorite races. They’re visually distinctive, they have a cool backstory, and they actually fit in pretty well in a sword-and-sorcery world.

My Money's On The Phraint

My Money’s On The Phraint

Phraints are born into a caste system, as follows:

Phraint Gandhi Tried To Ban The Caste System, But It Pesisted

Phraint Gandhi Tried To Ban The Caste System, But It Persisted

There are also Black Phraints, who, with very minor technological aid, can survive in hard vacuum, and who shoot off monomolecular edged shuriken. Imagine a boarding party of them landing on the hull of your spaceship! Pack extra underwear! But on Arduin, they’re extinct, as the supporting technology to create them no longer exists.

Phraints are perfectly logical and unemotional, which is why they try to conquer the universe. It’s obvious they’re superior and should rule, so the illogical lesser races ought to just accept it. They don’t, which proves they’re illogical and inferior. “Tautology” is a class skill for Phraints.

They can stand motionless, waiting in ambush, for up to three days, drink pureed horse meat for fun, and get totally plastered off the juice of the Red Lotus. They also leap as well as deodanths, leading to spectacular battles between the two races, which make the most extreme wire-fu fight scenes look like a sedate chess match.

Sheldon Cooper Plays Nothing Else

Sheldon Cooper Plays Nothing Else

Yeah, it’s a real roleplaying stretch for someone like me to play a character with no understanding of emotion or normal human interaction. Really exercises the old acting chops, y’know, getting into a mindset completely alien to my own and viewing the world through a lens utterly antithetical to my normal perceptions.

Savage Lizard-Men From The Forgotten Past!

OK, compared to undead elf vampire time-hoppers from the future and insect men from outer space, lizard men, even when called “saurigs”, are kind of… meh. Still, a lot more interesting than wood elf, tree elf, root elf, leaf elf, branch elf, twig elf… (though ‘root elf’ does have potential…).

Saurigs are descended from “the dread reptilian Kthoi”, who ruled the world some 600,000 years previously… and ideas such as this, of a scope and scale orders of magnitude beyond the limits of human history, found fertile ground in my adolescent mind, and let’s not juxtapose ‘fertile’ and ‘adolescent’ ever again, OK? One of the interesting aspects of this whole exercise is seeing where a lot of my personal inspiration comes from, decades after I forgot the source.

After the tactical sadism of the deodanths, and the imperialist logic of the phraints, it’s nice to know the saurigs were bred as mindless killing machines. After the fall of the Kthoi, they divided into two groups — the tailed swamp saurigs and the tailless desert saurigs. (The delicious dessert saurigs were eaten into extinction.) After untold ages, they have achieved a modicum of sophistication, existing as tribal bands, which occasionally play gigs down at the oasis.

Desert saurigs are valued as mercenaries; swamp saurigs are valued as luggage. OK, it doesn’t say that exactly, but although the swamp-dwellers are larger and stronger, they are undisciplined and savage, and are thus of little worth as soldiers. However, you can get 1d4 suitcases of medium size out of one, with enough left over for 1d6+3 belts, and OK, I’ll drop it for now.

Keeping up the trend of “everyone hates everyone”, the saurigs hate the phraints — desert saurigs because “they took er jerbs!” (i.e., they compete for mercenary contracts) and swamp saurigs because… no, I’m not going to make another luggage joke… because phraints consider saurig eggs a delicacy for baby phraints to nom on. No, that’s not a joke. That’s in there. So, you kind of have to feel a little bit for the saurigs getting slaughtered on the cover of the Arduin Grimoire. They could have been like the horta, avenging their fallen young. So it goes.

And In Conclusion…

Next week, we dive deep into assorted variant mechanics and rules, presented in the usual orderly, logical, fashion, where each idea builds on the previous in a coherent and sensible manner.

My apologies to anyone whose sarcasm detector blew out reading that.

1:Do you know there are people out there afraid someone is going to “steal their ideas”? That would be like stealing paper clips when you live in a house built out of paper clips, that you use mostly to store your supply of paper clips that constantly expands, no matter what you do.