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…
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?
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
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)
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”.)
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?”
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.