Welcome To Skull Tower
I’m Chad. I’ll Be Your Waiter This Evening
Would You Like To Try Our New Unicorn Bites Appetizer?
The Arduin Grimoire is well and justly famous, and has been the subject of many readings and walkthroughs, akin to the one I just finished… and as anyone who knows me can tell you, “finished” is not a word generally applied to anything I do. Far fewer such articles have been written on the successive volumes, so, this may be entering slightly original territory. “Original”, as anyone who knows me can tell you, is also not a word generally applied to anything I do. So this is all new and scary for me.
Welcome To Skull Tower has, as far as I know (which is about as far as a crippled kobbit can throw an ibathene) a much less complex publishing history than the Grimoire. I’ve only ever seen one edition, though there may well have been multiple printings… no alternate covers, etc. (There is a much more recent set of reprints through, I think, Emperor’s Choice, but that’s not the same thing.) The art is mostly by “Morno”, aka Brad Schenk, with “a few late entries by our original artist, Erol Otus”. (I’d still love to hear the details of what kind of falling out led to all of Erol’s art being replaced between editions of the Grimoire…) Morno’s art is… good. It’s not Michio good. Michio is, like, the absolute god of old-school gaming art. Seriously, I’ve got to track down what happened to him/her. But it’s good enough, evocative, clean, and far above the usual art of this era, drawn by This Guy I Know.
Without further ado, or adon’t, let’s enter Skull Tower!
Welcome To Skull Tower
Wait, I Already Said That
Erm… Welcome To The First Subsection Of The First Part Of The Walkthrough Of The Second Book In The Arduin Triology!
Hang On, Wouldn’t The Part Above This Be The First Subsection, So This Is Really The Second Subsection?
Buggerit. Moving On…
I totally want someone to do the title lettering as a font. You’d need to curl the really long extended tails on the letters down and under or something, but still, it’s awesome.
As you can see, this book has had a lot of life. I’ve got books about as old in my collection that are in much better shape, because they weren’t being continuously dragged out, referenced, paged through, read while eating chicken strips dripping with duck sauce, etc. My Arduin books are well-used and always have an honored place in my “ready to hand” pile of references, regardless of what game system I was currently working with. They are profoundly inspirational. Some people open the Bible to a random page; I open an Arduin book. This explains why many of my solutions to life’s problems are “Cast ‘Mindan’s Mind Mask’ spell”.
Rocked to the cosmic core! Entropic destruction! This is what old-school gaming was all about (to me)… glorious over-the-topness, if topness is a word. A seven-and-a-half year (one presumes, in game time, as D&D was barely 4 years old when this was published) quest across three hells (See here for an idea what those hells might have been like…) to rescue the Baron in Exile from the Lord of the Undead! God damn that sounds awesome!
And there was so much more to come…
There was indeed a third volume, and more besides, but the total published work never came close to what’s described here. Dave Hargrave died far too soon. In a just world, he would lived to receive the honors bestowed on Gygax, and Arneson, and Bledsoe in the past few years, but we do not live in a just world. If you doubt this, go open a news page. Doesn’t matter when you read this, or what’s happening at the time… I guarantee you, check whatever news there is when you encounter this at some vague future date, and you shall see injustice. But I digress.
Functions, Capabilities, Characteristics
We jump right into detailed rules in teeny-tiny type.
In Dave’s world, Constitution granted bonus hit points… but only up to your normal rolled maximum! So if you had a Con of 18 (+4 hit points per level), and you rolled a d6 for hit points, that +4 could bring you up to 6, but not higher than 6! When you combine this with the obvious deadliness of the spells and monsters Dave came up with, I repeat my wonder anyone ever survived past first level.
Then we have this:
You will notice a few things:
- Dave Hargrave got an italic font, which is serifed, as opposed to the regular font, which is not. This replaces underlining to show emphasis. This style of including, in effect, tone of voice in the writing is something that greatly influenced my own work. It adds to the “You are there!” feeling, as I noted way, way, back in my Star Rovers walkthrough. You can easily imagine the game developer pounding his fist on the table as he tries to get the rules through your thick skull.
- Let’s see, you can walk an extra mile for each point of Constitution over fourteen, but only if you have a matching Strength point. And to see if you can revive a character who drowned, multiply Con by 3, with the number of chances equal to 1+Con-3, with each additional try dividing by 2, except if married, filing jointly, or in North Dakota. Oh, do go on, Old School Revisionists, and tell me how everyone back in the day yearned for simplistic purity and abstract storytelling hippie crap. God damn it, we wanted rules back then, but we didn’t have “consistent systems” or “design patterns”, so anytime we needed a rule, we just made one up, and to hell if it integrated in any way with the rest of the system! “Have a standard core mechanic and just learn the parts that vary for each sub-task”? Pshaw! For wimps! We could learn, and master, a thousand different microrules, and if the system for picking padlocks used D6+Dexterity+a full page of modifiers for lockpicks, and the system for picking tumbler locks used percentiles, levels, and an exponential complexity system which required knowing the skill level of locksmith who made the lock, we loved it! (Right up until someone invented a hybrid tumbler and combination lock and we had to integrate the rules and Frank who played the thief got pissed and hurled his 20 sider at the DM…)
- No, that particular horse isn’t dead enough yet.
Hrothgar Strong Like Ox!
Wait, Oxen Only Have A Strength Of 14?
Hang On, I Need To Go Write A 15 Page Set Of Rules And Stats For Domestic Animals, This Is All Wrong!
RPGS — The Ideal Pastime For INTPs Like Me.
Having dealt with Constitution, we move on to Strength.
As always, a few observations, which may or may not end up being actually relevant to the text, as anything can send me spiraling off into a long and pointless digression. We’ll see. I have no more idea about where this will end up as I’m writing it than you have reading it, though the fact we’re going there in a handbasket along a road labeled “Good Intentions” does provide a clue.
- Ability W/Crowbar is not your chance of breaking the kneecaps of Vinnie The Squealer with said crowbar. It is the chance of opening a door whilst using a crowbar, as opposed to the “bare handed” approach. Eyeballing the chart, it seems Dave could just have written “crowbars add 20% to the door opening chance”.
- You will notice the “***” for a Strength of 18. This is because Dave, writing a set of rules totally unrelated to dunother roleplaying gamesons, happened, by purest coincidence, on the idea of having Strength 18 provide a range of percentile bonus ranges before going to 19. The chart for this breakdown (BTW, if you rolled an 18 in Dave’s games, you still only had a 20% chance of getting to roll a percentile bonus) is below the main Strength chart and I didn’t see a need to scan it.
- The quasi-linear lifting chart that tried to fit everything from the strongest humans to supernaturally mighty dragon-demon hybrids into a 30 point range always bugged me. 3.x/Pathfinder, with the “lifting capacity doubles every 5 points” rule, is the only D&D version to get it right. If lifting capacity is linear, you rapidly reach the point where giants are incapable of doing push-ups, or even of carrying a frying pan scaled to their size. (Square-cube law, remember? So, a 5 lb frying pan for a 6′ human would weigh 625 lbs for a 30′ giant. Per a later chart in Skull Tower, it would take a Titan to carry it… never mind anything else. I digress again.)
- Grapple Chance is based on your strength, without regard to the Strength of the person you’ve grappled.
- Why have a fixed damage bonus, when you can roll another die whenever you do damage? Seriously, why? Rolling dice is fun! More games should have done this!
- On the next page, there’s a chart showing your chance of needing to make an Agility check or fall on your ass while trying to open door. Also, three tries maximum per door. After that, it’s stuck. (Which leads to the comment in the caption of the chart, above… can you bash through a door as if it were a wall?)
Females, Another Mythical Creature
We’ll continue this sojourn with a type of chart that was fairly common in Ye Olden Dayse, the “female attributes” chart. (Outside of That Game That Must Not Be Named, I do not know of any RPG that included a similar chart for the pertinent anatomical features of male characters.)
Oddly, given the predilections of the era, there’s no extensive modifiers based on Strength, Constitution, etc., just a flat-out roll, which might then affect Charisma in some undefined way, presumably based on what the DM felt was “hot”. I’m assuming that “As For Breast Roll” means “Roll again”, not “identical top and bottom”.
And Then There’s This…
So, here’s the very next paragraph:
We go from Strength and Constitution, to breast size, to “If you morons don’t understand the combat rules, go read my other book!” It might be tempting to draw a connection between the “How Fat Are You?” chart and the reference to combat rules, but I think it’s just an aspect of the “lay it out as you go along” style of the time… especially when the next page covers Charisma, which fits with the “attribute” theme… so we have Strength, Constitution, Giggity, “Read my other book!”, Charisma. Makes sense to me.
Not That False Charisma You See Elsewhere!
The next chart is labelled “True Charisma”, while the Strength chart, you may have noticed, was labelled “True Strength”. Perhaps this indicates these are the “True” rules, as opposed to the inferior and error-ridden rules found in dunother roleplaying gamesons?
I am guessing the “Lie Bonus” here interacts with the various bonuses to the same presented in The Arduin Grimoire, and it all works out to the flat percentage, without regard to the target’s abilities? To be fair, these kinds of unopposed checks were very common in this era, as it was unusual for monsters to have the full range of abilities that PCs did, making it very difficult to build systems that relied on everyone involved having the same statistics. (One of Runequest’s major innovations was making sure everything had similar stats, so you could easily design rules that worked well when a Duck was trying to con a Scorpion-Man.)
The “tiny bit of fluff text in a column” style of chart becomes more and more common throughout the trilogy; we’ll be encountering it a lot. I like it. It provides that tiny spark of inspiration or explanation which adds color and flavor to dull numbers, without being so expansive as to remove interpretation and personalization.
Here’s a dwarf fighting a Boogie Man.
Probably, they’re doing battle over the +2 Coke Spoon Of Getting Down.
Yeah, I made a similar joke the last time “boogie man” came up.
Since this is the twentieth article in this series, you ought to have come to realize I recycle jokes the way SF hippies recycle soda cans.
(“You toss your jokes onto the sidewalk and wait for a homeless guy to pick them up and turn them in for cash?”
“Mostly, yeah. Why?”
That’s enough for today… tune in next week (probably) for scars, Star Powered Mages, and Rune Singers!