Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XI
Or, “We Won’t Kill That Thing, ‘less It Drops Some Good Bling”
As I probably ranted about when we hit this section in the Arduin Grimoire1 walkthrough (but I’m too lazy to go back and look, and if I did, I’d probably notice typos and errors and ways to make the jokes
better less worse, and never get around to finishing this) one of the myths of Old School Revisionism is that contrary to the modern “video game” RPGs where characters are blinged out like Christmas trees decorated by third world dictators, in the good old days, when men were men, women were strange and scary, and race and class were the same thing (confusing the hell out of intersectionalists), you would be lucky to find a single +1 dagger after adventuring through every level of the Abyss, and you’d be grateful to get it, too. While I’m sure at least one or two games run in this manner existed, for most of us at the time… well, there’s a reason the term ‘Monty Haul2‘ appeared within a minute or two of D&D itself hitting the scene.
As noted, ‘player skill’ back then consisted of memorizing the rulebooks, so there was a perennial arms race between DMs who wanted players to have to work to figure out what their new gew-gaws did, and players who had developed frighteningly good ‘pruning’ algorithms to drill down through the possibilities, some of which were so efficient they only killed a mere 21.37% of henchmen used as guinea pigs. Thus, new magic items!
(It’s also the case that magic items, like spells, were one of the few ‘rules delivery vectors’. They were a way of making characters more distinctive in terms of the mechanics they had access too. Today, we have feats, class powers that involve picking from long lists of options, alternate class features, archetypes, yadda yadda. Back then, two members of the same class, of equal level, were almost indistinguishable, apart from their gear. So, it’s unsurprising that when describing a character in Ye Olden Dayse, people tended to go “He’s a level X class Y with item 1, item 2, and item 3”, because those items are what made him more unique.)
Anyway, on to the phat l00t! As always, I’ll be cherry-picking a handful of selections I find particularly interesting, for wholly subjective and illogical reasons.
It’s All About The Elminsters…
(Yeah, Elminster came long after the period I’m covering, but ‘It’s All About The Gandalfs’ doesn’t really scan, does it?)
Amulet Of Spell Eating: This “sphere of gold covered with 13 black onyx mouths” eats any spells cast within 20′ of it. The number it eats is indeterminate, but it’s “usually” 13 levels. (There’s no actual description of what “eating a spell” means, but I think it’s obvious from context that is absorbs all the magic so the spell doesn’t actually take effect). The eating occurs automatically… and once it is “full”, every spell it has absorbed is expelled. The intent may have been for this to be a defensive item, but the offensive possibilities are considerable… you could “feed” it number of potent spells, toss it into a room full of enemies, hastily cast Yrretsenoj’s Conjuration Of The Wafer-Thin Mint, and shut the door as the fireworks go off.
Boots Of Time: They look, and act, like Boots of Elvenkind… until you enter a time stop field, which seems to be a common experience in Arduin. Then, they “activate”, and the wearer moves forward in time one minute per step… and the boots cannot be removed or deactivated. I guess if you stood still long enough people could “catch up” to you and give you food or something. The description makes it clear, though, that you’re basically doomed to wander into eternity forever. (I wonder what happens if you just cut off your legs? Trust me, someone would try it.)
Time-related magic was evidently a ‘thing’… maybe Dave was just on a creative roll and kept coming up with variations… I know the feeling. Sometimes, you get caught on a theme and each idea spawns other ideas… here’s two more:
First: I wish to once more state my unsarcastic (yes, really) and unironic appreciation for the direct, enthusiastic, and personal writing style that defines the Arduin Trilogy. The use of “quotes” and italics conveys Dave Hargrave’s voice and style across the decades.
Second: The “Cloak of Time” is “woven of 100 minutes”. God damn, people, is that evocative, or what? I can imagine a wizard bargaining with the Fates, buying 100 minutes cut from the lives of others (or, even better, from the creator’s own life), to make this cloak… which would usually be conveyed like this:
DM: So, the legend goes, to craft this item, the Archmage tore apart the fabric of reality and went unto the weavers of men’s lives. There he did bargain with them for…
Player: How many gold pieces is it worth?
DM: What? Look, I’m giving you some backstory here. I spent a lot of time on this. Anyway, the bargaining went on for…
Player: Does anyone want this? We could sell it.
Other Player: Look, if he’s handing us something that lets us move in a timestop field, it means there’s going to be one and he doesn’t want us whining about it. So someone take it.
DM: Will you stop metagaming? And let me finish the backstory!
Other Other Player: Better let him finish, I bet there’s a clue hidden in all this drivel.
So it goes.
Gauntlets Of Ice And Fire: Each pair of these gauntlets takes progressively longer to produce, and the more people whine about when the next one will be ready, the crankier the crafter gets. Those wearing the gauntlets have a tendency to describe every meal they eat in great detail, visit whores, and murder people at weddings. Also, they will make any weapon or shield held either flaming (for +1d8) or cold (for +1d6), but not both at once. That would just be silly.
I’m sure a lot of people came up with magic items or spells based on this term, given the kind of people playing D&D at the time. (The ‘or psychic’ is kind of odd.. does that mean ‘any mage (or psychic)’ or, ‘any mage with an intelligence of 15 or more, or, any psychic regardless of intelligence’? I’m kind of guessing the former.)
Like I said, this seems to have been “a thing”:
These two items have some interesting limits. Can the “Ring of Before” be passed from party member to party member once the three charges are used up? As for the “Ring of Maybe”, does it reform for someone else? If not, you have to wonder how many of these could be left lying around… (And why narrow it to ‘disintegrated’ when you could just say ‘killed’ and not have to guess about how you’ll die?)
Wand of Tantivy
Naturally, I googled “tantivy”. It means “at full gallop”, “rush”, or, a hunting cry… all pretty much the opposite of the meaning implied in the magic item. Clearly, I’m missing something.
The Tome Of Time: Yeah, so, totally a thing. This is one of those magic books that does good things if you’re the right kind of reader and bad things if you’re not. Specifically, if you’re a full mage, you become “time competent” (+2 to time related things) and if you’re not, you are timestopped for 1-20 days. Undoubtedly, you will wake up with crude images of genitalia drawn on your face.
Shark Bolts: There’s nothing I can write that would do anything but detract from the awesomeness of this item.
Life Savers: Courtesy of Clint Bigglestone, Life Savers are… well… candy that saves your life. If you put one in your mouth prior to combat (each lasts five minutes), and you’re killed, you will be instantly raised! Pretty cool, eh? Unfortunately, the Godly Grant Candy Co. (really, that’s what it says in the text!) puts out many items that look identical, but will kill you, turn you into a butterfly, etc. Any attempt to identify what you’ve got, by magic or science, instantly renders them inert. So, you’re pretty much taking your life in your hands… or your mouth, as the case may be.
Marvexian Magic Beans: Once more, I find it difficult to add to the actual text…
As far as I know, Mar-Vexians were not defined in the original trilogy, or possibly anywhere, but I’ll keep an eye out for them.
Next time: The new monsters guarding the new magic!
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1: My spell checker suggests ‘Gregoire’ for ‘grimoire’. Go figure.
2: Yes, “Haul”, not “Hall”. If you encounter someone claiming to be old-school who spells it “Monty Hall”, you may know them for a poseur, and sneer at them mightily.