Tag Archives: Arduin




So, pursuant to a comment on my most recent Arduin article, I decided to check the etymology of ‘mana’. For decades, I thought it had the same roots as ‘manna’, as in, the story of Exodus.

Well, that’ll learn me.

‘Mana’ is a Polynesian word meaning ‘power’ , ‘effectiveness’, and ‘prestige’, with strong overtones of a supernatural source. It has nothing in common, etymologically, with ‘manna’, the food eaten by the Israelites during their 40 year sojourn in the desert, demonstrating that GPS>Pillar of Fire.

Also, this.

Which, by the way, has its origin in an Italian porno movie.

Now you know! And knowing is half the battle! The other half is violence.


Arduin Grimoire, Part VIII

Arduin Grimoire, Part VIII

Markets And Magic

(And Witch Hunters, Which Don’t Start With ‘M’)

“Y’know, being a Paladin is cool and all, but I wish there was a class that let me be even more of a douchenozzle to the other players, and justify it by saying ‘I’m just playing my character!'” (Some Gamer, At Some Point In the 1970s)

Well, to be fair, that exact quote was probably never said, because ‘douchenozzle’ is much more modern slang. But if Downton Abbey can use ‘step on it’, I deserve the same leeway.

Charisma 9, Int 12, Can't Detect Traps... Nah, No Point To Be Made Here

Charisma 9, Int 12, Can’t Detect Traps… Nah, No Point To Be Made Here

  • We start off learning that barbarians and witch hunters detest each other and fight on sight. Also, elves and hobbits are never witch hunters, that pesky “Limitations Chart” earlier on notwithstanding. We also learn I like to fool around with the ‘torn page’ settings in SnagIt.
  • The ‘torn page’ cut off the note that they are ‘99% Christian’. One of the many glories of “unofficial” material from the Cambrian Age Of Gaming is that the authors had no real concern about “public image” or being “offensive”. (Something sorely missing in the modern era, where anything deemed to be not going after Acceptable Targets generates howls of digital outrage from the Puritans1.)
  • We see the truly ‘old school’ three-point alignment system in play here, with Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic, no hint of ‘good’ or ‘evil’ in sight.
  • They have a very unusual magic system… in later games, this would have been modeled simply by giving them class abilities gained at various levels, but here, they’re semi-shoehorned into the spellcasting rules. Interestingly, the mana point system enables this nicely. You can give a class a small subset of spells, and the mana to cast them, and that’s that.
  • Capped at 12 intelligence, 15 wisdom (for a clerical-type class?), and nine charisma. Yeah. No axe to grind here, bucko! They get a ‘+5 with Lawful types’… I don’t know if that means ‘Add 5 to their capped number (9), so they max at 14′, or ‘Remember their original rolled number, and add 5 to that’. Almost certainly the former.
  • I am not sure why they are totally unable to detect traps… it seems to be an odd ability that doesn’t really fit with the theme. Besides, only thieves could detect traps, anyway. No one else had rules for doing so, unless you used a variant system where anyone could detect traps via boring the DM to death. (“I tap the walls with my ten foot pole. Also, the floors. Then I carefully burn away the cobwebs near the ceiling with my torch. Then I look at the walls and floors closely to see if there are any tiny holes which could shoot darts or gas. Then…” “For Cthulhu’s sake, man, you’re renting a room at the stables!”)
  • Hating technology more complicated than a crossbow would be a non-limit in most games, but Dave handed out mu-meson blades with gay abandon. (That’ll be discussed if we ever make it to the Runes Of Doom…)
  • The Witch Hunter is the only class in the core book to need two pages!
Hey, These Guys Only Go To 40th Level!

Hey, These Guys Only Go To 40th Level!

  • You will note these guys only go to 40th level.
  • You will also note that, adding support to my thesis that the Grimoire was assembled piecemeal from documents written at various times, that the Witch Hunter uses the “Fighting Capability” rules from the very earliest edition of D&D, something dropped fairly quickly from common play… a holdover from the original Chainmail rules.

BTW, my wife is a distant descendant of Cotton Mather. Yeah, that Cotton Mather. (These days, given the raimant of the televangelists, he’d be Polyester Mather, or something.)


Multiversal Trading

We then get to a price list. I won’t be scanning it or going on in great detail, but there’s a few cool things to note.

  • This includes price ranges, not fixed prices. A nice touch.
  • There are ‘poison’ and ‘venom’ antidotes, by level. I have to assume that the simple ‘save or die’ poison rules that were part of D&D until 3.0 were widely replaced by others, because there’s a lot of more complex/less insta-kill poison rules out there.
  • Adamantine grappling hook? 200 gp.
  • Bronze crowbars break 30% of the time; Mithril, 5%.
  • A “dhowrigged galisse” costs 40,000 to 75,000 GP.
  • Doctor John’s Salve, which “heals heavy wounds”, costs 1,000 GP.



Now, in two pages of teeny-tiny type, we have “Magic In Arduin” and “Even More Magic In Arduin”. Seriously, that’s how the text is broken up — not “Basic Rules” and “Advanced Rules”, or “Standard” and “Optional”. But, hey, it works!

It begins: “In fantasy wargaming there has been continual argument about magic and how it is supposed to work.” (Cross out ‘magic’ and write in ‘everything’ and you’ll be just as correct.) It then notes that the rules presented here are “a based(sic) from which to work”, and that magic is “limited only by the reader’s imagination” (and how much Chinese food he bought the DM.)

It always takes an hour to memorize all the spells of a given level, so if you can memorize 6 spells of that level, you spend 10 minutes per spell. This also means that if you know a lot of spell levels… and in Arduin, they go up to 11… actually, up to 30(!), you could easily spend most of the day memorizing.

Scrolls can only be used every other turn, due to the time needed to take them out, read them, etc. It ought to be noted here that while standard D&D rounds at the time were a minute long(!), Arduin used the six second round, which became standard with D&D 3.0. once more, well ahead of their time.

Also, if the mage is disturbed, his concentration will be broken, which could cause a backfire. There’s a lot of underlines in this text.



The exact “heavy percentages of chance”, of course, are left up to the DM to decide. I begin with 100%, -10% for each potsticker or egg roll tossed my way.

Then there’s this. I’m too lazy to type it in, so, here you go.

Underlined Words Are IMPORTANT!

Underlined Words Are IMPORTANT!

It might seem, to a modern reader, that keeping track of which spells a magic-user cast on which orc over the span of many games would be tedious. Let me assure you, however, that no orc ever survived a single encounter, so there was no need to worry that you might run into that same orc again. Within the bounds of one combat, however, the “save always/fail always” rule offers some interesting possibilities, forcing a magic user to not simply spam the same spell over and over — or perhaps encouraging this, if the target failed. It adds an interesting tactical touch… and, for the umpteenth time, I note this mechanic appears, in a modified form, in many spells and special abilities in modern D&D, esp. fear effects, where, once you make your save, you can’t be affected again by the same effect for a 24 hour period. It’s not a universal rule, but it’s a common modifier. Hargrave’s design instincts were very solid, even if the execution evinced an excess of enthusiasm over editing. (And my check from the American Alliteration Association is on its way! Ka-ching!)

The same rule applies to detecting magic — if you fail, you can’t try again for another level. (And in the modern age, Knowledge checks likewise need a level to try again… ).

Wands, amulets, rings, etc., require conscious and conspicuous action to activate. Rings, in particular, must be turned — pity if the fighter is wearing his ring of flight under his armored gauntlet, the text notes with the sinister and sadistic glee only someone who has endured too much behind the screen can muster. This activity will be noticed and enemies will take appropriate action.

You have to have your magical goodies where your hot little hands can get them at an instant’s notice.” And if you don’t? Well, that’s where the “PHUMBLE PHACTOR” (sic) kicks in! The “P&P” (no, I don’t know what the “&” is for, maybe to avoid the childish giggles that would invariably emerge if the DM said “Roll your PP!”) is a chance — 50%, -2% per level, +/-5% for each point of Dex over 12 or less than 9, of grabbing the wrong end of your wand (that’s not a euphemism), selecting the wrong scroll, etc. (Me, I’d mandate this roll only if the caster was in a particularly stressful situation, or was partially blind, or otherwise not operating at presumably normal efficiency. Other DMs might be much less forgiving, usually with good reason.)

Next up, we have yet another piece of “design prescience” — the invention of, in effect, Touch AC!

“Another area that is seldom explored in fantasy gaming is what constitutes a “hit” when the weapon you’ve lobbed only has to touch it to work?”

For example, if you’re using a stasis compacted green slime grenade… yes, I said “stasis compacted green slime grenade”, it’s right there in the example… yeah, that is totally awesome, isn’t it?… you get a +4 bonus to attack, while, if using a cattle prod (yes, cattle prod), you only get a +2, since you must still close and attack. Makes sense to me!

Throwing things, like a shrinking potion, you add +6, but you then roll to see what percentage of it hit your target… and what percentage hit your friends. Oops.

Finally… at the very end of the magic rules… we get to the “manna” rules, around which, it is noted, “some controversy has… revolved”. You multiply intelligence by level, then divide by 4 if Int is 8 or less, by 3 if it Int is 9-12, and by two if it’s 13 or greater. This is generated per 12 hours of rest, and it’s noted that if you run out of manna before you run out of spells memorized, those memorized spells are “just empty words”. You can also choose to underpower spells — spending 2.5 points to cast a 5 point spells casts at ‘half power’, which seems like a great opportunity for cunning players to find spells that don’t lend themselves to being ‘halved’… and cunning DMs to find a way to make the bastards pay for thinking they can outsmart him. (“Well, I only need to be invisible for a few rounds, I’ll just cast it at one-third power so it only lasts as long as I need.” “OK, you turn one-third invisible. Your torso is missing, but the rest of you can be plainly seen.”)

Dave ends the section with:

“There are many more subjects I could cover, but this supplement is meant to get all you gamers to see that the sky is the limit and that no single person, publisher, or organization can have all the answers.”

Damn straight!

1)“One who cannot sleep at night for fear someone, somewhere, is enjoying themselves.”


Arduin Grimoire, Part VII

Arduin Grimoire, Part VI

Classes, Part II

Am I Sufficiently Out Of Ideas It’s Time For A “You Got No Class” Joke?

Aw, Hell No. I Have Two Volumes Still Ahead Of Me, Better Save The Good Stuff For When I Really Need It

Yeah, That’s What  I Consider The Good Stuff. Still Interested In Reading This?

Now You Know Why My Site’s Unofficial Motto Is “Free, And Worth It!”

Rune Weavers

We’re getting into some of the more outre, which is French for “awesomely rad, dude” (or possibly “we surrender”, I kind of flunked High School French because I spent too much time playing D&D. Seriously.) classes, like Rune Weavers and Technos. Traders and Barbarians? Obvious extensions to the Dungeons & Dragons milieu. (Thank you, EGG, for introducing that word, and many others, such as ‘phylactery’, ‘antipathy’, and ‘antithesis of weal’ to my vocabulary.) Psychics? Less obvious, but given the publication of Eldritch Wizardry and the popularity of Darkover, et al, at the time, clearly part of the zeitgeist. (German for “Toss this word into conversations if you want to sound intellectual and/or see who has the cojones to challenge you on your misuse of it instead of just nodding politely.”)

But Rune Weavers? What’s a Rune Weaver?

“Rune weavers were the original human magik users, learning their craft from the reptilian races of eld.”


I mean, seriously dude. Whoa.


This is why I love Arduin so much.


Because there’s pretty much nothing else adding more to that statement. Because Dave Hargrave tosses that out like Dream tossing bread crumbs to the pigeons, and then moves on. Because instead of giving us a locked-down, rigorously built, second-by-second timeline of the universe, he gives us a vague, off-hand reference to “the reptilian races of eld” who apparently taught humans magic.. er… magick… er.. magik… and that’s it. We are left inspired, not instructed. We (and by ‘we’, I mean, ‘me’) are free to take this and build on it (or ignore it), to add “reptilian races of eld” to our fantasy worlds, or not. (I usually do; most of my D&D-ish worlds have an era when dragons and their kin ruled the land, as part of my general tendency to have at least three or four long-dead globe-spanning empires as part of the backdrop; it’s the boilerplate code of my worldbuilding.) We are given a tantalizing glimpse of a mystery, not the solution; the shadow of the monster, not the anatomically-detailed action-figure. To understand why this is awesome, consider what you imagined the Clone Wars might have been when Obi-Wan first mentioned them in “Star Wars” (Not “A New Hope”. STAR FRIGGIN’ WARS), vs. actually learning all about them in excruciating detail. (Of course, I’m also the guy who wrote the sourcebook that provided detailed backgrounds for every planet mentioned in Babylon 5 that wasn’t already detailed.)

But we’re supposed to be discussing Rune Weavers here, right?

The use of underlines in various places indicates the lack of boldface in pre-DTP days.

The use of underlines in various places indicates the lack of boldface in pre-DTP days.

  • The “Do not divide as for other mages” is explained around page 30. As is typical of the era, mechanics are discussed well before they’re introduced, without a hint of where they might be found… and sometimes, they never are. Sometimes, mechanics are scattered in a dozen places, making it easy to miss a key bit and get everything wrong.
  • One melee round per spell level, plus a one turn delay? Combined with the concentration rules (which we’ll get to, at the rate I’m doing this, sometime in 2018), this could be really nasty.
  • “Overcasting”, or being able to cast higher-level spells at a risk/cost, is a mechanic many editions of D&D and D&D-ish games flirted with, but never really got past second base. It’s generally hard to balance because if you make it too risky, no one uses it, and if you make it reasonably reliable, it lets players steamroll an encounter by gaining access to out-of-band abilities like flight. It’s not certain from the text above if the failure when trying higher-level spells just means “You wasted your manna” or if it invokes some sort of backlash rule.
  • It’s obvious that Rune Weavers would make, in modern terms, the perfect “Batman Wizard”: Not necessarily useful in combat compared to the “mobile artillery” mage (which is how wizards basically evolved out of the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement), but capable of casting lots of utility spells, including higher-level ones. “Scry, buff, teleport”, 23 years early!
  • I am seriously wondering how you figure out what knowing, say, 15% about a magical trap or magic fountain actually means. 
  • A Rune Weaver needs less XP to reach 105th level than a Thief does. Just thought you’d like to know that.

Techno’s (sic)

Blending technology with fantasy was commonplace early on in D&D, with Dave Arneson’s proto-D&D world of Blackmoor being steeped in it (later introduced officially in D&D proper via the Temple of the Frog in the Blackmoor supplement). Thus, it’s hardly surprising there’s a Techno class in Arduin, though the actual mechanics are… vague. I remember revising them to be, in essence, magic users, but each ‘spell’ was actually a device of some sort that needed to be carefully re-tuned after each use. That this mechanic integrated very poorly with the list of actual abilities granted to the class didn’t bother me at all.

By 15th level, I can make a flintlock. Meanwhile, the magic-user is casting Meteor Swarm.

By 15th level, I can make a flintlock. Meanwhile, the magic-user is casting Meteor Swarm.

  • So, you’ll notice there’s nothing here about hit die size, weapon proficiency (I guess they’re proficient in all “technological” weapons), etc.
  • He doesn’t write “Rune Weaver’s”, “Witch Hunter’s”, or “Psychic’s”, so why “Techno’s”? The world may never know.
  • It’s hard to see how, played as written, any would survive… they don’t offer much to the party compared to a thief of the same level. Does being able to “figure out” mechanical traps let you disarm them?
  • The ability to detect electronic emanations and radioactivity is pretty much only useful if a)The DM decides to include such things just for the Techno to find, and b)They’re set up so that if you don’t find them, the party is doomed. Otherwise…

Techno: “Wait, let me try to detect electronic emanations!”
Other players: “What, again?”
DM: “There aren’t any… moving on…”
Techno: “You didn’t even roll! I’ve got a 40% chance!”
DM: “Look, there’s no electronics in the Domain Of The Dread Lich Of Dire Doom. You don’t need to check in every damn room!”
Techno (smugly): “Oh, yeah, he’s covering it up. He doesn’t want us finding the secret radio transmitter!”
DM: “Oh for…” (Rolls dice). “There. I rolled. You still didn’t find anything. Happy?”
Techno (suspiciously): “Yeah, OK. I guess.”
Other players: “Finally! OK, we take the door to the north.”
DM: “You all die from radiation sickness as you open the lead door to the reactor core!”
Techno: “Damn it, if only I had been 10th level!”

(Pedants might point out that a reactor core must be controlled by something that would produce electronic emanations. Thank you, pedants. You killed the joke. It’s dead. Look at its corpse, so sad and pathetic. Are you happy now, joke killer? Are you proud of what you’ve done?

No, you don’t get XP for it.)

Medicine Man

Clearly, politically incorrect in this day and age. It should be Medicine Person.

Neil Peart is clearly 50th level.

Neil Peart is clearly 50th level.

  • So, at fifth level, you can cast Cure Light Wounds on “all” five times a day. That’s actually a very impressive ability. Assume a typical adventuring party of 4-6, and, at the time, assume an equal number of henchpersons. While it’s not explicit, I’d assume “all” means “your party and hangers-on”, or at the very least “all the PCs”. So that’s equal to 5-10 castings of a first level spell, five times a day. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and if it was, you could cast cure disease (if you were over 10th level). People used to curesticks and the like don’t understand how rare healing was pre-3.0. It could take three or four days for the Cleric to heal everyone at low levels.
  • The arguments over whether or not a spell was “true” offensive, or natural, or defensive, must have been Epic. Hell, Mythic!
  • The “drum magic” that costs only 20% manna makes these folks also great “utility” mages… and clerics… and druids. Seriously, access to all three spell lists, even if you have to split your manna? That’s amazingly flexible.
  • I have no idea what “detect hidden injury” is supposed to do. I’ve never encountered any mechanic in D&D for “internal bleeding” or any other form of “You’re taking damage, but you don’t know from what, or why.” Somehow, though, it was common enough in Hargrave’s games that he thought it was worth adding in the ability to detect it. Go figure.
  • Lastly, while most of the other classes go up to 100th level or more, Medicine Persons only go to 50th level. I blame White Privilege.

Next time: The Witch Hunter class, and Magic In Arduin.

Arduin Grimoire, Part VI

Arduin Grimoire, Part VI


Like Magic Items And Monsters, You Can Never Have Too Many, Right?

(Note That I Didn’t Make Some Kind Of ‘You Got No Class’ Joke. Clearly, I’m Aiming Higher Now.)

OK! After an excessive series of digressions to Princeton, we return to another land of strange and terrible monstrosities, Arduin. The full series of these articles, for those who care (and why would you?) are on this convenient page. Today, we are (finally!) going to take a look at classes in Arduin.

In the early days of D&D, classes were pretty much the only delivery mechanism for character mechanics, and there were few, if any, concepts of ‘swapping out’ one ability for another within the same class. Thus, if you wanted a character to have some power, ability, gift , etc., the primary way to do it was with a new class… and, damn, there was an explosion of them at the time, esp. after the original Greyhawk supplement provided an example of how the system could be expanded. The pushback that “not everyone has a class” was to come later, and was never fully successful: D&D has always appealed to people, like me, who think the universe would be a much better place if everything could be categorized, numbered, measured, and labeled. It’s not enough to know that Fred is a candlemaker; we must know he is a 3rd level candlemaker with the ‘Wax Miser’ feat and a +2 competence bonus to wick cutting.

And, speaking of merchants…

Hargrave’s Trader (Merchant) Class

As I noted in my PrinceCon III digressions, one of the hallmarks of this early era was a high level of personalness (a perfectly cromulent word, whatever my spell checker thinks). So it’s not just a “Trader”, but “Hargrave’s Trader”. I suspect, at the time, that there were a lot of people creating merchant-type classes, because the following occurred very, very, often:

DM: OK, the merchant says, “That’ll be three copper pieces.” He holds out his hand.

Player: I stab him!

DM: Why? You’ve got like a zillion GP in your Bag Of Infinite Space! I can’t believe I let you get that, by the way…

Player: Hey, I worked hard for that bag! Two orders of General Tso’s chicken! Anyway, I’m stabbing him ’cause he’s there. 1Do I kill him?

DM: (Flipping through the tiny thin pamphlets that were all we had, back in the day, and we walked 20 miles to the game store to buy polyhedrons carved from stale cheddar, and we liked it!): Uh… I dunno… it doesn’t really say how many hit points a merchant has or what their AC is… and this guy is like a guildmaster blacksmith, he ought to be tougher than an apprentice baker… it doesn’t make sense they’d be the same… hang on, I’ve got a three ring binder and I’m not afraid to use it! (Emerges three weeks later, bleary-eyed, with two hundred pages of rules for merchants, including a set of economic simulation tables so complex, he started to write programs on his college’s VAX to automate them, and, eventually, turned them into EVE Online. But I digress.)

(And for anyone who wants to claim this isn’t how it was (despite not actually being born at the time… you know who you are) let me say, under oath, that a)I was that player, and b)I was… still am… that DM. Not at the same time, of course. To play D&D, you needed other people, the first time in my life up to that point I actually needed other people to do something I enjoyed. (I hadn’t yet discovered sex… though, counter to myth, it was D&D that led me to that, too.) Without D&D, I would never have felt a need to develop what social skills I have, and if you think I’m utterly lacking in social graces now, imagine me without 35 years of practice blending in with humans.)

Anyway… the class.

Ooohhh, I can't wait to get my first level illusionist powers!

Ooohhh, I can’t wait to get my first level illusionist powers!

Let’s look at some highlights:

  • Rather logically, despite having rebuffed the “gold for XP” standard early on, Hargrave revives it here, for this specific class. Exception Based Design!
  • There’s not a lot of introduction or formality. Just a title saying “Here’s a class”, with the assumption you’ll know what to do with it. Anything not explicitly stated is assumed to default to.. erm… some default, which you ought to know.
  • The “graduated increase” design pattern (+5% for the first 6 levels, than +3% for odd-numbered levels and +4.1% for even numbered except for 14, than +1% for the next 10 levels except for those which are prime numbers…) was a common one back then, intended to provide a sense of progress while not ramping up to guaranteed success. This was generally dropped in favor of linearity, in the name of “simplicity”, but I dunno. Linear increase mechanics have proven to be problematic in level-based games. Perhaps it’s time to bring back the gradual slowdown of gains, while not removing them altogether.
  • I assume “read, but not use” scrolls meant the merchant could identify them, but not cast the spells on them.
  • “2nd mate seafarer ability”. Well, that’s useful, I guess the seafarer class is on the next page… erm… maybe the one after that… no… maybe it’s in another book? No… I’m 99% sure there was a “Seafarer” class in Hargrave’s notes… it just never made it to print.
  • The column with the numbers is “Fighting Ability”, so a 20th level Merchant fights like a 9th level fighter.
  • At 50th(!) level, you can cast spells as a first level illusionist. Seems to me that as a 50th level Merchant, I could just hire me a dozen damn illusionists to follow me everywhere!
  • I’m not sure what ‘double thief/illusionist abilities’ means. Second level illusionist? OK, but if you act as a thief 1/3rd your level, does that mean you take those values and double them, or double the effective level of thief? (So, if you’re 100th level, you act as a 33rd level thief, so a 66th level thief? I’m guessing no one actually made it to 100th level and asked…)
  • The presence of such abilities as “Bargain” and “Equivocate” raise questions about other characters’ actions… can a non-merchant bargain? Well, it seems they ought to be able to try, but, what do you use to estimate their chances w/out undermining the poor merchant? This was then, and still is now, an ongoing issue in game design, class balance, and player freedom. It’s a reason I favor “universal resolution mechanics+specific bonuses”, or “rules, not rulings”. A universal “haggling” mechanism, with merchants gaining some modifiers or unique features, tends to work better than dozens of “micromechanics” that don’t interact well with the basic rules or with each other. To be clear, I’m not claiming Hargrave, or any designer of the era, should have understood this, any more than I think Jacquard should have included tail call recursion. (Whatever that is, I’ve been coding only two years less than I’ve been playing D&D, and it’s never come up in actual work.) This was an era of brilliant innovation and just throwing everything out there to see what stuck, and there were a lot of implicit social contracts that kept people from spotting problems in rules structures … a lot like never discovering a bug that happens if you type the wrong value in a field, because everyone testing typed the right value.


Eldritch Wizardry came out in 1976, and its parents were perfectly fine with that. The edition of the Arduin Grimoire I have is dated 1977, but refers to an earlier printing “about a year ago”.. I have never seen that one. So it’s hard to say if the Psychic class predates the psionic rules introduced in EW. It’s certainly a different spin on them, that’s for sure… hell, it’s a class, not a “roll at character creation to see if you’re a campaign-destroying demigod or not”.


At 25th level, you become smarter than the average bear.

  • Psychics are physically weak, disconnected, uncharismatic, and super smart. Hm. Hmmmmmm.
  • The lack of a period after “Hit dice are always six sided” can be confusing. The rest of it refers to the practice of “level names”, where a 4th level Cleric was a “Vicar” and a 7th level cleric was a “Lama” and a 14th level Evil High Priest was a “Televangelist”. Early D&D supplements would say something like “Encounter: 4 Footpads and a Swashbuckler”, leaving the poor DM to flip through books until he figured out that meant “4 second level thieves and a 5th level fighter”.
  • Observant people might notice that despite the class description saying that only Men, Hobbits, Amazons, and 1/2 elves can be psychics, the “Character Limitation” tables list many more races as possibilities. Which wins? Whichever the DM wants to win, as modified by Chinese food. (Me, I’m all about variety, so let a thousand psychics bloom, a thousand different classes contend!)
  • Note the layout and structure of the “Psychic” class is different from the “Merchant” class. They just typed up whatever they felt like back then. I suspect that many of the pages in the AG were written independently, then gathered together in a single tome, much like the Bible, but with less sex and violence.
  • I have absolutely no idea how to interpret “use manna points, but use wisdom-intelligence-constitution also”. I suspect the latter is a reference to some set of house rules widely distributed in the local gaming community.
  • Note also the pretty much total lack of mechanics for the specific powers. Trust me, none of this is explained elsewhere. “Clairvoyance, unlock chests, etc.” OK, cool. So.. uhm… what? What’s the range on clairvoyance? What are the odds of unlocking the chest? These things tended to play out in one of the following ways:
    • The DM, viewing this (rightfully so!) as sort of an inspirational skeleton to build on, worked out all this stuff in advance, got obsessed with adding more and more to his creation, then ended up publishing his own game. It’s the circle of liiiiiffe…
    • You default up the chain of inheritance… or, in other words, treated it as the nearest equivalent spell. So the psychic would use the mechanics (and ‘manna’ cost) of a Knock spell.
    • A lot of anger, bargaining, denial, and acceptance. Accompanied by Chinese food.
  • With the lack of armor and a d6 for hit points, I doubt many survived to where they could get the combat powers. (I realize it doesn’t say what combat tables they use… it’s sorta-kinda implied later on, in the combat rules which, upon rereading them just now, were weirdly prescient. Six second melee rounds? D&D didn’t get them until 2000! Arduin had ‘em in 1977!)
  • “Intuit” means “Sense” or “Detect”, I guess.


The creation of a Barbarian class was as inevitable as the creation of a Merchant class. It’s “Conan the Barbarian” after all, not “Conan The Fighting-Man Who Acts Really Grumpy”. (Although, barbarian-wise, Arduin is a lot closer to Thundarr than Conan, albeit many years early. And lest anyone be confused, “More Thundarr than Conan” is totally awesome and ought to be emulated and admired, now and for all time! Just so we’re clear where I stand on this.)

Half orc

That’s a half-orc? Sorry, I’ll take Therkla any day.

  •  Note the different format from either of the first two classes. I think “Barbarians” were supposed to be played as a sub-class or variant of fighters, putting the lie to my earlier comment about how no one thought of this back then. Dave Hargrave was ahead of his time in a lot of ways.
  • I have no idea what “35% more silently” means. There were a number of conflicting mechanics for hearing and sneaking back then, such as “Can be detected only a 1-2 on a D8, or a 45% chance of being heard, or can be heard on a 1-4 by Elves and Gnomes, or a 1-2 by humans, or 17% by dwarves”, and so on.
  • Climb 40% better? Well, OK, except only thieves had climbing skills then… and non-thieves were basically at the mercy of the DM, a creature legendarily without mercy. (And with good reason, you give your players an inch, and they crawl right over you.)
  • And what the hell is that half-orc thing? What’s with the mutant from “This Island Earth” look? Sorry, Erol… this one, you kinda mucked up on. You made up for it a thousand times over, though.

Next time: Rune Weavers, Medicine Men, maybe Technos.. er… “Techno’s” and Witch Hunters!

1: Thus was Grand Theft Auto born.

A Not-So-Brief Digression: PrinceCon 3, Part IV

PrinceCon III Handbook, Part IV

Magic Items II: Magic Harder

Being The Hopefully Final Part Of This Digression

At long last, we come to what is (probably) the end of the line for this, and then, back to Arduin. We continue with the magic items. For those who somehow wandered here because of a terrible Google accident, here’s a link to all the related articles.

Books And Decks

Back in the day, raising attributes was nearly impossible, and if you were playing straight-up 3d6 in order, odds were, you had pretty crappy scores. So the various tomes and librams that gave you a +1 to a given attribute were among the most sought-after treasures, especially as the game evolved to give attribute scores progressively more formal influence on various aspects of play. It is worth noting that, per AD&D, a wish could only raise an ability score one point at a time, and then only to 16; to raise it beyond 16, ten wishes were needed! It is probable, looking back with the perspective of age, that EGG intended that “rule” to be a “subtle” hint that it was impossible to raise a score over 16, but at the time, we took it as a subtle hint that having 10 wishes to use was not an unreasonable thing… look, there’s a rule for it!

Anyway, this section of the PrinceCon III handbook covers books and decks… and I don’t mean “+3 Redwood Stained Planks Of Suntanning”, because what gamer worthy of the name would ever wish to expose themselves, even in their imagination, to the hateful light of the accursed daystar? It’s called Dungeons & Dragons, not Sunny Open Spaces & Dragons! No, I mean decks of magical cards, and not the kind where you tap two swamps to scare a wall to death.

  • Manual of Recognizing Opportunities: Adds 1 point to Luck. The fact there is no “Luck” attribute should be considered a trivial inconvenience. Ada Lovelace wrote computer code without a computer, after all! (It notes that, as with all books, it only works for the first person who reads it. We always interpreted that rule to mean “first one in the party”, but, taken literally, it would mean every such book was either somehow abandoned unread, or was useless to the finder. I think later editions had the books vanish after reading, to re-appear somewhere else “refreshed”. Sounds like buggy DRM to me.)
  • Manual of Golems: “as per Greyhawk”, but includes a notation that the various types of books cannot be told from one another without using two full wishes! Remember what I said about how rapidly the “wish” became a sort of unit of power? “This is a three-wish job!” “We’ll need two full and one limited wish for this!” Yeah, it’s time for me to beat my favorite dead horse once more, and point out that the idea that old-school gaming was all “kobolds&copper pieces” is utter and complete bullshit. The phrase “Monty Haul Campaign” did not originate with 3e or Pathfinder or 4e. It was part of the lexicon within a year or two of D&D first appearing. And if you’ve never heard the term “Monty Haul” (not “Hall”), get off my lawn, you damn punk kid.
  • Book of Purile Nonsense: Clearly, a copy of Twilight. Nah. Magic-users and clerics who read it lose a point of Int and Wis respectively, but fighters and thieves find it “rather entertaining”. (Oooo, a “dumb jock” joke from the gamers! Who would have imagined it? Not the dumb jocks, they have no imagination, amirite?)
  • Deck of a Few Things: Like a Deck of Many Things, but only 8 cards. Ditto the Deck of Several Things, with 14 cards.


Oddly, most of the other platonic solids are not represented.

  • Wondrous Enhancer of Jewels: Multiplies jewels’ value by 10. Does not say it can’t be used twice on the same jewels. And trust me, if I thought of it now, some player tried it then. Not to be confused with the Wondrous Pulverizer of Jewels (yes, really) which multiplies jewels’ value by zero.
  • cube of control

’nuff said. Kind of speaks for itself.


  • Horseshoes of Polymorphism: Appears to be some other type of magical horseshoes, but there’s a 40% chance the horse will transform into a random monster and attempt to kill its rider. And people wonder why old-school gamers are so paranoid. Just about every good thing had its goatee-wearing evil twin lurking somewhere.

Flail/Morning Star/Maces

  • Level Blasting: When wielded by a demonic being, drains “one, two, or three levels, appropriately”. Level draining at the time was very, very, bad, because short of those wishes I mention, it was damn hard to get a level back, except the old-fashioned way: Pouring boiling water on an anthill.
  • Mace Of Return: Also known as “Casey’s Bet” (seriously, it says that), this allows you to bat a fireball or iceball back toward the thrower. Very nasty. I love it.


  • Warhammer Of Wealth Reduction: This warhammer compels you to spend money on… waIt, I did that bit already. Never mind.
  • Can never be released?

    Can never be released?

    So, this “can not be released”. That could be difficult… you’d have trouble getting armor off, for one thing. Or doing a whole bunch of stuff, for that matter. Generally, cursed weapons couldn’t be “left behind”… if you tried, they’d come back, teleporting themselves into your hand or something. This implies that it basically fuses itself to your flesh.


  • De-were spear: A triumph of ‘cool idea, dumb name’, this spear transforms shapeshifters into their original form for 10 rounds. Instantly, I realized its main use is not fighting werewolves, but ferreting out shape-shifting spies, such as were-ferrets. You know who they are because the conversation always goes like this:

“So, my loyal Grand Vizier, we have tested all of the palace staff, but none are the shape-shifting spy.”

“Indeed, my lord. We must have been mistaken.”

“Except… you were not tested, were you?”

“Muh… me, my lord? I think I ought to be above suspicion!”

“Hmm. Did you not always advise me to trust no one?”

“Erm, yes, but surely you don’t…”

“Come here and let me stick you with my spear, loyal vizier.”

(At this point, a certain subset of the readers go ‘squee’ and start writing fanfic/posting gifs to Tumblr)

(Also, vizier turns into were-ferret, leaps, and is impaled on his master’s spear. NTTAWWT.)


  • Arrow/Quarrel Of Many Shots: This splits into multiple pieces, each piece attacking independently, then you put the pieces together again and repeat. Very nice item, and I’m a little surprised it’s not a common trope now… maybe the plethora of feats and class powers that let you fire multiple arrows made it redundant.
  • Arrow/Quarrel of Doom: When hit, you roll up a random curse, using the West curse system. (See earlier installment.) Again, I love the personalness of this. The West Curse System. The Mahler poisons. The Howard wound system, not that we care what Howard says.
  • Arrow/Quarrel of the Forest: Flies around trees, ala that bit in “The Gamers”.


"We here care not for the rites of k'hopee!'

“We here care not for the rites of k’hopee!’

I’m surprised it isn’t +4 vs. Hobbits, or something.


  • Crossbow of the Fifth Dimension: Wielded during the R&B wars of the late 60s, this fearsome weapon… wait, wrong one. This one just shoots phase spiders and other ethereal/astral things. Pretty cool, actually.
  • Crossbow of Many Shots: Fires three bolts at once. Load it up with an Arrow of Many Shots and you’ve invented the “Fully Automatic Rifle Of Hosedown”.


OK, this is a mostly-new category. While there were various jewels around before, the Princecon III handbook takes them to a new level. The actual booklet breaks them down by type, but I’ll just include them in one section.

  • Diamond of Egotism: Causes the wielder to begin every sentence with “I’m gonna let you finish, but…” Also gives him a +6 to Ego… actually, it says, “increases the ego of bear by +6″, which means, the best character on Person of Interest will “go Hollywood” and become… erm… unbearable. Yeah. Well, if the ego goes over 15, the character will be contemptuous of all foes and will attack directly, using normal weapons in preference to any special abilities. If you’re going to ask when the “Ego” stat was added to the game, don’t. Just… don’t.
  • Explosion
  • Another entry in the “What does it mean?” category. It explodes “with the force of its hit points”? It does that much damage to creatures nearby? What? What’s a “relatively small or light” object? And a 1-in-6 chance of going “kaboom” yourself? No, thanks.
  • Ruby Of Fireballs: Lets an M-U cast fireball if they can’t, or do double damage (!) if they can. Not sure how often it works.
  • Ruby Of Cooking Fire: Lets a Fighter or Cleric start a normal fire on a bundle of twigs in 5 melee rounds. Erm, wouldn’t it be assumed most people who chose “going into dank caves to commit robbery and murder” as a career would be able to do this? It’s hard to conceive of a situation where a PC might have been stripped of their flint and tinder, but not their ruby. Well, maybe it lets you start a fire on wet logs, or something.
  • Ruby Of Infravision: Once a day (whee!) allows a fighter, cleric, or thief to have infravision as per the spell. Yippee.
  • Ruby of Fiery Death: Does character level+3 dice of damage to the character holding it — presumably, immediately upon picking it up. Which means, the pile of ash and charred bone surrounding the ruby ought to be a clue to the adventurers… but it never is. Trust me.
  • Naturally, Any Random Gem Can Put You In A Divine Arena. Why Not?

    Naturally, Any Random Gem Can Put You In A Divine Arena. Why Not?

    Yeah, another item (or group of items) that sort of speak for themselves. This is the heart of real old school gaming right here, folks. First, a fairly cool item that comes with a bundle of micro-mechanics attached, then, a cursed item that looks just like the cool item, then, a totally whackdoodle and yet utterly brilliant idea — cramming, it seems, a dueling arena into some sort of extradimensional bubble created by the gem. Wow. I mean, why the hell not?

  • Emerald Of Commanding Lawful Demons: It’s hard to tell, given the timeframe, if this means “Devils”, i.e., lawful evil, or if this was a throwback to earlier issues of if “lawful” always meant “good” and “chaotic” meant “evil”. While the five-point alignment system was published in The Dragon by 1977, the rate of adoption of such rules was variable, and other elements of the PrinceCon book hearken strongly back to the LBBs and don’t seem influenced by the proto-steps towards AD&D which were coming out at the time.
  • His Wife Makes Good Salad Dressing

    His Wife Makes Good Salad Dressing

    Yeah, I have a lot of these “I’m just posting it, I don’t understand” items in this section. As I noted earlier, these item types are mostly original to the PrinceCon crowd… which means they have many idiosyncratic touches based on their local games. And, please remember, other than a brief skim-through, I am writing these articles as I am reading the book, jotting down my thoughts as they come. A proper reviewer would read it several times, maybe track down some original sources, ask some questions, and otherwise do more than just babble endlessly, spewing out whatever thoughts enter his mind as they come to him. But a proper reviewer gets paid, too. (Paypal: lizard@mrlizard.com)

  • Sapphire Of Commanding Neutral Demons: Well, that just makes the whole demonic alignment issue more confusing. Moving on.
  • Sapphire (Not ruby? Why?) Of Flaming Weapons: Allows the user to flame any weapon he holds for one half day (72 rounds) per level of user. Erm… that’s probably long enough for most fights. Unless that’s a fixed number, total, for the lifetime of the character, and even so… a mid level user will get hundreds of rounds of use out of this. Seems like a pretty odd limitation to me.
  • Sapphire Of Seeming Innocence: Allows a thief to convince the party he is not guilty as if he had a Charisma of 19. Note: The party. This tells you a lot about how thieves were generally run at Princeton, doesn’t it?
  • Sapphire Of Obvious Guilt: Just the opposite, causes the wielder to seem guilty of “whatever seems most relevant at the time”. I see a lot of fun happening with this one.
  • Sapphire Of Electrocution: Like the Ruby Of Fiery Death, but with lightning.
  • Note What? Damn it!

    Note What? Damn it!

    This is where the book ends… with a “Note also that” that never completes, and an out-of-sequence item that belongs a few pages back. There’s something profoundly right about ending here. Missing and broken rules, combined with ideas so prolific they overflow their assigned spot and end up randomly scattered about. Old School like a boss.

I hope the imaginary people reading this enjoyed it. Next time, back to Arduin.

A Brief Digression: PrinceCon 3, Part II

PrinceCon 3 Handbook, Part II

We Probably Still Don’t Care What Howard Says

No, I Have No Idea Why That Struck Me As So Funny. It Just Did, OK?

Sheesh, The Way You People In My Imagination Whine About These Things, You’d Think You Were Paying For Them, Or Something

Alright. Part I of this digression (y’know, I really hated Tristam Shandy in college, but evidently it had an influence on me), discussed the variant rules to be used at the PrinceCon 3 gaming convention in Princeton. Since most of the jokes in this one probably are going to be lame attempts at recurring humor, you’d probably better read that one first.

You’re done? And you came back? Wow, you must run up quite a tab at Madame Wu’s House Of Pain. Anyway, today, we’re discussing magic items, a rather long list of them, in fact… mostly based on the OD&D+Greyhawk lists, but with original concepts and variants mixed in.

We start, as always, with a random table. Most of the stuff on the table is what you’d expect, but there’s a few new things; Magical gems, “medallions” (I assume this means “amulets”) and “crosses”, with quotes in the original — basically, clerical items.

The “Swords” table is pretty standard… the usual mix of “+1, +3 vs left-handed lizard-men with leprosy” sort of thing. A few items stand out… a “Matrix/Mage” sword, for instance, and “Holy/Sacred” swords get their own subtable on the next base, to allow for a wide variety of them. Actually, it looks like “holy” and “sacred” are different types, each going from +2 to +5. At this point, not sure what the difference is.

There’s also a nice long table of “sword abilities”, followed by “extraordinary abilities”, but damned if I can figure out how to determine if a sword has such in the first place. It might be case of “Any place we don’t have a rule, use the D&D rule”, which makes sense under the circumstances. There’s a lot of “*” marks next to the entry, but you have to flip waaaaay ahead to find out what they mean… and they mean different things based on what kind of sword they’re next to.

The random tables go from 34 to 52, and the rest of the book is explaining them. It seems best to skip on to the explanation, as otherwise, this whole article will consist of alternating between “This looks pretty baseline” and “I have no idea what this means”.


Shouldn’t Gandalf be doing this?

Oh, and because this was in the days before it was easy to set text in columns, and because the charts were pretty narrow, most of the section consists of a series of tables on the left and art on the right. Like you’re seeing now, if this displays on your browser the way it looks in my text editor.

On my way to the description section, I did notice a few things on the charts… like “Military Pick +1, +3 vs. Giant Beetles”, which is the sort of thing that’s so specialized I feel there has to be a story behind it. Also, a category under miscellaneous magic called “Tie Clips and Spices”, two great tastes that go great together, I suppose. Also, “Balls of Bravery”, and both a “Reducing Girdle” and a “Girdle of Reduction”.

Something vaguely Ditko-esque about this one...

Something vaguely Ditko-esque about this one…

 Then, a few pages of gems, including “Fighter Gems”, and finally, the descriptions.

“Resistance” gives +10% on saving throws and -1 per die of damage to the appropriate type of attack, with all the usual suspects represented, along with demons and scrying. (You can tell the pre-AD&D fan stuff from the AD&D-era fan stuff by the fact it’s only “demons”, never “demons and devils”. (If it’s “baatezu” or whatever, I don’t wanna hear about it.)

 A “*” for most items means “Roll on the appropriate table”. I rather like that for swords of the type “+1, +3 vs. dragons*”, you roll on a random table to see what kind of dragon you get a bonus against… said table to be set up based on the relative population of different species of dragons in the region where the sword was forged, which is simultaneously perfectly logical — people living in the Dismal Dripping Mire Of Sodden Sogginess are unlikely to forge a Sword +1, +3 vs. blue dragons, and if you don’t know why, how the hell did you even find this page?– and perfectly ridiculous, because some DM rolling up a random treasure for a random encounter isn’t going to know or care where a magic sword was made. I think someone coined the phrase “Gygaxian naturalism” for this sort of thinking, and I like it.

BTW, they spell “wielder” as “weilder” everywhere. I’ve been less whiny about spelling errors in this one than I usually am, because it’s not even pretending to be a commercial product, and because, as I noted in Part I, I greatly suspect the authors weren’t English majors, but seriously, didn’t they know the “i before e except after c” song from the Peanuts movie? (Actually, I don’t even know if that movie was out when this was published, and I’m too damn lazy to go look it up on IMDB, which is a particularly special kind of lazy.)

Let’s look at some of the cooler swords:

  • +1, Equalizing: This sword negates White Male Privilege… well, actually, it just drains a level from whoever is higher level and gives it to whoever is lower level… regardless of who weilds… er… wields it. This is interesting, as it means if you’ve got this sword, you only want to attack people higher level than you, or you’ll end up creating super-kobold. (Google ‘pun-pun kobold’ sometime…)
  • +1, Metal-Cleaving: If the sword misses an attack, it has a chance to destroy the targets armor or weapon. Nice.
  • +1, +2 vs. Flyers, +3 vs. Ents: Someone clearly hated birds, and the trees they nested in. Or something.

OK, time to digress once more. As I noted in my Arduin articles, this kind of “+1 vs. Hamsters, -2 vs. Gerbils” mechanic was really, really, common back in Ye Olden Dayse, and I have no frakking idea why. This is, or was, my era. I was 14 when I started playing in 1978. I ought to know the culture well enough to understand it, but in this case, I am fertummelt. I didn’t question it at the time, because it was all new enough that I just took it all at face value. I didn’t even really think much about it until, well, now, writing these articles where I’m doing a careful, close, reading of the text, not so much for scholarly understanding but in the hopes of finding something I can hang a feeble attempt at humor on. At best, I can say it seems like the first pass at what eventually became “Of Slaying”, where a sword had a nice little bonus for general purposes and a larger bonus against a given enemy, but without the understanding of that rule, so it was perceived as a kind of arbitrary thing and simply imitated. (A lot of Burgess shale era stuff showed elements of what’s called cargo cult programming when you see it in code, and the parallels between RPG design and program design become ever more apparent the more of these things I write. In essence, people copied D&D without understanding the ‘why’.)

I could retrofit an explanation… fanwanking it… though. Clearly, magic is random and chaotic. The endless lists of “Hand-axe +2, +3 vs. Frost Giants and Phase Spiders” items are the result of magic being more art than science, that weaving the enchantments was often plagued by strange effects and unforeseen circumstances. Only when the item was complete could the smith be sure what he’d actually made.

Ah, we see the difference between ‘Holy’ and ‘Sacred’ swords: Holy swords give paladins an aura of protection against magic-user spells, while sacred swords give rangers an aura of protection against cleric spells. Uhm… wait, what? Was there some early printing of Lord Of The Rings were Aragorn killed Aslan, or something?

Still a lot of ground to cover, and not much time to cover it in. I don’t care what Howard says, 1300 or so words is a good length for an article. So, tune in next week (probably) for Part III of who knows how many, at this point.



A Brief Digression: PrinceCon 3

PrinceCon 3 Handbook, Or, I Don’t Care What Howard Says

In The Old Days, They Handed Out Entire Variant Rules Systems At Cons

How Cool Is That?

My Arduin articles are evidently quite popular, possibly drawing up to a half-dozen views a month… a sixfold increase over my usual rate! As a consequence, someone decided to link me to a scan of a handout from PrinceCon 3. I’d never heard of PrinceCon, or this handbook, before.

It is, basically, a collection of variant rules for D&D, with a ton of new material interwoven with stuff more-or-less copied wholesale, and this being 1977, that meant someone typed this all up by hand. I got a 96 page booklet of Burgess Shale era RPG material that I not only hadn’t seen before, but that I never even knew existed to be seen! That’s worth more than all my advertising revenue from this site so far. Literally, I think I’ve made 0.75 cents in the past eight or nine years. BTW, my Paypal address is lizard@mrlizard.com, BTW. Just wanted to put that out there.

Unlike the Arduin stuff, I don’t have any personal experience with this to draw on… but it’s from “my time”, the time I started gaming, and it reflects and embodies so much of the nascent culture of the era, good, bad, awesome, and not-so-awesome. Let’s explore it together, shall we?

(This is all coming from a PDF scan. If anyone happens to have access to scans of, or even dead tree copies of, the books from the first two PrinceCons, I’d love to see them.)

What’s All This, Then?

From what I can gather from reading the text, when you showed up at PrinceCon 3, you got this book, and a character to go with it, for use at the con. That is just plain awesome. All I ever get at GenCon is a bag of dubious advertising material and some coupons for every booth I don’t go to. Why don’t they do things like this anymore? Just because there’s about 56,000 people going to each GenCon? Why should that stop anyone?

People in the 1970s thought D&D was satanic. Whatever gave them that idea?

People in the 1970s thought D&D was satanic. Whatever gave them that idea?

I’ve flipped (metaphorically, it’s a PDF, after all) through the book a bit, and it falls into an interesting place in my ongoing critique of Old School Revisionism. On the one hand, it’s a lot less gonzo than Arduin or Booty And The Beasts — no centaur psychics with insomnia, no galactic dragons. OTOH, it is full of new and variant rules, offering complexity and depth to the original D&D’s fairly spartan systems, many of which directly reference “Men&Magic”, the first of the three LBBs, in the context of “What’s wrong with them and how we’re going to fix them”. I point this out because of the more pernicious myths of Old School Revisionism is that people worshiped simple, elegant, design, and didn’t clutter their games up with lots of “systems” and “rules”. Bull-frackin-shit. The first thing just about everyone did was notice that D&D was a world-changing concept shackled to some pretty dubious mechanics, and set about fixing them, and this little pamphlet of wonders is proof. Sure, a lot of the mechanics are incredibly baroque… I am guessing the authors were majoring in math or science, not Literary Criticism (and thus went on to have good jobs, which might be why I haven’t heard of any of them in the gaming field… that’s where losers with English degrees, like me, end up)… but they’re typical of the time. I call this the Burgess Shale era of gaming because it was a time of great experimentation, of adaptive radiation, of endless possibilities because no one knew what work and what wouldn’t and there was no body of history and precedent to draw on. Much like the first few years of the comic book industry, or the earliest pulp days of science fiction, the tropes had yet to be codified.

What these are to evolution, so early gaming materials are to modern RPGs.

So let’s explore! (PS: If you’re not familiar with the art of Roy Troll, why not? What’s wrong with you?)

Oh, here’s how it worked:How it worked

Got all that? Good. Shades of KODT, with their ‘registered GMs’ and paid character transfers!

Your character was rolled up on a PDP-11, using the Cribbs system, and…

PDP-11. It was a kind of computer.

No, it didn’t run Windows.

Do try to pay attention, would you?

Cribbs system? Well, it was a system, invented by Mark Cribbs. One of the things you’ll note about a lot of the stuff from this era is that it was very personal — mechanics and rules were referred to by the person who created them.

Much like C&S, Cribbs wanted you to roll on a table to see if you could be non-human. That was a trope that (mostly) died pretty soon, as it was another form of “balance by rarity”, which lasted longer in gaming than it really should have.

I'm sure this makes sense on the fourth re-read.

I’m sure this makes sense on the fourth re-read.

They did address the problem of level caps… “pinning”… for non humans.

BTW, what your people call “attributes”, they called “requisites”. This can be pretty confusing when reading. They also noticed that the effect of attributes on gameplay was pretty limited, and rather than (as the Revisionists would have it) saying “Good, you should TELL the DM how you’re picking the lock, and not worry if you have 18 Dex or 3 Dex!”, they said, “Screw that!” and added in a lot of rules and charts to make virtually every number on the 3-18 scale matter.

What's Char Eff, You Ask? Foolish Mortal!

What’s Char Eff, You Ask? Foolish Mortal!

Char Eff is “Charisma Efficiency”, and it was used to determine your base chance of “Charismaing” someone into doing something. (Hmm, I could use that mechanic for all the Arduin stuff that gave you “+5 Charisma when lying”, and what-not.)

Next up, we have combat, which used a highly variant %age system where your chance to hit was expressed in formulae such as 100-5 x AC -4 x L. Actually, it makes sense, and the math works, but I’m 1000 words into this thing and barely on page 4 of the book, so either I start using less detail or this momentary digression will consume many weeks of my limited writing time.

I Don’t Care What Howard Says!

But I do need to share this excerpt, a small part of the several pages of combat rules:

Howard can just bite me!Indeed. I dearly wish “I don’t care what Howard says, —” to become a major meme in the RPG community. It’s only 38 years past its origin date. Why not?

Oh, and if you thought D&D 3.x/PF grappling rules were a little… odd…

This Is For You, Howard.

Wow, a use for a D12!

Then follows the “Mahler Wandering Monster Tables”. 50% chance of encountering an Alma.

The tables include an “Argus Sphere”, which I’m guessing is how Princetonians said “Beholder”.

In addition to being a leading composer of the early 20th century, Mahler also invented a point-based magic system, which is described herein. It actually made it a bit tougher to be a magic user, as spells typically took a full round to cast and then went off the next round, with rules for being damaged while casting and losing the spell in progress, based on the ratio of damage taken to your current hit points (meaning, you needed to recalculate each time you were hit, as the threshold would change), and the number of spell points you got back each day (after 12 hours of sleep — none of this wimpy eight hours crap!) was based on your intelligence and how much you’d used… so you if you shot your wad completely, you wouldn’t be fully recharged by the next day. A very ahead of its time system, frankly.

Next follows a list of spells, mostly verbatim from Greyhawk, with a few additions like “Snowball” (like Fireball, but it destroyed potions, not scrolls.)  Then, we get an extensive list of modification to spells, such as “Sleep now HAS a saving throw”, Pyrotechnics is non-magical and must be created from non-magical fire (but does it still cost spell point?), and “on page 17, cross out ‘machine gun’ and write in ‘pizza oven'”.

Haste &Slow are noted as “get[ting] a saving throw based on Strength”. I do not know what that means.

Contact Higher Planes is notable for the hand-written correction from “waisting spell points” to “wasting spell points”. Still higher editing standards than a lot of modern companies.

“Hide Intent” allows you to avoid the effects of “Detect Alignment”, et al, though I’d prefer “Hide In Tent”, which causes any wandering monsters to chew on your companions in camp, instead of you.

Spell Targeting. Tee Ay Arr Gee…

Hey, They Can’t All Be Good

What Do You Mean, “Can Even Some Of Them Be Good? For A Change?”

We then encounter the “Tihor Spell Targeting System”, which

Then, divide by the cube root of the targets height...

Then, divide by the cube root of the targets height…

Please remember your rules of operator precedence. “Plus after times, except when it rhymes.”

And the usual page or so of modifiers and special cases.

Here we have a grand battle between mages of all sorts. I like the evil dude with the skull staff fighting with the cleric over the poor shmuck on the ground.

Wizard War

Mahler also created a clerical magical system, presumably in-between symphonies. (Have I beaten that joke to death yet? Probably. Will I stop? Probably not.) It uses “prayer points”, and likewise has a few new spells and  lot of house-ruled old spells. A few highlights:

Bless: There are multiple levels of Bless, each with a roman numeral (Bless I, Bless II, etc.) and each adds a variable %age to melee ‘to hit’ scores and a value to melee damage.

De-Were: Turns “W level of werewolves”, where “W” is spell level x 2+1, unless married but filing separately, or in Alaska or Oregon.

Convert Sword: This does not turn your sword into a ploughshare… seriously, what the hell were you thinking? This is D&D, man! It does turn a good sword evil or an evil sword good, unless it’s one of the really cool swords.. you know, the kind you’d want to use this on. Then it doesn’t work.

The Tihor Saving Throw System

For When You’re Attacked By A Wild Tihor

These Headings Just Keep Getting Worse, Don’t They?

So, stop me if you’ve heard this one… all saves a reduced to three types, with a class-based bonus depending on your level. Yup, 23 years early, “Tihor” invented the 3.0 save system, more-or-less. There were “Bodily”, “Mental”, and “Spiritual” saves, using a roll-under percentile system.

Then follows some alternate thief tables, which supplement the percentile-based rules in Greyhawk with some additional rules based on rolling less than a given number on a D6. This is a good example of the other extreme of homebrew rules, very simple systems with a bare handful of modifiers. Of course, it’s then followed by a bunch of new rules for thieves backstabbing people while invisible. (Highly arbitrary levels of detail were another common feature of the era, esp. in a book like this, which collected systems written by various active creators with highly idiosyncratic ideas about what mattered. Hmm. Kind of like any given open source project, where the amount of attention and detail given to an area depends on what someone thinks is fun/interesting/challenging… so you get very robust APIs and well-tested code in one bit, and completely missing functionality in another, with documentation that ranges from “OCD to the max” to “This function does stuff”.

(The article on the “Samurai” class in an early issue of “The Dragon” had a word count almost equal to the entirety of Men&Magic.)

Curse You, Robert West!

(Whoever You Are)

Now, we proceed to the curse tables. 1-2 Damn, 3-4 Shit, 5-6 Fuck… no, sorry. These are curses put on your character, leading to curses by you towards the DM. The introduction merrily informs that Robert West’s mind is “so perverse” you don’t need to design your own curse system. My opinion? Pretty good, but not quite as over-the-top as I’d expect from an intro like that. Let’s take a gander, providing the farmer fails his spot check. And while our goose is cooking, we can look at the table.

  • Monsters from tables 1-12 (Roll a D12) attack by surprise. OK, that’s a nasty one… it means an even chance of a very high level monster appearing. It also gives another use for the poor, lonely, D12.
  • “Roll a D9+15 to get type of arena duel”. Huh? I read this one a few times, then it clicked: It’s a recursive table! Wanna bet Robert West was a CS major? The D9+15 is then read on the table as a roll of 16 to 24, which determines what kind of thing you fight in the arena!
  • When you cast spells from a scroll of spells, they backfire — if they’re not damage spells, take 6 HP/spell level. Owie.
  • “All cures on victims will become causes.” Great, now I want to save the flumphs, support kobold rights, and ban alchemical dumping in Blackmoor.
  • Luck become 3, -15% to saving throws. “Give other appropriate duds.” Like, what? Torn robes and faded capes?
  • Teleport 5,000 feet above ground; take 24d6 damage. Actually, in a prior Pathfinder game, one of the players teleported straight up as far as he could to get out of a dungeon. That was the last session of that particular game, though, so we never got to see him go splat.
  • Teleport to Mars. Fortunately, OD&D included Barsoom encounter tables.
  • Curse
  • Fighter have their sword change alignment; MUs lose their highest level spell; Clerics have cures become causes and vice-versa, except if they try to compensate for it, in which case, they don’t, and thieves lose a thief ability.
  • Character acquires a malodorous disease. I love the word malodorous. Don’t you?
  • “Normal Mahler poison, no saving throw.” Presumably, delivered via a Viennese pastry. (See, I told you I wasn’t going to let that joke drop.)
  • Character becomes the “monster” summoned by a random party (via monster summoning) to fight a battle. This was something that happened in a D&D game to one of the PCs a few years ago… not the result of this table, mind you, just an ingeniously sadistic DM.

This is a good place to stop, as the rules per se end here… the rest of the book is a huge list of magic items, mostly reprinting the D&D lists of the time, but with many new and interesting additions that deserve their own commentary, and don’t deserve the lame jokes I’m undoubtedly going to try to squeeze out of them. Hardly anything deserves my attempts at humor, come to think of it.


Arduin Grimoire, Part V

Arduin Grimoire, Part V

Special Abilities

Because If Playing A Centaur Psychic Wasn’t Good Enough, You Can Be a Centaur Psychic With Chronic Insomnia


Now, we get to another cool innovation, presented with minimal mechanical guidance and an utter disregard for the hobgoblin of ‘game balance’. Reading through the Arduin Grimoire with an eye for detail now, decades after I first used it in play, I notice something never made explicit: Exactly how to use the Special Ability charts. We just rolled once on them when a character was created, no muss, no fuss. I don’t see a logical alternative, really… this was an era when characters were heavily front-loaded, with most abilities gained at creation or from class levels. None of this “gain a feat every three levels” stuff. Still, it strikes my older self as odd that it was never stated outright. A lot of stuff from this era was like that: You were just supposed to know. It was accessed through the Akashic memory of the RPG collective hivemind, or something. And, yet… somehow… we did know. We made up rules and then forgot we made them up, convincing ourselves we’d read them in some book, somewhere.

There’s several pages of them, all in a 1-100 chart, all with very little explanation or detail. When I usually end up making anything but the simplest feat eat up 150-250 words, the brevity of these is quite impressive… as is the highly variable utility. I’ll post the full scan of one of them for a sample, then go through the rest and highlight some things.

+1 With Maces, Or LYcanthrope?

+1 With Maces, Or Lycanthrope?

The options range from generally negative, to mildly interesting, to character-killing (A fighter-type with a -8 save vs. fear and a 50% chance of fleeing?) to just asking for trouble (secret were-creature?).

  • You can easily build an entire character around the “desire to form a secret society” one, not that a +5 Charisma mattered a lot, mechanically, in these days before social skills or the like. Charisma, more than anything else, was as useful or useless as the DM wanted it to be, which was in direct proportion to how much Chinese food he’d eaten lately.
  • Having the natural ability of “true sight” — I’m assuming, as per the high-level magic-user spell, though of course this isn’t explained anywhere — could be a real advantage in this era when everything was shapeshifter disguised by an illusion and veiled by darkness. Including the innkeeper at whatever tavern you were going to start playing at.
  • I wonder how many fights started by people who claimed “western weapons” did not mean “European weapons”, but “six-shooters and shotguns”?
  • The “Bad Liar” is another one which would make more sense if there was, at the time, an established, shared, system of task resolution based on attributes. Maybe there was in Hargrave’s games… who knows?
  • “25% chance of going berserker”… just don’t ask what that means. (I’d probably rule you have to keep fighting until your enemies are dead, or something.)
  • +1 with “non-mechanical” bows, and -2 versus Djinn attacks. Those… go together perfectly… I guess… erm… what? It’s almost as if some of the items on this list came from rolling on other random lists, like there was a “bonus list” and a “penalty list” somewhere in Dave’s undoubtedly voluminous house rules, and he rolled once on each and made them a single item here.
  • Evidently, half-efreets are a thing.
Actually, I don't think alchemists are even in this book...

Actually, I don’t think alchemists are even in this book…

The next table is “Mages, Illusionist, Druids, Alchemists, Medicine Men, Psychics and Those Of Magical Natures”. Interesting, compared to later evolution of gaming cliches, that Druids are lumped with magic-users and not clerics.

  • Chronic Insomnia, for your centaur psychic. +5 to save vs. sleep spells, -5 charisma.
  • Movement competent, -2 vs. “stoning”. (Quotes in original.) I’m assuming that’s “-2 on saves vs. petrification”, but it could mean “-2 vs. people throwing rocks at you because said ‘Jehovah'”, or even “-2 on saves against Bigby’s Awesome Stash”.  Oh, and what does “competent” mean? (“It’s not a surprise you don’t know that!” shouts my internal peanut gallery at me.) It’s actually explained in Arduin Grimoire Volume II, in a slightly petulant tone, as if Dave couldn’t believe people needed his private table rules explained to them. I see no good reason to both explaining it before then, either. If Dave thought you were smart enough to figure it out, I suppose I should give you the same credit.
  • +50% Vision with night sight, +1 to detect secret doors. I have no idea what “+50% vision” means. You see about half as well at night as you do in they day? You get a 50% bonus on seeing things at night, which would be cool if any such rules existed? It’s whatever you can bully the DM into letting you get away with? Let’s go with that one.
  • Magic Competent, can pick locks and disarm traps as a thief two levels below your own, and climb as an assassin one level below your own, but your major drawback is your +8 Charisma. Erm, I’m going to assume they meant -8, but I guarantee you, some player who rolled this at least tried to convince their DM that a +8 was a real drawback. (“‘Cause, like, chicks are always buggin’ me, and shit.”)
  • Natural ability to memorize one spell per level more than normal. Now, that’s nice. Well worth the risk of rolling… well, actually, nothing on this particular list wholly sucks. There’s no totally negative options. Someone liked magic-users more than fighters, that’s for sure, and we see the beginning of the Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit school of game design.
Home of the singing evangelist!

Home of the singing evangelist!

Next, we have “Clerics of all types, bards, singers, witch hunters, pallidins(sic semper tyrannis), and all of a more religious than magical nature”. Another case where we see modern concepts in a state of flux — bards are “religious”, rather than arcane (well, given that the original bard needed to be a Druid first, this kind of makes sense… erm, but Druids are “magical” in this book… so, uhm, whatever. I’m not sure what the difference between a “Bard” and a “Singer” is, to be honest. I think there’s a “Rune Singer” class in one of the later books, though.

Anyway, let’s look at the chart:

  • Mountain Man, +2 to Strength, Agility, and Dexterity. Climb as a thief. First: This is totally not what I’d expect for “religious types”, which makes it awesome. How did Jethro Clampett end up becoming a Cleric? There’s a backstory there! Second: Still not sure how Agility differs from Dexterity in this system. Third: I’m assuming attributes cap out based on the “Limitations” table I mentioned in Part III, but there’s plenty of precedent for bonuses to transcend such limits, so who knows?
  • Sickly and anemic, -2 to all attributes (ouch) , cannot be hasted. Like you’d live long enough for anyone to be high enough level to cast “haste” on you.
  • +3 save vs. cursed scrolls, -3 save versus all elementals. Most of the cursed scrolls I encountered were “no save”, which leads to the zen question of “How do you add 3 to that which does not exist?”
  • Clerical magic incompetent. Which pretty much makes you wonder why you ever decided to go on an adventuring career in the first place.
  • Healing competent, +2 to all point totals per dice healed. This seems to imply “Competent” means “+2″.
  • +3 with quarterstaff and “cudgle”, -2 with everything else. Perfect for Friar Tuck.
  • “Clerical pallidin (sic transit gloria mundi) status, start at second level, you get all they get”. I… have no idea what this means. What if you’re already a pallid.. paladin? Who are “they”? Does this means you start as a second level cleric, but get all of the paladin’s special abilities? Or you’re dual-classed, a Cleric/Paladin? Or what?
  • “You have been defrocked for murder, you are now an anti-cleric.” Does your alignment change? What if you were already evil?
  • +3 to Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, “you are now a singing evangelist(!) with all the abilities of a singer (or bard)”. DUDE! That sounds like the most awesome… and most annoying, to your fellow players… character concept EVER. I am SO going to roll up a Bard/Cleric now! Sure, you disdain all weapons and armor except quarterstaffs and you give away all gold over 500 GS, but still! (Wait… it gets better. Remember, this table is for many classes, not just clerics… including witch hunters. A witch hunter who rolls this becomes a singing inquisitor!!! There just aren’t enough exclamation points in the world for that level of awesomeness.
Aragorn and Bilbo roll on the same chart, it seems.

Aragorn and Bilbo roll on the same chart, it seems.

Next up: Special Ability chart for (deep breath here) thieves, monks, ninja, highwaymen, corsairs, assassins, traders, slavers, rangers, and all those with a more or less “secret” nature. (Fred the candlemaker is looking around at Slyfingers the thief, Dragon Fist the monk, Black Bart the corsair, and Aradorn the ranger and wondering how he ended up here.)

  • Natural Locksmith, work 2 levels above normal for those abilities… which sort of assumes you have “those abilities”, and it’s not clear, to me, if this includes disarming traps or just picking locks.
  • Circus trained, +3 to agility, dexterity, +25% to climbing ability, and a 50% chance of being recruited by a creepy guy with a deep, gravely, voice.
  • +2 ability to hide in shadows and darkness above normal. But these are normally %age abilities, so does that mean +10%? Or does it mean, as with “natural locksmith”, you have a +2 effective level? I’m sure at least one hard-ass DM said it meant “+2%”.
  • Quick learner, add 20% to all points earned after each expedition. Whoa! 20% XP bonus? That’s sweet!
  • Poor Liar (-4 charisma when so doing), but +3 with a sling. Huh? See above for my theory on how these weird-ass combos came to be.
  • Master herbalist, “can always detect poison and make it 1 die per level”. I’m guessing, somewhere, poisons were rated in dice? Every game we played, poisons didn’t do damage, they were pure save-or-die.
  • “Natural ability to use magic at two levels below own level.” As a… magic user? Cleric? Bard? I’m guessing, by default, MU. Pretty nice, you’re effectively multi-classed without giving up any hit points or weapon proficiencies.
  • Someone actually rolled this in one of my games: Sired by a vampire father and a normal female, you can withstand undead life drains, your Charisma can’t be higher then 9, you have an aversion to clerical types and fire, can only go out at night, but regenerate 1 point per minute “with all the restrictions of trolls”.
For everyone who isn't DPS, Tank, or Healer, I guess...

For everyone who isn’t DPS, Tank, or Healer, I guess…

“A techno, a sage, and a courtesan walk into a bar…”

Here we are at the last table, which covers Technos, Sages, Courtesans, Normals, and everyone else.

  • Good Liar, +5 Charisma when doing so, +2 otherwise, -2 versus cold. Oddly, Good liar also appears on the “Rogues, etc.” table, but that entry has no “+2 otherwise”, and it’s -3 vs. cold. The exact relationship between “lying” and “cold resistance” remains a mystery. I am utterly certain that Mr. Hargrave had a perfectly logical reason, and I wish I could ask him what it was.
  • Stunningly good looking — Charisma 23(!), and +8 to Ego (presumably, going over the normal maxima there, too). But you’re “super arrogant”. Hell, with that Charisma, no one will care! Unless your DM just ignores Charisma when deciding how NPCs react. See earlier rants, multiple, on the lack of mechanical support for various character traits in the games of the era.
  • Naturalist, can always find edible plants (emphasis in original). Man, I can hear it now:

Player: So, I find some edible plants.
DM: The hell you do. You’re in the Barren Desert Of Barren Bleakness. There are no plants here.
Player: I always find edible plants!
DM: That means, if you’re somewhere where there’s, y’know, plants!
Player: It says always!

Modern games, with their ‘cohesive rules’ and ‘integrated systems’ and ‘internal consistency’ and ‘extensive DM advice’ have totally destroyed the true spirit of gaming.

  • Latent warrior, can fight as a first level warrior if pressed. Which translates to, basically, a +1 or so, as first level warriors weren’t much better than 0 level nothings. And as soon as your techno, sage, or courtesan has gained even a few levels, they’re already better than a first level anyone. Not sure about “normals”, per se.
  • Total unbeliever in magic, -5 saves against all magic. Y’know, wouldn’t a +5 bonus to saves be more, erm, believable for an unbeliever? It’s hard to keep not believing in something you’re particularly vulnerable to.
  • Secret were-creature, roll for type. 95% chance of being chaotic. I wonder if that means “a secret from others” or “a secret from yourself”? Also, compare to the fighter-type equivalent entry: 3% less chance of being chaotic! And no mention of being evil!
  • Sadistic, arrogant, athiest(sic erat scriptum), -4 vs. magic, +8 ego, +3 strength. Anyone the author knew?
  • Very pius(sic I’m out of latin phrases), help all in need, +4 vs. Magic, +8 ego, +3 strength. Compare to above. Hmmmm. Hmmmmmmmm.
  • Obese glutton “of unsanitary and foul habits”, -6 charisma, +6 vs. poison, with an annotation that “if you cannot obviously have this characteristic and still be the type of character you are supposed to be, roll again”. I think it’s obvious which “type of character” the note refers to. It’s interesting that cowardly fighters are fine, but Arduin clearly has a “No Fat Chicks” policy for courtesans. Spirit of the times, I’m afraid. Spirit of the times.
  • “Roll once on any three tables of your choice, ignoring this number, but if you can’t use what you roll up, tough, you’re stuck with it.” This kind of “sucks to be you, deal with it” attitude is also part of the spirit of the times… a good part, this time, one we need more of in gaming… and in life.

After this table is a “Special Note” which, I presume, applies to the whole section: “These characteristics are only guidelines, but if you accept the responsibility and roll for them, then you must accept the results as a permanent part of your character thereafter.”

Coming Soon

At long last, classes! (Or some portion thereof… we’ve got Traders, Psychics, Rune Weavers, Technos (Sorry, “Techno’s”), Barbarians (waaaaay before Unearthed Arcana!), Medicine Men, and Witch Hunters to cover, and I don’t have a whole lot of time to write each week. Hey, I’ve been regularly posting content at least weekly for three weeks now…

Arduin Grimoire, Part IV

Arduin Grimoire, Part IV

Out Of Alignment

BTW, in case anyone stumbles on one of these pages out of order, and wonders how to get the hell away find the rest, I’m trying to gather them all here. Enjoy. Or not. It’s up to you, really. Who am I to tell you what to do?

So, in this post, we look at “Notes on Fantastic Beings”, and alignment. Sorry, allignment. For charcters. Sorry, characters.

Fantastical Beasts And How To Kill Them

Or, more accurately, “Notes On Fantastic Beings”.

Those of you more used to modern games, with their 256 page hardbound books detailing every aspect of a race’s culture, heritage, history, and preferred sexual positions might be a little aghast, possibly even awight or aspectre, at how little information was generally provided back in Ye Olden Dayse, and Dave Hargrave’s writing style was nothing if not terse. He had, after all, an imagination that spanned multiple infinities, and a hundred half-size pages to try to cram it into. So, we get to these two pages of “Notes”, where all the infinite complexity and depth of distinct and unique species were reduced to a line of text.

And we loved it. Well, I loved it, at any rate. I want just enough to get my mind going, just enough to provide the most basic platform for a shared conversation. When I buy a game, I want my crunch detailed out to the difference in damage potential between Pewter Mug, Hurled and Silver Tankard, Hurled, and my fluff to be basically someone leaving a sticky note on the page reading “put fluff here”. (Not applicable to games set in commercial universes, where I mostly buy them for the fluff.)

Thus, we learn that Hobbitts(sic) are “Happy, hungry” and “Always eating, brave but usually inept.” We learn that kobolds gang up on both thieves and cripples, and, by inference, the value of a semicolon vs. a comma. (We also see the root of many battles between players and DMs on the literal vs. intended meaning of the rules, with the battle lines being clearly drawn: If the literal reading favors you, argue it; if the intended reading favors you, argue it; and if neither the literal nor the intended reading favors you, buy the DM Chinese food.)

Orcs are immortal. Who knew? (Dave Hargrave, that’s who!)

So, from this we learn orcs are immortal, elves are in self-denial, amazons are pushy lesbians, and (on a page I didn’t scan) that harpies, furies, and gargoyles are “erratic, fanatical, and sadistic”. We also learn that genetics in Arduin were pretty darn fluid, and that human-giant matings were possible, though, thankfully, the exact details of the process were left out.

I seem to recall a “kobbit” is a kobold/hobbitt(sic…k of typing ‘sic’, just deal with Mr. Hargrave’s “Please Don’t Sue Me” spelling) crossbreed, which is kind of gross, but “kobolds” back then were generally closer to their mythic origin as fey “little people” and less “tiny little dragon folk with serious delusions of grandeur”.

It is interesting how most of the non-human races had long, even unending, lifespans — a definite flip on the D&Dism that all the ‘evil’ races died young (to explain their ability to breed in massive numbers so that dungeons were perennially replenished with mooks).

Come Up With Another Clever Pun On ‘Alignment’ Before Posting This

Seriously, This Better Not Show Up In The Final Article

Alignment wars began pretty much with the publication of OD&D, and I don’t mean “The cosmic battle of law vs. chaos” alignment wars, I mean “The comical battle of rules lawyers vs. each other” alignment wars. The exact boundaries of law, chaos, good, evil, what they meant, what they controlled, if paladins who slaughtered pregnant orcs also got XP for the fetuses, etc. Thomas Aquinas himself would be puzzled by that last one. (No, that’s not from one of my personal experiences, sadly/gladly. That was mentioned in a recent Knights Of The Dinner Table strip, and the fact it rang true tells you a lot. If you truly want to understand a culture, read its insider humor, says Lizard.)

Such debates have run to terabytes of terrifying text (I do get paid by the Alliteration Alliance Of America, why do you ask?), and I, in the words of Whitman, “have contributed a verse”, if “Look, lint-for-brains, even given your established stupidity and bull-headedness, your latest piece of word-salad drivel reaches new heights of incredibly inchoate incomprehensibility” is “a verse”.

Mr. Hargrave, however, strips all of that down to a simple, single, page that clearly answers all possible questions.

Did I Say "Character Alignment"? I Meant "Charcter Allignment"

Did I Say “Character Alignment”? I Meant “Charcter Allignment”

Or, perhaps, not. But as with most of his work, it aims to inspire more than to inform, and that’s not wrong.

It is perhaps worth noting the chart discusses the “Charcter” and “Allignment” of players, and if one interprets “Character” to mean “Morality and Ethics”, then, the chart is actually for the people sitting around the table, which might say a lot about who Dave gamed with.

Note: I will occasionally (often) make fun of the various typos and idiosyncratic spellings in these books, because that’s what I do… mock people who are a thousand times more creative than I could ever be… but it’s also important to remember they were written in an era when self-publishing was barely a step above chiseling words into stone. You couldn’t just edit your files on a word processor and make changes when you spotted them; redoing layouts was slow and very expensive. Besides, constantly reading, editing, and rewriting runs counter to the raw exuberance of unfettered creation; the more you question the technical details of your work, the more likely you are to begin questioning your ideas, and if you do that, you don’t have kobbit barbarians venturing side-by-side with phraint thieves and half-elf star-powered mages. (I think half-elves could be SPMs… we’ll know when we get to Book 3, The Runes Of Doom.)

And I think I’ll declare that any similar errors found in these pages is my attempt to capture the true spirit of the age, and not merely laziness or incompetence on my part. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

(“But, Lizard! How can you post a huge rant on the importance of proper grammar, and then handwave away your own mistakes?”

“Pshaw, that’s easy. Rank hypocrisy.”

“Oh, OK, then.”)

But enough about me. (Ow… even typing those words hurt my soul.) Let’s look at the chart. First, you’ll notice a lot more alignments. (No, I’m not going to keep typing ‘allignment(sic)’. Even I know when to stop running a joke into the ground. I usually don’t stop, but I know when to. And knowing is half the battle.) The Arduin Grimoire was published in 1977, before most of AD&D came out, and the D&D world was still transitioning. Alignments had gone from three, to five, to nine, in just  few years… and many early players, seeing the flaws of the original L,C,N system, were creating their own before Gygax could jump in. We see, thus, shadows of homebrew rules mixed in with the changes to the “core” rules.

Factor Tutorials

It’s, Erm, Sort Of A Lame Pun On ‘Factorials’, Which Doesn’t Really Make Sense

Give Me A Break, I Have A Fifty Hour Work Week+2 Hour Commute And I Don’t Get Paid To Write This, You Know.
My Paypal Is lizard@mrlizard.com. Just Sayin’.

So, we have Kill Factor, Lie Factor, Tolerance Factor, etc. These are used to… erm… uhm… well, basically, there’s no real rules for them. Everyone buying the Arduin Grimoire, unless they happened to know Dave personally, could interpret these numbers however they chose. It’s interesting that even in those earliest days of gaming, there was a nascent push towards personality mechanics, something to reinforce, with dice, what it said on the tin, if your character sheet was printed on tin.

“Lie Factor” is kind of interesting. I mentioned typos earlier. Well, one such typo in original D&D was an entry for “%Liar” on every monster. It was supposed to be “%Lair” — the odds that a monster, when randomly encountered, would be in its lair, where it had a lot more treasure. However, early players, taking the rules as written, often interpreted it literally. Dave Hargrave included “%Liar” in the monster section of the Grimoire, which we’ll get too eventually. The context around these entries made it very clear he did, indeed, mean “Liar” and not “Lair”. Murphy’s Rules later dinged him on this, noting he had simply imitated D&D, and he responded with, sadly, an all too typical reaction, insisting he’d always meant for Greedo to shoot first…. erm, that Arduin was a free-standing game and not an ‘imitation of D&D’. Yeah, right. It is, in fact, possible for me to consider Mr. Hargrave a Greater God (400 HP and all!) in my personal pantheon of creative influences, and still roll my eyes and sigh at the kind of self-delusion that would cause him to make such a claim. Everything about the original Arduin Trilogy speaks to its role as a supplement to D&D.

Surely, This Was The First And Last Time A Cartoon Caused Someone To React With Undue Outrage

Surely, This Was The First And Last Time A Cartoon Caused Someone To React With Undue Outrage


Arduin Grimoire, Part III

Arduin Grimoire, Part III

A Man (Hobgoblin, Nixie, Cave Man) Has Got To Know His Limitations

Now, we turn to character racial class, level, and attribute limits. You damn punk kids might not know this, but time was, there were no half-orc paladins, dwarf archmages, or gnome druids. (Leeky Windstaff is annoyed!) Well, unless you played pretty much any game other than D&D, because racial class/level limits were one of the first “D&Disms” to be flung out as the RPG industry moved past the Cambrian era and into the… damn it, I used to know what came next. Devonian? Anyway, time was (and by “time was”, I mean, it took TSR going belly-up and WOTC taking over in 2000 to finally shed this bit of nonsensical anti-design), races were “balanced” by front-loading them with all sorts of k3wl p0w3rz (such as the power to invoke arguments over if you could read with infravision or not)1, and then, in the off-chance the game lasted long enough, screwing them over by paralyzing them at relatively low levels, so that only humans could advance high enough to kill Thor. (That was, erm, the ultimate goal of D&D, right? To use Deities And Demigods as a monster manual?)

Anyhoo, Arduin of course needed to have such a table, which served to partially replace the old D&D table, due to the many new races supported, not mention the new classes, which… uhm… well, you see, there’s only so much space on the page, and so… erm…

limits0001Well, first, of the countless new classes Arduin introduced (to be dealt with soon), only the Psychic is on this chart. As for the rest, erm, “All Others”… Trolls, you see, are just as good as being Slavers as they are Saints.

Seriously. They just ran out of room on the page and said “Fuck it!”.

That’s how we all rolled back then, and it was glorious.

(Oh, the big white blob  is me deliberately whiting out part of the scan, because it turns out this walkthrough requires a lot more illustration than mine usually do, or maybe I just want to share the immense joy2 reading each part of this book still brings to me in a more visceral way, but I also want to stay within the bounds of fair use.

Anyway, I’ve been talking a bit about wonders, strange visions, exotic realms, and that hasn’t been too evident yet. Here’s where it starts. What’s a gnorc? A kobbit? You can play a Fury? A spider can be a fifth level mage? WTF? Felines? Canines?

OK. First, a “*” means “Cannot take this class.” So, there are no Spider Clerics. “**” means “Unlimited”, so a Kobbit can be a 105th level thief. And a number means… y’know, if I have to explain that, how the hell did you end up reading this article? G’wan, shoo!

On the spider thing (From What If #451, “What If Ben Grimm Was Bitten By A Spider That Was Radioactive Due To Cosmic Rays?”)…it was noted:”Normal insects and animals are not smart enough to do much of anything, but there are were-creatures and other types that will fit the bill”, so, there you are.

Only at page 5, and we’re talking about the possibility of 12th level Mermaid Psychics. Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, EGG was starting on his first draft of a rant about how ridiculous pixie-storm giant hybrids were. (But drow cavaliers dual-wielding lances? EGG was totally cool with that.) Battle lines were being drawn, lines which extend to this day, between the dour advocates of low-power, low-magic, low-fun, play, and the liberated, free, and joyous advocates of cyborg ninjas battling dragon/beholder crossbreeds through the corridors of the Death Star. If you can’t tell where my bias lies, check my choice of adjectives. It’s a dead giveaway.

(Acting on the odd assumption anyone reading one of my rants is masochistic enough to read a second, or even a third (if you’re that into pain, I have a good friend who can help you find a skilled professional in that area… not kidding…), they might note there’s some dead horses I beat, again and again, as if they were trolls and I can’t stop them regenerating. There’s two reasons: First, I write this stuff extemporaneously, so, if something inspires me to write a rant once, a similar stimulation will inspire a similar rant. Two, there’s no way to know who is reading this (if anyone is) or in what order, so there’s no reason to assume that any point I made 50-odd posts ago has been already seen, or ever will be seen, so it’s often essential to reiterate the same themes. So it goes.)

Moving on….

Race And Gender, The Internet’s Favorite Topics For Calm, Measured, Debate

Limitation1Though, to be fair, “race” here (mostly) means “a genuinely different species”, as opposed to “a bunch of made up, arbitrary, and totally random divisions” as it is when it comes to humans. (Though, not sure if “Amazons” are a different species, rather than simply a different culture… )

A few things to note:

  • Humans aren’t “the best of everything”, without limits, as they are in D&D. Elves can be smarter, Hobbitts (sic) more dextrous, and so on.
  • Swimming ability? Stamina? Magic Resistance? These aren’t in the D&D of the era, and they aren’t explained in the Grimoire. As we saw with Booty And The Beasts, an awful lot of house rules were so commonly used among certain gaming communities that when people put out books for general publication, they tended not to realize such rules were not universal. “Fish have no word for water”, and all that.
  • The chart goes on beyond zebra, to “Lesser Giants”, “Balrogs and Lesser Demons”, and so on.
  • Gnomes are “10% less in all respects”, than, presumably, dwarves, but I’m not sure what 10% of 5-12 is. 5-0.5 -> 12-1.2, or 4.5 to 10.8? 5 to 11? Again, we see the problem of “too much imagination, too few pages”.

Here’s part of page two of the chart, just to show the range of Mr. Hargrave’s vision of D&D…

Limitation2aEnergy beings, silicate life (hortas), undead… this section, in the rules, is entitled “Character Limitation Chart”, but it, like most of the trilogy, is about transcending limits, about including anything you can imagine, no matter how outre or inconsistent.

Back when I paid attention to RPG.net, there would be continual queries from people trying to play “old school” styles games, regarding if they should include this or that, add thus-and-such a rule, or invoke some particular mechanic, if adding in these things would dilute the purity of the old school experience and corrupt its precious bodily fluids. That they felt they needed to ask such questions told me, instantly, that the idea of what “old school” gaming was all about was being communicated to them wretchedly, to the point of actually teaching the opposite lesson.

Lizard’s Old School Rule Number One: If you think there’s rules about rules, you’re doing it wrong. (Ironic self-contradiction intended.)

The canonical 1970s-era DM had a dozen three-ring binders full of his house rules. Everyone was a game designer, and no one had any idea of “simplicity” as a design aesthetic in and of itself. Older games had far fewer (not necessarily “simpler”, mind you) rules than newer ones, but that had more to do with the cost of paper and the rush to publish in an exploding market than it did any conscious, deliberate, design choice. Hell, the idea of a “design philosophy” for RPGs was still decades away. The genre was too new, too vibrant, too full of potential to be tied down with boundaries and limits. It was the Wyld, all boundless creativity and change, as yet untamed by the Weaver, and far from being corrupted by the Wyrm, otherwise known as Lorraine Williams, and by using 1990s White Wolf terms to describe 1970s D&D gaming, I just made RPGPundit’s head explode. :)

I’ll just leave y’all now with a picture of a vampusa. (Vampire Medusa, duh. )

VampusaThat’s a lance it’s holding, by the way.







1:”Dude, in this issue of Daredevil, he could totally read with his fingers because the letters were cooler than the paper, so I can read with infravision!”

2:Not being sarcastic. I’m allowed to not be once per post.