Tag Archives: D&D

The Runes Of Doom, Part VIII

More New Magic Spells!

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

With A Digression To The Earliest Days Of The MMORPG

And The Mystery Of The Aphpodesiac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caowyn’s Spell Catcher:

Spell Shortstop Was Much Less Popular

Caowyn’s Spell Shortstop Was Much Less Popular

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

Phanch’s Spell Of The Fell Gates Of Hell

This Would Be A Better World If All Spells Rhymed

This Would Be A Better World If All Spells Rhymed

’nuff said.

Cleric Spells

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

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

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

As I Was Saying...

As I Was Saying…

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

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

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

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

Greylorne’s Hell Storm:

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

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

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

The Runes Of Doom, Part VII

New Magic Spells!

Come For Aphrodisiac Aura! Stay For…

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

Nah. Not Really.

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

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

Aphrodisiac Aura:

Hey, I Promised This One...

Hey, I Promised This One…

Just in case anyone thought I was making that up…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Azorn’s Fearfull (sic) Fiery Fist Spell:

Better Than Krystallars Kalamitous Kick...

Better Than Krystallars Kalamitous Kick…

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

Khoreb’s Curse Of The Screaming Skull

ScreamingSkull

Based On One Of The Worst Movies Of All Time

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

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

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

Otherwise Known As "Wall Of DM Screwing The Players"

Otherwise Known As “Wall Of DM Screwing The Players”

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

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

The Runes Of Doom, Part VI

Rules & Revisions

Lasers & Lightning Guns

Staffs & Saddlebags

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

Swords & Smiths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballistae And Blasters

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

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

Tech Weapons

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

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

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

Artifacts & Amulets

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

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

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

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

Gauntlet Of Gripping: Not going to go there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

 

The Runes Of Doom, Part IV

The Runes Of Doom, Part IV

Deodanths, Saurigs, and Phraints

Takei

(You See What I Did There…)

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

Undead Hybrid Elves… From The Future!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We also had…

Vulcan Mantis-Men From Outer Space!

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

My Money's On The Phraint

My Money’s On The Phraint

Phraints are born into a caste system, as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

Sheldon Cooper Plays Nothing Else

Sheldon Cooper Plays Nothing Else

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

Savage Lizard-Men From The Forgotten Past!

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

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

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

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

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

And In Conclusion…

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

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

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

The Runes Of Doom, Part III

The Runes Of Doom, Part III

Class And Race In Arduin

The Culture of Post-Capitalist Hegemony Opens a Space for the Historicization of the Gendered Body.

I Got That From A Random Academic Sentence Generator

Here we are at Part III of the walkthrough of the third book of the classic Arduin Trilogy. Despite the title, we’ll probably only get through classes today, though if I’m feeling especially motivated, we might make this a double-sized end of year special. (EDIT: It is double sized, but we still only got through the classes.) We’ll see. Motivation and me, we get along like Deodanths and Elves.

Some Dead Horse Beating (Trigger Warning: Animal Abuse)

(Did you know the phrase ‘Trigger Warning’ is now considered to be ‘triggering’ because of guns? I swear to Hargrave and Gygax I am not making this up.)

Anyway.. beating said dead horse, a common trope among certain Old School Revisionists is that the trend towards a “rule for everything” is entirely a modern invention (and by ‘modern’, they mean, ‘anything that happened after the publication of My Favorite Edition’), and in the glorious days of yore, people just made shit up and were happy with it. The first part is true, for the same reason that people walked or rode horses before there were trains or cars. The second part is much less true, which is why we have trains and cars and 256-page core rulebooks.

As an example, with MANY uses of italics and CAPITALIZATION, so you people get the point:

Before Dave Hargrave, There Was Only Chaos

Before Dave Hargrave, There Was Only Chaos

While Dave might be drifting a little into excessive self-importance here… he was hardly the only one churning out new material for Dother roleplaying gamesons… he is correct in essence. Players, then and now, did not want to merely flavor text their thief and call it a ninja, nor did they want to engage in endless debates about precisely what a ninja could do. Multiple editions of D&D have started with some editorial diatribe about reducing class bloat from the prior edition, and each of them has gone on to do it anyway, because gamers like rules (and because you can’t sell people that which does not exist, unless you’re a religion, but I digress).

The quest for mechanistic individualization drives a lot of game design. It also drives the granularity of resolution systems, for there has to be space to grant a mechanical effect that is significant enough to actually come into play, but small enough that it does not overwhelm all other considerations. Doing this is not easy, as the design ‘sweet spot’ is ofttimes narrow, and players are good at finding synergies the designers never will, until it’s too late.

Anyway, on with the classes! But first, awesome art!

'Awesome Art' Sounds Like A Nickelodeon Show, Doesn't It?

‘Awesome Art’ Sounds Like A Nickelodeon Show, Doesn’t It?

By the way, three of the four species pictured above will be covered in either this article, or the sequel.

Weird Al-Chemy

Sorry

(Not Really Sorry)

Having picked up the gauntlet on the issue of having rules in print for different classes, Dave Hargrave then proceeds to drop said gauntlet, burying it in an unmarked grave far in the outer wilderness. The Alchemist class text starts with the usual introduction about their armor limits (no armor), their weapon choices (no weapons), and their level titles (because that mattered a lot back then), and then, the meat of the matter, their actual class abilities.

Let The Player/DM Debates Commence, And May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

Let The Player/DM Debates Commence, And May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

Yeah. To be very clear, the “these” in “these are open…” refers to no prior set of rules or guidelines, but to the words just out of the image, “Special Acquired Attributes”. Having just noted how important it is for there to be rules in print, rules which have been “play tested and codified”, Dave then says, “Yeah, alchemists, they, uhm, they can make all this kind of stuff, but there’s no real rules for what any of it does (what’s the save on tear gas? How effective are medical poultices?), or what level they get it, or what the odds are of success, or, you know, anything.” This is similar to what I might, as a freelancer, get as an assignment — “Write up 2,000 words detailing this concept”. Dave, I am disappoint.

The Origin Of The “Assassins Do It From Behind” T-Shirt

Assassins are generally defined as people who kill for money. This is also how 99.99% of all PCs are defined, so the long and sustained existence of a class specialized in it seems odd, but it’s a big part of gaming history.

We're All Just Murderhobos On This Bus

We’re All Just Murderhobos On This Bus

When Runes of Doom was published, assassins existed in Blackmoor, but we’re at the point where Arduin’s veering off towards its own system had begun. The small mutations to core D&D, added one to the other, pushed Dave’s game into a new direction. So, it is not surprising that we’re seeing, in the third book, Hargravian incarnations of established classes. (Indeed, with the exception of the Alchemist and the Sage, all the classes in Runes Of Doom were such variants.)

Assassins in Arduin are a subclass of martial artist (see here). Their main shtick is a limited choice of weapons, but good bonuses with those weapons, as follows: You can pick three weapons (not groups!), and you’re +3 with one, +2 with another, and +1 with the third, and then three weapons you’re “even on” with, or you can also pick another means of killing people (e.g., poisons or traps) and get the bonus with that, “loosing” your bonus with a weapon, or you can pick one weapon at +5 and forego your other bonuses (but keep the three ‘even on’ weapons) or (if you pick the +5 option) you can trade all three of your “even on” weapons for one “non-weapon” skill like poisoning, or you can forego all but one weapon at +2 and instead gain the Martial Artist’s unarmed attack abilities.

Got all that? (Oh, all weapons not picked per the above options, you’re at -2 with.)

The class description doesn’t say if there are any limits on weapons or armor; the assassin is a subclass of Martial Artist, but the weapon choices of a Martial Artist are up to the result of a player’s “Con DM” roll vs. the DM’s “Detect Bullshit” roll. So, given a compliant DM, one could create an assassin who starts off at +5 with “Two Handed Axe”. (Since the assassin must also have a ‘cover identity’ of another class, it’s very easy to justify being able to use the weapons and armor of that class.)

Assassin Chart

Furthermore, the assassin has a “cover” identity and “is thus a ‘dual’ character type”. You can only gain assassin XP by performing paid hits, at a rate of 1000XP per level of the victim about your own, and 250XP “per level below”, but I assume is meant to mean “-250 XP per level below, so four or more levels below gets you nothing”. (I say, pick a “cover identity” as a fighter, get +5 to your primary weapon, and don’t even worry about gaining assassin XP!)

Funny, You Don’t Look Druish

Continuing the trend of “Dave’s Versions Of Classes Established In The Other Rules”, we have the Arduin Druid. (There were “new Druid spells” in the Arduin Grimoire and Welcome To Skull Tower, which pretty strongly hints Dave was using the “other” rules for Druids before making his own.)

First, some backstory. I love these snippets of history; they create a context that is more inspirational than restrictive.

The Truth Is The Druids Couldn't Get Into Rune Weaver School

The Truth Is The Druids Couldn’t Get Into Rune Weaver School

The druid level chart follows. There are no XP values given, but there’s one back in the Arduin Grimoire, so that’s that. (I just noticed that Assassins don’t get cool level names like most of the other classes do. What’s up with that?)

The High Druid Learns 'Summon Cheetos' As A Free Spell

The High Druid Learns ‘Summon Cheetos’ As A Free Spell

The “Detect Hidden Injury” thing is just weird, as there’s really no rules for “hidden injuries”, and the timing formula seems bizarrely specific, as if minutes would matter greatly. Maybe there’s an “internal bleeding” chart somewhere in Dave’s notes, with damage accruing on a minute-by-minute basis, so how fast you can find the “hidden injury” determined life or death? I dunno. (A common phenomenon (doop-do do-do-do) in old school games are subsections of rules written by a friend of the author who specializes in an area of knowledge, producing over-detailed mechanics to reflect the years they’ve studied the topic. Sort of like asking me to write the programming rules for a Cyberpunk game. I’d have two pages of modifiers for converting from one language to another, and a “critical .config file failure” chart for how long it takes to get the damn IDE to find all the included library files. But I digress.)

More marvelous backstory, nicely upending one of the most common cliches of stock fantasy settings:

No Mercy For Elves!

No Mercy For Elves!

In other words, if Tom Bombadil had met Legolas, there would have been… trouble.

BTW, if you’re annoyed at the spelling of “forest” throughout this section, just wait for…

Only You Can Prrevent Forrest Firres

The “Forrester (Woods Ranger)” class is next up. They are “solitary and nomadic”, don’t generally go into dungeons, but they may be wilderness guides. As noted way, way, back in the Arduin Grimoire walkthrough, it was common practice for players to have multiple characters, so they’d bring out Arragonn when the campaign moved to the Forrest Of Generric Slightly Crreepy Name, then switch back to someone useful when they got to the Dungeon Of Many Adjectives.

Forresters get a +1 to +3 on their Str and Con (not to exceed 18), can travel 33 1/3% (that extra 1/3% matters, damn it!) further than anyone else (making their utility as ‘wilderness guides’ somewhat suspect… they’re either way ahead of the people they’re guiding, or this ability is nigh-useless outside of solo play… it’s good for worldbuilding, knowing your Forresters can bring news faster than the enemy can travel does have an impact on things…), and they can “hear” on a 1-3 on a d6, which is one of the approximately 561 1/3 different “detect stuff” mechanics in use during any single gaming session back then. This number increases sporadically with level. They gain a handful of other abilities, such as speaking with animals (you have to pick the species, which leads to some interesting arguments… do wolves speak dog, or fox? Maybe with an accent?) At 20th level, you get to speak with plants, again by specific type… some DMs would let “trees” be a type, other DMs would insist on learning oak, birch, and pine as separate types, and real hard-ass DMs who didn’t want you ruining the game with this overpowered munchkin ability would probably break it down to the level of “Northern Arduin Red Oak”,

Otherwise, not too much of interest.

TRUE Paladins

Not Those FAKE Paladins In Other Games

Paladins are not “fighting clerics”, says Dave, but “warriors with a near-mystical religious fervor”, which has not previously been “delt”(sic) with. In other words, Paladins were falling far short of their potential for game-disrupting antics and “but I’m just playing my character!” excuses for burning orphanages.

Let me praise Mr. Hargrave for designing a class defined as it was often actually played. In Arduin, Paladins are “berserk warriors with overtones of the Witch Hunter”. Yup, that about does it. Regardless of presumed models such as Lancelot, the average Paladin, in practice, was all about slaughtering baby orcs and bisecting random NPCs on suspicion of heresy. So why not make the class abilities and fluff text fit actual play?

Pick A Religion With Few Followers, So Everyone Is An Enemy

Pick A Religion With Few Followers, So Everyone Is An Enemy

They will also fanatically harangue and harass all not of their faith to convert, and are quick to condemn any hint of deviation or heresy, making them the first Tumblr users. As an additional benefit, they ignore the detailed rules for social class and starting gear we discussed earlier, but instead start off with equipment determined by their own, custom, chart, including a guarantee of at least a light warhorse.

They do gain some special abilities, besides their fighting skills.

Again, Pick A Small Faith And You Won't Be Nagged By Other Players To Heal Them

Again, Pick A Small Faith And You Won’t Be Nagged By Other Players To Heal Them

The Paladin gains mana equal to three times their strength, and it takes mana equal to the level at which an ability is gained to invoke it, so a Str 16 Paladin starts with 48 mana (!) and thus can cast Cure Light Wounds 48 times(!!) at first level. Whoa. Dave… you, ah, you playtested this? Sure about that? (To be fair, this number will increase only slowly with level; even in Arduin, attribute score raises were not regularly doled out. Even so… )

And here’s an image Erol Otus drew for the first edition of the Arduin Grimoire, published in The Runes of Doom. Why not? (Erol’s art suffers from the thin inking; his stylized, two-dimensional imagery benefits from the heavier, thicker lines we see in his work for TSR and others.  I don’t know if he did his own inking and changed his style, or if someone else inked his pencil work.)

Wyvergon -- A Wyvern/Gorgon Hybrid

Wyvergon — A Wyvern/Gorgon Hybrid

(In Part XII of Welcome to Skull Tower, I noted that Arduin medusae got “biz-zay” (as the kids these days say… do they still say that? Damn kids, always changing their slang). So did gorgons. Hybrid creatures of all types have always been popular in D&D variants; Gygax promoted the concept early on, in the Greyhawk supplement (the ‘little brown book’, not the campaign setting), and I adore the template rules for 3.x and PF. Completely unrelated to anything here, and of no benefit to me, as I have no financial or personal connection to the company, Green Ronin’s “Advanced Bestiary” is my instant answer to the “if you could have only one third party supplement” threads that start up all the time on various fora. (I have no kind of ad linking or revenue sharing going on; it’s just a great book if you play Pathfinder.))

Sage

No Parsley, Rosemary, Or Thyme

Though If Anyone Were To Invent A “Thyme Lord” Class, It Would Be Me

At the time of the writing of the Trilogy, there really wasn’t much concept of an “NPC Class”. Further, the first iterations of the concept were for classes too powerful to be used as PCs, not for classes too weak. To the surprise of no one who understands human nature, esp. the nature of the adolescent munchkins who formed a large plurality, if not the majority, of the 70s D&D audience, this “restriction” never stuck, and “NPC Classes” from The Dragon, like Ninjas and Anti-Paladins, showed up as PCs with great regularity, provided the Chinese food payments kept coming,

The Arduin Sage is a good example of what today would be an NPC class — a way to give mechanical definition to someone with useful skills, but who isn’t going to be tromping down into the dungeon.

Sages pick one of seven broadly defined areas of study, and, since there’s no actual ‘Lore’ or ‘Knowledge’ skill in the game yet…

Sages Who Worship Google, God Of Knowledge, Gain +5%

Sages Who Worship Google, God Of Knowledge, Gain +5%

The plethora of micromechanics (such as the Paladin’s rules for going berserk, or the Sage’s knowledge rules) are, individually, easy to handle. When people defend this style of game design as “easier” than having more complex, but more inclusive, systems, they usually compare a single microrule to the entirety of, say, the Knowledge Skill rules, and point out how simple it is. Except there’s dozens, or hundreds, of such rules, and each is designed atomically and without regard to its interactions with similar rules. (I have this problem in my day job as a programmer… I work with legacy code where the choice was constantly made to solve the same problem a dozen times in a dozen slightly different and incompatible ways, the argument being that writing specific code for a specific task takes less time than writing a generic routine or class… without considering that taking slightly more time writing a generic solution saves constant recreation of the same code. But I digress.)

Remember how I dinged Dave for not actually providing rules for the Alchemist’s abilities?

Yeah. About that.

This Is The Moral Equivalent Of "See Page 12" and Page 12 Is "This Page Intentionally left Blank"

This Is The Moral Equivalent Of “See Page 12” and Page 12 Is “This Page Intentionally left Blank”

And Thus..

We end our study of class in Arduin. We’ll get to race next week, it seems. This article is already a good bit longer than most. And while the classes in Runes Of Doom are mostly minor recreations of established standards, the three new races added are anything but.

The Runes Of Doom, Part II

The Runes Of Doom, Part II

Politics & Pickpockets

Rulers & Rabble

And The Black Wind

In today’s installment of the Arduin walkthrough, we look primarily at what is now called “downtime” events — that vague limbo between “Well, half of you will be rolling up new characters while the other half sell the loot they stripped from your still-warm corpses” and “You stand upon the threshold of the Dungeon Of Indescribable Torment And Certain Slow, Painful, Death… so, naturally, you head straight in without a moment’s thought.” As I ranted on extensively a few posts back, this was kind of a new and strange concept to the former wargamers, as no one ever thought to pack little lead camp followers in with their Napoleonic figures so the infantry wouldn’t be bored between engagements.

The Urgency Of Time

Really, I just have to post this “paragraph” verbatim, because nothing else could “convey” the perfect Hargravian nature of the writing. Here is Dave Hargrave in full-on “Listen up, you primitive screwheads!” mode, a style of writing often used by Gygax and others of the era (also in the brilliant Star Rovers, the first of my truly epic analysis projects… wow, five years ago… damn…)

Get Off Your Chubby Buns!

Get Off Your Chubby Buns!

Oh, and I mentioned the Black Wind was statted out in Welcome To Skull Tower, but illustrated here? Here it is:

Too Many Oozes, Not Enough Clouds, That's What's Wrong With Modern Games

Too Many Oozes, Not Enough Clouds, That’s What’s Wrong With Modern Games

So, check this out. You’ve got a Phraint and a human in what looks like a starship corridor fighting a roiling cloud of smoke and lightning. With swords. By a treasure chest. As with the cover, nearly all that is awesomely cool about old-school gaming is conveyed in a single perfect image.

So what happens to the world while the players are resting on their chubby butts, their fingers stained orange from cheetoh consumption? There’s two charts. One determines the chance of something happening, the other determines what happens. Sort of.

Frankly, The Only Real Political Allignment(sic) Is "Amoral".

Frankly, The Only Real Political Allignment(sic) Is “Amoral”.

One of the things that’s interesting, to me, is that the degree of dissatisfaction has no bearing on the severity of the intrigue… just the chance for it to occur. As for the intrigue itself, well…

Clearly, GRRM Rolled A 19 For Robb Stark

Clearly, GRRM Rolled A 19 For Robb Stark

You have to love result 20.

DM:”OK, you commit suicide… (roll roll roll)… by sticking your wand of incineration down your throat and activating it in the public square.”
Player: “What? Why?”
DM: “Political reasons.”
Player: “But I’m dead! How does that help?”
DM: “Let the dice fall where they may. Moving on…”

I’ve Got Some Good News And Some Bad News…

Next up we have the good and bad event charts, which are rolled on once a month. There’s a 50/50 chance for either, but each must be rolled on at least three times a year. The charts are the usual mix of things. A sampling, and some notes:

"She's Rich..."

“She’s Rich…”

  • It’s interesting the “Good” chart includes “25% chance of misfortune”. Old School Gaming was definitely about never giving a PC an even break.
  • You can only fall in love with, or be loved by, females. One assumes this means one of:
    • Every player was male and only played male characters.
    • There were female players, but the only played male characters.
    • All female characters were lesbian/bisexual.
  • A “Small Fortune” was less than even low-level PCs will have from their first dungeon crawl.
I Admit To Curiosity As To What The "Etc" Can Be

I Admit To Curiosity As To What The “Etc” Can Be

  • “Well, I was able to battle an uruk-hai riding a violet dragon on the 12th plane of Hell without doing myself any long term harm, but during a tavern brawl, I took an arrow to the knee.”
  • An item not shown is “Altercation With Nobility”, with the notes reading “Results Are Varied”. Yeah. That helps.

It is later noted that these two charts are “generally used by Non Player Characters” in campaign style games, such as various sheriffs, lords, and retainers. This makes a certain sense, and it’s a way for the DM to get ideas to spark events in a long-term “Rulers & Rabble” style campaign, without seeming too biased or railroady. (I declare “railroady” a word, not to be confused with “rail roadie”, which would be a person of dubious hygiene and social standing who idolizes Amtrak conductors and follows them about. But I digress.)

The Westeros/Downton Abbey Table

85% Chance If You're A Lannister

85% Chance If You’re A Lannister

See, folks? This is why PCs are murderhobos, rootless wanderers with no close kin or connections. Because if you have relatives and family, the GM will use them entirely as a way to completely screw you over, again and again and again, and if you whine, the GM will shrug in that annoying way GMs do, and say, “Sorry, dude, I was just rolling on the chart… so, have you set the date for your character and his sister to get married, yet? I’ve got them ‘psychopathic incest babies’ chart around here somewhere…”

A bit short, but I’ve got some other stuff to work on this week, and this is the end of the background material.. next time, we get into classes. Alchemists, assassins, and more.

The Runes Of Doom, Part I

The Runes Of Doom, Part I

Individuality, Reality, And Age

Huh. Sounds Kind Of Like The Title Of Some Overpriced Textbook For Some College Course

Probably One Of The Ones Where The Answer To Every Question Is ‘Privilege!’

And we — the editorial ‘we’1  — are back. The editorial cat is trying to sleep on the keyboard, so this article may be more typo-laden than usual, or, in other words, indistinguishable from PERL code. Here begins coverage of the third book in the Arduin Trilogy, so, there’s only six more books to go (if I so choose and if there’s even the tiniest hint of interest from my hypothetical fans). It’s like a Piers Anthony trilogy, but with less fewer2 creepy pedophile overtones.

Let’s begin!

Holy (Bleep), The Cover

Erol Otus is one of the all-time greats for old-school art, though his work in the original, first-printing, Grimoire was not up to what he’d be producing just a few years later. And Morno brought a clean, distinctive, style, esp. when you consider he was only 17 at the time. But, for my money… and I paid something like 15 bucks for my Trilogy, back when I was 16, when there was a Compleat Strategist in New Jersey… the defining artist for Arduin, and indeed for the spirit, style, and soul of all that is old-school and awesome, is Greg Espinoza. If I win the lottery, I’ll hire him for my own game line (“Lose-A-Fortune Games”), if he’s alive and working. If he’s not alive, I’ll hire a necromancer. If he’s not doing fantasy art anymore, I’ll hire Dick Cheney to convince him. But I digress.

I Know That Thing Was Identified Somewhere, But Damned If I Recall

I Know That Thing Was Identified Somewhere, But Damned If I Recall

A bit of googling showed that Greg Espinoza moved on to comic book work, foreshadowed here in the virtually skin-tight armor the guy with the sword is wearing. This scene is simply filled with visual signifiers that define the kind of old-school experience that Arduin exemplified. The monster isn’t any kind of dragon, ogre, or other thing drawn from sanitized Arthurian myth — it’s a Lovecraftian monstrosity, pure pulp sword & sorcery. The low-hanging, giant moon sets the stage as a place not part of any historical era (unless so far in distant and forgotten ages that the moon was much closer). In the background stands a castle with a skull entrance — possibly Skull Tower, for which the prior volume was named. And not only does it have a giant skull door, it also has a giant glowing magic… something… sticking out of the top. The title font isn’t some pseudo-medieval thing, but bolted metal, evoking a science-fiction flare, while the subtitle at the bottom is in a “Ye Olde Dayse” font, subtly hinting at the scope of play.

Something distressing I’d never noticed before: There appears to be an apostrophe between the ‘e’ and the ‘s’ in “Runes”. I suppose it could be a mere design element, but… but…

Well, fine. A glaring grammatical error on the cover makes it even more old school! It’s… it’s… Elder School! There. Settled.

Unboxing… Er… Opening…

We start off with an inside cover introduction, wherein we are informed this is the most-information packed of the trilogy, with a hundred monsters, a hundred spells, a hundred idiosyncratic spellings, and an assortment of greater demons. Killing gods, you see, is just unrealistic… so, instead, kill some of these. (I recall them being very nasty indeed… they’re pretty far along in the book, so it will be a while before we get there.)

Six new classes, five new races, and rules additions tested “over hundreds of hours”. (Italics in original.)

Next is the table of contents. This might not seem worth noting, but, well, it is. The former editor, Bizarro Number One, who placed the Table of Contents at the end of Skull Tower, has clearly been fired, which am great honor for Bizarro!

A Preview Of What's Coming... It's Going To Be A Wild Ride!

A Preview Of What’s Coming… It’s Going To Be A Wild Ride!

Individuality And Reality

And Random Italics

This is a series of charts and tables to add individuality and reality to your half-hobbit/half-kobold psionic ninja. While there were similar charts in Welcome to Skull Tower, those focused on cool things like weird scars, purple hair, and glowing eyes, while these charts are about your social class in a generically medieval setting. I’ve mentioned one of the many defining tensions in early gaming was between the historical wargamers/SCA types on one side, and the sci-fi/comic book types on the other. These charts cater to the former group. The Arduin Trilogy, the product of one man’s mad genius, nonetheless reflects a multitude of interests. The Trilogy veers continuously between the heights of cosmic madness and the picayune details of mundane life.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the chart itself… which lists the usual generic social classes based on a synthesis of hundreds of years of history and dozens of nations into a vague sense of “Ye Olden Dayse“… cross-indexed against Kobbits, Knoblins, and Phraints. (Oh my!)

#YesAllGoblins

#NotAllGoblins

(I blurred the actual chart because I try to avoid posting too-complete excerpts, but I also wanted the ranges visible.)

Later in the book, saurigs, phraints, and deodanths are covered in more detail… they have very different cultures than Generic Humans, but, hey, they’re all on the same chart. We also see the “I’ve got one page for this chart and three hundred races in my notebooks, screw it, use ‘All Others'” problem return from the Arduin Grimoire.

Some notes:

  • Nearly all knoblins are orphans.. but hardly any goblins are.
  • Only humans, elves, and amazons can be ‘Close Royalty’, which does make a kind of sense in the nation of Arduin itself… but the Trilogy is generally positioned as a “generic” supplement. On the other hand, as I note above, a “generic” social class chart is pretty silly. So I’m stuck between which criticism to apply. The important thing is that I get to nitpick, however contradictory my nitpickings are.
  • It is infinitely amusing to imagine a phraint in a top hat and a monocle, hanging around the club, engaging in witty banter and card games while sipping fine scotch and complaining about the servants. Fine, I’m easily amused. And if you’re spending time reading these articles, so are you.

Taking up a full page, even though it hardly needs to, is the wealth chart, which gives a character their starting gold. It is possible to be a wealthy orphan (which gives you 12 gold) or a poor Close Nobility (which gives you 35 gold).

The next page offers starting gear. This can give you some picks of arms and armor (with a cautionary note that a shield is one piece of armor, a helmet another, and so on), and if you’re really lucky (or from a good background) some additional items. The interesting bit, though, is the note at the bottom.

There Are Seven (7) Or Eight (8) Ways I Can Think Of To Exploit This

There Are Seven (7) Or Eight (8) Ways I Can Think Of To Exploit This

Gygax editorialized incessantly about the lack of a need for non-combat skills; NPCs made horseshoes, PCs killed them and took the horseshoes, and that was that. Despite this, he was standing against a tide that began rising from the earliest days of D&D — people wanted to not only have more information about their characters non-murderhobo abilities, they wanted mechanics to support them. Dave Hargrave meets the tide halfway…ish… which in this increasingly muddled metaphor, means he got his feet wet? Anyway, this is another one of those “negotiate with the DM” mechanisms which always work so well, and I am wholly unsure what the skill rating of 1-10 means. It provides a number that a motivated DM can use as input into some kind of success/fail formula, but there’s no real framework beyond that. Still, it’s an important piece of evidence towards the ubiquity of the push for some kind of skill system to be bolted on to D&D. (We had three different “proficiency” systems in AD&D1, another one in AD&D 2, and finally a working skill system in D&D3.)

Ye Olde Adventurers’ Home

“No thought is usually given to player characters aging during prolonged or campaign game play. In Arduin, however, we believe in reality and…”

Snort. Cough. Ahem. Excuse me.

“In Arduin, however, we believe in reality and…”

Bwahahahah! OK. OK. I’ve got this.

“In Arduin, however, we believe…”

“…believe in…”

“…in real… (giggle)… realit (snort choke)… re…”

To hell with it.

OK, some notes: First, Traveller (possibly others, but Traveller is the one I know best) had character aging from the get-go. It was one of the defining traits of the game, along with using trigonometry for space battles. (I am not making that up.) Second, the AD&D DMG was coming out about a year after Runes Of Doom was published, and it did include aging rules. So, as with skills, there was a clear push in the zeitgeist for something like this.,. but unlike skill systems, it was pretty much a dead end in the evolutionary tree of game mechanics. Characters rarely lasted long enough for it to matter — how many PCs die of old age not resulting from a curse/spell/etc? The converged on mechanic, over time, was age categories, used primarily when creating/balancing NPCs, and occasionally for PCs under odd circumstances, but not to really track a PCs age on a scale finer than such categories.

As I keep saying, though — this is the Burgess Shale era of gaming. A thousand different rules concepts and design patterns were tried, and slowly winnowed. Dave’s system tried to reconcile the long lifespans of fantasy races and the differing lifestyles of various classes.

I Really Thought This Misspelling Was A Product Of The Modern Era

I Really Thought This Misspelling Was A Product Of The Modern Era

Gack! Dave, I can forgive so many sins, but the lose/loose error really annoys me… wow, I can’t believe I wrote that page seven years ago… like this one, it was inspired by my time on the Warhammer Online forums… it figures the only PVP MMORPG I ever liked died a slow, terrible, death.

That’s a good start… next time, “downtime” event charts, long before “downtime” was a thing, much less “blue booking”.


1 There is no editorial Wii, I have an X-Box.
2 I’d like to thank my wife, and Stannis Baratheon, for drilling that into my head.

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XVII

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XVII — Special Double-Size End Of Book Edition!

Those Who Do Not Study History Are Doomed To Have The GM Lecture Them On It

Because He Worked Six Months On This Background And You’re Going To Appreciate It

Thus it was, that there came the eighteenth segment of the second chronicle of the three tomes, wherein A’pos’tro’phe The Sl’augh’ter’but’cher did battle Vwlss The Bldyfstd[1] on the Fields Of Fauxtolkienia, or, in other words, we reach the section on the history of Arduin, the world and the nation. After we cover some other things.

But First! The Mystery Of Jim(!) Resolved!

Back a few weeks, I noted that Greyhawk included an odd little shout-out in the description of the meteor swarm spell, and wondered what it meant. Well, thanks to Yancy (and the fact I checked my spam folder, where his post was crudely and maliciously exiled for no good reason), we have an answer. Yes, it was Jim Ward, and yes, there was a story behind it, and a damn good one that points, once more, to the very personal and connected nature of those earliest days of gaming. (See my PrinceCon walkthrough for more.)

Crime And Punishment

(No Brothers Karam… Karma… Karaom… Russian Brothers!)

So, we need a brief digression here (shocking, I know, at least as shocking as my parenthetical asides where I repeat the same ‘I bet you’re shocked there’s a digression’ joke I’ve used a dozen times before… and now my digression from my digression to discuss my digression has digressed. I am Laurence Steme, reborn!) to discuss the early history of RPGs. First, wargames were purely episodic… you set up your miniatures for the Battle of Waterloo, you played through each turn (as described way back in the beginning of this series), you removed your figures from your opponent’s nostrils, and you packed up. Then came larger campaigns, where multiple battles would be fought in a sequence. This then mutated to the idea of specific figures on the battlefield representing individuals, not units, and gaining in power from one scenario to the next. And then came the idea of each player controlling one individual while another player controlled the rest of the world, and at some point, an impossible-to-define line was crossed and we had role playing games. (Important to note: Neither “role playing game” nor “dungeon master” appeared in the “three brown books” version of D&D. ‘struth!)

Where am I going with all this? OK. See, at some point in this evolution, it became understood or implied that the characters, and the world, actually had a kind of existence even when not being actively played. No one wondered, or cared, what their Napoleonic figures might be doing between battles; they didn’t unpack them and then roll on the ‘Consequences Of Being At Liberty’ tables before each fight.  When continuity between games started to matter, when you had acquired loot to sell and could engage in activities like making magic items or researching spells, there needed to be a place to do this, and then something clicked and people realized you could explore a town as you could a dungeon or a wilderness, that it could be a place as well, and then a kind of cognitive dissonance hit, as players noticed that while heedless slaughter and pillage made a kind of sense where no one else was portrayed as an actual person, just as sacks of hit points that bled gold and XP when you stabbed them, but, when put in a context of taverns and brothels (and, eventually, other, less important, buildings), it seemed a bit… odd. So it came to pass that as actual settings and worlds grew out of the primordial fog of wargaming abstraction, there would be codes of law that might be applied to errant PCs, and, eventually, such things began to be used to help define different cultures and nations in a world, continuing the transition from wargaming’s “every battle is unique in itself” to “a single world can hold uncounted adventures, with multiple campaigns occurring in the same, shared, setting”. Sort of how games like Wizardry I evolved, over time, into World of Warcraft.

After all that, we come to this:

Beheading Someone For Both The First And Second Offense Makes Sense In This Setting, Trust Me

Beheading Someone For Both The First And Second Offense Makes Sense In This Setting, Trust Me

A footnote to the chart notes that all prison time is at hard labor, which is proper… the idea of a prisoner just sitting in his cell, costing money but doing nothing, is a fairly modern invention. Most medieval punishments were harsh and physical because you couldn’t keep someone around for a long period of time; you punished them and then let them go, presumably to either sin no more, or to sin so egregiously you could justify killing them.

War And Peace

(Because History Tends To Be Cycles Of Such, And Because It’s A Hilarious[2] Callback To The Prior Section Heading)

And now, after inns, timekeeping, holidays, guilds, and religious sects… we get to the actual history of Arduin.

We start with this introduction:

So, About A Five Percent Survival Rate...

So, About A Five Percent Survival Rate…

For context, D&D was published in 1974. Welcome To Skull Tower was published in 1978. That works out to about 120 characters killed per real-world year of actual gameplay. I assume Dave ran games more frequently than the traditional once a week. (He did… see below.)

The history itself is many pages of dense text. I’m loathe to just scan and upload it in full, but I’m also disinclined to type out long excerpts. So I’ll write out a bullet-pointed list of highlights and asides, my usual lazy solution to problems of this nature. (Until it hit the point where the awesome-o-meter just exploded, then I gave in and did some scanning. Some stuff is just too cool to paraphrase or condense. See below.)

  • The first rulers of the world were the “dread reptilian Kthoi”.
  • They warred against the “first true men”, the Rune Weavers, who won.
  • But the Rune Weavers met their downfall a half million years later, battling the Titans and the Star Powered mages “against the rest of Allmanity”.
  • Though the Rune Weavers won (I think… the text is a little unclear, a bit too poetic for its own good), they were so weakened that “a bare 20,000 years later”, when the Time Lords threatened, the Rune Weavers could only trap them (the Time Lords, I think), in the Caverns of the Ancients and then “fade from the kin of Allmanity”.
  • We’re about 20% of the way through the second paragraph, by the way.
  • This allowed the Free Mages Of The Circle to predominate, followed by 3,000 years of relative peace.
  • Then a bunch of aliens invaded, destroying the fifth continent and leading to the Interregnum Of The Dark Years for the next five millennia.
  • Civilization restarted on Khaera, the third continent.
  • The world is named Khaas now, because the old name, Ssas-Khaa, has been forgotten. (Well, that answers my question in the prior article on if the world was named in the original trilogy or not. I’m not sure how I forgot this, as it’s so prominently called out in roughly the middle of a long paragraph on page 88 in a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door reading ‘Beware Of The Leopard’.)
  • Many nations held power as many wars were fought. Or, in other words, like every part of history in what we like to call reality.
  • The real problem, though, was when the College of Sages in Falohyr discovered multiple transdimensional space kablooies (I, erm, may be paraphrasing slightly) manifesting in an area contiguous with the small kingdom of Arduin.
  • This began the “Wars Of When” (oooohhhh, awesome name!), which lasted another 10,000 years, “bleeding the world white of population and magic”.
  • During an unusually long pause in the fighting (presumably to hump like bunnies to produce more grist for the mill), the “Accord of Arduin” was developed. In short, Arduin would be a neutral kingdom, with every other nation committed to enforcing that neutrality. All of the major factions (wizards, technos, sages, etc) would set up colleges or universities to oversee exploration of the gates, with that MacGuyver guy in charge. (I, uhm, may have made up that bit, too.)
  • We just finished the second paragraph.
  • In paragraph three, we learn every nation in the Accord sent settlers to Arduin, as the original population was wiped out in the war; for 500 years, it was forbidden to marry anyone of your own original nationality. So, wait… after the first generation, everyone has two ancestral nationalities… so they’re equally forbidden to marry either… and then the third generation has four forbidden groups, then eight… I don’t think Dave did the math on this bit.
  • It’s no longer a law, but it’s traditional to marry outside one’s nationality, which, by now, must include every nation on Khaas, so, I guess, people in Arduin just live in sin.
  • The Accord has lasted 1,211 years. Pretty good.
  • However, we can’t forget about the Elf-Human wars. You didn’t forget about the Elf-Human wars, did you? I sure hope you didn’t! Never forget about the Elf-Human wars that weren’t mentioned until just now!

The Elf-Human Wars

(Alternatively, “The War Of Elven Aggression” or “The War Against Human Imperialism”)

Trigger Warning: Reaping

No, That’s Not A Typo

The phrase “Twice the iron grey cataphracts of Viruelandia surged up from the south” appears in the text I am about to summarize. If that alone is not justification for the existence of the Arduin trilogy, what could be? Please note, I saved y’all some googling by linking to the definition of ‘cataphract’. I hope you appreciate that.

  • The wars began “dim thousands of years in the dark and bloody past”, or well before the “Accord of Arduin”. They began early on, when King Tarafass Dawnstar of the Royal House Of The Rising Sun heard what the sages of Falohyr had found, and he “called up his silver mailed cavalry, his bronze-sheathed and rock-steady spearmen, and his silent archers all clothed in forest green”.
  • Then he got a letter from Morvaen, a human kingdom to the east, demanding a merger, and with a really low buy out offer for the common stock. Tarafass said “Take us if you can!”, and Morvaen said “Challenge accepted!” and it was on like Donkey Kong. (Some paraphrasing may have occurred.)
  • The invading horde poured into the Forest of Flame, where the archers of Arduin inflicted a “green glowing arrow rain [that] sleeted into the ranks of the invaders like a scythe through ripe wheat”, and “a grim red harvest was reaped, and reaped, and reaped yet again”. Clearly, they were cereal reapists. (See, ’cause wheat is a kind of cereal, and… OK. Moving on.)
  • The Forest of Flame is now the Weeping Woods due to the massacres that occurred there.
  • The humans retreated back to the mountain pass they’d invaded from, only to find the Elven king, Tarafass, and his host waiting for them. The Morvaens charged, believing themselves to have superior numbers, but then Tarafass reminded them they were in a universe where magic worked[3], by revealing the massive cavalry hidden under an illusion. Long story short, Morvaen’s army got massively pwned, to the point where, for decades afterwards, every town message board was covered with “nerf invisibility” demands.
  • The elves won that battle, but not the war, as seven more invasions followed, including two that involved “iron grey cataphracts”. All failed except the seventh (which kind of makes sense, because you don’t stage invasions after you’ve invaded), which came (irony alert!) from “one of the very gates the elves were trying to protect”. A horde of deodanths from “a dying Earth” came, “their flickering swords a match for even elven blades”.
  • In 13 days, they’d conquered all but the great keep of the high king.
  • And then…. well, I’ll deal with it next week, as we finish out the history of Arduin, and get back to the inns and roadhouses of Arduin. Yes, really.

Hah! Fooled You!

Double-Length Season Finale Post!

Mostly ‘Cause My Sunday Shadowrun Game Got Cancelled

That’s Two In A Row I’ve Missed. I’m Going Through Chinese Food Withdrawal.

Anyway… when last we left our intrepid heroes, about five lines above, the deodanth army had almost conquered Arduin. And then…

This needs a scan, sorry. It’s too awesome to bullet point.

I use ‘awesome’ a lot, don’t I? Let me try again.

It’s too freakin’ unbelievably mega-awesome to bullet point.

There. That’s better.

"Bespattered" Is A Perfectly Cromulent Word

“Bespattered” Is A Perfectly Cromulent Word

“…sending the clouds themselves fleeing before them in abject terror.”
“…as the weird music sang its song of elven power.”
“…a withering stain that would take three centuries to fade.”
“This is bladework, my brothers!” Aw, hell yes! (Imagine a heavy metal power chord right here. BWAAANG!)

See what I mean? When I write histories and backstories and the like for my own settings, unless constrained by editorial fiat (well, given the budgets of most game companies, more like editorial Used 1992 Honda), I write in this style. This is pure purple pulp, perfect for RPGs and alliteration.

The tale continues…

  • Slaughtering the deodanths took two more weeks.
  • The King was ambushed and slain.
  • The defeat of the deodanths, “one of hell’s own armies”, gave “many a grasping and scheming king pause”.
  • The daughter of the slain king, Tarathala Dawnstar, declared herself queen of Arduin.
  • “The human wolves gathered round their borders in ever growing numbers”.

And then?

Elf Magic: It's Not Just For Cookies Anymore

Elf Magic: It’s Not Just For Cookies Anymore

“…the road to gods and demons, the trail of tears and danger.” So. Freakin’. Awesome.

This is a major part of the appeal of old school. The power. The energy. The “turn it up to eleven” attitude long before “turn it up to eleven” was a phrase.

Eventually, the elvish and human armies met in battle, 1,100 elves against over 100,000 humans…

"...screamed to the high winds of hell..."

“…screamed to the high winds of hell…”

Yeah! This needs to be animated, Heavy Metal style. Seriously. Why hasn’t it been? Get a Kickstarter going, or something.

Well, the Wars Of When went won… went on … for another 10,000 years after that, until the aforementioned Accord of Arduin. And we learn something of the nature of play in those long-lost glory days of gaming…

"Organized Play", Thirty Years Early

“Organized Play”, Thirty Years Early

The Inns And Roadhouses (Again) Of Arduin

So, now that we’ve finished the epic history of the world, stretching back a million years or more, what next?

A list of inns and roadhouses, of course! Only 14 pages past where they were discussed originally. Old school, dude. What can you do?

Few Modern Dives Include The Word 'Carnelian'

Few Modern Dives Include The Word ‘Carnelian’

This table goes on for four full pages. This says a lot about the detail Dave put into his world, or maybe he just liked making up bar names. We will (probably) never know if they were each written up specifically, or if nothing but a name and a rating were ever defined.

There’s a footnote on one page…

Three Out Of Four Alehouses In Arduin Are Alliterative

OK, we’ve covered inns, dates, holidays, religions, guilds, history, and inns… what’s next?

Undead Attacks

What else?

The list of inns is followed by a small table explaining the attacks of various undead — how much damage they do, and additional effects such as paralysis or drain. And this note:

Quite Simple, Really

Quite Simple, Really

Another classic example of Dave in his best “All you of Earth are idiots!” mode. Of course the time required is based on the attacking monster’s hit dice level! Note the use of italics to emphasize the obviousness of the answer. Why are you people bothering Dave with these stupid questions? He’s got awesome things to write about the iron-grey cataphracts of Viruelandia. (Damn, but I love that phrase. I’m going to have to work it into my next project. If I stick to my plan to write the next Rogue Planet novel, it will fit well, come to think of it.)

Space Aliens And Angry Players

We end — almost — with two disconnected (?) rants:

First, Dave wisely and correctly (and I mean that without sarcasm) dismisses those who would insist on “purity” in their world where Howard’s barbarians, Vance’s wizards, and Tolkien’s elves battle Poul Anderson’s troll and Van Vogt’s displacer beast. (To be clear, that bit after ‘world’ is my boilerplate example of the ‘purity’ of D&D, not Dave’s, though I’m sure, were he here, he’d concur with my description.) He points out that an alien with a blaster is no stranger than a dragon which breathes fire, and the inhabitants of a fantasy city, exposed to phraints and centaurs and rune weavers and the like, would consider aliens just one more species, the blaster merely an exotic magic item. He goes on to write:

"Whittle Till It Fits" Is A Good Motto For Any DM

“Whittle ‘Till It Fits” Is A Good Motto For Any DM

Damn skippy!

I have a love, in my own games, of pan-dimensional, alternate-reality, genre mashup themes. I like vast canvases I can paint on, usually in broad strokes, but sometimes drilling down to ridiculously fine details… like covering a million years of history in one long paragraph and then having four pages of inns. I’ve mentioned the “variable detail” aspect of old school before; this is just another example.

Next, Dave produces an early, though probably not the first, rant on what do you do with a cranky player, early in the morning? Remind him you’ve got the viking hat on (x3), early in the morning. (I’ve been listening to Marc Gunn’s “Drinking Songs For Cat Lovers”)

Here you go:

Boy, You'd Almost Think RPGS Tend To Draw People With Poor Social Skills Into Highly Social Situations For The First Time In Their Lives, Or Something

Boy, You’d Almost Think RPGs Tend To Draw People With Poor Social Skills Into Highly Social Situations For The First Time In Their Lives, Or Something

Well said, Mr. Hargrave. There are times to not only say “No”, but “Hell, no!”, and “Hell, no, and never darken my doorway again! Begone, foul spawn of the pits!”

And With That…

We reach nearly the end of Welcome To Skull Tower. What’s at the very end? The Table of Contents, of course. Seriously. It’s on the inside back cover. Perhaps Dave should not have asked Bizarro Number One to help with the layout.

Next time… maybe next week, maybe not, I might decide to take a brief break for other projects, or I might keep on with this… weekly content is good, and knowing what I’m going to write about each week really helps me produce something… we will get to the third book, The Runes Of Doom!

If you enjoy this series, please, pass the links around. If you don’t enjoy this series, pass the links around to people you hate.

[1]Or Bldfstd, according to some scholars.

[2]For sufficiently small values of ‘hilarious’.

[3]”Nobody told me we were in a universe with magic space wizards!

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XV

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XV

Miscellaneous Notes Are Miscellaneous

Mu Mesons Are Messy

Also, Travel Times

Also, Save Vs. Save Vs. Petrification

Sorry for missing last week… a lot of chores that had to be done pretty much devoured my writing time. Anyway, here we all are, still working through the information-dense chunk of Skull Tower. In the unlikely event you somehow ended up on this page accidently, possibly because I’m going to write “Bernie Sanders has sex with Kardashians at Mizzou” and see if that raises my google rank, the rest of the articles in the series are here. No Kardashians, but many other creatures of unearthly horror. (No Bernie Sanders, either, but we do discuss fantasy economics. You see what I did there? Gads, I’m witty.)

So. Miscellaneous notes, summarized:

  • I sometimes ding Dave Hargrave for having things on charts and tables that aren’t in the book, but here, he lets us know that all the monsters in the Arduin Grimoire encounter charts are described in that volume. Or in this volume. Or in one of the three volumes of “All The World’s Monsters”, which I happen to have and might go through at some later point for your amusement. Or in the “Monster Cards” sold by Russell Powell of Long Beach, CA. Or in Dave’s filing cabinet, either under ‘M’ for ‘Monster’, ‘C’ for ‘Critter’, or ‘T’ for ‘To Be Filed Later’. I may have made up the last part.
  • If you don’t have the time or imagination to make up your own stuff, read “Alarums & Excursions“. As far as I know, it’s still going!
  • The first “Have you tried roleplaying in this roleplaying game?” rant?
  • roleplaying

    Pick One Of The Hobbits In “The Hobbit”. There Were So Many.

  • Random treasure tables are too personal to share. Also, if someone’s character gets permanently offed, Dave adds a bonus to the loot, which might promote unfortunate behavior…”Hey! I would have lived if you’d healed me!” “Yeah, but this way, the rest of us get a loot bonus!”
  • The “Common Tongue” is simply the dominant language of the local region; there is no global language. The alignment languages of Chaotic, Neutral, and Law (you can tell when in the history of D&D this was written!) are pidgins composed of vocabulary from the races most associated with each alignment.
  • Never tell players what kind of monsters they’re fighting! Show them a picture. Did I mention I sell cards with monster’s pictures on them? Generally, good advice — don’t reveal the monster’s hit points, AC, special abilities, etc., until the players figure them out.
  • Don’t let player knowledge become character knowledge. Again, good advice, but partially problematic due to the lack of a way to determine what the character knows. If you grow up in a village raided by orcs, shouldn’t you (the character) know something about orcs? Further, as noted many times, this was an era of “player skill, not character skill”, and player skill mostly meant memorizing the books and learning from each prior character’s death. Dave’s attempts to drag the game kicking and screaming into the “Roleplay, dammit!” era were hampered by the lack of mechanics to support non-combat knowledges. (And, no, you can’t just “talk it out”, unless you want the game to grind to a halt every time a new monster pops up and you argue if you’ve heard of it before.)
  • Place monsters and treasure YOUR way! It’s YOUR world! Eternal truths there, mate.
  • The saga of George and the Mu-Meson blade. Lightsabres (also lightsabers… seriously, I spent time googling this and found both spellings equally common in official and quasi-official sources), of course, appeared in 1977, a few years after D&D and right about the time the Arduin books were published (Skull Tower is from 1978). So, naturally, they invaded game worlds. Undoubtedly, some folk at the time were whining the game had abandoned its roots in authentic fantasy fiction and was becoming a video game, with everyone just “Ponging” and “Breaking Out” instead of pouring water on the floor to see where the pit trap is, like they did in the good old days of last week.
  • This Is Where I Learned About Mu Mesons

    This Is Where I Learned About Mu Mesons

  • “Competence” is finally fully defined as meaning you are so good at something, you are PLUS TWO (+2) at it. (Caps and parentheticals in original.) +2 to your saves, -2 to opponents’ saves, and +2 to each die(!) of damage done.

The Road Goes Ever, Ever, On, And Is Filled With Random Encounters

Now, following an odd hodge-podge of notes, thoughts, and hints, we get to travel times. Why not?

Man, It Must Have Taken Sam And Frodo Forever To Get To Mordor

Man, It Must Have Taken Sam And Frodo Forever To Get To Mordor

There’s quite a few notes above the chart:

  • These are times on good roads.
  • There’s a system for encounters, implemented (as seen also in a few spots of the Arduin Grimoire) by describing a chart in a sentence. (“On a roll of 1-4, this. On a roll of 5-7, that.”)
  • Travel times are reduced by 1 mile for each amount of weight carried that is equal to 20% of your maximum weight allowance, compounded monthly.

And some notes from me:

  • Man, even with those stubby little legs, dwarves can book it!
  • “All Half-Elves” implies there’s more than one kind of half-elf… dwarf/elf? Hobbit/elf? Phraint/elf?
  • “Hobbits, etc.” What’s the “etc”? Kobbits, perhaps?
  • Orcs travel as fast as elves… and last longer… and need to stop less. Sauron improved the breed, clearly.
  • Human women can travel 16 miles a day, but Amazons can travel 20 miles a day. So this sort of answers the question of whether Arduin Amazons are a species or a culture.
  • My spell checker suggested replacing “dwarves” with “adwares”. Go home, spell checker. You’re drunk.

Next is a discussion on inter-city coach lines, with their rates and travel times. It’s one of those little bits, of which there are many scattered in the Trilogy, that make you stop and think about the nature of day-to-day life in your world, and remind you that the campaign setting doesn’t, or shouldn’t, consist entirely of The Town (containing the The Blacksmith, The Temple, and The Inn) and The Dungeon.

Then, horses, and other riding beasts, a chart cross-indexing type (including camel and ox) with five grades (six, if you count the assumed ‘average’) to yield a travel time, which will then be adjusted by terrain.

Following this is an “Escape and Evasion” chart, cross indexing the level of the pursuer with the terrain type to yield a base chance to flee successfully. This is a good abstraction of what’s often a difficult thing to model in RPGs. The footnote on the chart reminds the DM to consider elven cloaks, boots of speed, and the like, but — for the thousandth time — the lack of any kind of unified mechanic comes around again. The GM will basically be plucking percentages out of thin air for each possible adjusting factor — and whether hunter or hunted, the players will undeniably be looking for such factors (those in their favor, of course.)

We’ve covered on-foot travel times, horse travel times, coaches, and wilderness escape chances. Now, saving throws vs. medusa.

Yes, really.

The next item is a saving roll chart for “all stoning of the glance or gaze variety”, based on both the level of the character making the save, and the distance from the gazing or glancing (is there a difference?) creature. Oh, wait. This isn’t the saving roll vs. stoning chart. This is the saving roll vs. saving roll vs. petrification chart. Seriously. If you fail your roll on this chart, then you need to roll your normal saving throw. Otherwise, you avoid the gaze. Me, I assumed the saving throw, at least in part, modeled “not looking at the damn thing in the first place”, but some people wanted more detail.

The next part of the book — most of the remainder, in fact — is material about the setting itself. It’s tremendously inspirational and shaped, and continues to shape, a lot of my worldbuilding. So expect a lot of fawning mixed in with the inevitable sarcasm. (Everything I do is sarcastic. If I met God Himself, I’d probably start off with “Great job on the platypus, there. You outsourced that one, didn’t you?” (Well, I mean, I’d start off with that after recovering from having to adjust my atheism.))

Meanwhile, here’s a barbarian hobbit.

Belkar Bitterleaf, OD&D Version

Belkar Bitterleaf, OD&D Version

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XIV

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XIV

More Rules!

Magik Rules! Fumble Rules! Weapon Rules!

But first… a digression!

I was looking through my copy of Greyhawk to see if a particular spell had entered the D&D canon by then, and I noticed something I’d never noticed before, despite having read GH multiple times through during the years when it was relatively current. (In the late 1970s, it was a year between publication of each volume of AD&D, so we had to cobble together working rules out of a mix of what had been released so far and bits of older editions.) Check the “Meteor Swarm” description:

meteor swarm

Who is Jim? Sorry, (Jim!). Jim Ward, probably, but I’m guessing. Well, OK. So, why the call-out and exclamation point? It’s a rather Hargravian touch in a Gygaxian work. Anyone know the secret backstory?

Back to Arduin.

Clerical Magik

(Sometimes, I’ll write ‘Magic’. Sometimes, I’ll write ‘Magik (sic)’. And sometimes, I’ll write ‘Magik’ without the ‘sic’. Dave Hargrave wasn’t consistent, and I’m honoring his memory.)

As noted last week, there’s already been a section of notes on clerical and healing magic… and so what? The original Arduin trilogy is a glorious exercise in extemporanea. Here you go:

Dave's Players Let Orcs Get Away?

Dave’s Players Let Orcs Get Away? For Shame! They Have Loot On Them!

It’s interesting, because this implies “evil healing” was an ongoing point of contention. There were a lot of those. Anyone who thinks “holy wars” over the interpretation of rules is somehow a new thing (undoubtedly beginning with the edition after the one they started with, which was a perversion of all that is good and holy) is kidding themselves. Gaming culture grew out of a blend of wargaming culture and SF fandom, both of which have been full of people arguing violently over trivia since their inception.

Rules Additions, Changes, And Deletions

(That’s the header for this page.)

Summary and comments:

  • Any “magik utilizing type” (IOW, I’m guessing, clerics, druids, and so on) can try to cast a spell higher level than they normally can, if they have an Intelligence over 14 (but shouldn’t it be Wisdom for clerics?), at a rate of each 3 points over 14=+1 possible level, with a 20% chance per level above the normal limit of spell failure. This is a pretty nifty rule. Dave explicitly notes that due to the spell failure, the use of spells more than four levels over your own is impossible… which has the somewhat scary implication some of Dave’s players had casters with an Int of 26 or more.
  • Dispel magic assumes a 50% chance when the casters are equal level, increasing/decreasing 10% for each level’s difference. (So, if you’re one level higher than the target, you have a 60% chance to dispel; one level lower, 40%.) This is a nice, simple, and elegant rule.
  • All “device magik”(wands, rods, staffs, technology) does full dice damage automatically. (Italics in original, but if they weren’t, I’d have added ’em.) Wow! I’m assuming this means “maximum possible rolled damage”, though I guess it could mean “maximum dice as if cast at the highest possible level”, but most of the X dice/level spells, at the time, didn’t have a level cap.
  • And speaking of simple and elegant…NOT.
    Also, Take The Square Root Of The Caster's Height In Furlongs And Divide By His Current Encumbrance In Kilograms

    Also, Take The Square Root Of The Caster’s Height In Furlongs And Divide By His Current Encumbrance In Kilograms

    If you fail this check, of course, you roll on the fumble chart. Not the fumble chart we covered back in Arduin Grimoire, of course, another one. (Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure there were other rules for spell disruption we’ve looked at… I’ll have to check some time.)

I Can Just Imagine The Debates Over Figuring Out What 5% Of A Spell Is

I Can Just Imagine The Debates Over Figuring Out What 5% Of A Spell Is

What’s the exact reverse of a fireball? An iceball, or a “healing flame”? How about a Summoning spell? Does the caster get summoned? Does it summon things hostile to the caster? Yeah, I know the catechism: “You don’t need icky rules. Reasonable people will work out an answer. If you get into arguments, find better players.” It’s nice to know that a)Reasonable people never disagree on what the “reasonable” answer is, and b)There’s an endless supply of mature and well-adjusted people out there who want to spend 6 hours on a Friday night crammed around a kitchen table pretending to be elves.

Also, this:

Plus One Die For Each Magik Plus One? What?

Plus 1 Die Per Magik Plus Over One? What?

Maybe this refers to “competence”, so a “fire competent” magic user does two more dice of damage?

Combat Rules

Continuing the theme of “high density information dump”, we move on to combat.

  • It is a “fact” that everyone has a 3% chance per level of placing any missile or aimed shot into an “exact” target” (does this supersede the normal roll to hit? Or do you roll to hit and then roll %ile to see if you hit what you want? Or does this apply only to hitting non-moving targets? And does it matter if it’s a 10th level Ranger or a 10th level Merchant? Or…), hobbits and kobbits get a 25% bonus, while elves get a 10% bonus.
  • Also:
Go Ahead. Tell Me How Complex The AOO Rules Are.

Go Ahead. Tell Me How Complex The AOO Rules Are.

And speaking of opportunity…

Opportunity

It Knocks But Once

So, uhm… yeah.

Now, this is the educational portion of our program. Why did rules like this appear? Because they were necessary, and because the “state of the art” at the time was, let us be frank, primitive. (No, that wasn’t frank. Frank is “pretty execrable, actually”. The rules, I mean. Frank’s an OK kind of guy, really. Once you get to know him.) The kinds of actions that commonly occurred in dungeon crawls — “I stand up”, “I wait until the orc pokes out from behind that wall, then shoot him” — had no real mechanical support. The “reasonable” people all had very different ideas about what “should” happen, based on if they got their ideas about “real” combat from reading comics, watching movies, or playing wargames. (The fourth group, the SCAers/other recreationists, tended to have a good knowledge base, but also were even more prone to cluttering things up with endless minutiae that often fell below the level of resolution of the highly abstract D&D system.) And, people being people, there was often a bias towards whatever interpretation was most favorable at the moment, then flip-flopping when it became unfavorable. So, some kind of “Look, this is what we’re doing, period!” rule was required… but the idea of a coherent system where there was one dominant or universal resolution mechanic, with each needed rule being mostly a determination of the inputs into that mechanic, was far off. So, each action or circumstance got its own rule, often with its own special supporting mechanics. (I’m not sure what the “emergency turn chart” is… was that in an earlier book? I didn’t see it when I flipped through the Grimoire just now, and it’s not in the forthcoming pages in Skull Tower…)

Even today, there’s a tension in game design between generic, easily applied rules that ignore many of the small details that aid immersion, and piles of modifiers and special exceptions that slog the game to a crawl as you try to squeeze one more +1 out of the mechanics. (“But I’m wearing hard boots! Doesn’t that give me DR 1/- vs. caltrops?)

Moving on, we get to weapon breakage rules. There’s a big chart of percentages cross-indexed by attackers strength and weapon plus and armor types, but I’m going to skip that and focus on the explanation…

"Surprised You, Didn't I?" Is A Phrase Rarely Seen In Modern Games

“Surprised You, Didn’t I?” Is A Phrase Rarely Seen In Modern Games

Yeah, you see, while the chart and rules include “every pertinent factor accounted for and adjudicated for”, the times when you are supposed to use it are not nearly as clearly spelled out. How do you know if a monster is dense enough to damage a weapon? Hey, that’s for you to figure out. Dave can’t do everything for you, man.

The next page discusses weapon groups and proficiency bonuses — all pretty well done, if not entirely consistent with similar discussions elsewhere, but, consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, and in Arduin, hobgoblins could be wearing +2 plate armor and carrying flaming longswords, so, there you go. There are also rules for learning new weapon proficiencies, which are fairly harsh — basically you need to tell your “resident DM” (this was in an era when players regularly moved characters from table to table) that you are doing so, and you need to earn experience using only that weapon equal to the amount needed to gain your next level, but said XP doesn’t actually count towards that level game. (“Trade XP for abilities” was a fairly common experimental mechanic in this era, but it often failed because it used static amounts of experience, which meant that the cost became nominal as experience gain increased. Dave Hargrave addressed that with this rule.)

I do need to comment on how much of the preceding remains echoed in modern incarnations of D&D. Rules for standing (and the risks thereby), as well as the effects of being prone. Rules for held actions and reactions. Rules for casting failure if the caster is damaged mid-chant. Rules for sundering weapons and armor. Rules for weapon specialization and learning new weapon skills. All of these are now core.  Dave Hargrave’s instincts towards what rules were needed were rock-solid, even if some of the design work was a little spotty. He had far too many ideas, visions, and creations to give any one of them attention and polish… but the world would be a far poorer place if he’d released a tenth as much material, having taken ten times longer to refine it. The raw creativity more than compensates for the rough implementation.

Next time: More rules! Seriously. I told you there was a lot of this to go through.