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Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VIII

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VIII

The Gems Of Arduin

Literally And Figuratively

Also, Ropes

OK! Last week I wrote a short article, and forgot to post it. It’s posted now. I’m claiming it as not breaking my weekly schedule. The fact no one but me read it last week hardly matters; my readership count for posted, unposted, and purely imaginary articles remains roughly equal.

But this week, I have no excuse for a shorter article; I’m home all day (probably). So let’s get going!

Old Oliphaunt Puke

Hey, I just had to work this in. There’s a small list of some goods and services, with notes, in the typical Arduin style, such things as shoeing a horse (1-5 pennies), mailing a letter, buying salt, and “a bottle of wine” which is “a penny and up”. That has the following footnote:

I Want To Write A Random Cheap Wine Name Table

I Want To Write A Random Cheap Wine Name Table

Please also note the rate at which silver coating wears off. Keep track of each hit, folks! (Or reserve your silver sword for fighting undead.) Frankly, this seems too simple and predictable for Real Old School… I’d make it “2d10% per hit, rolled secretly, so you never know unless you take time to inspect the blade after a fight and see if the coating is still intact”.

Rope A Dope

Here’s an example of one of my favorite things to make an example of: Variable Level of Detail, or VLD, an acronym I coined now and will forget by my next post. A common feature of Old School Games was highly abstract, simplified rules for somethings, and insanely specific and detailed rules for others, with the reasoning behind which concept got which treatment being wholly obscure to anyone but the rules writer. (“So, wait… this game has more pages of rules and modifiers for throwing things from one PC to another than it does for all of melee combat?” — this is not made-up snark. This is, in fact, a literal and accurate description of Space Opera. ) And so it is with ropes.

No Modifiers For Rope Composition Or Previous Wear & Tear? Foo.

No Modifiers For Rope Composition Or Previous Wear & Tear? Foo.

Because there’s nothing like hearing the players say “Well, we rope ourselves together so we don’t fall into the pit!” and then saying, “Well, let me just roll on the rope breakage chart!” (And I’ll bet at least one player found a way to invoke this chart when their character was the subject of a little mob justice…)

I can’t believe Pathfinder doesn’t have a chart like this. I ought to write one.

The People Responsible For The Multiversal Price List In Volume I Have Been Sacked

The next page is a price list that supplements the list in the Arduin Grimoire. I’m going to include  a slice of it to show the breadth of stuff you could buy, but it’s mostly fairly mundane and sensible. It is important, to me, because it conveys the sense of a world that lurks beyond the bounds of the PCs, and it can inspire creativity in odd ways. What can one do with some bagpipes, a jar of paste, and a bilge pump?

Bagpipes: 5-500 GS. Stuffing Someone's Bagpipes With Paste: Priceless.

Bagpipes: 5-500 GS. Stuffing Someone’s Bagpipes With Paste: Priceless.

I am not sure if what “Elf Tea” does for you. It might be covered later. I’m betting it’s one of those really weak, thin, teas that 20-somethings who only eat gluten-free organic locally sourced heirloom radishes picked by union labor drink. (And is the Pixie Wine made from real pixies? Well, actually, near the end of Book III, there’s something… but, no. Spoilers!)

And what kind of Old School supplement would Welcome to Skull Tower be, if it didn’t correct the prior supplement?



Let’s see who’s old enough to get the caption…

True Treasures

The next few pages are, to me, some of the most important in the trilogy. They’re not the goofiest, or the strangest, or the most mechanically complex. They’re simple lists of things, like the pages we’ve been covering for several posts now, but they ignited a spark in my imagination way back when, and that spark has never been extinguished.

What are they? Coins and gems.

Big whoop, you say. Treasure was how you kept score. Whatever. Get to the octorilla!

Don’t worry, the octorilla is en route. But these aren’t simple lists of conversion of 10 coppers to a silver piece. These are… well, here’s the coins.

It Is An Intriguing Thought That Titans Have Their Own Currency. Titans Of Industry!

It Is An Intriguing Thought That Titans Have Their Own Currency. Titans Of Industry!

So, at a time when all treasure was, effectively, blank disks in three (later five) colors, this presented the idea of a world sprawling out before me, a world where elves had a currency for themselves and one they used when dealing with dwarves; a world where even copper came in three sizes; a world where coins could be stars of platinum or cubes of ivory. A world where such places as “legendary Khra” and “the Dreaming Isles” existed… somewhere. Where “the lost city of Koraz” traded, not in gold and silver, but in brass and tin.

I mean, c’mon! “The iron coins of dread Marmochand.” That sentence alone invokes wonder and awe and mystery, infects you with a desire to know more. Well, it infected me at any rate. This table make me think — still makes me think — about all sorts of things when I create worlds. It shows, in one page, how a world can, and should, sprawl from the most mundane — a tiny copper coin to buy a loaf of bread — to the most fantastic — orichalcum serpent coins used in legend by the Kthoi, who or whatever the Kthoi are or were. And that very lack of explanation is part of the appeal. The Arduin books presented an almost random collection of bits and pieces of Dave Hargrave’s imaginations. They’re like finding a collection of torn and random pages from some lost series of great novels, trying to piece together the whole story from the fragments you have at hand.

When you design a fantasy, or science fiction, world… consider the money used. Not just its value, but its look and feel. Money is, after all, a fairly important part of life. It has real power and symbolic significance.

Orc Eyes And Dragon Tears

On the facing page, gems. Again, I’d tended to think of gems as being, effectively, a low-weight way to carry a lot of coins, and saving every gold piece of weight — why, yes, the “gold piece” was a unit of weight, why do you ask? — was often critical, as you’d never know when the DM was going to spontaneously remember the encumbrance rules everyone ignored most of the time. As with coins, though, the Arduin tables opened my mind to a range of new possibilities.

"And Did You See? Grughuk Of The Ninteenth Abyssal Plain Got Me This Black Diamond Engagement Ring!"

“And Did You See? Grughuk Of The Ninteenth Abyssal Plain Got Me This Black Diamond Engagement Ring!”

“Rainbow diamonds… associated with the dread Elder Gods and their foul rites”… how can one read this and not be inspired? “Elf stones… as the name implies”… erm… OK, you’ve kind of got me there. I’m not sure what the name implies, other than that “stones” is sometimes a euphemism for something I can’t imagine being used as a form of currency… probably. And “Dunestars, found in mirage oasis only”… are they illusionary gems? Or does the mirage somehow leave behind a real gem? Either way, it’s cool. What does a star tear look like? It’s never stated, but I’d envision something like an oval of perfectly transparent glass, which glows brightly with its own internal light. The “prized by” and “used by” notes are the sort of thing a canny player memorized to weasel out a bonus of some sort when forced, by dire circumstance, to negotiate instead of slaughter. Fortunately, that didn’t happen often.

Another page follows, including nine kinds of pearls, and many different kinds of coral and marble, and even more, all of which served to tell me how vast a world could be and how many kinds of things — even in the category of ‘colorful rocks’ — it could contain. Then we go on, further still, to “other valuables”…

And Now You Know Why Unicorns Were Hunted To Extinction...

And Now You Know Why Unicorns Were Hunted To Extinction…

I am afraid I must note that there are, of course, no actual rules for how to use nacre in alchemical experiments, or what smoking hemp does for you in terms of “magik rites”, unless you’re performing an “Invoke Munchies” spell. But who cares? It’s still cool. I also have to love that “black powder” is used in “esoteric rites and rituals”, such as “the ritual of blowing the crap out of someone from a good ways away” and “the ritual of the DM and the player arguing about if their character knows how to make a gun just because the player does”.

This concludes the price and equipment section. Next time — mage spells, and the octorilla! I promise!

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VII

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VII

The Charts Go Ever, Ever, On

This week’s ‘short article’ excuse: I went to go see a movie with my wife. I have a life, you know! (Still stuck in a holding pattern on the move closer to work. If we get one of the houses we want, I’ll have a 2-minute commute, and since there’s absolutely nothing worth going to, seeing, or doing in the area, I’ll have a lot more time to write these articles.)

We continue our rampage through the price lists of the Multiversal Trading Company, and I continue to go “neener neener” to the Old School Revisionists who like to claim “magic item shops” and a mechanistic, X GP for Y Power approach to magic was somehow added due to “video game Diablo Warcraft kiddies” some time around the turn of the century. I will also continue being stunned and amazed by the sheer breadth of creativity, imagination, and mad genius that Dave Hargrave evinced in this tome, and likewise continue making cheap jokes at the expense of a much greater creator than I could ever hope to be when I stumble on some of the oddities, confusions, and contradictions that abound.

Wands, Rings, Amulets… First Floor. Cloaks, Clothing, Menswear, Third Floor.

The Wand Chooses The Wizard... Bullshit! The Wizard Chooses The Wand, Including How Many Charges It Has

The Wand Chooses The Wizard… Bullshit! The Wizard Chooses The Wand, Including How Many Charges It Has

“How much for one ring to rule them all?”
“That depends, Sir. Do you want it to be able to find them?”

Now, you may notice a few things, looking at the above:

  • Helms cost a whole lot more than anything else. There’s a very good reason for this. Helms were among the very few magic items that fighting-men… erm… fighters… could generally use. And a helm of teleport would be an incredible boon to a fighter, enabling him to skedaddle as needed, and it was needed a lot.
  • The other prices have less obvious rationales. It’s not clear why wands, which can you carry an infinite number of (given a sufficient number of bags of holding), are cheaper than rings, when you could only wear two. (Wands could be knocked from your hands more easily, I suppose).
  • I suppose jewelry is anything not a ring or amulet? Earring, bracer, exotic piercing…
  • An “offensive power” could be “magic missile” or “Power Word: Kill”, all for the same price? This looks like an obvious loophole and I can’t believe Dave’s players didn’t exploit it.
  • It seems as if, in general, ‘detect’ abilities cost more. I can only infer that, like a lot of older games, a great deal of emphasis was placed on hiding treasure and/or setting up ambushes, making the ability to spy out hidden items or hidden enemies exceptionally useful.

Mr. Humphries, Are You Free?

I’m Free!

Then Show This Gentleman Something In An Iron Golem.

Don't Worry About The Length Of The Arms... They'll Ride Up With Wear

Don’t Worry About The Length Of The Arms… They’ll Ride Up With Wear

OK, here we go… at the time, D&D had exactly four golems… iron, stone, flesh, and clay. This remained pretty standard for a while… unlike dragons, there wasn’t much of an ‘official’ impulse to expand the golem types. (In general, almost any type of monster with an adjective begs for expansion… if you’ve got hill giants and stone giants, why not forest giants and magma giant?)

But in Arduin, the golems went up to 11. Actually, I think there’s 15 there. But anyway… this little list is a perfect example of what Arduin means to me.. an outpouring of concepts without a lot of detailed explanation. OK, without any explanation. It inspired you to add meaning to names, to figure out exactly how a ‘shadow golem’ worked. And what the hell is ‘orichalcum’, anyway? I didn’t know then… I’m not sure I know now. But it was worth more than gold or adamantine!

The idea of a speaking, flying, hasted green slime golem really appeals to me.

Scrolls? Just Past The Elevators, To Your Left.

Well, This One Has A Level Cost, At Least

Well, This One Has A Level Cost, At Least

This is an interesting table, not least of which because it includes a concept still not common in modern incarnation of D&D or Pathfinder… resistances for scrolls! This may be because modern games rarely include targeting magic items on a one-by-one basis; there’s nothing in the current iteration of fireball that specifies your items need to save. In the old days, however, it was assumed that anything that damaged you might damage your items, and scrolls, in particular, were especially fragile. This often led to debates about scroll cases, and precisely where on your person a scroll was stored, and “OK, fine, your scroll is in a lead-lined ivory scroll tube inside a steel scroll carrying case… now explain how you got it out in the six seconds you had before the orc raced across the room to cleave your head in.” (Another reason Dave Hargrave deserves major praise for inventing the 6-second combat round 13 years early… the amount of bullshit a player could claim they could do in one minute was simply ridiculous. A six second round cut down the possibilities considerably.)

I am not sure what “self protecting” means. Does the scroll, sensing an incoming acid attack, tear itself from its owner’s hands and burrow into the backpack, huddling behind a backup suit of +2 chain mail?

We conclude this sub-section with two important things.

First, Dave Hargrave reminds us that he’s just sharing his world — and your world is your own, to do with as you please.

Seriously, This Can't Be Emphasized Enough

Seriously, This Can’t Be Emphasized Enough

Second, as promised, the second to last bit of Erol Otus art to be found in the original trilogy:

"The Terror, Yet Only A Baby!"

“The Terror, Yet Only A Baby!”

Next week… with luck, more time and a longer piece. I’m hoping, maybe, to clear through the price lists. There’s two lists coming up that had a profound influence on my sense of what a fantasy world could be.

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VI

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VI

Usury & Unicorns

Well, There’s No Actual Unicorns. But Not Many Words Start With ‘U’.

Usury & Ukeleles? Usury & Umbrellas? Usury & Unicycles?

I Give Up

Welcome to “Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VI”. In what is rapidly becoming a ritual, I note this will be a relatively short excursion, as I spent yesterday working on some actual paid gaming work, leaving me only a few hours before I need to leave to go play in my weekly Pathfinder game, and there’s no time during the week to write. So it goes.We continue our shopping spree, as we have many pages of price lists to go. By the way, you may have heard that in Ye Olde Schoole Dayse, magic items were as rare as merciful game masters, and there were no “magic item shops” or the like, and people weren’t decked out like Christmas trees covered in magic items, and if you played every week for three years, you might, just might, have found a rusty +1 dagger, and you cherished it like it was your own child, and blah blah blah.

Hope that clears that up.

There’s a lot of stuff to buy in Arduin, ranging from the mundane (a pound of salt for 1 silver penny) to the… not so mundane (Orichalcum golem, base price 100,000 gs, but you’ll want to add in extras like haste (15,000) and magik defense (also 15,000). But, you ask, “How can I afford these wonderful things when every orc I kill only has 1d4 copper pieces on it?” Well, that’s easy.

You take out a loan.

E-Z Credit 4 U!

E-Z Credit 4 U!

Now, it doesn’t specify what the loan term is or how often it’s compounded, but that 50% has got to be nasty at first level… and, by the way…

By "May", We Mean "Will"

By “May”, We Mean “Will”

Yeah. Miss a payment, wake up dead.

It is noted that just because there’s a price list, doesn’t mean the item is actually for sale… the Multiversal Trading Company has to buy something before it can sell it, after all. This serves as a way for the GM to prevent some items from entering his campaign — after all, only they know what has been “bought” in the past. For example, it may be the case that no cheese is in stock at the moment, or what is in stock is extremely runny.

Of course, most players don’t want salt, or golems, or salt golems, they want weapons.

Not Listed: Glaive, Guisarme, Glaive-Guisarme, Glaive Glaive Guisarme And Glaive...

Not Listed: Glaive, Guisarme, Glaive-Guisarme, Glaive Glaive Guisarme And Glaive…

As you can see, you can pretty much cost out most any combination you wish.  A few points:

  • In Arduin, weapons can have different “plusses” for to-hit and damage. Do you buy them twice (so +1 to hit, +1 to damage is 2 plusses?) or does this chart assume the more traditional rule that a +1 weapon is +1 to both?
  • The prices really don’t make a lot of sense, even by the standards of the day. Why, for example, is adding life draining to a two-handed hammer (750) so much cheaper than adding it to a scimitar? I even checked the weapon vs. AC and weapon damage vs. monster size tables in The Arduin Grimoire. The two-handed hammer is a better weapon on both counts. Yeah, you can’t use a shield, but do the math. For the cost of adding life draining to a scimitar (5000), you can it to a 2-handed hammer (750) and make it a +4 weapon! I have to assume there was some internal logic behind a chart this detailed, but damned if I can figure it out.
  • Likewise, some of these prices should just be flat rates… is a dagger that speaks Dwarvish somehow less useful than a sling that speaks Dwarvish? (Hell, for 145 gold/language, a dagger could be a lot cheaper than a translator, and easier to carry, too. Broadswords are cheaper still, but harder to bring with you to a social gathering.)

Man (Dwarf, Kobbit, Phraint, Centaur…) Cannot Live Kill By Magic Weapons Alone

Having a +5 Two Handed Hammer of Life Drain is nice, but as we’ve seen from earlier articles, Arduin is not a safe place. You need more if you want to make it to 100th level as an Outlaw and get a +1 with any missile weapon! Fortunately, Dave Hargrave has you covered.

Apple-Scented Candles Of Power, +5 CP.

Apple-Scented Candles Of Power, +5 CP

So hear you go. This is, to be sure, hardly an exhaustive list of magic items (we’re also not done with this section), but it does have a lot of the most common.

  • “Horns Of Nordic Magik”… I guess Dave worried “Horn of Valhalla” might bring down TSR’s lawyers? Ditto “Cards Of Many Magik Things” and “Gauntlets of Super Strength”.
  • No “Added Cost Factors” for magic brooms? Sheesh, in the Harry Potter books, there’s an entire industry centered around them.
  • “Variable depending on speed of flight” is nice, but… varies how? +x GP/10′ of base flight speed? What? Ah well. A lot of what’s cool about Arduin, as I said before, is that it consists much more of “nudges to get you thinking” than it does “absolute rules”. The books in general… and much of the area I’m exploring now, in particular… are more “stuff to think about you may not have thought to think about” (think about it — that does parse correctly) than truly definitive lists.
  • I am not sure what “Magik String” does.
  • It’s sort of amusing that “Boots of Walking On Anything” are “Super Rare”, but the “Deck of Many Magik Things”, which is well-known as a TPK engine, isn’t. Or, perhaps, that’s the point. “Hey, you guys want to spend 100 grand to screw yourselves over in a dozen horrific ways? Be my guest.” The boots, OTOH, are likely to be very useful in foiling the GMs most cunning plans. (I utterly pissed off my GM when, in my Pathfinder game, I pointed out that Water Walking, despite its name, also let us walk harmlessly on top of molten lava… said so right in the spell description… we were able to enter a major fight having taken far less damage than he’d expected. Heh heh heh. Some things never change.)

As I said, this has to be brief… next time… golems, rings, scrolls, one of the few remaining Erol Otus drawings, and “Old Oliphant Puke”.

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part IV

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part IV

Shopkeepers, Slavers, And Courtesans, Oh My!

(Did I Do The A, B, & C Thing In A Header Already? I Can’t Recall.)

(Well, Bugger It If I Have. You Ought To Know By Now I’ll Beat A Joke To Death, Reincarnate It, And Beat It Some More.)

(Yeah, But That’s Not A Joke, Even By Your Admittedly Overbroad Standards. At Best, It’s An Allusion.)
(So? My Favorite Character Was a Gnome Allusionist! See, That’s A Joke.)
(A Very Small One.)
(No, He Was Average Size For A Gnome)
(… I’m Outta Here.)

We (That’s the royal ‘we’, but I’m ‘murrican, and we don’t have no kings (‘ceptin’ Elvis and Kirby, so I guess it’s the Elected We) continue our walk through the classic Arduin trilogy of gaming supplements. More classes this time. Possibly something else, but it’s unlikely I’ll get that far. We’ll see. Hell, it’s possible I won’t even get through the classes.

But First, A Correction

I’d made a comment that there were no attribute-based bonuses to thief/martial artist skills, leaving the percentages exceptionally low. Well, I was wrong, for on the very next page, there’s a list of such modifiers. You get a +5% per each point OVER FOURTEEN (14) of the attributes in question, which is pretty straightforward for the era, and, also typical of the era, many use averages instead of a single attribute. For example, your bonus to Lie is Charisma and Intelligence… sorry, CHARISMA and INTELLIGENCE… “combined, then averaged”. Honestly, I sort of prefer this approach… or even a ‘variable attribute based on task’ approach… to the 3.x/Pathfinder system where attributes and skills are linked even for uses where there’s not always a perfect fit. On the other hand, I know people who really hate that kind of fussing over fine details of whether a particular task is more based on Intelligence or Dexterity. (The rules in Arduin continue to reference Agility, as well as Dexterity, so it seems it was a standard house rule in Dave’s games, one he assumed everyone played with.)

Also, Luck items add a flat +20% per plus, which, when you consider many of the odds start at 5% and go up by very small amounts per level, makes them extremely good to have.

Abby… Someone

One of the oldest debates in RPGs is the issue of whether normal people have levels. What, exactly, can a fifth level Candlemaker do that a fourth level one can’t? (Well, according to my homebrew rules, produce 0.45 more candles per hour, on average.) Dave included an XP chart for “Normals” in the Arduin Grimoire, but offered no guidelines on what that meant. He corrects that oversight in Welcome To Skull Tower. Sort of.

Do You Get Bonus XP If The Boots Are High, Hard?

Do You Get Bonus XP If The Boots Are High, Hard?

It’s good to know the real problem was the lack of an XP chart, and now that we’ve got that, everything else is easy.


Outlaws represent all manner of bandits, brigands, highwaymen, bikers, and so on. Like the martial artist, they’re intended to be used as a template to construct a particular type… also like the martial artist, the actual rules for differentiating types mechanically are pretty much non-existent, except for weapon choices. It’s interesting to note that it was understood, at the time, that a highly-customizable generic class was superior to a dozen or more specific classes that differed from each other only by a little, but no one had quite worked out how to do one, short of abandoning classes altogether, as Runequest (and others of the era) did.

  • Outlaws use an 8 sided die (-1 point per die) for “experience points”. I sure hope they meant “hit points”.
  • Outlaws wear light armor to facilitate fast getaways, and will not use halberds or other ‘encumbering’ weapons.
  • Outlaws cannot have a Wisdom over 9, because it’s “not wise to flout the laws of the land”. It’s not wise to go crawling into forgotten tombs and abandoned castles, either, but no one puts that restriction on adventurers in general.
  • Outlaws get XP for selling prisoners to Slavers, and loot to fences. They get 10 times as much XP for the prisoners as for the loot, but I guess gold and gems are more portable and less likely to escape and slit your throat (then again, this being the 1970s, the odds are good your gems and gold were actually monsters of some kind), so it all evens out.
You Get A +20% To Swimming Ability... Which Doesn't Exist.

You Get A +20% To Swimming Ability… Which Doesn’t Exist.

As always, a few quick notes on the table:

  • We start off with an all-too-common problem with the Arduin books… a bonus to a mechanic that doesn’t exist. There are no formal “escape and evasion” rules I know of from this time. I guess the DM can add 15% to whatever odds they decide on, or +3 if they’re using a D20, or tear their hair out if their “escape and evasion” rules are something like “escapes on 1-2 on a D6, unless pursued by elves, in which case, it’s a 1 on a D8, or if mounted, in which case, it’s a 5 or less on 2d6-2″, and, yes, we used to have a smeg-ton of mechanics like that…
  • You get Weapon Focus (missile weapons only) as a bonus feat at second level. That’s cool.
  • Thief abilities at “double the experience cost”? What does that mean? +1 effective Thief level for every 2 outlaw levels? Or was there a “spend XP to get abilities” rule that was lost forever? (Or to be found in future pages as I work through these, I guess…)
  • +1 to any weapon for parry purposes only. There actually are parry rules on page 51 of the Grimoire. They’re confusing as all hell, but they’re there.
  • Looking at the 50th and 100th(!) level abilities, it seems “useful with any weapon” was deemed far, far, better than “having a higher bonus with one weapon”. This must be that “bounded accuracy” thing D&D 5e is so big on.
  • Tracking people through the woods is easier than putting on makeup. Who knew?

Special Politically Incorrect Class Section

Pearl-clutching Puritans, you’ve been warned.

Slavers (Not The Kind With Stasis Boxes)

(Though In Arduin, Anything Is Possible…)

Discussing This Class On RPG.Net Will Probably Get You Banned

Following the logic of the era, every profession (except ‘Normals’) gets their own class table. Let’s just take the usual disclaimers as to the immorality of the topic as given.

Slaver have a “cruelty factor” of “never less than 75%”, which means… erm… I dunno. The alignment chart in The Arduin Grimoire has “Cruelty Factor” along with Lie, Tolerance, and others, but it’s not remotely clear what to do with them. Does the DM roll them to determine if an NPC will or will not engage in some action? Do you roll both the “Kill Factor” and the “Cruelty Factor” to determine a)if the NPC will kill you, and b)if they’ll do it painfully?

Hobbits are only occasionally slavers, but, when they are, they’re among the cruelest. I do not find this surprising. Never trusted them furry footed little bastards.

Slavers fight “one column back” on the attack chart unless using nets or whips (well, duh) in which case, they get +2 and +4. When you consider that getting +1 with a single weapon type was considered a huge deal for outlaws, it’s clear there was little idea of ‘balance’ going on; Dave just wrote down whatever seemed cool, and the Arduin books are composed of rules and ideas from a span of several years, presented one after another without any evident editing of older items to bring them in-line with the newer stuff. It’s part of what makes them so awesome — they preserve the raw, original, thought processes of one of gaming most prolific and inventive creators, not the refined and “ready for press” results that have passed through several editors and co-authors. (A somewhat self-interested bit of praise, as these articles are dashed out in one pass without any real editing, either. I’m not lazy and sloppy… I’m sharing with you the raw purity of my creative instinct!)

Maybe if I win the lottery, I’ll buy the rights to Arduin and redo all of it in a massive tome under the OGL for 3.x/PF.

Of course, they gained abilities on a level-by-level basis…

At Sixth Level, Can Control Minds Completely, Building A Great Empire Before the Tnuctipun Rebel

At Sixth Level, Can Control Minds Completely, Building A Great Empire Before the Tnuctipun Rebel

  • Does ‘as a thief’ mean ‘as a thief of the same level as the slaver’ or ‘as a thief of first level and then increment from here’?
  • Man, compared to other classes, they really do pile on the net/whip bonuses, don’t they?
  • Earlier rules cover the idea of trap levels (as noted when I covered them, a bit of prescient game design). I’ll assume lock levels are similar… but that means these guys really fall behind rapidly. At 100th level, when, one presumes, one is dragging Cthulhu in chains to the slave markets of the 666th level of the Abyss, one finally learns to make locks that might, just might, stymie your average street urchin?
  • I think some of the rank titles should be used, tongue-in-cheek, by my friends in the BDSM community for their various contests and ceremonies.


Secretary : I’ve had enough of this. I am not a courtesan. (moves round to front of the desk, sits on it and crosses her legs provocatively)
Biggles : Oh, oh, ‘courtesan’, oh aren’t we grand. Harlot’s not good enough for us eh? Paramour, concubine, fille de joie. That’s what we are not. Well listen to me my fine fellow, you are a bit of tail, that’s what you are.
Secretary : I am not, you demented fictional character.

(Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Ep. 33)

Wow, way too much spacing there. I’ve got to learn CSS so I can format these articles how I wish.

OK, I’m just gonna let Dave take it from here…

Not Likely To Go On A Run... Eh? Eh? Know What I Mean, Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge?

Not Likely To Go On A Run… Eh? Eh? Know What I Mean, Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge?

Having a ‘seductive/manipulative’ character class, even one with obvious sexual overtones, is hardly ridiculous in the context of fantasy or sci-fi… ask Inara Serra! What is now known in D&D circles as the ‘diplomancer’1 might have begun here…


However, the statement that they are most likely to be played when the group stops at a tavern for the night kind of undermines that. They also ‘attack two columns back’ on the combat table, meaning, they’re about as good in a fight as a magic-user… with no spells. (I must also wonder about the whole ‘played by being at roadside inns’ thing in actual play… what happens? The party gets to a tavern, and the guy playing Throngor The Bloodspiller goes, “Yay, I can play Thonga the Bodacious now!” while the other players, being sensitive, enlightened, open-minded 14 year olds in the 1970s, skitter backwards slowly support his exploration of gender identity?

Naturally, Courtesans have level-based abilities, mostly centering around being able to make progressively stronger love potions. At 100th level, they get the powers of a first level psychic. To call that “unimpressive” is to praise with faint damns.

They also make truth potions which can kill you irrevocably if you are of a lower level than the potion. That’s pretty cool.

Here’s a chaeronyx, which is a medusa centaur, which will get to when we get to monsters. What it’s doing in the Courtesan section, I’ll never know.

Perhaps It's Going To A Roadside Inn?

Perhaps It’s Going To A Roadside Inn?

In the interests of fairness, and because I know someone will call me on it if I don’t mention it, there is a bunch of stuff about how Courtesans are not common streetwalkers, they’ve got a guild, they’re spies and masters of secrets who earn XP selling knowledge (and, erm, and I quote “using the womanly arts”), etc., but it’s undermined by the assumption they won’t go adventuring and are to be played “part time” when the party stops for the night. (Hell, at least give them Lie and Con as per a thief of their level, or something.) A classic case (which continues straight up into modern times) of a class design that doesn’t “do what it says on the tin”, whose mechanical abilities do not match their flavor text.

Coming up next… a lot of charts. A whole lot of charts. How many I can cover in each installment, I dunno, but they’re one of my favorite parts of the book, because there’s so much implied by the existence of some of them… such as the fact octorillas exist on the “Condensed Character Limitations Chart” and that 88 mm shells appear on the “Large Weapons Gunnery Chart”.

1: For anyone reading this who’s not a regular D&D player… yeah, like anyone’s reading this… this isn’t a formal class in any way. The ‘diplomancer’ is someone, often a bard or cleric (classes which tend to have high Charisma), who has maxed out their social skills and taken feats and selected magic items which kick their bonuses even higher, allowing them to use skills like Diplomacy and Bluff so well they border on magical charm spells in their effectiveness.

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part III

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part III

When The Saints Come Marching In

And Maybe Martial Artists And Slavers, We’ll See

OK, another short one this time (“That what’s she” nah, never mind, done that bit too many times, even for me), as I spent yesterday house-hunting, which is sort of the reverse of normal hunting, in that, if you find your prey, it devours you… or at least, all of your money. If a thousand ducks line up in a row, first, they can be lightning bolted, and second, I might end up cutting an hour commute to 10 minutes, which would let me post more than once a week. But finding a house that meets our specific needs is problematic… we have health and pet issues that complicate matters, and it’s not worth the amazing stress and expense of moving unless it really cuts down my commute, which means, finding a place within 10-15 minutes of where I now work, which is right at the corner of “The Ass End Of Nowhere” and “Outer Mongolia”.

Saints Alive!

(Until The Rest Of The Party Kills Them)

While technically a subclass of cleric, with full clerical abilities, it seems to me that saints are more properly considered true anti-paladins… in terms of Actual Play. In Actual Play, the paladin screams “Die, heretic!” at anything that moves (or doesn’t, in the case of ropers and mimics) and proceeds to massacre madly in the name of whatever deity of love, peace, and justice they profess to worship. Saints don’t do that. Saints are forbidden to engage in combat.

Or are they? It’s a tiny bit confusing. They “NEVER use arms or armor” and “will never fight, no matter the provocation”, but will “try their utmost to send all undead to their ‘proper rest'” and “banish all lesser and greater demons back to their respective hells”. So it’s unclear, to me, if this means they can attack undead and demons, or if they seek to accomplish their destruction by non-attacking means… which might mean using spells, not weapons, or it might mean buffing/healing the fighting-men and magic-users to have them do the job. The interpretation is up to the GM running the game. In a perfect world, this would be settled when someone decides to play a saint… in the real world, I suspect, it was settled in a long debate between the saint’s player and the GM the first time the party encountered a skeleton, while the other players sat around being bored, this being well before smartphones, laptops, and gameboys. Maybe they had those little hand-held “football” games where you had one red LED and you had to maneuver it past three other little red LEDs. Yes, kids, at one point, our handheld video games had 1-bit graphics. You and your fancy 8-bit games! Coddled wimps! You think you’re ‘old school’? You don’t know old school!

This Was Cutting-Edge Technology At The Time, Kiddies

Where was I? Oh yes. Saints.

Saints weren’t just “Clerics who hid far away from melee combat”, though. (Quick note for those of who mostly familiar with MMO tropes. In most MMOs, clerics wear light armor and have no melee skills. In D&D and related, clerics are the second-best melee combatants in the game, and are expected to be on the front lines. Interestingly, the saint class foreshadows the MMO cleric rather well…) They had a variety of special abilities.

Detect Alignment By Groping... Doesn't The TSA Do That?

Detect Alignment By Groping… Doesn’t The TSA Do That?

You might note the “HD” column is a bit… odd. The X+Y notation was used only in the earliest edition of D&D, the original three little brown books. It was obsoleted by Greyhawk, which came out well prior to the publication of the first Arduin book. No other Arduin class, that I can recall, uses it. So it seems very likely that the Saint was one of the earliest classes that Dave Hargrave designed… and even though Skull Tower was the second book, published in 1978, it seems he copied the rules verbatim from his original notes without updating to the rapidly-evolving standards of the time.

“Reasoning” is the ability to convince monsters not to fight, and, if it succeeds, there will be “absolutely no fighting by either side”. At first level, you add 15% to this ability… but there’s no calculation for the base you’re adding to. Perhaps it’s 0%, so it starts at 15%? It’s also up in the air if a fight can be restarted, or not… if the PCs help themselves to the monster’s loot, does this break the “reasoning”? What happens when the players don’t want to stop fighting, but the Saint uses his ability anyway? Can they attack him? Or can he “reason” them out of it? Damn, so many great fights must have started over this class…

Martial Artists

Because Rhialto, John Carter, and Conan Should Have Totally Hung Out With Bruce Lee

I often say “D&D is a genre, not a game system”, and few things prove this more than the introduction of monks to the game system. As a high schooler, I was painfully unaware of the martial arts genre… for whatever reason, it never entered my cultural awareness… and so I spent a good bit of time pondering why Friar Tuck was booting people in the head. Anyway, it’s obvious that the fannish communities that embraced D&D overlapped heavily with the fannish communities that loved chop-socky films (Wuxia? What’s that? Is that like Japanimation?), and so, it got added to the mix of Arthurian legend, Tolkien, Vance, and whatever else was trendy at the time. (If there had been more cross-Atlantic fan contact, early D&D would surely have been overrun with Daleks, but there wasn’t, so, it wasn’t.) Remember, folks: All culture is appropriation, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

According to Dave Hargrave, the problem is that martial artists have “too much power and not enough compensating factors”. (Lizard reads that, raising an eyebrow in a Spockish fashion. Lizard flips back to the stats for the ibathene. Lizard flips back to Welcome To Skull Tower, reads that again. Lizard shakes his head theatrically, and moves on…) Anyway, Dave presents his own version of the “Martial Artist”, which he notes is intended to represent a variety of different types, such as ninjas, shao-lin priests, and so forth. On the one hand, it’s very cool that it’s acknowledged there were many actual fighting traditions and fictionalized archetypes based on them. On the other hand, other than a note that the weapon fighting bonus applied to “the weapons that each specific type of Martial Artist would be prone to use”, there’s no mechanical distinctions present. (The player is tasked with doing the research to better define their preferred Martial Artist.)

A 5% Chance To Climb Walls... The Grounds Of The Shao-Lin Temple Must Be Covered With The Splatted Remains Of Novices

A 5% Chance To Climb Walls… The Grounds Of The Shao-Lin Temple Must Be Covered With The Splatted Remains Of Novices

Naturally, there’s footnotes, addendums, explanations, expansions, coruscations, perturbations, and immolations…

  • One foot is equal to two hands, so, 1 hand or foot actually means “2 hands or one foot”. Feet do 50% more damage and have 50% more reach.
  • Weaponed Attack, as noted above, refers to whatever weapons you can con the GM into believing are used by your character. “The Leaping Serpent Monks Of The Jade Tower used AK-47s! Of course I’m not bullshitting you. The Chinese invented gunpowder, right? Here, have some potstickers.”
  • If you hit someone with AC greater than nine, there’s a 5% chance per point of difference that you’ll take 25% of the damage you inflict on the target, -2% per level. (That’s a reduction in the chance of taking damage, not on the damage taken.) Thus, a fourth level Martial Artist  hitting someone who is armor class 5 and doing 7 points of damage has a 12% chance of taking 2 points of damage. Got all that? Good.

As Martial Artists gain levels, they also gain various special abilities:

If You're Surprised, There's A 33% Chance You're Not Surprised.

If You’re Surprised, There’s A 33% Chance You’re Not Surprised.

Most of these are pretty self-explanatory, and follow a typical pattern: Each has its own mechanic for determining chance of success. The lack of any basic system for, say, detecting poisons or setting the difficulty of a surprise roll shows clearly here. A few notes:

  • Pain control sounds nifty… if there were any pain mechanics in the game to speak of. I’m sure some things had fluff text about how the effects they inflicted were due to pain, but they were few and far between. “Pain” was just not a general consideration… by default, if you had 90 hit points and had been battered down to 1, you suffered no specific penalties.
  • Deflecting: It seems odd to me that a fourth level martial artist got two attacks, but could deflect any number of hafted weapons by giving them up, while a higher level martial artist with six attacks would lose all of them deflecting a single arrow. I’d make it a simple “Sacrifice one attack from your next round per deflection”, so it would relatively easy to overwhelm a lower level martial artist , while a higher level one could defend himself and still give you a boot to the head.
  • I hate, and by hate, I mean, love, to beat a dead horse, but measuring distances in feet instead of squares or hexes… when the Arduin Grimoire was full of hex-based rules… leads to a lot of annoying arguments over whether the invisible guy is 18 feet away or 19 feet away. Do you feel lucky, punk?
  • Self hasting is “self explanatory”. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. I’m guessing it means “can cast haste on themselves”. The 3 minutes rest/minute of haste is fine, but… how many minutes can you keep it up in the first place? (That’s what… never mind.) As if you were a magic-user of your level? Forever, as long as you rest for three forevers afterwards? In any event, since Dave used 6 second rounds, most battles would be over in a minute, anyway.
  • Interestingly, while Thieves have a Hide skill, they lack a Move Silently skill, making Martial Artists somewhat unique in this regard.

So, we come to the end of a short segment. Next time… more classes!


Arduin Grimoire, Part XIV

Arduin Grimoire, Part XIV

Mists and Maladies

And Traps

(And Coneheads)

OK, another short one… this time, my excuse is having to remote in to work to make up for time I missed, since I’m a contractor and have to bill by the hour. But I am determined to be regular about my posting… as I age, regularity becomes very important. Ask Wilford Brimley. (“Who?” ask all the kids in the audience.) The encounter tables are pretty much what you’d expect — roll some dice and see what shows up to kill the players. Even so, this being Arduin, there are some hidden gems (1% chance of spotting, guarded by a poison trap with a -4 save, of course).

Consume Mass Quantities!

Consume Mass Quantities!

Please note a few things: First, you could easily encounter huge numbers of creatures in a single go. This may have been due to the original “number appearing” in “Monsters & Treasures”, but those figures were based on outdoor encounters in the “hex crawl” mode, where you might stumble on an encampment of 300 orcs. Buried later in “The Underworld & Wilderness Adventure” are rules for determining the number of creatures encountered in a dungeon, and they are utterly incomprehensible. Here, let me show you:

From OD&D, Not Arduin

From OD&D, Not Arduin

I sometimes give Dave Hargrave grief for leaving out key elements or data, but nothing in Arduin approaches this level of inscrutability.

So, anyway, that’s why you could run into 36 hobgoblins or 32 coneheads…

Wait, what? Coneheads?

Given the date of publication, and the fact they’re not listed in the new monster section, I have to assume they are, in fact, referring to the Saturday Night Live creatures.

Yeah, These Guys

Hey, why not! (The lack of stats in the book is Yet Another Indicator that the Grimoire was literally pieced together from Dave’s personal notes and writings; he may have simply forgotten to remove that entry from the encounter table.)

Anyway, that’s that. We’ll be covering the monsters themselves, soon.

Before that, though — Mists!

Old School Gaming: Even The Air Wanted To Kill You

We now get to the “random fog and mist generation chart”, because of course when you kick down a door in a dungeon, each room might have its own atmosphere… evidently, all those kickable, rotted wooden doors formed airtight seals. Go figure.

Smells Like Teen Spirit...Whoops, Misread That. Smells Like Dragon Shit.

Smells Like Teen Spirit…Whoops, Misread That. Smells Like Dragon Shit.

Presumably, you rolled randomly on each column. There’s a footnote stating that this chart allows dungeon rooms to have weird and random effects “without annotating the map”. In short, this chart is there to let the DM screw with the players without the pretense of “wandering monsters”, and without any foreknowledge of what might happen. Just decide a room has a mist, and roll some dice… like this…

20: Ever-changing color
9: Sulfur smell.
4: Visibility, 7 feet, which works perfectly well with absolutely no mapping scale known to humanity. “The orc is in this hex, but you can’t see him.” “Why not?” “Well, the front of the hex is five feet away, but the back is ten feet away, and he’s staying towards the back.”
3: Sounds of combat.
13: Intense Incapacitating Itching. I see Dave, like myself, got regular paychecks from the American Alliteration Association.

But suppose simply flooding the room with random gasses wasn’t enough? (Insert your own “The DM shouldn’t have made chili for game night” joke here.) And suppose you failed to insert a trap in every single map square? Well, that’s OK. There’s a random trap chart, too.

Hot Oatmeal?

Hot Oatmeal?


  • Most of these don’t have damage listed. Presumably, the exact effects of falling into a mechanical grinder or being smashed against the ceiling are up to the tender mercies of the “Umpire”. (The term “DM” was still one of many floating around; “Umpire”, “Referee”, “Judge”, or “You Bastard” were also common.)
  • The notes (not shown) indicate a 10% chance per level of spears being poisoned.
  • They also note that “monster rooms” have level-appropriate monsters, and that occupied spider webs are particularly fun.
  • Please note that a fall into molten lava is always fatal, even if, and I’m talking to you, Bob, you’re wearing +1 leather. (Relevant portion begins 40 seconds in.)
  • Random Gender Changing was, like, a thing back then. Naturally, when it occurred, it was used to explore issues of sexism, socially constrained gender roles, and intersectional feminist issues from a multicultural perspective that recognized alternative ways of knowing and encouraged the removal of binary identity concepts.
  • Magic floors disappear 1-10 seconds after the first person has walked on them, so that many people can be trapped at once. Good luck figuring that out by pouring water on the floor and seeing how it pools.

And, alluding to alliteration…

Most Malignant & Malefic Miseries Known

Seriously, That’s What The Section Is Called

Why Would I Lie If Money Isn’t Involved?

(And Trust Me, It Isn’t)

So the air hasn’t killed you, nor has the hot oatmeal. What’s left?

Only everyone’s favorite horseman of the apocalypse, plague!

There’s no particular rules for catching these diseases, or curing them. They just do horrible things to you, until they don’t. A few selections:

  • The Scarlet Screaming Sickness: No damage, but the pain is so bad there’s a 10% chance per day the victim will go insane, and it lasts 5-10 days.
  • The Melting Sickness: You “melt” 10% per day, and it lasts 1-10 days, so if lasts 10 days, you’re dead. Otherwise, you just look molten — full wish to cure.
  • Steaming Death: Body moisture boils off you in the form of steam, causing you to die, always, looking a withered apple in 10 hours.
  • The Bursting Sickness: The victim continually burps and passes gas (ah, the maturity of the age…), until he explodes like “an overripe grape” in 4-6 hours, and dies.
  • The Withering Wakefulness: The victim can’t sleep and ages 3 years per day. This lasts 3-30 days, and there’s a 7% chance per day past 10 of insanity from sleeplessness.

So, unless you’ve got a cleric with Cure Disease handy, you’re basically screwed.

Next time, monsters. In the meanwhile, here’s a tryvern.

Three-Headed Wyvern. Tryvern. Of Course.

Three-Headed Wyvern. Tryvern. Of Course.


Arduin Grimoire, Part XIII

Arduin Grimoire, Part XIII

Werecritters, Dinosaurs, And Escapes

And More

This may be a briefer-than-usual article, as I lost yesterday’s writing time to Mother’s Day duties, and today I have my weekly Pathfinder game, and normally I’d just say ‘smeg it’ and not post, but I did that last week, and once you get a two week gap, it turns into a three week gap, and then it’s August and I’m like, “Smeg, when was the last time I wrote anything?”, and so it goes…

Werescorpion? There Scorpion. There Dungeon.

Leaving grappling rules, we now turn to were-creatures, because, why not?

I remember the were-chart as being somewhat more outre than this, but that might be from another source, or it might be my aging brain finally catching up with me. Anyway, we have an assortment of were-critters. It’s worth bearing in mind that, at the time, there were only six ‘official’ werebeasts, and this was long before the age of templates that granted you the ability to make a half-ogre/half red-dragon who was also a were-fox and possibly a construct. Monsters were, for the most part, designed ‘whole’, so a were-otter was its own thing. (Honestly, it’s surprising that templates took so long to come into vogue… in hindsight, they seem an obvious idea, and in some ways more suited for the wild&wooly days when we cared more about ‘Awesome!’ than logic, game balance, common sense, or how long the DM had to work writing an Excel sheet to handle monster building.)

Werebadger Don't Care.

Werehoneybadger Don’t Care.

It is worth noting, because it will come up again (and there will be a quiz) that these creatures have a ‘hit dice range’. This was not common at the time. Normally, a monster had set HD, and that was that. One reason for the plethora of humanoids was to provide challenges across multiple levels, so you’d start with kobolds and work up to orcs, hobgoblins, bugbears, and ogres. Having hit dice ranges meant a creature could be a threat across a wider level range. And, since hit dice was basically the ‘level’ of the monster, affecting saving throws and some types of magic (such as sleep), this simple innovation by Mr. Hargrave foreshadowed 3.x’s ‘monsters and PCs follow similar rules’ design. Damn, I need to start cataloging all the mechanics in Arduin, many predating even AD&D 1e, which became standards in D&D 3.0.

I admit to being a bit confused by the experience rules… does his mean that a sixth level warrior becomes a second level wereowl? Also, I assume the DM is supposed to interpolate the attack damage against the hit dice range. Ditto AC, for the few cases where it changes.

I’ve Got A Golden Book Of Dinosaurs And I’m Not Afraid To Use It!

Next we have a bunch of basic dinosaur stats, roughly 1 1/4 pages, and then they turn into sea creature stats.

Not Shown: Icthyarsaurs Are Playful Unless Hungry Or Aroused. Good To Know.

Not Shown: Icthyarsaurs Are Playful Unless Hungry Or Aroused. Good To Know.

Not really a lot to add or comment on. These don’t dramatically extend the existing dinosaur stats; maybe Dave just wanted his own chart, or disagreed with how Gygax rated various extinct critters. Indeed, the exact hit dice of a T-Rex has been a subject of considerable paleontological infighting over the years, leading to more than a few academic careers being ruined by the incessant backstabbing. Jack Horner’s famous speech at Indiana University, ’15 Hit Dice, Armor Class 3, And No Claw Damage’ is often cited as the ‘Attack on Fort Sumter’ of the still-ongoing debate.

Oh, being scraped by a shark’s skin does 1-12 damage… when you consider a typical human had 1-4 hit points, total, this makes you wonder why sharks even needed to bite. Just brush past the prey, and it’s dead.

Escape From New York The Kraken

Half Percentages? Yeah, They Were A Thing.

Half Percentages? Yeah, They Were A Thing.

Just putting this here to show you what we went through in the absence of any formal ‘Escape Artist’ checks. Note, also, that neither Strength nor Dexterity formally figure in to these numbers… just raw class+level.

Coming Soon…

4-8 Greater Dragons. 'Nuff Said.

4-8 Greater Dragons. ‘Nuff Said.

I said, this was going to be a short one. (“That’s what she said!”) I’ll leave you with a bit of a ‘teaser’ for next time… a segment of the Encounter Chart, because we’re finally at the monster section.  (OK, we’re going to get through weather, diseases, and mists first… but here’s the encounter chart, anyway.) Shydras, Demon Locusts, and Ibathenes, oh my!



Arduin Grimoire, Part XII

Arduin Grimoire, Part XII

Alignment, Combat, And Combat About Alignment

There was an “alignment chart” earlier in the book, but now we have an essay about it. It’s very clearly based on the original tripartite scheme, and how often do you get to use ‘tripartite’ in a sentence, anyway? Mr. Hargrave believes the predominance of ‘lawful’ types in games is due to the dunother game systemons treasure distribution rules, where most aligned magic items were lawful. (And he may well have a point, as gamers will exploit any rule that gives them even the smallest advantage, in deference to all other considerations… there was a prolonged Knights Of The Dinner Table strip where the characters concocted an extreme plot to become enslaved by an evil race, win their respect, and be anointed (not, as my spell checker suggests, annotated) members of that race, so they could then pick the race’s god as their patron deity… because they’d get 1d6 extra hit points for worshiping him. That this would take years of game time did not deter them from trying it. Satire, of course, but like all good satire, somewhat grounded in truth… I’ve seen people on MMO boards complaining that they “had” to complete some long, tedious, series of quests, because the reward was a +1% bonus to something-or-other, and they were “forced” to do them because otherwise, why, they wouldn’t have the 1% bonus! But I digress.)

However, I must suspect that a bigger reason for the predominance of “lawful” characters is revealed by Dave Hargrave’s paean to the joys of chaotics:

PVP Does Help Keep The Players Busy While The DM Checks Facebook...

PVP Does Help Keep The Players Busy While The DM Checks Facebook…

A party of fishmalks didn’t work even two decades before anyone even knew what a fishmalk was.

General Notes On Combat

We next learn the following about combat in Arduin, over several pages of teeny-tiny type, in no particular order… just Dave’s jotted notes, sometimes brilliant, sometimes mind-boggling, always entertaining, one after the other. Like I keep saying, reading this is like having Dave in your living room, guzzling your Mountain Dew and nomming your Cheetohs, while he tells you what he thinks and how to play his kind of game.

  • Magic weapons can hit anything, as can technological energy weapons, but pistols cannot hit “undead types” — I interpret this, in context, as meaning “bullets don’t stop it!”, but lasers do. Works for me.
  • Silver weapons and bullets can hit “all undead types”. Clearly, Mr. Hargrave had not seen Love At First Bite (actually, it probably wasn’t out yet).
  • Magical/mythological creatures can always hit all other creatures, even if they go gaseous, etc. However, normal creatures can never hit magical creatures. The example of a “normal” creature is a 20 hit dice giant spider(!). If 20 hit dice giant anthropoids are ‘normal’ in Mr. Hargrave’s world, it indicates he was born in Florida.
  • Undead (save for zombies and skeletons) can always see invisible, so if you try to hide from a vampire that way, “you may end up an involuntary blood donor”.
  • Golems are immune to normal weapons and to most magic, but if you hit one with a fireball and then an iceball, it will explode, which is good, and then send shrapnel through the room like an artillery shell, which is bad.
  • If you drink a potion of strength, since your bone structure, etc., is not transformed to handle the increased power, you will probably break bones and tear yourself apart “unless the user is damn careful”. No specific rules are provided, of course, just an open license for the DM to be a sadistic little bastich… as if we needed such license.
  • Ah, here’s the “final effort” thing from the turning undead chart…  you can channel all your strength into your wisdom (I don’t know if that literally means ‘add your Strength to your Wisdom to get a bonus’, or if it’s metaphorical), but you can’t fight for a number of melee turns equal to your strength (so, the stronger you are, the longer it takes you to recover?).
  • Undead are only repelled by holy symbols of their own religion, so, like that guy in “The Mummy”, you’d better cart around every one you know of, just in case.
  • Beasts that stone people can only be stoned by their own kind, except in Washington and Colorado, or if they have a note from their cleric.
  • Fireballs and other AOEs divide their damage among all targets in the area, which, sadly, doesn’t make a lick of sense… and since this comes from an era when “simulationism” and “verisimilitude” were not dirty words, blasphemy unto Ron Edwards, that matters. As written, and it’s a pretty clear rule, esp. for Arduin, if a fireball does 20 points of damage and there’s four people in the blast radius, each takes five… but if there’s one, he gets all 20. Huh?
  • There’s a nifty little block of rules on how to handle unintelligent monsters’ combat choices. It helps avoid charges the DM is out to “get” a player.

In general, all the rules in this section make it clear play was with “paper and pencil and miniature figures”. I got your “theater of the mind” right here, buddy. As the dead horse beatathon continues, it’s really fascinating to see this slice of history from smack-dab right in the middle of the transition from “D&D as a new wargame” to “D&D as the first of a new genre”. To keep up with my evolutionary analogies, let’s call it the Archeopteryx Moment of the culture… the point where something is mid-range between two things. This is where “RPG Culture” really began to distinguish itself from “Wargame Culture”, where you started getting more and more players who didn’t have a wargaming background at all, but came in from SF, fantasy, and comic fandom.

Now, we head into more specific, detailed, combat rules. I’m just going to include a few snippets that are typical of the level of detail. These help show that, at the time, the response from most of D&D’s audience to its simple, abstract, system (which was derived from wargame-style CRTs (Combat Result Tables, not Cathode Ray Tubes, ya idjit!) was not “This is a gem of pure perfection, needing no further details, that frees our imagination to soar on wings of fancy to realms of pure storytelling bliss”, but was, rather, “M0AR R00LZ NA0W!!!!”, except, better spelled, because back then, you couldn’t get away with  being an illiterate moron as easily as you can today.


But What If Two Of Them Are Halflings And Is An Ogre?


“So, There’s A 30% Chance Of You Not Getting A +1 To Your AC. Got It.”


Too Simplistic. I Want Modifiers For Bucklers, Round Shields, Kite Shields, and Different Kinds Of Shield Material. OK, That’s Pathfinder. But I Digress.


Hargrave Invented The Six-Second Round AND The Armor Check Penalty 23 Years Before D&D 3.0!

Oh, I Think The Turkey will Get The Message The First Time

Oh, I Think The Turkey will Get The Message The First Time

(You’ll note, BTW, there’s none of this namby-pamby molly-coddling of idiots who do idiotic things. They’re called out for being idiots. Back then, it was understood the only way to get someone to stop being stupid was to tell them that they were being stupid.)

And here’s a Stalking Vroat (from the later edition):

Stalking Vroat

Stalking Vroat

Damn, I love this guy’s art.

Anyway, there’s five more pages of combat tables, weapon vs. AC modifiers, hex facing rules, and so on. I think I’ve covered the style and tone well enough for now. They mostly replicate, with minor changes, “that other game system”.

Ah, but then… but then…
The critical charts!
And I just found out to get this damn editor to not insert huge white spaces between paragraphs. Cool.

While not as hilariously gory and sarcastic as the Rolemaster charts… no tripping over imaginary turtles… this did add an element of blood-soaked fun to the mundane massacres of monsters. In one game we played, a halfling rolled a “100” critical on a centaur. I ruled the halfling had actually stabbed the centaur in the foot, but the creature reared up and smashed his head on the ceiling. So it goes.

One Point Per Finger. Something About That Really Appeals To Me

One Point Per Finger. Something About That Really Appeals To Me

For a roll of 100, it says, “irrevocable death results”. This seems a bit odd in the context of the time, when everyone was walking around with wishing rings, and there was even a spell in this very book, “Gathering the Sheaves“, which would bring together all the parts of the body for a quick raise dead. It’s telling, though, that even at this early stage of the game’s evolution, the “revolving door afterlife” was starting to irk people.

There’s a matching critical fumble chart, of course.

Criticaling Yourself Was Rare, But You Never Forgot It When It Happened

I am not sure what’s meant by “rolls a double one on the dice” — does that mean, rolls a 1, then, rolls again, and if it’s a 1, it’s a critical fumble? There are no actual rules I can find in the Grimoire for when something’s a critical hit, either… we just assumed a roll of ’20’ meant a critical when we played.

Next, we have a “Brawl chart”, that looks like it would work better for unarmed combat than the AD&D DMG rules (not that much would work worse, come to think of it), where you have a cross-index of attacks like “Right Cross” and “Uppercut” against defenses like “Duck Right” and “Jump Back”, and each participant in the brawl wrote down, secretly, their attack and defense, and then various formulas involving strength and dexterity were applied to see who hit first and what the odds were, and so on. It’s basically a separate combat module. I’ve seen a few games, even relatively modern ones, decide that a one-size-fits-all combat system doesn’t work for all the different ways people can kill each other, and so, have a ‘gunfighting’ system and a ‘fencing’ system and so on, which is one of those “looks good until you try it in actual play” ideas — because someone’s going to try to punch the armed orc, or shoot the brawler, and then integrating the mechanics on the fly becomes a mad dash of hastily improvised rules based on whatever points are in common. (Hell, a very similar problem occurred with White Wolf’s OWOD games, where the various magic and special ability rules were relatively well-balanced and tested within each splatbook, but the interactions between them became insanely complex when you tried to mix-and-match.)

You almost never saw this level of detail for melee fighting, though. Combat systems for D&D (and its close evolutionary kin) where you picked a specific attack and a specific defense were not common. I won’t say there were none, because the mad surge of creativity that defined this era produced so much, so fast, that no one, not even an obsessive collector like myself, could hope to see it all, but they weren’t widespread and none seemed to rise to even local prominence.

(I wonder if it would ever be possible to trace back the origins of various aspects of early variant rules. I have a theory (it could be bunnies) that a lot of the “m0ar stuph!” — the new monsters, magic items, classes, spells, etc — came from the sci-fi fandom crowd, drawn into D&D from a non-wargame background, who saw RPGs as their way to have Mr. Spock fight the Balrog, and the “m0ar r00lz!” — the uber-detailed combat modifiers and detailed tactical positioning systems — came from SCAdians and history buffs who wanted a game that simulated their concept of medieval combat on a personal level. (Prior wargames, with their focus on units, abstracted away the “He’s got a round wooden shield and he’s using it left-handed, while he’s holding a war axe with a 2′ handle, and I’ve got a 4′ longsword but no shield, and it’s muddy, and I’m running downhill at him, and I had porridge for breakfast, but he hasn’t eaten yet…” details.)

Well, that’s it for now… next time… were-centipedes and dinosaurs.

Arduin Grimoire, Part XI

Arduin Grimoire, Part XI

Rune Weavers’ Magik

Also, Magikal Treasures

“Hargraves New Magikal Spells (Wondrous Webs Of Power)”


Continued from what, you may ask.

From the next page, of course. The ordinary laws of time, space, and page order mean nothing here! Nothing, do you hear me? Nothing!

Anyway… Rune Weaver Spells, or “Webs Of Power”, which is an admittedly awesome term.

Sort Order? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Sort Order!

Sort Order? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Sort Order!

So, this is the first page, which is after the second page… but anyway…

Yeah, This Really IS Awesome. No Sarcasm. Seriously.

The Spell Of The North Wind Spider. Skylar’s Web Of Wondrous Entrapment. Waziran’s Wondrous Web Of Paralysis.

This is what RPG spells should sound like! The names are evocative and informative! You have at least a clue what each one does… North Wind? Sounds cold, right? Paralysis? Well, that’s obvious. Etc. Let’s compare, in order to keep (TRIGGER WARNING: ANIMAL CRUELTY1) beating dead horses, “Golden Wyvern Adept”. This was the proposed name for a feat that let a wizard exclude some targets from an AOE spell in Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition. It was mocked to death, rightly so. Style and flavor are important… but not to the point where they’re meaningless. Arduin, mostly, hit the sweet spot.

And the colors! Dude, look at the colors! Mottled grey-green, sparkling metallic gold, and (on the first page, which is really the second page), “As For Green Slime”. Erm, OK, that one’s not so hot. I mean… green? Or “translucent drippy slimy green”? But there’s also “Whistling Glowing Blue Web On Fire The Blue Flames”, and I don’t care that, technically, “whistling” isn’t a color. It is if Dave Hargrave says it is, damn it!

That’s “the spell of the web that eats men”, which conjures a 10′ web of green slime. It holds “all up to 10 dice” and “attacks at 1 die per turn, then 2, then 4, etc.”, and in the face of such coolness, it would be churlish of me to whine that it doesn’t actually say what size die.. I’m guessing either “D6″ or “Whatever die green slime use”. (Not ‘dye’, please note. Green Slime only rarely color themselves black to try to pass for Black Pudding.)

Oh, those “(C)”, etc., notations? They’re things the web is “100% PROOF” against. C=Cold, CP=Chop, L=Lightning, etc.

New Magikal Treasures

Now, the important stuff: The phat l3wt, though of course, we didn’t call it that back then. You couldn’t have your Monty Haul games without tons of magic.. er… magik… and here’s some new stuff.

You Will Also Need To Spend 2d10 Copper Pieces Or Be Surrounded By Panhandlers

You Will Also Need To Spend 2d10 Copper Pieces Or Be Surrounded By Panhandlers

Other than the obvious pun… well, obvious if you’ve lived in the Bay Area and used its laughably misnamed Rapid Transit System (OTOH, if you were living in Joisey at the time, you totally didn’t get it)… I posted this mostly to show the format. Value, looks, effect. “Looks” was generally not standard for the time. Greyhawk, for instance, added many of the most iconic items to D&D, but described them almost entirely mechanically. Likewise, the “Value” of magic items, from what I can tell, didn’t become standard until the DMG came out around 1979 or so. Neither Greyhawk nor my LBBs list prices for magic items, at least not in a clear and obvious place — which, I must admit, is no proof they’re not in there, given the nature of the era. (“Well, of course the price tables for magic items are in between ‘Table II-A: Swamp Parasites’ and ‘Table II-B: Sausage Prices’. Where else would they be?”)

A few of the niftier items:

  • Gauntlet of the Fencing Master: For use by “thieves, assassins, traders, slavers, or bards only” It works for “epees, rapiers, and foils only“. What does it do? Oh, just gives you a +5 to your attack and give you double attacks per turn. Sweet!
  • Staff Of The Druids: Summons 1d4 helpers who will deal with paperwork, make sure your mistletoe is fresh, and do your shopping… nah. This black oak staff, “entwined with living vines and crowned by mistletoe”, can “strike for 3-18, plus overtime pay and maternity leave”, summon and water for 2 people per user level up to 3/day, and cure diseases and light wounds… apparently without any limits or charges. Oh, and it makes plants grow “extremely” fast up to 10 times normal size, and I can guarantee you there were plenty of arguments over whether or not “extremely” fast meant “ten times faster, so it’s cool for farmers” or “instantly, so I can grow an entire oak tree in the next round”.
  • Slaver’s Lash: 18′ long barbed, blood red whip of fire demon hide. 3-18 damage plus the wounds fester for 1 point/minute, and “save vs. fear or surrender”. Fifty shades of ouch! (Should I mention there isn’t, in fact, a ‘save vs. fear’ on the saving throw tables I discussed a post or two ago? Nah, it would be churlish of me. Seriously, the ‘Reflex/Will/Fortitude’ simplification in 3.0 was one of the best things to happen to core D&D mechanics.)
  • Ring Of Ruthlessness: The wearer becomes “100% Amoral Evil”. If anyone disagrees with him, he will “slay them instantly”. +3 to Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, Agility, and Constitution, and +6 to Ego, as well as +4 to attacks. Clearly, this is how DMs are made.
  • Oil Of Instant Obedience: Spread it ony object and, three minutes later, the objects will “dance to your tune”, obeying your commands. Yes, people are included in this. It’s strongly implied this adds some form of mobility to rocks and furniture. Did I mention it’s “no save”, lasts for an hour, and only costs 5,000 gold?
  • Whimsey Wine: “When drunk, anything can happen!” Insert your own sleazy college story here. Anyway, this might cause “the user to become hasted, or turn blue”. The DM is encouraged to have a “Whimsey Chart” with 20 or more things listed, and roll on it.

And here’s a picture of a boogie man. This is not from the edition of Arduin I’ve been mostly referencing here, but from the edition I’ve had since I was in High School. Why? Because, even though it pains me to say this, the art from Erol Otus in a lot of that early printing wasn’t that great, compared to his later genius. It might have just been poor reproduction, or something. But this guy? Michio? He was freakin’ amazing, even given the limited printing capacity of the time. Oh, but why a picture of a boogie man? Because that’s what’s at the end of the Magik Items section, of course. Duh.

Oddly, He Is Not Wearing Tight Jeans, Nor Does He Have A Coke Spoon. Boogie Man, Get It? Thanks. Don't Forget To Tip Your Waiter.

Oddly, He Is Not Wearing Tight Jeans, Nor Does He Have A Coke Spoon. Boogie Man, Get It? Thanks. Don’t Forget To Tip Your Waiter.

And with that, we’re officially at the halfway point in the book! Tune in next time, for Alignment! Also, Combat, and maybe we’ll make it to the Dinosaur Chart.

1:OK, I think it’s out of my system now.

Arduin Grimoire, Part X

Arduin Grimoire, Part X

Our Prismatic Walls Go Up To Lavender

Also, Magikal Spells

Now, we get to one of my very favorite pages in gaming history, possibly second only to the picture of Loviatar in the original Deities and Demigods. (GIS it. Sure, it doesn’t look like much now, but trust me, in the days before the Internet, we adolescent boys had a lot fewer options.)

However, the page I’m discussing has no nipples. What it does have is prismatic walls.

“Oh, big deal,” you say. “They were in Greyhawk. Whatevs.”


As you might have noticed, Mr. Hargraves had a mad genius for taking existing chunks of Dunother gaming systemons rules and expanding them dramatically. So it was with the prismatic walls.

Ulu Vakk Approves. (Google It)

Ulu Vakk Approves. (Google It)

You will notice a few things:

  • A plethora of underlined words to emphasize things of importance. You damn punk kids don’t know how hard it was being a fan writer before the Macintosh and the dawn of desktop publishing. Hell, when the Arduin Grimoire was being written, there weren’t even any generally affordable word processors to speak of.
  • The reference to known types of prismatic walls. This is a perfect example of what I loved about Arduin, and similar works of the time: The implication of extension, of going beyond. Here’s the known types, Dave Hargrave said to us. Wink wink, nudge nudge, make up your own!
  • Lots* of** footnotes***, which I’ll address in a bit.
  • Again with the “triggers”? Seriously, somehow, in my youth, I never noticed or questioned these references, but now, I really do wonder what they mean! Maybe, “contingency” type spells? Maybe I’ll find a reference later.
  • It’s not clear if a “prismatic wall” spell creates all of these colors, or just the standard ones (leaving the others to be used as barriers in the dungeon, placed there by the DM), or if you can pick a set of colors to create. That last one would be the most awesome, so, I’ll go with it. Here’s my official rule: When running Arduin, when a magic-user casts prismatic wall, they can swap out one color of the ‘standard’ wall for one other color of their choice for each point of Intelligence over 14.
  • No DM worth his salt would let a player reference this list in play, and we didn’t have no fancy-pants “Knowledge(Arcana) Checks” back then. Players — not their characters — would regularly memorize stuff like this, to know the effects and counterspells needed. I got your rules mastery right here, bucko.
  • A lot of these are pretty extreme and absolute. Again, typical of the time, with “save or die” or, hell, “no save and die” effects being very common.

Way back in 1980 or so, I was inspired by this chart to create “Spectral Slimes”, a bunch of oozes, each the color of a wall, with powers/abilities influences by those walls. And I am not one to let an idea go to waste, no matter how much time has passed!

Some of the notations include:

“Prismatic walls, when looked upon, have all the capability to hurt, etc., as outlined in other available gaming systems.” (Yeah, the editing really is that obvious there.)

“**” indicates the only other way to nullify that type of wall is to have a “Dispell(sic) Magic” of equal or greater level than the mage putting the wall up.

Yeah, I gotta include this next one as an image:


Utter And Complete Permanent Annihilation!!!!

You have to love — well, I love — the sadistic glee dripping from this paragraph. More than that, I love the entire style of this, and most of the rest of the writing — the direct, personal, connection, as if you were sitting there listening to Dave explain things to you. The Arduin books (as did the Gygax-authored D&D books) had a strong narrative voice. They were not mere reference books, nor had they been scrubbed and sanitized by a horde of lawyers and marketroids. They were tomes of lore, handed down from wise (and often cranky) masters to the young apprentices.

Then, apropos of nothing in the prior paragraphs, we get a few notes on life level draining. Summary: Sucks to be you.

New And Unusual Spells

Many With New And Unusual Spelling


Now, some new spells. First, “Druidical Magik”. The highlights include:

Marlyn’s Mighty Mystical Mouse Spell: This is a 6th level spell that costs 6.5 mana plus 1.5 per mile traveled or 10 minutes, plus an additional 1.5 for every 45 seconds stuck in traffic, and you better tip the driver 20% if you know what’s good for you.  Anyway, it summons a tiny winged mouse to do the druid’s bidding. It can become invisible and passwall at will, its bite causes the target to fall into a deep sleep, and the druid sees and hears all the mouse does — which given the invisibility/passwall powers it has, makes this an incredibly useful spying spell.

Chastarade’s Spell Of The Stone That Weeps In Silence: (Do you love these spell names as much as I do?) Basically, flesh to stone, except a)it turns you into a boulder, not a statue, and b)you retain full consciousness, so you can “forever regret making a druid mad!”.

Mages’ Spells

The Rosy Mist Of Reason: Save vs. magic or become reasonable and discuss things instead of fighting. I suspect that many a DM of the time wanted to cast this spell on their players.

Stephen Le Strange’s Spell Of The Instant Idleness: Targets who fail their save just sit around watching the clouds go by. I’m including this here mostly due to the name. A PC in Dave’s game, or Dave’s own shout-out to the Master Of The Mystic Arts?

Flames Of Doom: Alternatively, ‘Harbag’s Hellfire': 1d8 damage per turn… and drains one life level per turn! This is only a fourth level spell, and requires a simultaneous Dispel Magic and Cure Disease to end! Damn, they played rough at Hargrave’s table!

Yorgen’s Falling For Forever Spell: Fail a save and “fall” upwards at 100′ per turn. No indication of duration, so, the “falling for forever” is pretty darn literal.

Sulthor’s Blaze Of Glory: This lets you either cast off every spell you have memorized in one turn (including spending any of your unallocated mana to boost them), or select one memorized spell and then pour all your mana into it. You’ll be unconscious for 1-12 hours, either way. But… smeg… every memorized spell? In one turn? I mean… really… that’s pretty… wow. I’d love to be at a game where that happened. I’d hate to be the guy working out all the details and ramifications, if the caster had more than 3-4 spells left. (One thing I’d say is that he or she couldn’t choose targets well — maybe pick a direction for a fireball spell, but not the exact burst point. Any affect that could be randomized, like a polymorph, would be.)

Stafford’s Star Bridge: Creates a rainbow-hued bridge that can support any weight, and can be keyed to let others “fall through selectively“. The “selectively” is underlined in the original. Apparently, this was a dig at Greg Stafford, whom Hargrave, rumor has it, felt was not being sufficiently “supportive”. Or so I’ve pieced together from fragments of stories. If anyone has a more accurate version, with backing beyond “I know this guy who knows this guy who…”, please, let me know.

Cleric Spells

Transfer Curse: Or “Not Me, God, Him!” (Yes, that’s from the book, not me being snarky. Dave and I have a similar sense of snark, it seems. I wish I could believe in an afterlife, so I could believe I could meet him.) Anyhoo, this spell lets the cleric designate a proxy, and if the cleric reads a cursed scroll/touches a cursed item/etc., the proxy takes the effect. It’s noted this must be used with no evil intent unless “fallen status be your goal”. I’m sort of at a loss as to how transferring a curse to someone else — and curses back in Ye Olden Dayse were nasty — is not a priori evil. Maybe you get the party’s tough guy to agree to be your patsy of his own free will?

Gathering The Sheaves: Brings together all the parts of someone’s body, including those “down to molecular size” but not those “vaporized”, leaving me to wonder how you “vaporize” something without leaving the molecules behind, but, anyway… If you don’t see how damnably useful this spell could be, you do not play real Old School style! (“But Lizard, didn’t you say at the start of this interminable series that telling people there’s a wrong way to be Old School isn’t Old School?” “Yes, I did. I also said I was hypocritical about it, remember?” “Oh, yeah.”) (I have got to get a smarter imaginary peanut gallery.)

Rhyton’s Release: This is a “trigger” spell that causes all college students in the area to write tearful, badly-spelled posts to Tumblr1.No, wait. It “triggers” all magic items in the area (60′ radius+10′ level over that needed to cast the spell), causing them to fire off at least one charge and then discuss their microaggressions. (I made part of that up. Guess which part.) Well, damn. When I think about the kind of magic-item toting characters we used to run back when Arduin was cutting edge instead of nostalgic, I’m glad no one tried casting this. Well, at least now I know what a “save vs. triggers” probably is. (And knowing is half the battle! The other half is finding a safe space where you can recover from your trauma at hearing someone express an idea you don’t agree with.2) The “at least one” is interesting… no rules for determining if it’s more than one charge, but that never stopped a properly sadistic DM, and there’s no other kind worth playing under!

Next time: Rune Weaver spells and new magic items!

1: Never let it be said I won’t beat a joke into the ground, then keep pounding until it hits the Earth’s molten core. (“Trust me, Lizard, no one has ever said that.”)

2: See 1.