Tag Archives: D&D



Or Does It Work Better As Zom-Bees?

Not Sure.

OK, let me get this out of the way early: I am 99.99% sure that I am not the first person to stumble on this particular horrid pun and make a monster out of it. I am likewise certain that the interpretation of the pun leads to a fairly narrow band of mechanics, and most such other creations will be similar to mine. I have never claimed an excess of originality. All I can offer is that I have not, recently, directly researched, looked up, or copied any existing creatures by this name; if I encountered them in the past and it’s been festering in my subconscious for years or decades, I don’t know. Almost by definition, if I go and look through my ridiculously large collection of RPG materials (seriously, I’ve got over 3000 books cataloged, and that doesn’t include magazines like Dragon and Space Gamer) to see if I’ve read this before, I’ll corrupt my chance to create the critter based on my current inspiration. So what you get is “original” in the sense I am not consciously copying, imitating, or reimagining a specific implementation of the idea. The idea is surely not original (I may have hit on it on my own, but as I said, surely others have, or, I may have read it a long time ago and it just re-bubbled to the surface of my mind), and the odds are good I will not have a particularly unique spin on the idea.

So my introduction is ~250 words telling you, the reader, you’re about to encounter unoriginal and derivative material. I really need to work on my marketing skills.

Anyway… zombees. Or zom-bees. Still can’t decide.

Zombees (CR3, XP 800)

The buzzing sound is discordant, setting your teeth on edge. Then the swarm becomes visible, a grey cloud of tiny, rotting, bodies.
NE Diminutive Undead (Swarm)
Init +0; Senses darkvision 60 ft, scent; Perception +1

AC 14 (+4 size), touch 14, flat-footed 14
hp 34 (4d12+8)
Fort +6, Ref +6, Will +1
Defensive Abilities swarm traits, immune (weapon damage)

Speed 10 ft., fly 40 ft (average)
Melee swarm (1d6 + distraction)
Special Attack consume, create spawn, defoliate

Base Statistics
Str 2, Dex 14, Con –, Int –, Wis 12, Cha 14
Base Atk +4; CMB –; CMD
Feats ability focus (distraction)

Consume (Ex) : Against helpless or nauseated targets, the zombees do 2d6 damage.
Create Spawn (Su): Any creature killed by zombees rises as a beehive zombie (see below) in 1d4 days. Such spawn are not controlled by the original swarm in any way.
Defoliate (Su): The zombees do double damage to plants — including normal, inanimate, crops and flowers. A zombee swarm can transform a fertile field into mounds of rotting vegetation in but a few hours. As such, the sighting of a swarm will inspire many farming communities to collect what little coin they may have in order to lure a few adventurers into the fray.

Environment any non-arctic, non-aquatic, non-desert
solitary, pair, comb (3–6 swarms), colony (7–12 swarms)

Negative energy tends to seep into the world. The plants and flowers around haunted or accursed places, such as profaned graveyards and the sites of particularly heinous battles involving undead or necromancy, can absorb traces of this energy… which can then pass into the creatures that feed on them. One particular manifestation is the undead bee swarm, sometimes referred to be the more grim-humored of sages as “zombees”. (Despite the name, they are not actually zombies for game purposes and any abilities specifically targeting zombies are not effective. Likewise, they are considered to be undead, not vermin.)

Design Notes

I used the Backer’s Preview of the Talented Bestiary from Rogue Genius Games to stat out the zombees. As such, it may differ in small ways from one built with the core PF rules.

Beehive Zombie

The shambling thing is clearly undead… but the cloud of buzzing insects surrounding the rotting flesh are not flies, and from the gaping wounds in its body drips a pallid yellowish muck.

Beehive Zombie    CR 1
XP 400
Beehive zombie
NE Medium undead
Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +1
Aura stinging aura (DC 12)


AC 13, touch 11, flat-footed 12 (+1 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 16 (3d8+3)
Fort +2, Ref +2, Will +4
Immune undead traits


Speed 30 ft.
Melee unarmed strike +5 (1d3+3 nonlethal) or
slam +5 (1d6+4)


Str 16, Dex 12, Con —, Int —, Wis 12, Cha 12
Base Atk +2; CMB +5; CMD 16
SQ sticky innards

Special Abilities

Sticky Innards (DC 12) (Su) The body of a beehive zombie is filled with a foul mockery of honey. Any creature scoring a successful melee attack must make a DC 12 Reflex save or be entangled by a spray of gloppy zombie-syrup. The DC to escape from the entangle is 12. This save is CHA-based.
Stinging Aura (DC 12) (Su) Any creature adjacent to the beehive zombie at the start of their turn must make a Fortitude save (DC 12) or be sickened for one round. This save is CHA-based.
Undead Traits Undead have many immunities.


Environment any non-arctic, non-aquatic, non-desert
solitary, pair, plague (3-5), hive (6-10)

Beehive zombies are created when a humanoid is killed by zombee swarm. They look much like other zombies, except that they have tumor-like growths on their bodies which are small beehives (filled with undead bees, of course), and they continually bleed a yellowish “honey” that is indescribably foul-smelling. (Anyone stupid enough to consume it will take 1d6 damage and be nauseated for 1d6 rounds. It loses potency 4 rounds after being removed from the creature, crystallizing into dust. Depraved necromancers and certain perverse chefs might pay up to 5 gold pieces for a pouch of this dust.)

Within a week after spawning, a beehive zombie will collapse and then explode, creating a new zombee swarm.

Design Notes

This one I did w/Hero Lab.

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 1 Part 4

All The World’s Monsters, Volume I

Part IV

That’s The Funny One With The Whales, Right?

No, This Is The One With The Killer Pinecone In It

Yes, Really

Welcome back, after a long absence, to what ought to be the last part of the first part of the walkthrough of All The World’s Monsters, Volume I. The penultimate part is here, and the antepenultimate part is here, and this useless spell checker doesn’t know that “antepenultimate” is a word. It totally is. It means “the sister of one of penultimate’s parents”. Duh.

Having just covered hybrid crabs/WW1 helmets, we move on to…

Random Horror: Insert 2016 Presidential election joke here.

An evolutionary step between the wandering monster table and the wandering damage table.

An evolutionary step between the wandering monster table and the wandering damage table.

Razortongue: A gorilla-sized koala bear with steel-hard fur. Yes, really.

Just like it says on the tin.

Just like it says on the tin.

The razortongue is one of the many creations of the prolific Clint Bigglestone, who was evidently part of the gaming circle of a certain George R. R. “Are You Finishing The Damn Series” Martin, as a character by the hardly-common name of “Clint Bigglestone” appears in one of Martin’s early stories.

Shaggy: A huge (man size, I guess, though it’s not specified precisely) tribble. Which secretes adhesive glue. And when it attaches itself to you, it sucks out life levels. Not to be confused with a monster-hunting stoner.

Shaggy Beast: A snake-headed bull with green fur. Said fur is full of stingers that will kill you in two turns if you fail a save. It can also breathe fire. Why not?

Shrew, Giant: Insert “mother in law” joke here.

Skull, Flying: The “poor man’s liche”, sometimes called the “Obamalich”, even though the program actually started under Bush. It looks “just like you would expect, a skull with wings”. I generally don’t expect winged skulls, but anyway. It can use spells, but there is a “spell level/8” chance it will be destroyed when it does. I’m going to interpret that as an “X in 8 chance”, that is, if it’s a 4th level spell, roll a D8, and if it’s 4 or less, the skull dies. Re-dies. Double secret dies.

Starling: Not a cute little bird. This starling is a giant mutant starfish, where each tentacle has a unique, deadly, power. Kind of like a beholder, except with tentacles instead of eye beams. It has seven tentacles, and their powers include constriction, petrification, cold damage, poison, and “squirting ink”. The “constricting” tentacle can extend for up to 100 feet, and this is getting way too hentai for me. Next!

Stormquill: Another of Mr. Bigglestone’s visionary creations, this is a “gorilla sized ankliosaurus(sic)”. It has 12 quills on the clublike end of the tail, which, when flung, transform into lightning bolts that attack as a heavy crossbow fired by a Champion. (You can tell the really old school stuff, from the first few years of D&D, by use of the “attacks as a (level name here)” trope.

Stun Cone: A giant killer pinecone. Look, I told you it was in here. Why did you not believe me? Why? Now look what you’ve done in your foolish ignorance and defiance!

See? Killer Pinecone. Not A Metaphor. Not An Exaggeration. Not A Dream, Hoax, Or Imaginary Story.

See? Killer Pinecone. Not A Metaphor. Not An Exaggeration. Not A Dream, Hoax, Or Imaginary Story.

Thundertread: Found in the deepest levels of dungeons, it is “hideous and virtually indescribable”. And… that’s its description.

DM: You encounter a thundertread! It’s hideous and indescribable!
Player: What does it look like?
DM: I just told you, it’s indescribable.
Player: But what do our characters see?
DM: Something they can’t describe.
Player: (Sighs) Does it have hit points?
DM: Yes.
Player: Then screw the flavor text, we can kill it.

Tiger, Blink Saber-Tooth: When a blink dog and a saber tooth tiger love each other very much…

Next time someone who wasn’t even born until after AD&D 2e came out whines that they hate D&D 3.x or Pathfinder because “all the stupid templates let them make up these weird hybrid monsters instead of sticking to the glorious, sacred purity of genuine creatures from myth and legend like in the Good Old Days”, show them the blink dog/sabre-tooth tiger crossover, then laugh at them. A lot. They need to be laughed at.

Tumble Tangle: A tumbleweed-like plant that often travels among them, until it finds food. It then attacks and attempts to entangle and devour the victim. Given that I created the very similar “tumblebleed” for Earth Delta, I’ve got no moral high ground here.

Unalhit: A six legged hairy octopus demon. Heh. “Hairy octopus”. Know what I mean, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more?

Voltree: Comes in five colors; when danger threatens, all the voltrees spend time getting their asses.. erm… trunks handed to them for ten minutes before finally remembering that can combine to form an all-powerful robot tree that… no, wait. This is a weeping willow with silver leaves that can electrocute passers-by. Based on a story by Eric Frank Russel.

Vuun: A fifty-foot giant bat, with psychic powers. “Very rare”, with only one colony remaining in a network of caves in the walls of a volcanic crater. I’m not even going to ask how a creature with a 50 foot wingspan navigates inside the tunnels.

War Wheel: It’s a living creature shaped like a giant wheel that will… oh, just read it.

Man, If You Could Figure Out How To Put A Saddle On One Of These...

Man, If You Could Figure Out How To Put A Saddle On One Of These…

I can kind of imagine the in-world arguments over what to call it, akin to the debate over “soda” or “pop”. (Soda, you morons) or “Sub”, “Hero”, “Grinder”, etc. (Sub or Hero. Grinder? Please.)

Water Sucker: Someone who pays 3.99 for a bottle of “Pure Glacier Mountain Spring Organic GMO Free Water” that’s bottled in Spokane from the local pipes. Also, a kind of armadillo thing that drains water like a stirge drains blood.

Weasel, Giant: Insert 2016 Presidential election joke here, too.

Were-Hellhound: There is a 25% chance it can use magic in human form and one-third of the magic-using were-hellhounds will be Priests of Roofdrak. No, I do not know what a Priest of Roofdrak is. I mean, yeah, I can guess, it’s a priest, that worships Roofdrak. That’s helpful. Not. Also, it will only work with were-coldcats if it has a good reason to. No, “were-coldcat” is not in this book. Nor could I find “Cat, cold” or “Coldcat”. Old School!

Were, Anti: At first, I read this as “were, ant”, which makes as much sense as anything else, but, no… an “anti-were” is like a were wolf, bear, etc., except that it’s immune to silver and magic weapons but is harmed by normal iron ones. This is a fairly typical trope for the era. Back when “player skill, not feats and stats” mattered, “player skill” consisted of memorizing every rulebook one could find, and ignoring things like “but your character has never met a werewolf, how does it know what’s effective?” And so, there was an eternal arms race, and “trick monsters”, which looked like typical members of a species but had altered or reversed weaknesses, were one of the primary weapons in the arsenal.

Witch Tree: Which tree? That tree! That one, right there. The one that’s trying to kill you. Forests in a typical D&D world are not exactly safe havens. I suppose the number of giant, poisonous magical scorpion-tailed creatures that roam the woodlands makes sense if you consider that “the woodlands” are themselves highly predatory.

Worm, White: A hundred-foot long worm that dwells in polar climates. It will devour anything that is not fuzzy, because, and I swear I am not making this up, it is very ticklish on the inside.

X-Ray Beast

The Next Time Someone Tells You The Flumph Was The Most Ridiculous Monster Ever, You Just Show Them This

The Next Time Someone Tells You The Flumph Was The Most Ridiculous Monster Ever, You Just Show Them This

Yes, it’s a one-eyed hippo which shoots an x-ray beam that does 3d6 radiation damage and would give a +2 on Heal checks to detect cancer, if there had been skills back then. For some random reason, it’s immune to fire.

Zanth: Six legged wolf-komodo-lizard. That is the entirety of the descriptive text. A fittingly old-school ending for this entry in the series.

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 1 Part 3

All The World’s Monsters, Volume I

Part III

In 3-D!

Note: Not Actually In 3-D

Here we are again, continuing our expedition through the marvels, mysteries, and mayonnaise [[Note:Come up with something else that begins with ‘m’ before this is posted]] of “All The World’s Monsters”. Parts I and II can be found here and here. Part IV can be found here.

Hairy Howler: Not “Howler, Hairy”? Yeah, yeah, we beat that joke to death already. But that which is dead can never die! Anyway, as stated last week, this is a nine foot tall man-baboon hybrid… a maboon?… inspired by Hiero’s Journey by Sterling Lanier, which you should have read if you ever played Gamma World. It sometimes uses a meat cleaver as a weapon, with a +4 to hit and +5 to damage. Whoa.

Heffalump: An elephant-sized centipede “immune to lightning, fire, and spoken spells”. Known to prey on bears and young pigs. Sometimes accompanied by woozles. (Are there woozles in this book? (flip flip flip) No. No, there are not. For shame.)

The above video is clearly an inaccurate presentation.

Horned Bellower: A man sized, one horned, flying purple people… no, I mean, triceratops. Well, if it has one horn, it’s a monoceratops, isn’t it? Oh, it regenerates like a troll. And the horn is vorpal. And it detects treasure. With the horn. I’d say “You can’t make this shit up”, but, there’s the proof, in black and white. Someone surely did make it up.

Hound (Death, Hades, Night, Phase, Rock): I’ve discussed the tendency to create dragons, golems, and giants of every possible adjective… but hounds are kind of new. There’s generally only one or two new variants on “puppy” in most monster books, and they usually have some kind of sonic attack, because dog. Wolf. Howl. Trust me on this. When you’re charged with making up 12-14 monsters a day to meet a deadline, you’re not going to dig too deep in the idea mine. As soon as you get a concept you can hang a bunch of hit points and attack bonuses on, you run with it. But in this case… erm… these cases… the sonic stuff is skipped. The Hades Hound is a three-headed hell hound that breathes acid and chlorine in addition to flame. The Phase Hound is what happens when a hell hound and a phase spider love each other very much.

Icegrunt: A furry white boulder that breathes cold. Yeah. That’s what I said.

Jubal Cain:

A Flying Tablecloth With A 60 Inch Tongue. This Is The Next Big Internet Meme.

A Flying Tablecloth With A 60 Inch Tongue. This Is The Next Big Internet Meme.

Not Sure I Like The Dark Knight's New Costume

Not Sure I Like The Dark Knight’s New Costume

Killwing: It uses “microwave sound” to attack. What’s that? A really annoying “ding” that goes off every ten seconds no matter how much you scream from across the room “Shut up, you damn machine, I know the food is cooked!”?

Kobold: What’s this, you ask? Kobolds? No adjectives? Why are they even in a book of weird and wonderful creatures? They’re just core monsters!

Ah, but this is the edited Gilespie-Blacow-Slimax kobold.

The what?

Yeah. It sounds like something from the edges of physics, doesn’t it? “Well, you see, if you imagine the universe as a twelve-dimensional matrix of Gilespie-Blacow-Slimax conjugations, you can see that…”

But here it is. You make sense of it.

I Believe There's Three Of Them Guarding An Einstein Rosen Bridge Across The Uncanny Valley

I Believe There’s Three Of Them Guarding An Einstein-Rosen Bridge Across The Uncanny Valley

Lemming, Giant: If it bites you, you are infected with a “Death Wish” poison that will make you hunt down and kill those punks that tortured, raped, and killed your wife and daughter.

Libear: A “lion-bear-centaur”. It has the same chance of hugging as a werebear; nothing specifies the chances of kissing, fondling, or oral sex.

Longlicker: Giggity. Well, maybe not. It’s a giant sized anteater with a thirty foot tongue that “can impale its victims”, doing double damage. Naturally, no mechanic or percentage chance is provided for this. I am curious as to how this might play out in the afterlife.

“Oh, I died fighting Orcus to save the soul of the One True King of the Dwarves.”
“I perished holding a bridge against an army of trolls, allowing the villagers to flee to safety.”
“I was impaled on a thirty foot tongue.”
“Dude! Isn’t that how we’d all like to go? High-five!”

Minogon: A gorgon/minotaur crossbreed. Wasn’t this in one of the Arduin books? That wouldn’t be odd, per se, there’s a lot of crossover of contributors and no one claimed exclusivity to the critters in ATWM — nor could they, given how many are “based on” copyrighted works.  Well, if it was, I didn’t comment on it, having just wasted 10 minutes googling my own site for “medusa” and “gorgon”.

Morse: A mutated cross between a moose and a horse, with low-level telepathy which it can use to communicate simple messages using dots and dashes. (OK, that part’s not true. But the telepathy is.) Once more, Hiero’s Journey. Trust me, you’ll want a telepathic moose for your PC after you read it.

Nerve Flayer: It is “totally indescribable” but gorilla-sized. Anyone meeting its gaze will lose 1-3 life levels (and back then, level loss was nasty). Its claws also do lightning damage if both hit. If it kills someone with the lightning, it will dimension door back home and eat the corpse.

Nightstalker: An intrepid reporter who hunted down supernatural entities about 20 years before public tastes changed enough to make this sort of thing popular. Also, a “black velvet baboon” that will follow the party and attack at an opportune moment, e.g., just after combat.

Orgoyle: A creature whose diamond-patterned fur is greatly sought after by tailors and weavers, it has been hunted nearly to extinction and… no, wait. That’s the argyle. The orgoyle is an ogre/gargoyle crossbreed. That’s kind of cool, actually. Not necessarily as a full species, but as a unique individual in tribe of ogres or the result of yet another mad wizard’s experiment. Or, possibly, the nurtured, cared-for, and emotionally happy result of a love that was forbidden but could not be contained!

Panther: The hereditary enemy of dragons, it possesses a breath weapon which… dragons are immune to. Charles Darwin weeps. That’s kind of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer gaining superhuman speed, agility, and endurance, except when she’s fighting vampires. Please note this isn’t the “Panther, Anti-Draconic” or “Panther, Drakebane”, or anything… it’s just a panther. With a breath weapon. Here, read it:

Like Dragons, Panthers Are Color-Coded For Your Convenience

Like Dragons, Panthers Are Color-Coded For Your Convenience

Pegasone: Sorry for two scans in a row, but this is easier read than described.

Phase Wing: A killwing (see above) with phase spider powers. Because, why not? Why not a phase spider with three heads, and each head has a different breath weapon, and it’s got ten legs instead of eight, and when it bites you, you turn to stone? Hey, that’s kind of cool. Going to write that up.

Plink Plant: “Like many other plants, it detects body warmth within 60 feet.” Man, my science class’ section on botany left out all the cool stuff!

Quelt: What do you get when cross a crab with a World War I helmet? I dunno, but it’s killing me!

This May Be More Embarrassing Than Getting Killed By A Longlicker

This May Be More Embarrassing Than Getting Killed By A Longlicker

And that seems like a good place to stop for today. At this rate, the next part should be the last of Volume I. Please be sure to spread links to here around, like a virulent plague infesting the Internet.


The Runes Of Doom, Part XIII


And Nobles

And Maybe Highwaymen, If I Get To Them

Actually, Everything. I Get To Everything. It’s Over. This Is The End… Frak. How Did That Happen?

I Mean, I Don’t Finish Things. I Don’t. That’s Like, My Thing. Not Finishing.

A few days ago, I finished scanning “The Runes Of Doom”. (The smart thing would have been to scan the entire book at once, but scanning is boring, so I do a handful of pages at a go, enough for the next article or two, then procrastinate doing the rest, which is why articles are often late.) So it’s sort of an end of an era, or the beginning of the end of an era, or the beginning of the end of the first era if I move on to either other Arduin books or some of the rest of my immense pile of 70s-era gaming supplements. But it’s something, dammit!

When I wrote the above, I didn’t expect this article to close out the series, or at least the original trilogy. But it does. Whoa. I’m going to pondering this for a while. INTPs don’t normally complete things unless there’s a boss and a deadline and a paycheck involved.

The Last Of The Demons Of The “Arduin Cycle”

Sl’yth: The “living manifestation of Evil and and nightmare”, Sl’yth is so foul and vile to look upon that all under tenth level (or eighth level for clerics) run in terror merely upon seeing it… if they save (written as “if save is hit”, which is perfectly understandable in context, but it’s an odd construction, nonetheless). If they don’t save, they just die of fright. In case it wasn’t clear, Dave goes on to write “Totally indescribably ugly. UGH!”. Sigh. Lookism was so prevalent back then, in those unenlightened times. It attacks with either beams or bursts of sound, and all 8th level and below “(even Clerics)” who smell it must save vs. poison or take damage and flee in sick panic, which is nasty. (I mean, nauseated and panicked? Wow.) It can extend a… my copy of the book is actually missing a letter here, it looks like “palp”… to attack. Ah, smeg it, this needs to be seen in full…

Have To Love The "Oh, And..." Style Of Writing

Have To Love The “Oh, And…” Style Of Writing

Tel-Kroath: A 13′ tall, eyeless/wingless glass giant. It’s pointed out that it’s wingless, because the default assumption is, naturally, that 13′ tall giants do have wings. I presume it has a scorpion tail, though, because it does not say it is tailless. And horns, because it does not say it is hornless. And tusks, because…. OK, that horse is dead enough. Ah, but when he flies, fans of radiant light spread out from his body, like, erm, wings. His touch turns people to glass (as per petrification, but this is vitrification), and every three turns he can shoot an eyebeam to do the same thing.

Thangumokk: An eyeless, winged (ah-hah!), scaled, tailed, copper-colored 12′ tall humanoid. When angered, his color becomes “molten”. He spits acid, breathes poison gas, and carries around “green slime grenades”. His touch paralyzes “hobbits, kobbits, kobolds, and goblins”, which implies that it somehow interacts with the gene for “shortness”. In what may be my favorite bit of characterization of demons, he enjoys appearing as a mangy dog or scruffy stray alley cat, presumably to lure in prey. His favorite food is “hobbit, etc.”, which sounds like a 90s mall store. (“Muffy and Mitzie and me are going to go down to Hobbit, Etc., ’cause there’s a cute guy working in the stockroom!”) He is the “Patron Demon of all Goblin kind”.

Thymorg: “Looks: Purple, leathery, lumpy, warty skin, stooped, 9 1/2′ tall,3-eyed (yellow) that cause confusion to anyone gazing into them within 10′ of him.” You wanna know what else causes confusion? That sentence! Well, it’s not a sentence, really, it’s more a string of words. His main attack is turning into a gaseous cloud that eats life levels. He wears the “Eye of Agamat” (cough, cough) which allows him to gaze anywhere in whichever universe he’s in. And, because we haven’t had one of these in a while, he’s the arch-enemy of BRYGHAUL.

Urandos: “Generally man-shaped”, except for the giant bat wings, three eyes, and “crinkly tin-foil” skin. He’s got an “ice” theme going. Accompanied by ice demons, appears as a polar bear or “a warrior maiden with silver hair and eyes”, and so on. He is the arch-enemy of AMON-RA. He creates ice javelins that he can throw “very accurately”, which means he gets a bonus of… erm.. I mean, it allows him to ignore… uh… no, wait, he can attack even targets that are… uh… look, he’s very accurate, OK?


I've Probably Made Enough Tentacle/Japanese Schoolgirl Jokes By Now

As the “God of all Trolls”, he is clearly the Patron Demon of the Internet

Consider: As the “god of all Trolls”, he will appear 90% of the time if asked. Ninety percent??? Do trolls know this? If so, I would never, ever, ever, take on a troll in Arduin! You’d have a ninety percent chance of ending up facing a friggin’ 16 HD demon!

I’m also going to repeat my boilerplate rant about how so many creatures in early D&D and related had different AC for different body parts but no hit location rules.

Vorcas: Like “orcas”, but with a “v”. It has eight taloned (that’s eight of them, each with talons) “feet/clawed hands” and three shark-like fins running down its back, culminating in a sting ray tail with a red stinger. Topping this off, literally, is a shark-like head with emerald teeth, which can bite for 5-50 points of damage. Favorite food: Sea elf. He is constantly at war with NAGANDAS but a mysterious and unnamed “friend” keeps intervening to prevent Nagandas from winning.

That’s the end of the demons… so here’s a black scorpion.

Please Note The Size Of The Rider And Mount....

Please Note The Size Of The Rider And Mount….

And The Rest

The remainder of the book, from page 78 to page 94, consists of lists: Noble Familys (sic) of Arduin, Most Wanted Highwaymen of Arduin, Denizens Of The “Under Cities” Of Arduin, etc. This leads to an interesting conundrum. There’s really not too much to comment on or call out; there’s a ton of interesting little snippets here, but it’s pure background detail.

The most important thing I can say about it is, like the lists of coins and precious stones back in Welcome To Skull Tower, it served to greatly inspire me, as a teen, in terms of worldbuilding and thinking beyond the dungeon. Reading these lists, you get a great sense of how much there could be to create in a world, how many aspects of it there were to consider. Simply seeing the possibilities was enough to get me thinking about what I may have missed or what I could fill in.

So I’m going to show a few samples, to convey the feeling, tone, and style, and hope they’re as inspirational to others as they were to me, way back when. (Of course, it’s a very different world… books detailing every minor noble house of Westeros or the backstory of each and every creature seen in the Mos Eisley Cantina are best sellers now. It’s taken for granted that media set in fantastic worlds will show only a fraction of what’s been created as backdrop for those worlds. This was not the case in the 1970s. Tolkien’s worldbuilding was considered a unique exception, and was used as a justification for “serious” people to study and comment on the Lord Of The Rings novels, when they would otherwise dismiss anything not involving depressed middle-aged rich people bemoaning the fact they were depressed, middle-aged, and rich as “not really literature”.)

Nobles Of Arduin



This is the sort of thing I loved playing with… I created (in notebooks, and in early databases on PCs, that I wrote myself in BASIC or Pascal, without realizing I was, in fact, creating a database… go figure!) templates of a similar nature, where I could fill out things like “House Colors” and “Sigils” (because I could spell), without going into more detail. I figured I could always go back and flesh it out later. I still do that. It helps create the illusion of a wider world; no one need to know how much of it has been really thought out and how much is just a cool-sounding name that you came up with. (Does anyone really believe that, in 1976, when George Lucas wrote the screenplay for Star Wars, that he knew, at the moment he had Leia say, “Years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars”, that he had any idea it was going to involve long-necked aliens and Boba Fett’s dad? Especially since Boba Fett didn’t originate until well after Star Wars was out in theaters?)

Highwaymen Of Arduin

Well, Highwaypersons, Actually.

Yay, Equality!

1/2 Orc-Dwarf Druid? Anticipating 3.0 Again!

1/2 Orc-Dwarf Druid? Anticipating 3.0 Again!

It’s unfortunate that even by Arduin standards, this list is marred by spelling and other issues… “Gruesam”? “Cannible”?… because this is a truly remarkable collection of highly distinct characters, albeit compressed into virtually statless form. I mean, at best, it mentions “magik” weapons or armor, no specifics as to bonuses or other enchantment.

And when it comes to inspiration, things like this taught me to think about NPCs in terms beyond “fourth level fighting-man”, but to give them visual distinctiveness and defining personality traits and quirks. And that, in turn, feeds into my love of the kinds of systems I prefer — high detail, high-crunch, systems such as GURPS, Hero, or Pathfinder. Why? Because I want the mechanics of a character to be as rich and deep as the description. I want to make characters who live up to their imagery in play, who aren’t just some fluff text laid on the generic statistics of a “fourth level fighting-man”.

Denizens Of The Undercities

Most of my comments on the highwaypersons apply here; a brief sample to show you what they were like:

There's A Lot Of Defrocking Going On. Giggity.

There’s A Lot Of Defrocking Going On. Giggity.

At the time, I thought “undercities” was a term for “dungeons”, but later I started wondering if it meant, more literally, underground portions of the city… something between a dungeon adventure and a city adventure, a region sort-of citylike but more lawless and wild, hidden away beneath the more “civilized” realm above, yet still more orderly than the truly unexplored dungeons below.

And here’s some haggorym. Haggorym are, if I recall correctly, caveman-hobgoblin crossbreeds. Try not to think about it too much. We won’t even discuss kobbitts.

Got To Love The Club-Stake That One Guy Is Holding

Got To Love The Club-Stake That One Guy Is Holding

Notable Characters Of The Arduinian Cycle

Seriously? “Cycle” Again? Did Hargrave Take Some Kind Of Course In Mythology About The Time This Was Written, Or What? Sheesh.

One THIRD Elf???

One THIRD Elf???

Man, assuming these are actual PCs… oh wow… just reading the names makes you wonder what kind of astounding wonderment went on at Dave’s table, in between the ten thousand ways you could die before you even finished rolling your stats. (Oh, wait… that was Traveller.)

And speaking of fun ways to die… my favorite Arduin beastie of all time. This either inspired GRRM to create something very similar in “Tuf Voyaging”, or, it was inspired by them… the overlap in timelines is complicated, and GRRM was an RPGer who moved in the same circles Dave Hargrave did, so, who knows?

Otherwise Known As "Every Morning About 5 AM".

Otherwise Known As “Every Morning About 5 AM”.

The Tribes Of Arduin

Huh. I totally forgot this was in here. This was something I never really imitated, I guess. Most of my games were/are set in highly “civilized” (ideally, decadent) regions, because I have a thing for cities, ruins, etc.

Wild Hobbits, A Decade Before Dark Sun

Wild Hobbits, A Decade Before Dark Sun

Recorded Areas Of Treasure And Death Within The Arduinian Borders

(Remember, Arduin Is Only About 200 Miles Or So Across…)

(You Can’t Kick A Rock Without Revealing A Dungeon Entrance)

The Abbey On Spider Isle Is Spider Infested. Good To Know.

The Abbey On Spider Isle Is Spider Infested. Good To Know.

OK, time for some serious nerdsquee here. I mean, c’mon, look at this stuff! “An entrance to the Great Worm Road”. You cannot read that and not want to know more about the “Great Worm Road”, not if you have any soul at all. A city literally eaten by the hordes of Hell??? The last known citadel of the Kthoi? The Cavern Of The Time Lords, sealed by the Rune Weavers “with spell and fear”? Holy frak, these are awesome. What was TSR offering at the time? “Hey, uh, want to go kill some, uh, hill giants or something? They’re, uh, big. Biggish. Hill giants. Yeah. Go get ’em.” (Took a while before they got to cool stuff like “Queen Of The Demonweb Pits”.)

They’re Called “Random Encounters”, Not “Statistically Probable Encounters”

The very last page is a random encounter chart. Sort of. It determines type of encounter (patrol, normal animal, monster) and “reaction” (A flat D12 roll, ranging from “flee in terror” to “ambush”, which can lead to some oddities based on what the encounter actually is… “Hmm, you encounter ‘Local Populace’… let’s see, I’ll roll over here on this chart not actually included in the books, and I get ‘Peaceful Pottery Merchants’ and the reaction roll is ‘Advance aggressively to fight, no chance of running’. Hmm. So how much damage does a hurled vase do, anyway?”


Lo, There Shall Be An Ending!

Lo, There Shall Be An Ending!

Afterafter Word

So, that’s the end of the trilogy. I’m probably going to switch gears for a little bit… this is the longest, most regular, thing I’ve done on this blog. I also need to get back to some fiction writing. (Got a sequel to write.) I’ve got a partially done walkthrough of an obscure 90s game, “Of Gods And Men”, that’s been languishing in the “Drafts” folder for over two years now, too. Might get that done. Who knows? As usual, I’ve got a dozen or more projects waiting for some vague attempt at focus and completion. We’ll see what happens. Always in motion, the future is.

Trying to come up with something uplifting, meaningful, and pompous here, probably involving roads, or maybe some twaddle about how the spark of inspiration finds fertile kindling in the drought-stricken undergrowth of the parched brain, but nothing’s coming. Whatever. I hope people enjoyed this expedition through the tangled jungles of nostalgia.

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


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


(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


(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.))


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.