Tag Archives: D&D

Arduin Grimoire, Part XI

Arduin Grimoire, Part XI

Rune Weavers’ Magik

Also, Magikal Treasures

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

“(Continued)”

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.”

Bah!

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:

mindwipe

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

Badum-bum!

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.

Arduin Grimoire, Part VI

Arduin Grimoire, Part VI

Classes

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

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

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

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

And, speaking of merchants…

Hargrave’s Trader (Merchant) Class

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

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

Player: I stab him!

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

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

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

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

Anyway… the class.

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

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

Let’s look at some highlights:

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

Psychic

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

Psychic

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

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

Barbarian

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

Half orc

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

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

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

1: Thus was Grand Theft Auto born.

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

PrinceCon III Handbook, Part III

Magic Items

So Rare And Special In Old School Games, They Literally Take Up Half The Book Here

Rather bizarrely, someone seems to actually be reading these bits of extemporanea, and following the sometimes strangely synchronous nature of the universe, discusses magic items in D&D… the very topic I’m about to discuss. Go figure.

We now move on to Sword Abilities. It’s not clear how you determine if a sword has abilities, nor how many… I suspect the intent is to use the existing rules in the LBBs. (Little Brown Books, if we’re discussing D&D. Little Black Books, if we’re discussing Traveller. Little Brown Birds, if we’re discussing ornithology. Which we’re not. That’s my wife’s thing, not mine.)

Most of them are pretty typical; again, I’m highlighting the ones I think deserve a highlight, based on completely subjective and arbitrary criteria, including the whims of my current mood. You want academic rigor, go find a dead academic, I always say. (Hmmm… “academic rigor mortis” sounds like a good phrase to describe the state of a field of study where the demands of documentation and completeness are so extreme that original thought or insight has become impossible… I’ll have to use that in something, someday.)

  • Ability Notes: This is right in the middle of the ability descriptions, after ‘Detect Undead’ and before ‘ESP’, like it was supposed to be a footnote and was mixed into the main text because this was probably laid out on a typewriter and then mimeographed.
  • Illusion Generation: Allows the generation of “non harmful” illusions, which is one of those terms of art that led to endless debate. Probably, the intent was that you couldn’t be burned by illusionary fire, for instance — and yeah, that was totally a topic of interminable warfare among D&D players at the time — but I can, sadly, see it being used by some DMs to effectively nullify any clever use of the power, such as disguising a pit with an illusion so the ogre falls down it. “That’s harming the ogre!” “That’s not what that rule means!” “I say it is, and I’m the DM!” “Want some more General Tso’s chicken?” “OK, the ogre falls and dies. Pass the soy sauce.”
  • Battle Fury: Gives you +1 to your effective level for each round, up to +10 levels (this is impressive, trust me), but comes with a 10% chance, per round, to “not stopping until killing everyone in front of him”. Taken literally, this would mean all surviving allies just run behind when the fight is over, and of course, no matter the state of berserker rage he might be in, he won’t keep his eyes on the enemy and, I dunno, turn around to follow them?
  • Tirelessness: “Wielder will never become tired or weary from physical exertion”. “What do you mean, you’re taking your sword with you into the king’s harem?”
  • Spell: Random spell, level 2-7, castable once per day. This is one of those things that could end up being nigh-useless or nearly game-breaking, depending on how you roll. (Limited Wish, for instance, was a 7th level spell…)

Armor

Some interesting items here:

  • Armor vs. Walls: Predating Magic:The Gathering debates by nearly 20 years (“How can you Terror a wall?”) this protected you from magical walls — fire, ice, iron, etc. You could walk through them with ease. Possibly you could con your DM into letting you get past blade barrier. There’s an odd note here, regarding magical walls from “War Of The Wizards” — I have no idea what that’s referring to. I dimly recall a game of the era called “WizWar”, I think.
  • Paladin’s Armor: The only “aligned” armor, says the text, being either Lawful or Chaotic, and doing damage to the wrong sort of wearer as per aligned swords. Again, a somewhat prescient concept… and it makes me wonder why it wasn’t more common, as it seems an obvious extension of existing rules.
  • Ranger’s Armor: Unaligned, but gives bonuses if worn by a ranger. As above, we really didn’t see a lot of class-specific armor despite there being a plethora of other items which were so limited.
  • Shield of Throwing: Can be thrown, with a 10% chance of decapitation if the target is AC 7 or less. No word on if shield is red, white, and blue.
  • Shield of the Prophet: Can be wielded by clerics while still allowing them to cast spells. “When used by a Prophet of the correct religion, it has other abilities.” No, the book doesn’t offer rules on what constitutes a prophet of a given religion, nor does it say what those “other abilities” are.

Medallions

  • Medallion Of Holding: Nifty because it’s not the sort of thing these items are usually used for. This lets you put one item up to 5000 GP (it’s not clear if that’s weight — the GP was a unit of weight as well as currency) or value, into the medallion, and swap it out once a week.
  • Size change: Grow or shrink up to 10 times your size, No evident limits on frequency. Also, no rules for what that means. Does your gear grow/shrink, too? How much extra damage does a 30 foot long sword do? If an inch-high magic user casts a fireball spell, is its damage and AOE scaled down? The canonical response from the “rules light” crowd is “just play with reasonable people, and you don’t have arguments”. Because, as we all know, interpretations of the effects of magical size change is the sort of thing where only one “reasonable” answer exists, and only “unreasonable” people would dispute it. It’s not like size changing has all sorts of often counter-intuitive effects and implications that might merit, oh, several hundred pages of detailed rules for some systems.
  • Galileo Medallion: Renders you immune to Clerical spells, since you don’t believe in gods. Presumably, this affects healing spells, as well.

Crosses

Basically, a (small) category of magic items for clerics (I’d rule they take the form of whatever holy symbol is appropriate). They grant a +1 to +3 bonus of dispelling/turning undead, and to protections spells. Worthy of mention because it’s such an obvious category of item that was never well developed during the time.

Balls

  • Balls Of Bravery. Yes, they went there.
  • Bowling: Knocks down opponents. Of course.

Censors

This refers to the incense burner, not the book burner, though it seems odd they didn’t include a “Censor Of Speech” which did 1d6 damage to any character who used foul language… especially when you consider that they did include this:

Have you ever looked at your hand? I mean, really looked at your hand?

Have you ever looked at your hand? I mean, really looked at your hand?

Bowls/Cups

  • Cup of Oberon: Pours out healing potion for elves, normal wine for humans, and vinegar for dwarves. I would immediately demand a Beer Stein of Gimli, with suitably opposite effects.
  • Cup Of The Assassin: Creates a ‘Mahler Style’ poison, and I’m out of Vienna jokes. Sorry.

Carpets

  • False Flying Carpet: Has a 25% chance of failing at random times. Insert tasteless joke about whichever airline just had a horrible crash at the time you read this here.

Chimes

Another interesting typographical oddity here: Item names went from Normal Case to ALL CAPS. I’d suspect this is where someone (perhaps Howard) took over the writing and decided to use his or her preferred stylistic guidelines. Just an interesting example of how personal this book was… it was put together by whoever felt like working on some part of it, anticipating open source development, where code modules would be written by whoever, so the same project will have wildly varying conventions for variable names and the like.

  • Jeweled Chimes; Worth 30,000 GP if you don’t try to ring them. They shatter if rung. Nasty trick.
  • CHIMES OF THE PHAROAHS(SIC): Summons 1-6 mummies to attack the chime-ringer and his allies. Getting a message here: Don’t sound the chimes!

Lyres

  • Lyre Of Truth: Of course.

 Brooms

You might notice a lack of alphabetical order, here. Hell, it was a lot harder to sort things when everything you wrote was basically in a fixed format, and the only way to re-order items was to literally re-type everything, or maybe do something with lead that didn’t involve sending your ork marauders to attack those space marines, I dunno.

Anyway, I’m feeling lazier than usual, so, first off, here’s a scan of some brooms, so I don’t have to write long descriptions by hand.

What, no "Nimbus 6000"? Only two decades off!

What, no “Nimbus 6000″? Only two decades off!

Second, some comments:

  • Pocket Armenians? What the frak? What the frakkin’ frak? I’m guessing “inside joke”, probably a reference to a fellow student who was a)Armenian, and b)Short. Today, the college would be sued for committing microaggressions or something. Get it? Microaggressions? (Hey, you want tasteful jokes… or, for that matter, funny jokes… go read Wil Wheaton or something.)
  • The “clean up crew” monsters is a reference us real old school gamers get, and you punk kids don’t. This was a term used, originally by Gygax, to refer to gelatinous cubes, carrion crawlers, and assorted slimes and puddings that scoured the dungeon eating everything, thus keeping it ‘clean’. As Lore Sjoberg later noted, the 10′ by 10′ gelatinous cube was “genetically adapted to graph paper”. Y’know, monster categorization is a ‘thing’ since D&D 3.0. In addition to Humanoid, Monstrous Humanoid, Magical Beast, Magically Bestial Monstrous Humanoid, and so on, I’d like “Clean Up Crew” as a monster type. Sure, there’s the “Ooze” type, but it’s just not the same.
  • The Witch’s Broom sounds great for witches… except there is no ‘witch’ class officially. There was a The Dragon article (no, that’s not a typo, the magazine was called ‘The Dragon’ then) about witches as a class, so maybe that’s what this refers to. Might even have been a Strategic Review article, that’s how long ago this was.

Figurines

  • Figurines Of Wealth Consumption: These tiny figures come in hundreds of different styles, and depict all manner of men and creatures, from all ages, from the distant past to the distant future. When any are touched, a compulsion comes upon the wielder, causing them to spend more and more money purchasing them, and hours of time painting them, only to throw them all away every three or four years when a “rules upgrade” is issued, beginning the process all over again. OK, I made all that up. It’s not in there. But, damn, it should have been.
  • Figurine of Truth/Untruth: It has the use of X-rays, ESP, “clairaud.” (sic), “clairvoy.” (sic) to “determine information”. It can be used once per day, and lies 1/3rd of the time. This basically seems really useless to me, unless you did something like asking the same question every day for a week and figuring out that the answer given most of the time was probably true, by the odds. Pity you couldn’t just shoot it in the foot. Oh, there’s also a Figurine Of Untruth/Truth, which lies 2/3rds of the time and tells the truth 1/3rd of the time. I guess you could empirically determine which one you had by asking it a question you knew the answer to, again over the course of several days, and evaluating the frequency of honest to dishonest answers. (And, yes, we did think like that, back in the day. I keep telling you people, it was all about battles of wits between the DM and the players.)

Necklaces

  • Necklace of Pearls: Get your mind out of the gutter, perverts. (That’s “perVECT!”) (Gods, will anyone get that reference? I’m old. I’m so old.) This is a necklace of “one of each of the pearls listed in Blackmoor”, and I originally read it wrong and had a really good… well, tolerable… passable… OK, space-filling joke that relied on my misreading, that I had to delete, so instead I filled the space with this explanation you’re reading now.

Misc. Misc. Magic

From the Department Of Redundancy Department.

  • Wings of Death: At the first chance, will kill the user. Presumably, by dropping him or her from a great height, but for all I know, they beat the wearer to death, or something.
  • And then there’s this…
Asperger's Syndrome? What? Huh?

Asperger’s Syndrome? What? Huh?

I have absolutely no idea what this means or refers to. I know an arquebus is a primitive gun, of course. What gamer doesn’t know that? None worthy of being called “gamer”! But the whole thing doesn’t make any sense to me. I could figure it out in about a minute of googling, of course, but being a celebration of things old-school, I’m going to enjoy something that one rarely can enjoy in this modern age: Not knowing something. (Seriously, when I have the full text of Wikipedia in my pocket, ignorance is pretty hard to justify.)

Gauntlets

  • Mickey Mouse Gloves: Today, these would be called “Gauntlets Of The Immense Rodent”, or something, to forestall lawsuits. But this comes from a more innocent time. They are, in fact, really nifty: When worn by an animal of roughly human size, they give the animal dexterity as if it were human. Great for animal companions (if they existed back then… can’t recall if rangers got them in 1e, and like I said earlier, I’m in a really lazy mood, which is like Donald Trump saying he’s feeling particularly greedy today), and smaller beasts of burden.
  • Gloves Of Silence: You’d think this would enable the wearer to slap someone while using the incantation “Ah, shuddupa you face!” to cause them to suffer the effects of a silence spell, but, no. These let you stick your fingers in your ears to resist sonic-based attacks like harpy songs and the like. But if you take your fingers out to cast a spell or use a sword, do you lose immunity? You’d look pretty dumb (and be pretty useless) going the whole fight with your fingers in your ears.
Stranglers Gloves

Do They Work If The Opponent Has No Neck?

  •  Strangler’s Gloves, see above clipping: Not a particularly unusual type of item for the era, I’m highlighting it as an example of one of the dead horses I’ve beaten throughout this series, and will continue to beat: The oddly random degree to which things were detailed in terms of specific rules and specific cases. (And immediately, I wonder: Can you strangle a dragon if you’re much smaller? How about undead, that don’t need to breathe? Or a gelatinous cube?)

Girdles

Surprisingly free of the obvious jokes. Seriously, did Gygax not understand that to most of the world, “girdle” was not merely a synonym for “belt”?

  • Girdle Of False Strength: One of the nastier (more subtle) cursed items I’ve seen: It acts like a typical Girdle of Giant Strength, but each time that power is used, the wearer’s actual Strength drops a point, and when it hits 0, he becomes a shadow… and not the kind that knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.
  • Girdle of False Polymorphism: Causes the user’s object code to appear as if it supports correctly casting objects to their ancestral types, but instead causes invalid pointer errors when executed by a customer. OK, not quite. It allows you to change shape, but there’s a 40% chance you’ll be permanently transformed into a random creature.
  • Reducing Girdle: Causes the wearer to lose weight until they’re at a healthy value for their size. OK, I was wrong. They did use the obvious jokes.

Mirrors

  • Mirror Of Holding: Something of an oddity, like the Medallion of Holding above. It will store one magic item, retrievable by the person who put it there. I’m guessing whoever DMed at Princeton was a real stickler for encumbrance rules.
  • Mirror of Recharging: As a mirror of holding, but when the item is removed, it has regained one charge. This ability is only usable once per month. Really? I mean, really? Oooooh, once a month I can get back one charge. I use 20 charges from my Rod Of Lordly Might every time I go into a dungeon… or the seedier part of town, if you etgay my iftdray. Oh, thank you, Mr. DM, for your generous magic item! Sheesh. One charge for one item once a month? Screw this, I’m gonna see if there’s a Traveller game going on, or something. One charge… bloody waste of…
  • Mirror of Movement: Stepping into the mirror allows you to step out of any other mirror of which you are “consciously aware”. The possibilities are endless, but you do leave the source mirror behind, so it’s a one-way trip.

Sigh. I’d really hoped to finish this today, as it’s been two weeks, but we still have 18 pages to go. Maybe next time.

 

A Brief Digression: PrinceCon 3, Part II

PrinceCon 3 Handbook, Part II

We Probably Still Don’t Care What Howard Says

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balrog

Shouldn’t Gandalf be doing this?

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

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

Something vaguely Ditko-esque about this one...

Something vaguely Ditko-esque about this one…

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at some of the cooler swords:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Brief Digression: PrinceCon 3

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

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

How Cool Is That?

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

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

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

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

What’s All This, Then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PDP-11. It was a kind of computer.

No, it didn’t run Windows.

Do try to pay attention, would you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Don’t Care What Howard Says!

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

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

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

This Is For You, Howard.

Wow, a use for a D12!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spell Targeting. Tee Ay Arr Gee…

Hey, They Can’t All Be Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wizard War

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

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

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

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

The Tihor Saving Throw System

For When You’re Attacked By A Wild Tihor

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

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

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

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

Curse You, Robert West!

(Whoever You Are)

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

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

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

 

Some Exotic Armors

New And Exotic Armors

Because a fantasy universe should not be limited to “leather, chain, plate”.

This is a selection of (I think) interesting and unusual types of armor, as might be found among different cultures and species. While some use minor magic or alchemy in their construction, they’re not considered magical, but can be enchanted as can any other armor type. (Been working on this, on and off, for a month. Posting it as-is, to post *something*, already. Heavy armors coming soon.)

Shields

Shield Cost Armor/Shield Bonus Maximum Dex Bonus Armor Check Penalty Arcane Spell Failure Chance Speed Weight
30 ft. 20 ft.
Fungal Cap, Small 7 gp +1 –1 5% 3 lbs.
Fungal Cap, Large 10 gp +2 –2 5% 5 lbs.
Gelatinous Flesh 12 gp +2 –2 10% 6 lbs.

Fungal Cap, Small: These shields are made by many underground races, especially those with little access to metal ores. By taking the caps off underground mushrooms, and coating them with an alchemical lacquer to add rigidity, a reasonable shield can be formed. On a critical hit from a melee attack, however, the shield will shatter, gaining the broken condition. It will also release a puff of choking spores, so that the attacker, if they are adjacent to the defender, must make a DC 12 Fortitude save or be nauseated for 1 round.

Fungal Cap, Large: As fungal cap, small but a large shied, and the DC for the Fortitude save is 14.

Gelatinous Flesh: By carefully slicing and drying a chunk of a gelatinous cube, a rigid sheet can be formed, which can then be placed into a frame. When an enemy misses with a bludgeoning weapon (other than natural weapons) by 5 or more points, the attack rebounds, smacking the attacker in the face for 1-3 points of damage. However, the shield can be over-dried; if the wielder is subjected to fire damage, the shield will crumble to powder and be permanently destroyed.

Light Armor

Armor Cost Armor/Shield Bonus Maximum Dex Bonus Armor Check Penalty Arcane Spell Failure Chance Speed Weight
30 ft. 20 ft.
Living Bark 5 gp +2 +4 –2 10% 5 lbs.
Crystal Silk 250 gp +1 0% 1 lbs.

Living Bark: A secret of cultures that dwell in woodlands, jungles, or swampy groves, living bark armor is made by carefully harvesting bark from trees and treating it constantly with herbs and unguents (the cost of this is not included in the price; this armor is usually kept as communal property by elves, lizardmen, and similar species, given to scouts and warriors as needed, and maintained by the people’s druids, shamans, wise ones, or the like). While somewhat bulky, it has the advantage of adding a +2 equipment bonus to Stealth checks made in the environment the bark was acquired from — this is not affected by the -2 Armor Check Penalty, so the full +2 is gained. This bonus increases to +4 if the wearer is not moving, making it ideal for setting up ambushes. Because the armor is still living, spells which damage or kill plants will affect it, as will warp wood and the like.

If living bark armor is enchanted, it no longer needs to be treated to be kept alive; this is part of the enchantment process and imposes no costs.

Crystal Silk: In areas where links to the elemental plane of earth are common (such as in deep caverns, far underground, isolated from sky and sea by a dozen miles or more), trade can occur. One such item is crystal silk, harvested from the creatures of the elemental plane of earth, and woven by skilled craftspeople into armor vests. It is phenomenally light, flexible, and strong, as well as being hard to cut or pierce, granting DR 1 against non-magical cutting or piercing weapons. Enchanted crystal silk increases this by half the enchantment bonus (minimum 1), but only against weapons with a lower bonus. (So +3 crystal silk has DR 2 against cutting or piercing weapons of +2 or less.)

 

Medium Armor

Armor Cost Armor/Shield Bonus Maximum Dex Bonus Armor Check Penalty Arcane Spell Failure Chance Speed Weight
30 ft. 20 ft.
Turtle Shell Breastplate
300 gp +5 +3 –3* 20% 20 ft. 15 ft. 25 lbs.
Pain Mail
125 gp +6 +3 –6** 25% 20 ft. 15 ft.
40 lbs.

*Except for Stealth checks.

**See description

Turtle Shell Breastplate: Island dwellers are the most common manufacturers of this armor, formed from the shell of a giant turtle. While bulky and odd-looking, it has a distinct advantage due to its non-metallic, one-piece, nature: The armor check penalty for Stealth checks is only -1.

Pain Mail: A creation of orcs, bugbears, gnolls, and similar races, “pain mail” is basically chainmail made from barbed wire. The design has most of the barbs sticking outwards, but enough touch the flesh of the wearer to inflict constant small wound and scratches. This has several effects. First, anyone grappled by someone wearing pain mail takes 1 point of damage every round, automatically. Second, if a pain mail wearer suffers a critical hit, they begin Bleeding at 1/round (stacks with all other Bleed effects), DC 12 Fortitude save to stop. Third, a pain mail wearer can reduce the armor check penalty to -4 by taking 1d4 damage each time they make a skill check that would be affected by such a penalty. Lastly, a wearer of pain mail gets a +2 on Intimidate checks against beings with a Wisdom of 9 or less (“Wow, he’s so tough!”) but a -2 on Intimidate checks against beings with a Wisdom of 12 or more (“What a freakin’ moron!”).

This Is A Sacred Relic

Playing at the World: Gary Gygax’s 1973 D&D Working Draft.

All I can say is, “Holy Frak.” I am going to be poring over this site. These are some of the earliest proto-D&D fragments, the Dead Sea Scrolls of gaming history. Just wow.

Ten-Fold Pouch

The Ever Shifting Pouch

In what may be a record since I gave up on daily updates several years ago, three entries in one month — and it’s only the ninth! Continuing the Blog Carnival theme of Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot, I present yet another magic item of utility to those whose activities are more “daggers and duplicity” than “dungeons and dragons”. Hmm. I really like that. “Daggers & Duplicity”. Might even try to use it as a project title someday. Or something. Wait, where was I?

I had an idea… it was something about a bag… look, it’s 6:10 AM and I’ve only had four hours sleep, give me a frakkin’ break here… bag… bag… right!

Bags of holding, handy haversacks, and the like are really great. But as anyone who has had to enter any government building or airport since 9/11 knows, we have a great deal of useless security theater. Also, they’re going to check your bags. Absolute monarchies overseen by paranoid tyrants with unlimited authority and no respect for human rights might not be quite as bad as the DHS, but they’re still pretty nasty, and if your “bag” is large enough to hold a few dozen mercenaries, they’re going to be just a tad suspicious.

Thus, the ten-fold pouch.

EDIT: Weight notes added.

Aura moderate conjuration; CL 9th

Slot —; Price 3000 gp (possibly more; see below); Weight see below

Unlike many similar items, such as a bag of holding, the ever-shifting pouch holds exactly as much as one would expect — typically, either a belt pouch or a small sack. Taking items out and putting them back in evinces no unusual properties or behavior.

Speaking the correct command phrase, however, reveals the true nature of the ever-shifting pouch. It is actually ten pouches, dimensionally folded together. Thus, the command word has two parts: The first activates the magic, the second determines which of the ten becomes “active”. Each one is normal in every way. If one is damaged, ripped, or torn, the others are unaffected, though at least 90% of the “active” pouch must remain in a single clump in order to access the others. If it’s torn in half or otherwise dismembered, the magic is shattered, and the other nine are dumped into the Astral Plane, which can lead to serendipitous discoveries by travelers in that strange realm.

If placed into another extradimensional space, the pouch cannot be shifted or cycled; whichever one was active at the time remains active.

Speaking the command phrase is a free action. The pouch can only shift once per round, however, and removing items from it follows normal rules for such things.

Each of the ten pouches can be of a unique design or style. Generally, the capacity of each is about 1/2 a cubic foot and up to 15lbs of material can be stored. Variations of up to 20% larger or smaller per pouch are not unknown. This adds a secondary utility to the item: Aiding in disguise. Dress as a wealthy merchant, speak the appropriate command phrase, and the pouch shifts to one made of finely tooled leather, decorated with well-made fake gems. (For real gems, add their cost to the cost of the ten-fold pouch.) Dress as a mercenary, and the pouch may be worn and stained with interesting bodily fluids. The descriptions of each of the ten should be specified by the GM or by the maker of the pouch; they are fixed at the time of creation, as ten actual pouches must be used to form the item. For those with no concern for such niceties, simply assume they’re all equally nondescript.

The weight of the pouch is equal to that of the heaviest of the set, regardless of which is active. This is perceived by the wearer and calculated into their encumbrance, but a third party inspecting the bag will notice only the weight of the visual contents.

Construction Requirements

Craft Wondrous Item, secret chest; Cost 1,250 gp (plus the cost of 10 pouches, usually 1 gp each, unless special materials or fine workmanship is involved.)

Dagger Of Silent Slaying

The RPG Blog Carnival for November has a theme of “Gunpowder, Treason, and Plots”. This is my second item inspired by the theme; the first is here.

You know how it is. You’re skulking through dark passageways to commit an assassination, and some annoying guard walks by. You try to kill him, but it takes four rounds, and meanwhile, he’s screaming his fool head off (before you cut it off, that is). This dagger removes that problem. Removing the guard is up to you.

Only those who have studied both the art of magic and the art of shivving someone in the giblets can craft one of these blades. Priests of assassin gods, actual assassins, and bards of a particularly larcenous nature are the usual makers.

Addendum: This should be considered a +1 dagger; the cost assumes the enchantment is about equal to another +1.

Dagger Of Silent Slaying

Aura faint abjuration CL 5th; Weight 1 lb.; Price 8,302 gp

Description

This +1 dagger typically has a slim, slightly curved blade, and a hilt of ebony and jade. (However, many variations exist, and this is sometimes found as a different weapon type, though it is always a one-handed, light, melee weapon.) It makes no noise when drawn from its sheathe, when dropped, or even when struck against an object. On one occasion, this odd feature caused a target to believe the dagger was a silent image, and to laugh at how he’d seen through the wielder’s bluff, right up until the dagger slit his throat.

Anyone carrying the dagger on their person (but not in any kind of extradimensional space) gains a +2 circumstance bonus to Steath checks vs. hearing. However, the real utility of the dagger comes when it is used to inflict precision damage (such as sneak attack) on a target. The target cannot speak above a gargling whisper for 1d4 rounds, +1 round per die of precision damage. Each additional attack that deals precision damage while the target is silenced increases this by 1 round. “The more you stab, the more they shut up”, as the saying goes.

Anyone afflicted by this effect who casts a spell with a verbal component must make a caster level check at a DC of 15+Spell Level to do so. Language-dependent spells, and any spells with the [Sonic] descriptor, are ineffective: While they can be cast, they will simply not function, and the spell is lost. (Before deciding to attempt such a spell, the caster should get an automatic Knowledge (Arcana) or Spellcraft check (DC 13) as a free action if they are trained in either skill. If they succeed, they know not to waste their time. If they’re not trained in either, too bad. No free check. Any caster who doesn’t pump their relevant skills deserves to die.)

Construction Requirements: Craft Magic Arms and Armor; silence; must be able to do at least 1d6 precision damage. Cost 4,302