Tag Archives: D&D

The Runes Of Doom, Part I

The Runes Of Doom, Part I

Individuality, Reality, And Age

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

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

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

Let’s begin!

Holy (Bleep), The Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unboxing… Er… Opening…

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

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

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

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

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

Individuality And Reality

And Random Italics

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

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

#YesAllGoblins

#NotAllGoblins

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

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

Some notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ye Olde Adventurers’ Home

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

Snort. Cough. Ahem. Excuse me.

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

Bwahahahah! OK. OK. I’ve got this.

“In Arduin, however, we believe…”

“…believe in…”

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

To hell with it.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XVII

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crime And Punishment

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

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

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

After all that, we come to this:

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

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

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

War And Peace

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

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

We start with this introduction:

So, About A Five Percent Survival Rate...

So, About A Five Percent Survival Rate…

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

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

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

The Elf-Human Wars

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

Trigger Warning: Reaping

No, That’s Not A Typo

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

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

Hah! Fooled You!

Double-Length Season Finale Post!

Mostly ‘Cause My Sunday Shadowrun Game Got Cancelled

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

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

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

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

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

There. That’s better.

"Bespattered" Is A Perfectly Cromulent Word

“Bespattered” Is A Perfectly Cromulent Word

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

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

The tale continues…

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

And then?

Elf Magic: It's Not Just For Cookies Anymore

Elf Magic: It’s Not Just For Cookies Anymore

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

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

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

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

“…screamed to the high winds of hell…”

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

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

"Organized Play", Thirty Years Early

“Organized Play”, Thirty Years Early

The Inns And Roadhouses (Again) Of Arduin

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

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

Few Modern Dives Include The Word 'Carnelian'

Few Modern Dives Include The Word ‘Carnelian’

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

There’s a footnote on one page…

Three Out Of Four Alehouses In Arduin Are Alliterative

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

Undead Attacks

What else?

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

Quite Simple, Really

Quite Simple, Really

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

Space Aliens And Angry Players

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

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

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

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

Damn skippy!

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

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

Here you go:

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

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

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

And With That…

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

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

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

[1]Or Bldfstd, according to some scholars.

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XV

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XV

Miscellaneous Notes Are Miscellaneous

Mu Mesons Are Messy

Also, Travel Times

Also, Save Vs. Save Vs. Petrification

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

So. Miscellaneous notes, summarized:

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

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

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

    This Is Where I Learned About Mu Mesons

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

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

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

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

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

There’s quite a few notes above the chart:

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

And some notes from me:

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, really.

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

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

Meanwhile, here’s a barbarian hobbit.

Belkar Bitterleaf, OD&D Version

Belkar Bitterleaf, OD&D Version

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XIV

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XIV

More Rules!

Magik Rules! Fumble Rules! Weapon Rules!

But first… a digression!

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

meteor swarm

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

Back to Arduin.

Clerical Magik

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

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

Dave's Players Let Orcs Get Away?

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

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

Rules Additions, Changes, And Deletions

(That’s the header for this page.)

Summary and comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, this:

Plus One Die For Each Magik Plus One? What?

Plus 1 Die Per Magik Plus Over One? What?

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

Combat Rules

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

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

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

And speaking of opportunity…

Opportunity

It Knocks But Once

So, uhm… yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XIII

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XIII

Rules

And More Rules

And Still More Rules

I Got Your “Rulings, Not Rules”, Right Here, Pal!

In this part (and almost certainly the next part, since there’s no way I’m getting through all this in one go), we are covering Dave’s rule additions, alterations, addendums, and alliterations. (Yeah, I know ‘addendum’ is the plural of ‘addenda’ and there’s no such word as ‘addendums’. It’s poetic license. Gimme a break.)

But first…

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign…

We get a page of “Dungeon Signposts”. Oddly, these are not “Turn Back, You Fool!” or “DM Hasn’t Finished Mapping This Yet”. These are a useful set of symbols for, presumably, mapping… and clearly intended for hand-mapping without intent to photocopy or reproduce.

Stairs That Go Nowhere Just For Show Are Colored Purple

Stairs That Go Nowhere Just For Show Are Colored Purple

The use of color is interesting. Most similar guides assumed the DM would be using a Number Two Pencil and that he/she would be photocopying the map, if they had access to their school or workplace’s copy machine. Dave evidently had a more artistic bent. I’m not sure using color instead of different symbols conveyed more information, frankly. I’d always forget if red meant ‘up’ or ‘down’.

At the bottom of the chart is a note:

REMEMBER, THIS DUNGEON IS ONE WHERE YOU HAVE ROOM TO EXPERIMENT, SO DO SO!

It’s not clear what “this dungeon” refers to. I believe the meaning is “In the Arduin-inspired dungeons you design, you are not bound by the puny rules of mortal men — let your imagination run wild!” Assuming this interpretation is correct, we’re seeing early signs of a long-running, still-ongoing, struggle in D&D between the wild&woolly world of galactic dragons and psychic centaurs, and the stoic, plodding world of human fighters and pouring water on the floor to detect pit traps.

Send In The Clones (And Golems, And More…)

And the fact the first item in “various rule changes” is “Clones” tells you all you need to know about which side of fun/boring divide Dave fell on. In his campaign, the use & abuse of clones had clearly reached egregious levels, so, rules were needed. I am 99% certain most of these rules came about due to players looking for loopholes. (A DC 30 Perception check… well, back then, you could find loopholes on a 4 or less on a six sided die, except for Power Gamers, who could find them on a 7 or less on an 8 sided die.)

Summarized, clones take one month to mature per year of the character’s age, and if the character dies before that (activating his clone), there’s a proportional loss of ability, though it’s not clear if this is based on level or total XP or what. Also, if you have more than one clone at a time, they will both go slowly insane and seek to kill each other and the original. Something tells me some of Dave’s players were setting up clone banks to continually replace themselves. I wonder how many were commie mutant traitors?

Then we have a few rules for golems, which don’t have anything to do with the prices and rules earlier in the same book. Go figure.

Next up, a very interesting paragraph about casting permanent spells on sapient magic items… that this came up enough Dave had to write rules for it says a lot about his campaign.

Angels

Not sure why this is in the “rules changes” and not “monsters”… I ought to know not to ask such foolish questions by now.

Don't Blink

Don’t Blink

I’m assuming (hoping) that their AC is 2+their Dexterity modifier to AC, because 2+16 would be -14 (if you have to ask why, you’re not old school), which is pretty ridiculous, even for Arduin. They’re followed by Archangels, which are even nastier. Lastly…

Of COURSE Angels Are Vulnerable To Anti-Matter!

Of COURSE Angels Are Vulnerable To Anti-Matter!

I like that angels can only haste themselves if their opponents are, too. Fighting fair is important!

In another moment where he anticipates design trends that won’t become part of D&D until third edition, Dave has scaling saving throw difficulties for spells…

The "Etc." Worries Me A Bit...

The “Etc.” Worries Me A Bit…

How many spells over 11th level are there? In Arduin, a good many, I suspect.

Stop! In The Name Of Time!

The Doctor should say that. Totally.

I noted earlier that time magic seemed to be a big thing in Arduin, and as further evidence, here’s some more rules on time stops. (Time Yields and Time Slow Children At Play may be covered in a future book.) To wit:

  1. Time stops don’t allow a saving throw.
  2. Unless you’re a balrog or the like, in which case, your innate magic resistance applies to non-technological time stops.
  3. Or if you’re ethereal, phased, astral, non-corporeal, or married filing singly.
  4. Gods and major demons have a 25% chance of “Gating” away automatically.
  5. Time stops are mammals.

Regeneration

So if you regenerate from being dead, you roll to resurrect to see if you survived being dead, but if you fail your roll to see if you survived being dead after regenerating, it’s not the same as failing to survive the roll to see if you survived being dead after resurrecting, so you can still be resurrected, at which point, you must make a roll to see if you survived it.

Got all that? Good. Now, let’s discuss Pathfinder grappling rules. Hey! Come back here, you coward! God damn it, I played freakin’ Aftermath when I was sixteen! A few rules didn’t scare us! Quitters!

Where was I?

Notes On Magik

Note The First: Myspellyngz Are Majikal

Having left behind rules on such mundane, normal topics as time stops, clones, and angels, we come to “Notes On Magik”.

A brief note (as it were) on the layout and formatting… this page is a delightful hodgepodge of non-sequiters, jumping from ice storms to elves to wishes to time stops (yes, again) with gay abandon. While the previous pages at least had a header line between each leap in subject matter, this page doesn’t, except for the one time that it does. Really, it’s a large part of the charm of these books, somewhat lost in the marginally more professional sequel volumes published several years later.

Elves:

Even For Arduin, This Is Confusing...

Even For Arduin, This Is Confusing…

So… what does ‘simultaneously’ mean? Round by round? Per fight? Per adventure? And does this apply to every form of multiclassing, or does it mean everything in Arduin except elves is single-classed? This reads like a very early house rule from the first year or two of D&D… the Greyhawk rules changed how multi-classed characters worked quite a bit, beginning the end of the ‘race=class’ model that fell apart as soon as it became evident that new classes would appear with great frequency. (The original OD&D rules had elves acting as either magic-users or fighting-men on an adventure-by-adventure basis; by Greyhawk, this had evolved to “split experience”, which became the standard until 3e.)

Wishes: Limited wishes in Arduin are 12th level(!) and full wishes are 25th level(!!), Also, wishes don’t work outside their native universe. Uhm… OK. Not really sure what that means… does that mean if I’m wearing a Ring of Wishes, it only works in the universe I found it in? Or that a high-level caster can only cast a wish spell in his home universe? It just seems a very odd rule that would have limited applicability… which means there’s probably a story behind it, somewhere.

Conjuration: Spells that “conjure” things, such as “Wall of Fire”, subtract their level from the caster’s Dexterity to determine when they go off in a round. Generally, most groups I know of ignored “dexterity countdowns” and similar things. Granted, they make more sense in Dave’s six-second rounds than in the standard one-minute round, but still, they were a real pain if you had a large combat, especially if the monsters all had different dex scores. Even in today’s games, with individual initiative, you roll for groups of monsters at once, so all the orcs attack on the same count. I appreciate the greater tactical depth offered by ‘countdown’ systems, and the choice between a low-powered ‘fast’ spell and a high-powered ‘slow’ one helps keep lower-level spells meaningful in the later game, but the negatives in actual play always outranked the positives, in my personal experience. (One of these decades, I’ll write something about rules I love in theory but dislike in practice.)

(The dexterity countdown rules were in The Arduin Grimoire, BTW. None of this is mentioned or referenced in this part of Welcome To Skull Tower, of course. If you’re Old School, you had the rules memorized and didn’t need to be reminded where they first appeared.)

Competence: Illusionists are light competent, Rune Singers are sonic competent, and Rune Weavers are ritual competent. Just in case you were wondering.

Time Stops: Yes. Again. There’s some fluff about why time stops don’t affect wraiths (and similar non-corporeal undead), but do affect energy, and then a note that for the caster to breathe in a time stop field, they have to keep moving, as only the air molecules touched by their aura are breathable. “Move or die”, the rules say. (So if you cast time stop in a zone filled with poison gas, you’ll still breathe it as you move in the zone… interesting….)

Tune In Next Time…

Following is “Notes On Clerics And Clerical Magik(sic)”, not to be confused with the other notes on clerics and clerical magic (I’m not sic) we covered a few articles back. So, this is probably a good stopping point for now. Next time: We delve into the notes, and probably magic (I’m feeling much better) fumbles, combat rules, and weapon breakage!

 

Welcome to Skull Tower, Part XII

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XII

Monsters From Ali-Loraii To Zoomers

Also, From Bigglies To Tarrakks

It Looks Like He Had Two Pages Of Monsters In Alphabetical Order, Then Added Another Two Pages In a Slightly Different Style

Bah! Genius Does Not Care For Mortal Conceptions Of ‘Layout’ And ‘Design’! Genius Creates Its Own Order!

Welcome back to anyone actually reading these! This week, we look at monsters… may or may not get through them all, we’ll see. (Edit: We did! It took two days of writing time, but, we did!)

As is typical for the time, these creatures have detailed backstories, complex cultures, and are carefully woven into their environment in a way that enriches immersion in what Tolkien called a “secondary world”.

Also, I’m a Nigerian Prince and I wish to smuggle 20 million dollars into your country.

The Monsters

Ali-Loraii: A cloud of golden light that sounds like wind chimes and smells “like honey and almonds”. This is important. Certainly, there are other clouds of golden light that sound like wind chimes and smell like something else.

DM: There’s a cloud of golden light approaching you. You hear the sound of wind chimes.
Foolish Player: Ali-Loraii. No problem, they’re easy to kill. We use a sonic attack.
Wise Player: Wait, you fool! What does it smell like?
DM: (Sighing, annoyed at Wise Player’s wisdom) Like cinnamon and walnuts.
Wise Player: A-ha! This is the rare and majestic pseudo Ali-Loraii. It gains hit points from sonic damage! I use a lightning bolt on it!

Yes, Ali-Loraii take damage from sonic and stoning. They also shoot laser beams (in the ethereal and astral planes, as well as in the material).

Bubble Men: These are transparent humanoid creatures fill with gas. (“You mean, like Fred when he’s been eating at Taco Bell?”) They have no attacks except a “self destruct burst”. The text describes the three types of colored gas they may be filled with (explosive, poison, or sleep) and its effects, but, I notice now, never actually says what bursts them. As a player back in the 1970s, I didn’t even think to ask. Obviously, they burst when attacked. Duh. Now, I wonder if there could be more. Does any damage, even the most minimal, burst them? They have 1+2 Hit Dice… maybe you need to do fatal damage to them? They have no other attacks, so, they just stand there until they explode? Are they an actual species, or something from some alien plane, or a kind of golem? The damage they do — 8d6 explosion, for example — makes them a mid-level threat, at least. (Now I wonder, even more… do all the other bubble men in an area take damage when one of their own explodes, setting off a cataclysmic chain reaction? Wow, that would be nasty in any kind of enclosed area where the players would all be in range… kind of like being around Fred when he’s been eating at Taco Bell.)

These are sort of one-trick ponies, if ponies were transparent and filled with explosive gas, something Ken White at Popehat might consider. Since they have no other attacks, they can be mostly ignored, leading to an arms race of DMs finding ways to make them non-ignorable and players finding ways around it.

Player: Fine, they’re blocking the door? I just shove one out of the way, doing no damage.
DM:That picture you drew of your character has him wearing spiked armor…

Black Wind: There’s a really cool picture of it in the third book, “The Runes Of Doom”. Remind me to include it when we get there. (See how I avoided another “Fred tends to be flatulent” joke? Hm. Remind me to include that when we get to Book 3, too.)

Gryflisk: There’s a really cool picture of it in the first book. Just not the first book I used as my primary source, the other first book after Erol Otus was declared to be an un-person. So, here it is. Also: Those of you who think the picture of the monster ought to be, y’know, somewhere near the rules/description of the monster… you are blind, ignorant, fools who are trapped in linear time and two dimensional thinking!

Wrong Book Or Not, This Picture Is Totally Awesome On Every Possible Level

Wrong Book Or Not, This Picture Is Totally Awesome On Every Possible Level

Oh, as if you couldn’t tell from the name, it’s a griffon/basilisk hybrid. See the dude being turned to stone while the hobbit is being turned into an appetizer?

Haggorym: A crossbreed of goblins and neanderthals. Hey, both species live in caves, there’s lots of long cold winters… no need to be judgmental. I think there’s a picture of them in Book 3, too.

Moondogs:

Serves You Right For Being Smart!

Serves You Right For Being Smart!

“A true symbiosis born in evil and horror!” Damn, I love that line.

Is it just me, or does it sound like Dave Hargrave was inspired by those statues outside the better sort of Chinese restaurant? (A statue out front indicates a roughly 25% increase in price (and a 99% decrease in the chance of dysentery) over ‘Mr. Wong’s Eggroll Palace’. It is known.)

Pybra: A python cobra… erm, python/scorpion … so why isn’t it a pypion?… hybrid. With rubies (Real rubies. Valuable.) for eyes. That spits venom. And particularly enjoys the taste of hobbits and kobbits. (An awful lot of species have a thing for hobbits. Makes you wonder how they survived.)

Sluggoth: Not shoggoth. They’re vampire maggots except they’re not undead and… oh, here.

Note: They Do Not Smell Like Honey And Almonds

Note: They Do Not Smell Like Honey And Almonds

These things, as described, are grade-a nightmare fuel, that’s for damn sure. I love the tiny hints of backstory. The ‘lesser demon’ saving roll charts are in the Arduin Grimoire, in case you were wondering. I assume the ‘writhing mass of bloodsucking leeches’ is in addition to the insects they command.

Vampusa: These are “nothing more than vampire medusas”. You know, run of the mill stuff. They also had a picture in AG I. The laws of time and space mean nothing, do you hear? Nothing! The original was in the prior article; here’s the revised version:

Yup, That's A Vampusa, All Right

Yup, That’s A Vampusa, All Right

They are often accompanied by moondogs.

Valpyr: Silver balrogs which burn in the astral and ethereal planes, allowing them to damage creatures normally immune to fire. They are also often accompanied by moondogs. You know, I’m starting to think Dave really liked his moondogs.

Windigo: A whirling air-elemental type thing. Pun on ‘wendigo’, obviously. Hey, I came up with the hellephant and dolphiend, who am I to judge? (Those who enjoy such things are invited to look at my own Earth Delta, as the monster book is full of Thermites, the Knights Of The Jade Eye, Acid Ants, Maul Rats, and so on.)

Yaanth: It’s a cross between a bear and an otter, and it’s got three eyes, and it’s got silver fangs, and its saliva can paralyze you, and it’s as smart as a six year kid, and what the hell was Dave Hargrave smoking? Moving on…

Shock Bones:

"Ha ha, look how they run when I create a monster solely to undermine their core mechanic!"

“Ha ha, look how they run when I create a monster solely to undermine their core mechanic!”

These are pretty cool and easily adapted to modern systems. Was “Dirty Harry” a PC or an NPC? Are there any non-mad Technos? I love that there’s a little detail like “chalk covers the wire”, because you just know someone would whine that they should have noticed it!

Also note that the name is not in italics. This marks the point in the book — the last entry on a page and the first not in alphabetical order — where Dave apparently decided to just start adding more monsters in a slightly different format.

(A Page Of Monsters)

Because That’s The Header On The Next Page In The Book

Bigglies: Hippo-sized St. Bernards with silver-based blood (instead of copper based like most mammals (???)… seriously, it says that, then notes “in this universe” (presumably, the one Dave Hargrave, and less presumably, the rest of us, live(d) in) “mammals have iron based blood”. The “Arduin mammals, except for giant St. Bernards, have copper based blood” didn’t seem to come up again, so I have no idea what’s up with that, as the kids say. They’re named after Clint Bigglestone, a game designer and, I’m guessing, a friend or player of Dave’s. There’s a lot of crossover between Dave’s circle and what would eventually become Chaosium… names like Steve Perrin and Greg Stafford are commonly dropped.

Chaeronyx: A cross between a centaur and a medusa. Man, medusae in Arduin get bizz-ay, don’t they? Of course, you have to keep the lights off. Sadly, they do not appear to travel with moon dogs.

Curiously, This Image Appeared On The Same Page As The Courtesan Class

Curiously, This Image Appeared On The Same Page As The Courtesan Class

Kill Kittens: These are tiny little adorable kittens with steel hard fangs and fatal poison that attack in swarms and kill you, hence, the name. They are also illustrated in another book. Perhaps more interestingly, they may have inspired George R. R. Martin, as something very, very, similar appears in his 1985 story, “The Plague Star”. While many ideas are spontaneously generated among multiple creators (please don’t get me started on my classic rant about “Why your ideas ain’t worth shit, so don’t worry about people ‘stealing’ them”), let me note that a)GRRM includes lots of gaming and comic book shout-outs in his work, b)The Wild Cards books were inspired by a game of Superworld that GRRM ran for his friends back in the day, and c)Superworld was published by many of the same people who played w/Dave Hargrave, so there was clearly a lot of overlap. However, anyone trying to verify this will distract him from finishing the next ASOIAF book, so, don’t do it!

(More Monsters)

Because That’s The Header On The Next Page

Perrinites: These are “with apologies to Steve Perrin”, and are basically hippies. Humanoids with flowers where their hair should be, they can control plants, see through the eyes of birds, and exude paralyzing sap. They like to trick orcs into wandering into the deep woods to be devoured by the Perrinites’ friends, the bears. The stat information (HD, AC, etc) is oddly in the middle of the description, between paragraphs.

Actually, now that I look a bit more closely, all the monsters in the “(A Page of Monsters)” and “(More Monsters)” sections have their stats scattered willy-nilly through the descriptive text, while the monsters on the prior pages followed a more uniform format of “Name, Stats1, Description”. I’d love some of the backstory of how the Arduin books were constructed… I mean, the literal process by which the raw material of Dave’s notes were laid out and turned into these bundles of wonder and madness.

Especially when you consider that the…

Tarrakk: … (the very last monster) is laid out much like the creatures on the prior two pages: Name in italics, followed by stats, but with %Liar (see my earlier article for more on this) added in, something not included in most of the other entries. Oh, what is a Tarrakk, you ask? It’s a cross between a dragon and a horned toad that can (once per day) (italics in original) shoot its 6-60 spear-like spiny scales in all directions, each of which hits “like a light catapult”. (It also breathes fire, of course, up to three times a day, but only every four melee rounds, except when alternate side of the street parking rules are in effect.)

And So…

We come to the end of this section. Next time, we delve into several pages of pure mechanics… some of Dave’s house rules and glimpses into the evolving Arduin system. Again, if you enjoy these articles, please share links on appropriate networks… I really suck at self-promotion.


 

1: Granted, the names of the stats and the order they were presented in varied a bit even on the more “organized” pages… sometimes it was “Speed”, sometimes “Move”, etc. It looks like it switched from “Speed” to “Move” halfway through the alphabetized list… as if Dave typed up some of the monsters one day, then went back and typed the rest, but changed his mind/got confused over what term to use as he transcribed his notes. Believe me, I’ve been there. There’s nothing more annoying, as a writer, to realize you changed a character’s name halfway through the book, or, even worse, transposed two characters so the guy who was killed a page back is now the guy fleeing down the hall, while the guy who’d originally been fleeing down the hall is lying dead in the other room. Across the decades, and the boundaries between life and death, I feel a connection.

Welcome to Skull Tower, Part IX

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part IX

New And Unusual Spells!

Octorillas!

Maybe Some Other Stuff. Not Sure. Probably Won’t Get Through The Spells.

It’s been about two months since the last post in this series, though, surprisingly, there’s been a bunch of actual content added anyway… four posts, including the bloodmouth carnist, a cursed blade, and some spell variants, all for Pathfinder. I wasn’t deliberately taking a break from this walkthrough; I have moved, and I finally found my copy of Skull Tower earlier this week. So, here you go. Back on track.

Spells

With no introduction, we jump right into “Mages Spells”. As usual when I do these sections, I’m picking out (or picking on) a few highlights, not exhaustively reporting on the whole thing.

Trenkole’s Basic Web Spell: Creates webs, with rules for how many creatures of various hit dice can be held. Unusual in that it more-or-less duplicates an existing spell, already part of other roleplaying games. This may mark the first steps of Arduin moving from being a highly-unofficial supplement for Dunother gamesons and becoming its own system, or it might be an odd oversight. Or, and I like this explanation the best, since the Web spell was not in OD&D, but did not appear until Greyhawk, that this represents Hargrave’s own creation, designed pre-Greyhawk to fill an obvious gap, and then published later… I continue to see evidence that the Trilogy books were basically filled almost randomly from Dave’s copious collection of house rules.

Fafin-ghar’s Spell Of The Fiery Flash: An AOE blinding light that, presumably, affects friend and foe alike (no save, but a 5% chance each target was blinking when the spell went off, which means they’re not blind, but the Weeping Angels can move towards them.)

Angborn’s Spell Of The Abysmal Itch: First, let me note I love the naming pattern of the Arduin spells, which takes the occasional ‘flowery’ name from OD&D, like ‘Bigby’s Insulting Gesture’, and turns it up to 11, in full Vancian fashion. Rhialto would be proud. Second, let me present the text of this spell…

Requires Potion Of Hydrocortisone

Requires Potion Of Hydrocortisone

Assuming you manage to aim the spell so your allies are not included, this is a ridiculously powerful spell for third level. It will basically clear out a room full of enemies, as “totally incapacitated” usually means “No AC and can’t counter-attack”, and you’ll note something else: No saving throw. Anything up to 20HD is at -4 for 10 minutes… 60 rounds, as Hargrave used the 6-second round. This is far more powerful than simple direct damage spells. In case anyone wants to argue that a save vs. spell is assumed, other spells, like Rorghull’s Rot Spell explicitly say “unless a save vs. magic is made”, so I’m going to interpret this as meaning that the lack of text indicating a save is possible means it isn’t.

I’ll also point out this is a typical example of each spell needing micro-rules, so that the ‘simple’ rules of the main game lead to increasing complexity as everything becomes a special case. There’s always a need for some edge-case rules, lest the game become dull due to too many different effects all having the same mechanical representation (cough advantage/disadvantage cough), but something like “all affected gain the ‘distracted’ condition” can really simplify the interaction between different parts of the game.

And this one is just too cool…

Voor-Hing’s Spell Of The Eater From Within

Otherwise Known As The Spell Of Internal Nom Nom Nom

Otherwise Known As The Spell Of Internal Nom Nom Nom

A good example here of where ‘player skill’ meant ‘memorizing the rules’, so that you’d know you need to cast two spells concurrently to stop the thing. No ‘Knowledge (Arcana)’ checks in the good ol’ days, bucko.. you, the player, had to know all this. Why do you think D&D, et al, was so popular among computer programmers and comic book fans and the like, who prided themselves on their ability to internalize complex systems filled with exceptions and edge cases?

Taslo’s Spell Of The Black Binding: The mage must purposefully slay some other being within his “pentacle of power”. Thereafter, anything that drains life levels from the caster instead drains them from the victim of this spell, whose soul is trapped in the pentacle. Once they’re all gone, of course, the mage is once again vulnerable. No rules on how you create a pentacle of power, of course, or how long the ritual takes, or any other such meaningless trivia. You and your DM, both being perfectly reasonable people, can surely work out an equitable set of rules in a short time with no arguments.

Time Lining: This is a 15th(!) level spell that costs 45 mana + 15 per minute in time forward or 45 per minute backward. Unfortunately, you can’t actually do anything, as attempts to change the past cause you to evicted from the time stream. So if you travel into the future and see everyone dead because they opened the door that unleashed the no-save poison gas, and you return to say “Hey, let’s get way, way, back and send a hireling to open that door”, does that change the past, even though it’s now the present? Short of some very odd edge cases, like jumping back a minute or two to see where someone you were chasing got off to, I don’t see a lot of utility here, compared to other 15th level spells. (OK, there’s not that many other 15th level spells..)

By the way, did I mention that other than being all Mage spells, there’s no order here? They’re not sorted alphabetically, or by level. They’re just there. Spirit of the times, man.

The Crimson Bands Of Cyttorak: Ah, the days when lawyers (damn their oily hides!) didn’t scour every book before publication, looking for actionable items. By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, those were good times! (If you’ve read the comics, you know what this spell does. If you haven’t read the comics, what’s wrong with you? Go read some classic Lee/Ditko Dr. Strange, now!)

Another sign of the times — hand lettered addenda, like this:

Not A Bad Idea, Actually...

Shouldn’t That Be ‘Entries’?

Actually, Mind Focus is a cool concept, though I’d implement it in the modern age a bit differently…

Focused Spell (Metamagic)
Prerequisites:
Combat Casting
Benefit:Any spell prepared with focused spell never requires a concentration check to cast, no matter the circumstances. Spell failure from armor still applies.
Level Increase: +1 (A focused spell uses up a spell slot one higher than the spells actual level).

 

As promised, an octorilla:

An Octopus/Gorilla. Just What It Says On The Tin

An Octopus/Gorilla. Just What It Says On The Tin

No stats now… that’s coming, I assume, in the monsters section. But it’s one of the tiny handful of Erol Otus bits not published in AG1 and which survived the “revision”. Why his art was purged, Stalin-style, from Arduin Grimoire but not Skull Tower is a mystery for the ages.

So, there we go… the first post-move entry into the Great Arduin Walkthrough. Hopefully, we will be back on a weekly schedule now.

 

Friendslayer Blade

Friendslayer Blade, A Cursed Weapon For Pathfinder

Introduction

Continuing our theme of “curses“, as in “God damn it, where the hell did we pack my copy of Welcome To Skull Tower?1“, we present a cursed… but still useful… magic item. While classic D&D tended to make cursed items all bad, a punishment for greedy players who didn’t carefully experiment with items (except that cursed items explicitly didn’t show their nature when tested, only in real combat), I think it’s more interesting to make cursed items a bit of a double-edged mace… give players a reason to try to hang on to them, or at least consider it…

Please note, this post is filed under “Breakfast Crunch”, which means “Something I wrote while eating breakfast before scurrying off to work, with exactly as much editing, playtesting, and general quality as you’d expect under the circumstances.”

The Friendslayer Blade

The origins of the first friendslayer blade are lost in the mists of time, (“Mists Of Time”, Module P-238, published by TSR in 1979 on Earth 541-A) but similar weapons reappear with some regularity. The curse seems to be a result of poor mental discipline during enchantment; the mindset needed to imbue the weapon with the desired power requires strict focus, and if that focus drifts, the enchantment is warped.

A friendslayer blade can be any +1 or better magical weapon that does piercing or slashing damage, with the following special ability:

Murderous
Price: +1 Bonus
Aura: Faint necromancy
CL: 3rd
A murderous weapon allows the wielder to make a coup de grace attack as a swift action against an adjacent, helpless, foe. This does provoke attacks of opportunity, but at a -4 penalty to the attacker.

Murderous blades are common among assassins, spies, elite military units, and others who maintain a ‘no witnesses’ policy and prefer to waste not even a second if they don’t have to. Perhaps 5% of such blades, though, bear the friendslayer curse.

Friendslayer Curse: Whenever an ally falls helpless in a square adjacent to the wielder of a murderous weapon, said wielder must make a DC 20 Will save or, at the start of their next turn, perform a coup de grace with the blade against that ally. This is an Enchantment (Compulsion) effect. It can be mitigated if:

  • There is a helpless enemy also adjacent.
  • The ally or the blade wielder is moved — note the wielder cannot voluntarily move to avoid the compulsion once they’ve failed their Will save!
  • Break Enchantment is cast before the wielder’s turn begins. This negates only the current compulsion; it doesn’t end the curse.

The compulsion only comes into effect during combat situations; it does not compel the wielder to slit the throats of his allies as soon as they go to sleep, unless it’s magical sleep cast by an enemy during combat. Then…

It is generally difficult to tell a friendslayer weapon from a normal, uncursed, murderous weapon; the normal rules for detecting cursed items apply.

1)Seriously, I’ve only got like four boxes marked “Lizard’s Books” to go through, out of more than 150 to start with, and I still haven’t found it. Arduin Grimoire and Runes of Doom? Check. Skull Tower? Nada.

More Curses

More Curses (Foiled Again!)

But First, A Digression

(There’s A Shock….)

It occurs to me that dying curse is a poor choice for spontaneous casters, who have very few spells known, and would be loathe to waste one of them on something they’ll use maybe once or twice in their lifetime… erm… as it were. This is irksome, because it fits, thematically, very well with most spontaneous casters, more than with the ‘academic’ types, as it’s an expression of raw magical energy unleashed in a moment of extreme trauma. So, some ideas:

  1. Just let spontaneous casters, if it fits the nature of the specific class, and the particular character’s background, get it as a freebie. It adds a nice bit of background fluff: “For whosoever slayeth a sorcerer, they shalt suffer the fury of the departing, accursed, spirit!”
  2. As 1, but it only fires if there’s 2 spell slots of the appropriate level or higher left.
  3. Let them add it to their ‘spells known’ at the cost of a trait.

OK, on to the main article…

The Main Article!

(Trumpet Fanfare)

Bestow Curse is pretty boring. Sure, the particular curses are effective, but they’re kind of… dull. So, here’s a few more options, as many as I can think of before I have to stagger off to work. This is Breakfast Crunch: Stuff I write when eating breakfast before going to my job, with all the editing, playtesting, and quality that implies.

The Curse Of Consumptive Casting: Only useful if aimed at a being that relies heavily on spells, this curse causes the victim to take damage equal to twice the spell’s level whenever they cast a spell or use a spell-like ability — 0-level spells do 1 point. This damage cannot be avoided or mitigated, and cannot be magically healed. The same damage is also taken when spells are cast from wands, rods, or scrolls.

The Curse Of Perilous Penury: No magic (or occult, or psionic, or divine, or… you get the idea) items function for the victim. Magic armor and weapons are normal masterwork items. Rings, amulets, cloaks, boots, masks, yadda yadda, are simply mundane, if well-made, items, as far as the target of this curse is concerned. They cannot use wands, scrolls, potions, or miscellaneous magic. They can cast spells, and be affected by spells, normally — with the exception of spells that grant enhancement bonuses to either the victim or any items they’re carrying. No Bull’s Strength for you! This curse can be particularly crippling to higher-level characters, as they rely on their items to be equal to the challenges they face.

The Curse Of The Spider Queen: The target is permanently affected by a web spell. It fills the space they occupy and moves with them. Any allies moving adjacent to them are also targeted (they may make a reflex save, DC equal to the save DC of the bestow curse, as usual, to avoid). (The curse doesn’t transfer to allies, just the webs.) The victim of the curse needs to make a combat maneuver/Escape Artist check to move each round, just as if they were moving through an area affected by web. Even if they make it, each square is difficult terrain. If the web is set on fire, the victim takes 2d4 damage and the web burns away, but reforms 1d4 rounds later. Due to the cursed nature of the web, no fire resistance or immunity applies to this damage… something that might be learned the hard way… heh heh heh…

Lastly, the victim cannot climb faster than 5’/round, due to the sticky mass of webs, and suffers a -4 to all Charisma-based skill checks, because, well, you chat politely with someone who is literally exuding masses of goop everywhere they go.

The Invocation Of Malevolent Mundanity: Half of the character’s levels (round up) become levels in Commoner. The victim may choose which levels are so affected. Any levels they gain before having the curse removed will also be in Commoner. Removing the curse does transform the character’s original levels back to what they were, but not any levels gained while under the influence of the curse. If this curse affects a PC, everyone else can go get Chinese food while the player recalculates. (Alternatively, teach each Commoner level as a negative level during the current session, then they can recalculate after the game.) Any Mythic Rank they may have had goes bye-bye as well.

The Insalubrious Lubrication: The victim is permanently affected by a grease spell. Every square they enter is treated as being affected by this spell, with all DCs based on the save DC for the original curse. In addition, any adjacent squares occupied by allies suffer the same effect. Enemies are just fine, thank you very much. Beyond the usual effects of grease, any time the victim takes damage, they must make an Acrobatics check (DC 10+the damage dealt) or fall prone. Climbing is virtually impossible; all climb checks suffer a -6 penalty.

The Malediction Of The Leaded Foot: The victim is permanently slowed, as per the spell. Haste will negate the effects of the curse for only one round, regardless of the spell’s normal duration.

 

Dying Curse

In honor of the RPG Blog Carnival theme of “Curses”, here’s a quick Pathfinder spell…

Dying Curse
School
necromancy; Level  antipaladin 2, bloodrager 3, cleric/oracle 2, shaman 2, sorcerer/wizard 3, witch 2;
Casting Time 1 immediate action or free action, see below
Components V or none, see below
Range close (25 ft + 5 ft/2 levels)
Target see below
Duration permanent
Saving Throw Will negates; Spell Resistance yes

This spell functions as bestow curse, except that it is triggered by the caster’s death.

If a caster has dying curse prepared (or known, for spontaneous casters, with a spell slot of the appropriate level remaining), it can be activated when the caster drops to 0 or fewer hit points. The decision to activate, or not, must be made upon receiving the lethal damage; the caster cannot drop to, say, -5 hit points and then wait a round or two see how the battle is going before deciding to trigger the spell, nor can they do so if they receive more damage while at negative hit points. The instant the caster drops to 0 or lower, they must decide; if they do not invoke the spell at that point, it cannot be cast until some point when they’ve gone back to positive hit points and then back into negatives. (Nor can it be triggered by self-inflicted damage, including such things as the barbarian’s loss of hit points when a rage ends.)

If the caster is dying, but not yet dead, and is capable of speech (not silenced, gagged, etc.), they can designate the target of the curse (within range) and the specific effect1. This is an immediate action. If the caster is killed instantly (going from positive hit points to dead in a single attack), or cannot speak, the spell still activates, but the target is whoever struck the killing blow, or, if that person is not in range, the nearest enemy in range, and the effect is random. This is a free action.

Upon casting, the caster instantly dies. Dropping dead is a free action. No magical or mundane healing short of raise dead can help; spells or class features or the like which allow for last-second recovery from recent death do not function. The caster expends a portion of their life energy to cast the spell; this makes them really most sincerely dead. Contingent healing spells (regardless of what granted the contingency effect) likewise fail to work. Let’s be clear: There’s no loophole. The intent of this rule is clear: You invoke dying curse, you die, you are no more, you have ceased to be, you have rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible, and only raise dead or more potent spells can bring you back. The fact I cannot possibly list every interaction of every rule in the massive bulk of the collected tomes of Pathfinder should not be an invitation to find an ‘out’ and then exploit it. If a player tries, the GM has my permission to take the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and whap the offender over the head.

1: Ideally, this should be roleplayed, “From hell’s heart, I stab at thee!”, etc.