Tag Archives: Dungeons & Dragons

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 IV

PrinceCon III Handbook, Part IV

Magic Items II: Magic Harder

Being The Hopefully Final Part Of This Digression

At long last, we come to what is (probably) the end of the line for this, and then, back to Arduin. We continue with the magic items. For those who somehow wandered here because of a terrible Google accident, here’s a link to all the related articles.

Books And Decks

Back in the day, raising attributes was nearly impossible, and if you were playing straight-up 3d6 in order, odds were, you had pretty crappy scores. So the various tomes and librams that gave you a +1 to a given attribute were among the most sought-after treasures, especially as the game evolved to give attribute scores progressively more formal influence on various aspects of play. It is worth noting that, per AD&D, a wish could only raise an ability score one point at a time, and then only to 16; to raise it beyond 16, ten wishes were needed! It is probable, looking back with the perspective of age, that EGG intended that “rule” to be a “subtle” hint that it was impossible to raise a score over 16, but at the time, we took it as a subtle hint that having 10 wishes to use was not an unreasonable thing… look, there’s a rule for it!

Anyway, this section of the PrinceCon III handbook covers books and decks… and I don’t mean “+3 Redwood Stained Planks Of Suntanning”, because what gamer worthy of the name would ever wish to expose themselves, even in their imagination, to the hateful light of the accursed daystar? It’s called Dungeons & Dragons, not Sunny Open Spaces & Dragons! No, I mean decks of magical cards, and not the kind where you tap two swamps to scare a wall to death.

  • Manual of Recognizing Opportunities: Adds 1 point to Luck. The fact there is no “Luck” attribute should be considered a trivial inconvenience. Ada Lovelace wrote computer code without a computer, after all! (It notes that, as with all books, it only works for the first person who reads it. We always interpreted that rule to mean “first one in the party”, but, taken literally, it would mean every such book was either somehow abandoned unread, or was useless to the finder. I think later editions had the books vanish after reading, to re-appear somewhere else “refreshed”. Sounds like buggy DRM to me.)
  • Manual of Golems: “as per Greyhawk”, but includes a notation that the various types of books cannot be told from one another without using two full wishes! Remember what I said about how rapidly the “wish” became a sort of unit of power? “This is a three-wish job!” “We’ll need two full and one limited wish for this!” Yeah, it’s time for me to beat my favorite dead horse once more, and point out that the idea that old-school gaming was all “kobolds&copper pieces” is utter and complete bullshit. The phrase “Monty Haul Campaign” did not originate with 3e or Pathfinder or 4e. It was part of the lexicon within a year or two of D&D first appearing. And if you’ve never heard the term “Monty Haul” (not “Hall”), get off my lawn, you damn punk kid.
  • Book of Purile Nonsense: Clearly, a copy of Twilight. Nah. Magic-users and clerics who read it lose a point of Int and Wis respectively, but fighters and thieves find it “rather entertaining”. (Oooo, a “dumb jock” joke from the gamers! Who would have imagined it? Not the dumb jocks, they have no imagination, amirite?)
  • Deck of a Few Things: Like a Deck of Many Things, but only 8 cards. Ditto the Deck of Several Things, with 14 cards.

Cubes

Oddly, most of the other platonic solids are not represented.

  • Wondrous Enhancer of Jewels: Multiplies jewels’ value by 10. Does not say it can’t be used twice on the same jewels. And trust me, if I thought of it now, some player tried it then. Not to be confused with the Wondrous Pulverizer of Jewels (yes, really) which multiplies jewels’ value by zero.
  • cube of control

’nuff said. Kind of speaks for itself.

Horseshoes

  • Horseshoes of Polymorphism: Appears to be some other type of magical horseshoes, but there’s a 40% chance the horse will transform into a random monster and attempt to kill its rider. And people wonder why old-school gamers are so paranoid. Just about every good thing had its goatee-wearing evil twin lurking somewhere.

Flail/Morning Star/Maces

  • Level Blasting: When wielded by a demonic being, drains “one, two, or three levels, appropriately”. Level draining at the time was very, very, bad, because short of those wishes I mention, it was damn hard to get a level back, except the old-fashioned way: Pouring boiling water on an anthill.
  • Mace Of Return: Also known as “Casey’s Bet” (seriously, it says that), this allows you to bat a fireball or iceball back toward the thrower. Very nasty. I love it.

Warhammers

  • Warhammer Of Wealth Reduction: This warhammer compels you to spend money on… waIt, I did that bit already. Never mind.
  • Can never be released?

    Can never be released?

    So, this “can not be released”. That could be difficult… you’d have trouble getting armor off, for one thing. Or doing a whole bunch of stuff, for that matter. Generally, cursed weapons couldn’t be “left behind”… if you tried, they’d come back, teleporting themselves into your hand or something. This implies that it basically fuses itself to your flesh.

Spears

  • De-were spear: A triumph of ‘cool idea, dumb name’, this spear transforms shapeshifters into their original form for 10 rounds. Instantly, I realized its main use is not fighting werewolves, but ferreting out shape-shifting spies, such as were-ferrets. You know who they are because the conversation always goes like this:

“So, my loyal Grand Vizier, we have tested all of the palace staff, but none are the shape-shifting spy.”

“Indeed, my lord. We must have been mistaken.”

“Except… you were not tested, were you?”

“Muh… me, my lord? I think I ought to be above suspicion!”

“Hmm. Did you not always advise me to trust no one?”

“Erm, yes, but surely you don’t…”

“Come here and let me stick you with my spear, loyal vizier.”

(At this point, a certain subset of the readers go ‘squee’ and start writing fanfic/posting gifs to Tumblr)

(Also, vizier turns into were-ferret, leaps, and is impaled on his master’s spear. NTTAWWT.)

 Arrows/Quarrels

  • Arrow/Quarrel Of Many Shots: This splits into multiple pieces, each piece attacking independently, then you put the pieces together again and repeat. Very nice item, and I’m a little surprised it’s not a common trope now… maybe the plethora of feats and class powers that let you fire multiple arrows made it redundant.
  • Arrow/Quarrel of Doom: When hit, you roll up a random curse, using the West curse system. (See earlier installment.) Again, I love the personalness of this. The West Curse System. The Mahler poisons. The Howard wound system, not that we care what Howard says.
  • Arrow/Quarrel of the Forest: Flies around trees, ala that bit in “The Gamers”.

Daggers

"We here care not for the rites of k'hopee!'

“We here care not for the rites of k’hopee!’

I’m surprised it isn’t +4 vs. Hobbits, or something.

Bows/Crossbows

  • Crossbow of the Fifth Dimension: Wielded during the R&B wars of the late 60s, this fearsome weapon… wait, wrong one. This one just shoots phase spiders and other ethereal/astral things. Pretty cool, actually.
  • Crossbow of Many Shots: Fires three bolts at once. Load it up with an Arrow of Many Shots and you’ve invented the “Fully Automatic Rifle Of Hosedown”.

Gems

OK, this is a mostly-new category. While there were various jewels around before, the Princecon III handbook takes them to a new level. The actual booklet breaks them down by type, but I’ll just include them in one section.

  • Diamond of Egotism: Causes the wielder to begin every sentence with “I’m gonna let you finish, but…” Also gives him a +6 to Ego… actually, it says, “increases the ego of bear by +6″, which means, the best character on Person of Interest will “go Hollywood” and become… erm… unbearable. Yeah. Well, if the ego goes over 15, the character will be contemptuous of all foes and will attack directly, using normal weapons in preference to any special abilities. If you’re going to ask when the “Ego” stat was added to the game, don’t. Just… don’t.
  • Explosion
  • Another entry in the “What does it mean?” category. It explodes “with the force of its hit points”? It does that much damage to creatures nearby? What? What’s a “relatively small or light” object? And a 1-in-6 chance of going “kaboom” yourself? No, thanks.
  • Ruby Of Fireballs: Lets an M-U cast fireball if they can’t, or do double damage (!) if they can. Not sure how often it works.
  • Ruby Of Cooking Fire: Lets a Fighter or Cleric start a normal fire on a bundle of twigs in 5 melee rounds. Erm, wouldn’t it be assumed most people who chose “going into dank caves to commit robbery and murder” as a career would be able to do this? It’s hard to conceive of a situation where a PC might have been stripped of their flint and tinder, but not their ruby. Well, maybe it lets you start a fire on wet logs, or something.
  • Ruby Of Infravision: Once a day (whee!) allows a fighter, cleric, or thief to have infravision as per the spell. Yippee.
  • Ruby of Fiery Death: Does character level+3 dice of damage to the character holding it — presumably, immediately upon picking it up. Which means, the pile of ash and charred bone surrounding the ruby ought to be a clue to the adventurers… but it never is. Trust me.
  • Naturally, Any Random Gem Can Put You In A Divine Arena. Why Not?

    Naturally, Any Random Gem Can Put You In A Divine Arena. Why Not?

    Yeah, another item (or group of items) that sort of speak for themselves. This is the heart of real old school gaming right here, folks. First, a fairly cool item that comes with a bundle of micro-mechanics attached, then, a cursed item that looks just like the cool item, then, a totally whackdoodle and yet utterly brilliant idea — cramming, it seems, a dueling arena into some sort of extradimensional bubble created by the gem. Wow. I mean, why the hell not?

  • Emerald Of Commanding Lawful Demons: It’s hard to tell, given the timeframe, if this means “Devils”, i.e., lawful evil, or if this was a throwback to earlier issues of if “lawful” always meant “good” and “chaotic” meant “evil”. While the five-point alignment system was published in The Dragon by 1977, the rate of adoption of such rules was variable, and other elements of the PrinceCon book hearken strongly back to the LBBs and don’t seem influenced by the proto-steps towards AD&D which were coming out at the time.
  • His Wife Makes Good Salad Dressing

    His Wife Makes Good Salad Dressing

    Yeah, I have a lot of these “I’m just posting it, I don’t understand” items in this section. As I noted earlier, these item types are mostly original to the PrinceCon crowd… which means they have many idiosyncratic touches based on their local games. And, please remember, other than a brief skim-through, I am writing these articles as I am reading the book, jotting down my thoughts as they come. A proper reviewer would read it several times, maybe track down some original sources, ask some questions, and otherwise do more than just babble endlessly, spewing out whatever thoughts enter his mind as they come to him. But a proper reviewer gets paid, too. (Paypal: lizard@mrlizard.com)

  • Sapphire Of Commanding Neutral Demons: Well, that just makes the whole demonic alignment issue more confusing. Moving on.
  • Sapphire (Not ruby? Why?) Of Flaming Weapons: Allows the user to flame any weapon he holds for one half day (72 rounds) per level of user. Erm… that’s probably long enough for most fights. Unless that’s a fixed number, total, for the lifetime of the character, and even so… a mid level user will get hundreds of rounds of use out of this. Seems like a pretty odd limitation to me.
  • Sapphire Of Seeming Innocence: Allows a thief to convince the party he is not guilty as if he had a Charisma of 19. Note: The party. This tells you a lot about how thieves were generally run at Princeton, doesn’t it?
  • Sapphire Of Obvious Guilt: Just the opposite, causes the wielder to seem guilty of “whatever seems most relevant at the time”. I see a lot of fun happening with this one.
  • Sapphire Of Electrocution: Like the Ruby Of Fiery Death, but with lightning.
  • Note What? Damn it!

    Note What? Damn it!

    This is where the book ends… with a “Note also that” that never completes, and an out-of-sequence item that belongs a few pages back. There’s something profoundly right about ending here. Missing and broken rules, combined with ideas so prolific they overflow their assigned spot and end up randomly scattered about. Old School like a boss.

I hope the imaginary people reading this enjoyed it. Next time, back to Arduin.

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.

 

Arduin Grimoire, Part I

Walking Through The Arduin Triology (And Maybe The Others)

Or, Why Didn’t I Think Of This Before?

Because I’m Extremely Dim, That’s Why!

So, I’ve raved on and on about the Arduin books, how much they meant to me in my formative years (just as your first porn exposure will probably influence your YouPorn searches for the rest of your life, Or So I’ve Heard), and while I’ve done extensive writing on the heavily Arduin-influenced Booty And The Beasts and the Necromican, I haven’t actually taken the path more traveled and looked at the actual books!

So, here you go.

As with most of my stuff, this is a mix of humor, personal commentary, analysis, and random ephemera, mixed with extemporanea and just a hint of nutmeg. Those looking to discern a hidden agenda in it (see the IMPORTANT WARNING in the Necromican article linked to above) are morons. Those looking to discern a distinctive and coherent point of view in it are holding me in far too much esteem. To quote myself:

(Some people might note I make snide comments about how supplements like Booty And The Beasts veered heavily into a “screw the players”, highly adversarial mode of play, and then note I make snide comments about how 4e goes out of its way to avoid those types of mechanics, and wonder what side I’m on. It’s easy. I’m on the side of “Lizard wants to make snide comments.”.)

So, bear that in mind.

I’ve started three paragraphs with “so”. Weird.

 Anyway…

Arduin Grimoire

I first encountered hints of these works in the “Best Of The Dragon” that came out around 1979, in an advertisement. In those days, there was no Internet, and gaming news had to spread slowly, through messages pounded into the pulp of dead trees, and sometimes, we had to just carve them in the bark, instead. The ad showed lizard-people and insect people and others, all far more exotic and interesting that the relatively tame Tolkien-inspired characters of D&D, and the ad copy hinted at untold wonders and strangeness beyond words.

But I didn’t actually find the books until a year or so later, at the Compleat (sic) Strategist in New Jersey, back when there was one in New Jersey. And, yes, unlike most things in life, from the covers of lurid paperbacks to the description of the job you’re applying for, the actual thing did not disappoint. The three little books were so densely packed with ideas, reality warped around them. If I have to pick “The books that influenced my life”, it would be these. Well, and Lee/Kirby FF. Oh, and the LSH where they fight Computo. But mostly, Arduin.

And so, we journey now into strange new worlds.. but first…

A Tale Of Two Covers

I had managed to borrow a copy of the Arduin Grimoire for a day or two, several months before I got my hands on it. For a long time after that, I thought I might be suffering from mixed, false, memories, as there were things I recalled from my first reading that I never saw again. However, the truth has since come to light: There was a first printing, with a different cover and interior art. The first printing had art by “a talented young man named Erol Otus”. You, ahem, may have heard of him. The subsequent editions… did not, and his name was excised from the forward, as if sliced out with a mu-meson sword (yes, that’s in there somewhere, Book 3, I think… we’ll get to it.) I am sure there is a story there, but as Dave Hargrave is long dead, we probably won’t get to hear it, and besides, I don’t really want to know the grungy details of mid-70s internecine geek warfare. 

Two Covers, No Waiting

Two Covers, No Waiting

 

Now, without any disrespect for Mr. Otus, whom I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time praising, I still sort of prefer the one on the right. The exotic weapons and armor, the fine detail, the diversity of the PCs, the glowering demon over the door… words like “evocative” and “inspiring” come to mind. I want to create worlds, and write books, that give others the same feeling that picture gives me.OK, enough of the early stuff. Let’s turn the page…Later. Time to take my wife to the fabric store. But I wanted to post up something, since it’s been almost six weeks, which is long, even for me.

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.

Treacherous Traits

Treacherous Traits

Four entries in one month! Continuing the Blog Carnival theme of Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot, I now look at Traits which might be useful to conniving backstabbers of various sorts. I like Traits. I introduced a concept I called “Lesser Feats” for a D20 book which sadly didn’t go to press due to the D20 implosion. Traits are pretty much the same thing. They address what I consider one of the worst aspects of feats, the one-size-fits-all mentality, when it’s patently obvious that feats vary considerably in utility. Many are nifty concepts that add unique flavor to characters, but they can’t “compete” with those that provide general benefits that affect play many times per session.

Anyway, with the focus on being sneaky, underhanded, and duplicitous, here’s an assortment of additional Traits. I am designing these with the idea that Traits need not be selected only at 1st level, as there’s a feat which allows you to pick 2 Traits later on. Thus, some of these Traits might be more useful to higher level characters, or reflect training/knowledge/etc. gained in adventuring life.

Combat Traits

Bad Medicine

You did all you could, but you just couldn’t save him…

When you make a Heal check to stabilize someone, you may instead choose to take full-round action and perform a coup de grace, doing 1d3 damage, +1 per rank in Heal. Make a Bluff check, opposed by the Heal (not Perception) checks of any witnesses, to avoid being noticed. You must have at least 1 rank in Heal, or your actions will be too obvious.

Some GMs may feel this is simply a creative trick anyone with the right skills could try. If so, this Trait instead gives you a +4 Trait bonus on the Bluff check, and increases the base damage to 2d4.

Deep Wounds

When you take them down, they don’t get back up.

Whenever your melee attacks reduce someone to fewer than 0 hit points, but do not kill them outright, they have a -3 modifier to all checks to stabilize. This applies to any Heal checks made to help them stabilize, as well.

Iocane Immunity

You have gained a resistance to certain poisons.

Pick a number of poisons equal to 1+your Constitution modifier. You have a +2 Trait bonus on all saving throws vs. those poisons, and if you fail your save, any ability damage is reduced by 1. You may take this Trait up to three times, picking additional poisons each time. If your Constitution modifier changes, adjust the number of poisons appropriately. (The GM may rule some poisons are not permitted, or that your character would not have had access to them.)

Equipment Traits

Harmless Trophy

The rusty, dull, dagger you carry is a souvenir of an ancient battle, and useless as a weapon.

You gain a +4 Trait bonus to Bluff or Disguise checks (as appropriate to the situation) to make a weapon seem as if it has the broken condition, or is otherwise harmless — for example, appearing to be securely peacebound when it is not, or has a razor edge covered with a thin strip of metal to make it appear dull.

Magic Traits

Fading Magic

You leave behind little trace of any spells you may have cast.

Magic cast by you leaves a weaker aura behind. When checking for how long an effect lingers, reduce the die roll by half your Intelligence bonus (minimum 1). If this results in a value of 0, treat it as a roll of 1, but of the next lowest strength level (so moderate becomes faint).

Headology

Once you know something about someone, you can shape your magic to suit their nature.

If you have spent at least a few minutes talking to someone, your Enchantment (Charm) and Illusion (Phantasm) spells are more effective against them. They suffer a -1 penalty to saving throws against such spells. If you know them well (At least several days acquaintance, at the GM’s discretion), this increases to -2.

Paranoia

You always know when someone’s watching.

You may add your Intelligence bonus to any Perception checks to notice if someone is using magical divination against you. Any spells you cast which are intended to counter or fool divination spells (such as obscure object or nondetection) are cast at +1 caster level.

Religion Traits

Plane Dealer

You have an instinctive grasp of the nature of creatures from other realms.

When dealing with Outsiders, you gain a +2 Trait bonus to Diplomacy or Sense Motive checks. This increases to +3 if they share your alignment.

Social Traits

Card Sharp

Those who gamble with you might think you have the devil’s own luck, but you are leaving nothing to chance.

You have a +4 trait bonus to Sleight of Hand checks when cheating at games of chance. This applies to any game where you can physically manipulate the components — dice, cards, playing pieces (even chessmen). It doesn’t apply to situations where you can’t do this (such as betting on a horserace). The GM will judge if you’re able to apply this trait in a given set of circumstances.

Learned Liar

It always helps to salt a lie with a little truth.

Choose a Knowledge skill. If you have four or more ranks in that skill, you gain a +2 Trait bonus on any Bluff or Disguise check that relies at least in part on that area of learning. For example, four or more ranks in Knowledge (Nobility) can give you a +2 Trait bonus on lies involving local lords, or when disguised as a member of a royal household. You can take this trait multiple times. It applies to a new area of learning each time.

Flaws In The Tale

You quickly spot inconsistencies in someone’s story.

You may use your Intelligence bonus, rather than your Wisdom bonus, when making Sense Motive checks to counter a Bluff check. This does not apply to feint attempts, but only to conversations or other situations where a keen intellect might come into play.

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