Tag Archives: Erol Otus

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XVI

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XVI

Inns, Holidays, Guilds, And More

Like Wind Chill Factor, For Example

When I Said These Little Books Were Dense With Information, I Wasn’t Kidding, You Know

(Doing This Running Gag With The Headers Mucks Up My SEO, I Think. I Hope You Appreciate It.)

With this 16th installment of our walkthrough of Welcome To Skull Tower, we start delving into the background information about the Arduin setting, previously mostly hinted at obliquely through small fragments of flavor text surrounding the mechanics. Now we get the full-on details of the setting, beginning with a broad, high-level overview that provides a meaningful contextual framework for what is to follow, and then progressively more detailed information, presented in a clear, logical manner that builds on what has gone before in a way that is… (snicker)… a way that… (hee hee)… a way… aw, to hell with it. It’s the same wonderful, glorious, chaotic, insane mess of idea after idea after idea coming at you pell-mell without surcease, and you either leap into the onrushing tide of creativity and ride it, screaming “Wa hooo!” as you surf into a skyscraper (props to anyone catching that reference), or you drown.

Last week, as you recall, Dr. Smith and Will were fixing the planetary astroscope, when a cosmic storm… no, wait. Last week, as you recall, we had a picture of a Hobbit barbarian. (Yes, really. Go to Part XV. I’ll wait. Back? Good.) But, little did you know that that picture illustrated “Comments On Inns And Roadhouses.” What does a Hobbit barbarian have to do with inns and roadhouses? Really, you should know better than to ask.

“You All Meet In A Tavern…”

And why not? As Dave Hargrave notes:

Also, You Can Roll On The STD Table After Seducing A Serving Wench/Stable Boy, As Your Tastes Dictate

Also, You Can Roll On The STD Table After Seducing A Serving Wench/Stable Boy, As Your Tastes Dictate

(No STD table in Welcome To Skull Tower, actually, though there might have been one in Alma Mater, which was illustrated by Erol Otus, so it’s totally related and not just another random digression.)

And then we go into the seasons and the length of the day.


We get a half-page of general comments on inns, followed by a barbarian Hobbit, and then… the length of the day. There is, in fact, a long section listing an assortment of inns ,taverns, etc., but it’s many pages away from the introductory text. Welcome to the 1970s, folks!

It’s Been A Long Day’s Night

Days in Arduin are exactly 25 hours long, with ten hours of night and ten hours of darkness, and 2.5 hours of twilight and dawn. There is no “axial tilt or rotational wobble”. Weeks are six days long, there are 15 months in a year, and there’s a three day “Endyear” period. Each season is precisely 125 days, which sort of leaves the three day “endyear” out of the equation. Taken literally, it would mean the Arduin calendar shifts, relative to the seasons, at a rate of three days a year, so every forty years or so, an entire season is ‘out of sync’, so fall would be where summer is, etc.

The years are in  15-year cycle, as follows:

Those Born In The Year Of The Phantelope Get 10% Off Eggrolls

Those Born In The Year Of The Phantelope Get 10% Off Eggrolls

Presumably, these are symbolic/mystical, like similar cycles in Earth mythology and astrology. It’s a cool idea, especially for setting up plot macguffins, like a ritual which can only be completed in the year of the Scorpion, or a race to get a royal marriage completed during the year of the Sun. I would gather that wars happen in years other than Draconus, and Druids hold festivals all the time, but this kind of thing creates some flavor, and helps invoke a sense of reality in the world — there’s a past to it, with traditions, rituals, and superstitions that aren’t necessarily hooked into what the PCs are doing today. The sparse descriptions — each barely a sentence of vague implications — sets the creative mind a-wandering, and inspires the young worldbuilder (i.e., me) to include such things. Who does not want a campaign that begins with “It was the fourth day of the fifth month of the Grey Year, and…”?

Endyear, by the way, is a riotous time of parties, orgies, and benign anarchy. (Which is, again, the kind of small detail that can be inspiring… and now, as an older, more experienced worldbuilder, I wonder… everywhere? It’s an entire planet! Wouldn’t some cultures treat Endyear as a time of sober reflection, and others as a minor calendar quirk? Are there cranky old phraints and centaurs sitting around, grousing how in their day Endyear meant something, but now, all these kids are just thinking about the orgies, and you can’t even hang up traditional Endyear wicker men, because they’re “offensive” and everything’s all politically correct… But I digress. Big shock, I know.)

Weather in Arduin (the nation; the planet is called Karse, though I’m not sure if this is ever mentioned in this book) varies quite a bit over the course of a year — with no axial tilt, the world must have a much more elliptical orbit than Earth. It resembles, we are told, “Bavarian Germany”, with more insect men and fewer pretzels. Probably. Somewhere in Dave’s copious and possibly lost notes, there’s got to be a page or two on Arduinian pretzels. If we ever get to the post-trilogy books, you’ll understand why I think that.

Speaking of weather…

Wind Chill

Because it would hardly be an old-school supplement if we didn’t interrupt the flavor text with some random information that has no mechanical support, would it? There’s a quick discussion of the dangers of wind and cold, and then a table that correlates wind speed to effective temperature assuming a base of 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and.. erm… that’s it. Nothing to translate this information into game rules.. just a half page of discussion about wind and cold. Why? Maybe it’s something Dave was researching that ended up on the same page as the other topics and got pasted into the book. Maybe he needed a place to stick it, and it ended up here. Who can tell?


The next two pages are a listing of the holidays of Arduin, following the pattern of “name and really brief description” we’ve seen elsewhere. Once more — very inspirational. Few worldbuilders, at least in the early days, ever thought about things like this. And the list isn’t just “Fake Easter, Fake Christmas, Fake Fourth Of July”, either. Here. Let me show you a part of it.

My Holidays. Let Me Show You Them.

My Holidays. Let Me Show You Them.

There’s another full page in this fashion. I think these are specifically Arduinian holidays, not global ones. Even given the limited descriptive text, it’s easy to imagine the various celebrations, rituals, and rites which might accompany each day, from desperate lovers buying flowers at the last minute for Woman’s Day, to parades honoring the town’s naval veterans on Aquamass. Ancient rituals might only be performed on the Night of Shagrath, and a child born at midnight on Triangularus may have a destiny both great and terrible. Etc. The real value of this list, and the many similar in the trilogy, isn’t in the information it presents, but in the very idea of it — it’s the kind of thing you instantly want to replicate for your own worlds, something you didn’t realize you were missing until now.

Next, guilds. Or, technically, “Guilds And Societies Of The Arduin Cycle”. A lot of F/SF literature of the time was granted the slightly-pompous title of “Cycle”, to tie it back to older myths… you’d hear “The Elric Cycle” or “The Cthulhu Cycle” on occasion. I think we’re done with that now, with “series”, “universe”, or even “mythos” taking over that role. In any event, why Dave chose a literary term is beyond me; it seems a bit aspirational.

No Guilds Called !!AzzK1kerz!!? How Odd!

No Guilds Called **!!AzzK1kerz!!**? How Odd!

Nowadays, each of these would have a 64 page supplement complete with three Prestige Classes, twelve NPCs, a detailed map of the HQ, and plenty of plot hooks. Back then? You got a name and some words, bub, and you liked it.

The Joy Of Sects

Sorry, couldn’t resist…

Following the secular guilds, we have a similar list of religious groups:

Some Of These Simply Sound Too Damn Awesome For Words

Some Of These Simply Sound Too Damn Awesome For Words

I like how the “League Of Faiths of the Followers of Christ” usually have Christ as their deity. I also want to know more about “the Star Dragon mythos”, or “Mordakk, Doom Fire”, but it is not to be. (At least not in this supplement… there is a 600+ page hardcover, published long after Dave’s death, that provides a lot more information on the setting.)

That’s enough for now, methinks. At this point, we’re looking at either two or three more articles in Skull Tower before we move on to the Runes Of Doom.

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.


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!


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.


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)
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.


Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VIII

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VIII

The Gems Of Arduin

Literally And Figuratively

Also, Ropes

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

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

Old Oliphaunt Puke

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

I Want To Write A Random Cheap Wine Name Table

I Want To Write A Random Cheap Wine Name Table

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

Rope A Dope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

True Treasures

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

What are they? Coins and gems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orc Eyes And Dragon Tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Now You Know Why Unicorns Were Hunted To Extinction…

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VII

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VII

The Charts Go Ever, Ever, On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Humphries, Are You Free?

I’m Free!

Then Show This Gentleman Something In An Iron Golem.

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

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

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

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

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

Scrolls? Just Past The Elevators, To Your Left.

Well, This One Has A Level Cost, At Least

Well, This One Has A Level Cost, At Least

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

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

We conclude this sub-section with two important things.

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

Seriously, This Can't Be Emphasized Enough

Seriously, This Can’t Be Emphasized Enough

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

"The Terror, Yet Only A Baby!"

“The Terror, Yet Only A Baby!”

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VI

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VI

Usury & Unicorns

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

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

I Give Up

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

Hope that clears that up.

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

You take out a loan.

E-Z Credit 4 U!

E-Z Credit 4 U!

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

By "May", We Mean "Will"

By “May”, We Mean “Will”

Yeah. Miss a payment, wake up dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple-Scented Candles Of Power, +5 CP.

Apple-Scented Candles Of Power, +5 CP

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

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part V

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part V


No, That’s Not A Typo. My Spell Checker Doesn’t Recognize My Brilliant Puns

Now, as we voyage through the tangled maze of brilliant nuggets, creative genius, and sheer madness that is the Arduin trilogy, we come upon the fabled Realm of the Charts, which has been uncharted until now. Get it? Damn, I’m clever. Anyway, there’s several pages of tables, charts, lists, indexes, notes, codicils, enumerations, and so on which are connected to each other in ways tenuous, obscure, and wholly non-existent.

A Haggorym’s Got To Know His Limitations

Yes, I used that joke here. This isn’t being lazy or repetitive, this is a deliberate callback, thus amplifying the humor through repetition, much like the Coyote being constantly hit by falling rocks.

Evidently, Mer-folk Are The Only Species With Gender Dymorphism

Evidently, Mer-folk Are The Only Species With Gender Dimorphism

A few points:

  • The “Mechanical Ability”, “Swimming Ability”, and “Stamina” columns from The Arduin Grimoire are gone here. Whether this is due to Dave Hargrave abandoning those mechanics, or this chart being vertical rather than horizontal, is a question for the ages.
    • “Agility” remains referenced, though never quite explained, in Skull Tower, but “Stamina” less so. It may be that the split between manual “Dexterity” and full-body (I’m guessing) “Agility” was deemed more useful than whatever the division between Stamina and Constitution was supposed to model. I’ll keep an eye out for Stamina references going forward.
  • While the first limitation chart was mostly the more traditional races, with a few things like kobbits tossed in, this one really ups the ante in terms of variety: Hawkmen, Ocotorillas, Wargs, and so on.
  • The “1” note informs us that more details are in the monster section; the “2” tells us the horse body is 1-3 points stronger than the “human” body, the “3” and “4” notes tell us that agility as listed is for swimming/flying, and is halved otherwise.
  • Good lord, phraints have redonkulous dexterity. I’m guessing you had to roll a natural 17 or 18 to play one, which would have kept them damn rare, as they were supposed to be. I suspect 99% of all phraints were rolled up when the DM wasn’t looking.

Saving Throws

And For When You Fail Them, Resurrection and Reincarnation

Next, we somewhat logically have an expanded saving throw chart, which, it is noted, supplements and expands the one in the Grimoire. Nothing special to note here that wasn’t already covered. So, moving on…

In Arduin, 90% Of The Species Are Tougher Than Average

In Arduin, 90% Of The Species Are Tougher Than Average

The mere existence of this chart demonstrates, to my mind, the foolishness of believing that “video game style respawning” is somehow a product of the accursed modern era, and back in Ye Olden Days (which I lived and gamed through, and which an awful lot of people with strong opinions about them didn’t), men were real men, women were real women, small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were available as player characters, and there was no “revolving door afterlife”. The hell there wasn’t! That door spun so fast, Dave Hargrave needed a chart broken down into half percentages to figure out who could race back through it.

  • Elvish females (per footnote, not shown) have a 2% lower chance of resurrection than Elvish males. Why? Who cares! It’s these sorts of random details that make exploring these books so much fun.
  • As my caption snidely notes, virtually every species, except avians and piscoids (which doesn’t include merfolk or tritons), is “tougher than average”, “very tough”, “hard to kill”, and so on. Not that these “Other Factors” actually come into play in any way… the percentages tell the tale.
  • Pixies are “magikally tough”, which sounds like you need to marinate them a long time before grilling.
  • Brownies are “magikally very tough”, especially if they’re overcooked and dry. Top with vanilla ice cream to help counteract this.
  • How often did one need to roll to resurrect a greater demon?

Where Are My Dragons?

Well, never mind “where”… how old are they?

Those Asterisks? Never Explained.

Those Asterisks? Never Explained.

I’m assuming that “Experience Points” is how many the dragon needed to earn, and the fact Dave had rules for dragons earning XP tells you a lot about how awesome his games had to have been.

We go from resurrections, to dragons, to reincarnation…

One of the genre-defining tropes of D&D (and I repeat, D&D is not a rules system, D&D is a genre) is that clerics raise you from the dead, but druids simply give you a new body, randomly determined. You had to hope your party healer was a cleric, not a druid, because otherwise…

Random Ooze? Sure, Why Not?

Random Ooze? Sure, Why Not?

Honestly, the chart kind of speaks for itself. There’s no weighting towards marginally-playable results; you’re as likely to be a maggoth as a turtle. And you can be reincarnated as “random undead”, which seems to me to be kind of missing the point of the whole thing. (There’s a helpful random undead chart which I’m not going to post. It offers morghouls and ghost crabs as options, along with ‘exotic’… because ‘undead phantasmal crab’ is just so mundane, you know?)

Combat Stuff

Having looked at charts for coming back from the dead, we go on to charts about how you get dead in the first place. There’s an attack matrix for claws and other natural attacks — I’m not sure why it’s needed in addition to the standard charts. It’s mostly 1 better than the standard attack chart… e.g., if you need a 13 to hit a given AC on the chart in the Grimoire, you need a 12 here. OK. Moving on..

Ah. Here we go…

You're Instantly Dead, And You Take 4d12 Damage!

You’re Instantly Dead, And You Take 4d12 Damage!

That’s more like it! You’ve got your death in 1-3 rounds, your instant death, and your instant and irrevocable death! No reincarnation chart for you!

I have no idea why the chart include additional damage for “instant death” results. In some modern incarnations of D&D, exactly just how far you are below 0 Hit Points does matter — some abilities in Pathfinder, for instance, can heal the just-dead by a random amount, which may or may not be enough to get them up to “mostly dead”. But old-school D&D? Not so much, unless this is a glimpse into some lost mechanics of Dave’s.

I totally love the “roll for % of arm lost” kind of mechanics, and the potential arguments over what you could do with 43% of an arm vs. 81% of one.

For 33-34, I suspect the player is in as much shock as the character…

Paging Dr. Voorhees…

The next page is interesting. It’s a collection of rules, notes, and modifications for the effects of injury, and is credited to “Doctor William Voorhees, a specialist in internal medicine”, who “has a remarkable insight into rationalizing game magik and medical facts”.

I did some googling, and I found a Dr. William Voorhees, specialist in internal medicine, in Sea Ranch, California, who got his degree in 1975 — which would have made him perfectly suited, age-wise, to have been gaming with Dave & co. at the time. Not on FB, that I can tell, and no real contact info… and it makes me feel kind of creepy to be “stalking” him like this… but I am curious…

Save Vs. Heavy Artillery!

This Has Nothing To Do With Heavy Artillery. It Was Just There.

This Has Nothing To Do With Heavy Artillery. It Was Just There.

But first, here’s a picture of a dwarf and a wizard torturing what I suspect is a kobbit — a kobold/hobbit crossbreed. Or it might just be a particularly scruffy hobbit — who knows? Maybe it’s a hobbit slaver, and totally deserves it.

The next two pages have a surprising amount of white space for the Arduin books, and contain three tables of damage, ranges, and so forth for all kind and manner of small and large caliber weaponry, from 20mm to 16 inches. The system involves “ACP”, or “Armor Class Penetration”, and there’s various damage factors for different levels of armor penetrated, and so on. Or, IOW, it’s another micromechanic that uses different rules than, say, crossbow bolts or other ranged weapons. It’s perfectly understandable why it was done this way, and I’m guessing it had a lot to do with either Dave, or someone in Dave’s group, being familiar with either real-world artillery or wargaming mechanics for such things, or both, and bringing that knowledge into D&D. A lot of Burgess Shale Era fan/semi-pro gaming material was clearly someone taking their personal expertise in an area and translating it into D&D terms, preferring to create their own mechanics to model it rather than trying to use the limited toolbox of existing systems.

It is noted that concussion effects can include hearing loss, internal hemorrhaging, blindness, or being set afire, “the frequency of which is up to the DM”. Likewise, blast effects can travel long distances in “confined areas” such as dungeon corridors. Heh heh heh….

Then we get an XP chart, with bonuses for special abilities like breath weapon, stoning, etc., and to use it, we get…

Compounded Monthly With An Adjusted Rate Of 0.25% But Not More Than 1% per Year....

Compounded Monthly With An Adjusted Rate Of 0.25% But Not More Than 1% per Year….

So, yeah, there’s that. Let me note that the idea of giving “monsters” magic weapons and armor (and other gear) is yet another concept that didn’t become standard in D&D until 3.x (and was mostly dropped in 4 and 5, though it lives on quite nicely in Pathfinder). I will also point out that a fairly important rule, the 10%/level reduction, is buried in the example text. This was also somewhat typical of the era. You had to read carefully to find all the hidden bits; they weren’t always called out for you.

Then, we get a hirelings chart, with monthly costs, and chance of finding, everything from astrologers to assassins. (The fee for the assassin is a retainer; each “hit” must be paid for as well.)

Well, that’s 12 pages covered — probably the most any of these has ever done in one go! Next time, usurious loan rates, magic weapons by the plus, and more!

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part IV

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part IV

Shopkeepers, Slavers, And Courtesans, Oh My!

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

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

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

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

But First, A Correction

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

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

Abby… Someone

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

As always, a few quick notes on the table:

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

Special Politically Incorrect Class Section

Pearl-clutching Puritans, you’ve been warned.

Slavers (Not The Kind With Stasis Boxes)

(Though In Arduin, Anything Is Possible…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Perhaps It's Going To A Roadside Inn?

Perhaps It’s Going To A Roadside Inn?

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

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part III

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part III

When The Saints Come Marching In

And Maybe Martial Artists And Slavers, We’ll See

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

Saints Alive!

(Until The Rest Of The Party Kills Them)

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

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

This Was Cutting-Edge Technology At The Time, Kiddies

Where was I? Oh yes. Saints.

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

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

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

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

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

Martial Artists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Welcome To Skull Tower, Part II

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part II

Scars & Stars

“Scars & Stars” Sounds Like A Good Name For A Retro Sci-Fi RPG

Last week, as you recall, we discussed true strength, true charisma, and the sadly inevitable (for the era) Female Attribute Chart. Oh, and for those of you joining us1 here for the first time, this is part… I’ve lost count… of my long, ongoing walkthrough of the classic Arduin Trilogy. This week, we’re discussing, morale, scars, probably star-powered mages, and I’m not sure what else. Y’see, I start writing these things at the top, and finish when I think I’ve done enough, and given my tendency to go off on long, rambling, digressions about whatever strikes my fancy as I’m writing, I never really know at the beginning what it’s going to look like at the end.

Uncharacteristically logically, we move from charisma to morale.

Morale, Or, “Hey, Get Back Here!”

"Accept Offer For A Bigger Cut And His Own Cabin" Curiously Absent

“Accept Offer For A Bigger Cut And His Own Cabin” Curiously Absent

This is rolled every melee round, I mean, every melee round.2 Sh’yeah, right. That happened. Maybe, once. What really happened, in actual play, was the DM would roll once, maybe, at the start of the fight, and then remember to roll if something happened that caused him to think, “Wouldn’t it be fun if the hirelings broke and ran right about now?” (Or when a player said, “I order Knobby Foot to charge at the troll!”) The Charisma table, see prior post, did include a morale bonus, but the other suggested modifiers were up to the DM. Heh, heh, heh. (Well, I’m note sure… this being the Arduin Trilogy, I might stumble on them later on… or they might be referencing such modifiers as existed in the D&D of the time… or in some article in Alarums and Excursions that Dave used and that he just assumed everyone knew about. It was the way of things back then.)

The Mary Sue Character Appearance Generator

“And she’s got purple hair, and glowing eyes, and a heart-shaped birthmark, and…”

(For those confused over the headings, go look here.)

Since you probably went through characters in Dave’s games the way I go through a bag of Cheetohs in my games, you might have needed something to distinguish Fred The Fighter XI from Fred the Fighter X. Enter the appearance chart, another fairly common aspect of the time. This has two parts…

Note You Only Have A 5% Chance Of NOT Being Exotic

Note You Only Have A 5% Chance Of NOT Being Exotic

It is worth noting that having pale blue skin, or a pentagram-shaped birthmark, are occurrences on the non-special table. For the special table…

See, Pale Blue Is Normal, But DEEP Blue Is Special

See, Pale Blue Is Normal, But DEEP Blue Is Special

One has to wonder how many times someone, either player or DM, tried to weasel some game effects out of this… like imposing a penalty on the thief for trying to hide when his skil was “Gem Sparkled Purple”.

New Classes

You couldn’t kick a fanzine without hitting a new class in those days. Dave’s new classes ranged from the mundane-ish, like Traders, to the batshit crazy awesome, like Star Powered Mages.

Star Powered Mages

I am 99.99% certain these were inspired by something, though I’m not sure what. Lensmen? Darkover? Something I’ve never heard of? Probably. IAE, they’re awesome.

A Star Powered Mage has a crystal embedded in their forehead at birth, which gives them access to “Cosmic Mana Power”. The crystals completely destroy themselves on their bearer’s death, and the means of manufacturing them is Lost Forever, so SPMs are correspondingly rare.

The color of your star reflects your alignment in the usual manner: Deepest black for eeeevil, glowing white for boring, I mean, good, etc.

The star holds the same amount of mana you normally get, so you have double mana points.

You have a -4 to resist psychic attacks, but you get ESP at 1st level and Telepathy at 12th, because, why not?

But there’s a catch, of course.

So, You've Got a 5% Chance Of A 90% Chance Of Being Eaten By Your Own Gem...

So, You’ve Got a 5% Chance Of A 90% Chance Of Being Eaten By Your Own Gem…

Well, I mean, a 90% chance -2% per level. And I mean 5% per 10 points -3% per level.

But you can regenerate instantly from death! With, erm, a catch…

Forbidden Planet FTW!

Forbidden Planet FTW!

So, you get instant and total regeneration, or, you go out in a blaze of glory.  BTW, if you haven’t seen Forbidden Planet yet, why haven’t you? It’s awesome. Go rent it or stream it or whatever you kids do to movies these days.

Lastly, there’s this…

Just Remember That Thing We Never Told You Before!

Just Remember That Thing We Never Told You Before!

Once more, I need to emphasize that one of the things I love to death about the Arduin Trilogy, and about similar works from the same era/by the same crowd, is the casual dropping of references to people, places, things, events, that have never been mentioned before and are usually never mentioned again. Of course I’ll remember that the Star Powered Ones sided with the Titans against civilization! How could I forget? (Since the gem is this huge glowing beacon on your forehead, I’m not sure how you can ‘tread with care’, but anyway…)

And I also want to praise the bombastic, declarative, “Know ye, O Prince…” style of this final paragraph. It’s great.

Rune Singers, Or, The Electric Light Bard

They’re like illusionists. But with sound. And they take forever to do anything. But they can weave spells together. And… smeg it, here’s the gist of it:

T=(1M*SL)-(1R*(CL-3)). Got That?

T=(1M*SL)-(1R*(CL-3)). Got That?


  • There are Rune Singers who are clerical, but they’re even rarer.
  • Rune Singers almost never use weapons, preferring to rely on their spells. I’m sure the orcs will wait a minute while they Rune Singers cast Magic Missile.
  • Rune Singers must have an Ego of 14 or more.
  • Rune Singers are FUN! (That’s what it says…)
  • At 2nd level, they can summon birds.
  • They get +1 with their favorite instrument, “even on” with others they are proficient in, and -1 with those they are not proficient in.
  • A Twelfth Level rune Singer is a “Glue Singer”. Since this is followed on the level title chart by “Red Singer” and “Silver Singer”, I’m guessing it was supposed to be “Blue Singer”. Generally, I try not to call out typos too much anymore (mostly because I’m tired of typing ‘sic’ and because we’ve established that, yes, these books were semi-pro), but that one was too funny to pass by, since it could almost make a kind of sense — perhaps at that level, you were so good you could ‘glue’ your audience in place with rapt attention.

Bards, Or, The Non-Electric, Non-Light, Bard

The Arduin Grimoire had the experience point chart for Bards. Welcome To Skull Tower has the actual, erm, rules for them. Welcome To Old School Gaming! (I noted a few times that the Grimoire looked like it was pasted together from whatever notes Dave grabbed at the time; that the charts for bards and the rules for bards were in different piles of notes does not surprise me. )

Arduin Bards apparently can start as bards.. if you’ve ever read the original bard rules from The Dragon/AD&D, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief, as they were a nightmare of complexity and resulted in an overpowered class that could do damn-near anything. On the other hand, Arduin Bards are basically third-rate melee combatants with a tiny handful of special abilities. (They can perform Rune Singer magic (or magik) at their level-5, but with a base 65% chance of “Magik Fumble”). Their other abilities are…

To Be Fair, A 5% Chance Of Earning Money Is Still Better Than Most Musicians...

To Be Fair, A 5% Chance Of Earning Money Is Still Better Than Most Musicians…

  • So a Charisma 16 Bard has a 15% chance of getting 1-10 coins if the audience “likes” him, but on a roll of 1-3? Do you roll first the 15% chance, then the reaction roll, then the 1-3 per audience member? On what die is 1-3 roll made? This looks like Dave had two different mechanics (level based %age, or, reaction roll+1-3 roll) for “bards earning money” and just slammed them together. Or does the 1-3 mean ‘1=copper, 2=silver, 3=gold’?
  • Apparently, getting someone to have sex with you is only slightly harder than getting them to toss you copper pieces. I should have been a busker!
  • You can “Sing Call” like a first-level Rune Singer… who can’t Sing Call. That starts at second level.
  • The ability to cast Cure Light Wounds when you’re hundredth level is… erm… underwhelming.

It Takes A Thief…To Show Off The DM’s Fiendish Traps

Thieves were the first step, in D&D, towards mechanics for something beyond hitting someone. To some people in the Old School Revisionism movement, the introduction of thieves in Greyhawk marked the point where everything began to go wrong (and given how soon Greyhawk appeared after the “Brown Box” original rules, this should tell you how narrow their definition of “Old School” is… and if it doesn’t, don’t worry, there’s some dead horses I’ll never get tired of beating). With the introduction of mechanics for climbing walls, hiding, picking locks, and so on, it was no longer a matter of convincing the DM you could do it (mostly by doing 1-6 points of Rhetoric Damage against his Stubborness Points, +5 for each potsticker you gave him), you had to roll the dice and take your chances, and your chances, frankly, sucked. A major aspect of gameplay in very old school games involved not manipulating the rules, but escaping the rules. The odds of success in many things “by the books” were very low; “rules mastery” in those days involved finding ways to accomplish your goals that weren’t covered by the rules, because the DM would probably give you much better odds. A typical technique was “Roll under the relevant attribute on a D20”, which meant you usually had much better than 50/50 odds. The primary thief abilities of hiding, climbing, and detecting/disarming traps were very common actions in a dungeon environment, so tying them to a particular class and then imposing limiting rules on them did a lot to change the dynamic of how actions were to be resolved, even in those early years.

So what did Dave do?

What any good DM of the era would, and did, do: Add more rules, more details, more modifiers!

We start off with this:

Please Note The First Column Is The Trap's Level, Not The Thief's Level

Please Note The First Column Is The Trap’s Level, Not The Thief’s Level

Please also note that this is the Trap Activation chart, not the trap Deactivation chart! This is used as the chance the trap goes off if the thief fails to deactivate it.

There’s a more important thing going on here, though, than Yet Another Way To Get Killed With A Bad Die Roll. The idea of ‘leveled’ traps — of some being more difficult to disarm than others — was not a part of the core paradigm. Most mechanics had a flat component to them — the saving throw against a first level spell was the same as the saving throw against a ninth level spell, a 17 Strength 12th level fighter had the same chance to break down a door as a 17 Strength 1st level fighter. Arduin introduced a lot of level-based mechanisms into the game, from scaling hit dice in monsters to, the traps above. Once more, we’re seeing ideas put into place that would not become ‘official’ D&D until Third Edition in 2000.

The Reset Chance, BTW, was the chance that after a trap had gone off in the thief’s face, it would “reset” to do so again, until it was successfully disarmed. Delayed Activation, in turn, was the chance the trap would go off 1-20 seconds later, perhaps when the party had gathered back around the chest and were wondering if the thief had managed to disarm it…

Here’s a portion of the Arduin Thief Abilities chart…

3% Chance To Deactivate, vs. A 25% Chance The Trap Will Go Off...

3% Chance To Deactivate, vs. A 25% Chance The Trap Will Go Off…

Some key points:

  • ‘Con’ is the chance to convince someone to give you their valuables via conversation. ‘Lie’ is the chance to escape unscathed if you’re caught stealing. Or, twenty or so years later, ‘Bluff’ and ‘Diplomacy’.
  • You see what I mean about the low odds of success?
  • Oddly, neither Arduin nor the original Greyhawk rules include a chance to determine if there even is a trap. Only in AD&D did it become “Find/Remove Traps”.
  • No rules, that I can see, for the effect of high Dexterity or Agility on these rolls. There are Charisma modifiers, discussed in Part I, though, which might reasonably apply to Lie and Con.

We follow with a handful of racial modifiers. Given the vast number of races in Arduin, even if we limit ourselves to those most likely to take up the thieving profession, it’s clear this was a case of “We’ve got maybe a quarter of a page, tops”. Presumably, anyone of a different species who wanted to play a thief could petition the DM for “reasonable” modifiers of this sort.

Elves Are More Innately Deceptive Than Humans... Hmmm...

Elves Are More Innately Deceptive Than Humans… Hmmm…

We’ll end here for now, for the perfectly logical reason that I’ve only scanned up to here in my book and don’t feel like scanning more right now. Next week… new classes from Saint to Courtesan, with a stopover at Slaver and Monk. (Possibly, as usual, I might write more or less.)

1: By “us”, I mean, “me”, and the voices in my head.
2:(Y’see, in the Grimoire, we used underlines for emphasis, but in Skull Tower, mid-70s typography has advanced to italics, in a different font, and trust me, that’s about the most subtle the humor is likely to get around here.)