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Arduin Grimoire, Part V

Arduin Grimoire, Part V

Special Abilities

Because If Playing A Centaur Psychic Wasn’t Good Enough, You Can Be a Centaur Psychic With Chronic Insomnia

NTTAWWT

Now, we get to another cool innovation, presented with minimal mechanical guidance and an utter disregard for the hobgoblin of ‘game balance’. Reading through the Arduin Grimoire with an eye for detail now, decades after I first used it in play, I notice something never made explicit: Exactly how to use the Special Ability charts. We just rolled once on them when a character was created, no muss, no fuss. I don’t see a logical alternative, really… this was an era when characters were heavily front-loaded, with most abilities gained at creation or from class levels. None of this “gain a feat every three levels” stuff. Still, it strikes my older self as odd that it was never stated outright. A lot of stuff from this era was like that: You were just supposed to know. It was accessed through the Akashic memory of the RPG collective hivemind, or something. And, yet… somehow… we did know. We made up rules and then forgot we made them up, convincing ourselves we’d read them in some book, somewhere.

There’s several pages of them, all in a 1-100 chart, all with very little explanation or detail. When I usually end up making anything but the simplest feat eat up 150-250 words, the brevity of these is quite impressive… as is the highly variable utility. I’ll post the full scan of one of them for a sample, then go through the rest and highlight some things.

+1 With Maces, Or LYcanthrope?

+1 With Maces, Or Lycanthrope?

The options range from generally negative, to mildly interesting, to character-killing (A fighter-type with a -8 save vs. fear and a 50% chance of fleeing?) to just asking for trouble (secret were-creature?).

  • You can easily build an entire character around the “desire to form a secret society” one, not that a +5 Charisma mattered a lot, mechanically, in these days before social skills or the like. Charisma, more than anything else, was as useful or useless as the DM wanted it to be, which was in direct proportion to how much Chinese food he’d eaten lately.
  • Having the natural ability of “true sight” — I’m assuming, as per the high-level magic-user spell, though of course this isn’t explained anywhere — could be a real advantage in this era when everything was shapeshifter disguised by an illusion and veiled by darkness. Including the innkeeper at whatever tavern you were going to start playing at.
  • I wonder how many fights started by people who claimed “western weapons” did not mean “European weapons”, but “six-shooters and shotguns”?
  • The “Bad Liar” is another one which would make more sense if there was, at the time, an established, shared, system of task resolution based on attributes. Maybe there was in Hargrave’s games… who knows?
  • “25% chance of going berserker”… just don’t ask what that means. (I’d probably rule you have to keep fighting until your enemies are dead, or something.)
  • +1 with “non-mechanical” bows, and -2 versus Djinn attacks. Those… go together perfectly… I guess… erm… what? It’s almost as if some of the items on this list came from rolling on other random lists, like there was a “bonus list” and a “penalty list” somewhere in Dave’s undoubtedly voluminous house rules, and he rolled once on each and made them a single item here.
  • Evidently, half-efreets are a thing.
Actually, I don't think alchemists are even in this book...

Actually, I don’t think alchemists are even in this book…

The next table is “Mages, Illusionist, Druids, Alchemists, Medicine Men, Psychics and Those Of Magical Natures”. Interesting, compared to later evolution of gaming cliches, that Druids are lumped with magic-users and not clerics.

  • Chronic Insomnia, for your centaur psychic. +5 to save vs. sleep spells, -5 charisma.
  • Movement competent, -2 vs. “stoning”. (Quotes in original.) I’m assuming that’s “-2 on saves vs. petrification”, but it could mean “-2 vs. people throwing rocks at you because said ‘Jehovah'”, or even “-2 on saves against Bigby’s Awesome Stash”.  Oh, and what does “competent” mean? (“It’s not a surprise you don’t know that!” shouts my internal peanut gallery at me.) It’s actually explained in Arduin Grimoire Volume II, in a slightly petulant tone, as if Dave couldn’t believe people needed his private table rules explained to them. I see no good reason to both explaining it before then, either. If Dave thought you were smart enough to figure it out, I suppose I should give you the same credit.
  • +50% Vision with night sight, +1 to detect secret doors. I have no idea what “+50% vision” means. You see about half as well at night as you do in they day? You get a 50% bonus on seeing things at night, which would be cool if any such rules existed? It’s whatever you can bully the DM into letting you get away with? Let’s go with that one.
  • Magic Competent, can pick locks and disarm traps as a thief two levels below your own, and climb as an assassin one level below your own, but your major drawback is your +8 Charisma. Erm, I’m going to assume they meant -8, but I guarantee you, some player who rolled this at least tried to convince their DM that a +8 was a real drawback. (“‘Cause, like, chicks are always buggin’ me, and shit.”)
  • Natural ability to memorize one spell per level more than normal. Now, that’s nice. Well worth the risk of rolling… well, actually, nothing on this particular list wholly sucks. There’s no totally negative options. Someone liked magic-users more than fighters, that’s for sure, and we see the beginning of the Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit school of game design.
Home of the singing evangelist!

Home of the singing evangelist!

Next, we have “Clerics of all types, bards, singers, witch hunters, pallidins(sic semper tyrannis), and all of a more religious than magical nature”. Another case where we see modern concepts in a state of flux — bards are “religious”, rather than arcane (well, given that the original bard needed to be a Druid first, this kind of makes sense… erm, but Druids are “magical” in this book… so, uhm, whatever. I’m not sure what the difference between a “Bard” and a “Singer” is, to be honest. I think there’s a “Rune Singer” class in one of the later books, though.

Anyway, let’s look at the chart:

  • Mountain Man, +2 to Strength, Agility, and Dexterity. Climb as a thief. First: This is totally not what I’d expect for “religious types”, which makes it awesome. How did Jethro Clampett end up becoming a Cleric? There’s a backstory there! Second: Still not sure how Agility differs from Dexterity in this system. Third: I’m assuming attributes cap out based on the “Limitations” table I mentioned in Part III, but there’s plenty of precedent for bonuses to transcend such limits, so who knows?
  • Sickly and anemic, -2 to all attributes (ouch) , cannot be hasted. Like you’d live long enough for anyone to be high enough level to cast “haste” on you.
  • +3 save vs. cursed scrolls, -3 save versus all elementals. Most of the cursed scrolls I encountered were “no save”, which leads to the zen question of “How do you add 3 to that which does not exist?”
  • Clerical magic incompetent. Which pretty much makes you wonder why you ever decided to go on an adventuring career in the first place.
  • Healing competent, +2 to all point totals per dice healed. This seems to imply “Competent” means “+2″.
  • +3 with quarterstaff and “cudgle”, -2 with everything else. Perfect for Friar Tuck.
  • “Clerical pallidin (sic transit gloria mundi) status, start at second level, you get all they get”. I… have no idea what this means. What if you’re already a pallid.. paladin? Who are “they”? Does this means you start as a second level cleric, but get all of the paladin’s special abilities? Or you’re dual-classed, a Cleric/Paladin? Or what?
  • “You have been defrocked for murder, you are now an anti-cleric.” Does your alignment change? What if you were already evil?
  • +3 to Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, “you are now a singing evangelist(!) with all the abilities of a singer (or bard)”. DUDE! That sounds like the most awesome… and most annoying, to your fellow players… character concept EVER. I am SO going to roll up a Bard/Cleric now! Sure, you disdain all weapons and armor except quarterstaffs and you give away all gold over 500 GS, but still! (Wait… it gets better. Remember, this table is for many classes, not just clerics… including witch hunters. A witch hunter who rolls this becomes a singing inquisitor!!! There just aren’t enough exclamation points in the world for that level of awesomeness.
Aragorn and Bilbo roll on the same chart, it seems.

Aragorn and Bilbo roll on the same chart, it seems.

Next up: Special Ability chart for (deep breath here) thieves, monks, ninja, highwaymen, corsairs, assassins, traders, slavers, rangers, and all those with a more or less “secret” nature. (Fred the candlemaker is looking around at Slyfingers the thief, Dragon Fist the monk, Black Bart the corsair, and Aradorn the ranger and wondering how he ended up here.)

  • Natural Locksmith, work 2 levels above normal for those abilities… which sort of assumes you have “those abilities”, and it’s not clear, to me, if this includes disarming traps or just picking locks.
  • Circus trained, +3 to agility, dexterity, +25% to climbing ability, and a 50% chance of being recruited by a creepy guy with a deep, gravely, voice.
  • +2 ability to hide in shadows and darkness above normal. But these are normally %age abilities, so does that mean +10%? Or does it mean, as with “natural locksmith”, you have a +2 effective level? I’m sure at least one hard-ass DM said it meant “+2%”.
  • Quick learner, add 20% to all points earned after each expedition. Whoa! 20% XP bonus? That’s sweet!
  • Poor Liar (-4 charisma when so doing), but +3 with a sling. Huh? See above for my theory on how these weird-ass combos came to be.
  • Master herbalist, “can always detect poison and make it 1 die per level”. I’m guessing, somewhere, poisons were rated in dice? Every game we played, poisons didn’t do damage, they were pure save-or-die.
  • “Natural ability to use magic at two levels below own level.” As a… magic user? Cleric? Bard? I’m guessing, by default, MU. Pretty nice, you’re effectively multi-classed without giving up any hit points or weapon proficiencies.
  • Someone actually rolled this in one of my games: Sired by a vampire father and a normal female, you can withstand undead life drains, your Charisma can’t be higher then 9, you have an aversion to clerical types and fire, can only go out at night, but regenerate 1 point per minute “with all the restrictions of trolls”.
For everyone who isn't DPS, Tank, or Healer, I guess...

For everyone who isn’t DPS, Tank, or Healer, I guess…

“A techno, a sage, and a courtesan walk into a bar…”

Here we are at the last table, which covers Technos, Sages, Courtesans, Normals, and everyone else.

  • Good Liar, +5 Charisma when doing so, +2 otherwise, -2 versus cold. Oddly, Good liar also appears on the “Rogues, etc.” table, but that entry has no “+2 otherwise”, and it’s -3 vs. cold. The exact relationship between “lying” and “cold resistance” remains a mystery. I am utterly certain that Mr. Hargrave had a perfectly logical reason, and I wish I could ask him what it was.
  • Stunningly good looking — Charisma 23(!), and +8 to Ego (presumably, going over the normal maxima there, too). But you’re “super arrogant”. Hell, with that Charisma, no one will care! Unless your DM just ignores Charisma when deciding how NPCs react. See earlier rants, multiple, on the lack of mechanical support for various character traits in the games of the era.
  • Naturalist, can always find edible plants (emphasis in original). Man, I can hear it now:

Player: So, I find some edible plants.
DM: The hell you do. You’re in the Barren Desert Of Barren Bleakness. There are no plants here.
Player: I always find edible plants!
DM: That means, if you’re somewhere where there’s, y’know, plants!
Player: It says always!

Modern games, with their ‘cohesive rules’ and ‘integrated systems’ and ‘internal consistency’ and ‘extensive DM advice’ have totally destroyed the true spirit of gaming.

  • Latent warrior, can fight as a first level warrior if pressed. Which translates to, basically, a +1 or so, as first level warriors weren’t much better than 0 level nothings. And as soon as your techno, sage, or courtesan has gained even a few levels, they’re already better than a first level anyone. Not sure about “normals”, per se.
  • Total unbeliever in magic, -5 saves against all magic. Y’know, wouldn’t a +5 bonus to saves be more, erm, believable for an unbeliever? It’s hard to keep not believing in something you’re particularly vulnerable to.
  • Secret were-creature, roll for type. 95% chance of being chaotic. I wonder if that means “a secret from others” or “a secret from yourself”? Also, compare to the fighter-type equivalent entry: 3% less chance of being chaotic! And no mention of being evil!
  • Sadistic, arrogant, athiest(sic erat scriptum), -4 vs. magic, +8 ego, +3 strength. Anyone the author knew?
  • Very pius(sic I’m out of latin phrases), help all in need, +4 vs. Magic, +8 ego, +3 strength. Compare to above. Hmmmm. Hmmmmmmmm.
  • Obese glutton “of unsanitary and foul habits”, -6 charisma, +6 vs. poison, with an annotation that “if you cannot obviously have this characteristic and still be the type of character you are supposed to be, roll again”. I think it’s obvious which “type of character” the note refers to. It’s interesting that cowardly fighters are fine, but Arduin clearly has a “No Fat Chicks” policy for courtesans. Spirit of the times, I’m afraid. Spirit of the times.
  • “Roll once on any three tables of your choice, ignoring this number, but if you can’t use what you roll up, tough, you’re stuck with it.” This kind of “sucks to be you, deal with it” attitude is also part of the spirit of the times… a good part, this time, one we need more of in gaming… and in life.

After this table is a “Special Note” which, I presume, applies to the whole section: “These characteristics are only guidelines, but if you accept the responsibility and roll for them, then you must accept the results as a permanent part of your character thereafter.”

Coming Soon

At long last, classes! (Or some portion thereof… we’ve got Traders, Psychics, Rune Weavers, Technos (Sorry, “Techno’s”), Barbarians (waaaaay before Unearthed Arcana!), Medicine Men, and Witch Hunters to cover, and I don’t have a whole lot of time to write each week. Hey, I’ve been regularly posting content at least weekly for three weeks now…

Arduin Grimoire, Part IV

Arduin Grimoire, Part IV

Out Of Alignment

BTW, in case anyone stumbles on one of these pages out of order, and wonders how to get the hell away find the rest, I’m trying to gather them all here. Enjoy. Or not. It’s up to you, really. Who am I to tell you what to do?

So, in this post, we look at “Notes on Fantastic Beings”, and alignment. Sorry, allignment. For charcters. Sorry, characters.

Fantastical Beasts And How To Kill Them

Or, more accurately, “Notes On Fantastic Beings”.

Those of you more used to modern games, with their 256 page hardbound books detailing every aspect of a race’s culture, heritage, history, and preferred sexual positions might be a little aghast, possibly even awight or aspectre, at how little information was generally provided back in Ye Olden Dayse, and Dave Hargrave’s writing style was nothing if not terse. He had, after all, an imagination that spanned multiple infinities, and a hundred half-size pages to try to cram it into. So, we get to these two pages of “Notes”, where all the infinite complexity and depth of distinct and unique species were reduced to a line of text.

And we loved it. Well, I loved it, at any rate. I want just enough to get my mind going, just enough to provide the most basic platform for a shared conversation. When I buy a game, I want my crunch detailed out to the difference in damage potential between Pewter Mug, Hurled and Silver Tankard, Hurled, and my fluff to be basically someone leaving a sticky note on the page reading “put fluff here”. (Not applicable to games set in commercial universes, where I mostly buy them for the fluff.)

Thus, we learn that Hobbitts(sic) are “Happy, hungry” and “Always eating, brave but usually inept.” We learn that kobolds gang up on both thieves and cripples, and, by inference, the value of a semicolon vs. a comma. (We also see the root of many battles between players and DMs on the literal vs. intended meaning of the rules, with the battle lines being clearly drawn: If the literal reading favors you, argue it; if the intended reading favors you, argue it; and if neither the literal nor the intended reading favors you, buy the DM Chinese food.)

Orcs are immortal. Who knew? (Dave Hargrave, that’s who!)

So, from this we learn orcs are immortal, elves are in self-denial, amazons are pushy lesbians, and (on a page I didn’t scan) that harpies, furies, and gargoyles are “erratic, fanatical, and sadistic”. We also learn that genetics in Arduin were pretty darn fluid, and that human-giant matings were possible, though, thankfully, the exact details of the process were left out.

I seem to recall a “kobbit” is a kobold/hobbitt(sic…k of typing ‘sic’, just deal with Mr. Hargrave’s “Please Don’t Sue Me” spelling) crossbreed, which is kind of gross, but “kobolds” back then were generally closer to their mythic origin as fey “little people” and less “tiny little dragon folk with serious delusions of grandeur”.

It is interesting how most of the non-human races had long, even unending, lifespans — a definite flip on the D&Dism that all the ‘evil’ races died young (to explain their ability to breed in massive numbers so that dungeons were perennially replenished with mooks).

Come Up With Another Clever Pun On ‘Alignment’ Before Posting This

Seriously, This Better Not Show Up In The Final Article

Alignment wars began pretty much with the publication of OD&D, and I don’t mean “The cosmic battle of law vs. chaos” alignment wars, I mean “The comical battle of rules lawyers vs. each other” alignment wars. The exact boundaries of law, chaos, good, evil, what they meant, what they controlled, if paladins who slaughtered pregnant orcs also got XP for the fetuses, etc. Thomas Aquinas himself would be puzzled by that last one. (No, that’s not from one of my personal experiences, sadly/gladly. That was mentioned in a recent Knights Of The Dinner Table strip, and the fact it rang true tells you a lot. If you truly want to understand a culture, read its insider humor, says Lizard.)

Such debates have run to terabytes of terrifying text (I do get paid by the Alliteration Alliance Of America, why do you ask?), and I, in the words of Whitman, “have contributed a verse”, if “Look, lint-for-brains, even given your established stupidity and bull-headedness, your latest piece of word-salad drivel reaches new heights of incredibly inchoate incomprehensibility” is “a verse”.

Mr. Hargrave, however, strips all of that down to a simple, single, page that clearly answers all possible questions.

Did I Say "Character Alignment"? I Meant "Charcter Allignment"

Did I Say “Character Alignment”? I Meant “Charcter Allignment”

Or, perhaps, not. But as with most of his work, it aims to inspire more than to inform, and that’s not wrong.

It is perhaps worth noting the chart discusses the “Charcter” and “Allignment” of players, and if one interprets “Character” to mean “Morality and Ethics”, then, the chart is actually for the people sitting around the table, which might say a lot about who Dave gamed with.

Note: I will occasionally (often) make fun of the various typos and idiosyncratic spellings in these books, because that’s what I do… mock people who are a thousand times more creative than I could ever be… but it’s also important to remember they were written in an era when self-publishing was barely a step above chiseling words into stone. You couldn’t just edit your files on a word processor and make changes when you spotted them; redoing layouts was slow and very expensive. Besides, constantly reading, editing, and rewriting runs counter to the raw exuberance of unfettered creation; the more you question the technical details of your work, the more likely you are to begin questioning your ideas, and if you do that, you don’t have kobbit barbarians venturing side-by-side with phraint thieves and half-elf star-powered mages. (I think half-elves could be SPMs… we’ll know when we get to Book 3, The Runes Of Doom.)

And I think I’ll declare that any similar errors found in these pages is my attempt to capture the true spirit of the age, and not merely laziness or incompetence on my part. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

(“But, Lizard! How can you post a huge rant on the importance of proper grammar, and then handwave away your own mistakes?”

“Pshaw, that’s easy. Rank hypocrisy.”

“Oh, OK, then.”)

But enough about me. (Ow… even typing those words hurt my soul.) Let’s look at the chart. First, you’ll notice a lot more alignments. (No, I’m not going to keep typing ‘allignment(sic)’. Even I know when to stop running a joke into the ground. I usually don’t stop, but I know when to. And knowing is half the battle.) The Arduin Grimoire was published in 1977, before most of AD&D came out, and the D&D world was still transitioning. Alignments had gone from three, to five, to nine, in just  few years… and many early players, seeing the flaws of the original L,C,N system, were creating their own before Gygax could jump in. We see, thus, shadows of homebrew rules mixed in with the changes to the “core” rules.

Factor Tutorials

It’s, Erm, Sort Of A Lame Pun On ‘Factorials’, Which Doesn’t Really Make Sense

Give Me A Break, I Have A Fifty Hour Work Week+2 Hour Commute And I Don’t Get Paid To Write This, You Know.
My Paypal Is lizard@mrlizard.com. Just Sayin’.

So, we have Kill Factor, Lie Factor, Tolerance Factor, etc. These are used to… erm… uhm… well, basically, there’s no real rules for them. Everyone buying the Arduin Grimoire, unless they happened to know Dave personally, could interpret these numbers however they chose. It’s interesting that even in those earliest days of gaming, there was a nascent push towards personality mechanics, something to reinforce, with dice, what it said on the tin, if your character sheet was printed on tin.

“Lie Factor” is kind of interesting. I mentioned typos earlier. Well, one such typo in original D&D was an entry for “%Liar” on every monster. It was supposed to be “%Lair” — the odds that a monster, when randomly encountered, would be in its lair, where it had a lot more treasure. However, early players, taking the rules as written, often interpreted it literally. Dave Hargrave included “%Liar” in the monster section of the Grimoire, which we’ll get too eventually. The context around these entries made it very clear he did, indeed, mean “Liar” and not “Lair”. Murphy’s Rules later dinged him on this, noting he had simply imitated D&D, and he responded with, sadly, an all too typical reaction, insisting he’d always meant for Greedo to shoot first…. erm, that Arduin was a free-standing game and not an ‘imitation of D&D’. Yeah, right. It is, in fact, possible for me to consider Mr. Hargrave a Greater God (400 HP and all!) in my personal pantheon of creative influences, and still roll my eyes and sigh at the kind of self-delusion that would cause him to make such a claim. Everything about the original Arduin Trilogy speaks to its role as a supplement to D&D.

Surely, This Was The First And Last Time A Cartoon Caused Someone To React With Undue Outrage

Surely, This Was The First And Last Time A Cartoon Caused Someone To React With Undue Outrage

 

Arduin Grimoire, Part III

Arduin Grimoire, Part III

A Man (Hobgoblin, Nixie, Cave Man) Has Got To Know His Limitations

Now, we turn to character racial class, level, and attribute limits. You damn punk kids might not know this, but time was, there were no half-orc paladins, dwarf archmages, or gnome druids. (Leeky Windstaff is annoyed!) Well, unless you played pretty much any game other than D&D, because racial class/level limits were one of the first “D&Disms” to be flung out as the RPG industry moved past the Cambrian era and into the… damn it, I used to know what came next. Devonian? Anyway, time was (and by “time was”, I mean, it took TSR going belly-up and WOTC taking over in 2000 to finally shed this bit of nonsensical anti-design), races were “balanced” by front-loading them with all sorts of k3wl p0w3rz (such as the power to invoke arguments over if you could read with infravision or not)1, and then, in the off-chance the game lasted long enough, screwing them over by paralyzing them at relatively low levels, so that only humans could advance high enough to kill Thor. (That was, erm, the ultimate goal of D&D, right? To use Deities And Demigods as a monster manual?)

Anyhoo, Arduin of course needed to have such a table, which served to partially replace the old D&D table, due to the many new races supported, not mention the new classes, which… uhm… well, you see, there’s only so much space on the page, and so… erm…

limits0001Well, first, of the countless new classes Arduin introduced (to be dealt with soon), only the Psychic is on this chart. As for the rest, erm, “All Others”… Trolls, you see, are just as good as being Slavers as they are Saints.

Seriously. They just ran out of room on the page and said “Fuck it!”.

That’s how we all rolled back then, and it was glorious.

(Oh, the big white blob  is me deliberately whiting out part of the scan, because it turns out this walkthrough requires a lot more illustration than mine usually do, or maybe I just want to share the immense joy2 reading each part of this book still brings to me in a more visceral way, but I also want to stay within the bounds of fair use.

Anyway, I’ve been talking a bit about wonders, strange visions, exotic realms, and that hasn’t been too evident yet. Here’s where it starts. What’s a gnorc? A kobbit? You can play a Fury? A spider can be a fifth level mage? WTF? Felines? Canines?

OK. First, a “*” means “Cannot take this class.” So, there are no Spider Clerics. “**” means “Unlimited”, so a Kobbit can be a 105th level thief. And a number means… y’know, if I have to explain that, how the hell did you end up reading this article? G’wan, shoo!

On the spider thing (From What If #451, “What If Ben Grimm Was Bitten By A Spider That Was Radioactive Due To Cosmic Rays?”)…it was noted:”Normal insects and animals are not smart enough to do much of anything, but there are were-creatures and other types that will fit the bill”, so, there you are.

Only at page 5, and we’re talking about the possibility of 12th level Mermaid Psychics. Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, EGG was starting on his first draft of a rant about how ridiculous pixie-storm giant hybrids were. (But drow cavaliers dual-wielding lances? EGG was totally cool with that.) Battle lines were being drawn, lines which extend to this day, between the dour advocates of low-power, low-magic, low-fun, play, and the liberated, free, and joyous advocates of cyborg ninjas battling dragon/beholder crossbreeds through the corridors of the Death Star. If you can’t tell where my bias lies, check my choice of adjectives. It’s a dead giveaway.

(Acting on the odd assumption anyone reading one of my rants is masochistic enough to read a second, or even a third (if you’re that into pain, I have a good friend who can help you find a skilled professional in that area… not kidding…), they might note there’s some dead horses I beat, again and again, as if they were trolls and I can’t stop them regenerating. There’s two reasons: First, I write this stuff extemporaneously, so, if something inspires me to write a rant once, a similar stimulation will inspire a similar rant. Two, there’s no way to know who is reading this (if anyone is) or in what order, so there’s no reason to assume that any point I made 50-odd posts ago has been already seen, or ever will be seen, so it’s often essential to reiterate the same themes. So it goes.)

Moving on….

Race And Gender, The Internet’s Favorite Topics For Calm, Measured, Debate

Limitation1Though, to be fair, “race” here (mostly) means “a genuinely different species”, as opposed to “a bunch of made up, arbitrary, and totally random divisions” as it is when it comes to humans. (Though, not sure if “Amazons” are a different species, rather than simply a different culture… )

A few things to note:

  • Humans aren’t “the best of everything”, without limits, as they are in D&D. Elves can be smarter, Hobbitts (sic) more dextrous, and so on.
  • Swimming ability? Stamina? Magic Resistance? These aren’t in the D&D of the era, and they aren’t explained in the Grimoire. As we saw with Booty And The Beasts, an awful lot of house rules were so commonly used among certain gaming communities that when people put out books for general publication, they tended not to realize such rules were not universal. “Fish have no word for water”, and all that.
  • The chart goes on beyond zebra, to “Lesser Giants”, “Balrogs and Lesser Demons”, and so on.
  • Gnomes are “10% less in all respects”, than, presumably, dwarves, but I’m not sure what 10% of 5-12 is. 5-0.5 -> 12-1.2, or 4.5 to 10.8? 5 to 11? Again, we see the problem of “too much imagination, too few pages”.

Here’s part of page two of the chart, just to show the range of Mr. Hargrave’s vision of D&D…

Limitation2aEnergy beings, silicate life (hortas), undead… this section, in the rules, is entitled “Character Limitation Chart”, but it, like most of the trilogy, is about transcending limits, about including anything you can imagine, no matter how outre or inconsistent.

Back when I paid attention to RPG.net, there would be continual queries from people trying to play “old school” styles games, regarding if they should include this or that, add thus-and-such a rule, or invoke some particular mechanic, if adding in these things would dilute the purity of the old school experience and corrupt its precious bodily fluids. That they felt they needed to ask such questions told me, instantly, that the idea of what “old school” gaming was all about was being communicated to them wretchedly, to the point of actually teaching the opposite lesson.

Lizard’s Old School Rule Number One: If you think there’s rules about rules, you’re doing it wrong. (Ironic self-contradiction intended.)

The canonical 1970s-era DM had a dozen three-ring binders full of his house rules. Everyone was a game designer, and no one had any idea of “simplicity” as a design aesthetic in and of itself. Older games had far fewer (not necessarily “simpler”, mind you) rules than newer ones, but that had more to do with the cost of paper and the rush to publish in an exploding market than it did any conscious, deliberate, design choice. Hell, the idea of a “design philosophy” for RPGs was still decades away. The genre was too new, too vibrant, too full of potential to be tied down with boundaries and limits. It was the Wyld, all boundless creativity and change, as yet untamed by the Weaver, and far from being corrupted by the Wyrm, otherwise known as Lorraine Williams, and by using 1990s White Wolf terms to describe 1970s D&D gaming, I just made RPGPundit’s head explode. :)

I’ll just leave y’all now with a picture of a vampusa. (Vampire Medusa, duh. )

VampusaThat’s a lance it’s holding, by the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1:”Dude, in this issue of Daredevil, he could totally read with his fingers because the letters were cooler than the paper, so I can read with infravision!”

2:Not being sarcastic. I’m allowed to not be once per post.

Arduin Grimoire, Part II

Arduin Grimoire, Part II

In Which We Actually Open The Book

Just reading the PC's names makes you want to play!

Just reading the PC’s names makes you want to play!

Sorry about the blurry edges; if you think I’m going to press my 37-year-old copy flat just to get a clean scan for the benefit of the three or four people who might read this, you’re nuts. Anyhoo, just look at the PC names of his campaign, and imagine all the cool shit they did, and remember this book was published in 1977, when D&D had only been out for about three years! That’s a LOT of amazing gaming crammed into a very short period of time! I am deeply, profoundly, bitterly envious of the people who got to sit at Dave’s table.

We start with “How To Play The Game”, which notes people are unsure about the “sequence of play” in a fantasy game, so “here is a rundown of most play situations”.

The next line? “Overland Travel”.

Dave goes on to explain that you travel an hour, roll for random encounters, Then follows a bunch of stuff about line of sight, distance to the encounter, chances of an encounter, if the encounter is close, what kind of close encounter it is (OK, I made up those last two), if the monster is frightened or not, if it’s charging, how to determine initiative, and so on. This includes numerous die tables, of the “1-2 this, 3-4 that” type. Oh, wait, did I say “tables”? Bwahahaha! No, the entire “sequence of play”, including odds of random encounters (with modifiers for terrain type and time of day), and all the other folderol I mentioned, are all in one immense paragraph.

I’m guessing the “uncertainty” over the “sequence of play” came from wargamers used to “Player 1 Movement Phase, Player 2 Prep Musket Phase, Player 1 Rally Phase, Player 2 Sneers At Player 1’s Incorrect Color Scheme For The Seventh Lancers Phase, Player 1 Shoves Incorrectly Painted Seventh Lancer Up Player 2’s Nose Phase”, and so on. It’s a sign of the times, of the gaming world in transition, from groups of fat neckbearded nerds arguing endlessly over the effects of wind on massed fire to groups of fat neckbearded nerds arguing endlessly over the effects of wind on massed fireballs. Those kinds of radical cultural changes can be shocking to the people living through them.

Following the rules for rolling random encounters come the rules for experience points, because, why not? In Arduin, you don’t get XP for gold. “It is the act of robbery, not the amount stolen, that gives the thief his experience.” says Dave, and I concur.

This table is, at least, a table. You get 400 XP for dying (and being resurrected), 375 for being the sole survivor of an expedition (oh, that couldn’t possibly go wrong!) or for retrieving the most powerful of artifacts, all the way down to 50 XP for figuring out traps and casting “lesser” spells such as “locks and winds”.

To put these numbers in perspective, here’s the XP chart… (Please note the ‘Saint’ class isn’t actually in this book. Or the Courtesan.

The "Slaver" class isn't in here, either.

The “Slaver” class isn’t in here, either.

Yes, levels went up to 105. I assume you figured out the “missing” levels by extrapolating from the points given.

I’m just gonna let that “levels go up to 105″ thing sink in. First, remember this was published only three years after D&D came out. Second, next time some wannabe “old school Renaissance” type who wasn’t even born when AD&D Second Edition was published tries to tell you that in the Old Days (which he wasn’t around for, but which he heard about from this guy who knows this guy…) it was all fantasy fucking Vietnam and scrabbling for copper pieces and PCs were weak and no one had cool powers and everything now is all WoWMMORPGVideoGameSuperMarioCrap, you just point him this way. I’ll straighten him out. (Or her. One mustn’t be sexist. There’s just as many women repeating tired platitudes they’ve picked up from online forums as there are men. )

Following is another page of XP charts, and then, the Character Limitation Chart. And, hey, y’know what? Posting small articles frequently is probably better than long articles never, so, smeg it, this goes up now.

Arduin Grimoire, Part I

Walking Through The Arduin Triology (And Maybe The Others)

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

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

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

So, here you go.

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

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

So, bear that in mind.

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

 Anyway…

Arduin Grimoire

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

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

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

A Tale Of Two Covers

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

Two Covers, No Waiting

Two Covers, No Waiting

 

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

Necromican, Level 10 And Up!

Necromican, Level 10 And Up

What Do You Mean? Nine’s As High As Spells Go

Nope, These Go To Eleven Twelve

Necromican

Necromican

OK, Boils and Ghouls! The last part of this series covers the seriously munchkin stuff, without the John Kovalic art. For earlier parts of this series, click one of the preceding words, each one takes you to a different part. For this part of this series, keep reading.

This booklet shows off one of the best parts of Old School Gaming — sheer over-the-topness, for when Power Word Kill and Wish just aren’t good enough. If you’re fighting galactic dragons, after all, they’re not! Forget all that Fantasy Fucking Vietnam and “let’s pour water on the floor and see how it pools” crap. In this kind of Old School play, if you wanted to find a pit trap… nah, you never wanted to find a pit trap. You were too busy casting Summoning Of The Black Hole. Not a euphemism.

As usual, this will be a selected subset of the wonderment that lies within, not an exhaustive repetition of the contents.

Tenth Level Spells

Duplication

This spell creates 1-4 duplicates of the caster, without his magic items. It’s not clear if this means that if he’s wearing a magic wizard robe, and nothing underneath it, his duplicates appear with a non-magic version of the same robe, or naked. I suppose it depends on the emotional maturity of the DM and his fellow players. Given the state of gaming culture at the time…

Player 1: Oh, I know! I’ll cast Duplication!
DM: OK, you get (roll) 2 duplicates. They’re naked.
Player 2: (Snorting laugh) Dude, we can see your thingie!
Player 1: Can not! Shut up!
Player 3: Oh, gross! Isn’t your magic user 30 or something? That’s ancient!
Player 2: Yeah, I bet it’s all warty!
Player 1: SHUT UP!

The spell also notes, wisely, that duplicates cannot duplicate themselves. Hey, it was the first thing I thought of, and I guarantee you that line was added after the first time the spell was used in play to create Infinite Magic Users, presumably with infinite warty thingies. (Would “Infinite Warty Thingies” be a good name for a band? Probably not.)

Cube Of Space

This spell create a 10′ by 10′ by 10′ cube around the caster. Each face of the cube is a “portal into deepest outer space”. So, someone shoots an arrow into the cube, it goes into space, and possibly hits a small space-worm, who just says “Oh no, not again.”  Anyone charges at the caster, they’re tossed into space. It’s a one-way trip; the cube can’t be re-entered from the space side. It’s not clear, from the description, if the caster can fire out of the cube or not, which is kind of key. If they can, they can sit there like an artillery unit and blast the crap out of things. If they can’t, this is mostly defensive.

Excellent Prismatic Spray

Roll To See What Drop Off

Roll To See What Drop Off

Why should Gary Gygax be the only one to rip off Jack Vance? This spell is actually closer to the one in the Dying Earth novels than the AD&D spell of nearly the same name. Perhaps that’s why this one is the Excellent Prismatic Spray. (Coming soon: Enterprise Edition Prismatic Spray, Prismatic Spray Lite, Prismatic Spray for Workgroups…) Anyway, you cast this spell at a single target, and it dices him into 1-10 pieces, and you roll on the accompanying chart to see which pieces they are. For non-humanoids, you are instructed to “simply draw charts similar to this one”.

It’s kind of worth noting that there’s no specific rules for the damage done by any part being lopped off, or any other effects. “OK, you’re dead.” “Why?” “You got both your legs chopped off! And your thingie!” “So, I didn’t take any damage.” “Yeah, but you’re totally bleeding everywhere!” “Since when? You never bleed from wounds in D&D. I just have to crawl!” “No, you’re dead!” “Are you still mad about that pizza thing? I told you, I thought you’d taken your slice. Give it a rest, man.” Also, does a roll of 8 mean you lose your fingers? What if you were holding your hands in a different position, because, like, I totally was. My hands were nowhere near that ray.

Maturation

When this spell is cast, the players stop seizing every opportunity to make lame double-entendres and try to reasonably evaluate rules conflicts without rancor or hostility. I seem to have constantly saved against it.

The Jaws Of Set

OK, so, this is awesome. Giant invisible snake jaws appear, biting your enemies for 1-100 points of damage. 100 hit points (remember, this was an era when the largest red dragons had only 88 hit points), moves at double speed, teleports without error, and has AC 2+2, which is AC 0, not AC 4. If you don’t understand why, you’re not Old School. N00b! The summoned jaws last until destroyed, which means, you’ve got invisible jaws that do 1-100 damage and can teleport to any point you wish and go chomp. I wouldn’t memorize any other 10th level spell. Seriously, can you imagine having… wait, how many 10th level spells do you get, anyway? There’s no rules for magic-users in this book, and none of the official D&D books gave you more than 9th level spells, no matter how high level your character was. Sigh. Yet another example of where the local house rules were so internalized the authors forgot to include them.

Eleventh Level Spells

Green Beam

I can only imagine this spell was created by DMs for use against players. It targets a magic item, and de-magics it. To restore the item, you need three simultaneous wishes, each cast by a magic-user, not from a scroll or item. This reeks of the got-you-last one-upmanship that most Monty Haul games reached in their final stages. It was very rare for monsters to have magic items in those days, so this is either DM vs. player or player vs. player magic. As is…

Magic Nullification

Simply nullifies all magic items, weapons, armor, power, and abilities for 1-6 rounds, save for half duration. Again, the main focus here seems to be to let the DM kill a player… I mean, a character… who is wrapped in so many magic items they can’t be easily thwarted.

Call Of The Comet

You call a comet. You designate a landing zone within 240′ of you when you cast it, then skedaddle. 1d6 days later, a comet appears. Based on the roll, it can be anything from pea-sized, doing 1d6, to 100′ feet in diameter, doing 100d6 and leaving a mile-wide crater. (Presumably, it does the damage to everyone within a half mile of the impact point.)

Probably really sucks if you wait six days then get a comet that’s about as impressive as a slingshot pellet.

For the mid-range effects, a standard issue fireball does about as much damage and doesn’t take days to show up. This spell is one of those “But.. but… it’s a comet!” things, where the sheer awesomeness of the concept distracted the designers from the utility of the spell itself.

Mass Insanity

This spell causes 10 x the caster’s level people within a one mile area to go insane, rolling on a chart to determine Paranoia, Schizophrenia, Sexual Perversion (what? No detailed subchart for that? Son, I am disappoint), etc. The description notes that it’s useful for livening up dull little hamlets. (And possibly dull little MacBeths, I suppose. Badum BUM!)

Twelfth Level Spells

The Sorcerer’s Spacecraft

A magical spaceship

Spelljammer, This Ain’t

So, how do you get into space to fight Galactic Dragons? With this, of course, which makes this an amazingly stupid spell to cast. Why give the DM any excuse to throw one of those TPK nightmares at you? Anyway, conjures spaceship, magically controlled flying saucer, top deck is good for cocktail parties which are things the typical D&D player of 1978 may have heard of but would never be invited to, speed is 10 million MPH, which pretty much means it’s limited to in-system travel (kind of surprising, really, you’d think there’d be an FTL drive. Maybe the designers thought that wouldn’t be realistic. You laugh, but I’ve seen far sillier debates).

Genocide

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere! Uhm… no we’re not. This spell kills 10 times the caster’s level in humans. (Only humans? What if I want to destroy the Elven Menace, before they destroy us?) Assuming that casting 12th level spells requires being 24th or 25th level, that’s still only about 250 people. That’s not “genocide”, that’s “a typical summer in Chicago”. There are many less powerful spells that will kill many more people. The spell also notes that “a save results in no effect”. Does this mean each target saves individually? Damn, that’s a lot of rolling.

The Black Forest

This spell conjures ham, pickles, assorted mustards, and… no, wait. This spell creates a square mile of Evil Forest, which is exactly what you need to surround your Evil Wizard Tower. It springs up overnight, and also gives you 1-100 giant spiders, 1-100 evil ents, and 1-100 orcs, all under your control. Nothing in the spell description says it can only be cast in specific locations, so I’d cast it in the heart of a major city. In one night, the entire city is destroyed by the magical trees, and the survivors are hunted down by my spiders, ents, and orcs. Bwahahah! I’ll bet I kill a lot more people than that “genocide” spell does. Oooh, what a misnomer! I’m still pissed at that. Nearly as pissed as I was that time I went into the “Virgin Megastore”. Talk about false advertising! Where was I?

Soul Drain Deflection

This spell lets you pick someone else to be the target of any soul-draining effect cast on you. There’s no indication they need to be willing, or get a saving throw. The possibilities for amusement should be self-evident.

Summoning Of The Black Hole

A black hole is summoned. All in the area are sucked into it, and deposited into deep space, requiring three simultaneously cast wishes to bring them back. Presumably, they also get killed in the process of going through the singularity, though that’s not spelled out. (Argument time!) Those who do make their save are merely compressed to a piece of matter about a millimeter in size. I’d guess you only need a single Wish, or even a bog-standard Resurrection spell, to restore them to life.

And So, It Ends

Thus, we come to the end of the Necromican walkthrough. I really wish Fantasy Art Enterprises had made more books. There are rumors some of them went on to real jobs, or might have met girls, or otherwise were distracted from producing works of singular awesometude. Sic transit gloria mundi.  (“Gloria is ill on the subway on Monday.”)

Oh, and this is for an earlier spell, and I think I may have included it anyway, but, just in case I haven’t, here it is:

Thoth Amon's Organ Request

Thoth Amon’s Organ Request

Necromican, Level 8 And 9

Necromican, Level 8 And 9

Featuring Benign Boots

Necromican

Necromican

Wow. I just checked and realized the last post in this series was written almost a year ago. Fortunately, that wasn’t the last time this site was updated, though it seems that way at times. I’ll try to do better after GenCon. My imaginary audience needs real articles, damn it!

Should I keep y’all in suspense, or should I just jump, right now, to the single best part of this section, and perhaps of the entire book, the illustration for the Benign Boots? Well, unfortunately, I apparently already posted the illustration long before I got here. Also the two articles I mentioned being in progress over a year ago are still in progress. Wow. My laziness astonishes even me.

Ah well, here it is again.

Benign Boots by Erol Otus

Lorraine Williams Still Would Not Have Approved

For those just wandering in from some random link, this article is part of a series looking at the wonderful (that should be read, by the way, without sarcasm or irony, because it is wonderful, in every way, full of wonders) classic old-school, and highly unofficial, supplement, “The Necromican” (note spelling, compare to Lovecraft), produced by Fantasy Art Enterprises in 1979. This was one of two such books they produced, which is a deep pity, as they could have gone on to all manner of greatness. The other was the even more astounding and wondrous Booty And The Beasts.

(You can see the first part of the Necromican review here , the second part here, the third part here, the fourth part here, and the fifth part here.)

Variable Shape Fireball

One of the classic problems with “Let’s pretend” games that don’t come with volumes of rules that resemble calculus textbooks crossed with Sports Illustrated’s Chainmail Swimsuit Issue is the constant arguing and fighting. (“Bang bang! I got you!” “Nuh uh, you couldn’t see me!” “Could too!” “Could not!”). In modern games, these kinds of childish disagreements are resolved objectively using cover and concealment rules. (“Hah! I shot the orc!” “No way, you couldn’t see him!” “Could to!” “Oh yeah? Look. The rules say to draw an imaginary line for any three of four corners which bisects the center of the figure…” “Nuh uh, those rules have been errata’d. You draw a line from the center of one square to the center of the other and if it passes through fewer squares than the average of your Wisdom and BAB you can roll 1d4 and count off counter-clockwise (clockwise in Australia) until you…”)

Yeah. Anyway, back in Ye Olden Dayse, one of the biggest sources of Creative and Imaginative Immersive Roleplaying Not Rollplaying was “Arguing over whether or not the stupid magic-user blasted you with his fireball.” This spell in the Necromican settles that, by allowing the M-U to specify any imaginable shape for his fireball… well, fireblob, really, I guess… so long as it remained contiguous, with the specific and explicitly noted purpose of excluding the MU’s friends, which , I feel obliged to note, did not necessarily mean “all members of his party”. (This particular distinction would one day be reborn with D&D 4e and discussions over who counted as an “ally”. Actually, come to think of it, it still shows up in Pathfinder, as I often need to decide if a particularly dubious NPC counts as an “ally” for purposes of buff spells.)

Monster Analyzer

This spell creates a 10 foot long spiked club and shoves it straight up the monster’s… wait… no, I’ve seen too many movies with ‘clever’ titles. This spell analyzes the monster, revealing hit points, AC, immunities, and so on. Again, it’s interesting that we see an example of the repeated pattern of spells substituting for missing non-spell mechanics, in this case, some means to measure character knowledge of monsters.  (We had two ways to do it. One, the player memorized the Monster Manual, and/or learned by having various characters die, then, through a sort of Akashic memory, having his next character know what killed his previous character, and, two, the DM ruthlessly snarling at you if you showed knowledge your character didn’t have. I don’t remember ever being told to “roll an intelligence check” to determine if my character knew something.) Anyway, this spell might make a lot of sense, but not as an eighth level spell. Even in munchkin games, you did not have high level memorizations to waste on a spell like this. First or second level, sure. It was probably eighth level because “Try to hit the players with a monster they don’t know everything about” was a big part of the meta-game, which was a lot more competitive back then.

Unrequested Ethereal Ejection

This sounds like something you tell your doctor about in strict confidence, and hope he gives you the pills himself rather than making you bring a prescription to your pharmacist. Casting the spell requires the somatic component “Honest, honey, that’s never happened to me before.” Sigh. Well, actually, it sends the target to the ethereal plane, which means it should be called Unrequested Ethereal Insertion, which I’m pretty sure is a Class-D felony that carries a minimum 5 year penalty. The spell gleefully notes that “none of the victim’s accouterments accompany him, so the target appears on the ethereal plane quite naked.”

Benign Boots

You’ve seen the picture, now read about the spell! This spell creates magic boots around your feet. When you die, the boots transport themselves and the corpse onto the astral plane and then run at triple speed to a predesignated place of safety. I’m not sure how much good this would do if you’ve been disintegrated or had your legs sliced off, but that’s what DMs are for, to make these kinds of judgments without needing mounds of tedious special-case rules, and then listen to the players whine about them. I suspect the main use for this spell was to get your body away from your fellow adventurers before they looted your corpse.

Level 9

Gaze Of Cthulhu

This spell gives you the face of Cthulhu, so, everyone around you passes out with fear and wakes up gibbering. (Save for stun.) It’s not 100% clear if the “wakes up gibbering” is permanent, but it’s strongly implied. Notable mostly for the fact that this book was published two years before Call of Cthulhu really brought Lovecraft’s work front-and-center in the RPG world, and a year before TSR’s Deities and Demigods, which is what introduced most of us ignorant young savages to the Elder Gods. In other words, the Lovecraft references in this and B&TB shows they were ahead of the curve.

Hope

Sadly, there is not a corresponding spell called “Change”. Anyway, this spell is “like the wishes granted by genies”, except, instead of saying “I wish…” you say “I hope…”, and there’s a 50% chance of the spell working. Which might be kind of cool, except that, by the time this book came out, the “Wish” spell, which was also 9th level, had been part of D&D lore for years, appearing in Greyhawk in 1976.  There’s no modifiers to the spell that make it superior to Wish, except that Wish will incapacitate you for 2-8 days and this will only do so for 1 day. (So, really, you could play the odds and cast the same Hope every day until you got it. On average, you’ll have less downtime.)

Desolation

This spell kills all non-magical plant life in a one-mile area. The description notes “…this spell would not kill ents, but would destroy the forest they were living in.” Yeah. Yeah. How’d that work out for Saruman? Why not just call this spell “Summon pissed-off trees”?

Perilous Parasite

This is basically a “drain stats” spell, with the nice special effect of creating a parasite inside the victim’s skull and the text notes that said parasite is only detectible by cutting open the victim’s head and looking inside. I’ll take the stat drain, thank you.

Superb Submersible

Ixitxachitl

Ixx-ticks-ack-ittil?

This spell creates a small, magically powered, submarine with a depth ceiling (depth floor?) of 360′ and a duration of four hours, which leads me to wonder how many DMs gleefully sat there while the players dithered and dilly-dallied and counted out their copper pieces before announcing “Spell’s over, you’re 360 feet underwater, and look, here come some Ixit… Ixitch… Ixchitz…. Evil Manta Ray People!”

These guys. Right here.  Or, better yet, any of the horrid undersea things from Booty And The Beasts.

Demon Summoning A

This spell summons one of four demons, statted out in the book. The spell lasts 24 hours, and the demon will vanish at the end of said time, whether it completes the task or not. The demon is obliged to try to complete the task, though, not just hang around and wait for the clock to run out. Anyway, what make this spell interesting is that the type of demon you get is random, and the tasks each can perform are not identical. In other words, you might want a demon to do some particular deed, then get one which can’t do it. So, basically, this spell is for people who want to summon a demon and then decide what to accomplish with it. I guess it might make sense to have a list of tasks, at least one of which is suited to each demon you might summon. Oh, one of the demons, the imaginatively named Dark Demon, requires you to sacrifice the soul of a close friend when it is summoned. So, never summon without your buddy! (Also, have a large supply of ‘close friends’. The problem is, as I see it, that the demon requires genuine sacrifice — you really have to like the guy. So this means finding a lot of people you genuinely care about, and somehow managing to keep genuinely caring about them while knowing they’re all potential demon fodder.)

And Onwards

Now, you might think that with ninth level spells done, we’re done, but oh no! This was the late 1970s, an era when everything went up to Eleven…or in the case of the Necromican, up to Twelve. (Twelth level spells, that is!)

Alma Mater, Sophomore Year

Alma Mater, Sophomore Year

The Return of Biff Muntz

As you may recall, far longer ago than I’d like, I posted Part I of this review and walkthrough,  in which I began generating a character for the RPG “Alma Mater”, published in 1982 by Oracle Games, and best known for its Erol Otus art and serious political incorrectness. Today, we continue with the process of character generation. I had just named my character Biff Muntz, and we were about to see if he had any skills with which he could pay the bills… or, being a bully, get the money to pay the bills from someone else.

As a “Tough”, Biff begins with Dirty Fighting, Driving, Drinking or Drug Use, Intimidation, and any one other skill. Well, first, we’ll go with “Drinking”. Skills in Alma Mater come in levels, and if you have a skill, you start at Level 1 (all other skills begin at level 0). For each level in Drinking, Biff can add (or, optionally, subtract) 1 from his Con when drinking. This also gives me a chance to spike someone’s drink without them knowing about it (a bonus of +1 against their Intelligence, so, 1d10+1 against my target’s Int. Hopefully, Cheerleaders have a low Int.) The more drunk I get, the more my skill in drinking increases; this is one reason to use the skill to lower your effective Con… it makes you get drunk faster and thus get more SP to drink.

There’s a lot of good options for other skills, many of which fit with Biff’s personality: Brewing (to make your own hooch), Illegal Economics (buying and selling illegal items), Coolness (to not show fear), Crudeness (as exemplified by the late, great, John Belushi in Animal House, this is the ability to be so disgusting people are actually revulsed… you know, a College version of AM would be pretty easy to create, especially one which focused on the classic “boobs and beers” films of the late 1970s/early 1980s. Revenge Of The Nerds: The RPG!. But I digress.), Lying, Weapons Knowledge, Forgery… this is a great skill list! But I get to pick one, and only one… hmm…

It’s interesting. Since most of your skills are pre-selected, this choice really matters; it’s one of the most defining elements of your character. To drift even more off-topic for a moment, I believe that whatever aspects of your character really matter ought to have mechanical representation. There’s some who say this is the antithesis of role playing; I disagree completely. If your character is shy, or flirtatious, or drinks heavily, or likes to ride motorcycles, or whatever, there ought to be a codified representation of it in the rules set. So, with that in mind, and looking at the skills, I think Biff is going to pick Coolness for his free skill. Why? Because the higher your Coolness, the better you are at picking up girls. At Level 2 Coolness, for example, you don’t need to roll to ask someone for a date. Biff is starting at level 1, of course, so he’ll need to roll his Courage (CR) to ask a chick out. His CR is 9 and he’ll get a +1 from this skill.

Learning new skills is hard. First, you can only have a maximum of 8 skills. Second, you can’t just gain skills through play, though you can improve them. You only get to check for new skills each September, and you need to roll against your LD (Learning Drive), of which Biff has virtually none. So, barring exceptional luck, Biff will just get better at what he already knows, which is pretty realistic. Biff is likely to end his life as a meth addict living in a trailer park, trying to avoid paying child support and watching the nerds he beat up become internet millionaires. Sucks to be you, Biff.

Rules For School

Now, if someone were to make a game on this theme today, it would be some weird Forgey thing with two-inch wide margins on half-size paper, and all the rules would be things like “Contrast your Angst to the opponent’s Pathos and then write a poem that doesn’t rhyme to describe your feelings and everyone involved reaches a consensus evaluation based on how many Trauma points you wagered in the Drama.” Let’s just say… Alma Mater isn’t like that. It’s a true old school game, and, contrary to what the revisionists would like to claim, that means rules. Oodles of rules. And charts. And tables. And, let me just say this… they are wonderful.

Here, for example, is the table of modifiers for dating:

The chart of dating modifiers for Alma Mater

If I'd hard this in High School, it would have been very useful.

You see all those numbers? You get to cross-index everything and work out all the details. The letters on the top, by the way, mean “Dance”, “Flirt”, “Date Request”, “Date Success”, “Seduction”, and “Love”.  Of course, you need to track things like successful or unsuccessful Flirt attempts, and your chances of going steady (which means you don’t need to roll to request a date, but you do need to roll for date success), are based on tracking a large assortment of modifiers, including your successful dates.

Seduction can’t even be attempted unless you roll against CR-1 (Coolness helps here, heh heh), and s the chance is your (INT+APP)/2, minus the target’s WP if they’re “passively resisting”.  Attempting to seduce a character who is “actively resisting”, the rules helpfully remind us, is also known as “rape”. (If both characters are willing, no seduction roll is needed, but both must roll against CR-1.)

There’s oodles of other rules, too. Rules for throwing a party, rules for drugs… hell, for those interested, here’s what drugs were going for in 1982. (Because I was a total nerd in High School, and still am, I can’t vouch for the quality of research of these rules.).

The Cost Of Illegal Drugs In 1982

If you somehow got here while googling for useful information on the cost of illegal drugs in 1982, I feel sorry for you.

It’s a bit of a nostalgia trip, in a way… no meth, no crack, and PCP was still being used by some people. (That was the terror drug of our era, and, like most such things, the problem was pretty much self-correcting; any drug horrible enough that it might actually be as scary as the usual suspects claim will quickly eliminate its users from the gene pool, which also eliminates the pushers. Much like a virus, if it’s too deadly, it eliminates itself. The biggest risk is all the stupid kids who, knowing adults lie about marijuana, assume they are also lying about the things that really can fuck you up for life, or just end your life.)

The rules, charts, and tables just go on and on, and it would be impossible for me to point out every cool thing there is, from an extensive weapons list that provides modifiers for everything from erasers to meathooks to blowtorches(!?), to the random items you could find on people you beat up (divided by class, so you could roll on the Brain Equipment Chart to see what you took from the local nerd, and so on), to the many fine illustrations, such as this one, for combat:

Chick fight!

This Is What Illustrates "Combat" in Alma Mater. Elmore, Eat Your Heart Out.

Now, that’s an illustration! I’d post the one that accompanies the “Dating” rules, but there are kids reading this blog! (Well, not really. There’s no one reading this blog, but, among my imaginary readers are imaginary kids.)

And In Conclusion…

Well, that’s sort of it, really. The bulk of the game is post char-gen, as it really should be. There’s only a handful of real decision points, again typical of the 1970s and early 1980s. For the most part, your character tended to evolve solely after play, with games like Traveller or Chivalry&Sorcery being notable exceptions. Many games, such as Metamorphosis Alpha, had only one or two decision points to make; everything else was either mandated or random. I think that’s it’s indicative of the time that we’d say “I’m going to roll up a dwarf fighter”, even though we mostly couldn’t control what we got; basically, without rules to let us decide what to play, we either cheated outright or we just kept rolling up one character after another until we got what we wanted.

Sadly, there are no rules for playing RPGs within Alma Mater; the possibility of infinite recursion would have been wonderful.

Alma Mater

Alma Mater

A Review And Walkthrough

Alma Mater is one of the better known obscure role playing games of the early 1980s, and once you’re done parsing that, we can move on. Ready? Good. Published in 1982 by Oracle Games Ltd,  it focused on playing characters in High School. Not mutants, ninjas, aliens, or elves, just boring mundane high school kids… so it was like real life for most of the target audience, except with rules that were explicitly spelled out and clear. Hey, it works for me!

In an era where even a hint of political incorrectness in an RPG will get someone writing an outraged editorial and spark a 500+ page thread on RPG.net (49.9% of the posters will be shrill, self-righteous, holier-than-thou liberals desperately trying to show off their broad-minded commitment to tolerance and diversity by racing to see who can put more people they disagree with on ignore lists (or just get them banned), and 49.9% will be right-wing trolls or apologists who will insist that America is completely free of racism, classism, sexism, and every other -ism, except for violent hate crimes against Christians such as saying “Happy Holidays”, which is just how the Holocaust started, and 0.2% will be people trying to rationally begin with a basic ethical framework and then use that to judge the issue in question, good luck to them),  it’s hard to imagine the kind of era that permitted Alma Mater to even be published. It is filled with offensive stereotypes, art that is basically demeaning to everyone, and an utter lack of apologetic or “kids, don’t try this at home” introductions to any section that deals with anything anyone might find disturbing. To be fair, the authors call this out up-front, and,  perhaps anticipating the growing death of the sense of humor in America, state outright that the game is satirical in nature. (As opposed to the modern invention, the after-the-fact “I was just kidding” excuse so beloved of pundits and politicians today.)

Really, you pretty much just need to look at the cover to know exactly what you’re getting into — in the game, and in this review. If you go beyond this point, you have only yourself, or perhaps Google, to blame.

Cover of Alma Mater RPG

The Cover. You Know What You're Getting Now.

By the way, in 1982, Michael Jackson did not look anything like the guy buying the drugs.

So, having shown you the cover, let’s move on to the article proper, shall we?

Continue reading

Necromican, Level 7

The Necromican

Level 7

Featuring An Illustration Not Nearly As Awesome As The Benign Boots, Sorry

And Also No Boobies. Boy, This Is Gonna Suck

Necromican

Necromican

And so, I continue my review of the Necromican (note: Not Necronomicon), a classic late 1970s supplement for Dungeons & Dragons published by Fantasy Art Enterprises, and featuring some great gonzo art by Erol Otus, and great gonzo ideas by, I assume, both Erol Otus and Paul Reiche III. This is the fifth such article.

(You can see the first part here , the second part here, and the third part here, and the fourth part here.)

Seventh Level Spells

Ah, now we’re getting to the good stuff, the high-powered stuff, they stuff you probably would never see unless you started at high level or your DM was really lenient about letting you sell magic items for gold and then getting the gold as XP. As usual, this is a sampling of spells from the given level, presented in the order I read them in — “alphabetizing” being a new-fangled concept the game designers of the 1970s were pretty sure would never catch on, just like “indexes”, which are still clearly mistrusted by most game publishers.

Oh, by the way…. if you think the fact I’m hitting seventh level spells means this interminable series is about to terminable… er… terminate… let me inform you that, in the 1970s, our unofficial spells went up to eleven. No, wait. They went up to twelve. Yes, folks, there are twelve levels of spells in this tome. We’re barely past the halfway point. Bwahahah!

Sense Drain

This potent dweomer allows the caster to perceive the location of any drain, outlet, gutter, funnel, or… no, wait. Sorry. It drains “1-6″ senses, randomly determined (save to drain 1-3 senses). So, it’s possible to lose more senses if you save (as written, you roll 1d6 if they save or 1d3 if they don’t, so you can roll a ‘1’ if they save and a ‘3’ if they don’t; it should be implemented as ‘roll 1d6; if they save, they lose half as many senses’), and, because of the randomness (after determining how many senses you drain, you then roll on a chart to see which senses they are), you can easily cost a creature only his sense of taste or smell, which might be useful in very rare circumstances, but, most of the time, not. When you realize that “Cause Blindness” is a mere third level spell, it’s hard to see anyone wasting a 7th level slot on this. Oh, the sixth sense? That would be “psychic”, which might mean “the creature loses all psionic abilities, on the off chance it has any”, or it might mean darn near anything else. (Granted, even a 1-in-6 chance to totally shut down a mind flayer might be worth it.)

The Legions Of Acheron

You know, when I was a wee lad, the only “Legion” I’d ever heard of was the Legion of Superheroes, which caused me to be very confused when people talked about Legionnaire’s Disease, because I read that issue and Supergirl cured it by destroying her evil red kryptonite double. This has nothing to do with this spell, which seems fairly useless for seventh level. It allows you to summon 1d6 3-hit die undead, +1d6 for each level over that needed to cast the spell… which means you’ll get maybe a handful of dice extra if you’re lucky and the campaign lasts that long. Except… the spell lasts until the undead are dispelled or destroyed, and there’s nothing which says you can’t keep casting it, so long as there are enough bodies. Further, the hit dice of the undead are not based on the hit dice of the bodies they are made from. So:

  1. Go to first level of dungeon.
  2. Slaughter every kobold there.
  3. Cast this spell multiple times, until every 1/2 hit die kobold is now a 3 hit die undead.
  4. Profit!

There are those who would sneer in disgust and point out the spell isn’t “meant” to be used that way and a player shouldn’t “wreck the story” by being, you know, clever and creative and actually thinking like someone who lives in the game world and is going to use every tool at his disposal. Such people can bite me.

Spell Of Forlorn Encystment

So, which is worse: E. Gary Gygax ripping this spell off from Jack Vance, but calling it “Imprisonment” on the off chance no one would notice he was ripping it off, or the fact the writers of the Necromican didn’t know this spell was already in the PHB under that name? Except that the AD&D spell was a 9th level spell with a touch range, and this is a 7th level spell with a 120 foot range, making it a lot better. It was not until the 2000s and the OGL that we’d see, again, the problem of unofficial supplements with spells either grossly underpowered compared to ‘official’ analogues, or grossly overpowered, leading to some amazing cherry-picking if your DM lets you use them. (Of course, during the 2e era, and to some extent 3e, different writers and editors of ‘official’ books often had similar of identical abilities at wildly varying levels of power, because never in the history of D&D has there been any kind of meta-system for powers, class abilities, spells, feats, monsters, etc. It just goes with the territory.)

Leprosy

“This ensorcellment causes the victim to immediately fall completely apart, save to one limb.” That is the full spell description. That is awesome. “Save to one limb.” If I had to summarize the design ethos of the time in four words, those would be it. If I had to summarize the design ethos of the time in one word, it would be “Dude!”.

An illustration from the Necromican

Just In Case You Didn't Know What 'Gyration' Meant

Phandaal’s Gyration

One more spell borrowed, literally, from The Dying Earth, but, oddly enough, this is not one EGG saw fit to include in D&D, though I’m not sure why, since it’s pretty darn nifty. When cast, it causes the victim to… well, look at the picture. If the victim fails his save, you can make him spin (in mid-air, to be clear) about five feet off the ground, and increase the speed of the gyration until his limbs and head go flying in every direction. If he succeeds, he spins for 1d6 rounds and then goes flying off in a random direction. The spell description says that if he fails his save, the victim can be spun for as long as the caster likes.  It suddenly occurs to me that you could have quite an industrial revolution by attaching some sort of cogs and gears and rods and things to a carefully aligned row of spinning victims, perhaps using them to power mills when there’s no convenient waterfall or wind. If the caster stuck around, he could speed up or slow down their rotation as needed for the task at hand. (“Dammit, Scotty! I need more power!” “Captain, if make ‘em spin any more, their heads are gonna go flyin’ off!” “No excuses, Scotty! This wheat must be ground!”) You could position them over vats of thin gruel, so, on each spin, they could gulp a little food down or something. It has possibilities…