Tag Archives: Erol Otus

The Runes Of Doom, Part V

The Runes Of Doom, Part V

Rules & Resurrection

With race and class out of the way, we can now move into the self-actualization of gender identity through an intersectual lens. Or, we could discuss rules for coming back from the dead. Again. (That can be interpreted as “coming back from the dead more than one time”, or “another time we’re discussing rules for coming back from the dead”. Actually, both are correct. We discussed resurrection before, but Dave Hargrave has more to say on the subject. We also look at a radical change to the hit point system, and some other stuff.

How To Reverse IRREVOCABLE Death

You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Contrary to the popular myth that old-school gaming treated death more seriously, the “revolving door afterlife” was a running gag from pretty much the earliest days of the hobby, as were attempts to jam a crowbar into said door, or at least slow down the rotation a bit. It is true that starting characters were a lot more fragile back then, and surviving to the point where you could access the magic that could bring you back was more difficult, but once you’d reached mid-levels (often very quickly if the DM was careless about magic items which could be sold for gold that in turn became XP), death was mostly a speedbump. DMs didn’t like this, of course — what was the point of having traps that killed characters in hideously fiendish ways if they were back the next day? — and so, variant rules abounded.

Digressing momentarily: There’s a strong connection between the depth of character creation and the survivability of said characters… or there should be. One common design trend in early spin-offs of D&D was to dramatically ramp up the number of steps needed to create a character, while not making it much harder to die, both in the name of “realism”. This was self-evidently frustrating and annoying. Something had to give, and since a high degree of customization was more desirable than dying easily, game design shifted towards much tougher starting characters. “Hours to create, a second to eviscerate” is no longer a popular design trope.

Anyway, back in Welcome To Skull Tower, Dave gave us some percentage chances of resurrection by race, level, and constitution. Now in the Runes Of Doom, Dave expands on that chart, adding in more conditions, explanations, variations, and perturbations.

  • You can only be resurrected within 30 days.
  • For each day from death, the chance of resurrection (from the Skull Tower chart) decreases 3%.
  • You get three trys(sic), unless you’re an elf, who only has one.
  • The second try is at a -20% chance, the third is at a -50% chance.
  • Keep track of how many trys(sic) it took to resurrect you; it matters.
And The Chance Of Resurrection Is Affected By Constitution, So...

And By “Permanently”, We Mean, “Until It’s Raised By Some Spell Or Artifact Or Something”

  • IRREVOCABLE or PERMANENT death requires a LIMITED WISH and a “raise dead fully”, a FULL WISH, or a GODLY GRANT. (All CAPS in ORIGINAL.) Saying death is “irrevocable” unless you cast a higher level spell is like saying something is not for sale, unless you have the money.
  • If you are disintegrated or 100% destroyed (which means taking over 200% of your hit points in acid or fire the like), resurrection requires THREE WISHES: One to reunite mind and body, one to reunite body and soul, and one to reconstruct the body from the free-floating atoms it has become. However, only one GODLY GRANT is required.
    • The wishes must be used within an hour of each other.
    • The wishes must be worded correctly, or the gods will “interpret” them as they see fit. The “wish lawyer” was a common feature at gaming tables in the 1970s.
  • (I’ve pointed this out before, but the fact there were so many rules for things that required multiple wishes (far more than just in Arduin), back in the day, really undermines the revisionist narrative that it was all fantasy fucking Vietnam back then. You don’t put up signs reading “Speed Limit: 150 MPH” until it’s commonplace that cars can go faster than that, and you don’t have multi-wish mechanics unless it’s assumed characters will have access to lots of wishes.) To understand anything in history, study primary sources. You cannot understand a time, or a culture, by seeing it filtered through the lens of those who came later and who have decided what is important. Read newspapers from WW2. Notice that while the headlines certainly reported on battles and suchlike, the vast bulk of the articles were so-and-so gets divorced, such-and-such won this sportsball event, some local politician made some speech as some club, and a new restaurant is opening on fifth and main. But I digress.)
  • And don’t think you can escape the long healing times of severe spinal injuries, just because your torn and mangled body has been recreated with those injuries erased!
Not Spinal Tap's Greatest Hits

Not Spinal Tap’s Greatest Hits

On a related note, the healing rules were also changed, using a perfectly logical system which, unfortunately, undermined the rationale for higher-level spells:

"Wounds Of The More Serious Sort" Are Often Inflicted by Rodents Of Unusual Size

“Wounds Of The More Serious Sort” Are Often Inflicted by Rodents Of Unusual Size

“Well, what’s wrong with that?”, you ask. “Makes sense to me!”

And it does, until you realize players are concerned with the letter, not the spirit, of the law. Under these rules, four Cure Light… I mean, Heal LesserWounds spells will restore any character, at any level, to full health. This greatly reduces the need to memorize higher-level healing spells. (Remember, at the time, there was none of this “swap out any prepared spell for a Cure spell” stuff!) It means a few Cure Light Wounds potions or scrolls can replace far more expensive and rare magic. Etc.

The Great Hit Point Revolution

However, this was partially miitgated by one of the more dramatic changes to the core D&D paradigm: Tossing (mostly) hit point inflation out the window.

  • Everyone gets 1 HP per point of Constitution.
  • Fighty and Thiefy types (including, oddly, Normals) get 1 HP/level.
  • Clericy types get 1 HP/2 levels.
  • Wizardy types (and Courtesans) get 1 HP/3 levels.

(The rules actually list a lot of classes as examples; I’m summarizing.)

  • Star Powered Mages never get extra hit points, because reasons.
  • Multiclass characters get all the hit points they’d get for their levels in each class, which isn’t a great system under the dominant multiclass rules at the time, as, given the same XP, a pure Fighter might be 11th level, while a Fighter/Thief would be 10/10… or have nearly twice as many bonus hit points as the 11th level fighter.
  • You get one-time bonus hit points determined by race, and sometimes, gender:
Half-Orcs Have Worse Hit Points Than Either Humans Or Orcs?

Half-Orcs Have Worse Hit Points Than Either Humans Or Orcs?

Fighters get +5 on top of this, Clerical types 3, and pointy-hat wearing finger-wagglers get 0. In addition, for every Constitution point over 12, you get 1 bonus hit point.

Next follows a rant aimed at “Monty Hall(sic)” players… huh. I can’t imagine why a setting known for its mu-meson swords, 50th level merchants, and 15th level spells would attract those types… it deserves to be presented in its entirety.

You Done Got Told

You Done Got Told

Guild Fees

Because, Why Not?

Following this massive revision of resurrection, healing, and hit points, we have a tiny little chart (about 1/5 page) about guild fees. This is the only thing on the page. Way to waste paper, Dave.

I Seem To Be Having Extreme Difficulty With My Lifestyle

Then we have a 1/3rd page chart of “Random Lifestyle Changes”, for when someone hits you with a Random Lifestyle Change effect, as often happened (Wands of Wimsey, any number of cursed items that could change your class, etc.)

And Onwards…

The next bit goes back to ‘highly dense page of teeny-tiny type’ mode, filled with even more rules and variations on combat. I’m on a tight schedule, so, we’ll do that next week. We’re up to Page 29, about a third done with the third book, if anyone cares.


The Runes Of Doom, Part IV

The Runes Of Doom, Part IV

Deodanths, Saurigs, and Phraints


(You See What I Did There…)

Last week, I noted that much of the material was a rehash of existing classes for “most other roleplaying games”, part of Dave Hargrave’s gradual evolution of Arduin from a supplement to a stand-alone system, a migration not to be completed for a long, long, time. (And by the time it was done, it had mutated far beyond its roots). This week, we look at a few things very much not found in the default assumptions of the setting zeitgeist of the era.

Undead Hybrid Elves… From The Future!

Loosely based (sort of like the relationship of “Total Recall” to “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”) on Jack Vance’s deodands, the deodanths of Arduin are “an evolutionary hybrid of ‘undead’ Elven kind and some ‘other’ dark and unknown ‘thing'”. Legend claims they are “lost time travellers from eons in the future”, where “the suns are dieing”. (Spellcheck suggests “dieting”.)

They have a “vampire-like” ability to charm/hypnotize opponents, which “requires concentration, seldom found in combat”. That’s cool. Let’s see, this ability has a range of… uhm… and the actual effects are… hmm… and the degree of concentration needed is… erm… and it can be used as frequently as.. well. Basically, it’s tossed out there with no mechanics at all, which might be acceptable (given the tenor of the age, also the soprano) for monsters, but this is in the section entitled “Deodanths As Player Characters”, which means abilities do need a little definition. I went back to the Arduin Grimoire, where they have a monster listing. Nothing there about mind control powers, but it does say they’re 50% magic resistant. Perhaps “vampire-like” means “use whatever rules you use for vampires, don’t worry if they don’t make sense for a first level fighter”? That’s my guess.

Doesn’t matter. They’re awesome even if you can’t use them to mind-control the entire dungeon at once. They are brilliant tacticians either as “sole(sic) warriors in sword to sword melee’s(sic)” or as “Star Corsairs par excellance in spaceship to spaceship battles”. Because those happen a lot in high fantasy — why else would you have a spell to summon spaceships? Duh! (And if you think I’m against mixing Swords & Starships… and wouldn’t that be a great name for a retro-RPG? Hmmm… it’s not like I don’t have enough ongoing, incomplete, projects currently1… you haven’t read most of my stuff. Genre purists can bite me. Or, perhaps, I am a genre purist, and recognize that D&D is not a rules system, it is a genre, and that genre is “Fahfrd, Merlin, John Carter, Batman, and Elric team up to fight Dracula, Sauron, and Darth Vader (and their zombie ninja minions) in the Hollow Earth. While riding dragons. Cyborg dragons. Cyborg dragon wizards!” (/me begins singing “Ultimate Showdown“)

They generally eat their prisoners, being “omniverous”(sic), but those they don’t eat, they torture, sometimes for up to a decade. So, probably not suited for Paladins, is that the message I’m getting here?

In addition to being undead elf hybrid vampires from the future, they can jump in time! They can time-skip 1-3 melee rounds forward, 1/day per level, at a cost of one point of Con, Agi, Str, and Dexterity each time, each of which takes five hours (not contiguous!) to restore.

They also jump in space —  20-30 feet horizontally, 15 feet vertically, and hate elves for “historical reasons”. (See the Skull Tower walkthrough for more on that!)

I got your Fantasy Fucking Vietnam right here, pal. Along with your “waaaah! Modern games are like video games!” cliche. Back in the real old school, we had, as player character options, time-skipping high-jumping undead hybrid elf vampires from the future! But, yeah, you go ahead and play your dwarf fighter whose highest stat is a 12, because that’s “roleplaying, not rollplaying”. Go on. Have fun with that, Groin, son of Loin, or whatever your name is. I’ve got to go kill a star spyder(sic) with my deodanth. (We’ll get to star spyders, and much, much, more, when we do monsters… but that’s a ways in the future, I’m afraid.)

We also had…

Vulcan Mantis-Men From Outer Space!

No secret, here: Phraints are one of my favorite races. They’re visually distinctive, they have a cool backstory, and they actually fit in pretty well in a sword-and-sorcery world.

My Money's On The Phraint

My Money’s On The Phraint

Phraints are born into a caste system, as follows:

Phraint Gandhi Tried To Ban The Caste System, But It Pesisted

Phraint Gandhi Tried To Ban The Caste System, But It Persisted

There are also Black Phraints, who, with very minor technological aid, can survive in hard vacuum, and who shoot off monomolecular edged shuriken. Imagine a boarding party of them landing on the hull of your spaceship! Pack extra underwear! But on Arduin, they’re extinct, as the supporting technology to create them no longer exists.

Phraints are perfectly logical and unemotional, which is why they try to conquer the universe. It’s obvious they’re superior and should rule, so the illogical lesser races ought to just accept it. They don’t, which proves they’re illogical and inferior. “Tautology” is a class skill for Phraints.

They can stand motionless, waiting in ambush, for up to three days, drink pureed horse meat for fun, and get totally plastered off the juice of the Red Lotus. They also leap as well as deodanths, leading to spectacular battles between the two races, which make the most extreme wire-fu fight scenes look like a sedate chess match.

Sheldon Cooper Plays Nothing Else

Sheldon Cooper Plays Nothing Else

Yeah, it’s a real roleplaying stretch for someone like me to play a character with no understanding of emotion or normal human interaction. Really exercises the old acting chops, y’know, getting into a mindset completely alien to my own and viewing the world through a lens utterly antithetical to my normal perceptions.

Savage Lizard-Men From The Forgotten Past!

OK, compared to undead elf vampire time-hoppers from the future and insect men from outer space, lizard men, even when called “saurigs”, are kind of… meh. Still, a lot more interesting than wood elf, tree elf, root elf, leaf elf, branch elf, twig elf… (though ‘root elf’ does have potential…).

Saurigs are descended from “the dread reptilian Kthoi”, who ruled the world some 600,000 years previously… and ideas such as this, of a scope and scale orders of magnitude beyond the limits of human history, found fertile ground in my adolescent mind, and let’s not juxtapose ‘fertile’ and ‘adolescent’ ever again, OK? One of the interesting aspects of this whole exercise is seeing where a lot of my personal inspiration comes from, decades after I forgot the source.

After the tactical sadism of the deodanths, and the imperialist logic of the phraints, it’s nice to know the saurigs were bred as mindless killing machines. After the fall of the Kthoi, they divided into two groups — the tailed swamp saurigs and the tailless desert saurigs. (The delicious dessert saurigs were eaten into extinction.) After untold ages, they have achieved a modicum of sophistication, existing as tribal bands, which occasionally play gigs down at the oasis.

Desert saurigs are valued as mercenaries; swamp saurigs are valued as luggage. OK, it doesn’t say that exactly, but although the swamp-dwellers are larger and stronger, they are undisciplined and savage, and are thus of little worth as soldiers. However, you can get 1d4 suitcases of medium size out of one, with enough left over for 1d6+3 belts, and OK, I’ll drop it for now.

Keeping up the trend of “everyone hates everyone”, the saurigs hate the phraints — desert saurigs because “they took er jerbs!” (i.e., they compete for mercenary contracts) and swamp saurigs because… no, I’m not going to make another luggage joke… because phraints consider saurig eggs a delicacy for baby phraints to nom on. No, that’s not a joke. That’s in there. So, you kind of have to feel a little bit for the saurigs getting slaughtered on the cover of the Arduin Grimoire. They could have been like the horta, avenging their fallen young. So it goes.

And In Conclusion…

Next week, we dive deep into assorted variant mechanics and rules, presented in the usual orderly, logical, fashion, where each idea builds on the previous in a coherent and sensible manner.

My apologies to anyone whose sarcasm detector blew out reading that.

1:Do you know there are people out there afraid someone is going to “steal their ideas”? That would be like stealing paper clips when you live in a house built out of paper clips, that you use mostly to store your supply of paper clips that constantly expands, no matter what you do.

The Runes Of Doom, Part III

The Runes Of Doom, Part III

Class And Race In Arduin

The Culture of Post-Capitalist Hegemony Opens a Space for the Historicization of the Gendered Body.

I Got That From A Random Academic Sentence Generator

Here we are at Part III of the walkthrough of the third book of the classic Arduin Trilogy. Despite the title, we’ll probably only get through classes today, though if I’m feeling especially motivated, we might make this a double-sized end of year special. (EDIT: It is double sized, but we still only got through the classes.) We’ll see. Motivation and me, we get along like Deodanths and Elves.

Some Dead Horse Beating (Trigger Warning: Animal Abuse)

(Did you know the phrase ‘Trigger Warning’ is now considered to be ‘triggering’ because of guns? I swear to Hargrave and Gygax I am not making this up.)

Anyway.. beating said dead horse, a common trope among certain Old School Revisionists is that the trend towards a “rule for everything” is entirely a modern invention (and by ‘modern’, they mean, ‘anything that happened after the publication of My Favorite Edition’), and in the glorious days of yore, people just made shit up and were happy with it. The first part is true, for the same reason that people walked or rode horses before there were trains or cars. The second part is much less true, which is why we have trains and cars and 256-page core rulebooks.

As an example, with MANY uses of italics and CAPITALIZATION, so you people get the point:

Before Dave Hargrave, There Was Only Chaos

Before Dave Hargrave, There Was Only Chaos

While Dave might be drifting a little into excessive self-importance here… he was hardly the only one churning out new material for Dother roleplaying gamesons… he is correct in essence. Players, then and now, did not want to merely flavor text their thief and call it a ninja, nor did they want to engage in endless debates about precisely what a ninja could do. Multiple editions of D&D have started with some editorial diatribe about reducing class bloat from the prior edition, and each of them has gone on to do it anyway, because gamers like rules (and because you can’t sell people that which does not exist, unless you’re a religion, but I digress).

The quest for mechanistic individualization drives a lot of game design. It also drives the granularity of resolution systems, for there has to be space to grant a mechanical effect that is significant enough to actually come into play, but small enough that it does not overwhelm all other considerations. Doing this is not easy, as the design ‘sweet spot’ is ofttimes narrow, and players are good at finding synergies the designers never will, until it’s too late.

Anyway, on with the classes! But first, awesome art!

'Awesome Art' Sounds Like A Nickelodeon Show, Doesn't It?

‘Awesome Art’ Sounds Like A Nickelodeon Show, Doesn’t It?

By the way, three of the four species pictured above will be covered in either this article, or the sequel.

Weird Al-Chemy


(Not Really Sorry)

Having picked up the gauntlet on the issue of having rules in print for different classes, Dave Hargrave then proceeds to drop said gauntlet, burying it in an unmarked grave far in the outer wilderness. The Alchemist class text starts with the usual introduction about their armor limits (no armor), their weapon choices (no weapons), and their level titles (because that mattered a lot back then), and then, the meat of the matter, their actual class abilities.

Let The Player/DM Debates Commence, And May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

Let The Player/DM Debates Commence, And May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

Yeah. To be very clear, the “these” in “these are open…” refers to no prior set of rules or guidelines, but to the words just out of the image, “Special Acquired Attributes”. Having just noted how important it is for there to be rules in print, rules which have been “play tested and codified”, Dave then says, “Yeah, alchemists, they, uhm, they can make all this kind of stuff, but there’s no real rules for what any of it does (what’s the save on tear gas? How effective are medical poultices?), or what level they get it, or what the odds are of success, or, you know, anything.” This is similar to what I might, as a freelancer, get as an assignment — “Write up 2,000 words detailing this concept”. Dave, I am disappoint.

The Origin Of The “Assassins Do It From Behind” T-Shirt

Assassins are generally defined as people who kill for money. This is also how 99.99% of all PCs are defined, so the long and sustained existence of a class specialized in it seems odd, but it’s a big part of gaming history.

We're All Just Murderhobos On This Bus

We’re All Just Murderhobos On This Bus

When Runes of Doom was published, assassins existed in Blackmoor, but we’re at the point where Arduin’s veering off towards its own system had begun. The small mutations to core D&D, added one to the other, pushed Dave’s game into a new direction. So, it is not surprising that we’re seeing, in the third book, Hargravian incarnations of established classes. (Indeed, with the exception of the Alchemist and the Sage, all the classes in Runes Of Doom were such variants.)

Assassins in Arduin are a subclass of martial artist (see here). Their main shtick is a limited choice of weapons, but good bonuses with those weapons, as follows: You can pick three weapons (not groups!), and you’re +3 with one, +2 with another, and +1 with the third, and then three weapons you’re “even on” with, or you can also pick another means of killing people (e.g., poisons or traps) and get the bonus with that, “loosing” your bonus with a weapon, or you can pick one weapon at +5 and forego your other bonuses (but keep the three ‘even on’ weapons) or (if you pick the +5 option) you can trade all three of your “even on” weapons for one “non-weapon” skill like poisoning, or you can forego all but one weapon at +2 and instead gain the Martial Artist’s unarmed attack abilities.

Got all that? (Oh, all weapons not picked per the above options, you’re at -2 with.)

The class description doesn’t say if there are any limits on weapons or armor; the assassin is a subclass of Martial Artist, but the weapon choices of a Martial Artist are up to the result of a player’s “Con DM” roll vs. the DM’s “Detect Bullshit” roll. So, given a compliant DM, one could create an assassin who starts off at +5 with “Two Handed Axe”. (Since the assassin must also have a ‘cover identity’ of another class, it’s very easy to justify being able to use the weapons and armor of that class.)

Assassin Chart

Furthermore, the assassin has a “cover” identity and “is thus a ‘dual’ character type”. You can only gain assassin XP by performing paid hits, at a rate of 1000XP per level of the victim about your own, and 250XP “per level below”, but I assume is meant to mean “-250 XP per level below, so four or more levels below gets you nothing”. (I say, pick a “cover identity” as a fighter, get +5 to your primary weapon, and don’t even worry about gaining assassin XP!)

Funny, You Don’t Look Druish

Continuing the trend of “Dave’s Versions Of Classes Established In The Other Rules”, we have the Arduin Druid. (There were “new Druid spells” in the Arduin Grimoire and Welcome To Skull Tower, which pretty strongly hints Dave was using the “other” rules for Druids before making his own.)

First, some backstory. I love these snippets of history; they create a context that is more inspirational than restrictive.

The Truth Is The Druids Couldn't Get Into Rune Weaver School

The Truth Is The Druids Couldn’t Get Into Rune Weaver School

The druid level chart follows. There are no XP values given, but there’s one back in the Arduin Grimoire, so that’s that. (I just noticed that Assassins don’t get cool level names like most of the other classes do. What’s up with that?)

The High Druid Learns 'Summon Cheetos' As A Free Spell

The High Druid Learns ‘Summon Cheetos’ As A Free Spell

The “Detect Hidden Injury” thing is just weird, as there’s really no rules for “hidden injuries”, and the timing formula seems bizarrely specific, as if minutes would matter greatly. Maybe there’s an “internal bleeding” chart somewhere in Dave’s notes, with damage accruing on a minute-by-minute basis, so how fast you can find the “hidden injury” determined life or death? I dunno. (A common phenomenon (doop-do do-do-do) in old school games are subsections of rules written by a friend of the author who specializes in an area of knowledge, producing over-detailed mechanics to reflect the years they’ve studied the topic. Sort of like asking me to write the programming rules for a Cyberpunk game. I’d have two pages of modifiers for converting from one language to another, and a “critical .config file failure” chart for how long it takes to get the damn IDE to find all the included library files. But I digress.)

More marvelous backstory, nicely upending one of the most common cliches of stock fantasy settings:

No Mercy For Elves!

No Mercy For Elves!

In other words, if Tom Bombadil had met Legolas, there would have been… trouble.

BTW, if you’re annoyed at the spelling of “forest” throughout this section, just wait for…

Only You Can Prrevent Forrest Firres

The “Forrester (Woods Ranger)” class is next up. They are “solitary and nomadic”, don’t generally go into dungeons, but they may be wilderness guides. As noted way, way, back in the Arduin Grimoire walkthrough, it was common practice for players to have multiple characters, so they’d bring out Arragonn when the campaign moved to the Forrest Of Generric Slightly Crreepy Name, then switch back to someone useful when they got to the Dungeon Of Many Adjectives.

Forresters get a +1 to +3 on their Str and Con (not to exceed 18), can travel 33 1/3% (that extra 1/3% matters, damn it!) further than anyone else (making their utility as ‘wilderness guides’ somewhat suspect… they’re either way ahead of the people they’re guiding, or this ability is nigh-useless outside of solo play… it’s good for worldbuilding, knowing your Forresters can bring news faster than the enemy can travel does have an impact on things…), and they can “hear” on a 1-3 on a d6, which is one of the approximately 561 1/3 different “detect stuff” mechanics in use during any single gaming session back then. This number increases sporadically with level. They gain a handful of other abilities, such as speaking with animals (you have to pick the species, which leads to some interesting arguments… do wolves speak dog, or fox? Maybe with an accent?) At 20th level, you get to speak with plants, again by specific type… some DMs would let “trees” be a type, other DMs would insist on learning oak, birch, and pine as separate types, and real hard-ass DMs who didn’t want you ruining the game with this overpowered munchkin ability would probably break it down to the level of “Northern Arduin Red Oak”,

Otherwise, not too much of interest.

TRUE Paladins

Not Those FAKE Paladins In Other Games

Paladins are not “fighting clerics”, says Dave, but “warriors with a near-mystical religious fervor”, which has not previously been “delt”(sic) with. In other words, Paladins were falling far short of their potential for game-disrupting antics and “but I’m just playing my character!” excuses for burning orphanages.

Let me praise Mr. Hargrave for designing a class defined as it was often actually played. In Arduin, Paladins are “berserk warriors with overtones of the Witch Hunter”. Yup, that about does it. Regardless of presumed models such as Lancelot, the average Paladin, in practice, was all about slaughtering baby orcs and bisecting random NPCs on suspicion of heresy. So why not make the class abilities and fluff text fit actual play?

Pick A Religion With Few Followers, So Everyone Is An Enemy

Pick A Religion With Few Followers, So Everyone Is An Enemy

They will also fanatically harangue and harass all not of their faith to convert, and are quick to condemn any hint of deviation or heresy, making them the first Tumblr users. As an additional benefit, they ignore the detailed rules for social class and starting gear we discussed earlier, but instead start off with equipment determined by their own, custom, chart, including a guarantee of at least a light warhorse.

They do gain some special abilities, besides their fighting skills.

Again, Pick A Small Faith And You Won't Be Nagged By Other Players To Heal Them

Again, Pick A Small Faith And You Won’t Be Nagged By Other Players To Heal Them

The Paladin gains mana equal to three times their strength, and it takes mana equal to the level at which an ability is gained to invoke it, so a Str 16 Paladin starts with 48 mana (!) and thus can cast Cure Light Wounds 48 times(!!) at first level. Whoa. Dave… you, ah, you playtested this? Sure about that? (To be fair, this number will increase only slowly with level; even in Arduin, attribute score raises were not regularly doled out. Even so… )

And here’s an image Erol Otus drew for the first edition of the Arduin Grimoire, published in The Runes of Doom. Why not? (Erol’s art suffers from the thin inking; his stylized, two-dimensional imagery benefits from the heavier, thicker lines we see in his work for TSR and others.  I don’t know if he did his own inking and changed his style, or if someone else inked his pencil work.)

Wyvergon -- A Wyvern/Gorgon Hybrid

Wyvergon — A Wyvern/Gorgon Hybrid

(In Part XII of Welcome to Skull Tower, I noted that Arduin medusae got “biz-zay” (as the kids these days say… do they still say that? Damn kids, always changing their slang). So did gorgons. Hybrid creatures of all types have always been popular in D&D variants; Gygax promoted the concept early on, in the Greyhawk supplement (the ‘little brown book’, not the campaign setting), and I adore the template rules for 3.x and PF. Completely unrelated to anything here, and of no benefit to me, as I have no financial or personal connection to the company, Green Ronin’s “Advanced Bestiary” is my instant answer to the “if you could have only one third party supplement” threads that start up all the time on various fora. (I have no kind of ad linking or revenue sharing going on; it’s just a great book if you play Pathfinder.))


No Parsley, Rosemary, Or Thyme

Though If Anyone Were To Invent A “Thyme Lord” Class, It Would Be Me

At the time of the writing of the Trilogy, there really wasn’t much concept of an “NPC Class”. Further, the first iterations of the concept were for classes too powerful to be used as PC, not for classes too weak. To the surprise of no one who understand human nature, esp. the nature of the adolescent munchkins who formed a large plurality, if not the majority, of the 70s D&D audience, this “restriction” never stuck, and “NPC Classes” from The Dragon, like Ninjas and Anti-Paladins, showed up as PCs with great regularity, provided the Chinese food payments kept coming,

The Arduin Sage is a good example of what today would be an NPC class — a way to give mechanical definition to someone with useful skills, but who isn’t going to be tromping down into the dungeon.

Sages pick one of seven broadly defined areas of study, and, since there’s no actual ‘Lore’ or ‘Knowledge’ skill in the game yet…

Sages Who Worship Google, God Of Knowledge, Gain +5%

Sages Who Worship Google, God Of Knowledge, Gain +5%

The plethora of micromechanics (such as the Paladin’s rules for going berserk, or the Sage’s knowledge rules) are, individually, easy to handle. When people defend this style of game design as “easier” than having more complex, but more inclusive, systems, they usually compare a single microrule to the entirety of, say, the Knowledge Skill rules, and point out how simple it is. Except there’s dozens, or hundreds, of such rules, and each is designed atomically and without regard to its interactions with similar rules. (I have this problem in my day job as a programmer… I work with legacy code where the choice was constantly made to solve the same problem a dozen times in a dozen slightly different and incompatible ways, the argument being that writing specific code for a specific task takes less time than writing a generic routine or class… without considering that taking slightly more time writing a generic solution saves constant recreation of the same code. But I digress.)

Remember how I dinged Dave for not actually providing rules for the Alchemist’s abilities?

Yeah. About that.

This Is The Moral Equivalent Of "See Page 12" and Page 12 Is "This Page Intentionally left Blank"

This Is The Moral Equivalent Of “See Page 12” and Page 12 Is “This Page Intentionally left Blank”

And Thus..

We end our study of class in Arduin. We’ll get to race next week, it seems. This article is already a good bit longer than most. And while the classes in Runes Of Doom are mostly minor recreations of established standards, the three new races added are anything but.

The Runes Of Doom, Part I

The Runes Of Doom, Part I

Individuality, Reality, And Age

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

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

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

Let’s begin!

Holy (Bleep), The Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unboxing… Er… Opening…

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

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

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

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

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

Individuality And Reality

And Random Italics

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

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



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

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

Some notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ye Olde Adventurers’ Home

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

Snort. Cough. Ahem. Excuse me.

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

Bwahahahah! OK. OK. I’ve got this.

“In Arduin, however, we believe…”

“…believe in…”

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

To hell with it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XVII

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crime And Punishment

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

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

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

After all that, we come to this:

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

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

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

War And Peace

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

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

We start with this introduction:

So, About A Five Percent Survival Rate...

So, About A Five Percent Survival Rate…

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

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

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

The Elf-Human Wars

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

Trigger Warning: Reaping

No, That’s Not A Typo

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

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

Hah! Fooled You!

Double-Length Season Finale Post!

Mostly ‘Cause My Sunday Shadowrun Game Got Cancelled

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

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

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

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

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

There. That’s better.

"Bespattered" Is A Perfectly Cromulent Word

“Bespattered” Is A Perfectly Cromulent Word

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

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

The tale continues…

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

And then?

Elf Magic: It's Not Just For Cookies Anymore

Elf Magic: It’s Not Just For Cookies Anymore

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

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

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

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

“…screamed to the high winds of hell…”

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

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

"Organized Play", Thirty Years Early

“Organized Play”, Thirty Years Early

The Inns And Roadhouses (Again) Of Arduin

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

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

Few Modern Dives Include The Word 'Carnelian'

Few Modern Dives Include The Word ‘Carnelian’

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

There’s a footnote on one page…

Three Out Of Four Alehouses In Arduin Are Alliterative

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

Undead Attacks

What else?

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

Quite Simple, Really

Quite Simple, Really

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

Space Aliens And Angry Players

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

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

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

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

Damn skippy!

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

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

Here you go:

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

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

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

And With That…

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

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

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

[1]Or Bldfstd, according to some scholars.

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part 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.