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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 VI

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VI

Usury & Unicorns

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

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

I Give Up

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

Hope that clears that up.

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

You take out a loan.

E-Z Credit 4 U!

E-Z Credit 4 U!

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

By "May", We Mean "Will"

By “May”, We Mean “Will”

Yeah. Miss a payment, wake up dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple-Scented Candles Of Power, +5 CP.

Apple-Scented Candles Of Power, +5 CP

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

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part V

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part V


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

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

A Haggorym’s Got To Know His Limitations

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

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

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

A few points:

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

Saving Throws

And For When You Fail Them, Resurrection and Reincarnation

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

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

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

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

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

Where Are My Dragons?

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

Those Asterisks? Never Explained.

Those Asterisks? Never Explained.

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

We go from resurrections, to dragons, to reincarnation…

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

Random Ooze? Sure, Why Not?

Random Ooze? Sure, Why Not?

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

Combat Stuff

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

Ah. Here we go…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paging Dr. Voorhees…

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

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

Save Vs. Heavy Artillery!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part IV

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part IV

Shopkeepers, Slavers, And Courtesans, Oh My!

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

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

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

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

But First, A Correction

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

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

Abby… Someone

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

As always, a few quick notes on the table:

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

Special Politically Incorrect Class Section

Pearl-clutching Puritans, you’ve been warned.

Slavers (Not The Kind With Stasis Boxes)

(Though In Arduin, Anything Is Possible…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Perhaps It's Going To A Roadside Inn?

Perhaps It’s Going To A Roadside Inn?

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

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part II

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part II

Scars & Stars

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

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

Uncharacteristically logically, we move from charisma to morale.

Morale, Or, “Hey, Get Back Here!”

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

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

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

The Mary Sue Character Appearance Generator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Classes

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

Star Powered Mages

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

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

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

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

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

But there’s a catch, of course.

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

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

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

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

Forbidden Planet FTW!

Forbidden Planet FTW!

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

Lastly, there’s this…

Just Remember That Thing We Never Told You Before!

Just Remember That Thing We Never Told You Before!

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

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

Rune Singers, Or, The Electric Light Bard

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what did Dave do?

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

We start off with this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some key points:

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

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

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

Elves Are More Innately Deceptive Than Humans… Hmmm…

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part I

Welcome To Skull Tower

I’m Chad. I’ll Be Your Waiter This Evening

Would You Like To Try Our New Unicorn Bites Appetizer?

The Arduin Grimoire is well and justly famous, and has been the subject of many readings and walkthroughs, akin to the one I just finished… and as anyone who knows me can tell you, “finished” is not a word generally applied to anything I do. Far fewer such articles have been written on the successive volumes, so, this may be entering slightly original territory. “Original”, as anyone who knows me can tell you, is also not a word generally applied to anything I do. So this is all new and scary for me.

Welcome To Skull Tower has, as far as I know (which is about as far as a crippled kobbit can throw an ibathene) a much less complex publishing history than the Grimoire. I’ve only ever seen one edition, though there may well have been multiple printings… no alternate covers, etc. (There is a much more recent set of reprints through, I think, Emperor’s Choice, but that’s not the same thing.) The art is mostly by “Morno”, aka Brad Schenk, with “a few late entries by our original artist, Erol Otus”. (I’d still love to hear the details of what kind of falling out led to all of Erol’s art being replaced between editions of the Grimoire…) Morno’s art is… good. It’s not Michio good. Michio is, like, the absolute god of old-school gaming art. Seriously, I’ve got to track down what happened to him/her. But it’s good enough, evocative, clean, and far above the usual art of this era, drawn by This Guy I Know.

Without further ado, or adon’t, let’s enter Skull Tower!

Welcome To Skull Tower

Wait, I Already Said That

Erm… Welcome To The First Subsection Of The First Part Of The Walkthrough Of The Second Book In The Arduin Triology!

Hang On, Wouldn’t The Part Above This Be The First Subsection, So This Is Really The Second Subsection?

Buggerit. Moving On…

You Just Know The Jaws Are Going To Close On Them, Doing 4-48 Damage, Right?

You Just Know The Jaws Are Going To Close On Them, Doing 4-48 Damage, Right?

I totally want someone to do the title lettering as a font. You’d need to curl the really long extended tails on the letters down and under or something, but still, it’s awesome.

As you can see, this book has had a lot of life. I’ve got books about as old in my collection that are in much better shape, because they weren’t being continuously dragged out, referenced, paged through, read while eating chicken strips dripping with duck sauce, etc. My Arduin books are well-used and always have an honored place in my “ready to hand” pile of references, regardless of what game system I was currently working with. They are profoundly inspirational. Some people open the Bible to a random page; I open an Arduin book. This explains why many of my solutions to life’s problems are “Cast ‘Mindan’s Mind Mask’ spell”.

"House Of The Ibathene"... Eat Your Heart Out, House Targeryan!

“House Of The Ibathene”… Eat Your Heart Out, House Targaryen!

Rocked to the cosmic core! Entropic destruction! This is what old-school gaming was all about (to me)… glorious over-the-topness, if topness is a word. A seven-and-a-half year (one presumes, in game time, as D&D was barely 4 years old when this was published) quest across three hells (See here for an idea what those hells might have been like…) to rescue the Baron in Exile from the Lord of the Undead! God damn that sounds awesome!

And there was so much more to come…

All Those Monsters And Magic Items Lost In Time, Like Tears In The Rain....

All Those Monsters And Magic Items Lost In Time, Like Tears In The Rain….

There was indeed a third volume, and more besides, but the total published work never came close to what’s described here. Dave Hargrave died far too soon. In a just world, he would lived to receive the honors bestowed on Gygax, and Arneson, and Bledsoe in the past few years, but we do not live in a just world. If you doubt this, go open a news page. Doesn’t matter when you read this, or what’s happening at the time… I guarantee you, check whatever news there is when you encounter this at some vague future date, and you shall see injustice. But I digress.

Functions, Capabilities, Characteristics

We jump right into detailed rules in teeny-tiny type.

In Dave’s world, Constitution granted bonus hit points… but only up to your normal rolled maximum! So if you had a Con of 18 (+4 hit points per level), and you rolled a d6 for hit points, that +4 could bring you up to 6, but not higher than 6! When you combine this with the obvious deadliness of the spells and monsters Dave came up with, I repeat my wonder anyone ever survived past first level.

Then we have this:

We Have An Italic Font And We're Not Afraid To Use It!

We Have An Italic Font And We’re Not Afraid To Use It!

You will notice a few things:

  • Dave Hargrave got an italic font, which is serifed as opposed to the regular font, which is not. This replaces underlining to show emphasis.  This style of including, in effect, tone of voice in the writing is something that greatly influenced my own work. It adds to the “You are there!” feeling, as I noted way, way, back in my Star Rovers walkthrough. You can easily imagine the game developer pounding his fist on the table as he tries to get the rules through your thick skull.
  • Let’s see, you can walk an extra mile for each point of Constitution over fourteen, but only if you have a matching Strength point. And to see if you can revive a character who drowned, multiply Con by 3, with the number of chances equal to 1+Con-3, with each additional try dividing by 2, except if married, filing jointly, or in North Dakota. Oh, do go on, Old School Revisionists, and tell me how everyone back in the day yearned for simplistic purity and abstract storytelling hippie crap. God damn it, we wanted rules back then, but we didn’t have “consistent systems” or “design patterns”, so anytime we needed a rule, we just made one up, and to hell if it integrated in any way with the rest of the system! “Have a standard core mechanic and just learn the parts that vary for each sub-task”? Pshaw! For wimps! We could learn, and master, a thousand different microrules, and if the system for picking padlocks used D6+Dexterity+a full page of modifiers for lockpicks, and the system for picking tumbler locks used percentiles, levels, and an exponential complexity system which required knowing the skill level of locksmith who made the lock, we loved it! (Right up until someone invented a hybrid tumbler and combination lock and we had to integrate the rules and Frank who played the thief got pissed and hurled his 20 sider at the DM…)
  • No, that particular horse isn’t dead enough yet.

Hrothgar Strong Like Ox!

Wait, Oxen Only Have A Strength Of 14?

Hang On, I Need To Go Write A 15 Page Set Of Rules And Stats For Domestic Animals, This Is All Wrong!

RPGS — The Ideal Pastime For INTPs Like Me.

Having dealt with Constitution, we move on to Strength.

"So, I can bash through a 6" woden wall in one minute, but I only have a 35% chance to open a stuck door?"

“So, I can bash through a 6″ wooden wall in one minute, but I only have a 35% chance to open a stuck door?”

As always, a few observations, which may or may not end up being actually relevant to the text, as anything can send me spiraling off into a long and pointless digression. We’ll see. I have no more idea about where this will end up as I’m writing it than you have reading it, though the fact we’re going there in a handbasket along a road labeled “Good Intentions” does provide a clue.

  • Ability W/Crowbar is not your chance of breaking the kneecaps of Vinnie The Squealer with said crowbar. It is the chance of opening a door whilst using a crowbar, as opposed to the “bare handed” approach. Eyeballing the chart, it seems Dave could just have written “crowbars add 20% to the door opening chance”.
  • You will notice the “***” for a Strength of 18. This is because Dave, writing a set of rules totally unrelated to dunother roleplaying gamesons, happened, by purest coincidence, on the idea of having Strength 18 provide a range of percentile bonus ranges before going to 19. The chart for this breakdown (BTW, if you rolled an 18 in Dave’s games, you still only had a 20% chance of getting to roll a percentile bonus) is below the main Strength chart and I didn’t see a need to scan it.
  • The quasi-linear lifting chart that tried to fit everything from the strongest humans to supernaturally mighty dragon-demon hybrids into a 30 point range always bugged me. 3.x/Pathfinder, with the “lifting capacity doubles every 5 points” rule, is the only D&D version to get it right. If lifting capacity is linear, you rapidly reach the point where giants are incapable of doing push-ups, or even of carrying a frying pan scaled to their size. (Square-cube law, remember? So, a 5 lb frying pan for a 6′ human would weigh 625 lbs for a 30′ giant. Per a later chart in Skull Tower, it would take a Titan to carry it… never mind anything else. I digress again.)
  • Grapple Chance is based on your strength, without regard to the Strength of the person you’ve grappled.
  • Why have a fixed damage bonus, when you can roll another die whenever you do damage? Seriously, why? Rolling dice is fun! More games should have done this!
  • On the next page, there’s a chart showing your chance of needing to make an Agility check or fall on your ass while trying to open  door. Also, three tries maximum per door. After that, it’s stuck. (Which leads to the comment in the caption of the chart, above… can you bash through a door as if it were a wall?)

Females, Another Mythical Creature

We’ll continue this sojourn with a type of chart that was fairly common in Ye Olden Dayse, the “female attributes” chart. (Outside of That Game That Must Not Be Named, I do not know of any RPG that included a similar chart for the pertinent anatomical features of male characters.)

As Is Typical Of Games Of The Era, There Are Detailed Charts And Tables For Wholly Mythical Beings Never Encountered In Real Life

As Is Typical Of Games Of The Era, There Are Detailed Charts And Tables For Wholly Mythical Beings Never Encountered In Real Life

Oddly, given the predilections of the era, there’s no extensive modifiers based on Strength, Constitution, etc., just a flat-out roll, which might then affect Charisma in some undefined way, presumably based on what the DM felt was “hot”. I’m assuming that “As For Breast Roll” means “Roll again”, not “identical top and bottom”.

And Then There’s This…

So, here’s the very next paragraph:

Uhm... OK...

Uhm… OK…

We go from Strength and Constitution, to breast size, to “If you morons don’t understand the combat rules, go read my other book!” It might be tempting to draw a connection between the “How Fat Are You?” chart and the reference to combat rules, but I think it’s just an aspect of the “lay it out as you go along” style of the time… especially when the next page covers Charisma, which fits with the “attribute” theme… so we have Strength, Constitution, Giggity, “Read my other book!”, Charisma. Makes sense to me.

True Charisma

Not That False Charisma You See Elsewhere!

The next chart is labelled “True Charisma”, while the Strength chart, you may have noticed, was labelled “True Strength”. Perhaps this indicates these are the “True” rules, as opposed to the inferior and error-ridden rules found in dunother roleplaying gamesons?

Beauty And Leadership Are The Same Thing. Just Ask Rasputin.

Beauty And Leadership Are The Same Thing. Just Ask Rasputin.

I am guessing the “Lie Bonus” here interacts with the various bonuses to the same presented in The Arduin Grimoire, and it all works out to the flat percentage, without regard to the target’s abilities? To be fair, these kinds of unopposed checks were very common in this era, as it was unusual for monsters to have the full range of abilities that PCs did, making it very difficult to build systems that relied on everyone involved having the same statistics. (One of Runequest’s major innovations was making sure everything had similar stats, so you could easily design rules that worked well when a Duck was trying to con a Scorpion-Man.)

The “tiny bit of fluff text in a column” style of chart becomes more and more common throughout the trilogy; we’ll be encountering it a lot. I like it. It provides that tiny spark of inspiration or explanation which adds color and flavor to dull numbers, without being so expansive as to remove interpretation and personalization.

Here’s a dwarf fighting a Boogie Man.

A Dwarf Fighting A Boogie Man

A Dwarf Fighting A Boogie Man

Probably, they’re doing battle over the +2 Coke Spoon Of Getting Down.

Yeah, I made a similar joke the last time “boogie man” came up.

Since this is the twentieth article in this series, you ought to have come to realize I recycle jokes the way SF hippies recycle soda cans.

(“You toss your jokes onto the sidewalk and wait for a homeless guy to pick them up and turn them in for cash?”
“Mostly, yeah. Why?”
“No reason.”)

That’s enough for today… tune in next week (probably) for scars, Star Powered Mages, and Rune Singers!

Arduin Grimoire, Part XII

Arduin Grimoire, Part XII

Alignment, Combat, And Combat About Alignment

There was an “alignment chart” earlier in the book, but now we have an essay about it. It’s very clearly based on the original tripartite scheme, and how often do you get to use ‘tripartite’ in a sentence, anyway? Mr. Hargrave believes the predominance of ‘lawful’ types in games is due to the dunother game systemons treasure distribution rules, where most aligned magic items were lawful. (And he may well have a point, as gamers will exploit any rule that gives them even the smallest advantage, in deference to all other considerations… there was a prolonged Knights Of The Dinner Table strip where the characters concocted an extreme plot to become enslaved by an evil race, win their respect, and be anointed (not, as my spell checker suggests, annotated) members of that race, so they could then pick the race’s god as their patron deity… because they’d get 1d6 extra hit points for worshiping him. That this would take years of game time did not deter them from trying it. Satire, of course, but like all good satire, somewhat grounded in truth… I’ve seen people on MMO boards complaining that they “had” to complete some long, tedious, series of quests, because the reward was a +1% bonus to something-or-other, and they were “forced” to do them because otherwise, why, they wouldn’t have the 1% bonus! But I digress.)

However, I must suspect that a bigger reason for the predominance of “lawful” characters is revealed by Dave Hargrave’s paean to the joys of chaotics:

PVP Does Help Keep The Players Busy While The DM Checks Facebook...

PVP Does Help Keep The Players Busy While The DM Checks Facebook…

A party of fishmalks didn’t work even two decades before anyone even knew what a fishmalk was.

General Notes On Combat

We next learn the following about combat in Arduin, over several pages of teeny-tiny type, in no particular order… just Dave’s jotted notes, sometimes brilliant, sometimes mind-boggling, always entertaining, one after the other. Like I keep saying, reading this is like having Dave in your living room, guzzling your Mountain Dew and nomming your Cheetohs, while he tells you what he thinks and how to play his kind of game.

  • Magic weapons can hit anything, as can technological energy weapons, but pistols cannot hit “undead types” — I interpret this, in context, as meaning “bullets don’t stop it!”, but lasers do. Works for me.
  • Silver weapons and bullets can hit “all undead types”. Clearly, Mr. Hargrave had not seen Love At First Bite (actually, it probably wasn’t out yet).
  • Magical/mythological creatures can always hit all other creatures, even if they go gaseous, etc. However, normal creatures can never hit magical creatures. The example of a “normal” creature is a 20 hit dice giant spider(!). If 20 hit dice giant anthropoids are ‘normal’ in Mr. Hargrave’s world, it indicates he was born in Florida.
  • Undead (save for zombies and skeletons) can always see invisible, so if you try to hide from a vampire that way, “you may end up an involuntary blood donor”.
  • Golems are immune to normal weapons and to most magic, but if you hit one with a fireball and then an iceball, it will explode, which is good, and then send shrapnel through the room like an artillery shell, which is bad.
  • If you drink a potion of strength, since your bone structure, etc., is not transformed to handle the increased power, you will probably break bones and tear yourself apart “unless the user is damn careful”. No specific rules are provided, of course, just an open license for the DM to be a sadistic little bastich… as if we needed such license.
  • Ah, here’s the “final effort” thing from the turning undead chart…  you can channel all your strength into your wisdom (I don’t know if that literally means ‘add your Strength to your Wisdom to get a bonus’, or if it’s metaphorical), but you can’t fight for a number of melee turns equal to your strength (so, the stronger you are, the longer it takes you to recover?).
  • Undead are only repelled by holy symbols of their own religion, so, like that guy in “The Mummy”, you’d better cart around every one you know of, just in case.
  • Beasts that stone people can only be stoned by their own kind, except in Washington and Colorado, or if they have a note from their cleric.
  • Fireballs and other AOEs divide their damage among all targets in the area, which, sadly, doesn’t make a lick of sense… and since this comes from an era when “simulationism” and “verisimilitude” were not dirty words, blasphemy unto Ron Edwards, that matters. As written, and it’s a pretty clear rule, esp. for Arduin, if a fireball does 20 points of damage and there’s four people in the blast radius, each takes five… but if there’s one, he gets all 20. Huh?
  • There’s a nifty little block of rules on how to handle unintelligent monsters’ combat choices. It helps avoid charges the DM is out to “get” a player.

In general, all the rules in this section make it clear play was with “paper and pencil and miniature figures”. I got your “theater of the mind” right here, buddy. As the dead horse beatathon continues, it’s really fascinating to see this slice of history from smack-dab right in the middle of the transition from “D&D as a new wargame” to “D&D as the first of a new genre”. To keep up with my evolutionary analogies, let’s call it the Archeopteryx Moment of the culture… the point where something is mid-range between two things. This is where “RPG Culture” really began to distinguish itself from “Wargame Culture”, where you started getting more and more players who didn’t have a wargaming background at all, but came in from SF, fantasy, and comic fandom.

Now, we head into more specific, detailed, combat rules. I’m just going to include a few snippets that are typical of the level of detail. These help show that, at the time, the response from most of D&D’s audience to its simple, abstract, system (which was derived from wargame-style CRTs (Combat Result Tables, not Cathode Ray Tubes, ya idjit!) was not “This is a gem of pure perfection, needing no further details, that frees our imagination to soar on wings of fancy to realms of pure storytelling bliss”, but was, rather, “M0AR R00LZ NA0W!!!!”, except, better spelled, because back then, you couldn’t get away with  being an illiterate moron as easily as you can today.


But What If Two Of Them Are Halflings And Is An Ogre?


“So, There’s A 30% Chance Of You Not Getting A +1 To Your AC. Got It.”


Too Simplistic. I Want Modifiers For Bucklers, Round Shields, Kite Shields, and Different Kinds Of Shield Material. OK, That’s Pathfinder. But I Digress.


Hargrave Invented The Six-Second Round AND The Armor Check Penalty 23 Years Before D&D 3.0!

Oh, I Think The Turkey will Get The Message The First Time

Oh, I Think The Turkey will Get The Message The First Time

(You’ll note, BTW, there’s none of this namby-pamby molly-coddling of idiots who do idiotic things. They’re called out for being idiots. Back then, it was understood the only way to get someone to stop being stupid was to tell them that they were being stupid.)

And here’s a Stalking Vroat (from the later edition):

Stalking Vroat

Stalking Vroat

Damn, I love this guy’s art.

Anyway, there’s five more pages of combat tables, weapon vs. AC modifiers, hex facing rules, and so on. I think I’ve covered the style and tone well enough for now. They mostly replicate, with minor changes, “that other game system”.

Ah, but then… but then…
The critical charts!
And I just found out to get this damn editor to not insert huge white spaces between paragraphs. Cool.

While not as hilariously gory and sarcastic as the Rolemaster charts… no tripping over imaginary turtles… this did add an element of blood-soaked fun to the mundane massacres of monsters. In one game we played, a halfling rolled a “100” critical on a centaur. I ruled the halfling had actually stabbed the centaur in the foot, but the creature reared up and smashed his head on the ceiling. So it goes.

One Point Per Finger. Something About That Really Appeals To Me

One Point Per Finger. Something About That Really Appeals To Me

For a roll of 100, it says, “irrevocable death results”. This seems a bit odd in the context of the time, when everyone was walking around with wishing rings, and there was even a spell in this very book, “Gathering the Sheaves“, which would bring together all the parts of the body for a quick raise dead. It’s telling, though, that even at this early stage of the game’s evolution, the “revolving door afterlife” was starting to irk people.

There’s a matching critical fumble chart, of course.

Criticaling Yourself Was Rare, But You Never Forgot It When It Happened

I am not sure what’s meant by “rolls a double one on the dice” — does that mean, rolls a 1, then, rolls again, and if it’s a 1, it’s a critical fumble? There are no actual rules I can find in the Grimoire for when something’s a critical hit, either… we just assumed a roll of ’20’ meant a critical when we played.

Next, we have a “Brawl chart”, that looks like it would work better for unarmed combat than the AD&D DMG rules (not that much would work worse, come to think of it), where you have a cross-index of attacks like “Right Cross” and “Uppercut” against defenses like “Duck Right” and “Jump Back”, and each participant in the brawl wrote down, secretly, their attack and defense, and then various formulas involving strength and dexterity were applied to see who hit first and what the odds were, and so on. It’s basically a separate combat module. I’ve seen a few games, even relatively modern ones, decide that a one-size-fits-all combat system doesn’t work for all the different ways people can kill each other, and so, have a ‘gunfighting’ system and a ‘fencing’ system and so on, which is one of those “looks good until you try it in actual play” ideas — because someone’s going to try to punch the armed orc, or shoot the brawler, and then integrating the mechanics on the fly becomes a mad dash of hastily improvised rules based on whatever points are in common. (Hell, a very similar problem occurred with White Wolf’s OWOD games, where the various magic and special ability rules were relatively well-balanced and tested within each splatbook, but the interactions between them became insanely complex when you tried to mix-and-match.)

You almost never saw this level of detail for melee fighting, though. Combat systems for D&D (and its close evolutionary kin) where you picked a specific attack and a specific defense were not common. I won’t say there were none, because the mad surge of creativity that defined this era produced so much, so fast, that no one, not even an obsessive collector like myself, could hope to see it all, but they weren’t widespread and none seemed to rise to even local prominence.

(I wonder if it would ever be possible to trace back the origins of various aspects of early variant rules. I have a theory (it could be bunnies) that a lot of the “m0ar stuph!” — the new monsters, magic items, classes, spells, etc — came from the sci-fi fandom crowd, drawn into D&D from a non-wargame background, who saw RPGs as their way to have Mr. Spock fight the Balrog, and the “m0ar r00lz!” — the uber-detailed combat modifiers and detailed tactical positioning systems — came from SCAdians and history buffs who wanted a game that simulated their concept of medieval combat on a personal level. (Prior wargames, with their focus on units, abstracted away the “He’s got a round wooden shield and he’s using it left-handed, while he’s holding a war axe with a 2′ handle, and I’ve got a 4′ longsword but no shield, and it’s muddy, and I’m running downhill at him, and I had porridge for breakfast, but he hasn’t eaten yet…” details.)

Well, that’s it for now… next time… were-centipedes and dinosaurs.

A Not-So-Brief Digression: PrinceCon 3, Part III

PrinceCon III Handbook, Part III

Magic Items

So Rare And Special In Old School Games, They Literally Take Up Half The Book Here

Rather bizarrely, someone seems to actually be reading these bits of extemporanea, and following the sometimes strangely synchronous nature of the universe, discusses magic items in D&D… the very topic I’m about to discuss. Go figure.

We now move on to Sword Abilities. It’s not clear how you determine if a sword has abilities, nor how many… I suspect the intent is to use the existing rules in the LBBs. (Little Brown Books, if we’re discussing D&D. Little Black Books, if we’re discussing Traveller. Little Brown Birds, if we’re discussing ornithology. Which we’re not. That’s my wife’s thing, not mine.)

Most of them are pretty typical; again, I’m highlighting the ones I think deserve a highlight, based on completely subjective and arbitrary criteria, including the whims of my current mood. You want academic rigor, go find a dead academic, I always say. (Hmmm… “academic rigor mortis” sounds like a good phrase to describe the state of a field of study where the demands of documentation and completeness are so extreme that original thought or insight has become impossible… I’ll have to use that in something, someday.)

  • Ability Notes: This is right in the middle of the ability descriptions, after ‘Detect Undead’ and before ‘ESP’, like it was supposed to be a footnote and was mixed into the main text because this was probably laid out on a typewriter and then mimeographed.
  • Illusion Generation: Allows the generation of “non harmful” illusions, which is one of those terms of art that led to endless debate. Probably, the intent was that you couldn’t be burned by illusionary fire, for instance — and yeah, that was totally a topic of interminable warfare among D&D players at the time — but I can, sadly, see it being used by some DMs to effectively nullify any clever use of the power, such as disguising a pit with an illusion so the ogre falls down it. “That’s harming the ogre!” “That’s not what that rule means!” “I say it is, and I’m the DM!” “Want some more General Tso’s chicken?” “OK, the ogre falls and dies. Pass the soy sauce.”
  • Battle Fury: Gives you +1 to your effective level for each round, up to +10 levels (this is impressive, trust me), but comes with a 10% chance, per round, to “not stopping until killing everyone in front of him”. Taken literally, this would mean all surviving allies just run behind when the fight is over, and of course, no matter the state of berserker rage he might be in, he won’t keep his eyes on the enemy and, I dunno, turn around to follow them?
  • Tirelessness: “Wielder will never become tired or weary from physical exertion”. “What do you mean, you’re taking your sword with you into the king’s harem?”
  • Spell: Random spell, level 2-7, castable once per day. This is one of those things that could end up being nigh-useless or nearly game-breaking, depending on how you roll. (Limited Wish, for instance, was a 7th level spell…)


Some interesting items here:

  • Armor vs. Walls: Predating Magic:The Gathering debates by nearly 20 years (“How can you Terror a wall?”) this protected you from magical walls — fire, ice, iron, etc. You could walk through them with ease. Possibly you could con your DM into letting you get past blade barrier. There’s an odd note here, regarding magical walls from “War Of The Wizards” — I have no idea what that’s referring to. I dimly recall a game of the era called “WizWar”, I think.
  • Paladin’s Armor: The only “aligned” armor, says the text, being either Lawful or Chaotic, and doing damage to the wrong sort of wearer as per aligned swords. Again, a somewhat prescient concept… and it makes me wonder why it wasn’t more common, as it seems an obvious extension of existing rules.
  • Ranger’s Armor: Unaligned, but gives bonuses if worn by a ranger. As above, we really didn’t see a lot of class-specific armor despite there being a plethora of other items which were so limited.
  • Shield of Throwing: Can be thrown, with a 10% chance of decapitation if the target is AC 7 or less. No word on if shield is red, white, and blue.
  • Shield of the Prophet: Can be wielded by clerics while still allowing them to cast spells. “When used by a Prophet of the correct religion, it has other abilities.” No, the book doesn’t offer rules on what constitutes a prophet of a given religion, nor does it say what those “other abilities” are.


  • Medallion Of Holding: Nifty because it’s not the sort of thing these items are usually used for. This lets you put one item up to 5000 GP (it’s not clear if that’s weight — the GP was a unit of weight as well as currency) or value, into the medallion, and swap it out once a week.
  • Size change: Grow or shrink up to 10 times your size, No evident limits on frequency. Also, no rules for what that means. Does your gear grow/shrink, too? How much extra damage does a 30 foot long sword do? If an inch-high magic user casts a fireball spell, is its damage and AOE scaled down? The canonical response from the “rules light” crowd is “just play with reasonable people, and you don’t have arguments”. Because, as we all know, interpretations of the effects of magical size change is the sort of thing where only one “reasonable” answer exists, and only “unreasonable” people would dispute it. It’s not like size changing has all sorts of often counter-intuitive effects and implications that might merit, oh, several hundred pages of detailed rules for some systems.
  • Galileo Medallion: Renders you immune to Clerical spells, since you don’t believe in gods. Presumably, this affects healing spells, as well.


Basically, a (small) category of magic items for clerics (I’d rule they take the form of whatever holy symbol is appropriate). They grant a +1 to +3 bonus of dispelling/turning undead, and to protections spells. Worthy of mention because it’s such an obvious category of item that was never well developed during the time.


  • Balls Of Bravery. Yes, they went there.
  • Bowling: Knocks down opponents. Of course.


This refers to the incense burner, not the book burner, though it seems odd they didn’t include a “Censor Of Speech” which did 1d6 damage to any character who used foul language… especially when you consider that they did include this:

Have you ever looked at your hand? I mean, really looked at your hand?

Have you ever looked at your hand? I mean, really looked at your hand?


  • Cup of Oberon: Pours out healing potion for elves, normal wine for humans, and vinegar for dwarves. I would immediately demand a Beer Stein of Gimli, with suitably opposite effects.
  • Cup Of The Assassin: Creates a ‘Mahler Style’ poison, and I’m out of Vienna jokes. Sorry.


  • False Flying Carpet: Has a 25% chance of failing at random times. Insert tasteless joke about whichever airline just had a horrible crash at the time you read this here.


Another interesting typographical oddity here: Item names went from Normal Case to ALL CAPS. I’d suspect this is where someone (perhaps Howard) took over the writing and decided to use his or her preferred stylistic guidelines. Just an interesting example of how personal this book was… it was put together by whoever felt like working on some part of it, anticipating open source development, where code modules would be written by whoever, so the same project will have wildly varying conventions for variable names and the like.

  • Jeweled Chimes; Worth 30,000 GP if you don’t try to ring them. They shatter if rung. Nasty trick.
  • CHIMES OF THE PHAROAHS(SIC): Summons 1-6 mummies to attack the chime-ringer and his allies. Getting a message here: Don’t sound the chimes!


  • Lyre Of Truth: Of course.


You might notice a lack of alphabetical order, here. Hell, it was a lot harder to sort things when everything you wrote was basically in a fixed format, and the only way to re-order items was to literally re-type everything, or maybe do something with lead that didn’t involve sending your ork marauders to attack those space marines, I dunno.

Anyway, I’m feeling lazier than usual, so, first off, here’s a scan of some brooms, so I don’t have to write long descriptions by hand.

What, no "Nimbus 6000"? Only two decades off!

What, no “Nimbus 6000”? Only two decades off!

Second, some comments:

  • Pocket Armenians? What the frak? What the frakkin’ frak? I’m guessing “inside joke”, probably a reference to a fellow student who was a)Armenian, and b)Short. Today, the college would be sued for committing microaggressions or something. Get it? Microaggressions? (Hey, you want tasteful jokes… or, for that matter, funny jokes… go read Wil Wheaton or something.)
  • The “clean up crew” monsters is a reference us real old school gamers get, and you punk kids don’t. This was a term used, originally by Gygax, to refer to gelatinous cubes, carrion crawlers, and assorted slimes and puddings that scoured the dungeon eating everything, thus keeping it ‘clean’. As Lore Sjoberg later noted, the 10′ by 10′ gelatinous cube was “genetically adapted to graph paper”. Y’know, monster categorization is a ‘thing’ since D&D 3.0. In addition to Humanoid, Monstrous Humanoid, Magical Beast, Magically Bestial Monstrous Humanoid, and so on, I’d like “Clean Up Crew” as a monster type. Sure, there’s the “Ooze” type, but it’s just not the same.
  • The Witch’s Broom sounds great for witches… except there is no ‘witch’ class officially. There was a The Dragon article (no, that’s not a typo, the magazine was called ‘The Dragon’ then) about witches as a class, so maybe that’s what this refers to. Might even have been a Strategic Review article, that’s how long ago this was.


  • Figurines Of Wealth Consumption: These tiny figures come in hundreds of different styles, and depict all manner of men and creatures, from all ages, from the distant past to the distant future. When any are touched, a compulsion comes upon the wielder, causing them to spend more and more money purchasing them, and hours of time painting them, only to throw them all away every three or four years when a “rules upgrade” is issued, beginning the process all over again. OK, I made all that up. It’s not in there. But, damn, it should have been.
  • Figurine of Truth/Untruth: It has the use of X-rays, ESP, “clairaud.” (sic), “clairvoy.” (sic) to “determine information”. It can be used once per day, and lies 1/3rd of the time. This basically seems really useless to me, unless you did something like asking the same question every day for a week and figuring out that the answer given most of the time was probably true, by the odds. Pity you couldn’t just shoot it in the foot. Oh, there’s also a Figurine Of Untruth/Truth, which lies 2/3rds of the time and tells the truth 1/3rd of the time. I guess you could empirically determine which one you had by asking it a question you knew the answer to, again over the course of several days, and evaluating the frequency of honest to dishonest answers. (And, yes, we did think like that, back in the day. I keep telling you people, it was all about battles of wits between the DM and the players.)


  • Necklace of Pearls: Get your mind out of the gutter, perverts. (That’s “perVECT!”) (Gods, will anyone get that reference? I’m old. I’m so old.) This is a necklace of “one of each of the pearls listed in Blackmoor”, and I originally read it wrong and had a really good… well, tolerable… passable… OK, space-filling joke that relied on my misreading, that I had to delete, so instead I filled the space with this explanation you’re reading now.

Misc. Misc. Magic

From the Department Of Redundancy Department.

  • Wings of Death: At the first chance, will kill the user. Presumably, by dropping him or her from a great height, but for all I know, they beat the wearer to death, or something.
  • And then there’s this…
Asperger's Syndrome? What? Huh?

Asperger’s Syndrome? What? Huh?

I have absolutely no idea what this means or refers to. I know an arquebus is a primitive gun, of course. What gamer doesn’t know that? None worthy of being called “gamer”! But the whole thing doesn’t make any sense to me. I could figure it out in about a minute of googling, of course, but being a celebration of things old-school, I’m going to enjoy something that one rarely can enjoy in this modern age: Not knowing something. (Seriously, when I have the full text of Wikipedia in my pocket, ignorance is pretty hard to justify.)


  • Mickey Mouse Gloves: Today, these would be called “Gauntlets Of The Immense Rodent”, or something, to forestall lawsuits. But this comes from a more innocent time. They are, in fact, really nifty: When worn by an animal of roughly human size, they give the animal dexterity as if it were human. Great for animal companions (if they existed back then… can’t recall if rangers got them in 1e, and like I said earlier, I’m in a really lazy mood, which is like Donald Trump saying he’s feeling particularly greedy today), and smaller beasts of burden.
  • Gloves Of Silence: You’d think this would enable the wearer to slap someone while using the incantation “Ah, shuddupa you face!” to cause them to suffer the effects of a silence spell, but, no. These let you stick your fingers in your ears to resist sonic-based attacks like harpy songs and the like. But if you take your fingers out to cast a spell or use a sword, do you lose immunity? You’d look pretty dumb (and be pretty useless) going the whole fight with your fingers in your ears.
Stranglers Gloves

Do They Work If The Opponent Has No Neck?

  •  Strangler’s Gloves, see above clipping: Not a particularly unusual type of item for the era, I’m highlighting it as an example of one of the dead horses I’ve beaten throughout this series, and will continue to beat: The oddly random degree to which things were detailed in terms of specific rules and specific cases. (And immediately, I wonder: Can you strangle a dragon if you’re much smaller? How about undead, that don’t need to breathe? Or a gelatinous cube?)


Surprisingly free of the obvious jokes. Seriously, did Gygax not understand that to most of the world, “girdle” was not merely a synonym for “belt”?

  • Girdle Of False Strength: One of the nastier (more subtle) cursed items I’ve seen: It acts like a typical Girdle of Giant Strength, but each time that power is used, the wearer’s actual Strength drops a point, and when it hits 0, he becomes a shadow… and not the kind that knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.
  • Girdle of False Polymorphism: Causes the user’s object code to appear as if it supports correctly casting objects to their ancestral types, but instead causes invalid pointer errors when executed by a customer. OK, not quite. It allows you to change shape, but there’s a 40% chance you’ll be permanently transformed into a random creature.
  • Reducing Girdle: Causes the wearer to lose weight until they’re at a healthy value for their size. OK, I was wrong. They did use the obvious jokes.


  • Mirror Of Holding: Something of an oddity, like the Medallion of Holding above. It will store one magic item, retrievable by the person who put it there. I’m guessing whoever DMed at Princeton was a real stickler for encumbrance rules.
  • Mirror of Recharging: As a mirror of holding, but when the item is removed, it has regained one charge. This ability is only usable once per month. Really? I mean, really? Oooooh, once a month I can get back one charge. I use 20 charges from my Rod Of Lordly Might every time I go into a dungeon… or the seedier part of town, if you etgay my iftdray. Oh, thank you, Mr. DM, for your generous magic item! Sheesh. One charge for one item once a month? Screw this, I’m gonna see if there’s a Traveller game going on, or something. One charge… bloody waste of…
  • Mirror of Movement: Stepping into the mirror allows you to step out of any other mirror of which you are “consciously aware”. The possibilities are endless, but you do leave the source mirror behind, so it’s a one-way trip.

Sigh. I’d really hoped to finish this today, as it’s been two weeks, but we still have 18 pages to go. Maybe next time.


A Brief Digression: PrinceCon 3, Part II

PrinceCon 3 Handbook, Part II

We Probably Still Don’t Care What Howard Says

No, I Have No Idea Why That Struck Me As So Funny. It Just Did, OK?

Sheesh, The Way You People In My Imagination Whine About These Things, You’d Think You Were Paying For Them, Or Something

Alright. Part I of this digression (y’know, I really hated Tristam Shandy in college, but evidently it had an influence on me), discussed the variant rules to be used at the PrinceCon 3 gaming convention in Princeton. Since most of the jokes in this one probably are going to be lame attempts at recurring humor, you’d probably better read that one first.

You’re done? And you came back? Wow, you must run up quite a tab at Madame Wu’s House Of Pain. Anyway, today, we’re discussing magic items, a rather long list of them, in fact… mostly based on the OD&D+Greyhawk lists, but with original concepts and variants mixed in.

We start, as always, with a random table. Most of the stuff on the table is what you’d expect, but there’s a few new things; Magical gems, “medallions” (I assume this means “amulets”) and “crosses”, with quotes in the original — basically, clerical items.

The “Swords” table is pretty standard… the usual mix of “+1, +3 vs left-handed lizard-men with leprosy” sort of thing. A few items stand out… a “Matrix/Mage” sword, for instance, and “Holy/Sacred” swords get their own subtable on the next base, to allow for a wide variety of them. Actually, it looks like “holy” and “sacred” are different types, each going from +2 to +5. At this point, not sure what the difference is.

There’s also a nice long table of “sword abilities”, followed by “extraordinary abilities”, but damned if I can figure out how to determine if a sword has such in the first place. It might be case of “Any place we don’t have a rule, use the D&D rule”, which makes sense under the circumstances. There’s a lot of “*” marks next to the entry, but you have to flip waaaaay ahead to find out what they mean… and they mean different things based on what kind of sword they’re next to.

The random tables go from 34 to 52, and the rest of the book is explaining them. It seems best to skip on to the explanation, as otherwise, this whole article will consist of alternating between “This looks pretty baseline” and “I have no idea what this means”.


Shouldn’t Gandalf be doing this?

Oh, and because this was in the days before it was easy to set text in columns, and because the charts were pretty narrow, most of the section consists of a series of tables on the left and art on the right. Like you’re seeing now, if this displays on your browser the way it looks in my text editor.

On my way to the description section, I did notice a few things on the charts… like “Military Pick +1, +3 vs. Giant Beetles”, which is the sort of thing that’s so specialized I feel there has to be a story behind it. Also, a category under miscellaneous magic called “Tie Clips and Spices”, two great tastes that go great together, I suppose. Also, “Balls of Bravery”, and both a “Reducing Girdle” and a “Girdle of Reduction”.

Something vaguely Ditko-esque about this one...

Something vaguely Ditko-esque about this one…

 Then, a few pages of gems, including “Fighter Gems”, and finally, the descriptions.

“Resistance” gives +10% on saving throws and -1 per die of damage to the appropriate type of attack, with all the usual suspects represented, along with demons and scrying. (You can tell the pre-AD&D fan stuff from the AD&D-era fan stuff by the fact it’s only “demons”, never “demons and devils”. (If it’s “baatezu” or whatever, I don’t wanna hear about it.)

 A “*” for most items means “Roll on the appropriate table”. I rather like that for swords of the type “+1, +3 vs. dragons*”, you roll on a random table to see what kind of dragon you get a bonus against… said table to be set up based on the relative population of different species of dragons in the region where the sword was forged, which is simultaneously perfectly logical — people living in the Dismal Dripping Mire Of Sodden Sogginess are unlikely to forge a Sword +1, +3 vs. blue dragons, and if you don’t know why, how the hell did you even find this page?– and perfectly ridiculous, because some DM rolling up a random treasure for a random encounter isn’t going to know or care where a magic sword was made. I think someone coined the phrase “Gygaxian naturalism” for this sort of thinking, and I like it.

BTW, they spell “wielder” as “weilder” everywhere. I’ve been less whiny about spelling errors in this one than I usually am, because it’s not even pretending to be a commercial product, and because, as I noted in Part I, I greatly suspect the authors weren’t English majors, but seriously, didn’t they know the “i before e except after c” song from the Peanuts movie? (Actually, I don’t even know if that movie was out when this was published, and I’m too damn lazy to go look it up on IMDB, which is a particularly special kind of lazy.)

Let’s look at some of the cooler swords:

  • +1, Equalizing: This sword negates White Male Privilege… well, actually, it just drains a level from whoever is higher level and gives it to whoever is lower level… regardless of who weilds… er… wields it. This is interesting, as it means if you’ve got this sword, you only want to attack people higher level than you, or you’ll end up creating super-kobold. (Google ‘pun-pun kobold’ sometime…)
  • +1, Metal-Cleaving: If the sword misses an attack, it has a chance to destroy the targets armor or weapon. Nice.
  • +1, +2 vs. Flyers, +3 vs. Ents: Someone clearly hated birds, and the trees they nested in. Or something.

OK, time to digress once more. As I noted in my Arduin articles, this kind of “+1 vs. Hamsters, -2 vs. Gerbils” mechanic was really, really, common back in Ye Olden Dayse, and I have no frakking idea why. This is, or was, my era. I was 14 when I started playing in 1978. I ought to know the culture well enough to understand it, but in this case, I am fertummelt. I didn’t question it at the time, because it was all new enough that I just took it all at face value. I didn’t even really think much about it until, well, now, writing these articles where I’m doing a careful, close, reading of the text, not so much for scholarly understanding but in the hopes of finding something I can hang a feeble attempt at humor on. At best, I can say it seems like the first pass at what eventually became “Of Slaying”, where a sword had a nice little bonus for general purposes and a larger bonus against a given enemy, but without the understanding of that rule, so it was perceived as a kind of arbitrary thing and simply imitated. (A lot of Burgess shale era stuff showed elements of what’s called cargo cult programming when you see it in code, and the parallels between RPG design and program design become ever more apparent the more of these things I write. In essence, people copied D&D without understanding the ‘why’.)

I could retrofit an explanation… fanwanking it… though. Clearly, magic is random and chaotic. The endless lists of “Hand-axe +2, +3 vs. Frost Giants and Phase Spiders” items are the result of magic being more art than science, that weaving the enchantments was often plagued by strange effects and unforeseen circumstances. Only when the item was complete could the smith be sure what he’d actually made.

Ah, we see the difference between ‘Holy’ and ‘Sacred’ swords: Holy swords give paladins an aura of protection against magic-user spells, while sacred swords give rangers an aura of protection against cleric spells. Uhm… wait, what? Was there some early printing of Lord Of The Rings were Aragorn killed Aslan, or something?

Still a lot of ground to cover, and not much time to cover it in. I don’t care what Howard says, 1300 or so words is a good length for an article. So, tune in next week (probably) for Part III of who knows how many, at this point.



Yeah, I’m just gonna leave this right here…

Review for “The Book Of eight Restful Retreats”, my first product published through Christina Stiles Presents: http://www.rpgnow.com/product_reviews.php?products_id=131265