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The Runes Of Doom, Part VI

Rules & Revisions

Lasers & Lightning Guns

Staffs & Saddlebags

Last week Two weeks ago, I mildly chided Dave Hargrave for having a few pages containing but a single chart or table, surrounded by a vast sea of emptiness. Across time and space, Dave heard me, and made sure the material covered in this week’s installment would be from densely-packed pages of small type. Y’know, I don’t remember the type being this small when I was 16. Clearly, someone has, in the ensuing decades, sneaked into my house and replaced my copies with small-type versions, meticulously replicating every duck sauce stain to lull my suspicions. No other explanation is possible.

Swords & Smiths

(Can I Maintain This Alliteration & Alliteration Shtick For This Whole Article? Let’s Find Out Together.)

From the prior page (in last week’s the previous article) on Random Lifestyle Changes, we jump right into vorpal blades. Well, not right into. That would be messy. They’re the start of a list of important MODIFIERS and RULES for various THINGS, with a LOT of KIRBY CAPS to add EMPHASIS.

  • Vorpal swords have a 20% chance of a random critical every time THAT THEY HIT. A natural 20, though, is always “head severed”.
  • Swords of Sharpness have a 10% chance of a random critical.
  • Armor takes the same damage a player does. Presumably, Dave meant “player character”. Presumably…

DM:”OK, that’s 35 points to Bronk The Queasy, and 35 to his plate mail.”
Player: “Nuh-uh! The rules say armor takes damage as the player does. Bronk took the damage, not me, so the armor is fine!”
DM: “Have it your way…” (Proceeds to hit player upside the head with 1e DMG. Player is lucky Ptolus or Hero 6e are still decades in the future.) “So that’s about eight points to the armor, then. OK?”

  • Every 20 points of damage that armor receives removes one “plus”, unless the hit was in an area not covered by the armor, which makes sense until you realize there’s no real hit location rules and no real definition of just what a suit of armor covers. For convenience’s sake, I’d say it’s everything but the face and maybe the hands. This rule makes a lot more sense in Aftermath. Ah… good ol’ location 12. But I digress.
    • If your armor is damaged, you will need a dwarf “or other qualified” smith to repair it. There’s a 5% chance of finding such a smith per 100,000 population of the area the character (not the player, this time, it says ‘character’), is in.
  • The days of a lone thief holding the passage against a charging wyvern are over! Them days is gone forever! (Wait a second… in Dave’s games, the guy playing the thief didn’t hide in shadows at the first sign of anything with more hit points than an asthmatic sea cucumber? That’s weird.)
"Of course my dwarf can hold back the dragon! He's wearing leather armor! It's just common sense!"

“Of course my dwarf can hold back the dragon! He’s wearing leather armor! It’s just common sense!”

And this, folks, is why we ultimately have rules like this.

Article writing on hold due to orange cat in need of snuggles.

(Jeopardy theme plays… OK, cat has received orders from orbital satellite telling him cuddle time is over, now it’s time to meow madly at an invisible spot on the wall. Back to writing.)

Also, we have a “simple” explanation of pumping mana. (Read the preceding two words in a Bavarian accent.)

So, each die of damage costs five-thirds of a point of mana?

So, each die of damage costs five-thirds of a point of mana?

“All weaponry that leaves the hand of the firer (such as arrows, bullets, rays, beams) and have (sic) a listed maximum AC penetration/ranges, will attack at plus five (+5) all AC’s (sic) it can penetrate!

Got that? Good. There will be a quiz later. Remember, this only applies if the maximum is listed. It does not apply to unlisted maximums! Get it straight, people, I’m sick of repeating myself! Listed maximums only!

Here’s someone doing Conan cosplay fighting a krag spi spyder.

This Drawing Is So Freakin' Awesome I'm Not Even Going To Whine About 'Spyder'

This Drawing Is So Freakin’ Awesome I’m Not Even Going To Whine About ‘Spyder’

Ballistae And Blasters

“A dagger +1, a longsword +1, + 3 against orcs, and a phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range.”
“Hey, just what you see, pal.”
(A conversation I assume occurred at Dave’s table before it was ripped off by Cameron.)

Since we just discussed those weapons which have a listed maximum range, it is only fair we present them.

Tech Weapons

I Felt The Weapon Names And Notes Were The Most Important Parts, So, I Ended Up Cutting Out The Listed Maximum Range. Oh, The Irony!

Evidently, in Arduin, anti-matter projectors are made of the same stuff they make cars from in action movies. Or maybe “hits it” should be “it hits”, and “causes it” becomes “it causes”? Hey, I’ve found reversed booleans that have hidden deep in code for many years. It’s possible!

“Metal Armor just helps!”, but if you were expecting rules for how much it helps, you clearly haven’t been reading these articles for very long.

Artifacts & Amulets

Ah, now we get to the good stuff… the phat lewt, as the kids say. What? They haven’t said that for 20 years? How about bling? Do they still say bling? Whatever, I’m not going to spend time researching it.

Amulet Of The Amazon Mother: A silver scrotum and phallus impaled by a golden arrow, this gives +3 to any amazon’s Str, Dex, and Agility, as well as a smegload of other bonuses for use when attacking men. (cough) issues (cough).

Conjure Crystal: A crystal ball that can, in addition to the usual crystal ball stuff, show illusions and, once a month, summon an elemental. Because why not?

Food Of The Gods: Causes teenagers to grow to giant size and then get mocked by Joel, Tom, and Crow. No, wait. This consists of mead, manna, and ambrosia, each of which has a 50/50 chance to raise or lower physical attributes, mental attributes, and level, respectively, by 1d8 each. You can eat it only once. It also “erases all previous deaths”, so that the maximum death counter resets. I repeat: The “revolving door afterlife” is not a recent invention!

Gauntlet Of Gripping: Not going to go there.

Horseshoes of Traveling And Leaping: Like the classic ‘boots of springing and striding’ but for, you know, your horse. I don’t know about Dave, but in my games back in the day, this would lead to some hilarious slapstick, followed by arguments about what you need to roll to stay on a horse, followed by a long digression involving saddles and alchemical glue.

Ring of Djinn Power: Often paired with the Ring Of Itty Bitty Living Space. Anyway, turns the wearer into a djinn for an hour, up to three times a day, with an increasing chance of the wearer becoming the djinn in the ring. So, first thing you do the first time you use it: Wish that the curse on the ring is lifted and you can use it as much as you want without consequence. Then, get into a two hour debate with the DM over the exact wording and interpretation of the wish.

Ring Of Righteousness Resistance: Provides +4 to saves vs. harangues by whiny millennial activists and elderly fundamentalists. Also +2 to saves against non-chaotic clerical magic and +3 to saves against conversion.

Rose Colored Spectacles Of Delusion And Untrue Sight: Causes the user to see bad things as good, good things as bad, think broccoli is actually a type of food, dislike bacon, etc. They “effect” only the user, who likes them so much they won’t take them off.

Ruby of Runaway Regeneration: Not to be confused with the Amulet Of Anarchistic Alliteration, this grants regeneration, but the body part grows back randomly… your leg might regrow as a horse’s leg, for instance. There’s no random table provided; the DM must adjudicate the effects according to how much Chinese food has been provided.

Staff of Stupidness: I am just assuming there was a cleric in Dave’s game he really didn’t like, and made sure he found this…

I Mean, There Aren't Even Rules For Some Of The Effects. Dave Must've Hated That Cleric.

I Mean, There Aren’t Even Rules For Some Of The Effects. Dave Must’ve Hated That Cleric.

Also, “stupidness” isn’t a word. I feel obliged to point that out.

Wand of Wizardry: Usually about 25% longer than regular wands. No, that’s not me being funny. (“You’re never funny!” “OK, that’s not me attempting to be funny. Happy now, imaginary peanut gallery?” “For the moment. We’re watching you.”) That’s actually what it says. (/me begins singing “A Wizard’s Staff Has A Knob On The End”) Oh, in addition to providing fodder for single entendres almost forty years later, it provides “any three single uses by type. For example, cold, paralysis, fear.” Uhm… OK. I can almost make sense of that… maybe it means you can shoot three cold rays, or three paralysis rays… but does that mean you pick a type, use it three times, and that’s it, or you get three cold, three fire, three acid, three sonic, three laser, three-as-many-different ‘types’ as you can con the DM into letting you come up with?


And so we end for now… next time, we delve into new spells, of which there are many, and at least two contain the word “aphrodisiac”.

 

 

The Runes Of Doom, Part V

The Runes Of Doom, Part V

Rules & Resurrection

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

How To Reverse IRREVOCABLE Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Spinal Tap’s Greatest Hits

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Hit Point Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Done Got Told

You Done Got Told

Guild Fees

Because, Why Not?

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

I Seem To Be Having Extreme Difficulty With My Lifestyle

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

And Onwards…

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

 

The Runes Of Doom, Part IV

The Runes Of Doom, Part IV

Deodanths, Saurigs, and Phraints

Takei

(You See What I Did There…)

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

Undead Hybrid Elves… From The Future!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We also had…

Vulcan Mantis-Men From Outer Space!

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

My Money's On The Phraint

My Money’s On The Phraint

Phraints are born into a caste system, as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

Sheldon Cooper Plays Nothing Else

Sheldon Cooper Plays Nothing Else

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

Savage Lizard-Men From The Forgotten Past!

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

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

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

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

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

And In Conclusion…

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

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

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

The Runes Of Doom, Part II

The Runes Of Doom, Part II

Politics & Pickpockets

Rulers & Rabble

And The Black Wind

In today’s installment of the Arduin walkthrough, we look primarily at what is now called “downtime” events — that vague limbo between “Well, half of you will be rolling up new characters while the other half sell the loot they stripped from your still-warm corpses” and “You stand upon the threshold of the Dungeon Of Indescribable Torment And Certain Slow, Painful, Death… so, naturally, you head straight in without a moment’s thought.” As I ranted on extensively a few posts back, this was kind of a new and strange concept to the former wargamers, as no one ever thought to pack little lead camp followers in with their Napoleonic figures so the infantry wouldn’t be bored between engagements.

The Urgency Of Time

Really, I just have to post this “paragraph” verbatim, because nothing else could “convey” the perfect Hargravian nature of the writing. Here is Dave Hargrave in full-on “Listen up, you primitive screwheads!” mode, a style of writing often used by Gygax and others of the era (also in the brilliant Star Rovers, the first of my truly epic analysis projects… wow, five years ago… damn…)

Get Off Your Chubby Buns!

Get Off Your Chubby Buns!

Oh, and I mentioned the Black Wind was statted out in Welcome To Skull Tower, but illustrated here? Here it is:

Too Many Oozes, Not Enough Clouds, That's What's Wrong With Modern Games

Too Many Oozes, Not Enough Clouds, That’s What’s Wrong With Modern Games

So, check this out. You’ve got a Phraint and a human in what looks like a starship corridor fighting a roiling cloud of smoke and lightning. With swords. By a treasure chest. As with the cover, nearly all that is awesomely cool about old-school gaming is conveyed in a single perfect image.

So what happens to the world while the players are resting on their chubby butts, their fingers stained orange from cheetoh consumption? There’s two charts. One determines the chance of something happening, the other determines what happens. Sort of.

Frankly, The Only Real Political Allignment(sic) Is "Amoral".

Frankly, The Only Real Political Allignment(sic) Is “Amoral”.

One of the things that’s interesting, to me, is that the degree of dissatisfaction has no bearing on the severity of the intrigue… just the chance for it to occur. As for the intrigue itself, well…

Clearly, GRRM Rolled A 19 For Robb Stark

Clearly, GRRM Rolled A 19 For Robb Stark

You have to love result 20.

DM:”OK, you commit suicide… (roll roll roll)… by sticking your wand of incineration down your throat and activating it in the public square.”
Player: “What? Why?”
DM: “Political reasons.”
Player: “But I’m dead! How does that help?”
DM: “Let the dice fall where they may. Moving on…”

I’ve Got Some Good News And Some Bad News…

Next up we have the good and bad event charts, which are rolled on once a month. There’s a 50/50 chance for either, but each must be rolled on at least three times a year. The charts are the usual mix of things. A sampling, and some notes:

"She's Rich..."

“She’s Rich…”

  • It’s interesting the “Good” chart includes “25% chance of misfortune”. Old School Gaming was definitely about never giving a PC an even break.
  • You can only fall in love with, or be loved by, females. One assumes this means one of:
    • Every player was male and only played male characters.
    • There were female players, but the only played male characters.
    • All female characters were lesbian/bisexual.
  • A “Small Fortune” was less than even low-level PCs will have from their first dungeon crawl.
I Admit To Curiosity As To What The "Etc" Can Be

I Admit To Curiosity As To What The “Etc” Can Be

  • “Well, I was able to battle an uruk-hai riding a violet dragon on the 12th plane of Hell without doing myself any long term harm, but during a tavern brawl, I took an arrow to the knee.”
  • An item not shown is “Altercation With Nobility”, with the notes reading “Results Are Varied”. Yeah. That helps.

It is later noted that these two charts are “generally used by Non Player Characters” in campaign style games, such as various sheriffs, lords, and retainers. This makes a certain sense, and it’s a way for the DM to get ideas to spark events in a long-term “Rulers & Rabble” style campaign, without seeming too biased or railroady. (I declare “railroady” a word, not to be confused with “rail roadie”, which would be a person of dubious hygiene and social standing who idolizes Amtrak conductors and follows them about. But I digress.)

The Westeros/Downton Abbey Table

85% Chance If You're A Lannister

85% Chance If You’re A Lannister

See, folks? This is why PCs are murderhobos, rootless wanderers with no close kin or connections. Because if you have relatives and family, the GM will use them entirely as a way to completely screw you over, again and again and again, and if you whine, the GM will shrug in that annoying way GMs do, and say, “Sorry, dude, I was just rolling on the chart… so, have you set the date for your character and his sister to get married, yet? I’ve got them ‘psychopathic incest babies’ chart around here somewhere…”

A bit short, but I’ve got some other stuff to work on this week, and this is the end of the background material.. next time, we get into classes. Alchemists, assassins, and more.

The Runes Of Doom, Part I

The Runes Of Doom, Part I

Individuality, Reality, And Age

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

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

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

Let’s begin!

Holy (Bleep), The Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unboxing… Er… Opening…

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

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

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

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

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

Individuality And Reality

And Random Italics

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

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

#YesAllGoblins

#NotAllGoblins

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

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

Some notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ye Olde Adventurers’ Home

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

Snort. Cough. Ahem. Excuse me.

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

Bwahahahah! OK. OK. I’ve got this.

“In Arduin, however, we believe…”

“…believe in…”

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

To hell with it.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XV

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XV

Miscellaneous Notes Are Miscellaneous

Mu Mesons Are Messy

Also, Travel Times

Also, Save Vs. Save Vs. Petrification

Sorry for missing last week… a lot of chores that had to be done pretty much devoured my writing time. Anyway, here we all are, still working through the information-dense chunk of Skull Tower. In the unlikely event you somehow ended up on this page accidently, possibly because I’m going to write “Bernie Sanders has sex with Kardashians at Mizzou” and see if that raises my google rank, the rest of the articles in the series are here. No Kardashians, but many other creatures of unearthly horror. (No Bernie Sanders, either, but we do discuss fantasy economics. You see what I did there? Gads, I’m witty.)

So. Miscellaneous notes, summarized:

  • I sometimes ding Dave Hargrave for having things on charts and tables that aren’t in the book, but here, he lets us know that all the monsters in the Arduin Grimoire encounter charts are described in that volume. Or in this volume. Or in one of the three volumes of “All The World’s Monsters”, which I happen to have and might go through at some later point for your amusement. Or in the “Monster Cards” sold by Russell Powell of Long Beach, CA. Or in Dave’s filing cabinet, either under ‘M’ for ‘Monster’, ‘C’ for ‘Critter’, or ‘T’ for ‘To Be Filed Later’. I may have made up the last part.
  • If you don’t have the time or imagination to make up your own stuff, read “Alarums & Excursions“. As far as I know, it’s still going!
  • The first “Have you tried roleplaying in this roleplaying game?” rant?
  • roleplaying

    Pick One Of The Hobbits In “The Hobbit”. There Were So Many.

  • Random treasure tables are too personal to share. Also, if someone’s character gets permanently offed, Dave adds a bonus to the loot, which might promote unfortunate behavior…”Hey! I would have lived if you’d healed me!” “Yeah, but this way, the rest of us get a loot bonus!”
  • The “Common Tongue” is simply the dominant language of the local region; there is no global language. The alignment languages of Chaotic, Neutral, and Law (you can tell when in the history of D&D this was written!) are pidgins composed of vocabulary from the races most associated with each alignment.
  • Never tell players what kind of monsters they’re fighting! Show them a picture. Did I mention I sell cards with monster’s pictures on them? Generally, good advice — don’t reveal the monster’s hit points, AC, special abilities, etc., until the players figure them out.
  • Don’t let player knowledge become character knowledge. Again, good advice, but partially problematic due to the lack of a way to determine what the character knows. If you grow up in a village raided by orcs, shouldn’t you (the character) know something about orcs? Further, as noted many times, this was an era of “player skill, not character skill”, and player skill mostly meant memorizing the books and learning from each prior character’s death. Dave’s attempts to drag the game kicking and screaming into the “Roleplay, dammit!” era were hampered by the lack of mechanics to support non-combat knowledges. (And, no, you can’t just “talk it out”, unless you want the game to grind to a halt every time a new monster pops up and you argue if you’ve heard of it before.)
  • Place monsters and treasure YOUR way! It’s YOUR world! Eternal truths there, mate.
  • The saga of George and the Mu-Meson blade. Lightsabres (also lightsabers… seriously, I spent time googling this and found both spellings equally common in official and quasi-official sources), of course, appeared in 1977, a few years after D&D and right about the time the Arduin books were published (Skull Tower is from 1978). So, naturally, they invaded game worlds. Undoubtedly, some folk at the time were whining the game had abandoned its roots in authentic fantasy fiction and was becoming a video game, with everyone just “Ponging” and “Breaking Out” instead of pouring water on the floor to see where the pit trap is, like they did in the good old days of last week.
  • This Is Where I Learned About Mu Mesons

    This Is Where I Learned About Mu Mesons

  • “Competence” is finally fully defined as meaning you are so good at something, you are PLUS TWO (+2) at it. (Caps and parentheticals in original.) +2 to your saves, -2 to opponents’ saves, and +2 to each die(!) of damage done.

The Road Goes Ever, Ever, On, And Is Filled With Random Encounters

Now, following an odd hodge-podge of notes, thoughts, and hints, we get to travel times. Why not?

Man, It Must Have Taken Sam And Frodo Forever To Get To Mordor

Man, It Must Have Taken Sam And Frodo Forever To Get To Mordor

There’s quite a few notes above the chart:

  • These are times on good roads.
  • There’s a system for encounters, implemented (as seen also in a few spots of the Arduin Grimoire) by describing a chart in a sentence. (“On a roll of 1-4, this. On a roll of 5-7, that.”)
  • Travel times are reduced by 1 mile for each amount of weight carried that is equal to 20% of your maximum weight allowance, compounded monthly.

And some notes from me:

  • Man, even with those stubby little legs, dwarves can book it!
  • “All Half-Elves” implies there’s more than one kind of half-elf… dwarf/elf? Hobbit/elf? Phraint/elf?
  • “Hobbits, etc.” What’s the “etc”? Kobbits, perhaps?
  • Orcs travel as fast as elves… and last longer… and need to stop less. Sauron improved the breed, clearly.
  • Human women can travel 16 miles a day, but Amazons can travel 20 miles a day. So this sort of answers the question of whether Arduin Amazons are a species or a culture.
  • My spell checker suggested replacing “dwarves” with “adwares”. Go home, spell checker. You’re drunk.

Next is a discussion on inter-city coach lines, with their rates and travel times. It’s one of those little bits, of which there are many scattered in the Trilogy, that make you stop and think about the nature of day-to-day life in your world, and remind you that the campaign setting doesn’t, or shouldn’t, consist entirely of The Town (containing the The Blacksmith, The Temple, and The Inn) and The Dungeon.

Then, horses, and other riding beasts, a chart cross-indexing type (including camel and ox) with five grades (six, if you count the assumed ‘average’) to yield a travel time, which will then be adjusted by terrain.

Following this is an “Escape and Evasion” chart, cross indexing the level of the pursuer with the terrain type to yield a base chance to flee successfully. This is a good abstraction of what’s often a difficult thing to model in RPGs. The footnote on the chart reminds the DM to consider elven cloaks, boots of speed, and the like, but — for the thousandth time — the lack of any kind of unified mechanic comes around again. The GM will basically be plucking percentages out of thin air for each possible adjusting factor — and whether hunter or hunted, the players will undeniably be looking for such factors (those in their favor, of course.)

We’ve covered on-foot travel times, horse travel times, coaches, and wilderness escape chances. Now, saving throws vs. medusa.

Yes, really.

The next item is a saving roll chart for “all stoning of the glance or gaze variety”, based on both the level of the character making the save, and the distance from the gazing or glancing (is there a difference?) creature. Oh, wait. This isn’t the saving roll vs. stoning chart. This is the saving roll vs. saving roll vs. petrification chart. Seriously. If you fail your roll on this chart, then you need to roll your normal saving throw. Otherwise, you avoid the gaze. Me, I assumed the saving throw, at least in part, modeled “not looking at the damn thing in the first place”, but some people wanted more detail.

The next part of the book — most of the remainder, in fact — is material about the setting itself. It’s tremendously inspirational and shaped, and continues to shape, a lot of my worldbuilding. So expect a lot of fawning mixed in with the inevitable sarcasm. (Everything I do is sarcastic. If I met God Himself, I’d probably start off with “Great job on the platypus, there. You outsourced that one, didn’t you?” (Well, I mean, I’d start off with that after recovering from having to adjust my atheism.))

Meanwhile, here’s a barbarian hobbit.

Belkar Bitterleaf, OD&D Version

Belkar Bitterleaf, OD&D Version

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XIV

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XIV

More Rules!

Magik Rules! Fumble Rules! Weapon Rules!

But first… a digression!

I was looking through my copy of Greyhawk to see if a particular spell had entered the D&D canon by then, and I noticed something I’d never noticed before, despite having read GH multiple times through during the years when it was relatively current. (In the late 1970s, it was a year between publication of each volume of AD&D, so we had to cobble together working rules out of a mix of what had been released so far and bits of older editions.) Check the “Meteor Swarm” description:

meteor swarm

Who is Jim? Sorry, (Jim!). Jim Ward, probably, but I’m guessing. Well, OK. So, why the call-out and exclamation point? It’s a rather Hargravian touch in a Gygaxian work. Anyone know the secret backstory?

Back to Arduin.

Clerical Magik

(Sometimes, I’ll write ‘Magic’. Sometimes, I’ll write ‘Magik (sic)’. And sometimes, I’ll write ‘Magik’ without the ‘sic’. Dave Hargrave wasn’t consistent, and I’m honoring his memory.)

As noted last week, there’s already been a section of notes on clerical and healing magic… and so what? The original Arduin trilogy is a glorious exercise in extemporanea. Here you go:

Dave's Players Let Orcs Get Away?

Dave’s Players Let Orcs Get Away? For Shame! They Have Loot On Them!

It’s interesting, because this implies “evil healing” was an ongoing point of contention. There were a lot of those. Anyone who thinks “holy wars” over the interpretation of rules is somehow a new thing (undoubtedly beginning with the edition after the one they started with, which was a perversion of all that is good and holy) is kidding themselves. Gaming culture grew out of a blend of wargaming culture and SF fandom, both of which have been full of people arguing violently over trivia since their inception.

Rules Additions, Changes, And Deletions

(That’s the header for this page.)

Summary and comments:

  • Any “magik utilizing type” (IOW, I’m guessing, clerics, druids, and so on) can try to cast a spell higher level than they normally can, if they have an Intelligence over 14 (but shouldn’t it be Wisdom for clerics?), at a rate of each 3 points over 14=+1 possible level, with a 20% chance per level above the normal limit of spell failure. This is a pretty nifty rule. Dave explicitly notes that due to the spell failure, the use of spells more than four levels over your own is impossible… which has the somewhat scary implication some of Dave’s players had casters with an Int of 26 or more.
  • Dispel magic assumes a 50% chance when the casters are equal level, increasing/decreasing 10% for each level’s difference. (So, if you’re one level higher than the target, you have a 60% chance to dispel; one level lower, 40%.) This is a nice, simple, and elegant rule.
  • All “device magik”(wands, rods, staffs, technology) does full dice damage automatically. (Italics in original, but if they weren’t, I’d have added ’em.) Wow! I’m assuming this means “maximum possible rolled damage”, though I guess it could mean “maximum dice as if cast at the highest possible level”, but most of the X dice/level spells, at the time, didn’t have a level cap.
  • And speaking of simple and elegant…NOT.
    Also, Take The Square Root Of The Caster's Height In Furlongs And Divide By His Current Encumbrance In Kilograms

    Also, Take The Square Root Of The Caster’s Height In Furlongs And Divide By His Current Encumbrance In Kilograms

    If you fail this check, of course, you roll on the fumble chart. Not the fumble chart we covered back in Arduin Grimoire, of course, another one. (Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure there were other rules for spell disruption we’ve looked at… I’ll have to check some time.)

I Can Just Imagine The Debates Over Figuring Out What 5% Of A Spell Is

I Can Just Imagine The Debates Over Figuring Out What 5% Of A Spell Is

What’s the exact reverse of a fireball? An iceball, or a “healing flame”? How about a Summoning spell? Does the caster get summoned? Does it summon things hostile to the caster? Yeah, I know the catechism: “You don’t need icky rules. Reasonable people will work out an answer. If you get into arguments, find better players.” It’s nice to know that a)Reasonable people never disagree on what the “reasonable” answer is, and b)There’s an endless supply of mature and well-adjusted people out there who want to spend 6 hours on a Friday night crammed around a kitchen table pretending to be elves.

Also, this:

Plus One Die For Each Magik Plus One? What?

Plus 1 Die Per Magik Plus Over One? What?

Maybe this refers to “competence”, so a “fire competent” magic user does two more dice of damage?

Combat Rules

Continuing the theme of “high density information dump”, we move on to combat.

  • It is a “fact” that everyone has a 3% chance per level of placing any missile or aimed shot into an “exact” target” (does this supersede the normal roll to hit? Or do you roll to hit and then roll %ile to see if you hit what you want? Or does this apply only to hitting non-moving targets? And does it matter if it’s a 10th level Ranger or a 10th level Merchant? Or…), hobbits and kobbits get a 25% bonus, while elves get a 10% bonus.
  • Also:
Go Ahead. Tell Me How Complex The AOO Rules Are.

Go Ahead. Tell Me How Complex The AOO Rules Are.

And speaking of opportunity…

Opportunity

It Knocks But Once

So, uhm… yeah.

Now, this is the educational portion of our program. Why did rules like this appear? Because they were necessary, and because the “state of the art” at the time was, let us be frank, primitive. (No, that wasn’t frank. Frank is “pretty execrable, actually”. The rules, I mean. Frank’s an OK kind of guy, really. Once you get to know him.) The kinds of actions that commonly occurred in dungeon crawls — “I stand up”, “I wait until the orc pokes out from behind that wall, then shoot him” — had no real mechanical support. The “reasonable” people all had very different ideas about what “should” happen, based on if they got their ideas about “real” combat from reading comics, watching movies, or playing wargames. (The fourth group, the SCAers/other recreationists, tended to have a good knowledge base, but also were even more prone to cluttering things up with endless minutiae that often fell below the level of resolution of the highly abstract D&D system.) And, people being people, there was often a bias towards whatever interpretation was most favorable at the moment, then flip-flopping when it became unfavorable. So, some kind of “Look, this is what we’re doing, period!” rule was required… but the idea of a coherent system where there was one dominant or universal resolution mechanic, with each needed rule being mostly a determination of the inputs into that mechanic, was far off. So, each action or circumstance got its own rule, often with its own special supporting mechanics. (I’m not sure what the “emergency turn chart” is… was that in an earlier book? I didn’t see it when I flipped through the Grimoire just now, and it’s not in the forthcoming pages in Skull Tower…)

Even today, there’s a tension in game design between generic, easily applied rules that ignore many of the small details that aid immersion, and piles of modifiers and special exceptions that slog the game to a crawl as you try to squeeze one more +1 out of the mechanics. (“But I’m wearing hard boots! Doesn’t that give me DR 1/- vs. caltrops?)

Moving on, we get to weapon breakage rules. There’s a big chart of percentages cross-indexed by attackers strength and weapon plus and armor types, but I’m going to skip that and focus on the explanation…

"Surprised You, Didn't I?" Is A Phrase Rarely Seen In Modern Games

“Surprised You, Didn’t I?” Is A Phrase Rarely Seen In Modern Games

Yeah, you see, while the chart and rules include “every pertinent factor accounted for and adjudicated for”, the times when you are supposed to use it are not nearly as clearly spelled out. How do you know if a monster is dense enough to damage a weapon? Hey, that’s for you to figure out. Dave can’t do everything for you, man.

The next page discusses weapon groups and proficiency bonuses — all pretty well done, if not entirely consistent with similar discussions elsewhere, but, consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, and in Arduin, hobgoblins could be wearing +2 plate armor and carrying flaming longswords, so, there you go. There are also rules for learning new weapon proficiencies, which are fairly harsh — basically you need to tell your “resident DM” (this was in an era when players regularly moved characters from table to table) that you are doing so, and you need to earn experience using only that weapon equal to the amount needed to gain your next level, but said XP doesn’t actually count towards that level game. (“Trade XP for abilities” was a fairly common experimental mechanic in this era, but it often failed because it used static amounts of experience, which meant that the cost became nominal as experience gain increased. Dave Hargrave addressed that with this rule.)

I do need to comment on how much of the preceding remains echoed in modern incarnations of D&D. Rules for standing (and the risks thereby), as well as the effects of being prone. Rules for held actions and reactions. Rules for casting failure if the caster is damaged mid-chant. Rules for sundering weapons and armor. Rules for weapon specialization and learning new weapon skills. All of these are now core.  Dave Hargrave’s instincts towards what rules were needed were rock-solid, even if some of the design work was a little spotty. He had far too many ideas, visions, and creations to give any one of them attention and polish… but the world would be a far poorer place if he’d released a tenth as much material, having taken ten times longer to refine it. The raw creativity more than compensates for the rough implementation.

Next time: More rules! Seriously. I told you there was a lot of this to go through.

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XI

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XI

New Treasures

Or, “We Won’t Kill That Thing, ‘less It Drops Some Good Bling”

As I probably ranted about when we hit this section in the Arduin Grimoire1 walkthrough (but I’m too lazy to go back and look, and if I did, I’d probably notice typos and errors and ways to make the jokes better less worse, and never get around to finishing this) one of the myths of Old School Revisionism is that contrary to the modern “video game” RPGs where characters are blinged out like Christmas trees decorated by third world dictators, in the good old days, when men were men, women were strange and scary, and race and class were the same thing  (confusing the hell out of intersectionalists), you would be lucky to find a single +1 dagger after adventuring through every level of the Abyss, and you’d be grateful to get it, too. While I’m sure at least one or two games run in this manner existed, for most of us at the time… well, there’s a reason the term ‘Monty Haul2‘ appeared within a minute or two of D&D itself hitting the scene.

As noted, ‘player skill’ back then consisted of memorizing the rulebooks, so there was a perennial arms race between DMs who wanted players to have to work to figure out what their new gew-gaws did, and players who had developed frighteningly good ‘pruning’ algorithms to drill down through the possibilities, some of which were so efficient they only killed a mere 21.37% of henchmen used as guinea pigs. Thus, new magic items!

(It’s also the case that magic items, like spells, were one of the few ‘rules delivery vectors’. They were a way of making characters more distinctive in terms of the mechanics they had access too. Today, we have feats, class powers that involve picking from long lists of options, alternate class features, archetypes, yadda yadda. Back then, two members of the same class, of equal level, were almost indistinguishable, apart from their gear. So, it’s unsurprising that when describing a character in Ye Olden Dayse, people tended to go “He’s a level X class Y with item 1, item 2, and item 3”, because those items are what made him more unique.)

Anyway, on to the phat l00t! As always, I’ll be cherry-picking a handful of selections I find particularly interesting, for wholly subjective and illogical reasons.

It’s All About The Elminsters…

(Yeah, Elminster came long after the period I’m covering, but ‘It’s All About The Gandalfs’ doesn’t really scan, does it?)

Amulet Of Spell Eating: This “sphere of gold covered with 13 black onyx mouths” eats any spells cast within 20′ of it. The number it eats is indeterminate, but it’s “usually” 13 levels. (There’s no actual description of what “eating a spell” means, but I think it’s obvious from context that is absorbs all the magic so the spell doesn’t actually take effect). The eating occurs automatically… and once it is “full”, every spell it has absorbed is expelled. The intent may have been for this to be a defensive item, but the offensive possibilities are considerable… you could “feed” it  number of potent spells, toss it into a room full of enemies, hastily cast Yrretsenoj’s Conjuration Of The Wafer-Thin Mint, and shut the door as the fireworks go off.

Boots Of Time: They look, and act, like Boots of Elvenkind… until you enter a time stop field, which seems to be a common experience in Arduin. Then, they “activate”, and the wearer moves forward in time one minute per step… and the boots cannot be removed or deactivated. I guess if you stood still long enough people could “catch up” to you and give you food or something. The description makes it clear, though, that you’re basically doomed to wander into eternity forever. (I wonder what happens if you just cut off your legs? Trust me, someone would try it.)

Time-related magic was evidently a ‘thing’… maybe Dave was just on a creative roll and kept coming up with variations… I know the feeling. Sometimes, you get caught on a theme and each idea spawns other ideas… here’s two more:

But, Do They Go WithThe Boots Of Time? I Hate It When My Boots And Cloak Clash

But, Do They Go With The Boots Of Time? I Hate It When My Boots And Cloak Clash

First: I wish to once more state my unsarcastic (yes, really) and unironic appreciation for the direct, enthusiastic, and personal writing style that defines the Arduin Trilogy. The use of “quotes” and italics conveys Dave Hargrave’s voice and style across the decades.

Second: The “Cloak of Time” is “woven of 100 minutes”. God damn, people, is that evocative, or what? I can imagine a wizard bargaining with the Fates, buying 100 minutes cut from the lives of others (or, even better, from the creator’s own life), to make this cloak… which would usually be conveyed like this:

DM: So, the legend goes, to craft this item, the Archmage tore apart the fabric of reality and went unto the weavers of men’s lives. There he did bargain with them for…
Player: How many gold pieces is it worth?
DM: What? Look, I’m giving you some backstory here. I spent a lot of time on this. Anyway, the bargaining went on for…
Player: Does anyone want this? We could sell it.
Other Player: Look, if he’s handing us something that lets us move in a timestop field, it means there’s going to be one and he doesn’t want us whining about it. So someone take it.
DM: Will you stop metagaming? And let me finish the backstory!
Other Other Player: Better let him finish, I bet there’s a clue hidden in all this drivel.
DM: (/facedesk)

So it goes.

Gauntlets Of Ice And Fire: Each pair of these gauntlets takes progressively longer to produce, and the more people whine about when the next one will be ready, the crankier the crafter gets. Those wearing the gauntlets have a tendency to describe every meal they eat in great detail, visit whores, and murder people at weddings. Also, they will make any weapon or shield held either flaming (for +1d8) or cold (for +1d6), but not both at once. That would just be silly.

Occam’s Razor:

+3 Against Conspiracy Theorists

+3 Against Conspiracy Theorists

I’m sure a lot of people came up with magic items or spells based on this term, given the kind of people playing D&D at the time. (The ‘or psychic’ is kind of odd.. does that mean ‘any mage (or psychic)’  or, ‘any mage with an intelligence of 15 or more, or, any psychic regardless of intelligence’? I’m kind of guessing the former.)

More Time:

Like I said, this seems to have been “a thing”:

No "Ring Of After"?

No “Ring Of After”?

These two items have some interesting limits. Can the “Ring of Before” be passed from party member to party member once the three charges are used up? As for the “Ring of Maybe”, does it reform for someone else? If not, you have to wonder how many of these could be left lying around… (And why narrow it to ‘disintegrated’ when you could just say ‘killed’ and not have to guess about how you’ll die?)

Wand of Tantivy

Who Is Lee?

Who Is Lee?

Naturally, I googled “tantivy”. It means “at full gallop”, “rush”, or, a hunting cry… all pretty much the opposite of the meaning implied in the magic item. Clearly, I’m missing something.

The Tome Of Time: Yeah, so, totally a thing. This is one of those magic books that does good things if you’re the right kind of reader and bad things if you’re not. Specifically, if you’re a full mage, you become “time competent” (+2 to time related things) and if you’re not, you are timestopped for 1-20 days. Undoubtedly, you will wake up with crude images of genitalia drawn on your face.

Shark Bolts: There’s nothing I can write that would do anything but detract from the awesomeness of this item.

Ballistas Use Megalodon Bolts

Ballistas Use Megalodon Bolts

Life Savers: Courtesy of Clint Bigglestone, Life Savers are… well… candy that saves your life. If you put one in your mouth prior to combat (each lasts five minutes), and you’re killed, you will be instantly raised! Pretty cool, eh? Unfortunately, the Godly Grant Candy Co. (really, that’s what it says in the text!) puts out many items that look identical, but will kill you, turn you into a butterfly, etc. Any attempt to identify what you’ve got, by magic or science, instantly renders them inert. So, you’re pretty much taking your life in your hands… or your mouth, as the case may be.

Marvexian Magic Beans: Once more, I find it difficult to add to the actual text…

Seems Like Something The Weaselys Would Sell...

Seems Like Something The Weaselys Would Sell…

As far as I know, Mar-Vexians were not defined in the original trilogy, or possibly anywhere, but I’ll keep an eye out for them.

Next time: The new monsters guarding the new magic!

A request: If you like this article, or the others in the series, please share on whatever social media you use.


1: My spell checker suggests ‘Gregoire’ for ‘grimoire’. Go figure.

2: Yes, “Haul”, not “Hall”. If you encounter someone claiming to be old-school who spells it “Monty Hall”, you may know them for a poseur, and sneer at them mightily.

Welcome to Skull Tower, Part IX

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part IX

New And Unusual Spells!

Octorillas!

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.

Spells

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)
Prerequisites:
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”.