Tag Archives: Hargrave

Arduin Grimoire, Part VI

Arduin Grimoire, Part VI


Like Magic Items And Monsters, You Can Never Have Too Many, Right?

(Note That I Didn’t Make Some Kind Of ‘You Got No Class’ Joke. Clearly, I’m Aiming Higher Now.)

OK! After an excessive series of digressions to Princeton, we return to another land of strange and terrible monstrosities, Arduin. The full series of these articles, for those who care (and why would you?) are on this convenient page. Today, we are (finally!) going to take a look at classes in Arduin.

In the early days of D&D, classes were pretty much the only delivery mechanism for character mechanics, and there were few, if any, concepts of ‘swapping out’ one ability for another within the same class. Thus, if you wanted a character to have some power, ability, gift , etc., the primary way to do it was with a new class… and, damn, there was an explosion of them at the time, esp. after the original Greyhawk supplement provided an example of how the system could be expanded. The pushback that “not everyone has a class” was to come later, and was never fully successful: D&D has always appealed to people, like me, who think the universe would be a much better place if everything could be categorized, numbered, measured, and labeled. It’s not enough to know that Fred is a candlemaker; we must know he is a 3rd level candlemaker with the ‘Wax Miser’ feat and a +2 competence bonus to wick cutting.

And, speaking of merchants…

Hargrave’s Trader (Merchant) Class

As I noted in my PrinceCon III digressions, one of the hallmarks of this early era was a high level of personalness (a perfectly cromulent word, whatever my spell checker thinks). So it’s not just a “Trader”, but “Hargrave’s Trader”. I suspect, at the time, that there were a lot of people creating merchant-type classes, because the following occurred very, very, often:

DM: OK, the merchant says, “That’ll be three copper pieces.” He holds out his hand.

Player: I stab him!

DM: Why? You’ve got like a zillion GP in your Bag Of Infinite Space! I can’t believe I let you get that, by the way…

Player: Hey, I worked hard for that bag! Two orders of General Tso’s chicken! Anyway, I’m stabbing him ’cause he’s there. 1Do I kill him?

DM: (Flipping through the tiny thin pamphlets that were all we had, back in the day, and we walked 20 miles to the game store to buy polyhedrons carved from stale cheddar, and we liked it!): Uh… I dunno… it doesn’t really say how many hit points a merchant has or what their AC is… and this guy is like a guildmaster blacksmith, he ought to be tougher than an apprentice baker… it doesn’t make sense they’d be the same… hang on, I’ve got a three ring binder and I’m not afraid to use it! (Emerges three weeks later, bleary-eyed, with two hundred pages of rules for merchants, including a set of economic simulation tables so complex, he started to write programs on his college’s VAX to automate them, and, eventually, turned them into EVE Online. But I digress.)

(And for anyone who wants to claim this isn’t how it was (despite not actually being born at the time… you know who you are) let me say, under oath, that a)I was that player, and b)I was… still am… that DM. Not at the same time, of course. To play D&D, you needed other people, the first time in my life up to that point I actually needed other people to do something I enjoyed. (I hadn’t yet discovered sex… though, counter to myth, it was D&D that led me to that, too.) Without D&D, I would never have felt a need to develop what social skills I have, and if you think I’m utterly lacking in social graces now, imagine me without 35 years of practice blending in with humans.)

Anyway… the class.

Ooohhh, I can't wait to get my first level illusionist powers!

Ooohhh, I can’t wait to get my first level illusionist powers!

Let’s look at some highlights:

  • Rather logically, despite having rebuffed the “gold for XP” standard early on, Hargrave revives it here, for this specific class. Exception Based Design!
  • There’s not a lot of introduction or formality. Just a title saying “Here’s a class”, with the assumption you’ll know what to do with it. Anything not explicitly stated is assumed to default to.. erm… some default, which you ought to know.
  • The “graduated increase” design pattern (+5% for the first 6 levels, than +3% for odd-numbered levels and +4.1% for even numbered except for 14, than +1% for the next 10 levels except for those which are prime numbers…) was a common one back then, intended to provide a sense of progress while not ramping up to guaranteed success. This was generally dropped in favor of linearity, in the name of “simplicity”, but I dunno. Linear increase mechanics have proven to be problematic in level-based games. Perhaps it’s time to bring back the gradual slowdown of gains, while not removing them altogether.
  • I assume “read, but not use” scrolls meant the merchant could identify them, but not cast the spells on them.
  • “2nd mate seafarer ability”. Well, that’s useful, I guess the seafarer class is on the next page… erm… maybe the one after that… no… maybe it’s in another book? No… I’m 99% sure there was a “Seafarer” class in Hargrave’s notes… it just never made it to print.
  • The column with the numbers is “Fighting Ability”, so a 20th level Merchant fights like a 9th level fighter.
  • At 50th(!) level, you can cast spells as a first level illusionist. Seems to me that as a 50th level Merchant, I could just hire me a dozen damn illusionists to follow me everywhere!
  • I’m not sure what ‘double thief/illusionist abilities’ means. Second level illusionist? OK, but if you act as a thief 1/3rd your level, does that mean you take those values and double them, or double the effective level of thief? (So, if you’re 100th level, you act as a 33rd level thief, so a 66th level thief? I’m guessing no one actually made it to 100th level and asked…)
  • The presence of such abilities as “Bargain” and “Equivocate” raise questions about other characters’ actions… can a non-merchant bargain? Well, it seems they ought to be able to try, but, what do you use to estimate their chances w/out undermining the poor merchant? This was then, and still is now, an ongoing issue in game design, class balance, and player freedom. It’s a reason I favor “universal resolution mechanics+specific bonuses”, or “rules, not rulings”. A universal “haggling” mechanism, with merchants gaining some modifiers or unique features, tends to work better than dozens of “micromechanics” that don’t interact well with the basic rules or with each other. To be clear, I’m not claiming Hargrave, or any designer of the era, should have understood this, any more than I think Jacquard should have included tail call recursion. (Whatever that is, I’ve been coding only two years less than I’ve been playing D&D, and it’s never come up in actual work.) This was an era of brilliant innovation and just throwing everything out there to see what stuck, and there were a lot of implicit social contracts that kept people from spotting problems in rules structures … a lot like never discovering a bug that happens if you type the wrong value in a field, because everyone testing typed the right value.


Eldritch Wizardry came out in 1976, and its parents were perfectly fine with that. The edition of the Arduin Grimoire I have is dated 1977, but refers to an earlier printing “about a year ago”.. I have never seen that one. So it’s hard to say if the Psychic class predates the psionic rules introduced in EW. It’s certainly a different spin on them, that’s for sure… hell, it’s a class, not a “roll at character creation to see if you’re a campaign-destroying demigod or not”.


At 25th level, you become smarter than the average bear.

  • Psychics are physically weak, disconnected, uncharismatic, and super smart. Hm. Hmmmmmm.
  • The lack of a period after “Hit dice are always six sided” can be confusing. The rest of it refers to the practice of “level names”, where a 4th level Cleric was a “Vicar” and a 7th level cleric was a “Lama” and a 14th level Evil High Priest was a “Televangelist”. Early D&D supplements would say something like “Encounter: 4 Footpads and a Swashbuckler”, leaving the poor DM to flip through books until he figured out that meant “4 second level thieves and a 5th level fighter”.
  • Observant people might notice that despite the class description saying that only Men, Hobbits, Amazons, and 1/2 elves can be psychics, the “Character Limitation” tables list many more races as possibilities. Which wins? Whichever the DM wants to win, as modified by Chinese food. (Me, I’m all about variety, so let a thousand psychics bloom, a thousand different classes contend!)
  • Note the layout and structure of the “Psychic” class is different from the “Merchant” class. They just typed up whatever they felt like back then. I suspect that many of the pages in the AG were written independently, then gathered together in a single tome, much like the Bible, but with less sex and violence.
  • I have absolutely no idea how to interpret “use manna points, but use wisdom-intelligence-constitution also”. I suspect the latter is a reference to some set of house rules widely distributed in the local gaming community.
  • Note also the pretty much total lack of mechanics for the specific powers. Trust me, none of this is explained elsewhere. “Clairvoyance, unlock chests, etc.” OK, cool. So.. uhm… what? What’s the range on clairvoyance? What are the odds of unlocking the chest? These things tended to play out in one of the following ways:
    • The DM, viewing this (rightfully so!) as sort of an inspirational skeleton to build on, worked out all this stuff in advance, got obsessed with adding more and more to his creation, then ended up publishing his own game. It’s the circle of liiiiiffe…
    • You default up the chain of inheritance… or, in other words, treated it as the nearest equivalent spell. So the psychic would use the mechanics (and ‘manna’ cost) of a Knock spell.
    • A lot of anger, bargaining, denial, and acceptance. Accompanied by Chinese food.
  • With the lack of armor and a d6 for hit points, I doubt many survived to where they could get the combat powers. (I realize it doesn’t say what combat tables they use… it’s sorta-kinda implied later on, in the combat rules which, upon rereading them just now, were weirdly prescient. Six second melee rounds? D&D didn’t get them until 2000! Arduin had ’em in 1977!)
  • “Intuit” means “Sense” or “Detect”, I guess.


The creation of a Barbarian class was as inevitable as the creation of a Merchant class. It’s “Conan the Barbarian” after all, not “Conan The Fighting-Man Who Acts Really Grumpy”. (Although, barbarian-wise, Arduin is a lot closer to Thundarr than Conan, albeit many years early. And lest anyone be confused, “More Thundarr than Conan” is totally awesome and ought to be emulated and admired, now and for all time! Just so we’re clear where I stand on this.)

Half orc

That’s a half-orc? Sorry, I’ll take Therkla any day.

  •  Note the different format from either of the first two classes. I think “Barbarians” were supposed to be played as a sub-class or variant of fighters, putting the lie to my earlier comment about how no one thought of this back then. Dave Hargrave was ahead of his time in a lot of ways.
  • I have no idea what “35% more silently” means. There were a number of conflicting mechanics for hearing and sneaking back then, such as “Can be detected only a 1-2 on a D8, or a 45% chance of being heard, or can be heard on a 1-4 by Elves and Gnomes, or a 1-2 by humans, or 17% by dwarves”, and so on.
  • Climb 40% better? Well, OK, except only thieves had climbing skills then… and non-thieves were basically at the mercy of the DM, a creature legendarily without mercy. (And with good reason, you give your players an inch, and they crawl right over you.)
  • And what the hell is that half-orc thing? What’s with the mutant from “This Island Earth” look? Sorry, Erol… this one, you kinda mucked up on. You made up for it a thousand times over, though.

Next time: Rune Weavers, Medicine Men, maybe Technos.. er… “Techno’s” and Witch Hunters!

1: Thus was Grand Theft Auto born.

Arduin Grimoire, Part I

Walking Through The Arduin Triology (And Maybe The Others)

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

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

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

So, here you go.

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

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

So, bear that in mind.

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


Arduin Grimoire

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

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

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

A Tale Of Two Covers

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

Two Covers, No Waiting

Two Covers, No Waiting


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

Necromican, Level 7

The Necromican

Level 7

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

And Also No Boobies. Boy, This Is Gonna Suck



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

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

Seventh Level Spells

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

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

Sense Drain

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

The Legions Of Acheron

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

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

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

Spell Of Forlorn Encystment

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


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

An illustration from the Necromican

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

Phandaal’s Gyration

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

Necromican, Level 6

The Necromican

Level 6

Featuring What May Be The Best Piece Of Erol Otus Art Ever

At Least, Excluding Those That Show Boobies

Because Boobies>Everything


I’ve got two long 4e articles in draft mode — one on armor and endurance, one on population demographics — both hovering at the ‘90% done’ level (which means, about 10% of the way done for anything I’d expect people to pay for, but remember my unofficial motto:”Mrlizard.com — free and worth it!”), but I’m not finishing them right now. Instead, I am continuing my walk through the dire and dread pages of the Necromican (note: Not Necronomicon), a classic late 1970s supplement for Dungeons & Dragons published by Fantasy Art Enterprises, and featuring some great gonzo art by Erol Otus, and great gonzo ideas by, I assume, both Erol Otus and Paul Reiche III. (You can see the first part here , the second part here, and the third part here.) The late 1970s were a great time for role playing game supplements, full of the insane energy of a new medium defining itself — the burgess shale of the gaming era, a collection of strange and bizarre experiments, perhaps matched, briefly, by the first year or two of D20 supplements, which gave us “Broncosaurus Rex”, perhaps the only game set on a distant planet filled with semi-sapient dinosaurs in an alternate history where the Confederacy won the Civil War.

This has nothing to do with the Necromican, though. It’s just where my mind happened to wander.

(No one is selling the Necromican at Amazon, so I linked to the Necronomicon instead. There’s also a “real” (snicker) Necronomicon, and what’s scary/hilarious is that you can click a button to “Look Inside!”. How much San loss is that?

OK, the spells. As usual, this is not all the sixth level spells, just a sampling of the most interesting, in my wholly subjective opinion.

Continue reading