Tag Archives: humor

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part V

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part V

Chartography

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

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

A Haggorym’s Got To Know His Limitations

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

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

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

A few points:

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

Saving Throws

And For When You Fail Them, Resurrection and Reincarnation

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

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

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

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

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

Where Are My Dragons?

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

Those Asterisks? Never Explained.

Those Asterisks? Never Explained.

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

We go from resurrections, to dragons, to reincarnation…

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

Random Ooze? Sure, Why Not?

Random Ooze? Sure, Why Not?

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

Combat Stuff

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

Ah. Here we go…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paging Dr. Voorhees…

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

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

Save Vs. Heavy Artillery!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part IV

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part IV

Shopkeepers, Slavers, And Courtesans, Oh My!

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

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

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

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

But First, A Correction

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

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

Abby… Someone

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

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

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

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

Outlaws

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

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

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

As always, a few quick notes on the table:

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

Special Politically Incorrect Class Section

Pearl-clutching Puritans, you’ve been warned.

Slavers (Not The Kind With Stasis Boxes)

(Though In Arduin, Anything Is Possible…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Might.

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

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

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

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

Perhaps It's Going To A Roadside Inn?

Perhaps It’s Going To A Roadside Inn?

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

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part III

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part III

When The Saints Come Marching In

And Maybe Martial Artists And Slavers, We’ll See

OK, another short one this time (“That what’s she” nah, never mind, done that bit too many times, even for me), as I spent yesterday house-hunting, which is sort of the reverse of normal hunting, in that, if you find your prey, it devours you… or at least, all of your money. If a thousand ducks line up in a row, first, they can be lightning bolted, and second, I might end up cutting an hour commute to 10 minutes, which would let me post more than once a week. But finding a house that meets our specific needs is problematic… we have health and pet issues that complicate matters, and it’s not worth the amazing stress and expense of moving unless it really cuts down my commute, which means, finding a place within 10-15 minutes of where I now work, which is right at the corner of “The Ass End Of Nowhere” and “Outer Mongolia”.

Saints Alive!

(Until The Rest Of The Party Kills Them)

While technically a subclass of cleric, with full clerical abilities, it seems to me that saints are more properly considered true anti-paladins… in terms of Actual Play. In Actual Play, the paladin screams “Die, heretic!” at anything that moves (or doesn’t, in the case of ropers and mimics) and proceeds to massacre madly in the name of whatever deity of love, peace, and justice they profess to worship. Saints don’t do that. Saints are forbidden to engage in combat.

Or are they? It’s a tiny bit confusing. They “NEVER use arms or armor” and “will never fight, no matter the provocation”, but will “try their utmost to send all undead to their ‘proper rest'” and “banish all lesser and greater demons back to their respective hells”. So it’s unclear, to me, if this means they can attack undead and demons, or if they seek to accomplish their destruction by non-attacking means… which might mean using spells, not weapons, or it might mean buffing/healing the fighting-men and magic-users to have them do the job. The interpretation is up to the GM running the game. In a perfect world, this would be settled when someone decides to play a saint… in the real world, I suspect, it was settled in a long debate between the saint’s player and the GM the first time the party encountered a skeleton, while the other players sat around being bored, this being well before smartphones, laptops, and gameboys. Maybe they had those little hand-held “football” games where you had one red LED and you had to maneuver it past three other little red LEDs. Yes, kids, at one point, our handheld video games had 1-bit graphics. You and your fancy 8-bit games! Coddled wimps! You think you’re ‘old school’? You don’t know old school!

This Was Cutting-Edge Technology At The Time, Kiddies

Where was I? Oh yes. Saints.

Saints weren’t just “Clerics who hid far away from melee combat”, though. (Quick note for those of who mostly familiar with MMO tropes. In most MMOs, clerics wear light armor and have no melee skills. In D&D and related, clerics are the second-best melee combatants in the game, and are expected to be on the front lines. Interestingly, the saint class foreshadows the MMO cleric rather well…) They had a variety of special abilities.

Detect Alignment By Groping... Doesn't The TSA Do That?

Detect Alignment By Groping… Doesn’t The TSA Do That?

You might note the “HD” column is a bit… odd. The X+Y notation was used only in the earliest edition of D&D, the original three little brown books. It was obsoleted by Greyhawk, which came out well prior to the publication of the first Arduin book. No other Arduin class, that I can recall, uses it. So it seems very likely that the Saint was one of the earliest classes that Dave Hargrave designed… and even though Skull Tower was the second book, published in 1978, it seems he copied the rules verbatim from his original notes without updating to the rapidly-evolving standards of the time.

“Reasoning” is the ability to convince monsters not to fight, and, if it succeeds, there will be “absolutely no fighting by either side”. At first level, you add 15% to this ability… but there’s no calculation for the base you’re adding to. Perhaps it’s 0%, so it starts at 15%? It’s also up in the air if a fight can be restarted, or not… if the PCs help themselves to the monster’s loot, does this break the “reasoning”? What happens when the players don’t want to stop fighting, but the Saint uses his ability anyway? Can they attack him? Or can he “reason” them out of it? Damn, so many great fights must have started over this class…

Martial Artists

Because Rhialto, John Carter, and Conan Should Have Totally Hung Out With Bruce Lee

I often say “D&D is a genre, not a game system”, and few things prove this more than the introduction of monks to the game system. As a high schooler, I was painfully unaware of the martial arts genre… for whatever reason, it never entered my cultural awareness… and so I spent a good bit of time pondering why Friar Tuck was booting people in the head. Anyway, it’s obvious that the fannish communities that embraced D&D overlapped heavily with the fannish communities that loved chop-socky films (Wuxia? What’s that? Is that like Japanimation?), and so, it got added to the mix of Arthurian legend, Tolkien, Vance, and whatever else was trendy at the time. (If there had been more cross-Atlantic fan contact, early D&D would surely have been overrun with Daleks, but there wasn’t, so, it wasn’t.) Remember, folks: All culture is appropriation, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

According to Dave Hargrave, the problem is that martial artists have “too much power and not enough compensating factors”. (Lizard reads that, raising an eyebrow in a Spockish fashion. Lizard flips back to the stats for the ibathene. Lizard flips back to Welcome To Skull Tower, reads that again. Lizard shakes his head theatrically, and moves on…) Anyway, Dave presents his own version of the “Martial Artist”, which he notes is intended to represent a variety of different types, such as ninjas, shao-lin priests, and so forth. On the one hand, it’s very cool that it’s acknowledged there were many actual fighting traditions and fictionalized archetypes based on them. On the other hand, other than a note that the weapon fighting bonus applied to “the weapons that each specific type of Martial Artist would be prone to use”, there’s no mechanical distinctions present. (The player is tasked with doing the research to better define their preferred Martial Artist.)

A 5% Chance To Climb Walls... The Grounds Of The Shao-Lin Temple Must Be Covered With The Splatted Remains Of Novices

A 5% Chance To Climb Walls… The Grounds Of The Shao-Lin Temple Must Be Covered With The Splatted Remains Of Novices

Naturally, there’s footnotes, addendums, explanations, expansions, coruscations, perturbations, and immolations…

  • One foot is equal to two hands, so, 1 hand or foot actually means “2 hands or one foot”. Feet do 50% more damage and have 50% more reach.
  • Weaponed Attack, as noted above, refers to whatever weapons you can con the GM into believing are used by your character. “The Leaping Serpent Monks Of The Jade Tower used AK-47s! Of course I’m not bullshitting you. The Chinese invented gunpowder, right? Here, have some potstickers.”
  • If you hit someone with AC greater than nine, there’s a 5% chance per point of difference that you’ll take 25% of the damage you inflict on the target, -2% per level. (That’s a reduction in the chance of taking damage, not on the damage taken.) Thus, a fourth level Martial Artist  hitting someone who is armor class 5 and doing 7 points of damage has a 12% chance of taking 2 points of damage. Got all that? Good.

As Martial Artists gain levels, they also gain various special abilities:

If You're Surprised, There's A 33% Chance You're Not Surprised.

If You’re Surprised, There’s A 33% Chance You’re Not Surprised.

Most of these are pretty self-explanatory, and follow a typical pattern: Each has its own mechanic for determining chance of success. The lack of any basic system for, say, detecting poisons or setting the difficulty of a surprise roll shows clearly here. A few notes:

  • Pain control sounds nifty… if there were any pain mechanics in the game to speak of. I’m sure some things had fluff text about how the effects they inflicted were due to pain, but they were few and far between. “Pain” was just not a general consideration… by default, if you had 90 hit points and had been battered down to 1, you suffered no specific penalties.
  • Deflecting: It seems odd to me that a fourth level martial artist got two attacks, but could deflect any number of hafted weapons by giving them up, while a higher level martial artist with six attacks would lose all of them deflecting a single arrow. I’d make it a simple “Sacrifice one attack from your next round per deflection”, so it would relatively easy to overwhelm a lower level martial artist , while a higher level one could defend himself and still give you a boot to the head.
  • I hate, and by hate, I mean, love, to beat a dead horse, but measuring distances in feet instead of squares or hexes… when the Arduin Grimoire was full of hex-based rules… leads to a lot of annoying arguments over whether the invisible guy is 18 feet away or 19 feet away. Do you feel lucky, punk?
  • Self hasting is “self explanatory”. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. I’m guessing it means “can cast haste on themselves”. The 3 minutes rest/minute of haste is fine, but… how many minutes can you keep it up in the first place? (That’s what… never mind.) As if you were a magic-user of your level? Forever, as long as you rest for three forevers afterwards? In any event, since Dave used 6 second rounds, most battles would be over in a minute, anyway.
  • Interestingly, while Thieves have a Hide skill, they lack a Move Silently skill, making Martial Artists somewhat unique in this regard.

So, we come to the end of a short segment. Next time… more classes!

 

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part II

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part II

Scars & Stars

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

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

Uncharacteristically logically, we move from charisma to morale.

Morale, Or, “Hey, Get Back Here!”

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

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

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

The Mary Sue Character Appearance Generator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Classes

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

Star Powered Mages

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

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

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

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

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

But there’s a catch, of course.

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

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

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

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

Forbidden Planet FTW!

Forbidden Planet FTW!

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

Lastly, there’s this…

Just Remember That Thing We Never Told You Before!

Just Remember That Thing We Never Told You Before!

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

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

Rune Singers, Or, The Electric Light Bard

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

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

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

Also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what did Dave do?

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

We start off with this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some key points:

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

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

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

Elves Are More Innately Deceptive Than Humans… Hmmm…

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part I

Welcome To Skull Tower

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

Would You Like To Try Our New Unicorn Bites Appetizer?

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

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower

Wait, I Already Said That

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

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

Buggerit. Moving On…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there was so much more to come…

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

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

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

Functions, Capabilities, Characteristics

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

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

Then we have this:

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

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

You will notice a few things:

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

Hrothgar Strong Like Ox!

Wait, Oxen Only Have A Strength Of 14?

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

RPGS — The Ideal Pastime For INTPs Like Me.

Having dealt with Constitution, we move on to Strength.

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

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

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

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

Females, Another Mythical Creature

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

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

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

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

And Then There’s This…

So, here’s the very next paragraph:

Uhm... OK...

Uhm… OK…

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

True Charisma

Not That False Charisma You See Elsewhere!

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a dwarf fighting a Boogie Man.

A Dwarf Fighting A Boogie Man

A Dwarf Fighting A Boogie Man

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

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

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

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

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

Arduin Grimoire, Part XV

Arduin Grimoire, Part XV (And Final)

Air Sharks and Doomguards, and Hell Stars, Oh My!

And Demon Lore

And The 21 Planes Of Hell!

And We’re Done!

As we finally drift towards the end of the first book, we go out on a high note, probably F sharp. (Is that a high note? I don’t actually know anything about music, so my pun might fall flat. Get it? Flat? Sigh. Enjoy the veal, and don’t forget to tip your waiter.)

But seriously, folks: Monsters. Three pages of them, for 16 in all. Yes, you could fit 16 monsters onto three (half size) pages back then, because we didn’t need a lot of ‘background’ or ‘details’, we had imagination! Also, very small type.

Air Shark

Screw your land sharks! We’ve got air sharks!

I'm a shaaaark

I’m a shaaaark!

Key points on the general layout:

  • Hit Dice come in ranges, which is even better than pints, unless you’re a hobbit. I covered this an article or two back, so, go dredge it up for yourself. Point is, it was a real innovation for the time.
  • I discussed %liar (vs. %lair) a while back, too.
  • I have no idea why AC is ‘5+2′ instead of ‘3’. And if you don’t know how 5+2=3 for Armor Class, you are not Old School.
  • I’m not sure if you were supposed to roll for speed, or scale it to the hit dice.
  • It was cool they had a Dex score, but I’m not sure how it was applied. I don’t remember actually ever using it in play.
  • Damage also scales. 8-80???? Remember, boils and ghouls, at the time, a huge ancient red dragon had 88 hit points, and Lolth, a verifiable goddess, had 66.
  • Oh, I do so wish someone in one of my games had shot a flaming arrow at one.

Here’s others of interest:

  • Blue Bellower: Giant blue rhinoceros beetle that emits a nauseating gas when wounded, and has a 50% chance of having lightning bounce off its shell, and produces a bellow that has a 35% chance to deafen targets for 1-6 turns.
  • Doomguard: Perhaps my absolute favorite critter from this book, because I keep using them in games, in various guises. They’re animated suits of plate armor that can teleport and must “literally be dismembered” to stop. No word on if they inform you that “It’s just a flesh wound!” when injured.
  • Grey Horror: Scorpion/Spider hybrid whose poison paralyzes most creatures but dissolves hobbits at 3-18 points/turn. Why hobbits? Why not hobbits?
  • Hell Maiden: Skull-headed Valkyries who ride hell horses (which are, for the record, also described). Despite having skulls for heads and riding undead horses, they’re not undead. They do have a ‘%liar’ of 90%, though, so perhaps they’re lying about not being undead?
  • Holy Freakin' Hell, You Can Encounter Up To SIX Of These Bastiches???

    Holy Freakin’ Hell, You Can Encounter Up To SIX Of These Bastiches???

    Ibathene: Nuff said. OK, it’s not up to Galactic Dragon status, but still… and if you look back at Part XIV, you’ll note there’s a 1-in-20 chance of a random trap dumping you on one of these. Erm.. or not. Huh. Another difference between editions. Where it says “purple worm” there, later editions say “ibathene”. Also, on the treasure tables, they replaced “pizza oven” with “machine gun”.

  • Knoblin: Kobold/Goblin/Bat hybrids. Because the world needs as many low-HD humanoids as it can get. Like the Ibathene, and like many other monsters of this era, it had different AC for different body part — normally 6, wings were 8. This is not, in itself, remotely problematic. What is problematic (and lest anyone be confused, this applies to D&D and AD&D itself, and is not a jibe at Dave, for he’s guilty here of nothing more than cargo cult game design, a sin most everyone in this era committed), is that there were never any official or integrated rules for targeting body parts. Do you just say “I’m aiming for the wings?” Do you randomly determine which body part is being hit, and then use that body part’s AC? Is there a penalty? Does it make sense for there to be a penalty since the whole point is to aim for the lower-AC body part? If you miss, do you hit the body? There were as many answers as there were gaming groups, and the answer depended on the DM’s ideas about combat, his/her interest in making house rules, and how much Chinese food had been made available.
  • Kobbits: Kobold/Hobbit crossbreeds. Rule 34 just exploded. Next!
  • Phraint: Phraints are awesome. They’re mantis people. There’s one on the cover of the later edition; you can see the scan on the main Arduin page. They’re covered in detail in Book 3, the Runes of Doom, which, if I follow the same rate of posting, we’ll be getting to in about 15-20 weeks.
  • Skyray: One-eyed, flying, manta-rays which explode into a cloud of spores when they die, “seeding” all in the cloud as their “host”, with, and I quote “predictable result” in 1-3 months.
  • Thermite: Glowing red-yellow giant warrior termites, that do 1-8 points of fire damage on a touch. Well, my subconscious stole that for Earth Delta. I should have known I wasn’t clever enough to come up with that on my own.
  • Thunderbunnies: While it sounds like the name of a strip club, these are actually insane, “foam mouthed”, jack rabbits that travel in great herds “like land piranhas”.
  • Golems: Can you ever have enough golems? Of course not, duh! We get gold, silver, orichalcum, adamantine, mithral, shadow, and light. A while back, inspired by an entry in, I think, Welcome To Skull Tower, I statted out a green slime golem.

Demon Lore

Stuff Your Heavy Metal Albums Never Taught You

We now have a page of rules about demons, numbered with roman numerals, because why not, and with many underlines to show emphasis.

  • You need to be the same level as a demon to conjure it, and your chance of controlling it is only 10%, which increases very slowly as your level exceeds its. Also, for greater demons, this number is halved. Sucks to be you.
  • Demons hate everything, including their own kind (75% of attacking).
  • Demons just dissipate back to hell when killed, and they also regenerate like trolls, presumably by registering new Twitter accounts. Lesser demons, however, can be killed by phasers and nuclear bombs, and the mere fact that sentence exists makes me very, very, happy.
  • Only dragons and other demons can damage demons, but medusas (only, not gorgons or basilisks) can stone them. Elementals and efreet do half damage; golems, one-quarter damage. I want to be in a game where the issue of golem-on-demon combat comes up.
  • 50th level Patriarchs have a 5% chance to turn away greater demons (+1% per level).
  • The main purpose of demons is to flip out and kill people.
  • Demons are mammals.
  • Demon attacks and saving throws are rolled as if they had double their hit dice, e.g., a 6 hit die demon attacks and saves as a 12 hit die monster. Combine this with their regeneration and other powers, and it amazes me any character in Dave’s games ever made it to fifth level, never mind fiftieth!

Here’s a Rock Demon vs. a Storm Demon. You’re welcome.

It May Be Possible To Create A More Awesome Image Than This, But I Doubt It

It May Be Possible To Create A More Awesome Image Than This, But I Doubt It

The Planes Of Hell

Not To Be Confused With The Plains Of Hell, Which Are Called “Nebraska”

Seriously, Have You Ever Driven Through Nebraska?

Now we have a listing of Planes of Hell, which feature the usual medieval imagery like tidally-locked worlds with superheated argon atmospheres, or dying suns and pools of liquid mercury, or radioactive vacuum worlds dotted with h-bomb craters, or…

Wait, what?

The “21 planes of Hell” in the Arduin-verse are, it seems, hellish sci-fi worlds, which is really cool (even if most of them just kill you instantly) but totally way out in… it’s not even left field, it’s out of the ballpark, down the street, and eating pizza at a hole in the wall pizzeria. Other than the fact the inhabitants are listed as various sorts of demons (which might as well be mutants or aliens, really), there’s virtually no connection between any conception of “hell” I’ve ever heard of. I mean, did Dante ever cover a planet “burned with energy weapons in an interstellar war”?

The 20th plane of hell has an ocher sky, four coppery moons, and billowy fungus forests. Also, star demons.

The 21st level of hell, home to the greater demons (which are noted as mutations, BTW) is filled with bombed-out cities and “dark red mutated seas”, also, kaleidoscope skies and an evilly blue glowing moon.

I would love to hear the backstory behind how these vividly strange worlds become the “hell” of Arduin…

Some Demons

We now get an assortment of “lesser” demons. I’m just going to include one typical example. I shudder to imagine what “greater” demon stats might have looked like; I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t think they were ever included in the other books.

Pay Close Attention To How Many Life Levels This Thing Can Drain In One Melee Round

Pay Close Attention To How Many Life Levels This Thing Can Drain In One Melee Round

I also like how it can leap 33′ in a round… again, a number perfectly suited to no mapping system ever used.

And In Conclusion…

Dave ends by saying “The overland and dungeon maps on the next two pages are provided for your interest and enjoyment”, which is nice… but there’s only a dungeon map. As I commented regarding a similar omission in the Princecon III handbook, it’s hard to find a more perfectly zen summary of the essence of old-school supplements. How many days of game time does it take to cross a missing map, grasshopper?

Next Time…

We delve into “Welcome to Skull Tower”. A lot of people have covered/reviewed/dissected the Arduin Grimoire, but far less attention has been paid to the later volumes of the trilogy. This should be fun…

Arduin Grimoire, Part XIII

Arduin Grimoire, Part XIII

Werecritters, Dinosaurs, And Escapes

And More

This may be a briefer-than-usual article, as I lost yesterday’s writing time to Mother’s Day duties, and today I have my weekly Pathfinder game, and normally I’d just say ‘smeg it’ and not post, but I did that last week, and once you get a two week gap, it turns into a three week gap, and then it’s August and I’m like, “Smeg, when was the last time I wrote anything?”, and so it goes…

Werescorpion? There Scorpion. There Dungeon.

Leaving grappling rules, we now turn to were-creatures, because, why not?

I remember the were-chart as being somewhat more outre than this, but that might be from another source, or it might be my aging brain finally catching up with me. Anyway, we have an assortment of were-critters. It’s worth bearing in mind that, at the time, there were only six ‘official’ werebeasts, and this was long before the age of templates that granted you the ability to make a half-ogre/half red-dragon who was also a were-fox and possibly a construct. Monsters were, for the most part, designed ‘whole’, so a were-otter was its own thing. (Honestly, it’s surprising that templates took so long to come into vogue… in hindsight, they seem an obvious idea, and in some ways more suited for the wild&wooly days when we cared more about ‘Awesome!’ than logic, game balance, common sense, or how long the DM had to work writing an Excel sheet to handle monster building.)

Werebadger Don't Care.

Werehoneybadger Don’t Care.

It is worth noting, because it will come up again (and there will be a quiz) that these creatures have a ‘hit dice range’. This was not common at the time. Normally, a monster had set HD, and that was that. One reason for the plethora of humanoids was to provide challenges across multiple levels, so you’d start with kobolds and work up to orcs, hobgoblins, bugbears, and ogres. Having hit dice ranges meant a creature could be a threat across a wider level range. And, since hit dice was basically the ‘level’ of the monster, affecting saving throws and some types of magic (such as sleep), this simple innovation by Mr. Hargrave foreshadowed 3.x’s ‘monsters and PCs follow similar rules’ design. Damn, I need to start cataloging all the mechanics in Arduin, many predating even AD&D 1e, which became standards in D&D 3.0.

I admit to being a bit confused by the experience rules… does his mean that a sixth level warrior becomes a second level wereowl? Also, I assume the DM is supposed to interpolate the attack damage against the hit dice range. Ditto AC, for the few cases where it changes.

I’ve Got A Golden Book Of Dinosaurs And I’m Not Afraid To Use It!

Next we have a bunch of basic dinosaur stats, roughly 1 1/4 pages, and then they turn into sea creature stats.

Not Shown: Icthyarsaurs Are Playful Unless Hungry Or Aroused. Good To Know.

Not Shown: Icthyarsaurs Are Playful Unless Hungry Or Aroused. Good To Know.

Not really a lot to add or comment on. These don’t dramatically extend the existing dinosaur stats; maybe Dave just wanted his own chart, or disagreed with how Gygax rated various extinct critters. Indeed, the exact hit dice of a T-Rex has been a subject of considerable paleontological infighting over the years, leading to more than a few academic careers being ruined by the incessant backstabbing. Jack Horner’s famous speech at Indiana University, ’15 Hit Dice, Armor Class 3, And No Claw Damage’ is often cited as the ‘Attack on Fort Sumter’ of the still-ongoing debate.

Oh, being scraped by a shark’s skin does 1-12 damage… when you consider a typical human had 1-4 hit points, total, this makes you wonder why sharks even needed to bite. Just brush past the prey, and it’s dead.

Escape From New York The Kraken

Half Percentages? Yeah, They Were A Thing.

Half Percentages? Yeah, They Were A Thing.

Just putting this here to show you what we went through in the absence of any formal ‘Escape Artist’ checks. Note, also, that neither Strength nor Dexterity formally figure in to these numbers… just raw class+level.

Coming Soon…

4-8 Greater Dragons. 'Nuff Said.

4-8 Greater Dragons. ‘Nuff Said.

I said, this was going to be a short one. (“That’s what she said!”) I’ll leave you with a bit of a ‘teaser’ for next time… a segment of the Encounter Chart, because we’re finally at the monster section.  (OK, we’re going to get through weather, diseases, and mists first… but here’s the encounter chart, anyway.) Shydras, Demon Locusts, and Ibathenes, oh my!

 

 

Arduin Grimoire, Part X

Arduin Grimoire, Part X

Our Prismatic Walls Go Up To Lavender

Also, Magikal Spells

Now, we get to one of my very favorite pages in gaming history, possibly second only to the picture of Loviatar in the original Deities and Demigods. (GIS it. Sure, it doesn’t look like much now, but trust me, in the days before the Internet, we adolescent boys had a lot fewer options.)

However, the page I’m discussing has no nipples. What it does have is prismatic walls.

“Oh, big deal,” you say. “They were in Greyhawk. Whatevs.”

Bah!

As you might have noticed, Mr. Hargraves had a mad genius for taking existing chunks of Dunother gaming systemons rules and expanding them dramatically. So it was with the prismatic walls.

Ulu Vakk Approves. (Google It)

Ulu Vakk Approves. (Google It)

You will notice a few things:

  • A plethora of underlined words to emphasize things of importance. You damn punk kids don’t know how hard it was being a fan writer before the Macintosh and the dawn of desktop publishing. Hell, when the Arduin Grimoire was being written, there weren’t even any generally affordable word processors to speak of.
  • The reference to known types of prismatic walls. This is a perfect example of what I loved about Arduin, and similar works of the time: The implication of extension, of going beyond. Here’s the known types, Dave Hargrave said to us. Wink wink, nudge nudge, make up your own!
  • Lots* of** footnotes***, which I’ll address in a bit.
  • Again with the “triggers”? Seriously, somehow, in my youth, I never noticed or questioned these references, but now, I really do wonder what they mean! Maybe, “contingency” type spells? Maybe I’ll find a reference later.
  • It’s not clear if a “prismatic wall” spell creates all of these colors, or just the standard ones (leaving the others to be used as barriers in the dungeon, placed there by the DM), or if you can pick a set of colors to create. That last one would be the most awesome, so, I’ll go with it. Here’s my official rule: When running Arduin, when a magic-user casts prismatic wall, they can swap out one color of the ‘standard’ wall for one other color of their choice for each point of Intelligence over 14.
  • No DM worth his salt would let a player reference this list in play, and we didn’t have no fancy-pants “Knowledge(Arcana) Checks” back then. Players — not their characters — would regularly memorize stuff like this, to know the effects and counterspells needed. I got your rules mastery right here, bucko.
  • A lot of these are pretty extreme and absolute. Again, typical of the time, with “save or die” or, hell, “no save and die” effects being very common.

Way back in 1980 or so, I was inspired by this chart to create “Spectral Slimes”, a bunch of oozes, each the color of a wall, with powers/abilities influences by those walls. And I am not one to let an idea go to waste, no matter how much time has passed!

Some of the notations include:

“Prismatic walls, when looked upon, have all the capability to hurt, etc., as outlined in other available gaming systems.” (Yeah, the editing really is that obvious there.)

“**” indicates the only other way to nullify that type of wall is to have a “Dispell(sic) Magic” of equal or greater level than the mage putting the wall up.

Yeah, I gotta include this next one as an image:

mindwipe

Utter And Complete Permanent Annihilation!!!!

You have to love — well, I love — the sadistic glee dripping from this paragraph. More than that, I love the entire style of this, and most of the rest of the writing — the direct, personal, connection, as if you were sitting there listening to Dave explain things to you. The Arduin books (as did the Gygax-authored D&D books) had a strong narrative voice. They were not mere reference books, nor had they been scrubbed and sanitized by a horde of lawyers and marketroids. They were tomes of lore, handed down from wise (and often cranky) masters to the young apprentices.

Then, apropos of nothing in the prior paragraphs, we get a few notes on life level draining. Summary: Sucks to be you.

New And Unusual Spells

Many With New And Unusual Spelling

Badum-bum!

Now, some new spells. First, “Druidical Magik”. The highlights include:

Marlyn’s Mighty Mystical Mouse Spell: This is a 6th level spell that costs 6.5 mana plus 1.5 per mile traveled or 10 minutes, plus an additional 1.5 for every 45 seconds stuck in traffic, and you better tip the driver 20% if you know what’s good for you.  Anyway, it summons a tiny winged mouse to do the druid’s bidding. It can become invisible and passwall at will, its bite causes the target to fall into a deep sleep, and the druid sees and hears all the mouse does — which given the invisibility/passwall powers it has, makes this an incredibly useful spying spell.

Chastarade’s Spell Of The Stone That Weeps In Silence: (Do you love these spell names as much as I do?) Basically, flesh to stone, except a)it turns you into a boulder, not a statue, and b)you retain full consciousness, so you can “forever regret making a druid mad!”.

Mages’ Spells

The Rosy Mist Of Reason: Save vs. magic or become reasonable and discuss things instead of fighting. I suspect that many a DM of the time wanted to cast this spell on their players.

Stephen Le Strange’s Spell Of The Instant Idleness: Targets who fail their save just sit around watching the clouds go by. I’m including this here mostly due to the name. A PC in Dave’s game, or Dave’s own shout-out to the Master Of The Mystic Arts?

Flames Of Doom: Alternatively, ‘Harbag’s Hellfire': 1d8 damage per turn… and drains one life level per turn! This is only a fourth level spell, and requires a simultaneous Dispel Magic and Cure Disease to end! Damn, they played rough at Hargrave’s table!

Yorgen’s Falling For Forever Spell: Fail a save and “fall” upwards at 100′ per turn. No indication of duration, so, the “falling for forever” is pretty darn literal.

Sulthor’s Blaze Of Glory: This lets you either cast off every spell you have memorized in one turn (including spending any of your unallocated mana to boost them), or select one memorized spell and then pour all your mana into it. You’ll be unconscious for 1-12 hours, either way. But… smeg… every memorized spell? In one turn? I mean… really… that’s pretty… wow. I’d love to be at a game where that happened. I’d hate to be the guy working out all the details and ramifications, if the caster had more than 3-4 spells left. (One thing I’d say is that he or she couldn’t choose targets well — maybe pick a direction for a fireball spell, but not the exact burst point. Any affect that could be randomized, like a polymorph, would be.)

Stafford’s Star Bridge: Creates a rainbow-hued bridge that can support any weight, and can be keyed to let others “fall through selectively“. The “selectively” is underlined in the original. Apparently, this was a dig at Greg Stafford, whom Hargrave, rumor has it, felt was not being sufficiently “supportive”. Or so I’ve pieced together from fragments of stories. If anyone has a more accurate version, with backing beyond “I know this guy who knows this guy who…”, please, let me know.

Cleric Spells

Transfer Curse: Or “Not Me, God, Him!” (Yes, that’s from the book, not me being snarky. Dave and I have a similar sense of snark, it seems. I wish I could believe in an afterlife, so I could believe I could meet him.) Anyhoo, this spell lets the cleric designate a proxy, and if the cleric reads a cursed scroll/touches a cursed item/etc., the proxy takes the effect. It’s noted this must be used with no evil intent unless “fallen status be your goal”. I’m sort of at a loss as to how transferring a curse to someone else — and curses back in Ye Olden Dayse were nasty — is not a priori evil. Maybe you get the party’s tough guy to agree to be your patsy of his own free will?

Gathering The Sheaves: Brings together all the parts of someone’s body, including those “down to molecular size” but not those “vaporized”, leaving me to wonder how you “vaporize” something without leaving the molecules behind, but, anyway… If you don’t see how damnably useful this spell could be, you do not play real Old School style! (“But Lizard, didn’t you say at the start of this interminable series that telling people there’s a wrong way to be Old School isn’t Old School?” “Yes, I did. I also said I was hypocritical about it, remember?” “Oh, yeah.”) (I have got to get a smarter imaginary peanut gallery.)

Rhyton’s Release: This is a “trigger” spell that causes all college students in the area to write tearful, badly-spelled posts to Tumblr1.No, wait. It “triggers” all magic items in the area (60′ radius+10′ level over that needed to cast the spell), causing them to fire off at least one charge and then discuss their microaggressions. (I made part of that up. Guess which part.) Well, damn. When I think about the kind of magic-item toting characters we used to run back when Arduin was cutting edge instead of nostalgic, I’m glad no one tried casting this. Well, at least now I know what a “save vs. triggers” probably is. (And knowing is half the battle! The other half is finding a safe space where you can recover from your trauma at hearing someone express an idea you don’t agree with.2) The “at least one” is interesting… no rules for determining if it’s more than one charge, but that never stopped a properly sadistic DM, and there’s no other kind worth playing under!

Next time: Rune Weaver spells and new magic items!

1: Never let it be said I won’t beat a joke into the ground, then keep pounding until it hits the Earth’s molten core. (“Trust me, Lizard, no one has ever said that.”)

2: See 1.

Arduin Grimoire, Part VII

Arduin Grimoire, Part VI

Classes, Part II

Am I Sufficiently Out Of Ideas It’s Time For A “You Got No Class” Joke?

Aw, Hell No. I Have Two Volumes Still Ahead Of Me, Better Save The Good Stuff For When I Really Need It

Yeah, That’s What  I Consider The Good Stuff. Still Interested In Reading This?

Now You Know Why My Site’s Unofficial Motto Is “Free, And Worth It!”

Rune Weavers

We’re getting into some of the more outre, which is French for “awesomely rad, dude” (or possibly “we surrender”, I kind of flunked High School French because I spent too much time playing D&D. Seriously.) classes, like Rune Weavers and Technos. Traders and Barbarians? Obvious extensions to the Dungeons & Dragons milieu. (Thank you, EGG, for introducing that word, and many others, such as ‘phylactery’, ‘antipathy’, and ‘antithesis of weal’ to my vocabulary.) Psychics? Less obvious, but given the publication of Eldritch Wizardry and the popularity of Darkover, et al, at the time, clearly part of the zeitgeist. (German for “Toss this word into conversations if you want to sound intellectual and/or see who has the cojones to challenge you on your misuse of it instead of just nodding politely.”)

But Rune Weavers? What’s a Rune Weaver?

“Rune weavers were the original human magik users, learning their craft from the reptilian races of eld.”

Whoa.

I mean, seriously dude. Whoa.

This.

This is why I love Arduin so much.

Why?

Because there’s pretty much nothing else adding more to that statement. Because Dave Hargrave tosses that out like Dream tossing bread crumbs to the pigeons, and then moves on. Because instead of giving us a locked-down, rigorously built, second-by-second timeline of the universe, he gives us a vague, off-hand reference to “the reptilian races of eld” who apparently taught humans magic.. er… magick… er.. magik… and that’s it. We are left inspired, not instructed. We (and by ‘we’, I mean, ‘me’) are free to take this and build on it (or ignore it), to add “reptilian races of eld” to our fantasy worlds, or not. (I usually do; most of my D&D-ish worlds have an era when dragons and their kin ruled the land, as part of my general tendency to have at least three or four long-dead globe-spanning empires as part of the backdrop; it’s the boilerplate code of my worldbuilding.) We are given a tantalizing glimpse of a mystery, not the solution; the shadow of the monster, not the anatomically-detailed action-figure. To understand why this is awesome, consider what you imagined the Clone Wars might have been when Obi-Wan first mentioned them in “Star Wars” (Not “A New Hope”. STAR FRIGGIN’ WARS), vs. actually learning all about them in excruciating detail. (Of course, I’m also the guy who wrote the sourcebook that provided detailed backgrounds for every planet mentioned in Babylon 5 that wasn’t already detailed.)

But we’re supposed to be discussing Rune Weavers here, right?

The use of underlines in various places indicates the lack of boldface in pre-DTP days.

The use of underlines in various places indicates the lack of boldface in pre-DTP days.

  • The “Do not divide as for other mages” is explained around page 30. As is typical of the era, mechanics are discussed well before they’re introduced, without a hint of where they might be found… and sometimes, they never are. Sometimes, mechanics are scattered in a dozen places, making it easy to miss a key bit and get everything wrong.
  • One melee round per spell level, plus a one turn delay? Combined with the concentration rules (which we’ll get to, at the rate I’m doing this, sometime in 2018), this could be really nasty.
  • “Overcasting”, or being able to cast higher-level spells at a risk/cost, is a mechanic many editions of D&D and D&D-ish games flirted with, but never really got past second base. It’s generally hard to balance because if you make it too risky, no one uses it, and if you make it reasonably reliable, it lets players steamroll an encounter by gaining access to out-of-band abilities like flight. It’s not certain from the text above if the failure when trying higher-level spells just means “You wasted your manna” or if it invokes some sort of backlash rule.
  • It’s obvious that Rune Weavers would make, in modern terms, the perfect “Batman Wizard”: Not necessarily useful in combat compared to the “mobile artillery” mage (which is how wizards basically evolved out of the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement), but capable of casting lots of utility spells, including higher-level ones. “Scry, buff, teleport”, 23 years early!
  • I am seriously wondering how you figure out what knowing, say, 15% about a magical trap or magic fountain actually means. 
  • A Rune Weaver needs less XP to reach 105th level than a Thief does. Just thought you’d like to know that.

Techno’s (sic)

Blending technology with fantasy was commonplace early on in D&D, with Dave Arneson’s proto-D&D world of Blackmoor being steeped in it (later introduced officially in D&D proper via the Temple of the Frog in the Blackmoor supplement). Thus, it’s hardly surprising there’s a Techno class in Arduin, though the actual mechanics are… vague. I remember revising them to be, in essence, magic users, but each ‘spell’ was actually a device of some sort that needed to be carefully re-tuned after each use. That this mechanic integrated very poorly with the list of actual abilities granted to the class didn’t bother me at all.

By 15th level, I can make a flintlock. Meanwhile, the magic-user is casting Meteor Swarm.

By 15th level, I can make a flintlock. Meanwhile, the magic-user is casting Meteor Swarm.

  • So, you’ll notice there’s nothing here about hit die size, weapon proficiency (I guess they’re proficient in all “technological” weapons), etc.
  • He doesn’t write “Rune Weaver’s”, “Witch Hunter’s”, or “Psychic’s”, so why “Techno’s”? The world may never know.
  • It’s hard to see how, played as written, any would survive… they don’t offer much to the party compared to a thief of the same level. Does being able to “figure out” mechanical traps let you disarm them?
  • The ability to detect electronic emanations and radioactivity is pretty much only useful if a)The DM decides to include such things just for the Techno to find, and b)They’re set up so that if you don’t find them, the party is doomed. Otherwise…

Techno: “Wait, let me try to detect electronic emanations!”
Other players: “What, again?”
DM: “There aren’t any… moving on…”
Techno: “You didn’t even roll! I’ve got a 40% chance!”
DM: “Look, there’s no electronics in the Domain Of The Dread Lich Of Dire Doom. You don’t need to check in every damn room!”
Techno (smugly): “Oh, yeah, he’s covering it up. He doesn’t want us finding the secret radio transmitter!”
DM: “Oh for…” (Rolls dice). “There. I rolled. You still didn’t find anything. Happy?”
Techno (suspiciously): “Yeah, OK. I guess.”
Other players: “Finally! OK, we take the door to the north.”
DM: “You all die from radiation sickness as you open the lead door to the reactor core!”
Techno: “Damn it, if only I had been 10th level!”

(Pedants might point out that a reactor core must be controlled by something that would produce electronic emanations. Thank you, pedants. You killed the joke. It’s dead. Look at its corpse, so sad and pathetic. Are you happy now, joke killer? Are you proud of what you’ve done?

No, you don’t get XP for it.)

Medicine Man

Clearly, politically incorrect in this day and age. It should be Medicine Person.

Neil Peart is clearly 50th level.

Neil Peart is clearly 50th level.

  • So, at fifth level, you can cast Cure Light Wounds on “all” five times a day. That’s actually a very impressive ability. Assume a typical adventuring party of 4-6, and, at the time, assume an equal number of henchpersons. While it’s not explicit, I’d assume “all” means “your party and hangers-on”, or at the very least “all the PCs”. So that’s equal to 5-10 castings of a first level spell, five times a day. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and if it was, you could cast cure disease (if you were over 10th level). People used to curesticks and the like don’t understand how rare healing was pre-3.0. It could take three or four days for the Cleric to heal everyone at low levels.
  • The arguments over whether or not a spell was “true” offensive, or natural, or defensive, must have been Epic. Hell, Mythic!
  • The “drum magic” that costs only 20% manna makes these folks also great “utility” mages… and clerics… and druids. Seriously, access to all three spell lists, even if you have to split your manna? That’s amazingly flexible.
  • I have no idea what “detect hidden injury” is supposed to do. I’ve never encountered any mechanic in D&D for “internal bleeding” or any other form of “You’re taking damage, but you don’t know from what, or why.” Somehow, though, it was common enough in Hargrave’s games that he thought it was worth adding in the ability to detect it. Go figure.
  • Lastly, while most of the other classes go up to 100th level or more, Medicine Persons only go to 50th level. I blame White Privilege.

Next time: The Witch Hunter class, and Magic In Arduin.

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

PrinceCon III Handbook, Part IV

Magic Items II: Magic Harder

Being The Hopefully Final Part Of This Digression

At long last, we come to what is (probably) the end of the line for this, and then, back to Arduin. We continue with the magic items. For those who somehow wandered here because of a terrible Google accident, here’s a link to all the related articles.

Books And Decks

Back in the day, raising attributes was nearly impossible, and if you were playing straight-up 3d6 in order, odds were, you had pretty crappy scores. So the various tomes and librams that gave you a +1 to a given attribute were among the most sought-after treasures, especially as the game evolved to give attribute scores progressively more formal influence on various aspects of play. It is worth noting that, per AD&D, a wish could only raise an ability score one point at a time, and then only to 16; to raise it beyond 16, ten wishes were needed! It is probable, looking back with the perspective of age, that EGG intended that “rule” to be a “subtle” hint that it was impossible to raise a score over 16, but at the time, we took it as a subtle hint that having 10 wishes to use was not an unreasonable thing… look, there’s a rule for it!

Anyway, this section of the PrinceCon III handbook covers books and decks… and I don’t mean “+3 Redwood Stained Planks Of Suntanning”, because what gamer worthy of the name would ever wish to expose themselves, even in their imagination, to the hateful light of the accursed daystar? It’s called Dungeons & Dragons, not Sunny Open Spaces & Dragons! No, I mean decks of magical cards, and not the kind where you tap two swamps to scare a wall to death.

  • Manual of Recognizing Opportunities: Adds 1 point to Luck. The fact there is no “Luck” attribute should be considered a trivial inconvenience. Ada Lovelace wrote computer code without a computer, after all! (It notes that, as with all books, it only works for the first person who reads it. We always interpreted that rule to mean “first one in the party”, but, taken literally, it would mean every such book was either somehow abandoned unread, or was useless to the finder. I think later editions had the books vanish after reading, to re-appear somewhere else “refreshed”. Sounds like buggy DRM to me.)
  • Manual of Golems: “as per Greyhawk”, but includes a notation that the various types of books cannot be told from one another without using two full wishes! Remember what I said about how rapidly the “wish” became a sort of unit of power? “This is a three-wish job!” “We’ll need two full and one limited wish for this!” Yeah, it’s time for me to beat my favorite dead horse once more, and point out that the idea that old-school gaming was all “kobolds&copper pieces” is utter and complete bullshit. The phrase “Monty Haul Campaign” did not originate with 3e or Pathfinder or 4e. It was part of the lexicon within a year or two of D&D first appearing. And if you’ve never heard the term “Monty Haul” (not “Hall”), get off my lawn, you damn punk kid.
  • Book of Purile Nonsense: Clearly, a copy of Twilight. Nah. Magic-users and clerics who read it lose a point of Int and Wis respectively, but fighters and thieves find it “rather entertaining”. (Oooo, a “dumb jock” joke from the gamers! Who would have imagined it? Not the dumb jocks, they have no imagination, amirite?)
  • Deck of a Few Things: Like a Deck of Many Things, but only 8 cards. Ditto the Deck of Several Things, with 14 cards.

Cubes

Oddly, most of the other platonic solids are not represented.

  • Wondrous Enhancer of Jewels: Multiplies jewels’ value by 10. Does not say it can’t be used twice on the same jewels. And trust me, if I thought of it now, some player tried it then. Not to be confused with the Wondrous Pulverizer of Jewels (yes, really) which multiplies jewels’ value by zero.
  • cube of control

’nuff said. Kind of speaks for itself.

Horseshoes

  • Horseshoes of Polymorphism: Appears to be some other type of magical horseshoes, but there’s a 40% chance the horse will transform into a random monster and attempt to kill its rider. And people wonder why old-school gamers are so paranoid. Just about every good thing had its goatee-wearing evil twin lurking somewhere.

Flail/Morning Star/Maces

  • Level Blasting: When wielded by a demonic being, drains “one, two, or three levels, appropriately”. Level draining at the time was very, very, bad, because short of those wishes I mention, it was damn hard to get a level back, except the old-fashioned way: Pouring boiling water on an anthill.
  • Mace Of Return: Also known as “Casey’s Bet” (seriously, it says that), this allows you to bat a fireball or iceball back toward the thrower. Very nasty. I love it.

Warhammers

  • Warhammer Of Wealth Reduction: This warhammer compels you to spend money on… waIt, I did that bit already. Never mind.
  • Can never be released?

    Can never be released?

    So, this “can not be released”. That could be difficult… you’d have trouble getting armor off, for one thing. Or doing a whole bunch of stuff, for that matter. Generally, cursed weapons couldn’t be “left behind”… if you tried, they’d come back, teleporting themselves into your hand or something. This implies that it basically fuses itself to your flesh.

Spears

  • De-were spear: A triumph of ‘cool idea, dumb name’, this spear transforms shapeshifters into their original form for 10 rounds. Instantly, I realized its main use is not fighting werewolves, but ferreting out shape-shifting spies, such as were-ferrets. You know who they are because the conversation always goes like this:

“So, my loyal Grand Vizier, we have tested all of the palace staff, but none are the shape-shifting spy.”

“Indeed, my lord. We must have been mistaken.”

“Except… you were not tested, were you?”

“Muh… me, my lord? I think I ought to be above suspicion!”

“Hmm. Did you not always advise me to trust no one?”

“Erm, yes, but surely you don’t…”

“Come here and let me stick you with my spear, loyal vizier.”

(At this point, a certain subset of the readers go ‘squee’ and start writing fanfic/posting gifs to Tumblr)

(Also, vizier turns into were-ferret, leaps, and is impaled on his master’s spear. NTTAWWT.)

 Arrows/Quarrels

  • Arrow/Quarrel Of Many Shots: This splits into multiple pieces, each piece attacking independently, then you put the pieces together again and repeat. Very nice item, and I’m a little surprised it’s not a common trope now… maybe the plethora of feats and class powers that let you fire multiple arrows made it redundant.
  • Arrow/Quarrel of Doom: When hit, you roll up a random curse, using the West curse system. (See earlier installment.) Again, I love the personalness of this. The West Curse System. The Mahler poisons. The Howard wound system, not that we care what Howard says.
  • Arrow/Quarrel of the Forest: Flies around trees, ala that bit in “The Gamers”.

Daggers

"We here care not for the rites of k'hopee!'

“We here care not for the rites of k’hopee!’

I’m surprised it isn’t +4 vs. Hobbits, or something.

Bows/Crossbows

  • Crossbow of the Fifth Dimension: Wielded during the R&B wars of the late 60s, this fearsome weapon… wait, wrong one. This one just shoots phase spiders and other ethereal/astral things. Pretty cool, actually.
  • Crossbow of Many Shots: Fires three bolts at once. Load it up with an Arrow of Many Shots and you’ve invented the “Fully Automatic Rifle Of Hosedown”.

Gems

OK, this is a mostly-new category. While there were various jewels around before, the Princecon III handbook takes them to a new level. The actual booklet breaks them down by type, but I’ll just include them in one section.

  • Diamond of Egotism: Causes the wielder to begin every sentence with “I’m gonna let you finish, but…” Also gives him a +6 to Ego… actually, it says, “increases the ego of bear by +6″, which means, the best character on Person of Interest will “go Hollywood” and become… erm… unbearable. Yeah. Well, if the ego goes over 15, the character will be contemptuous of all foes and will attack directly, using normal weapons in preference to any special abilities. If you’re going to ask when the “Ego” stat was added to the game, don’t. Just… don’t.
  • Explosion
  • Another entry in the “What does it mean?” category. It explodes “with the force of its hit points”? It does that much damage to creatures nearby? What? What’s a “relatively small or light” object? And a 1-in-6 chance of going “kaboom” yourself? No, thanks.
  • Ruby Of Fireballs: Lets an M-U cast fireball if they can’t, or do double damage (!) if they can. Not sure how often it works.
  • Ruby Of Cooking Fire: Lets a Fighter or Cleric start a normal fire on a bundle of twigs in 5 melee rounds. Erm, wouldn’t it be assumed most people who chose “going into dank caves to commit robbery and murder” as a career would be able to do this? It’s hard to conceive of a situation where a PC might have been stripped of their flint and tinder, but not their ruby. Well, maybe it lets you start a fire on wet logs, or something.
  • Ruby Of Infravision: Once a day (whee!) allows a fighter, cleric, or thief to have infravision as per the spell. Yippee.
  • Ruby of Fiery Death: Does character level+3 dice of damage to the character holding it — presumably, immediately upon picking it up. Which means, the pile of ash and charred bone surrounding the ruby ought to be a clue to the adventurers… but it never is. Trust me.
  • Naturally, Any Random Gem Can Put You In A Divine Arena. Why Not?

    Naturally, Any Random Gem Can Put You In A Divine Arena. Why Not?

    Yeah, another item (or group of items) that sort of speak for themselves. This is the heart of real old school gaming right here, folks. First, a fairly cool item that comes with a bundle of micro-mechanics attached, then, a cursed item that looks just like the cool item, then, a totally whackdoodle and yet utterly brilliant idea — cramming, it seems, a dueling arena into some sort of extradimensional bubble created by the gem. Wow. I mean, why the hell not?

  • Emerald Of Commanding Lawful Demons: It’s hard to tell, given the timeframe, if this means “Devils”, i.e., lawful evil, or if this was a throwback to earlier issues of if “lawful” always meant “good” and “chaotic” meant “evil”. While the five-point alignment system was published in The Dragon by 1977, the rate of adoption of such rules was variable, and other elements of the PrinceCon book hearken strongly back to the LBBs and don’t seem influenced by the proto-steps towards AD&D which were coming out at the time.
  • His Wife Makes Good Salad Dressing

    His Wife Makes Good Salad Dressing

    Yeah, I have a lot of these “I’m just posting it, I don’t understand” items in this section. As I noted earlier, these item types are mostly original to the PrinceCon crowd… which means they have many idiosyncratic touches based on their local games. And, please remember, other than a brief skim-through, I am writing these articles as I am reading the book, jotting down my thoughts as they come. A proper reviewer would read it several times, maybe track down some original sources, ask some questions, and otherwise do more than just babble endlessly, spewing out whatever thoughts enter his mind as they come to him. But a proper reviewer gets paid, too. (Paypal: lizard@mrlizard.com)

  • Sapphire Of Commanding Neutral Demons: Well, that just makes the whole demonic alignment issue more confusing. Moving on.
  • Sapphire (Not ruby? Why?) Of Flaming Weapons: Allows the user to flame any weapon he holds for one half day (72 rounds) per level of user. Erm… that’s probably long enough for most fights. Unless that’s a fixed number, total, for the lifetime of the character, and even so… a mid level user will get hundreds of rounds of use out of this. Seems like a pretty odd limitation to me.
  • Sapphire Of Seeming Innocence: Allows a thief to convince the party he is not guilty as if he had a Charisma of 19. Note: The party. This tells you a lot about how thieves were generally run at Princeton, doesn’t it?
  • Sapphire Of Obvious Guilt: Just the opposite, causes the wielder to seem guilty of “whatever seems most relevant at the time”. I see a lot of fun happening with this one.
  • Sapphire Of Electrocution: Like the Ruby Of Fiery Death, but with lightning.
  • Note What? Damn it!

    Note What? Damn it!

    This is where the book ends… with a “Note also that” that never completes, and an out-of-sequence item that belongs a few pages back. There’s something profoundly right about ending here. Missing and broken rules, combined with ideas so prolific they overflow their assigned spot and end up randomly scattered about. Old School like a boss.

I hope the imaginary people reading this enjoyed it. Next time, back to Arduin.