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Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XVI

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XVI

Inns, Holidays, Guilds, And More

Like Wind Chill Factor, For Example

When I Said These Little Books Were Dense With Information, I Wasn’t Kidding, You Know

(Doing This Running Gag With The Headers Mucks Up My SEO, I Think. I Hope You Appreciate It.)

With this 16th installment of our walkthrough of Welcome To Skull Tower, we start delving into the background information about the Arduin setting, previously mostly hinted at obliquely through small fragments of flavor text surrounding the mechanics. Now we get the full-on details of the setting, beginning with a broad, high-level overview that provides a meaningful contextual framework for what is to follow, and then progressively more detailed information, presented in a clear, logical manner that builds on what has gone before in a way that is… (snicker)… a way that… (hee hee)… a way… aw, to hell with it. It’s the same wonderful, glorious, chaotic, insane mess of idea after idea after idea coming at you pell-mell without surcease, and you either leap into the onrushing tide of creativity and ride it, screaming “Wa hooo!” as you surf into a skyscraper (props to anyone catching that reference), or you drown.

Last week, as you recall, Dr. Smith and Will were fixing the planetary astroscope, when a cosmic storm… no, wait. Last week, as you recall, we had a picture of a Hobbit barbarian. (Yes, really. Go to Part XV. I’ll wait. Back? Good.) But, little did you know that that picture illustrated “Comments On Inns And Roadhouses.” What does a Hobbit barbarian have to do with inns and roadhouses? Really, you should know better than to ask.

“You All Meet In A Tavern…”

And why not? As Dave Hargrave notes:

Also, You Can Roll On The STD Table After Seducing A Serving Wench/Stable Boy, As Your Tastes Dictate

Also, You Can Roll On The STD Table After Seducing A Serving Wench/Stable Boy, As Your Tastes Dictate

(No STD table in Welcome To Skull Tower, actually, though there might have been one in Alma Mater, which was illustrated by Erol Otus, so it’s totally related and not just another random digression.)

And then we go into the seasons and the length of the day.


We get a half-page of general comments on inns, followed by a barbarian Hobbit, and then… the length of the day. There is, in fact, a long section listing an assortment of inns ,taverns, etc., but it’s many pages away from the introductory text. Welcome to the 1970s, folks!

It’s Been A Long Day’s Night

Days in Arduin are exactly 25 hours long, with ten hours of night and ten hours of darkness, and 2.5 hours of twilight and dawn. There is no “axial tilt or rotational wobble”. Weeks are six days long, there are 15 months in a year, and there’s a three day “Endyear” period. Each season is precisely 125 days, which sort of leaves the three day “endyear” out of the equation. Taken literally, it would mean the Arduin calendar shifts, relative to the seasons, at a rate of three days a year, so every forty years or so, an entire season is ‘out of sync’, so fall would be where summer is, etc.

The years are in  15-year cycle, as follows:

Those Born In The Year Of The Phantelope Get 10% Off Eggrolls

Those Born In The Year Of The Phantelope Get 10% Off Eggrolls

Presumably, these are symbolic/mystical, like similar cycles in Earth mythology and astrology. It’s a cool idea, especially for setting up plot macguffins, like a ritual which can only be completed in the year of the Scorpion, or a race to get a royal marriage completed during the year of the Sun. I would gather that wars happen in years other than Draconus, and Druids hold festivals all the time, but this kind of thing creates some flavor, and helps invoke a sense of reality in the world — there’s a past to it, with traditions, rituals, and superstitions that aren’t necessarily hooked into what the PCs are doing today. The sparse descriptions — each barely a sentence of vague implications — sets the creative mind a-wandering, and inspires the young worldbuilder (i.e., me) to include such things. Who does not want a campaign that begins with “It was the fourth day of the fifth month of the Grey Year, and…”?

Endyear, by the way, is a riotous time of parties, orgies, and benign anarchy. (Which is, again, the kind of small detail that can be inspiring… and now, as an older, more experienced worldbuilder, I wonder… everywhere? It’s an entire planet! Wouldn’t some cultures treat Endyear as a time of sober reflection, and others as a minor calendar quirk? Are there cranky old phraints and centaurs sitting around, grousing how in their day Endyear meant something, but now, all these kids are just thinking about the orgies, and you can’t even hang up traditional Endyear wicker men, because they’re “offensive” and everything’s all politically correct… But I digress. Big shock, I know.)

Weather in Arduin (the nation; the planet is called Karse, though I’m not sure if this is ever mentioned in this book) varies quite a bit over the course of a year — with no axial tilt, the world must have a much more elliptical orbit than Earth. It resembles, we are told, “Bavarian Germany”, with more insect men and fewer pretzels. Probably. Somewhere in Dave’s copious and possibly lost notes, there’s got to be a page or two on Arduinian pretzels. If we ever get to the post-trilogy books, you’ll understand why I think that.

Speaking of weather…

Wind Chill

Because it would hardly be an old-school supplement if we didn’t interrupt the flavor text with some random information that has no mechanical support, would it? There’s a quick discussion of the dangers of wind and cold, and then a table that correlates wind speed to effective temperature assuming a base of 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and.. erm… that’s it. Nothing to translate this information into game rules.. just a half page of discussion about wind and cold. Why? Maybe it’s something Dave was researching that ended up on the same page as the other topics and got pasted into the book. Maybe he needed a place to stick it, and it ended up here. Who can tell?


The next two pages are a listing of the holidays of Arduin, following the pattern of “name and really brief description” we’ve seen elsewhere. Once more — very inspirational. Few worldbuilders, at least in the early days, ever thought about things like this. And the list isn’t just “Fake Easter, Fake Christmas, Fake Fourth Of July”, either. Here. Let me show you a part of it.

My Holidays. Let Me Show You Them.

My Holidays. Let Me Show You Them.

There’s another full page in this fashion. I think these are specifically Arduinian holidays, not global ones. Even given the limited descriptive text, it’s easy to imagine the various celebrations, rituals, and rites which might accompany each day, from desperate lovers buying flowers at the last minute for Woman’s Day, to parades honoring the town’s naval veterans on Aquamass. Ancient rituals might only be performed on the Night of Shagrath, and a child born at midnight on Triangularus may have a destiny both great and terrible. Etc. The real value of this list, and the many similar in the trilogy, isn’t in the information it presents, but in the very idea of it — it’s the kind of thing you instantly want to replicate for your own worlds, something you didn’t realize you were missing until now.

Next, guilds. Or, technically, “Guilds And Societies Of The Arduin Cycle”. A lot of F/SF literature of the time was granted the slightly-pompous title of “Cycle”, to tie it back to older myths… you’d hear “The Elric Cycle” or “The Cthulhu Cycle” on occasion. I think we’re done with that now, with “series”, “universe”, or even “mythos” taking over that role. In any event, why Dave chose a literary term is beyond me; it seems a bit aspirational.

No Guilds Called !!AzzK1kerz!!? How Odd!

No Guilds Called **!!AzzK1kerz!!**? How Odd!

Nowadays, each of these would have a 64 page supplement complete with three Prestige Classes, twelve NPCs, a detailed map of the HQ, and plenty of plot hooks. Back then? You got a name and some words, bub, and you liked it.

The Joy Of Sects

Sorry, couldn’t resist…

Following the secular guilds, we have a similar list of religious groups:

Some Of These Simply Sound Too Damn Awesome For Words

Some Of These Simply Sound Too Damn Awesome For Words

I like how the “League Of Faiths of the Followers of Christ” usually have Christ as their deity. I also want to know more about “the Star Dragon mythos”, or “Mordakk, Doom Fire”, but it is not to be. (At least not in this supplement… there is a 600+ page hardcover, published long after Dave’s death, that provides a lot more information on the setting.)

That’s enough for now, methinks. At this point, we’re looking at either two or three more articles in Skull Tower before we move on to the Runes Of Doom.

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XV

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XV

Miscellaneous Notes Are Miscellaneous

Mu Mesons Are Messy

Also, Travel Times

Also, Save Vs. Save Vs. Petrification

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

So. Miscellaneous notes, summarized:

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

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

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

    This Is Where I Learned About Mu Mesons

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

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

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

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

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

There’s quite a few notes above the chart:

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

And some notes from me:

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, really.

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

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

Meanwhile, here’s a barbarian hobbit.

Belkar Bitterleaf, OD&D Version

Belkar Bitterleaf, OD&D Version

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XIII

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XIII


And More Rules

And Still More Rules

I Got Your “Rulings, Not Rules”, Right Here, Pal!

In this part (and almost certainly the next part, since there’s no way I’m getting through all this in one go), we are covering Dave’s rule additions, alterations, addendums, and alliterations. (Yeah, I know ‘addendum’ is the plural of ‘addenda’ and there’s no such word as ‘addendums’. It’s poetic license. Gimme a break.)

But first…

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign…

We get a page of “Dungeon Signposts”. Oddly, these are not “Turn Back, You Fool!” or “DM Hasn’t Finished Mapping This Yet”. These are a useful set of symbols for, presumably, mapping… and clearly intended for hand-mapping without intent to photocopy or reproduce.

Stairs That Go Nowhere Just For Show Are Colored Purple

Stairs That Go Nowhere Just For Show Are Colored Purple

The use of color is interesting. Most similar guides assumed the DM would be using a Number Two Pencil and that he/she would be photocopying the map, if they had access to their school or workplace’s copy machine. Dave evidently had a more artistic bent. I’m not sure using color instead of different symbols conveyed more information, frankly. I’d always forget if red meant ‘up’ or ‘down’.

At the bottom of the chart is a note:


It’s not clear what “this dungeon” refers to. I believe the meaning is “In the Arduin-inspired dungeons you design, you are not bound by the puny rules of mortal men — let your imagination run wild!” Assuming this interpretation is correct, we’re seeing early signs of a long-running, still-ongoing, struggle in D&D between the wild&woolly world of galactic dragons and psychic centaurs, and the stoic, plodding world of human fighters and pouring water on the floor to detect pit traps.

Send In The Clones (And Golems, And More…)

And the fact the first item in “various rule changes” is “Clones” tells you all you need to know about which side of fun/boring divide Dave fell on. In his campaign, the use & abuse of clones had clearly reached egregious levels, so, rules were needed. I am 99% certain most of these rules came about due to players looking for loopholes. (A DC 30 Perception check… well, back then, you could find loopholes on a 4 or less on a six sided die, except for Power Gamers, who could find them on a 7 or less on an 8 sided die.)

Summarized, clones take one month to mature per year of the character’s age, and if the character dies before that (activating his clone), there’s a proportional loss of ability, though it’s not clear if this is based on level or total XP or what. Also, if you have more than one clone at a time, they will both go slowly insane and seek to kill each other and the original. Something tells me some of Dave’s players were setting up clone banks to continually replace themselves. I wonder how many were commie mutant traitors?

Then we have a few rules for golems, which don’t have anything to do with the prices and rules earlier in the same book. Go figure.

Next up, a very interesting paragraph about casting permanent spells on sapient magic items… that this came up enough Dave had to write rules for it says a lot about his campaign.


Not sure why this is in the “rules changes” and not “monsters”… I ought to know not to ask such foolish questions by now.

Don't Blink

Don’t Blink

I’m assuming (hoping) that their AC is 2+their Dexterity modifier to AC, because 2+16 would be -14 (if you have to ask why, you’re not old school), which is pretty ridiculous, even for Arduin. They’re followed by Archangels, which are even nastier. Lastly…

Of COURSE Angels Are Vulnerable To Anti-Matter!

Of COURSE Angels Are Vulnerable To Anti-Matter!

I like that angels can only haste themselves if their opponents are, too. Fighting fair is important!

In another moment where he anticipates design trends that won’t become part of D&D until third edition, Dave has scaling saving throw difficulties for spells…

The "Etc." Worries Me A Bit...

The “Etc.” Worries Me A Bit…

How many spells over 11th level are there? In Arduin, a good many, I suspect.

Stop! In The Name Of Time!

The Doctor should say that. Totally.

I noted earlier that time magic seemed to be a big thing in Arduin, and as further evidence, here’s some more rules on time stops. (Time Yields and Time Slow Children At Play may be covered in a future book.) To wit:

  1. Time stops don’t allow a saving throw.
  2. Unless you’re a balrog or the like, in which case, your innate magic resistance applies to non-technological time stops.
  3. Or if you’re ethereal, phased, astral, non-corporeal, or married filing singly.
  4. Gods and major demons have a 25% chance of “Gating” away automatically.
  5. Time stops are mammals.


So if you regenerate from being dead, you roll to resurrect to see if you survived being dead, but if you fail your roll to see if you survived being dead after regenerating, it’s not the same as failing to survive the roll to see if you survived being dead after resurrecting, so you can still be resurrected, at which point, you must make a roll to see if you survived it.

Got all that? Good. Now, let’s discuss Pathfinder grappling rules. Hey! Come back here, you coward! God damn it, I played freakin’ Aftermath when I was sixteen! A few rules didn’t scare us! Quitters!

Where was I?

Notes On Magik

Note The First: Myspellyngz Are Majikal

Having left behind rules on such mundane, normal topics as time stops, clones, and angels, we come to “Notes On Magik”.

A brief note (as it were) on the layout and formatting… this page is a delightful hodgepodge of non-sequiters, jumping from ice storms to elves to wishes to time stops (yes, again) with gay abandon. While the previous pages at least had a header line between each leap in subject matter, this page doesn’t, except for the one time that it does. Really, it’s a large part of the charm of these books, somewhat lost in the marginally more professional sequel volumes published several years later.


Even For Arduin, This Is Confusing...

Even For Arduin, This Is Confusing…

So… what does ‘simultaneously’ mean? Round by round? Per fight? Per adventure? And does this apply to every form of multiclassing, or does it mean everything in Arduin except elves is single-classed? This reads like a very early house rule from the first year or two of D&D… the Greyhawk rules changed how multi-classed characters worked quite a bit, beginning the end of the ‘race=class’ model that fell apart as soon as it became evident that new classes would appear with great frequency. (The original OD&D rules had elves acting as either magic-users or fighting-men on an adventure-by-adventure basis; by Greyhawk, this had evolved to “split experience”, which became the standard until 3e.)

Wishes: Limited wishes in Arduin are 12th level(!) and full wishes are 25th level(!!), Also, wishes don’t work outside their native universe. Uhm… OK. Not really sure what that means… does that mean if I’m wearing a Ring of Wishes, it only works in the universe I found it in? Or that a high-level caster can only cast a wish spell in his home universe? It just seems a very odd rule that would have limited applicability… which means there’s probably a story behind it, somewhere.

Conjuration: Spells that “conjure” things, such as “Wall of Fire”, subtract their level from the caster’s Dexterity to determine when they go off in a round. Generally, most groups I know of ignored “dexterity countdowns” and similar things. Granted, they make more sense in Dave’s six-second rounds than in the standard one-minute round, but still, they were a real pain if you had a large combat, especially if the monsters all had different dex scores. Even in today’s games, with individual initiative, you roll for groups of monsters at once, so all the orcs attack on the same count. I appreciate the greater tactical depth offered by ‘countdown’ systems, and the choice between a low-powered ‘fast’ spell and a high-powered ‘slow’ one helps keep lower-level spells meaningful in the later game, but the negatives in actual play always outranked the positives, in my personal experience. (One of these decades, I’ll write something about rules I love in theory but dislike in practice.)

(The dexterity countdown rules were in The Arduin Grimoire, BTW. None of this is mentioned or referenced in this part of Welcome To Skull Tower, of course. If you’re Old School, you had the rules memorized and didn’t need to be reminded where they first appeared.)

Competence: Illusionists are light competent, Rune Singers are sonic competent, and Rune Weavers are ritual competent. Just in case you were wondering.

Time Stops: Yes. Again. There’s some fluff about why time stops don’t affect wraiths (and similar non-corporeal undead), but do affect energy, and then a note that for the caster to breathe in a time stop field, they have to keep moving, as only the air molecules touched by their aura are breathable. “Move or die”, the rules say. (So if you cast time stop in a zone filled with poison gas, you’ll still breathe it as you move in the zone… interesting….)

Tune In Next Time…

Following is “Notes On Clerics And Clerical Magik(sic)”, not to be confused with the other notes on clerics and clerical magic (I’m not sic) we covered a few articles back. So, this is probably a good stopping point for now. Next time: We delve into the notes, and probably magic (I’m feeling much better) fumbles, combat rules, and weapon breakage!


Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XI

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XI

New Treasures

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

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

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

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

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

It’s All About The Elminsters…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So it goes.

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

Occam’s Razor:

+3 Against Conspiracy Theorists

+3 Against Conspiracy Theorists

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

More Time:

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

No "Ring Of After"?

No “Ring Of After”?

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

Wand of Tantivy

Who Is Lee?

Who Is Lee?

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

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

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

Ballistas Use Megalodon Bolts

Ballistas Use Megalodon Bolts

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

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

Seems Like Something The Weaselys Would Sell...

Seems Like Something The Weaselys Would Sell…

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

Next time: The new monsters guarding the new magic!

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

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part X

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part X

Fields Of Famine, Stones To Spiders, and Heavenly Umbrellas

Also: Cleric Reaction Rules, Or, “Out Of Network Cures Are Not Covered”

Here we are, part X. About halfway through Skull Tower, which means, halfway through the original trilogy. (Don’t worry, I’ve got lots more related stuff, including Arduins 4-8 (I think I missed 9…), some Dragon Tree press things, and more.

We (probably — remember, I never know at the start of these things how they’re really going to turn out) finish the spells today, and the clerical “reaction rules” — does the cleric of Benevolar The Just And Good heal the follower of Thrugorth The Bloodfanged? Roll a D20!

Druid Spells

Balkwyr’s Basic Ritual Of The Calling Of The Lesser Winds: Other than the obvious jokes that 14 year olds will inevitably make about this spell, it’s pretty useful: It will blow gasses away (stop giggling!) at 10′ per turn. As you might recall from earlier articles, dungeons in Arduin are filled with all kinds of vapors, mist, and fogs, especially when the orcs have their chili cookoffs. (Fine, my inner fourteen year old comes out a lot.)

Khermal’s Puissant Color Of Mystikal(sic) Magic: Remember, folks, a ‘k’ makes it more mystikal! Anyway, this is basically a prismatic wall… at third level. It’s not clear if the spell creates all the different colors noted (blue causes paralysis, red does 2d20 heat, black causes blindness, etc.) or if the druid picks one. In the first case, it’s insanely powerful for third level. In the second case, it’s more reasonable, but still ridiculously flexible. I wouldn’t memorize anything else for that level!

Tadraen’s Spell Of The Field Of Famine: Destroys all plant life in a 30′ (+5′ per level) radius centered on the druid. No word on if this affects mobile, hostile, plant of the sort that infests every D&D-type forest, making walks in the woods high-risk affairs. It does say “all plant life”, but as a DM, I’d be loathe to let a druid exterminate my ent army in an instant with a fifth level spell. Also, the resulting cloud of choking, blighted dust has a 10% chance of killing anyone who breathes it… including the druid’s allies if they’re in the area, and, erm, I’d guess, the druid themselves… oops…

Cleric Spells

Tyr’s Spell Of The Heavenly Umbrella: Vital if your character wants to break into an impromptu rendition of “Singing In The Rain” (they may need the Boots Of Astaire for that, though), this spells does “what it says on the tin” — it creates a broad dome above the character that is immune to liquids falling from above. It also repels slimes and oozes. After Knobby Foot has already revealed the trap that pours acid from the ceiling, this spell can get you though it (be nice and mop up what’s left of him on the way… you can take the Raise Dead costs out of his pay). Since it only covers the area above the caster, the spell notes “some might splash onto him if he’s not careful”, which instantly leads to “how do you tell if the cleric is being careful or not?”

Stanson’s Stones To Spiders Spell: Yeah, I’ll see your “sticks to snakes” and raise you “stones to spiders”. Coming soon: “Sand To Centipedes”, “Sod To Skunks”, and “Surf To Stegosaurs”.

(There’s also four different ‘Mending’ spells, for cloth, wood, metal, and intelligent metal.)

Healing, Regenerating, Etc.

Sorry, That Sword Through Your Gut Is A Pre-Existing Condition

Ah, one of my favorite parts of the Arduin experience… numbered notes and RULES with IMPORTANT words in CAPITAL letters. These are an assortment of Dave’s rules, guidelines, and declarations regarding clerics, healing, and anything else he happened to think of while typing these up.

A few selections:

All SPELLS that HEAL take one minute per point of damage to fully heal.: Wow. That’s a pretty major shift from ‘bippity-boppity-boo, you’re at full hit points’. It makes in-combat healing via cleric spell nigh-impossible. (Dave used 6 second rounds, you will recall.) So every ten rounds, you get back one hit point from a spell. I repeat: Wow. How anyone in Dave’s games lived to second level, I don’t know.

Actually, never mind combat healing at all: It then says that spell/device healing requires the target be motionless through the entire process.

Also, you can only heal up to your Constitution times your level per day. So keep track of the total wounds you’ve taken, not just your current HP score.

Clerics wear/wield armor/weapons appropriate to their deity. Those who say “Well, duh” clearly don’t know Old School Gaming, where all clerics, no matter their god, were forbidden from using edged weapons. It rapidly became a running joke. It was done, I think, to prevent clerics from pretty much totally eclipsing fighters, because they already got full armor proficiency, and if they had access to all the good magic weapons (which were all blades), plus spells, there would be even less reason to play a single-class fighter than there already was.

Now, we get to the fun part… what happens when a chaotic evil dwarf thief asks for a healing spell from the lawful good cleric? You roll some dice, of course!

If You Like Your Deity, You Can Keep It...

If You Like Your Deity, You Can Keep It…But You Get a +6 If You Don’t

This is followed by a few more modifiers, including fairly important ones for alignment — the more different the alignment, naturally, the more extreme the penalty. Evil clerics charge double for the same bonus. +6 bonus if the wounded person promises to convert, but a -10 penalty if they then fail to follow through.

The chart itself:

I'm Sorry, That Procedure Is Not Covered.

I’m Sorry, That Procedure Is Not Covered

I’d modify a bit: If the result is negative, the cleric actually casts an “Inflict” spell of the same type as the requested “Cure”. I’d eliminate the “every time” part, too, because that ignores how situations (and alignments) might change. Also, does “Will do it free” means that if the target paid in advance to get positive bonuses, they get their money back?

Some people reading this might wonder as to the necessity of this chart. “Why not just roleplay it?” Well, at the time, a lot of players were not exactly amateur thespians, though they did often fantasize about them. (Badu-BUM!) Trivial things like “alignment” and “background” were often ignored in favor of treating characters more like modern video-game avatars, simply a stand in for the player. Thus the question of “Will the Cleric of Good heal the Anti-Paladin?” was usually answered by “Did the guy playing the anti-paladin chip in his fair share for the Chinese food?” (Usually not, ’cause the kind of people who played anti-paladins were usually the kind of people who were generally asshats.) Likewise, random charts like this helped avoid at least a few arguments with the DM over why he was being “such a jerk” by not having the High Priest of Benevolar heal the party from the damage they received while looting the Temple of Benevolar’s orphanage fund. (And, really, it’s sooooo stupid they’d still be pissed off. After all, we burned down the orphanage last game, so, it’s not like they need the money!)

35 Years And A Half-Dozen Editions Later, It's Still Burning...

35 Years And A Half-Dozen Editions Later, It’s Still Burning…

Next time… new treasure!

Welcome to Skull Tower, Part IX

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part IX

New And Unusual Spells!


Maybe Some Other Stuff. Not Sure. Probably Won’t Get Through The Spells.

It’s been about two months since the last post in this series, though, surprisingly, there’s been a bunch of actual content added anyway… four posts, including the bloodmouth carnist, a cursed blade, and some spell variants, all for Pathfinder. I wasn’t deliberately taking a break from this walkthrough; I have moved, and I finally found my copy of Skull Tower earlier this week. So, here you go. Back on track.


With no introduction, we jump right into “Mages Spells”. As usual when I do these sections, I’m picking out (or picking on) a few highlights, not exhaustively reporting on the whole thing.

Trenkole’s Basic Web Spell: Creates webs, with rules for how many creatures of various hit dice can be held. Unusual in that it more-or-less duplicates an existing spell, already part of other roleplaying games. This may mark the first steps of Arduin moving from being a highly-unofficial supplement for Dunother gamesons and becoming its own system, or it might be an odd oversight. Or, and I like this explanation the best, since the Web spell was not in OD&D, but did not appear until Greyhawk, that this represents Hargrave’s own creation, designed pre-Greyhawk to fill an obvious gap, and then published later… I continue to see evidence that the Trilogy books were basically filled almost randomly from Dave’s copious collection of house rules.

Fafin-ghar’s Spell Of The Fiery Flash: An AOE blinding light that, presumably, affects friend and foe alike (no save, but a 5% chance each target was blinking when the spell went off, which means they’re not blind, but the Weeping Angels can move towards them.)

Angborn’s Spell Of The Abysmal Itch: First, let me note I love the naming pattern of the Arduin spells, which takes the occasional ‘flowery’ name from OD&D, like ‘Bigby’s Insulting Gesture’, and turns it up to 11, in full Vancian fashion. Rhialto would be proud. Second, let me present the text of this spell…

Requires Potion Of Hydrocortisone

Requires Potion Of Hydrocortisone

Assuming you manage to aim the spell so your allies are not included, this is a ridiculously powerful spell for third level. It will basically clear out a room full of enemies, as “totally incapacitated” usually means “No AC and can’t counter-attack”, and you’ll note something else: No saving throw. Anything up to 20HD is at -4 for 10 minutes… 60 rounds, as Hargrave used the 6-second round. This is far more powerful than simple direct damage spells. In case anyone wants to argue that a save vs. spell is assumed, other spells, like Rorghull’s Rot Spell explicitly say “unless a save vs. magic is made”, so I’m going to interpret this as meaning that the lack of text indicating a save is possible means it isn’t.

I’ll also point out this is a typical example of each spell needing micro-rules, so that the ‘simple’ rules of the main game lead to increasing complexity as everything becomes a special case. There’s always a need for some edge-case rules, lest the game become dull due to too many different effects all having the same mechanical representation (cough advantage/disadvantage cough), but something like “all affected gain the ‘distracted’ condition” can really simplify the interaction between different parts of the game.

And this one is just too cool…

Voor-Hing’s Spell Of The Eater From Within

Otherwise Known As The Spell Of Internal Nom Nom Nom

Otherwise Known As The Spell Of Internal Nom Nom Nom

A good example here of where ‘player skill’ meant ‘memorizing the rules’, so that you’d know you need to cast two spells concurrently to stop the thing. No ‘Knowledge (Arcana)’ checks in the good ol’ days, bucko.. you, the player, had to know all this. Why do you think D&D, et al, was so popular among computer programmers and comic book fans and the like, who prided themselves on their ability to internalize complex systems filled with exceptions and edge cases?

Taslo’s Spell Of The Black Binding: The mage must purposefully slay some other being within his “pentacle of power”. Thereafter, anything that drains life levels from the caster instead drains them from the victim of this spell, whose soul is trapped in the pentacle. Once they’re all gone, of course, the mage is once again vulnerable. No rules on how you create a pentacle of power, of course, or how long the ritual takes, or any other such meaningless trivia. You and your DM, both being perfectly reasonable people, can surely work out an equitable set of rules in a short time with no arguments.

Time Lining: This is a 15th(!) level spell that costs 45 mana + 15 per minute in time forward or 45 per minute backward. Unfortunately, you can’t actually do anything, as attempts to change the past cause you to evicted from the time stream. So if you travel into the future and see everyone dead because they opened the door that unleashed the no-save poison gas, and you return to say “Hey, let’s get way, way, back and send a hireling to open that door”, does that change the past, even though it’s now the present? Short of some very odd edge cases, like jumping back a minute or two to see where someone you were chasing got off to, I don’t see a lot of utility here, compared to other 15th level spells. (OK, there’s not that many other 15th level spells..)

By the way, did I mention that other than being all Mage spells, there’s no order here? They’re not sorted alphabetically, or by level. They’re just there. Spirit of the times, man.

The Crimson Bands Of Cyttorak: Ah, the days when lawyers (damn their oily hides!) didn’t scour every book before publication, looking for actionable items. By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, those were good times! (If you’ve read the comics, you know what this spell does. If you haven’t read the comics, what’s wrong with you? Go read some classic Lee/Ditko Dr. Strange, now!)

Another sign of the times — hand lettered addenda, like this:

Not A Bad Idea, Actually...

Shouldn’t That Be ‘Entries’?

Actually, Mind Focus is a cool concept, though I’d implement it in the modern age a bit differently…

Focused Spell (Metamagic)
Combat Casting
Benefit:Any spell prepared with focused spell never requires a concentration check to cast, no matter the circumstances. Spell failure from armor still applies.
Level Increase: +1 (A focused spell uses up a spell slot one higher than the spells actual level).


As promised, an octorilla:

An Octopus/Gorilla. Just What It Says On The Tin

An Octopus/Gorilla. Just What It Says On The Tin

No stats now… that’s coming, I assume, in the monsters section. But it’s one of the tiny handful of Erol Otus bits not published in AG1 and which survived the “revision”. Why his art was purged, Stalin-style, from Arduin Grimoire but not Skull Tower is a mystery for the ages.

So, there we go… the first post-move entry into the Great Arduin Walkthrough. Hopefully, we will be back on a weekly schedule now.


Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VIII

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VIII

The Gems Of Arduin

Literally And Figuratively

Also, Ropes

OK! Last week I wrote a short article, and forgot to post it. It’s posted now. I’m claiming it as not breaking my weekly schedule. The fact no one but me read it last week hardly matters; my readership count for posted, unposted, and purely imaginary articles remains roughly equal.

But this week, I have no excuse for a shorter article; I’m home all day (probably). So let’s get going!

Old Oliphaunt Puke

Hey, I just had to work this in. There’s a small list of some goods and services, with notes, in the typical Arduin style, such things as shoeing a horse (1-5 pennies), mailing a letter, buying salt, and “a bottle of wine” which is “a penny and up”. That has the following footnote:

I Want To Write A Random Cheap Wine Name Table

I Want To Write A Random Cheap Wine Name Table

Please also note the rate at which silver coating wears off. Keep track of each hit, folks! (Or reserve your silver sword for fighting undead.) Frankly, this seems too simple and predictable for Real Old School… I’d make it “2d10% per hit, rolled secretly, so you never know unless you take time to inspect the blade after a fight and see if the coating is still intact”.

Rope A Dope

Here’s an example of one of my favorite things to make an example of: Variable Level of Detail, or VLD, an acronym I coined now and will forget by my next post. A common feature of Old School Games was highly abstract, simplified rules for somethings, and insanely specific and detailed rules for others, with the reasoning behind which concept got which treatment being wholly obscure to anyone but the rules writer. (“So, wait… this game has more pages of rules and modifiers for throwing things from one PC to another than it does for all of melee combat?” — this is not made-up snark. This is, in fact, a literal and accurate description of Space Opera. ) And so it is with ropes.

No Modifiers For Rope Composition Or Previous Wear & Tear? Foo.

No Modifiers For Rope Composition Or Previous Wear & Tear? Foo.

Because there’s nothing like hearing the players say “Well, we rope ourselves together so we don’t fall into the pit!” and then saying, “Well, let me just roll on the rope breakage chart!” (And I’ll bet at least one player found a way to invoke this chart when their character was the subject of a little mob justice…)

I can’t believe Pathfinder doesn’t have a chart like this. I ought to write one.

The People Responsible For The Multiversal Price List In Volume I Have Been Sacked

The next page is a price list that supplements the list in the Arduin Grimoire. I’m going to include  a slice of it to show the breadth of stuff you could buy, but it’s mostly fairly mundane and sensible. It is important, to me, because it conveys the sense of a world that lurks beyond the bounds of the PCs, and it can inspire creativity in odd ways. What can one do with some bagpipes, a jar of paste, and a bilge pump?

Bagpipes: 5-500 GS. Stuffing Someone's Bagpipes With Paste: Priceless.

Bagpipes: 5-500 GS. Stuffing Someone’s Bagpipes With Paste: Priceless.

I am not sure if what “Elf Tea” does for you. It might be covered later. I’m betting it’s one of those really weak, thin, teas that 20-somethings who only eat gluten-free organic locally sourced heirloom radishes picked by union labor drink. (And is the Pixie Wine made from real pixies? Well, actually, near the end of Book III, there’s something… but, no. Spoilers!)

And what kind of Old School supplement would Welcome to Skull Tower be, if it didn’t correct the prior supplement?



Let’s see who’s old enough to get the caption…

True Treasures

The next few pages are, to me, some of the most important in the trilogy. They’re not the goofiest, or the strangest, or the most mechanically complex. They’re simple lists of things, like the pages we’ve been covering for several posts now, but they ignited a spark in my imagination way back when, and that spark has never been extinguished.

What are they? Coins and gems.

Big whoop, you say. Treasure was how you kept score. Whatever. Get to the octorilla!

Don’t worry, the octorilla is en route. But these aren’t simple lists of conversion of 10 coppers to a silver piece. These are… well, here’s the coins.

It Is An Intriguing Thought That Titans Have Their Own Currency. Titans Of Industry!

It Is An Intriguing Thought That Titans Have Their Own Currency. Titans Of Industry!

So, at a time when all treasure was, effectively, blank disks in three (later five) colors, this presented the idea of a world sprawling out before me, a world where elves had a currency for themselves and one they used when dealing with dwarves; a world where even copper came in three sizes; a world where coins could be stars of platinum or cubes of ivory. A world where such places as “legendary Khra” and “the Dreaming Isles” existed… somewhere. Where “the lost city of Koraz” traded, not in gold and silver, but in brass and tin.

I mean, c’mon! “The iron coins of dread Marmochand.” That sentence alone invokes wonder and awe and mystery, infects you with a desire to know more. Well, it infected me at any rate. This table make me think — still makes me think — about all sorts of things when I create worlds. It shows, in one page, how a world can, and should, sprawl from the most mundane — a tiny copper coin to buy a loaf of bread — to the most fantastic — orichalcum serpent coins used in legend by the Kthoi, who or whatever the Kthoi are or were. And that very lack of explanation is part of the appeal. The Arduin books presented an almost random collection of bits and pieces of Dave Hargrave’s imaginations. They’re like finding a collection of torn and random pages from some lost series of great novels, trying to piece together the whole story from the fragments you have at hand.

When you design a fantasy, or science fiction, world… consider the money used. Not just its value, but its look and feel. Money is, after all, a fairly important part of life. It has real power and symbolic significance.

Orc Eyes And Dragon Tears

On the facing page, gems. Again, I’d tended to think of gems as being, effectively, a low-weight way to carry a lot of coins, and saving every gold piece of weight — why, yes, the “gold piece” was a unit of weight, why do you ask? — was often critical, as you’d never know when the DM was going to spontaneously remember the encumbrance rules everyone ignored most of the time. As with coins, though, the Arduin tables opened my mind to a range of new possibilities.

"And Did You See? Grughuk Of The Ninteenth Abyssal Plain Got Me This Black Diamond Engagement Ring!"

“And Did You See? Grughuk Of The Ninteenth Abyssal Plain Got Me This Black Diamond Engagement Ring!”

“Rainbow diamonds… associated with the dread Elder Gods and their foul rites”… how can one read this and not be inspired? “Elf stones… as the name implies”… erm… OK, you’ve kind of got me there. I’m not sure what the name implies, other than that “stones” is sometimes a euphemism for something I can’t imagine being used as a form of currency… probably. And “Dunestars, found in mirage oasis only”… are they illusionary gems? Or does the mirage somehow leave behind a real gem? Either way, it’s cool. What does a star tear look like? It’s never stated, but I’d envision something like an oval of perfectly transparent glass, which glows brightly with its own internal light. The “prized by” and “used by” notes are the sort of thing a canny player memorized to weasel out a bonus of some sort when forced, by dire circumstance, to negotiate instead of slaughter. Fortunately, that didn’t happen often.

Another page follows, including nine kinds of pearls, and many different kinds of coral and marble, and even more, all of which served to tell me how vast a world could be and how many kinds of things — even in the category of ‘colorful rocks’ — it could contain. Then we go on, further still, to “other valuables”…

And Now You Know Why Unicorns Were Hunted To Extinction...

And Now You Know Why Unicorns Were Hunted To Extinction…

I am afraid I must note that there are, of course, no actual rules for how to use nacre in alchemical experiments, or what smoking hemp does for you in terms of “magik rites”, unless you’re performing an “Invoke Munchies” spell. But who cares? It’s still cool. I also have to love that “black powder” is used in “esoteric rites and rituals”, such as “the ritual of blowing the crap out of someone from a good ways away” and “the ritual of the DM and the player arguing about if their character knows how to make a gun just because the player does”.

This concludes the price and equipment section. Next time — mage spells, and the octorilla! I promise!

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VII

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VII

The Charts Go Ever, Ever, On

This week’s ‘short article’ excuse: I went to go see a movie with my wife. I have a life, you know! (Still stuck in a holding pattern on the move closer to work. If we get one of the houses we want, I’ll have a 2-minute commute, and since there’s absolutely nothing worth going to, seeing, or doing in the area, I’ll have a lot more time to write these articles.)

We continue our rampage through the price lists of the Multiversal Trading Company, and I continue to go “neener neener” to the Old School Revisionists who like to claim “magic item shops” and a mechanistic, X GP for Y Power approach to magic was somehow added due to “video game Diablo Warcraft kiddies” some time around the turn of the century. I will also continue being stunned and amazed by the sheer breadth of creativity, imagination, and mad genius that Dave Hargrave evinced in this tome, and likewise continue making cheap jokes at the expense of a much greater creator than I could ever hope to be when I stumble on some of the oddities, confusions, and contradictions that abound.

Wands, Rings, Amulets… First Floor. Cloaks, Clothing, Menswear, Third Floor.

The Wand Chooses The Wizard... Bullshit! The Wizard Chooses The Wand, Including How Many Charges It Has

The Wand Chooses The Wizard… Bullshit! The Wizard Chooses The Wand, Including How Many Charges It Has

“How much for one ring to rule them all?”
“That depends, Sir. Do you want it to be able to find them?”

Now, you may notice a few things, looking at the above:

  • Helms cost a whole lot more than anything else. There’s a very good reason for this. Helms were among the very few magic items that fighting-men… erm… fighters… could generally use. And a helm of teleport would be an incredible boon to a fighter, enabling him to skedaddle as needed, and it was needed a lot.
  • The other prices have less obvious rationales. It’s not clear why wands, which can you carry an infinite number of (given a sufficient number of bags of holding), are cheaper than rings, when you could only wear two. (Wands could be knocked from your hands more easily, I suppose).
  • I suppose jewelry is anything not a ring or amulet? Earring, bracer, exotic piercing…
  • An “offensive power” could be “magic missile” or “Power Word: Kill”, all for the same price? This looks like an obvious loophole and I can’t believe Dave’s players didn’t exploit it.
  • It seems as if, in general, ‘detect’ abilities cost more. I can only infer that, like a lot of older games, a great deal of emphasis was placed on hiding treasure and/or setting up ambushes, making the ability to spy out hidden items or hidden enemies exceptionally useful.

Mr. Humphries, Are You Free?

I’m Free!

Then Show This Gentleman Something In An Iron Golem.

Don't Worry About The Length Of The Arms... They'll Ride Up With Wear

Don’t Worry About The Length Of The Arms… They’ll Ride Up With Wear

OK, here we go… at the time, D&D had exactly four golems… iron, stone, flesh, and clay. This remained pretty standard for a while… unlike dragons, there wasn’t much of an ‘official’ impulse to expand the golem types. (In general, almost any type of monster with an adjective begs for expansion… if you’ve got hill giants and stone giants, why not forest giants and magma giant?)

But in Arduin, the golems went up to 11. Actually, I think there’s 15 there. But anyway… this little list is a perfect example of what Arduin means to me.. an outpouring of concepts without a lot of detailed explanation. OK, without any explanation. It inspired you to add meaning to names, to figure out exactly how a ‘shadow golem’ worked. And what the hell is ‘orichalcum’, anyway? I didn’t know then… I’m not sure I know now. But it was worth more than gold or adamantine!

The idea of a speaking, flying, hasted green slime golem really appeals to me.

Scrolls? Just Past The Elevators, To Your Left.

Well, This One Has A Level Cost, At Least

Well, This One Has A Level Cost, At Least

This is an interesting table, not least of which because it includes a concept still not common in modern incarnation of D&D or Pathfinder… resistances for scrolls! This may be because modern games rarely include targeting magic items on a one-by-one basis; there’s nothing in the current iteration of fireball that specifies your items need to save. In the old days, however, it was assumed that anything that damaged you might damage your items, and scrolls, in particular, were especially fragile. This often led to debates about scroll cases, and precisely where on your person a scroll was stored, and “OK, fine, your scroll is in a lead-lined ivory scroll tube inside a steel scroll carrying case… now explain how you got it out in the six seconds you had before the orc raced across the room to cleave your head in.” (Another reason Dave Hargrave deserves major praise for inventing the 6-second combat round 13 years early… the amount of bullshit a player could claim they could do in one minute was simply ridiculous. A six second round cut down the possibilities considerably.)

I am not sure what “self protecting” means. Does the scroll, sensing an incoming acid attack, tear itself from its owner’s hands and burrow into the backpack, huddling behind a backup suit of +2 chain mail?

We conclude this sub-section with two important things.

First, Dave Hargrave reminds us that he’s just sharing his world — and your world is your own, to do with as you please.

Seriously, This Can't Be Emphasized Enough

Seriously, This Can’t Be Emphasized Enough

Second, as promised, the second to last bit of Erol Otus art to be found in the original trilogy:

"The Terror, Yet Only A Baby!"

“The Terror, Yet Only A Baby!”

Next week… with luck, more time and a longer piece. I’m hoping, maybe, to clear through the price lists. There’s two lists coming up that had a profound influence on my sense of what a fantasy world could be.

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VI

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part VI

Usury & Unicorns

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

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

I Give Up

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

Hope that clears that up.

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

You take out a loan.

E-Z Credit 4 U!

E-Z Credit 4 U!

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

By "May", We Mean "Will"

By “May”, We Mean “Will”

Yeah. Miss a payment, wake up dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple-Scented Candles Of Power, +5 CP.

Apple-Scented Candles Of Power, +5 CP

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

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

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

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part V

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part V


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

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

A Haggorym’s Got To Know His Limitations

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

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

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

A few points:

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

Saving Throws

And For When You Fail Them, Resurrection and Reincarnation

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

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

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

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

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

Where Are My Dragons?

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

Those Asterisks? Never Explained.

Those Asterisks? Never Explained.

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

We go from resurrections, to dragons, to reincarnation…

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

Random Ooze? Sure, Why Not?

Random Ooze? Sure, Why Not?

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

Combat Stuff

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

Ah. Here we go…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paging Dr. Voorhees…

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

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

Save Vs. Heavy Artillery!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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