Tag Archives: Rant

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?


  • 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 XIV

Arduin Grimoire, Part XIV

Mists and Maladies

And Traps

(And Coneheads)

OK, another short one… this time, my excuse is having to remote in to work to make up for time I missed, since I’m a contractor and have to bill by the hour. But I am determined to be regular about my posting… as I age, regularity becomes very important. Ask Wilford Brimley. (“Who?” ask all the kids in the audience.) The encounter tables are pretty much what you’d expect — roll some dice and see what shows up to kill the players. Even so, this being Arduin, there are some hidden gems (1% chance of spotting, guarded by a poison trap with a -4 save, of course).

Consume Mass Quantities!

Consume Mass Quantities!

Please note a few things: First, you could easily encounter huge numbers of creatures in a single go. This may have been due to the original “number appearing” in “Monsters & Treasures”, but those figures were based on outdoor encounters in the “hex crawl” mode, where you might stumble on an encampment of 300 orcs. Buried later in “The Underworld & Wilderness Adventure” are rules for determining the number of creatures encountered in a dungeon, and they are utterly incomprehensible. Here, let me show you:

From OD&D, Not Arduin

From OD&D, Not Arduin

I sometimes give Dave Hargrave grief for leaving out key elements or data, but nothing in Arduin approaches this level of inscrutability.

So, anyway, that’s why you could run into 36 hobgoblins or 32 coneheads…

Wait, what? Coneheads?

Given the date of publication, and the fact they’re not listed in the new monster section, I have to assume they are, in fact, referring to the Saturday Night Live creatures.

Yeah, These Guys

Hey, why not! (The lack of stats in the book is Yet Another Indicator that the Grimoire was literally pieced together from Dave’s personal notes and writings; he may have simply forgotten to remove that entry from the encounter table.)

Anyway, that’s that. We’ll be covering the monsters themselves, soon.

Before that, though — Mists!

Old School Gaming: Even The Air Wanted To Kill You

We now get to the “random fog and mist generation chart”, because of course when you kick down a door in a dungeon, each room might have its own atmosphere… evidently, all those kickable, rotted wooden doors formed airtight seals. Go figure.

Smells Like Teen Spirit...Whoops, Misread That. Smells Like Dragon Shit.

Smells Like Teen Spirit…Whoops, Misread That. Smells Like Dragon Shit.

Presumably, you rolled randomly on each column. There’s a footnote stating that this chart allows dungeon rooms to have weird and random effects “without annotating the map”. In short, this chart is there to let the DM screw with the players without the pretense of “wandering monsters”, and without any foreknowledge of what might happen. Just decide a room has a mist, and roll some dice… like this…

20: Ever-changing color
9: Sulfur smell.
4: Visibility, 7 feet, which works perfectly well with absolutely no mapping scale known to humanity. “The orc is in this hex, but you can’t see him.” “Why not?” “Well, the front of the hex is five feet away, but the back is ten feet away, and he’s staying towards the back.”
3: Sounds of combat.
13: Intense Incapacitating Itching. I see Dave, like myself, got regular paychecks from the American Alliteration Association.

But suppose simply flooding the room with random gasses wasn’t enough? (Insert your own “The DM shouldn’t have made chili for game night” joke here.) And suppose you failed to insert a trap in every single map square? Well, that’s OK. There’s a random trap chart, too.

Hot Oatmeal?

Hot Oatmeal?


  • Most of these don’t have damage listed. Presumably, the exact effects of falling into a mechanical grinder or being smashed against the ceiling are up to the tender mercies of the “Umpire”. (The term “DM” was still one of many floating around; “Umpire”, “Referee”, “Judge”, or “You Bastard” were also common.)
  • The notes (not shown) indicate a 10% chance per level of spears being poisoned.
  • They also note that “monster rooms” have level-appropriate monsters, and that occupied spider webs are particularly fun.
  • Please note that a fall into molten lava is always fatal, even if, and I’m talking to you, Bob, you’re wearing +1 leather. (Relevant portion begins 40 seconds in.)
  • Random Gender Changing was, like, a thing back then. Naturally, when it occurred, it was used to explore issues of sexism, socially constrained gender roles, and intersectional feminist issues from a multicultural perspective that recognized alternative ways of knowing and encouraged the removal of binary identity concepts.
  • Magic floors disappear 1-10 seconds after the first person has walked on them, so that many people can be trapped at once. Good luck figuring that out by pouring water on the floor and seeing how it pools.

And, alluding to alliteration…

Most Malignant & Malefic Miseries Known

Seriously, That’s What The Section Is Called

Why Would I Lie If Money Isn’t Involved?

(And Trust Me, It Isn’t)

So the air hasn’t killed you, nor has the hot oatmeal. What’s left?

Only everyone’s favorite horseman of the apocalypse, plague!

There’s no particular rules for catching these diseases, or curing them. They just do horrible things to you, until they don’t. A few selections:

  • The Scarlet Screaming Sickness: No damage, but the pain is so bad there’s a 10% chance per day the victim will go insane, and it lasts 5-10 days.
  • The Melting Sickness: You “melt” 10% per day, and it lasts 1-10 days, so if lasts 10 days, you’re dead. Otherwise, you just look molten — full wish to cure.
  • Steaming Death: Body moisture boils off you in the form of steam, causing you to die, always, looking a withered apple in 10 hours.
  • The Bursting Sickness: The victim continually burps and passes gas (ah, the maturity of the age…), until he explodes like “an overripe grape” in 4-6 hours, and dies.
  • The Withering Wakefulness: The victim can’t sleep and ages 3 years per day. This lasts 3-30 days, and there’s a 7% chance per day past 10 of insanity from sleeplessness.

So, unless you’ve got a cleric with Cure Disease handy, you’re basically screwed.

Next time, monsters. In the meanwhile, here’s a tryvern.

Three-Headed Wyvern. Tryvern. Of Course.

Three-Headed Wyvern. Tryvern. Of Course.


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 IX

Arduin Grimoire, Part IX

Charts, Tables, Matrices

Without Which, It’s Not An RPG, It’s Just People Making Up Stories

Also, I Roll Up Three Magic Weapons, Just Because I Can

Now, we proceed to a large collection of charts and tables, things which used to be heavily in vogue (or possibly in Elle) in RPGs. Nowadays, the trend is towards simple formulas, such as “3+1/2 level+your class spellcasting attribute bonus+2/3 of your level in a related class except for an alternate base adjusted optional class, +12% of the total amount you spent on giving the DM Chinese food”, instead of complex charts. Progress!1

Oddly, most of these charts replicate in function, if not form, the same charts in That Game Dave Won’t Mention Anymore. (A careful reading of the rules shows many places where the font is suspiciously different from the surrounding text, indicating something, most likely the name “Dother roleplaying gamgons, has been whited-out and replaced.) They don’t seem to offer a dramatic improvement, they just offer a slightly different take on things, perhaps with a few more options or details.

We start with the Clerical Turn-Away Chart, presenting a set of ‘roll this number or higher’ values cross-indexed with level and undead type. The level ranges go up by two for a bit, then four, then five, then ten, while the target number slowly drops by 1. Turning didn’t happen a lot in Dave’s games, I’m guessing. If you roll double the needed number, you destroy, rather than turn, the undead… but there’s no chance of this happening until a 20th level Cleric tries to turn a measly skeleton… and what’s a skeleton doing facing a 20th level cleric, anyway?

The chart also highlights a more general problem with the original D&D design, one not solved for a while: By using specific undead types, instead of “hit dice” or “level”, you ran into problems with new undead, and the designer always had to remember to add things like “Turned as a wight”. (Hell, this problem of failing to prepare for expansion hits a lot of things… how many different systems in Star Fleet Battles are ‘destroyed on photon torpedo hits’, for example?)

One oddity worth noting is that the number is reduced by 1 if the Cleric is trying his “final try”… I have no idea what that means. Perhaps it will be addressed later. Perhaps monkeys will fly out of my butt.

Next, we have what looks to be a unique mechanic: A chart showing “Detect Ability” by source (such as Mage, Cleric, Amulet, etc.) and target (such as Magic, Treasure, Weather). it’s a way to consolidate all of the various “Detection” abilities in a single universal mechanic — so if you have a Magic User spell that Detects Weather, this chart — not the spell description — is supposed to be used to let you know the odds of it working.

“When the total exceeds 100% there is a still a 10% chance for failure.” Does this mean that if the total is 99%, there’s only a 1% chance, but if you accidentally get to 101%, it becomes a 10% chance? A simpler phrasing would have been “The odds can never exceed 90%”, if you ask me, not that anyone has.

You Need To Know What Could Be Looted Off Your Comrade’s Body When He Died

Saving throws for items was one of those rules that tended to only get remembered when the rememberer thought it could be of use. This includes DMs who really regretted letting a player get the +5 Sword Of Hellacious Disemboweling, or players who wanted an ‘out’ when the DM said something like, “No, your +1 leather armor doesn’t protect you against falling 100′ into an active volcano.”

I am utterly at a loss as to what “Triggers” mean. Presumably, the magic item had to save against any exposure to any concept, idea, or word that offended its delicate Millennial sensibilities, or it would go curl up in a fetal ball and whimper about how it was oppressed.

As was also typical of the time, the intensity (level) of the effect was never considered — a wyrmling’s dragon breath and an elder wyrm’s dragon breath were just as likely to boil your potion, and that’s not a euphemism. (Maybe…  I mean, maybe just as likely, not maybe it’s not a euphemism. There were a lot of microrules associated with dragons, so this might be an exception, but I’m too lazy to go look it up right now, and this article is two weeks late as it is. Remember this site’s motto: “Free, and worth it!”. Hm. I might need to change that if I make up a Patreon.) Magic weapons and armor, though, got a bonus for each “plus”.

You’ll note the use of “umpire” instead of “DM”. Little-known fact: The term “Dungeon Master” did not appear in the “little brown books”. I’m not sure when it was first used, but during the earliest years… the Terrenuvian phase of Cambrian-era gaming… there were a lot of terms used, drawn from wargaming, mostly, such as “Referee”, “Judge”, and “Umpire”. “Dungeon Master” and “Game Master” emerged a few years later, and things “Storyteller”, “Gameplay Happiness Facilitator”, and “Directed Probability Consciousness Counselor” weren’t even imagined, thank Cthulhu.

Then there’s a set of charts for normal character saving throws, interesting in only a few respects:

  • They are divided into charts by class and charts by ‘exotic character types’ such as ‘dwarfs’ (not so exotic) and ‘demi-gods (OK, that’s a litte exotic). It’s not at all clear if the latter chart it meant to apply to monsters/NPCs with no class (you know, just like the players. Badum-bum! Don’t forget to tip your waitress), or if you used it if you were a non-human PC, too.
  • Indicative of the time, males and females of some species, such as elves and half-elves and, erm, that’s it… had different saving throw rolls. Female elves were slightly more vulnerable to dragon breath and slightly less vulnerable to psychic attacks, because… uhm… I have absolutely no idea.
  • Oh, maybe I’m wrong on it not saying which you use. It says “An elven mage rolls under the elf column”, but it’s still not clear if that also means a dwarf fights rolls on the dwarf column. This chart might be a holdover from the race=class days of very early D&D. A lot of the stuff in the Grimoire, as noted earlier, seems to have been developed over several years, based on the prevailing standard of the time, and then not updated/edited when it was gathered together at the gaming equivalent of the Council of Nicaea. (I had to Google that to be sure I got it right. I was hoping it was the Diet of Worms, so then, I could make some ‘Diet of Cheetohs’ gag, but it was not to be.)

Alright, now comes one of my favorite bits…no, two of my favorite bits… maybe I’ll save the second for next week… but at least this one gets in…

Random Chance Chart For Magik Weapons

magic weapons

Not sure what “Roll one per each two intelligence levels over *” means, I’m guessing *=8, on the grounds that it’s over the ‘8’ key and that would be an easy typo to make.

Let’s roll some dice!

(I just opened up my dice bag to discover it contained several packets of soy sauce and duck sauce from a game about three weeks ago. Huh. Anyway….)

37 (Lance), 73 (+1 attack),31 (+2 damage),01 (Int 1), 70 (Ego 17), no special powers. Alignment: 38, 24=Neutral Good. Hm. The Lance Of The Worthy. While possessing no awareness, this lance nonetheless has a powerful, instinctual, desire to be wielded only by those dedicated to a life of good and heroic deeds. It will struggle against anyone not so inclined.

43(Maul),71(+1 attack),90(+3 damage),74 (Int 17),16(Ego 5), 3 Normal powers: 100 (Holy CRAP, it’s a vorpal…. maul?),13 (detect poison),92 (Clairaudience). Alignment: 64, 30=Lawful… Average? Hm. The Crusher Of Heretics. This self-aware, but somewhat pliable, weapon is known for its obsession with small details and points of order, and will lecture its wielder at length about the need for proper decorum in all things. It is especially eager to kill those who hold to religious teachings that deviate from what it considers “proper”, and uses its clairaudience to listen in on the conversations of scholars and priests, hoping to catch them in heresy. The ability to detect poison has saved the life of more than one bearer of this powerful weapon, as such bearers tend to breed enemies. While it cannot actually sever heads, on a roll of 20, it knocks the head clean off, causing it roll 1d10+4 feet.

29 (Two handed broadsword), 44 (+3 attack), 65 (+3 damage), 29 (Int 9), 09 (Ego 3). Alignment: 31,60=Neutral Average. A slightly dim, and very weak-willed, blade, perfect for almost any warrior. It has few passions or desires, but does love to blather on. A harsh rebuke will silence it for a time, but it will invariably resume the mindless conversation.

1:”But Lizard! You whine all the time about how much you hate simplistic, dumbed-down systems and freeform this and abstracted that, so how come you’re whining about rules being too complex? What side are you on?” I’ve already answered this: The side that lets me make the most snide remarks at any given juncture.

Arduin Grimoire, Part VIII

Arduin Grimoire, Part VIII

Markets And Magic

(And Witch Hunters, Which Don’t Start With ‘M’)

“Y’know, being a Paladin is cool and all, but I wish there was a class that let me be even more of a douchenozzle to the other players, and justify it by saying ‘I’m just playing my character!'” (Some Gamer, At Some Point In the 1970s)

Well, to be fair, that exact quote was probably never said, because ‘douchenozzle’ is much more modern slang. But if Downton Abbey can use ‘step on it’, I deserve the same leeway.

Charisma 9, Int 12, Can't Detect Traps... Nah, No Point To Be Made Here

Charisma 9, Int 12, Can’t Detect Traps… Nah, No Point To Be Made Here

  • We start off learning that barbarians and witch hunters detest each other and fight on sight. Also, elves and hobbits are never witch hunters, that pesky “Limitations Chart” earlier on notwithstanding. We also learn I like to fool around with the ‘torn page’ settings in SnagIt.
  • The ‘torn page’ cut off the note that they are ‘99% Christian’. One of the many glories of “unofficial” material from the Cambrian Age Of Gaming is that the authors had no real concern about “public image” or being “offensive”. (Something sorely missing in the modern era, where anything deemed to be not going after Acceptable Targets generates howls of digital outrage from the Puritans1.)
  • We see the truly ‘old school’ three-point alignment system in play here, with Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic, no hint of ‘good’ or ‘evil’ in sight.
  • They have a very unusual magic system… in later games, this would have been modeled simply by giving them class abilities gained at various levels, but here, they’re semi-shoehorned into the spellcasting rules. Interestingly, the mana point system enables this nicely. You can give a class a small subset of spells, and the mana to cast them, and that’s that.
  • Capped at 12 intelligence, 15 wisdom (for a clerical-type class?), and nine charisma. Yeah. No axe to grind here, bucko! They get a ‘+5 with Lawful types’… I don’t know if that means ‘Add 5 to their capped number (9), so they max at 14′, or ‘Remember their original rolled number, and add 5 to that’. Almost certainly the former.
  • I am not sure why they are totally unable to detect traps… it seems to be an odd ability that doesn’t really fit with the theme. Besides, only thieves could detect traps, anyway. No one else had rules for doing so, unless you used a variant system where anyone could detect traps via boring the DM to death. (“I tap the walls with my ten foot pole. Also, the floors. Then I carefully burn away the cobwebs near the ceiling with my torch. Then I look at the walls and floors closely to see if there are any tiny holes which could shoot darts or gas. Then…” “For Cthulhu’s sake, man, you’re renting a room at the stables!”)
  • Hating technology more complicated than a crossbow would be a non-limit in most games, but Dave handed out mu-meson blades with gay abandon. (That’ll be discussed if we ever make it to the Runes Of Doom…)
  • The Witch Hunter is the only class in the core book to need two pages!
Hey, These Guys Only Go To 40th Level!

Hey, These Guys Only Go To 40th Level!

  • You will note these guys only go to 40th level.
  • You will also note that, adding support to my thesis that the Grimoire was assembled piecemeal from documents written at various times, that the Witch Hunter uses the “Fighting Capability” rules from the very earliest edition of D&D, something dropped fairly quickly from common play… a holdover from the original Chainmail rules.

BTW, my wife is a distant descendant of Cotton Mather. Yeah, that Cotton Mather. (These days, given the raimant of the televangelists, he’d be Polyester Mather, or something.)


Multiversal Trading

We then get to a price list. I won’t be scanning it or going on in great detail, but there’s a few cool things to note.

  • This includes price ranges, not fixed prices. A nice touch.
  • There are ‘poison’ and ‘venom’ antidotes, by level. I have to assume that the simple ‘save or die’ poison rules that were part of D&D until 3.0 were widely replaced by others, because there’s a lot of more complex/less insta-kill poison rules out there.
  • Adamantine grappling hook? 200 gp.
  • Bronze crowbars break 30% of the time; Mithril, 5%.
  • A “dhowrigged galisse” costs 40,000 to 75,000 GP.
  • Doctor John’s Salve, which “heals heavy wounds”, costs 1,000 GP.



Now, in two pages of teeny-tiny type, we have “Magic In Arduin” and “Even More Magic In Arduin”. Seriously, that’s how the text is broken up — not “Basic Rules” and “Advanced Rules”, or “Standard” and “Optional”. But, hey, it works!

It begins: “In fantasy wargaming there has been continual argument about magic and how it is supposed to work.” (Cross out ‘magic’ and write in ‘everything’ and you’ll be just as correct.) It then notes that the rules presented here are “a based(sic) from which to work”, and that magic is “limited only by the reader’s imagination” (and how much Chinese food he bought the DM.)

It always takes an hour to memorize all the spells of a given level, so if you can memorize 6 spells of that level, you spend 10 minutes per spell. This also means that if you know a lot of spell levels… and in Arduin, they go up to 11… actually, up to 30(!), you could easily spend most of the day memorizing.

Scrolls can only be used every other turn, due to the time needed to take them out, read them, etc. It ought to be noted here that while standard D&D rounds at the time were a minute long(!), Arduin used the six second round, which became standard with D&D 3.0. once more, well ahead of their time.

Also, if the mage is disturbed, his concentration will be broken, which could cause a backfire. There’s a lot of underlines in this text.



The exact “heavy percentages of chance”, of course, are left up to the DM to decide. I begin with 100%, -10% for each potsticker or egg roll tossed my way.

Then there’s this. I’m too lazy to type it in, so, here you go.

Underlined Words Are IMPORTANT!

Underlined Words Are IMPORTANT!

It might seem, to a modern reader, that keeping track of which spells a magic-user cast on which orc over the span of many games would be tedious. Let me assure you, however, that no orc ever survived a single encounter, so there was no need to worry that you might run into that same orc again. Within the bounds of one combat, however, the “save always/fail always” rule offers some interesting possibilities, forcing a magic user to not simply spam the same spell over and over — or perhaps encouraging this, if the target failed. It adds an interesting tactical touch… and, for the umpteenth time, I note this mechanic appears, in a modified form, in many spells and special abilities in modern D&D, esp. fear effects, where, once you make your save, you can’t be affected again by the same effect for a 24 hour period. It’s not a universal rule, but it’s a common modifier. Hargrave’s design instincts were very solid, even if the execution evinced an excess of enthusiasm over editing. (And my check from the American Alliteration Association is on its way! Ka-ching!)

The same rule applies to detecting magic — if you fail, you can’t try again for another level. (And in the modern age, Knowledge checks likewise need a level to try again… ).

Wands, amulets, rings, etc., require conscious and conspicuous action to activate. Rings, in particular, must be turned — pity if the fighter is wearing his ring of flight under his armored gauntlet, the text notes with the sinister and sadistic glee only someone who has endured too much behind the screen can muster. This activity will be noticed and enemies will take appropriate action.

You have to have your magical goodies where your hot little hands can get them at an instant’s notice.” And if you don’t? Well, that’s where the “PHUMBLE PHACTOR” (sic) kicks in! The “P&P” (no, I don’t know what the “&” is for, maybe to avoid the childish giggles that would invariably emerge if the DM said “Roll your PP!”) is a chance — 50%, -2% per level, +/-5% for each point of Dex over 12 or less than 9, of grabbing the wrong end of your wand (that’s not a euphemism), selecting the wrong scroll, etc. (Me, I’d mandate this roll only if the caster was in a particularly stressful situation, or was partially blind, or otherwise not operating at presumably normal efficiency. Other DMs might be much less forgiving, usually with good reason.)

Next up, we have yet another piece of “design prescience” — the invention of, in effect, Touch AC!

“Another area that is seldom explored in fantasy gaming is what constitutes a “hit” when the weapon you’ve lobbed only has to touch it to work?”

For example, if you’re using a stasis compacted green slime grenade… yes, I said “stasis compacted green slime grenade”, it’s right there in the example… yeah, that is totally awesome, isn’t it?… you get a +4 bonus to attack, while, if using a cattle prod (yes, cattle prod), you only get a +2, since you must still close and attack. Makes sense to me!

Throwing things, like a shrinking potion, you add +6, but you then roll to see what percentage of it hit your target… and what percentage hit your friends. Oops.

Finally… at the very end of the magic rules… we get to the “manna” rules, around which, it is noted, “some controversy has… revolved”. You multiply intelligence by level, then divide by 4 if Int is 8 or less, by 3 if it Int is 9-12, and by two if it’s 13 or greater. This is generated per 12 hours of rest, and it’s noted that if you run out of manna before you run out of spells memorized, those memorized spells are “just empty words”. You can also choose to underpower spells — spending 2.5 points to cast a 5 point spells casts at ‘half power’, which seems like a great opportunity for cunning players to find spells that don’t lend themselves to being ‘halved’… and cunning DMs to find a way to make the bastards pay for thinking they can outsmart him. (“Well, I only need to be invisible for a few rounds, I’ll just cast it at one-third power so it only lasts as long as I need.” “OK, you turn one-third invisible. Your torso is missing, but the rest of you can be plainly seen.”)

Dave ends the section with:

“There are many more subjects I could cover, but this supplement is meant to get all you gamers to see that the sky is the limit and that no single person, publisher, or organization can have all the answers.”

Damn straight!

1)“One who cannot sleep at night for fear someone, somewhere, is enjoying themselves.”


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.”


I mean, seriously dude. Whoa.


This is why I love Arduin so much.


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.

Arduin Grimoire, Part VI

Arduin Grimoire, Part VI


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

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

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

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

And, speaking of merchants…

Hargrave’s Trader (Merchant) Class

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

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

Player: I stab him!

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

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

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

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

Anyway… the class.

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

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

Let’s look at some highlights:

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


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


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

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


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

Half orc

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

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

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

1: Thus was Grand Theft Auto born.