Tag Archives: roleplaying

Welcome to Skull Tower, Part IX

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part IX

New And Unusual Spells!


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

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


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

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

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

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

Requires Potion Of Hydrocortisone

Requires Potion Of Hydrocortisone

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

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

And this one is just too cool…

Voor-Hing’s Spell Of The Eater From Within

Otherwise Known As The Spell Of Internal Nom Nom Nom

Otherwise Known As The Spell Of Internal Nom Nom Nom

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not A Bad Idea, Actually...

Shouldn’t That Be ‘Entries’?

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

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


As promised, an octorilla:

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

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

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

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


Friendslayer Blade

Friendslayer Blade, A Cursed Weapon For Pathfinder


Continuing our theme of “curses“, as in “God damn it, where the hell did we pack my copy of Welcome To Skull Tower?1“, we present a cursed… but still useful… magic item. While classic D&D tended to make cursed items all bad, a punishment for greedy players who didn’t carefully experiment with items (except that cursed items explicitly didn’t show their nature when tested, only in real combat), I think it’s more interesting to make cursed items a bit of a double-edged mace… give players a reason to try to hang on to them, or at least consider it…

Please note, this post is filed under “Breakfast Crunch”, which means “Something I wrote while eating breakfast before scurrying off to work, with exactly as much editing, playtesting, and general quality as you’d expect under the circumstances.”

The Friendslayer Blade

The origins of the first friendslayer blade are lost in the mists of time, (“Mists Of Time”, Module P-238, published by TSR in 1979 on Earth 541-A) but similar weapons reappear with some regularity. The curse seems to be a result of poor mental discipline during enchantment; the mindset needed to imbue the weapon with the desired power requires strict focus, and if that focus drifts, the enchantment is warped.

A friendslayer blade can be any +1 or better magical weapon that does piercing or slashing damage, with the following special ability:

Price: +1 Bonus
Aura: Faint necromancy
CL: 3rd
A murderous weapon allows the wielder to make a coup de grace attack as a swift action against an adjacent, helpless, foe. This does provoke attacks of opportunity, but at a -4 penalty to the attacker.

Murderous blades are common among assassins, spies, elite military units, and others who maintain a ‘no witnesses’ policy and prefer to waste not even a second if they don’t have to. Perhaps 5% of such blades, though, bear the friendslayer curse.

Friendslayer Curse: Whenever an ally falls helpless in a square adjacent to the wielder of a murderous weapon, said wielder must make a DC 20 Will save or, at the start of their next turn, perform a coup de grace with the blade against that ally. This is an Enchantment (Compulsion) effect. It can be mitigated if:

  • There is a helpless enemy also adjacent.
  • The ally or the blade wielder is moved — note the wielder cannot voluntarily move to avoid the compulsion once they’ve failed their Will save!
  • Break Enchantment is cast before the wielder’s turn begins. This negates only the current compulsion; it doesn’t end the curse.

The compulsion only comes into effect during combat situations; it does not compel the wielder to slit the throats of his allies as soon as they go to sleep, unless it’s magical sleep cast by an enemy during combat. Then…

It is generally difficult to tell a friendslayer weapon from a normal, uncursed, murderous weapon; the normal rules for detecting cursed items apply.

1)Seriously, I’ve only got like four boxes marked “Lizard’s Books” to go through, out of more than 150 to start with, and I still haven’t found it. Arduin Grimoire and Runes of Doom? Check. Skull Tower? Nada.

More Curses

More Curses (Foiled Again!)

But First, A Digression

(There’s A Shock….)

It occurs to me that dying curse is a poor choice for spontaneous casters, who have very few spells known, and would be loathe to waste one of them on something they’ll use maybe once or twice in their lifetime… erm… as it were. This is irksome, because it fits, thematically, very well with most spontaneous casters, more than with the ‘academic’ types, as it’s an expression of raw magical energy unleashed in a moment of extreme trauma. So, some ideas:

  1. Just let spontaneous casters, if it fits the nature of the specific class, and the particular character’s background, get it as a freebie. It adds a nice bit of background fluff: “For whosoever slayeth a sorcerer, they shalt suffer the fury of the departing, accursed, spirit!”
  2. As 1, but it only fires if there’s 2 spell slots of the appropriate level or higher left.
  3. Let them add it to their ‘spells known’ at the cost of a trait.

OK, on to the main article…

The Main Article!

(Trumpet Fanfare)

Bestow Curse is pretty boring. Sure, the particular curses are effective, but they’re kind of… dull. So, here’s a few more options, as many as I can think of before I have to stagger off to work. This is Breakfast Crunch: Stuff I write when eating breakfast before going to my job, with all the editing, playtesting, and quality that implies.

The Curse Of Consumptive Casting: Only useful if aimed at a being that relies heavily on spells, this curse causes the victim to take damage equal to twice the spell’s level whenever they cast a spell or use a spell-like ability — 0-level spells do 1 point. This damage cannot be avoided or mitigated, and cannot be magically healed. The same damage is also taken when spells are cast from wands, rods, or scrolls.

The Curse Of Perilous Penury: No magic (or occult, or psionic, or divine, or… you get the idea) items function for the victim. Magic armor and weapons are normal masterwork items. Rings, amulets, cloaks, boots, masks, yadda yadda, are simply mundane, if well-made, items, as far as the target of this curse is concerned. They cannot use wands, scrolls, potions, or miscellaneous magic. They can cast spells, and be affected by spells, normally — with the exception of spells that grant enhancement bonuses to either the victim or any items they’re carrying. No Bull’s Strength for you! This curse can be particularly crippling to higher-level characters, as they rely on their items to be equal to the challenges they face.

The Curse Of The Spider Queen: The target is permanently affected by a web spell. It fills the space they occupy and moves with them. Any allies moving adjacent to them are also targeted (they may make a reflex save, DC equal to the save DC of the bestow curse, as usual, to avoid). (The curse doesn’t transfer to allies, just the webs.) The victim of the curse needs to make a combat maneuver/Escape Artist check to move each round, just as if they were moving through an area affected by web. Even if they make it, each square is difficult terrain. If the web is set on fire, the victim takes 2d4 damage and the web burns away, but reforms 1d4 rounds later. Due to the cursed nature of the web, no fire resistance or immunity applies to this damage… something that might be learned the hard way… heh heh heh…

Lastly, the victim cannot climb faster than 5’/round, due to the sticky mass of webs, and suffers a -4 to all Charisma-based skill checks, because, well, you chat politely with someone who is literally exuding masses of goop everywhere they go.

The Invocation Of Malevolent Mundanity: Half of the character’s levels (round up) become levels in Commoner. The victim may choose which levels are so affected. Any levels they gain before having the curse removed will also be in Commoner. Removing the curse does transform the character’s original levels back to what they were, but not any levels gained while under the influence of the curse. If this curse affects a PC, everyone else can go get Chinese food while the player recalculates. (Alternatively, teach each Commoner level as a negative level during the current session, then they can recalculate after the game.) Any Mythic Rank they may have had goes bye-bye as well.

The Insalubrious Lubrication: The victim is permanently affected by a grease spell. Every square they enter is treated as being affected by this spell, with all DCs based on the save DC for the original curse. In addition, any adjacent squares occupied by allies suffer the same effect. Enemies are just fine, thank you very much. Beyond the usual effects of grease, any time the victim takes damage, they must make an Acrobatics check (DC 10+the damage dealt) or fall prone. Climbing is virtually impossible; all climb checks suffer a -6 penalty.

The Malediction Of The Leaded Foot: The victim is permanently slowed, as per the spell. Haste will negate the effects of the curse for only one round, regardless of the spell’s normal duration.


Dying Curse

In honor of the RPG Blog Carnival theme of “Curses”, here’s a quick Pathfinder spell…

Dying Curse
necromancy; Level  antipaladin 2, bloodrager 3, cleric/oracle 2, shaman 2, sorcerer/wizard 3, witch 2;
Casting Time 1 immediate action or free action, see below
Components V or none, see below
Range close (25 ft + 5 ft/2 levels)
Target see below
Duration permanent
Saving Throw Will negates; Spell Resistance yes

This spell functions as bestow curse, except that it is triggered by the caster’s death.

If a caster has dying curse prepared (or known, for spontaneous casters, with a spell slot of the appropriate level remaining), it can be activated when the caster drops to 0 or fewer hit points. The decision to activate, or not, must be made upon receiving the lethal damage; the caster cannot drop to, say, -5 hit points and then wait a round or two see how the battle is going before deciding to trigger the spell, nor can they do so if they receive more damage while at negative hit points. The instant the caster drops to 0 or lower, they must decide; if they do not invoke the spell at that point, it cannot be cast until some point when they’ve gone back to positive hit points and then back into negatives. (Nor can it be triggered by self-inflicted damage, including such things as the barbarian’s loss of hit points when a rage ends.)

If the caster is dying, but not yet dead, and is capable of speech (not silenced, gagged, etc.), they can designate the target of the curse (within range) and the specific effect1. This is an immediate action. If the caster is killed instantly (going from positive hit points to dead in a single attack), or cannot speak, the spell still activates, but the target is whoever struck the killing blow, or, if that person is not in range, the nearest enemy in range, and the effect is random. This is a free action.

Upon casting, the caster instantly dies. Dropping dead is a free action. No magical or mundane healing short of raise dead can help; spells or class features or the like which allow for last-second recovery from recent death do not function. The caster expends a portion of their life energy to cast the spell; this makes them really most sincerely dead. Contingent healing spells (regardless of what granted the contingency effect) likewise fail to work. Let’s be clear: There’s no loophole. The intent of this rule is clear: You invoke dying curse, you die, you are no more, you have ceased to be, you have rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible, and only raise dead or more potent spells can bring you back. The fact I cannot possibly list every interaction of every rule in the massive bulk of the collected tomes of Pathfinder should not be an invitation to find an ‘out’ and then exploit it. If a player tries, the GM has my permission to take the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and whap the offender over the head.

1: Ideally, this should be roleplayed, “From hell’s heart, I stab at thee!”, etc.

Bloodmouth Carnist

Bloodmouth Carnist


I take my inspiration where I can find it...

I take my inspiration where I can find it…

OK, the move is technically complete… we’ve been living here for two weeks, but there’s still a lot of stuff in boxes. Among the stuff in boxes is my copy of Welcome To Skull Tower, which is why no new articles in that series have yet appeared. (That, and this is the first time since we moved that things were normal enough I could get up, get dressed, and plonk down at my computer for a spell before work.)

So, in the interest of getting some content up here… here’s something I threatened to write a while back, inspired by the image that ought to be appearing to your left.

This is “Breakfast Crunch” stuff. For those of you new to this site (I like to pretend I regularly have readers; hey, I’m a roleplayer, I have a rich fantasy life), “Breakfast Crunch” is stuff I write while sitting at my computer eating breakfast before going to work. It has all the playtesting, editing, attention to detail, and overall quality you would expect under those circumstances.

Bloodmouth Carnist

Some barbarians live for one thing… the taste of living flesh. They believe they draw primal power from consuming flesh… live and bleeding preferably, but dead will do. They’ll settle for cooked, if necessary. Even dried meat contains some sparks of the former living essence.

A bloodmouth carnist will not consume plant matter (except in fermented form) unless desperately hungry. They only buy rations that are meat based (if you just use some generic ‘iron rations’ in your game, pure-meat rations, usually consisting of jerky, etc., cost twice as much). Survival checks to find food are at +2 DC, because only hunted game will do… no roots and berries! A bloodmouth carnist actually takes damage from goodberries, (or any similar spell) as much as would normally be healed. If a bloodmouth carnist consumes plants to survive, they gain a temporary negative level until they can eat an appropriate meal again.

They gain a +4 competence bonus to detect plant-based poisons concealed in food.

Rending Teeth: At first level, the bloodmouth carnist gains a bite attack, doing damage appropriate to their size category (1d6 for medium creatures). When facing any enemy other than incorporeal undead, plants, constructs (except flesh golems and the like), oozes, elementals, and similar (based on GM discretion), they must hit with a bite attack (even if it doesn’t penetrate DR) before they can use any other weapon. If they try to attack without performing this ritual, they suffer a -2 morale penalty on attack and damage rolls. This attack will never subject them to ingested poison, but this does not let them consume otherwise poisonous flesh outside of combat.

This is a natural weapon, and can be enhanced by spells such as magic fang. Whenever they score a critical hit with this attack, they gain temporary hit points equal to half the damage inflicted on their enemy. These don’t stack, but if the amount gained is more than the amount of temporary hit points remaining, the new, higher, value takes effect.

At third level, their bite attack is considered to be a magic weapon for purposes of overcoming DR.

At sixth level, their bite attack does damage as if they were one size category larger.

At ninth level, their bite attack has the bleeding attack feat, and also counts as a silver or cold iron weapon for purposes of overcoming DR. (They cannot bite themselves to inflict bleeding damage in order to use the self-rending ability.)

At twelfth level, their bite attack gains their alignment for purposes of overcoming DR, and gains a threat range of 19-20.

At fifteenth level, their bite attack is treated as if they were two size categories larger.

At eighteenth level, their bite attack ignores all DR. Yes, they can chew an iron golem. Tenzil Kem approves.

This ability replaces trap sense.

Self-Rending: When a bloodmouth carnist takes bleeding damage, they may choose to tear at their own flesh (once per each triggering wound) as an immediate action, inflicting normal bite damage on themselves, and increasing the bleeding by 1d3 points/round. This grants them a morale bonus to attack and damage, for their next attack only, equal to the increased bleed. For a full round after this, healing magic or heal checks will not end the bleed condition.

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part IV

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part IV

Shopkeepers, Slavers, And Courtesans, Oh My!

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

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

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

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

But First, A Correction

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

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

Abby… Someone

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

As always, a few quick notes on the table:

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

Special Politically Incorrect Class Section

Pearl-clutching Puritans, you’ve been warned.

Slavers (Not The Kind With Stasis Boxes)

(Though In Arduin, Anything Is Possible…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Perhaps It's Going To A Roadside Inn?

Perhaps It’s Going To A Roadside Inn?

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

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

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

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 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.

A Brief Digression: PrinceCon 3

PrinceCon 3 Handbook, Or, I Don’t Care What Howard Says

In The Old Days, They Handed Out Entire Variant Rules Systems At Cons

How Cool Is That?

My Arduin articles are evidently quite popular, possibly drawing up to a half-dozen views a month… a sixfold increase over my usual rate! As a consequence, someone decided to link me to a scan of a handout from PrinceCon 3. I’d never heard of PrinceCon, or this handbook, before.

It is, basically, a collection of variant rules for D&D, with a ton of new material interwoven with stuff more-or-less copied wholesale, and this being 1977, that meant someone typed this all up by hand. I got a 96 page booklet of Burgess Shale era RPG material that I not only hadn’t seen before, but that I never even knew existed to be seen! That’s worth more than all my advertising revenue from this site so far. Literally, I think I’ve made 0.75 cents in the past eight or nine years. BTW, my Paypal address is lizard@mrlizard.com, BTW. Just wanted to put that out there.

Unlike the Arduin stuff, I don’t have any personal experience with this to draw on… but it’s from “my time”, the time I started gaming, and it reflects and embodies so much of the nascent culture of the era, good, bad, awesome, and not-so-awesome. Let’s explore it together, shall we?

(This is all coming from a PDF scan. If anyone happens to have access to scans of, or even dead tree copies of, the books from the first two PrinceCons, I’d love to see them.)

What’s All This, Then?

From what I can gather from reading the text, when you showed up at PrinceCon 3, you got this book, and a character to go with it, for use at the con. That is just plain awesome. All I ever get at GenCon is a bag of dubious advertising material and some coupons for every booth I don’t go to. Why don’t they do things like this anymore? Just because there’s about 56,000 people going to each GenCon? Why should that stop anyone?

People in the 1970s thought D&D was satanic. Whatever gave them that idea?

People in the 1970s thought D&D was satanic. Whatever gave them that idea?

I’ve flipped (metaphorically, it’s a PDF, after all) through the book a bit, and it falls into an interesting place in my ongoing critique of Old School Revisionism. On the one hand, it’s a lot less gonzo than Arduin or Booty And The Beasts — no centaur psychics with insomnia, no galactic dragons. OTOH, it is full of new and variant rules, offering complexity and depth to the original D&D’s fairly spartan systems, many of which directly reference “Men&Magic”, the first of the three LBBs, in the context of “What’s wrong with them and how we’re going to fix them”. I point this out because of the more pernicious myths of Old School Revisionism is that people worshiped simple, elegant, design, and didn’t clutter their games up with lots of “systems” and “rules”. Bull-frackin-shit. The first thing just about everyone did was notice that D&D was a world-changing concept shackled to some pretty dubious mechanics, and set about fixing them, and this little pamphlet of wonders is proof. Sure, a lot of the mechanics are incredibly baroque… I am guessing the authors were majoring in math or science, not Literary Criticism (and thus went on to have good jobs, which might be why I haven’t heard of any of them in the gaming field… that’s where losers with English degrees, like me, end up)… but they’re typical of the time. I call this the Burgess Shale era of gaming because it was a time of great experimentation, of adaptive radiation, of endless possibilities because no one knew what work and what wouldn’t and there was no body of history and precedent to draw on. Much like the first few years of the comic book industry, or the earliest pulp days of science fiction, the tropes had yet to be codified.

What these are to evolution, so early gaming materials are to modern RPGs.

So let’s explore! (PS: If you’re not familiar with the art of Roy Troll, why not? What’s wrong with you?)

Oh, here’s how it worked:How it worked

Got all that? Good. Shades of KODT, with their ‘registered GMs’ and paid character transfers!

Your character was rolled up on a PDP-11, using the Cribbs system, and…

PDP-11. It was a kind of computer.

No, it didn’t run Windows.

Do try to pay attention, would you?

Cribbs system? Well, it was a system, invented by Mark Cribbs. One of the things you’ll note about a lot of the stuff from this era is that it was very personal — mechanics and rules were referred to by the person who created them.

Much like C&S, Cribbs wanted you to roll on a table to see if you could be non-human. That was a trope that (mostly) died pretty soon, as it was another form of “balance by rarity”, which lasted longer in gaming than it really should have.

I'm sure this makes sense on the fourth re-read.

I’m sure this makes sense on the fourth re-read.

They did address the problem of level caps… “pinning”… for non humans.

BTW, what your people call “attributes”, they called “requisites”. This can be pretty confusing when reading. They also noticed that the effect of attributes on gameplay was pretty limited, and rather than (as the Revisionists would have it) saying “Good, you should TELL the DM how you’re picking the lock, and not worry if you have 18 Dex or 3 Dex!”, they said, “Screw that!” and added in a lot of rules and charts to make virtually every number on the 3-18 scale matter.

What's Char Eff, You Ask? Foolish Mortal!

What’s Char Eff, You Ask? Foolish Mortal!

Char Eff is “Charisma Efficiency”, and it was used to determine your base chance of “Charismaing” someone into doing something. (Hmm, I could use that mechanic for all the Arduin stuff that gave you “+5 Charisma when lying”, and what-not.)

Next up, we have combat, which used a highly variant %age system where your chance to hit was expressed in formulae such as 100-5 x AC -4 x L. Actually, it makes sense, and the math works, but I’m 1000 words into this thing and barely on page 4 of the book, so either I start using less detail or this momentary digression will consume many weeks of my limited writing time.

I Don’t Care What Howard Says!

But I do need to share this excerpt, a small part of the several pages of combat rules:

Howard can just bite me!Indeed. I dearly wish “I don’t care what Howard says, —” to become a major meme in the RPG community. It’s only 38 years past its origin date. Why not?

Oh, and if you thought D&D 3.x/PF grappling rules were a little… odd…

This Is For You, Howard.

Wow, a use for a D12!

Then follows the “Mahler Wandering Monster Tables”. 50% chance of encountering an Alma.

The tables include an “Argus Sphere”, which I’m guessing is how Princetonians said “Beholder”.

In addition to being a leading composer of the early 20th century, Mahler also invented a point-based magic system, which is described herein. It actually made it a bit tougher to be a magic user, as spells typically took a full round to cast and then went off the next round, with rules for being damaged while casting and losing the spell in progress, based on the ratio of damage taken to your current hit points (meaning, you needed to recalculate each time you were hit, as the threshold would change), and the number of spell points you got back each day (after 12 hours of sleep — none of this wimpy eight hours crap!) was based on your intelligence and how much you’d used… so you if you shot your wad completely, you wouldn’t be fully recharged by the next day. A very ahead of its time system, frankly.

Next follows a list of spells, mostly verbatim from Greyhawk, with a few additions like “Snowball” (like Fireball, but it destroyed potions, not scrolls.)  Then, we get an extensive list of modification to spells, such as “Sleep now HAS a saving throw”, Pyrotechnics is non-magical and must be created from non-magical fire (but does it still cost spell point?), and “on page 17, cross out ‘machine gun’ and write in ‘pizza oven'”.

Haste &Slow are noted as “get[ting] a saving throw based on Strength”. I do not know what that means.

Contact Higher Planes is notable for the hand-written correction from “waisting spell points” to “wasting spell points”. Still higher editing standards than a lot of modern companies.

“Hide Intent” allows you to avoid the effects of “Detect Alignment”, et al, though I’d prefer “Hide In Tent”, which causes any wandering monsters to chew on your companions in camp, instead of you.

Spell Targeting. Tee Ay Arr Gee…

Hey, They Can’t All Be Good

What Do You Mean, “Can Even Some Of Them Be Good? For A Change?”

We then encounter the “Tihor Spell Targeting System”, which

Then, divide by the cube root of the targets height...

Then, divide by the cube root of the targets height…

Please remember your rules of operator precedence. “Plus after times, except when it rhymes.”

And the usual page or so of modifiers and special cases.

Here we have a grand battle between mages of all sorts. I like the evil dude with the skull staff fighting with the cleric over the poor shmuck on the ground.

Wizard War

Mahler also created a clerical magical system, presumably in-between symphonies. (Have I beaten that joke to death yet? Probably. Will I stop? Probably not.) It uses “prayer points”, and likewise has a few new spells and  lot of house-ruled old spells. A few highlights:

Bless: There are multiple levels of Bless, each with a roman numeral (Bless I, Bless II, etc.) and each adds a variable %age to melee ‘to hit’ scores and a value to melee damage.

De-Were: Turns “W level of werewolves”, where “W” is spell level x 2+1, unless married but filing separately, or in Alaska or Oregon.

Convert Sword: This does not turn your sword into a ploughshare… seriously, what the hell were you thinking? This is D&D, man! It does turn a good sword evil or an evil sword good, unless it’s one of the really cool swords.. you know, the kind you’d want to use this on. Then it doesn’t work.

The Tihor Saving Throw System

For When You’re Attacked By A Wild Tihor

These Headings Just Keep Getting Worse, Don’t They?

So, stop me if you’ve heard this one… all saves a reduced to three types, with a class-based bonus depending on your level. Yup, 23 years early, “Tihor” invented the 3.0 save system, more-or-less. There were “Bodily”, “Mental”, and “Spiritual” saves, using a roll-under percentile system.

Then follows some alternate thief tables, which supplement the percentile-based rules in Greyhawk with some additional rules based on rolling less than a given number on a D6. This is a good example of the other extreme of homebrew rules, very simple systems with a bare handful of modifiers. Of course, it’s then followed by a bunch of new rules for thieves backstabbing people while invisible. (Highly arbitrary levels of detail were another common feature of the era, esp. in a book like this, which collected systems written by various active creators with highly idiosyncratic ideas about what mattered. Hmm. Kind of like any given open source project, where the amount of attention and detail given to an area depends on what someone thinks is fun/interesting/challenging… so you get very robust APIs and well-tested code in one bit, and completely missing functionality in another, with documentation that ranges from “OCD to the max” to “This function does stuff”.

(The article on the “Samurai” class in an early issue of “The Dragon” had a word count almost equal to the entirety of Men&Magic.)

Curse You, Robert West!

(Whoever You Are)

Now, we proceed to the curse tables. 1-2 Damn, 3-4 Shit, 5-6 Fuck… no, sorry. These are curses put on your character, leading to curses by you towards the DM. The introduction merrily informs that Robert West’s mind is “so perverse” you don’t need to design your own curse system. My opinion? Pretty good, but not quite as over-the-top as I’d expect from an intro like that. Let’s take a gander, providing the farmer fails his spot check. And while our goose is cooking, we can look at the table.

  • Monsters from tables 1-12 (Roll a D12) attack by surprise. OK, that’s a nasty one… it means an even chance of a very high level monster appearing. It also gives another use for the poor, lonely, D12.
  • “Roll a D9+15 to get type of arena duel”. Huh? I read this one a few times, then it clicked: It’s a recursive table! Wanna bet Robert West was a CS major? The D9+15 is then read on the table as a roll of 16 to 24, which determines what kind of thing you fight in the arena!
  • When you cast spells from a scroll of spells, they backfire — if they’re not damage spells, take 6 HP/spell level. Owie.
  • “All cures on victims will become causes.” Great, now I want to save the flumphs, support kobold rights, and ban alchemical dumping in Blackmoor.
  • Luck become 3, -15% to saving throws. “Give other appropriate duds.” Like, what? Torn robes and faded capes?
  • Teleport 5,000 feet above ground; take 24d6 damage. Actually, in a prior Pathfinder game, one of the players teleported straight up as far as he could to get out of a dungeon. That was the last session of that particular game, though, so we never got to see him go splat.
  • Teleport to Mars. Fortunately, OD&D included Barsoom encounter tables.
  • Curse
  • Fighter have their sword change alignment; MUs lose their highest level spell; Clerics have cures become causes and vice-versa, except if they try to compensate for it, in which case, they don’t, and thieves lose a thief ability.
  • Character acquires a malodorous disease. I love the word malodorous. Don’t you?
  • “Normal Mahler poison, no saving throw.” Presumably, delivered via a Viennese pastry. (See, I told you I wasn’t going to let that joke drop.)
  • Character becomes the “monster” summoned by a random party (via monster summoning) to fight a battle. This was something that happened in a D&D game to one of the PCs a few years ago… not the result of this table, mind you, just an ingeniously sadistic DM.

This is a good place to stop, as the rules per se end here… the rest of the book is a huge list of magic items, mostly reprinting the D&D lists of the time, but with many new and interesting additions that deserve their own commentary, and don’t deserve the lame jokes I’m undoubtedly going to try to squeeze out of them. Hardly anything deserves my attempts at humor, come to think of it.


Arduin Grimoire, Part V

Arduin Grimoire, Part V

Special Abilities

Because If Playing A Centaur Psychic Wasn’t Good Enough, You Can Be a Centaur Psychic With Chronic Insomnia


Now, we get to another cool innovation, presented with minimal mechanical guidance and an utter disregard for the hobgoblin of ‘game balance’. Reading through the Arduin Grimoire with an eye for detail now, decades after I first used it in play, I notice something never made explicit: Exactly how to use the Special Ability charts. We just rolled once on them when a character was created, no muss, no fuss. I don’t see a logical alternative, really… this was an era when characters were heavily front-loaded, with most abilities gained at creation or from class levels. None of this “gain a feat every three levels” stuff. Still, it strikes my older self as odd that it was never stated outright. A lot of stuff from this era was like that: You were just supposed to know. It was accessed through the Akashic memory of the RPG collective hivemind, or something. And, yet… somehow… we did know. We made up rules and then forgot we made them up, convincing ourselves we’d read them in some book, somewhere.

There’s several pages of them, all in a 1-100 chart, all with very little explanation or detail. When I usually end up making anything but the simplest feat eat up 150-250 words, the brevity of these is quite impressive… as is the highly variable utility. I’ll post the full scan of one of them for a sample, then go through the rest and highlight some things.

+1 With Maces, Or LYcanthrope?

+1 With Maces, Or Lycanthrope?

The options range from generally negative, to mildly interesting, to character-killing (A fighter-type with a -8 save vs. fear and a 50% chance of fleeing?) to just asking for trouble (secret were-creature?).

  • You can easily build an entire character around the “desire to form a secret society” one, not that a +5 Charisma mattered a lot, mechanically, in these days before social skills or the like. Charisma, more than anything else, was as useful or useless as the DM wanted it to be, which was in direct proportion to how much Chinese food he’d eaten lately.
  • Having the natural ability of “true sight” — I’m assuming, as per the high-level magic-user spell, though of course this isn’t explained anywhere — could be a real advantage in this era when everything was shapeshifter disguised by an illusion and veiled by darkness. Including the innkeeper at whatever tavern you were going to start playing at.
  • I wonder how many fights started by people who claimed “western weapons” did not mean “European weapons”, but “six-shooters and shotguns”?
  • The “Bad Liar” is another one which would make more sense if there was, at the time, an established, shared, system of task resolution based on attributes. Maybe there was in Hargrave’s games… who knows?
  • “25% chance of going berserker”… just don’t ask what that means. (I’d probably rule you have to keep fighting until your enemies are dead, or something.)
  • +1 with “non-mechanical” bows, and -2 versus Djinn attacks. Those… go together perfectly… I guess… erm… what? It’s almost as if some of the items on this list came from rolling on other random lists, like there was a “bonus list” and a “penalty list” somewhere in Dave’s undoubtedly voluminous house rules, and he rolled once on each and made them a single item here.
  • Evidently, half-efreets are a thing.
Actually, I don't think alchemists are even in this book...

Actually, I don’t think alchemists are even in this book…

The next table is “Mages, Illusionist, Druids, Alchemists, Medicine Men, Psychics and Those Of Magical Natures”. Interesting, compared to later evolution of gaming cliches, that Druids are lumped with magic-users and not clerics.

  • Chronic Insomnia, for your centaur psychic. +5 to save vs. sleep spells, -5 charisma.
  • Movement competent, -2 vs. “stoning”. (Quotes in original.) I’m assuming that’s “-2 on saves vs. petrification”, but it could mean “-2 vs. people throwing rocks at you because said ‘Jehovah'”, or even “-2 on saves against Bigby’s Awesome Stash”.  Oh, and what does “competent” mean? (“It’s not a surprise you don’t know that!” shouts my internal peanut gallery at me.) It’s actually explained in Arduin Grimoire Volume II, in a slightly petulant tone, as if Dave couldn’t believe people needed his private table rules explained to them. I see no good reason to both explaining it before then, either. If Dave thought you were smart enough to figure it out, I suppose I should give you the same credit.
  • +50% Vision with night sight, +1 to detect secret doors. I have no idea what “+50% vision” means. You see about half as well at night as you do in they day? You get a 50% bonus on seeing things at night, which would be cool if any such rules existed? It’s whatever you can bully the DM into letting you get away with? Let’s go with that one.
  • Magic Competent, can pick locks and disarm traps as a thief two levels below your own, and climb as an assassin one level below your own, but your major drawback is your +8 Charisma. Erm, I’m going to assume they meant -8, but I guarantee you, some player who rolled this at least tried to convince their DM that a +8 was a real drawback. (“‘Cause, like, chicks are always buggin’ me, and shit.”)
  • Natural ability to memorize one spell per level more than normal. Now, that’s nice. Well worth the risk of rolling… well, actually, nothing on this particular list wholly sucks. There’s no totally negative options. Someone liked magic-users more than fighters, that’s for sure, and we see the beginning of the Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit school of game design.
Home of the singing evangelist!

Home of the singing evangelist!

Next, we have “Clerics of all types, bards, singers, witch hunters, pallidins(sic semper tyrannis), and all of a more religious than magical nature”. Another case where we see modern concepts in a state of flux — bards are “religious”, rather than arcane (well, given that the original bard needed to be a Druid first, this kind of makes sense… erm, but Druids are “magical” in this book… so, uhm, whatever. I’m not sure what the difference between a “Bard” and a “Singer” is, to be honest. I think there’s a “Rune Singer” class in one of the later books, though.

Anyway, let’s look at the chart:

  • Mountain Man, +2 to Strength, Agility, and Dexterity. Climb as a thief. First: This is totally not what I’d expect for “religious types”, which makes it awesome. How did Jethro Clampett end up becoming a Cleric? There’s a backstory there! Second: Still not sure how Agility differs from Dexterity in this system. Third: I’m assuming attributes cap out based on the “Limitations” table I mentioned in Part III, but there’s plenty of precedent for bonuses to transcend such limits, so who knows?
  • Sickly and anemic, -2 to all attributes (ouch) , cannot be hasted. Like you’d live long enough for anyone to be high enough level to cast “haste” on you.
  • +3 save vs. cursed scrolls, -3 save versus all elementals. Most of the cursed scrolls I encountered were “no save”, which leads to the zen question of “How do you add 3 to that which does not exist?”
  • Clerical magic incompetent. Which pretty much makes you wonder why you ever decided to go on an adventuring career in the first place.
  • Healing competent, +2 to all point totals per dice healed. This seems to imply “Competent” means “+2”.
  • +3 with quarterstaff and “cudgle”, -2 with everything else. Perfect for Friar Tuck.
  • “Clerical pallidin (sic transit gloria mundi) status, start at second level, you get all they get”. I… have no idea what this means. What if you’re already a pallid.. paladin? Who are “they”? Does this means you start as a second level cleric, but get all of the paladin’s special abilities? Or you’re dual-classed, a Cleric/Paladin? Or what?
  • “You have been defrocked for murder, you are now an anti-cleric.” Does your alignment change? What if you were already evil?
  • +3 to Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, “you are now a singing evangelist(!) with all the abilities of a singer (or bard)”. DUDE! That sounds like the most awesome… and most annoying, to your fellow players… character concept EVER. I am SO going to roll up a Bard/Cleric now! Sure, you disdain all weapons and armor except quarterstaffs and you give away all gold over 500 GS, but still! (Wait… it gets better. Remember, this table is for many classes, not just clerics… including witch hunters. A witch hunter who rolls this becomes a singing inquisitor!!! There just aren’t enough exclamation points in the world for that level of awesomeness.
Aragorn and Bilbo roll on the same chart, it seems.

Aragorn and Bilbo roll on the same chart, it seems.

Next up: Special Ability chart for (deep breath here) thieves, monks, ninja, highwaymen, corsairs, assassins, traders, slavers, rangers, and all those with a more or less “secret” nature. (Fred the candlemaker is looking around at Slyfingers the thief, Dragon Fist the monk, Black Bart the corsair, and Aradorn the ranger and wondering how he ended up here.)

  • Natural Locksmith, work 2 levels above normal for those abilities… which sort of assumes you have “those abilities”, and it’s not clear, to me, if this includes disarming traps or just picking locks.
  • Circus trained, +3 to agility, dexterity, +25% to climbing ability, and a 50% chance of being recruited by a creepy guy with a deep, gravely, voice.
  • +2 ability to hide in shadows and darkness above normal. But these are normally %age abilities, so does that mean +10%? Or does it mean, as with “natural locksmith”, you have a +2 effective level? I’m sure at least one hard-ass DM said it meant “+2%”.
  • Quick learner, add 20% to all points earned after each expedition. Whoa! 20% XP bonus? That’s sweet!
  • Poor Liar (-4 charisma when so doing), but +3 with a sling. Huh? See above for my theory on how these weird-ass combos came to be.
  • Master herbalist, “can always detect poison and make it 1 die per level”. I’m guessing, somewhere, poisons were rated in dice? Every game we played, poisons didn’t do damage, they were pure save-or-die.
  • “Natural ability to use magic at two levels below own level.” As a… magic user? Cleric? Bard? I’m guessing, by default, MU. Pretty nice, you’re effectively multi-classed without giving up any hit points or weapon proficiencies.
  • Someone actually rolled this in one of my games: Sired by a vampire father and a normal female, you can withstand undead life drains, your Charisma can’t be higher then 9, you have an aversion to clerical types and fire, can only go out at night, but regenerate 1 point per minute “with all the restrictions of trolls”.
For everyone who isn't DPS, Tank, or Healer, I guess...

For everyone who isn’t DPS, Tank, or Healer, I guess…

“A techno, a sage, and a courtesan walk into a bar…”

Here we are at the last table, which covers Technos, Sages, Courtesans, Normals, and everyone else.

  • Good Liar, +5 Charisma when doing so, +2 otherwise, -2 versus cold. Oddly, Good liar also appears on the “Rogues, etc.” table, but that entry has no “+2 otherwise”, and it’s -3 vs. cold. The exact relationship between “lying” and “cold resistance” remains a mystery. I am utterly certain that Mr. Hargrave had a perfectly logical reason, and I wish I could ask him what it was.
  • Stunningly good looking — Charisma 23(!), and +8 to Ego (presumably, going over the normal maxima there, too). But you’re “super arrogant”. Hell, with that Charisma, no one will care! Unless your DM just ignores Charisma when deciding how NPCs react. See earlier rants, multiple, on the lack of mechanical support for various character traits in the games of the era.
  • Naturalist, can always find edible plants (emphasis in original). Man, I can hear it now:

Player: So, I find some edible plants.
DM: The hell you do. You’re in the Barren Desert Of Barren Bleakness. There are no plants here.
Player: I always find edible plants!
DM: That means, if you’re somewhere where there’s, y’know, plants!
Player: It says always!

Modern games, with their ‘cohesive rules’ and ‘integrated systems’ and ‘internal consistency’ and ‘extensive DM advice’ have totally destroyed the true spirit of gaming.

  • Latent warrior, can fight as a first level warrior if pressed. Which translates to, basically, a +1 or so, as first level warriors weren’t much better than 0 level nothings. And as soon as your techno, sage, or courtesan has gained even a few levels, they’re already better than a first level anyone. Not sure about “normals”, per se.
  • Total unbeliever in magic, -5 saves against all magic. Y’know, wouldn’t a +5 bonus to saves be more, erm, believable for an unbeliever? It’s hard to keep not believing in something you’re particularly vulnerable to.
  • Secret were-creature, roll for type. 95% chance of being chaotic. I wonder if that means “a secret from others” or “a secret from yourself”? Also, compare to the fighter-type equivalent entry: 3% less chance of being chaotic! And no mention of being evil!
  • Sadistic, arrogant, athiest(sic erat scriptum), -4 vs. magic, +8 ego, +3 strength. Anyone the author knew?
  • Very pius(sic I’m out of latin phrases), help all in need, +4 vs. Magic, +8 ego, +3 strength. Compare to above. Hmmmm. Hmmmmmmmm.
  • Obese glutton “of unsanitary and foul habits”, -6 charisma, +6 vs. poison, with an annotation that “if you cannot obviously have this characteristic and still be the type of character you are supposed to be, roll again”. I think it’s obvious which “type of character” the note refers to. It’s interesting that cowardly fighters are fine, but Arduin clearly has a “No Fat Chicks” policy for courtesans. Spirit of the times, I’m afraid. Spirit of the times.
  • “Roll once on any three tables of your choice, ignoring this number, but if you can’t use what you roll up, tough, you’re stuck with it.” This kind of “sucks to be you, deal with it” attitude is also part of the spirit of the times… a good part, this time, one we need more of in gaming… and in life.

After this table is a “Special Note” which, I presume, applies to the whole section: “These characteristics are only guidelines, but if you accept the responsibility and roll for them, then you must accept the results as a permanent part of your character thereafter.”

Coming Soon

At long last, classes! (Or some portion thereof… we’ve got Traders, Psychics, Rune Weavers, Technos (Sorry, “Techno’s”), Barbarians (waaaaay before Unearthed Arcana!), Medicine Men, and Witch Hunters to cover, and I don’t have a whole lot of time to write each week. Hey, I’ve been regularly posting content at least weekly for three weeks now…