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All The World’s Monsters, Volume 1 Part 2

All The World’s Monsters, Volume I

Part II

Subsection III, Paragraph VII

Whereas the party of the first part….

Welcome back to another installment of the walkthrough of All The World’s Monsters, Volume I, called by some “The Red Book Of The Land Of Oaks”. OK, no one calls it that. I just made that up. Because it’s red. And published in Oakland.

The backstory of this series can be found here. Let’s just get to the monsters. I’m going to get dragged off to do Family Things later and I want to get as much done in the time I have remaining. (Damn, that makes it sound like I’m dying of some horrible disease instead of going out to see a movie and do some shopping.)

Daughter Of Kali: One of a seemingly infinite number of creatures in 70s era games which existed to seduce men, steal their vital bodily fluids, and then kill or abandon them. Uhm, issues, anyone? Loosely based on Indian mythology, as if the name wasn’t a dead giveaway.

Death Angel: Surprisingly, not yet another heavy metal inspired “winged dude with flaming sword and major ‘tude”, this is a giant electric jellyfish. Because of course it is. Because Old School is totally freakin’ awesome like that. Giant electric jellyfish FTW! Credited to Keith Laumer, who is brilliant, and if you haven’t read his “Retief” series, do so.

Demon, Class I, Ice through Demon, Class III, Ice: An assortment of ice demons of various power levels, neatly categorized, classified, stamped, filed, briefed, debriefed, and numbered. A few people… stupid people… like to whine that this trope, highly prevalent in older games and still around in some today, removes “magic” and “wonder”, making everything systemic and ordered. I think this adds tremendous verisimilitude to games. If people live in a world with demons and dragons and daughters of Kali1, such beings will be sorted, ordered, named, and labeled. That’s what humans (and, I presume, elves and dwarves and halflings and sahuagin) do. Sapient beings create conceptual frameworks and reduce things to labels within those frameworks which can be manipulated mentally. (If you have ever read actual books of medieval demonology, you will find they are, in fact, full of this sort of thing, with everything sorted into orders, bands, hierarchies, choruses, and what-not, with very exact numbers (usually of mystical or philosophical significance) of each.)

Dorohime: A jellyfish with a ring of eyes and squid tentacles which is a “petty” devil (although it’s classed as a demon, go figure), that is sometimes employed as a treasure guard by assorted abyssal creatures. When killed, it explodes in a fireball. Things that explode when killed were pretty common.

Dragon, Chrome: Well, of course there have to be new dragons! For every adjective, there must be a dragon! That is the law. This one… well, read it.

Turns Into Any Mechanized Item. Take That, Six-Shot!

I am particularly enamored of the references to high level spells that are not otherwise listed, defined, or explained. (And to keep beating the deceased equine, let us note no mechanics are provided for the “irritation” or “sleepiness” caused by the breath weapon.)

Earth Mole: A “minor sort of earth demon”, filed under “E” for “Earth” instead of “D” for “Demon”, it is an albino mole with pincers and a paralysis gaze.

Ebon Doom: A “demon of the outer darkness”, also filed under “E” for “Ebon” instead of “D” for “Demon, Outer Darkness, Doom, Ebon” the way it should be. (This is what happens when a game predicated on whimsy and wonder is played primarily by the kind of people who, in 1979, were programming computers to store their monsters. People like me, in other words.) Where was I? Oh yes. The Doom, Eb… I mean, Ebon Doom, looks like a “mindless energy field”. As opposed to looking like an intelligent energy field? Huh?

DM: You see a flat black energy field.
Player: Does it look mindless?
DM: It… it’s an energy field. It looks… energy fieldish.
Player: But does it look mindless?
DM: It looks like you’ve spent so much time staring at it trying to figure out if it looks mindless that it attacks with surprise.

Elemental, Cold:

Well, Of Course She's Cold, Dressed Like That

Well, Of Course She’s Cold, Dressed Like That

Evil Shark: Not “Shark, Evil”? Son, I am disappoint. The ghost of a low level evil cleric, it is found at depths of 80 feet, in thin seaweed. Not at 75 feet in thick seaweed! That is the domain of the Evil Crab (aka Crab, Evil, and no, I’m probably not going to stop beating this joke until it too dies and becomes some form of undead sealife), the ghost of a mid level druid! We won’t even discuss what you might find at 90 feet in no seaweed! Your mortal minds cannot grasp the horror!

Ezwal: 2000 lb furry blue carnivores, with six legs. Hates machines, likes other ezwal. Based on a story by A. E. Van Vogt. Has “frost giant strength”. Should have been filed under “Ezwal, Blue”.

Falcon, Fire: See! Someone got it right! It’s a falcon. On fire. Only called out as notable because it fits what’s evolved into a running gag for this installment. Remember my motto: “Mrlizard.com: Free and worth it!”

Fiink: An intelligent.. quoppina? What the smeg is a quoppina? (Back from google.) Ah, it’s a kind of bug things from one of the Retief books. I should have remembered that. However, as a description in a general monster book intended for a wide audience, it’s a bit… lacking. Imagine if a monster was described as “a giant green Puppeteer” and readers didn’t know anything about Niven’s Known Space books. The default mental image would be… interesting.

Flapfrog: This is a giant (“elephant sized”) frog with wings that allow it to glide, but not actually fly. So, wait… if it glides on them, it doesn’t flap them, does it? You don’t flap to glide. This is clearly a glidefrog, and should be under “G”. Or perhaps under “Frog, giant, gliding”. Either works.

Flat: A chameleon-like blanket on the ground, which will disguise itself as whatever it’s lying on and then smother anyone who walks over it. Old School, where everything tried to kill you. Based on a story by Manly Wade Wellman.

Trapper, lurker above, stunjelly…

Comic from badgods.com by the excellent Lore Sjoberg. Go read more.

Gargoyle, Stone: Erm… as opposed to all those gargoyles made of vanilla pudding?

Gelatinous Blue Horror: When a gelatinous cube and a blue pool horror love… er… hate each other very much and try to eat each other, you get this: A blue gelatinous cube. Should be “Gelatinous Horror, Blue”.(Oh, a Blue Pool Horror is a “genetic experiment gone wrong” that looks like… a blue pool of water. )

Geteit Chemosit: Gesundheit! This is an eight foot tall black automaton with three yellow eyes, wielding a “force axe”. If it kills you, it will remove and destroy your brain, “making resurrection impossible”, never mind that an intact brain was not required for such spells. The original raise dead (white box) and raise dead fully (Greyhawk) only discuss time limits, not corpse quality. Later editions added various other limits, but never specifically an intact brain, to my recollection (and I’m feeling too lazy to go haul out my AD&D 1e, 2e, 3e, etc. books to research this for the sake of the 3 or 4 people who might be reading). Also based on an SF story, this is from “Pastel City” (otherwise known as “Virconium”) by M. John Harrison. Unlike most of the various “based on” monsters so far, this is both a story and an author with which I am wholly unfamiliar, but apparently he’s quite well established.

Goblin, Glass: A silicon goblin… siloblin? Something. Anyway, a surprising amount of space is dedicated to its reproductive rituals:

Frankly, Glass Goblin Porn Is Really Kind Of Dull

Frankly, Glass Goblin Porn Is Really Kind Of Dull

Golem (Diamond, Dust, Glass, Gold, Green Slime, Ice, Quicksilver, Radium(!), Tar, Wood): Yeah. Lots-o-golems. Some were referenced or described in the Arduin books; some weren’t. I will pick only one as a sample…

I Googled "Critical Mass Of Radium". Now I'm On A Watch List.

I Googled “Critical Mass Of Radium”. Now I’m On A Watch List.

As it turns out, radium doesn’t have a critical mass, but I think any GM worth his salt would severely punish a magic user who piled up 600 lbs of radium and didn’t think about proper containment… oh, and seriously punish a magic user who did take such precautions, on the grounds it was the use of out-of-character knowledge. That’s how we kicked it, old school! (The player might, in turn, argue that a “Manual of Radium Golem Creation” will include all the necessary safety measures. That argument’s strength is in direct proportion to the quality and quantity of General Tso’s Chicken provided to the GM.)

Gondor: Has no king. Needs no king. Easy walking distance from Mordor, despite the travel advisories. Also, a gondor is “a winged man with thievish capabilities”, which has telepathy that only works on fighters, giving it an AC of 2 when fighting them, but 9 otherwise. How this works when dealing with multi-class or dual-class is not specified, of course. (I’m trying to back-parse the name; if we figure ‘condor’ was part of it, it sort of makes sense, except I can’t link ‘thief with suspiciously specific psychic powers’ to any word starting with ‘g’.)

Gremlin, Gnarled: What has three arms, four legs, cannot see (but has sonar), and attacks elder gods and demons? Uhm, if you have to be told it’s a “gremlin, gnarled”, when it’s kind of there in bold face text, maybe RPGs aren’t the hobby for you. I hear collecting barbed wire is coming back as the next hipster craze. Try that. Oh, it has a pearl which, if placed into a staff, creates a staff of wizardry with 50 charges. (Y’know, a barbed wire golem is a pretty nifty idea, especially if you’re doing a modern era or “Weird West” type game… )

That brings us to the end of the “G”s. Tune in next time, where we will start off with the hairy howler. (If you know what I mean, and I think you do… wink wink, nudge nudge… you know, the nine foot man/baboon crossbreed from “Hiero’s Journey” by Sterling Lanier. Why? What were you thinking of?)

As always, if you like this site, please share it/link to it in appropriate places.

1There is also a “Daughter Of Kali, Elder”. Case closed.

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 1

All The World’s Monsters, Volume I

Edition 2, Printing 3, Act I, Scene 5

Interior, Pit Of Vile Doom. Enter, Two Kobolds

Well, that got off track quickly.

Front Cover For All The World's Monsters

Front Cover For All The World’s Monsters

ATWM (pronounced “At-whem”, which by no small coincidence is also the name of the Dread Underservant of the Elder Lords of Far Gallarik, Realm Of Dreams Twisted And Hopes Devoured) is a collection of monsters originally published in 1979 by Chaosium, based primarily on user submissions and “for use in fantasy role playing campaigns”, as long as they rhymed with “bludgeons and flagons”. I am writing this walkthrough based on the third printing, which is also of the second edition. (I believe it’s the third printing of the book in total, not the third printing of the second edition. Normally, this would be irrelevant fluff, or, in other words, exactly what this website is known for, but when discussing the earliest generations of supplements, things tended to change between printings — see the art changes in Arduin, for example.) I could buy a PDF scan of the original edition on Chaosium’s site and then compare it, but that would involve both money and effort, two things I am loathe to expend under any circumstance.

ATWM (Praise At-whem! Hail At-whem!) is laid out rather oddly. (Granted, it was unusual for gamers at the time to be laid out at all, if you get my drift.) Published in 8 1/2 x 11 format, it’s intended to be read sideways, presumably to accommodate the fact the book was basically printed out on a computer, and, at the time, printers didn’t do “portrait” mode.

Computer? Yes, children. They had computers, and printers, in 1979. They were, admittedly, in the form of giant mechanical monstrosities that filled multiple floors in large, secure, buildings, no more than one to a city, where they were tended to by the Priests Of Babbage, children taken from their parents and raised from birth to feed punch cards to the giant metallic Baals and then read the sacred offerings that spewed forth in cryptic code from1… oh, OK, not that bad. But close. The books represent one of the earliest applications of computers to gaming in the sense of using them as tools to manage and manipulate game information.

Not To Be Confused With The Dessert Ape, Which Is Made Of Chocolate

Not To Be Confused With The Dessert Ape, Which Is Made Of Chocolate

You may notice a familiar name among the credits. Many of Dave’s contributions here are not found in the Arduin volumes, making this a defacto supplement for Arduin. By the way, you have to love the sparseness of Old School text. A few stats and the barest hint of description. “The third eye is hypnotic”. Which means… what? Acts as a charm person? A suggestion? Simply makes the victim stand in place, fascinated, until… they’re damaged? They save? Is there a range? How many people can it affect? But, hey, the lack of any mechanics isn’t a problem, I am told, because “reasonable people” can “just agree” on what it means! Yeah, “reasonable people” always “just agree” on what things mean. It’s clear that the professional diplomats and negotiators who tussle over issues around the world don’t have the social skills, rationality, and willingness to make fair compromises that socially maladjusted 14 year olds do. But I digress. Anyway, three-eyed hypnotic apes are totally awesome.

(Another quick note: The giant ant’s AC is 3 + 1/3rd its hit dice, and “+” means “-“, as you well know. Believe it or not, the shift from descending to ascending AC in D&D 3.0 actually got a lot of people upset.)

Aaaannd another note: A lot of the critters here have a hit die range, making them effective threats at many levels. Oddly, this wasn’t widely adapted by “real” D&D until, yes, third edition. (“D&D 3e — We Finally Notice What’s Been Happening In Game Design Over The Past Twenty Years”).

The editors/archivists are Steve Perrin, a man well known to gamers and still quite active today, and Jeff Pimper, who… isn’t. At least, I don’t know who he is, and, like most people, I believe anything I don’t know can’t possibly be important. Perhaps in some distant future time we’ll have a Star Trek like computer system where I can just enter someone’s name and find out things about them, but that’s not going to happen soon.

For no good reason, here’s the back cover:

Worst. Bear Drawing. Ever.

Worst. Bear Drawing. Ever.

So, my plan here is not to do the kind of insane, line-by-line, “close reading” I did of Arduin, because, well, there’s only one Arduin. I’m going to do what I did w/Booty And The Beasts and Necromican… kind of skim it and highlight a few favorite bits. That might take several articles, or not; it depends on how much strikes me as worth noting, depending on my mood at the exact moment I hit a given page. Mrlizard.com: Where you pay nothing and get your money’s worth!

(If I ever get off my lazy ass and set up a Patreon, I’ll need to change my slogan.)

Ant Man: An unexpected commercial and artistic success that blended humor with “heist movie” tropes, this… no, wait. This is an 8 foot tall, four armed (two have stingers, two have hands) insectoid which is immune to mental spells and “is the dominant life form on it’s (sic) home planet”.

Ape Snake: Sadly, this is not an ape-lamia or the like; it’s an ape with octopus tentacles, included in Arduin as an octorilla. I find the use of “Ape Snake” to be false advertising.  I am going to stat out a proper ape snake, just see if I don’t! Harrumph!

Bagda And Fallowman: While this sounds like a one-season detective show on USA Network, what it actually is are two “Einheriar of the Herlathing”, whose fathers are Toll and Melimbor, respectively. I like knowing who people’s fathers are, don’t you? They seem to be drawn from this book… a lot of things in ATWM (and in early gaming in general) were lifted directly and without acknowledgment from all kind and manner of pulp, books, movies, and comics. We’ll be seeing a lot of that in this article.

Basic: Dragon-like aliens found with mutated humanoid guards. Arch-enemies of the Structured Programming Empire and its fearsome Pass-kaal and Ceeplusplus legions.

Behinder: It sneaks up behind you and… no, not that, you pervert! It paralyzes you and drags you off. It always target the “last in line” by using the mental command “fall behind”.

Bloodbouncer: A combination of stirge, tribble, and superball. Seriously. That’s what it says. When was the last time you encountered a stirge, anyway? They used to be really commonplace, but no one uses them anymore. Go figure.

Carniverous (sic) Typo: Damn, I hope the spelling of the name is intentional. That would be meta.

A Classic "Screw The MU" Critter

A Classic “Screw The MU” Critter

I have to hope the formula for spell failure is, itself, a typo. As written, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but change it to “*” instead of “/” and it does.

Cloud, Silver: A weird mix of power levels in one creature. It has 6 HD but attacks as a 30th level Lord (fighter). It does 1d4 attacks for 2d8+6 each, and when it’s defeated, it simply goes away and leaves behind 1d4 ounces of Dust Of Disappearance.

Corrabus: What has the head of a cobra, the body of a horse, the lower legs of an eagle, and the wings of a dragon? I don’t know, but it’s attacking. Roll for initiative. It can also mate with humans to produce were-corrabi.

Culverin: An animated stovepipe. It spits rocks at you. There is a 25% chance the rock will hit your head and knock you unconscious. No, you don’t get a saving throw. No, it doesn’t matter how many hit points you have. Dude, trust me… if you’re in the kind of game where you are going to be attacked by an animated stovepipe, you are so much better off being unconscious it’s not funny. I had assumed this was something from actual folklore, because no gamer ever came up with anything as weird as the stuff you find in genuine folk tales and legends, but if it is, google is failing to find anything close to it. (Edit: Maybe it’s something from the Silver John stories? Damn, those are awesome. It bugs me because it seems oddly familiar. Of course, that might be because I’ve had this book since 1984 or so, and I might have forgotten I read about it here originally.)

Well, that gets us through “C”. I will either continue this, or take a break and look at “Starchildren”, the game of alien rock stars in the dystopian future of 2073. No, I’m not “making it up”! I have a copy that I probably bought close to when it first came out, around 2002 or so.

1 Hmm, I’ve got a setting idea now… “Steampunk 1999”, where we see the world 150 years after the Analytical Engine revolution…



Road Rebels Part II

Road Rebels Part II

Revenge Of The Moltov(sic) Cocktail

Well, here we are again. For Part I of this, please look here. I am not responsible for any loss of sanity that may result. Just remember this: You only have to read what I wrote, and only once. I had to read much more of it, many times over.

I need to name my character, I suppose. With a total lack of originality, I’m going with Angry Al.

So when last we left Angry Al, he (or me) was trying to figure out how to buy skills. After a lot of time pondering the rules… I still don’t know, 100%. I even gently removed the taped-in errata, surveys, and notes from the inside back cover in the hopes it would be there. Nope. (In the survey, though, the author asks “How do you think [Road Rebels] should be improved (Besides art, correct grammar, riffles (sic), and correct tab settings)?” There’s a level of self awareness there, at least.

I think you primarily get your starting skills via spending generation points (of which I have but 50) on “acquired knowledge”, each of which is… uhm… well, they’re kind of different. Some are cheap and simply grant a generically described ability, such as Street Wise (sic), which provides “good knowledge of gangs, people, where they live, where people go”, etc., for 2 points. On the other hand, there’s “Hand Weapons”, which gives +75 to four hand weapon classes, as well as +75 to all three (left, right and two-handed) parry skills, for 50 points.

The skill system is d100 based, so a +75 is pretty damn impressive, though I haven’t studied combat yet. There may be an “opposed roll” mechanic there, as the “parry” skill implies.

With only 50 generation points to my name, there’s not a lot of options. The best choice, for my character concept, is “Hand Combat”, which costs 42 points and provides +50 to Street Fighting, +75 to punching (R/L), +75 to kicking (R/L), +75 dodge, +50 to Jump, and +50 to catch (R and 2H… not sure what you need to improve left-handed catching.)

That leaves me 8 points. Two go to Street Wise.

I’m kind of tempted to put 3 into Musical Instrument, which will make me, and I quote, “totally awesome at an instrument of the character’s choice”. Sure, why not? Instrument of choice has to be electric guitar, never mind the general lack of outlets.

So, 3 left. Well, might as well go for Hot Wiring, which lets me steal a car in 2d10 rounds, unless it has an alarm. In which case, evidently, I just can’t even try. It strikes me as odd, given the detail of many other areas, that Hot Wiring is simply a “spend the time and you’re done” skill; you’d expect a lot of modifiers for kind of car, quality of tools, and so forth.

But that’s my 50!

As near as I can tell, that’s it for the attributes/skills portion of chargen. Now I guess I buy equipment? There’s no real “step by step guide”. Anyway, I have 1d10 dollars.

I roll a D10: 1.

Well, frak.

The only thing I can buy is a candle. A can of beer is 2 dollars. A cigarette lighter, 5. I’m going to hold on to my money. I mean, not really sure what I could do with a candle.


You may remember I was curious about Condition Levels 4 and 5. They do exist; there’s a notation in one of the paragraphs that, as I speculated, they go into effect as a result of multiple concurrent factors, such as being both heavily encumbered (CL 3) and badly wounded. A perfectly reasonable system. High crunch, but I don’t mind that, and the target audience for the game is self-evidently people who like crunch. The character sheet only shows the modifiers for 1-3, which isn’t too bad, because you can do very little at 4 and nothing at 5 but look around (use perceptive skills).

The Road Goes Ever On…

That’s pretty much it for character generation. If I wanted to fill out the full sheet and plug in all the numbers, I could, but we’re past most of the interesting bits. Someone with a higher social status than I rolled would have a lot more Generation Points to play with, and more money to spend.

All of this takes us up to about page 27 or so. (I say “about” because the chargen rules and other rules are kind of muddled together.) The book is nearly 200 pages long. So what’s in the rest of it?

Combat, mostly. And vehicles. And combat with, on, around, and under vehicles.

Rules for “Maltov Cocktails”, of course. Not to mention kerosine (sic) and diesil(sic) fuels. Four different kinds of paint gun ammo (paint, smoke, explosive, stink). Two different super soaker guns (with acid available for ammo, natch).

And vehicles. Hoo, boy. The author freely admits the vehicle sheets are complicated, because he “can’t design a simple game”. I feel your pain there, buddy. But “complicated” is less of an issue than “cluttered”. These sheets need a lot more space — probably spreading the same data over 2 or 3 pages would be better. The use of proportional fonts means a lot of the tables don’t line up very clearly. Well, see for yourself…

I Regularly Used GURPS 3e VDS, Striker, and Mekton Z. This Is Beyond Any Of Those.

I Regularly Used GURPS 3e VDS, Striker, and Mekton Z. This Is Beyond Any Of Those.

Want more? Armored turrets, oil slicks, smoke screens, nitros (sic) systems, “shitty paint job” (100 dollars), “awesome paint job” (500 dollars), and way, way, more. Rules detail ten levels of road quality and the various factors that allow you to determine them. There are rules for how much damage a vehicle takes when jumping (hitting a bump or ramp, flying through the air, then landing), with the ability to design a vehicle specifically to absorb some of the damage (i.e., a stunt car), and charts that consider both the height of the jump and the type of road surface you land on. There are rules here for all sorts of things I never considered, most of which interact with the design and modification systems. (That’s a compliment, by the way.)

Within the scope of the design space, Road Rebels really tries to include damn near everything. How well do the systems work in play? I have no idea, and no time to start learning them all well enough to test even a basic combat, but there’s little doubt that Mr. Gordon was passionate about his interests and was determined to cover as many setting-appropriate situations as possible.

And all of it is buried under so many basic structural errors that it’s virtually impossible to drag the game framework out of the mire, clean it off, and make it run.

Wait, What?

So I’m looking at the creatures section and I notice that the hit location charts include “Four Legged Creatures with 2 heads”. This table is used only for “Zargonites”, which is “a wolf like creature except it has two heads and is much larger”.

Also included is the Kriton, which are large humans with upward pointing noses, and are “hired assassin’s bounty hunters or businessmen”(sic). It seems to me that a hired assassin employing a bounty hunter is taking outsourcing too far. I mean, if I hire an assassin, I expect them to do their own hunting, not get a kriton to do it! Sheesh.

Then there’s the Labotimizers (sic) who kidnap people, pour acid in their ears to destroy their brains, then send them out to repeat the process.

End Of The Road

That about sums it up. Overall, I’d say Road Rebels is a perfect example of a creator’s reach exceeding their grasp. Given a decent editor and a decent (for the era) desktop publishing/layout program, it might have found some niche success. As is, it vanished without nary a trace… at least, I can find few, if any, references to it. When I google “Road Rebels RPG”, the first part of this article is the third hit, and the second… something I wrote back in 2002(!) on RPG,net. And I even used the same line: “Well, uhm, no one can deny that this game has ‘personality’.” Wow. I totally forgot I wrote that… it was 14 years ago… but given identical inputs (the text of the game) I seem to produce nearly identical outputs. Go figure. Perhaps I have failed the Turing Test.

Next time… who knows? Maybe I’ll go to my pile of weird-ass “indie” games and see what strikes my fancy… (Yeah, I keep threatening). Or I might do “All The World’s Monsters” or this game I’ve got around here somewhere about luchadors.


Look Sir! Droids!

Another Ancient Game You Probably Saw Advertised In The Dragon

But Which I Somehow Acquired. No Idea When Or How.

With This Exciting Action Scene On The Cover, How Could Customers Resist?

With This Exciting Action Scene On The Cover, How Could Customers Resist?

It is a little-known fact that FASA’s famous “BattleTech” game was originally released as “Battledroids“, until they got a letter from a certain director reading, in part, “Yousa be a violatin mesa’s trademark on droidsa! Yousa be changin thats quick or bombad lawyers gonna sue you maxibig!” The company assumed the odd phrasing was legalese and did not realize they were privy to a glimpse into the dark future of what was currently a beloved movie franchise, so “Battledroids” became “BattleTech”, and the rest is history.

The game I am discussing, called simply “Droids”, was published two years earlier (in 1982) and never attracted Mr. Lucas’ wrath, as far as I know. Really, the entire preceding paragraph is mostly irrelevant, I just wanted to a)verify that I did, indeed, remember seeing a game called “Battledroids” at the Compleat Strategist in NYC way back when, and, b)Get in some decades-late digs at Jar Jar. (But does Rogue One look awesome, or what? Anyway…)

“What Mission? What Are You Babbling About?”

The basic premise of Droids is that the PCs are droids, a naming convention to be adopted by White Wolf a decade or so later. There are no humans, animals, or other life forms to interact with. It’s droids all the way down.

“I’m Only A Droid, I’m Not Much Good At Telling Stories”

Droids May Be The First Sci-Fi Work To Predict The "Selfie"

Droids May Be The First Sci-Fi Work To Predict The “Selfie”

In the very earliest days of RPGs, the first 2-3 years of their existence, there was a point where the line between “skirmish wargame” and “RPG” was much blurrier than it is now. We, as humans, like to fit things in boxes, to categorize, define, name, and limit, enabling us to mentally manipulate complex clouds of concepts as if they had a single handle we could grab onto. “En Garde” by Game Designer’s Workshop (I think they went on to do some kind of space game) was one example. TSR’s “Warriors Of Mars” was another.

Droids, nearly a decade after D&D’s release, and marketed as an RPG, has some aspects of this. Despite it requiring a Referee and including a “Sample of Play” in typical style, the book consists almost entirely of rules for combat and for creating droids to engage in combat. There’s about a page of material suggesting there might be organized Droid societies, but it’s very sparse. The game provides content for the very core of RPGs: Go somewhere, kill things, take their stuff, but is sparse on the “kill things”. There’s three generic sample NPC droids, and two more in the scenario provided (“raid the abandoned army base”). The “stuff” includes a small list of items not available at character creation, from vacuum cleaner attachments to movie projectors, but it is diverse enough to offer some inspiration for additional goodies.

A post-human world inhabited entirely by abandoned artificial intelligences is a fine setting for adventure, but all the work in bringing this to life, including any mechanics for anything other than combat, would be to the referee.

So What’s In The Book?

A lot of charts, tables, and descriptions of various weapons, power plants, mobility mechanisms, and armor, along with rules for using all of these things, a short scenario, and an appendix with summarized charts.

Look, it’s 1982! This is pretty much what you got!

Also contained: A layout completely reminiscent of Traveller. I’d say they borrowed the same Adobe templates, but this is 1982, and “Adobe templates” back then meant “plans for building homes in the southwest”.

Let’s Get On With It

There’s not any kind of list of archetypes or “typical” droids, or a real sense of what you’re going to do besides “explore ruins, scavenge parts”. The advice on building a droid actually steers you away from archetypes, encouraging you to build well-balanced units. Not bad advice, at all, but RPGs tend to work best when there’s a team of characters with mixed strengths and weaknesses. More relevant for this article, I need an idea, stat.

Somewhere in flipping through it, I saw there were options for gasbags. The idea of a blimpdroid appeals to me greatly. Perhaps it was created originally as a silent spy, able to drift into enemy territory with a minimal signature. It should have some self-defense capacity to take out attackers, and ideally a backup ground-based movement system. In the campaign setting, it would work as a scout/spy, locating places to forage, relying on better armed- and armored- allies to do most of the killing once it brought back the intelligence, but not helpless in a fight.

Can I build it? Let’s see.

I have 20 CP to start with. CP are “Construction Points”, of course. Seriously, you need to be told that? Wow, my imaginary readers are dim.

“PC” is the measure of whether I continue to internalize my oppression by using the human supremacist term “droid”, or if I refer to myself as a post-organic ferro-American. Or, it’s “Power Consumption”, the measure of how much power each of my components eats. Well, why can’t it be both, huh? Don’t force me into your binary categories!

“BP”, or “Bulk Points”, sort of combine hit points and volume on a unit-by-unit basis.

Based on the character sheet provided, I’m going to need a spreadsheet to keep track of things. Damn, it’s been a while since I fired up Excel for RPG purposes. Getting a bit giddy, here.


The first thing I’m asked to spend CP on is transport. There’s a lot of choices, but keeping with my character concept, I’m starting with “Propelled Balloon”. The rules are fairly detailed, including time to inflate or deflate and how far you can fall while it fills. (800 meters, so, it’s pretty much useless if you fall from anything smaller than the Empire State Building.) I’m also taking wheels for my ground transport.

Note that each transport unit can support 100 BP, and different types of transport units can’t be combined. So, if I go over 100 BP, I will need more wheels and balloons.


Not the ability to bribe, blackmail, or intimidate, but rather, arms. There’s only three: Repair, Maintenance, and Lifting. Not sure what the future looks like in terms of BP, PC, CP, etcP, so for now, I’m going for a single Maintenance arm, which can do a little repair and a little lifting.

(You may notice the system does not assume a humanoid default. The droids produced by this game will resemble real-world robots much more than space opera ones. You can probably build a humanoid, but it’s not a baseline and there’s no indication non-humanoid droids suffer any notable disadvantage in terms of interacting with the world.)

I… Have… The… POWER!

OK, right era, wrong genre.

Power units have a negative PC… in essence, they reduce your total power consumption by a certain amount. Power plants are the best (most expensive) and can be overloaded at a risk of explosion. Solar cells are tempting, but I plan to operate at night. (I could combine them with a rechargeable battery, I suppose…) Nah. Going with standard power cells.

Power can be allocated to units on as-needed basis. Assuming I may need to move and pick things up at the same time, I will need 4 units of power, minimum. So that’s 4 cells, which will cost me 4 points. Hmm. Let’s kick that up to 7, to allow for what I suspect weapons and sensors will cost. Or, for 5, I could get a power plant. Hm. Power cells are 4 BP each, while a plant is 9, total. This means, in theory, I can lose a few cells and still have some operating power, but a plant is putting all my eggs in one fusion-powered basket. Hm. Let’s go for plant. If I have CP left over, I might get a cell or a battery for backup.

Coin Detected In Pocket

Or, sensors. For vision, I am going with the most expensive, the tri-camera, which also gives me ranger-like tracking capability. It fits my character concept.

CP are starting to get low. I will skimp on the other sensors, going for the most basic sound and communications gear.

Module DR-1: Kill All Humans

Modules are basically programs. You buy an interface, which, I think, determines how many module you can load at once? Or something? The combat modules are insanely expensive — 10 CP for the lowest-level one. The others ain’t much better. I’ll just pick up an M1 Interface for now, in the hopes of finding a data module later on.

Phased Plasma Rifle In The 40 Watt Range

It Costs How Much?

How About A Pointed Stick?

Seriously, the cheapest weapon is 4 CP. I’ve got like 2.1 left. Time to make some adjustments.

Let’s drop the wheels and go for legs. That frees up just enough CP for an energy cannon and a single 10-shot power pack. Hey, that’s 10 times more attacks than a first level magic user gets!

Other Accessories Sold Seperately

I can’t afford armor, ECM gear, or a spotlight. Sigh.

The Naming Of Names

Well, what should I call it? The game explicitly offers an eclectic naming scheme, noting a droid could be named anything from a string of letters and numbers to a computer or industrial themed name. While it’s a year or two late, relative to the publication date, I will go with LASERBEAK for my character.

LASERBEAK’s greatest weakness, mechanically, is its lack of armor. The guidelines caution against this, but something’s got to give. Hopefully, it can stay out of danger until it can scavenge some. It also has only enough power for 10 shots; an additional power supply is needed.

Here’s the final character summary. It seems appropriate I mostly just needed to copy over part of my Excel sheet…

LASERBEAK. It Seems Appropriate This Game's Character Sheet Is An Excel Screenshot

LASERBEAK. It Seems Appropriate This Game’s Character Sheet Is An Excel Screenshot

Other Thoughts

  • I can’t find any limits on attaching new units. There’s rules on how long it will take, based on bulk, but apparently you can stick anything on you that you wish, limited by bulk relative to your movement capacity.
  • There’s rules for robots, which are non-self-aware machines. They are otherwise like droids.
  • There are also some rules for “experimental” devices which have assorted amusing defects.
  • I would have included rules for droids themselves to have various flaws (especially lingering psychological quirks from their programming), in order to gain bonus CP. The 20 points at chargen is very limiting. Of course, I started off with an expensive concept. Downgrading my camera would have given me enough CP for armor.
  • You’ll note there are no attributes, per se. “Strength” is determined by how much your manipulators can lift, in BP. Beyond that, there’s nothing. All droids are equally agile, intelligent, or charismatic. Constitution? You either have power enough to move, or, you don’t.
  • Indicating the era, the communication options are limited to, in essence, voice. There’s radio and light (blinking lights, which, in the rules, goes v…e…r…y s…l…o…w…l…y), but these just transmit your “voice”. No wifi. While it makes sense a post-apocalyptic setting doesn’t have a lot of internet, you can imagine that some intact buildings would still have an intranet, and any droid civilization would be strongly interconnected.
  • Likewise, no viruses or malware to infect you.
  • While the lack of more cyberpunky tropes is not surprising — Neuromancer is two years in the future! — what does surprise me is the lack of melee weapons! It’s a post apocalyptic wasteland where the droids must survive as best they can… no chainsaws? No tasers, even? Perhaps they were planned for the promised, but never materialized (as far as I know) supplements.
  • As is typical of the era and the design, the low-illustration, high-density text conceals many rules and asides that would, in later years, be more clearly called out. Several paragraphs of this bemoaning the lack of thus-and-such rule, with must sarcasm, had to be culled as I stumbled over a good-enough mention of the “missing” information buried in the tenth sentence of a 20 sentence block of text.
  • Overall, the writing is clean, functional, and clear. It’s not plagued by typos, spelling, and grammatical errors.

That last item sort of sums up my thoughts on the game, and perhaps why it did not ignite any kind of spark that I know of. “Functional” is the watchword of Droids. It offers some tools for a unique (at the time) setting, a post-human post-apocalypse, but does very little to inspire. The text describing the various options is perfectly adequate, and that’s it. The art is decent, but it’s all static images of various droids with no background or action going on. The sample of play consists of Player One and Player Two talking to Referee and… looking at things. Shining lights. Examining a hole in a fence. Yay.

So, that’s Droids. Tune in next time, when I look at… I have no idea. I’ll poke around the bookcases until something catches my eye.

For More Reading…

If you like the idea of AIs in a post-apocalyptic (but not post-human) world, you might enjoy this….

The Runes Of Doom, Part XI

True Elementals

(Don’t Settle For Imitations!)

Also: New Demons

Both Lesser And “Greater”, Or “Name”, Demons

With Some Pretentiousness
(I Wasted A Bunch Of Time Experimenting With Something Different From the “Descending Asides In Shrinking Headers” Thing, But None Of It Seemed Right. So Here We Go Again.)

We’re pretty much most of the way through the Trilogy now… in the final half of the final book. Yeah, there’s six more Arduin books, and I have a ton of stuff from Dragon Tree Press and similar I can cover, but there’s something unique and special about the original trilogy. The other books and associated products came a few years later, and the RPG world changed very rapidly after the 70s, particularly after AD&D First Edition was completed. But that’s in the future. Well, it’s in the past, but it’s in the future of the past we’re focusing on now. Got it?

True Elementals

Not Sure If They’re Before Or After Lord Elementals

Wait, That’s Rolemaster

The “True” elementals are, well, elementals… the four classics, plus wood, fog, and storm. The first four are pretty standard. It’s likely that Dave Hargrave was mildly dissatisfied with the D&D incarnations, and made some modifications to bring them in line with his own way of doing things. There are some notes: Fire elementals can form themselves into walls and cylinders, water elementals can flow into any shape or hold still so they appear as a stone wall, and so on. They’re present in a horizontal table format instead of the normal monster format for no readily apparent reason. Based on the construction of the rest of the Trilogy, my guess is that Dave originally wrote them up that way and didn’t feel like retyping them in a new format.

Highlight of the new ones:

  • Wood elementals are basically ents.. humanoid trees.. and take double damage from magical fire over 10HD in intensity. That’s an interesting mechanic you don’t see often, even in modern games. A creature either takes extra damage from fire, or it doesn’t. “Takes extra damage only if the source is particularly powerful” is a nice way of modeling the idea of a creature whose nature should make it vulnerable to some substances or energy, but which still transcends the abilities of mere mortals (i.e., low level NPCs) to harm it.
  • Fog/Mist (they’re one kind) elementals can surround and suffocate you, and can resist being blown away by winds “up to half its HD”. (You may recall that fogs and mists, in general, play a big role in Arduin, and so, spells to deal with them also exist.)
  • Storm elementals can attack with lightning, wind, or “impact”, regenerate from electrical damage, and can lead the X-Men when Professor X is out of town.
  • Both Fog/Mist and Storm elementals have a “*” by them, which doesn’t refer to anything I can see on the page. Old School, people!

There’s also a set of rules which apply to all elementals, but which focus mostly on conjuration, which is interesting. Evidently, summoning elementals was a big deal in Dave’s games… well, given how powerful they were (10 sided dice for hit points? And always maxed?), the relative power of an elemental summoning spell would be much higher than that of other spells of the same level.

Elementals Are Rationed. You Will Be Issued A Book Of Ration Cards. Do Not Buy Black Market Elementals.

Elementals Are Rationed. You Will Be Issued A Book Of Ration Cards. Do Not Buy Black Market Elementals.

Lesser Demons

Clearly A Microaggression. Demon Equality Now!

It’s not entirely obvious why these aren’t just “monsters”… that is, included in the monster listings. There isn’t an evident (to me) thematic link or shared set of abilities, and this was well before “monster types” like Outsider or Aberration became mechanically important. I also can’t find a section that spells out specific powers or traits applicable to “all demons”, which would make grouping them more reasonable. Mine is not to reason why, mine is but to document the madness with awe and respect.

Acid Fiends: Also known as “Acid Demons”, these are giant acid amoebas that dissolve your weapons, ooze under doors, regenerate when disintegrated, and “stoning adds hit dice (size) to it on a 1 dice per 1 level of caster ratio!”. I’ll note a lot of Arduin monsters had some form of “damaging attack doesn’t damage, but aids” features, often very random. “Player skill” in Ye Olde Dayse mostly consisted of memorizing all of these things; DMs, in turn, kept coming up with variants.

Creeping Doom: “Looks: A pulsing crawling carpet of living purple splotched green ooze”. Yeah, we had carpets like that in my house, too. It was the 70s. We didn’t know any better.

Lightning “Elementals” (Black): Well, we’ve had True Elementals, so naturally, here’s a not-true elemental. They “blast” two life levels (but only one if you save… lucky you…). They can also “sight in” and hit for “only” 4-48 “but they reach ‘into’ the target and hit the heart or brain”… which does, erm, I’m not sure exactly. A lot of early D&D-esque stuff made use of hit locations without actually providing solid rules for what they meant. Oh, and if you’re killed by one, you “crumble to dust immediately” and a “raise dead fully” must be cast within five minutes or your soul is gone forever.

Star Demons: First, I love the name. Don’t ask me why. It seems so simple, a generic “adjective+demon” combo, but something about it is evocative to me. Second…

Fifteen Foot Tall Beings Of Black Diamond With Rainbow Wings And Prismatic Vision

Fifteen Foot Tall Beings Of Black Diamond With Rainbow Wings And Prismatic Vision..

Here’s a Ghost Crab. They were discussed in The Arduin Grimoire, so naturally, they’re illustrated here. They’re a kind of undead. You know, there are very few undead that don’t strongly resemble the being they were when alive, at least in vague outline. The idea that you die and, somehow, come back as a giant undead crab is outre and yet as logical as coming back as an undead anything. Making a mental note to write up more “polymorphed undead”.

You Know, Shaggy, I Don't Think That's Old Man MacRory Under There...

You Know, Shaggy, I Don’t Think That’s Old Man MacRory Under There…

Greater (Name) Demons Of The Arduinian Cycle

Arduinin Cycle? Seriously? I Mean, Pretentious Much?

We learn, in the introduction, that greater demons possess near-infinite power on their own planes, and the stats presented on the following pages represent their weakened, conjured, forms… and that’s enough, trust me. Hargrave warns, though, that simply massacring characters foolish enough to summon a greater demon takes all the fun out of it.

And create some “Tales From The Darkside” which can be “Amazing Stories” that you display in your mental “Night Gallery” as you take your gaming experience “One Step Beyond”.

So, how to handle these? Each demon is a large, dense paragraph. Every sentence is something memorable. Here, look at the first one:

Abaddon All Hope, Ye Who Summon Him... Get It? I'm So Witty.

Abaddon All Hope, Ye Who Summon Him… Get It? I’m So Witty.

I love that his locust has a name. And that buried in this wall-o-text is the handy notation that demons don’t give a rat’s patootie about mana points. That’s… really, really, unbalancing, even by Arduin standards, and Arduin is about as well balanced as my checkbook. Most of the spells can be pumped indefinitely with mana. I’d houserule that demons cast all spells at the minimum level — no “additional” mana to boost duration, range, damage, etc.

They’re all like that. Most are even better. This whole section is an absolute and perfect distillation of gonzo greatness, awesome madness purified and condensed into paragraph form. Concentrated, highly-refined, old-school. I’m going to try to limit myself here. Be aware that for every snippet I comment on, there’s probably ten more just as cool.

Amon-Ra: The “god” (quotes in original) of wargs and wolves. “A neutral demon.” (Uhm… ) Hates rocs and elves. He can appear as a wolf or a snake, because, why not? And he breathes poison gas.

Apharoe: I just noticed… all of the demons have Dexterity scores that look like this: “Dext 18, spells. 18, body.” I’m guessing this is relative to initiative, depending on if they plan to make a magical or physical attack in a given round? Anyway, Apharoe is another “neutral” demon, and she is 7′ tall and so beautiful that “all men” (quotes in original, not sure why…) have a 50% chance of falling in love with her, while women have a 50% chance of being jealous. Arduin was clearly in a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” phase. Once a century, she goes out into the world to seduce someone and produce a half-demon baby.

Arioch: Black-furred (“like an otter”) humanoid with a giant ruby eye. Arch-enemy of “NODENS” and messenger of “SHUG-MIGGURATH”. (No, not “Shub-Niggurath”.)

Boak: “Not a real greater demon but listed here because it is always with one.” A 10HD demon horse who breathes poison gas. He likes black dragons, but hate griffons and people who play emotional games. As a particularly nifty trick, he will reflect back any polymorph spell cast upon a him. I’ll bet that led to some fun times…

Boreas: 18′ tall, made of ice, can summon the “north wind” which is “like a Djinn wind and an ice storm combined”, and claims to be Lord Of The Ice Demons. Claims to be, you ask?

Maybe Judge Judy Could Settle This?

Maybe Judge Judy Could Settle This?

I love these tiny snippets of backstory. From such small seeds do mighty epics grow.

Hides inside a sapphire?

Calyandagg: Giant furry spider that attacks clerics on sight. (“He hates ’em!”) He has the usual assortment of deadly attacks and personal immunities and allied folk, but also… his fur can break off if it hits bare skin, work its way inside the victim, then transform into a giant maggot that eats its host from the inside out.

Cimmeries: Rider of Boak. “grossly male and very nude”. (As opposed to “slightly nude”? What?) He has a whip of balrog leather, which is pretty darn awesome, though I wonder what the balrogs think about it? Fully half the total text is taken up describing his sword, because, like most old school characters, his gear has more backstory and personality than he does.

Called Hell Key Or The Key Of Hell. Or Hell's Key, The Key Of Hell, Key For Fell, The Key Which Unlocks Hell...

Called “Hell Key” Or “The Key Of Hell”. Or Hell’s Key, The Key To Hell, Key For Hell, The Key Which Unlocks Hell…

Well, that’s about enough for now… we’re a bit a week late, but this is also longer than average. We’re done with the “C’s”. There’s seven more pages of wonderment to go in this section alone! Damn, but Hargrave was not kidding about the density of information in this “final” Arduin volume!





The Runes Of Doom, Part VII

New Magic Spells!

Come For Aphrodisiac Aura! Stay For…

Hang On, There Might Be A Better Way To Phrase That

Nah. Not Really.

OK! It’s been five weeks or so, but I finally have things back on some kind of quasi-sane schedule. Not as sane as I would like, as my plan was to start writing this at 8 AM, but it’s now 2 PM, because apparently, to some people, “vacuuming” and “spending time with your family” is more important than allegedly humorous recapping of thirty year old gaming supplements for an audience measuring in the teens! The high teens! Harrumph!

Anyway, spells. The Runes Of Doom promises “over a hundred new spells”, but I never counted them. There’s quite a few, certainly. As usual, I’ll just be going through the pages, highlighting whatever strikes my highly random fancy. (Seriously, my fancy has, like, two pages of charts I have to roll on.)

Aphrodisiac Aura:

Hey, I Promised This One...

Hey, I Promised This One…

Just in case anyone thought I was making that up…

You may notice a new field in the spell description: “Weeks To Learn”. While it’s easy to interpret what this means, it kind of comes up as a surprise; it’s not in the earlier books. Likewise, cost — presumably, that’s the cost to learn it, whether it’s by buying a scroll (in the case of this spell, one sold out of the back room of the magic store) or investing in rare and exotic inks, possibly made from succubus blood or something. (Did you ever see the AD&D 1e rules for making even the simplest magic items? The amount of effort required to make a low level potion or scroll was phenomenal, and totally disconnected from the de facto commonality of such items, which could generally be found in any kobold’s outhouse or bedding, as if you could tell the difference. But I digress.)

Dunklemeyer’s Spell Of The Tarantella: Not tarantula. Like Otto’s Irresistible Dance, except only second level. It still affects every creature in a 30′ radius, making it ridiculously powerful for such a low level spell.

Patch Spell: When cast, will replace buggy old code with new code which has new bugs. No, sorry, it patches cloth or leather. So, let me make this perfectly clear: For the cost of 2 mana, I can either a)Make all enemies within 30′ of me dance the tarantella for 1 minute/level, effectively wiping out an entire encounter with a single spell, or, I can patch 1 square foot of cloth. Hmmm. Which should I learn?

Thurldon’s Reversal: Another second level spell, the target must save vs. magic or… turn around, which means they’ll need to turn back on their next action… which means nothing because changing facing is generally a trivial action. Sure, there’s that one in a thousand times when you can make someone turn and look at their pet gorgon, or something, but the other 999 times? Tarantella, please!

Torozon’s Slippery Spell, or, The Banana Peel Sneak: Causes an area to become “zero coefficient”, which is a fancy pants way of saying “frictionless”. Cast it on the sheets after you use Aphrodisiac Aura. (By the way, the “or” convention in some spell names is really kind of cool, as it reminds me of Rocky and Bullwinkle episode titles, which were themselves parodies of the 18th and 19th century style of book titles.

Hildegarde’s Heavy Helper: Conjures a 10′ cube of wet sand. No, really. That’s what it does. Yeah, I got nothin’.

Tirinyo’s Spell Of The Wall Of Ice And Fire: Each time you cast it, you have to wait longer and longer until you can cast it again. In addition, you feel compelled to describe every meal you eat in explicit detail, and describe some other things in explicit detail. OK, it actually creates a wall of fire. Which hides a wall of ice. So when you dash through the wall of fire and take fire damage, you also hit the wall of ice and take cold damage. (The spell can also be cast where the ice wall contains the fire wall, so the flickering flames cause the ice to shimmer and glow strangely. I consider that roughly 10.59 times more awesome than the default version.)

Azorn’s Fearfull (sic) Fiery Fist Spell:

Better Than Krystallars Kalamitous Kick...

Better Than Krystallars Kalamitous Kick…

Judging from context, “size” in this case means “hit dice”, not, you know, size. That’s as intuitive as anything else around here, I guess.

Khoreb’s Curse Of The Screaming Skull


Based On One Of The Worst Movies Of All Time

Wakes you up at night to scream, gibber, moan, and mouth obscenities at you? Why not just call it “Khoreb’s Curse Of The 2AM Drunk Dial From Your Ex”?

Noad’s Bane, or, The Blue Banshee Of Shaamt: Conjures a blue ghost to fly through a town, wailing. For a few minutes. That’s it. It doesn’t kill people who hear its wail, or drain life levels, or anything else. It just flies around wailing. This takes ten weeks and 9,500 gold to learn. Wow. That’s almost as a big a ripoff as Trump University.

Jahk’s Spell Of The Singing Star: Summons a six pointed star that sings. Hey, it does what it says on the tin! Save vs. Charm or sit, enraptured. Also of note: Until now, the spells seemed to be at least vaguely arranged by level, but this is a third level spell, where the prior spells had reached sixth level. I think we’re seeing, once again, that Dave Hargrave was transcribing individual pages of his notes, instead of reorganizing the individual data elements on each.

Otherwise Known As "Wall Of DM Screwing The Players"

Otherwise Known As “Wall Of DM Screwing The Players”

Now, this is way better than friggin’ blue mist that screams! Toss this baby in front of your enemies, and see if the DM is properly grateful for the Chinese food you got for him/her! (Often, DMs had charts and tables for just such random occurrences. These were handy, as you could pretend to roll on them before making up what you wanted to happen.)

That’ll do for now. Still recovering from many weeks of working weekends. But I needed to get something done, and so, this is it.

The Runes Of Doom, Part VI

Rules & Revisions

Lasers & Lightning Guns

Staffs & Saddlebags

Last week Two weeks ago, I mildly chided Dave Hargrave for having a few pages containing but a single chart or table, surrounded by a vast sea of emptiness. Across time and space, Dave heard me, and made sure the material covered in this week’s installment would be from densely-packed pages of small type. Y’know, I don’t remember the type being this small when I was 16. Clearly, someone has, in the ensuing decades, sneaked into my house and replaced my copies with small-type versions, meticulously replicating every duck sauce stain to lull my suspicions. No other explanation is possible.

Swords & Smiths

(Can I Maintain This Alliteration & Alliteration Shtick For This Whole Article? Let’s Find Out Together.)

From the prior page (in last week’s the previous article) on Random Lifestyle Changes, we jump right into vorpal blades. Well, not right into. That would be messy. They’re the start of a list of important MODIFIERS and RULES for various THINGS, with a LOT of KIRBY CAPS to add EMPHASIS.

  • Vorpal swords have a 20% chance of a random critical every time THAT THEY HIT. A natural 20, though, is always “head severed”.
  • Swords of Sharpness have a 10% chance of a random critical.
  • Armor takes the same damage a player does. Presumably, Dave meant “player character”. Presumably…

DM:”OK, that’s 35 points to Bronk The Queasy, and 35 to his plate mail.”
Player: “Nuh-uh! The rules say armor takes damage as the player does. Bronk took the damage, not me, so the armor is fine!”
DM: “Have it your way…” (Proceeds to hit player upside the head with 1e DMG. Player is lucky Ptolus or Hero 6e are still decades in the future.) “So that’s about eight points to the armor, then. OK?”

  • Every 20 points of damage that armor receives removes one “plus”, unless the hit was in an area not covered by the armor, which makes sense until you realize there’s no real hit location rules and no real definition of just what a suit of armor covers. For convenience’s sake, I’d say it’s everything but the face and maybe the hands. This rule makes a lot more sense in Aftermath. Ah… good ol’ location 12. But I digress.
    • If your armor is damaged, you will need a dwarf “or other qualified” smith to repair it. There’s a 5% chance of finding such a smith per 100,000 population of the area the character (not the player, this time, it says ‘character’), is in.
  • The days of a lone thief holding the passage against a charging wyvern are over! Them days is gone forever! (Wait a second… in Dave’s games, the guy playing the thief didn’t hide in shadows at the first sign of anything with more hit points than an asthmatic sea cucumber? That’s weird.)
"Of course my dwarf can hold back the dragon! He's wearing leather armor! It's just common sense!"

“Of course my dwarf can hold back the dragon! He’s wearing leather armor! It’s just common sense!”

And this, folks, is why we ultimately have rules like this.

Article writing on hold due to orange cat in need of snuggles.

(Jeopardy theme plays… OK, cat has received orders from orbital satellite telling him cuddle time is over, now it’s time to meow madly at an invisible spot on the wall. Back to writing.)

Also, we have a “simple” explanation of pumping mana. (Read the preceding two words in a Bavarian accent.)

So, each die of damage costs five-thirds of a point of mana?

So, each die of damage costs five-thirds of a point of mana?

“All weaponry that leaves the hand of the firer (such as arrows, bullets, rays, beams) and have (sic) a listed maximum AC penetration/ranges, will attack at plus five (+5) all AC’s (sic) it can penetrate!

Got that? Good. There will be a quiz later. Remember, this only applies if the maximum is listed. It does not apply to unlisted maximums! Get it straight, people, I’m sick of repeating myself! Listed maximums only!

Here’s someone doing Conan cosplay fighting a krag spi spyder.

This Drawing Is So Freakin' Awesome I'm Not Even Going To Whine About 'Spyder'

This Drawing Is So Freakin’ Awesome I’m Not Even Going To Whine About ‘Spyder’

Ballistae And Blasters

“A dagger +1, a longsword +1, + 3 against orcs, and a phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range.”
“Hey, just what you see, pal.”
(A conversation I assume occurred at Dave’s table before it was ripped off by Cameron.)

Since we just discussed those weapons which have a listed maximum range, it is only fair we present them.

Tech Weapons

I Felt The Weapon Names And Notes Were The Most Important Parts, So, I Ended Up Cutting Out The Listed Maximum Range. Oh, The Irony!

Evidently, in Arduin, anti-matter projectors are made of the same stuff they make cars from in action movies. Or maybe “hits it” should be “it hits”, and “causes it” becomes “it causes”? Hey, I’ve found reversed booleans that have hidden deep in code for many years. It’s possible!

“Metal Armor just helps!”, but if you were expecting rules for how much it helps, you clearly haven’t been reading these articles for very long.

Artifacts & Amulets

Ah, now we get to the good stuff… the phat lewt, as the kids say. What? They haven’t said that for 20 years? How about bling? Do they still say bling? Whatever, I’m not going to spend time researching it.

Amulet Of The Amazon Mother: A silver scrotum and phallus impaled by a golden arrow, this gives +3 to any amazon’s Str, Dex, and Agility, as well as a smegload of other bonuses for use when attacking men. (cough) issues (cough).

Conjure Crystal: A crystal ball that can, in addition to the usual crystal ball stuff, show illusions and, once a month, summon an elemental. Because why not?

Food Of The Gods: Causes teenagers to grow to giant size and then get mocked by Joel, Tom, and Crow. No, wait. This consists of mead, manna, and ambrosia, each of which has a 50/50 chance to raise or lower physical attributes, mental attributes, and level, respectively, by 1d8 each. You can eat it only once. It also “erases all previous deaths”, so that the maximum death counter resets. I repeat: The “revolving door afterlife” is not a recent invention!

Gauntlet Of Gripping: Not going to go there.

Horseshoes of Traveling And Leaping: Like the classic ‘boots of springing and striding’ but for, you know, your horse. I don’t know about Dave, but in my games back in the day, this would lead to some hilarious slapstick, followed by arguments about what you need to roll to stay on a horse, followed by a long digression involving saddles and alchemical glue.

Ring of Djinn Power: Often paired with the Ring Of Itty Bitty Living Space. Anyway, turns the wearer into a djinn for an hour, up to three times a day, with an increasing chance of the wearer becoming the djinn in the ring. So, first thing you do the first time you use it: Wish that the curse on the ring is lifted and you can use it as much as you want without consequence. Then, get into a two hour debate with the DM over the exact wording and interpretation of the wish.

Ring Of Righteousness Resistance: Provides +4 to saves vs. harangues by whiny millennial activists and elderly fundamentalists. Also +2 to saves against non-chaotic clerical magic and +3 to saves against conversion.

Rose Colored Spectacles Of Delusion And Untrue Sight: Causes the user to see bad things as good, good things as bad, think broccoli is actually a type of food, dislike bacon, etc. They “effect” only the user, who likes them so much they won’t take them off.

Ruby of Runaway Regeneration: Not to be confused with the Amulet Of Anarchistic Alliteration, this grants regeneration, but the body part grows back randomly… your leg might regrow as a horse’s leg, for instance. There’s no random table provided; the DM must adjudicate the effects according to how much Chinese food has been provided.

Staff of Stupidness: I am just assuming there was a cleric in Dave’s game he really didn’t like, and made sure he found this…

I Mean, There Aren't Even Rules For Some Of The Effects. Dave Must've Hated That Cleric.

I Mean, There Aren’t Even Rules For Some Of The Effects. Dave Must’ve Hated That Cleric.

Also, “stupidness” isn’t a word. I feel obliged to point that out.

Wand of Wizardry: Usually about 25% longer than regular wands. No, that’s not me being funny. (“You’re never funny!” “OK, that’s not me attempting to be funny. Happy now, imaginary peanut gallery?” “For the moment. We’re watching you.”) That’s actually what it says. (/me begins singing “A Wizard’s Staff Has A Knob On The End”) Oh, in addition to providing fodder for single entendres almost forty years later, it provides “any three single uses by type. For example, cold, paralysis, fear.” Uhm… OK. I can almost make sense of that… maybe it means you can shoot three cold rays, or three paralysis rays… but does that mean you pick a type, use it three times, and that’s it, or you get three cold, three fire, three acid, three sonic, three laser, three-as-many-different ‘types’ as you can con the DM into letting you come up with?

And so we end for now… next time, we delve into new spells, of which there are many, and at least two contain the word “aphrodisiac”.



The Runes Of Doom, Part V

The Runes Of Doom, Part V

Rules & Resurrection

With race and class out of the way, we can now move into the self-actualization of gender identity through an intersectual lens. Or, we could discuss rules for coming back from the dead. Again. (That can be interpreted as “coming back from the dead more than one time”, or “another time we’re discussing rules for coming back from the dead”. Actually, both are correct. We discussed resurrection before, but Dave Hargrave has more to say on the subject. We also look at a radical change to the hit point system, and some other stuff.

How To Reverse IRREVOCABLE Death

You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Contrary to the popular myth that old-school gaming treated death more seriously, the “revolving door afterlife” was a running gag from pretty much the earliest days of the hobby, as were attempts to jam a crowbar into said door, or at least slow down the rotation a bit. It is true that starting characters were a lot more fragile back then, and surviving to the point where you could access the magic that could bring you back was more difficult, but once you’d reached mid-levels (often very quickly if the DM was careless about magic items which could be sold for gold that in turn became XP), death was mostly a speedbump. DMs didn’t like this, of course — what was the point of having traps that killed characters in hideously fiendish ways if they were back the next day? — and so, variant rules abounded.

Digressing momentarily: There’s a strong connection between the depth of character creation and the survivability of said characters… or there should be. One common design trend in early spin-offs of D&D was to dramatically ramp up the number of steps needed to create a character, while not making it much harder to die, both in the name of “realism”. This was self-evidently frustrating and annoying. Something had to give, and since a high degree of customization was more desirable than dying easily, game design shifted towards much tougher starting characters. “Hours to create, a second to eviscerate” is no longer a popular design trope.

Anyway, back in Welcome To Skull Tower, Dave gave us some percentage chances of resurrection by race, level, and constitution. Now in the Runes Of Doom, Dave expands on that chart, adding in more conditions, explanations, variations, and perturbations.

  • You can only be resurrected within 30 days.
  • For each day from death, the chance of resurrection (from the Skull Tower chart) decreases 3%.
  • You get three trys(sic), unless you’re an elf, who only has one.
  • The second try is at a -20% chance, the third is at a -50% chance.
  • Keep track of how many trys(sic) it took to resurrect you; it matters.
And The Chance Of Resurrection Is Affected By Constitution, So...

And By “Permanently”, We Mean, “Until It’s Raised By Some Spell Or Artifact Or Something”

  • IRREVOCABLE or PERMANENT death requires a LIMITED WISH and a “raise dead fully”, a FULL WISH, or a GODLY GRANT. (All CAPS in ORIGINAL.) Saying death is “irrevocable” unless you cast a higher level spell is like saying something is not for sale, unless you have the money.
  • If you are disintegrated or 100% destroyed (which means taking over 200% of your hit points in acid or fire the like), resurrection requires THREE WISHES: One to reunite mind and body, one to reunite body and soul, and one to reconstruct the body from the free-floating atoms it has become. However, only one GODLY GRANT is required.
    • The wishes must be used within an hour of each other.
    • The wishes must be worded correctly, or the gods will “interpret” them as they see fit. The “wish lawyer” was a common feature at gaming tables in the 1970s.
  • (I’ve pointed this out before, but the fact there were so many rules for things that required multiple wishes (far more than just in Arduin), back in the day, really undermines the revisionist narrative that it was all fantasy fucking Vietnam back then. You don’t put up signs reading “Speed Limit: 150 MPH” until it’s commonplace that cars can go faster than that, and you don’t have multi-wish mechanics unless it’s assumed characters will have access to lots of wishes.) To understand anything in history, study primary sources. You cannot understand a time, or a culture, by seeing it filtered through the lens of those who came later and who have decided what is important. Read newspapers from WW2. Notice that while the headlines certainly reported on battles and suchlike, the vast bulk of the articles were so-and-so gets divorced, such-and-such won this sportsball event, some local politician made some speech as some club, and a new restaurant is opening on fifth and main. But I digress.)
  • And don’t think you can escape the long healing times of severe spinal injuries, just because your torn and mangled body has been recreated with those injuries erased!
Not Spinal Tap's Greatest Hits

Not Spinal Tap’s Greatest Hits

On a related note, the healing rules were also changed, using a perfectly logical system which, unfortunately, undermined the rationale for higher-level spells:

"Wounds Of The More Serious Sort" Are Often Inflicted by Rodents Of Unusual Size

“Wounds Of The More Serious Sort” Are Often Inflicted by Rodents Of Unusual Size

“Well, what’s wrong with that?”, you ask. “Makes sense to me!”

And it does, until you realize players are concerned with the letter, not the spirit, of the law. Under these rules, four Cure Light… I mean, Heal LesserWounds spells will restore any character, at any level, to full health. This greatly reduces the need to memorize higher-level healing spells. (Remember, at the time, there was none of this “swap out any prepared spell for a Cure spell” stuff!) It means a few Cure Light Wounds potions or scrolls can replace far more expensive and rare magic. Etc.

The Great Hit Point Revolution

However, this was partially miitgated by one of the more dramatic changes to the core D&D paradigm: Tossing (mostly) hit point inflation out the window.

  • Everyone gets 1 HP per point of Constitution.
  • Fighty and Thiefy types (including, oddly, Normals) get 1 HP/level.
  • Clericy types get 1 HP/2 levels.
  • Wizardy types (and Courtesans) get 1 HP/3 levels.

(The rules actually list a lot of classes as examples; I’m summarizing.)

  • Star Powered Mages never get extra hit points, because reasons.
  • Multiclass characters get all the hit points they’d get for their levels in each class, which isn’t a great system under the dominant multiclass rules at the time, as, given the same XP, a pure Fighter might be 11th level, while a Fighter/Thief would be 10/10… or have nearly twice as many bonus hit points as the 11th level fighter.
  • You get one-time bonus hit points determined by race, and sometimes, gender:
Half-Orcs Have Worse Hit Points Than Either Humans Or Orcs?

Half-Orcs Have Worse Hit Points Than Either Humans Or Orcs?

Fighters get +5 on top of this, Clerical types 3, and pointy-hat wearing finger-wagglers get 0. In addition, for every Constitution point over 12, you get 1 bonus hit point.

Next follows a rant aimed at “Monty Hall(sic)” players… huh. I can’t imagine why a setting known for its mu-meson swords, 50th level merchants, and 15th level spells would attract those types… it deserves to be presented in its entirety.

You Done Got Told

You Done Got Told

Guild Fees

Because, Why Not?

Following this massive revision of resurrection, healing, and hit points, we have a tiny little chart (about 1/5 page) about guild fees. This is the only thing on the page. Way to waste paper, Dave.

I Seem To Be Having Extreme Difficulty With My Lifestyle

Then we have a 1/3rd page chart of “Random Lifestyle Changes”, for when someone hits you with a Random Lifestyle Change effect, as often happened (Wands of Wimsey, any number of cursed items that could change your class, etc.)

And Onwards…

The next bit goes back to ‘highly dense page of teeny-tiny type’ mode, filled with even more rules and variations on combat. I’m on a tight schedule, so, we’ll do that next week. We’re up to Page 29, about a third done with the third book, if anyone cares.


The Runes Of Doom, Part III

The Runes Of Doom, Part III

Class And Race In Arduin

The Culture of Post-Capitalist Hegemony Opens a Space for the Historicization of the Gendered Body.

I Got That From A Random Academic Sentence Generator

Here we are at Part III of the walkthrough of the third book of the classic Arduin Trilogy. Despite the title, we’ll probably only get through classes today, though if I’m feeling especially motivated, we might make this a double-sized end of year special. (EDIT: It is double sized, but we still only got through the classes.) We’ll see. Motivation and me, we get along like Deodanths and Elves.

Some Dead Horse Beating (Trigger Warning: Animal Abuse)

(Did you know the phrase ‘Trigger Warning’ is now considered to be ‘triggering’ because of guns? I swear to Hargrave and Gygax I am not making this up.)

Anyway.. beating said dead horse, a common trope among certain Old School Revisionists is that the trend towards a “rule for everything” is entirely a modern invention (and by ‘modern’, they mean, ‘anything that happened after the publication of My Favorite Edition’), and in the glorious days of yore, people just made shit up and were happy with it. The first part is true, for the same reason that people walked or rode horses before there were trains or cars. The second part is much less true, which is why we have trains and cars and 256-page core rulebooks.

As an example, with MANY uses of italics and CAPITALIZATION, so you people get the point:

Before Dave Hargrave, There Was Only Chaos

Before Dave Hargrave, There Was Only Chaos

While Dave might be drifting a little into excessive self-importance here… he was hardly the only one churning out new material for Dother roleplaying gamesons… he is correct in essence. Players, then and now, did not want to merely flavor text their thief and call it a ninja, nor did they want to engage in endless debates about precisely what a ninja could do. Multiple editions of D&D have started with some editorial diatribe about reducing class bloat from the prior edition, and each of them has gone on to do it anyway, because gamers like rules (and because you can’t sell people that which does not exist, unless you’re a religion, but I digress).

The quest for mechanistic individualization drives a lot of game design. It also drives the granularity of resolution systems, for there has to be space to grant a mechanical effect that is significant enough to actually come into play, but small enough that it does not overwhelm all other considerations. Doing this is not easy, as the design ‘sweet spot’ is ofttimes narrow, and players are good at finding synergies the designers never will, until it’s too late.

Anyway, on with the classes! But first, awesome art!

'Awesome Art' Sounds Like A Nickelodeon Show, Doesn't It?

‘Awesome Art’ Sounds Like A Nickelodeon Show, Doesn’t It?

By the way, three of the four species pictured above will be covered in either this article, or the sequel.

Weird Al-Chemy


(Not Really Sorry)

Having picked up the gauntlet on the issue of having rules in print for different classes, Dave Hargrave then proceeds to drop said gauntlet, burying it in an unmarked grave far in the outer wilderness. The Alchemist class text starts with the usual introduction about their armor limits (no armor), their weapon choices (no weapons), and their level titles (because that mattered a lot back then), and then, the meat of the matter, their actual class abilities.

Let The Player/DM Debates Commence, And May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

Let The Player/DM Debates Commence, And May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

Yeah. To be very clear, the “these” in “these are open…” refers to no prior set of rules or guidelines, but to the words just out of the image, “Special Acquired Attributes”. Having just noted how important it is for there to be rules in print, rules which have been “play tested and codified”, Dave then says, “Yeah, alchemists, they, uhm, they can make all this kind of stuff, but there’s no real rules for what any of it does (what’s the save on tear gas? How effective are medical poultices?), or what level they get it, or what the odds are of success, or, you know, anything.” This is similar to what I might, as a freelancer, get as an assignment — “Write up 2,000 words detailing this concept”. Dave, I am disappoint.

The Origin Of The “Assassins Do It From Behind” T-Shirt

Assassins are generally defined as people who kill for money. This is also how 99.99% of all PCs are defined, so the long and sustained existence of a class specialized in it seems odd, but it’s a big part of gaming history.

We're All Just Murderhobos On This Bus

We’re All Just Murderhobos On This Bus

When Runes of Doom was published, assassins existed in Blackmoor, but we’re at the point where Arduin’s veering off towards its own system had begun. The small mutations to core D&D, added one to the other, pushed Dave’s game into a new direction. So, it is not surprising that we’re seeing, in the third book, Hargravian incarnations of established classes. (Indeed, with the exception of the Alchemist and the Sage, all the classes in Runes Of Doom were such variants.)

Assassins in Arduin are a subclass of martial artist (see here). Their main shtick is a limited choice of weapons, but good bonuses with those weapons, as follows: You can pick three weapons (not groups!), and you’re +3 with one, +2 with another, and +1 with the third, and then three weapons you’re “even on” with, or you can also pick another means of killing people (e.g., poisons or traps) and get the bonus with that, “loosing” your bonus with a weapon, or you can pick one weapon at +5 and forego your other bonuses (but keep the three ‘even on’ weapons) or (if you pick the +5 option) you can trade all three of your “even on” weapons for one “non-weapon” skill like poisoning, or you can forego all but one weapon at +2 and instead gain the Martial Artist’s unarmed attack abilities.

Got all that? (Oh, all weapons not picked per the above options, you’re at -2 with.)

The class description doesn’t say if there are any limits on weapons or armor; the assassin is a subclass of Martial Artist, but the weapon choices of a Martial Artist are up to the result of a player’s “Con DM” roll vs. the DM’s “Detect Bullshit” roll. So, given a compliant DM, one could create an assassin who starts off at +5 with “Two Handed Axe”. (Since the assassin must also have a ‘cover identity’ of another class, it’s very easy to justify being able to use the weapons and armor of that class.)

Assassin Chart

Furthermore, the assassin has a “cover” identity and “is thus a ‘dual’ character type”. You can only gain assassin XP by performing paid hits, at a rate of 1000XP per level of the victim about your own, and 250XP “per level below”, but I assume is meant to mean “-250 XP per level below, so four or more levels below gets you nothing”. (I say, pick a “cover identity” as a fighter, get +5 to your primary weapon, and don’t even worry about gaining assassin XP!)

Funny, You Don’t Look Druish

Continuing the trend of “Dave’s Versions Of Classes Established In The Other Rules”, we have the Arduin Druid. (There were “new Druid spells” in the Arduin Grimoire and Welcome To Skull Tower, which pretty strongly hints Dave was using the “other” rules for Druids before making his own.)

First, some backstory. I love these snippets of history; they create a context that is more inspirational than restrictive.

The Truth Is The Druids Couldn't Get Into Rune Weaver School

The Truth Is The Druids Couldn’t Get Into Rune Weaver School

The druid level chart follows. There are no XP values given, but there’s one back in the Arduin Grimoire, so that’s that. (I just noticed that Assassins don’t get cool level names like most of the other classes do. What’s up with that?)

The High Druid Learns 'Summon Cheetos' As A Free Spell

The High Druid Learns ‘Summon Cheetos’ As A Free Spell

The “Detect Hidden Injury” thing is just weird, as there’s really no rules for “hidden injuries”, and the timing formula seems bizarrely specific, as if minutes would matter greatly. Maybe there’s an “internal bleeding” chart somewhere in Dave’s notes, with damage accruing on a minute-by-minute basis, so how fast you can find the “hidden injury” determined life or death? I dunno. (A common phenomenon (doop-do do-do-do) in old school games are subsections of rules written by a friend of the author who specializes in an area of knowledge, producing over-detailed mechanics to reflect the years they’ve studied the topic. Sort of like asking me to write the programming rules for a Cyberpunk game. I’d have two pages of modifiers for converting from one language to another, and a “critical .config file failure” chart for how long it takes to get the damn IDE to find all the included library files. But I digress.)

More marvelous backstory, nicely upending one of the most common cliches of stock fantasy settings:

No Mercy For Elves!

No Mercy For Elves!

In other words, if Tom Bombadil had met Legolas, there would have been… trouble.

BTW, if you’re annoyed at the spelling of “forest” throughout this section, just wait for…

Only You Can Prrevent Forrest Firres

The “Forrester (Woods Ranger)” class is next up. They are “solitary and nomadic”, don’t generally go into dungeons, but they may be wilderness guides. As noted way, way, back in the Arduin Grimoire walkthrough, it was common practice for players to have multiple characters, so they’d bring out Arragonn when the campaign moved to the Forrest Of Generric Slightly Crreepy Name, then switch back to someone useful when they got to the Dungeon Of Many Adjectives.

Forresters get a +1 to +3 on their Str and Con (not to exceed 18), can travel 33 1/3% (that extra 1/3% matters, damn it!) further than anyone else (making their utility as ‘wilderness guides’ somewhat suspect… they’re either way ahead of the people they’re guiding, or this ability is nigh-useless outside of solo play… it’s good for worldbuilding, knowing your Forresters can bring news faster than the enemy can travel does have an impact on things…), and they can “hear” on a 1-3 on a d6, which is one of the approximately 561 1/3 different “detect stuff” mechanics in use during any single gaming session back then. This number increases sporadically with level. They gain a handful of other abilities, such as speaking with animals (you have to pick the species, which leads to some interesting arguments… do wolves speak dog, or fox? Maybe with an accent?) At 20th level, you get to speak with plants, again by specific type… some DMs would let “trees” be a type, other DMs would insist on learning oak, birch, and pine as separate types, and real hard-ass DMs who didn’t want you ruining the game with this overpowered munchkin ability would probably break it down to the level of “Northern Arduin Red Oak”,

Otherwise, not too much of interest.

TRUE Paladins

Not Those FAKE Paladins In Other Games

Paladins are not “fighting clerics”, says Dave, but “warriors with a near-mystical religious fervor”, which has not previously been “delt”(sic) with. In other words, Paladins were falling far short of their potential for game-disrupting antics and “but I’m just playing my character!” excuses for burning orphanages.

Let me praise Mr. Hargrave for designing a class defined as it was often actually played. In Arduin, Paladins are “berserk warriors with overtones of the Witch Hunter”. Yup, that about does it. Regardless of presumed models such as Lancelot, the average Paladin, in practice, was all about slaughtering baby orcs and bisecting random NPCs on suspicion of heresy. So why not make the class abilities and fluff text fit actual play?

Pick A Religion With Few Followers, So Everyone Is An Enemy

Pick A Religion With Few Followers, So Everyone Is An Enemy

They will also fanatically harangue and harass all not of their faith to convert, and are quick to condemn any hint of deviation or heresy, making them the first Tumblr users. As an additional benefit, they ignore the detailed rules for social class and starting gear we discussed earlier, but instead start off with equipment determined by their own, custom, chart, including a guarantee of at least a light warhorse.

They do gain some special abilities, besides their fighting skills.

Again, Pick A Small Faith And You Won't Be Nagged By Other Players To Heal Them

Again, Pick A Small Faith And You Won’t Be Nagged By Other Players To Heal Them

The Paladin gains mana equal to three times their strength, and it takes mana equal to the level at which an ability is gained to invoke it, so a Str 16 Paladin starts with 48 mana (!) and thus can cast Cure Light Wounds 48 times(!!) at first level. Whoa. Dave… you, ah, you playtested this? Sure about that? (To be fair, this number will increase only slowly with level; even in Arduin, attribute score raises were not regularly doled out. Even so… )

And here’s an image Erol Otus drew for the first edition of the Arduin Grimoire, published in The Runes of Doom. Why not? (Erol’s art suffers from the thin inking; his stylized, two-dimensional imagery benefits from the heavier, thicker lines we see in his work for TSR and others.  I don’t know if he did his own inking and changed his style, or if someone else inked his pencil work.)

Wyvergon -- A Wyvern/Gorgon Hybrid

Wyvergon — A Wyvern/Gorgon Hybrid

(In Part XII of Welcome to Skull Tower, I noted that Arduin medusae got “biz-zay” (as the kids these days say… do they still say that? Damn kids, always changing their slang). So did gorgons. Hybrid creatures of all types have always been popular in D&D variants; Gygax promoted the concept early on, in the Greyhawk supplement (the ‘little brown book’, not the campaign setting), and I adore the template rules for 3.x and PF. Completely unrelated to anything here, and of no benefit to me, as I have no financial or personal connection to the company, Green Ronin’s “Advanced Bestiary” is my instant answer to the “if you could have only one third party supplement” threads that start up all the time on various fora. (I have no kind of ad linking or revenue sharing going on; it’s just a great book if you play Pathfinder.))


No Parsley, Rosemary, Or Thyme

Though If Anyone Were To Invent A “Thyme Lord” Class, It Would Be Me

At the time of the writing of the Trilogy, there really wasn’t much concept of an “NPC Class”. Further, the first iterations of the concept were for classes too powerful to be used as PCs, not for classes too weak. To the surprise of no one who understands human nature, esp. the nature of the adolescent munchkins who formed a large plurality, if not the majority, of the 70s D&D audience, this “restriction” never stuck, and “NPC Classes” from The Dragon, like Ninjas and Anti-Paladins, showed up as PCs with great regularity, provided the Chinese food payments kept coming,

The Arduin Sage is a good example of what today would be an NPC class — a way to give mechanical definition to someone with useful skills, but who isn’t going to be tromping down into the dungeon.

Sages pick one of seven broadly defined areas of study, and, since there’s no actual ‘Lore’ or ‘Knowledge’ skill in the game yet…

Sages Who Worship Google, God Of Knowledge, Gain +5%

Sages Who Worship Google, God Of Knowledge, Gain +5%

The plethora of micromechanics (such as the Paladin’s rules for going berserk, or the Sage’s knowledge rules) are, individually, easy to handle. When people defend this style of game design as “easier” than having more complex, but more inclusive, systems, they usually compare a single microrule to the entirety of, say, the Knowledge Skill rules, and point out how simple it is. Except there’s dozens, or hundreds, of such rules, and each is designed atomically and without regard to its interactions with similar rules. (I have this problem in my day job as a programmer… I work with legacy code where the choice was constantly made to solve the same problem a dozen times in a dozen slightly different and incompatible ways, the argument being that writing specific code for a specific task takes less time than writing a generic routine or class… without considering that taking slightly more time writing a generic solution saves constant recreation of the same code. But I digress.)

Remember how I dinged Dave for not actually providing rules for the Alchemist’s abilities?

Yeah. About that.

This Is The Moral Equivalent Of "See Page 12" and Page 12 Is "This Page Intentionally left Blank"

This Is The Moral Equivalent Of “See Page 12” and Page 12 Is “This Page Intentionally left Blank”

And Thus..

We end our study of class in Arduin. We’ll get to race next week, it seems. This article is already a good bit longer than most. And while the classes in Runes Of Doom are mostly minor recreations of established standards, the three new races added are anything but.

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XVI

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XVI

Inns, Holidays, Guilds, And More

Like Wind Chill Factor, For Example

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

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

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

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

“You All Meet In A Tavern…”

And why not? As Dave Hargrave notes:

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

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

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

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


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

It’s Been A Long Day’s Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of weather…

Wind Chill

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


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

My Holidays. Let Me Show You Them.

My Holidays. Let Me Show You Them.

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

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

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

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

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

The Joy Of Sects

Sorry, couldn’t resist…

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

Some Of These Simply Sound Too Damn Awesome For Words

Some Of These Simply Sound Too Damn Awesome For Words

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

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