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Arduin Grimoire, Part V

Arduin Grimoire, Part V

Special Abilities

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


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

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

+1 With Maces, Or LYcanthrope?

+1 With Maces, Or Lycanthrope?

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

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

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

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

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

Home of the singing evangelist!

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

Anyway, let’s look at the chart:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Soon

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

Arduin Grimoire, Part IV

Arduin Grimoire, Part IV

Out Of Alignment

BTW, in case anyone stumbles on one of these pages out of order, and wonders how to get the hell away find the rest, I’m trying to gather them all here. Enjoy. Or not. It’s up to you, really. Who am I to tell you what to do?

So, in this post, we look at “Notes on Fantastic Beings”, and alignment. Sorry, allignment. For charcters. Sorry, characters.

Fantastical Beasts And How To Kill Them

Or, more accurately, “Notes On Fantastic Beings”.

Those of you more used to modern games, with their 256 page hardbound books detailing every aspect of a race’s culture, heritage, history, and preferred sexual positions might be a little aghast, possibly even awight or aspectre, at how little information was generally provided back in Ye Olden Dayse, and Dave Hargrave’s writing style was nothing if not terse. He had, after all, an imagination that spanned multiple infinities, and a hundred half-size pages to try to cram it into. So, we get to these two pages of “Notes”, where all the infinite complexity and depth of distinct and unique species were reduced to a line of text.

And we loved it. Well, I loved it, at any rate. I want just enough to get my mind going, just enough to provide the most basic platform for a shared conversation. When I buy a game, I want my crunch detailed out to the difference in damage potential between Pewter Mug, Hurled and Silver Tankard, Hurled, and my fluff to be basically someone leaving a sticky note on the page reading “put fluff here”. (Not applicable to games set in commercial universes, where I mostly buy them for the fluff.)

Thus, we learn that Hobbitts(sic) are “Happy, hungry” and “Always eating, brave but usually inept.” We learn that kobolds gang up on both thieves and cripples, and, by inference, the value of a semicolon vs. a comma. (We also see the root of many battles between players and DMs on the literal vs. intended meaning of the rules, with the battle lines being clearly drawn: If the literal reading favors you, argue it; if the intended reading favors you, argue it; and if neither the literal nor the intended reading favors you, buy the DM Chinese food.)

Orcs are immortal. Who knew? (Dave Hargrave, that’s who!)

So, from this we learn orcs are immortal, elves are in self-denial, amazons are pushy lesbians, and (on a page I didn’t scan) that harpies, furies, and gargoyles are “erratic, fanatical, and sadistic”. We also learn that genetics in Arduin were pretty darn fluid, and that human-giant matings were possible, though, thankfully, the exact details of the process were left out.

I seem to recall a “kobbit” is a kobold/hobbitt(sic…k of typing ‘sic’, just deal with Mr. Hargrave’s “Please Don’t Sue Me” spelling) crossbreed, which is kind of gross, but “kobolds” back then were generally closer to their mythic origin as fey “little people” and less “tiny little dragon folk with serious delusions of grandeur”.

It is interesting how most of the non-human races had long, even unending, lifespans — a definite flip on the D&Dism that all the ‘evil’ races died young (to explain their ability to breed in massive numbers so that dungeons were perennially replenished with mooks).

Come Up With Another Clever Pun On ‘Alignment’ Before Posting This

Seriously, This Better Not Show Up In The Final Article

Alignment wars began pretty much with the publication of OD&D, and I don’t mean “The cosmic battle of law vs. chaos” alignment wars, I mean “The comical battle of rules lawyers vs. each other” alignment wars. The exact boundaries of law, chaos, good, evil, what they meant, what they controlled, if paladins who slaughtered pregnant orcs also got XP for the fetuses, etc. Thomas Aquinas himself would be puzzled by that last one. (No, that’s not from one of my personal experiences, sadly/gladly. That was mentioned in a recent Knights Of The Dinner Table strip, and the fact it rang true tells you a lot. If you truly want to understand a culture, read its insider humor, says Lizard.)

Such debates have run to terabytes of terrifying text (I do get paid by the Alliteration Alliance Of America, why do you ask?), and I, in the words of Whitman, “have contributed a verse”, if “Look, lint-for-brains, even given your established stupidity and bull-headedness, your latest piece of word-salad drivel reaches new heights of incredibly inchoate incomprehensibility” is “a verse”.

Mr. Hargrave, however, strips all of that down to a simple, single, page that clearly answers all possible questions.

Did I Say "Character Alignment"? I Meant "Charcter Allignment"

Did I Say “Character Alignment”? I Meant “Charcter Allignment”

Or, perhaps, not. But as with most of his work, it aims to inspire more than to inform, and that’s not wrong.

It is perhaps worth noting the chart discusses the “Charcter” and “Allignment” of players, and if one interprets “Character” to mean “Morality and Ethics”, then, the chart is actually for the people sitting around the table, which might say a lot about who Dave gamed with.

Note: I will occasionally (often) make fun of the various typos and idiosyncratic spellings in these books, because that’s what I do… mock people who are a thousand times more creative than I could ever be… but it’s also important to remember they were written in an era when self-publishing was barely a step above chiseling words into stone. You couldn’t just edit your files on a word processor and make changes when you spotted them; redoing layouts was slow and very expensive. Besides, constantly reading, editing, and rewriting runs counter to the raw exuberance of unfettered creation; the more you question the technical details of your work, the more likely you are to begin questioning your ideas, and if you do that, you don’t have kobbit barbarians venturing side-by-side with phraint thieves and half-elf star-powered mages. (I think half-elves could be SPMs… we’ll know when we get to Book 3, The Runes Of Doom.)

And I think I’ll declare that any similar errors found in these pages is my attempt to capture the true spirit of the age, and not merely laziness or incompetence on my part. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

(“But, Lizard! How can you post a huge rant on the importance of proper grammar, and then handwave away your own mistakes?”

“Pshaw, that’s easy. Rank hypocrisy.”

“Oh, OK, then.”)

But enough about me. (Ow… even typing those words hurt my soul.) Let’s look at the chart. First, you’ll notice a lot more alignments. (No, I’m not going to keep typing ‘allignment(sic)’. Even I know when to stop running a joke into the ground. I usually don’t stop, but I know when to. And knowing is half the battle.) The Arduin Grimoire was published in 1977, before most of AD&D came out, and the D&D world was still transitioning. Alignments had gone from three, to five, to nine, in just  few years… and many early players, seeing the flaws of the original L,C,N system, were creating their own before Gygax could jump in. We see, thus, shadows of homebrew rules mixed in with the changes to the “core” rules.

Factor Tutorials

It’s, Erm, Sort Of A Lame Pun On ‘Factorials’, Which Doesn’t Really Make Sense

Give Me A Break, I Have A Fifty Hour Work Week+2 Hour Commute And I Don’t Get Paid To Write This, You Know.
My Paypal Is lizard@mrlizard.com. Just Sayin’.

So, we have Kill Factor, Lie Factor, Tolerance Factor, etc. These are used to… erm… uhm… well, basically, there’s no real rules for them. Everyone buying the Arduin Grimoire, unless they happened to know Dave personally, could interpret these numbers however they chose. It’s interesting that even in those earliest days of gaming, there was a nascent push towards personality mechanics, something to reinforce, with dice, what it said on the tin, if your character sheet was printed on tin.

“Lie Factor” is kind of interesting. I mentioned typos earlier. Well, one such typo in original D&D was an entry for “%Liar” on every monster. It was supposed to be “%Lair” — the odds that a monster, when randomly encountered, would be in its lair, where it had a lot more treasure. However, early players, taking the rules as written, often interpreted it literally. Dave Hargrave included “%Liar” in the monster section of the Grimoire, which we’ll get too eventually. The context around these entries made it very clear he did, indeed, mean “Liar” and not “Lair”. Murphy’s Rules later dinged him on this, noting he had simply imitated D&D, and he responded with, sadly, an all too typical reaction, insisting he’d always meant for Greedo to shoot first…. erm, that Arduin was a free-standing game and not an ‘imitation of D&D’. Yeah, right. It is, in fact, possible for me to consider Mr. Hargrave a Greater God (400 HP and all!) in my personal pantheon of creative influences, and still roll my eyes and sigh at the kind of self-delusion that would cause him to make such a claim. Everything about the original Arduin Trilogy speaks to its role as a supplement to D&D.

Surely, This Was The First And Last Time A Cartoon Caused Someone To React With Undue Outrage

Surely, This Was The First And Last Time A Cartoon Caused Someone To React With Undue Outrage


Arduin Grimoire, Part III

Arduin Grimoire, Part III

A Man (Hobgoblin, Nixie, Cave Man) Has Got To Know His Limitations

Now, we turn to character racial class, level, and attribute limits. You damn punk kids might not know this, but time was, there were no half-orc paladins, dwarf archmages, or gnome druids. (Leeky Windstaff is annoyed!) Well, unless you played pretty much any game other than D&D, because racial class/level limits were one of the first “D&Disms” to be flung out as the RPG industry moved past the Cambrian era and into the… damn it, I used to know what came next. Devonian? Anyway, time was (and by “time was”, I mean, it took TSR going belly-up and WOTC taking over in 2000 to finally shed this bit of nonsensical anti-design), races were “balanced” by front-loading them with all sorts of k3wl p0w3rz (such as the power to invoke arguments over if you could read with infravision or not)1, and then, in the off-chance the game lasted long enough, screwing them over by paralyzing them at relatively low levels, so that only humans could advance high enough to kill Thor. (That was, erm, the ultimate goal of D&D, right? To use Deities And Demigods as a monster manual?)

Anyhoo, Arduin of course needed to have such a table, which served to partially replace the old D&D table, due to the many new races supported, not mention the new classes, which… uhm… well, you see, there’s only so much space on the page, and so… erm…

limits0001Well, first, of the countless new classes Arduin introduced (to be dealt with soon), only the Psychic is on this chart. As for the rest, erm, “All Others”… Trolls, you see, are just as good as being Slavers as they are Saints.

Seriously. They just ran out of room on the page and said “Fuck it!”.

That’s how we all rolled back then, and it was glorious.

(Oh, the big white blob  is me deliberately whiting out part of the scan, because it turns out this walkthrough requires a lot more illustration than mine usually do, or maybe I just want to share the immense joy2 reading each part of this book still brings to me in a more visceral way, but I also want to stay within the bounds of fair use.

Anyway, I’ve been talking a bit about wonders, strange visions, exotic realms, and that hasn’t been too evident yet. Here’s where it starts. What’s a gnorc? A kobbit? You can play a Fury? A spider can be a fifth level mage? WTF? Felines? Canines?

OK. First, a “*” means “Cannot take this class.” So, there are no Spider Clerics. “**” means “Unlimited”, so a Kobbit can be a 105th level thief. And a number means… y’know, if I have to explain that, how the hell did you end up reading this article? G’wan, shoo!

On the spider thing (From What If #451, “What If Ben Grimm Was Bitten By A Spider That Was Radioactive Due To Cosmic Rays?”)…it was noted:”Normal insects and animals are not smart enough to do much of anything, but there are were-creatures and other types that will fit the bill”, so, there you are.

Only at page 5, and we’re talking about the possibility of 12th level Mermaid Psychics. Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, EGG was starting on his first draft of a rant about how ridiculous pixie-storm giant hybrids were. (But drow cavaliers dual-wielding lances? EGG was totally cool with that.) Battle lines were being drawn, lines which extend to this day, between the dour advocates of low-power, low-magic, low-fun, play, and the liberated, free, and joyous advocates of cyborg ninjas battling dragon/beholder crossbreeds through the corridors of the Death Star. If you can’t tell where my bias lies, check my choice of adjectives. It’s a dead giveaway.

(Acting on the odd assumption anyone reading one of my rants is masochistic enough to read a second, or even a third (if you’re that into pain, I have a good friend who can help you find a skilled professional in that area… not kidding…), they might note there’s some dead horses I beat, again and again, as if they were trolls and I can’t stop them regenerating. There’s two reasons: First, I write this stuff extemporaneously, so, if something inspires me to write a rant once, a similar stimulation will inspire a similar rant. Two, there’s no way to know who is reading this (if anyone is) or in what order, so there’s no reason to assume that any point I made 50-odd posts ago has been already seen, or ever will be seen, so it’s often essential to reiterate the same themes. So it goes.)

Moving on….

Race And Gender, The Internet’s Favorite Topics For Calm, Measured, Debate

Limitation1Though, to be fair, “race” here (mostly) means “a genuinely different species”, as opposed to “a bunch of made up, arbitrary, and totally random divisions” as it is when it comes to humans. (Though, not sure if “Amazons” are a different species, rather than simply a different culture… )

A few things to note:

  • Humans aren’t “the best of everything”, without limits, as they are in D&D. Elves can be smarter, Hobbitts (sic) more dextrous, and so on.
  • Swimming ability? Stamina? Magic Resistance? These aren’t in the D&D of the era, and they aren’t explained in the Grimoire. As we saw with Booty And The Beasts, an awful lot of house rules were so commonly used among certain gaming communities that when people put out books for general publication, they tended not to realize such rules were not universal. “Fish have no word for water”, and all that.
  • The chart goes on beyond zebra, to “Lesser Giants”, “Balrogs and Lesser Demons”, and so on.
  • Gnomes are “10% less in all respects”, than, presumably, dwarves, but I’m not sure what 10% of 5-12 is. 5-0.5 -> 12-1.2, or 4.5 to 10.8? 5 to 11? Again, we see the problem of “too much imagination, too few pages”.

Here’s part of page two of the chart, just to show the range of Mr. Hargrave’s vision of D&D…

Limitation2aEnergy beings, silicate life (hortas), undead… this section, in the rules, is entitled “Character Limitation Chart”, but it, like most of the trilogy, is about transcending limits, about including anything you can imagine, no matter how outre or inconsistent.

Back when I paid attention to RPG.net, there would be continual queries from people trying to play “old school” styles games, regarding if they should include this or that, add thus-and-such a rule, or invoke some particular mechanic, if adding in these things would dilute the purity of the old school experience and corrupt its precious bodily fluids. That they felt they needed to ask such questions told me, instantly, that the idea of what “old school” gaming was all about was being communicated to them wretchedly, to the point of actually teaching the opposite lesson.

Lizard’s Old School Rule Number One: If you think there’s rules about rules, you’re doing it wrong. (Ironic self-contradiction intended.)

The canonical 1970s-era DM had a dozen three-ring binders full of his house rules. Everyone was a game designer, and no one had any idea of “simplicity” as a design aesthetic in and of itself. Older games had far fewer (not necessarily “simpler”, mind you) rules than newer ones, but that had more to do with the cost of paper and the rush to publish in an exploding market than it did any conscious, deliberate, design choice. Hell, the idea of a “design philosophy” for RPGs was still decades away. The genre was too new, too vibrant, too full of potential to be tied down with boundaries and limits. It was the Wyld, all boundless creativity and change, as yet untamed by the Weaver, and far from being corrupted by the Wyrm, otherwise known as Lorraine Williams, and by using 1990s White Wolf terms to describe 1970s D&D gaming, I just made RPGPundit’s head explode. :)

I’ll just leave y’all now with a picture of a vampusa. (Vampire Medusa, duh. )

VampusaThat’s a lance it’s holding, by the way.







1:”Dude, in this issue of Daredevil, he could totally read with his fingers because the letters were cooler than the paper, so I can read with infravision!”

2:Not being sarcastic. I’m allowed to not be once per post.

Arduin Grimoire, Part II

Arduin Grimoire, Part II

In Which We Actually Open The Book

Just reading the PC's names makes you want to play!

Just reading the PC’s names makes you want to play!

Sorry about the blurry edges; if you think I’m going to press my 37-year-old copy flat just to get a clean scan for the benefit of the three or four people who might read this, you’re nuts. Anyhoo, just look at the PC names of his campaign, and imagine all the cool shit they did, and remember this book was published in 1977, when D&D had only been out for about three years! That’s a LOT of amazing gaming crammed into a very short period of time! I am deeply, profoundly, bitterly envious of the people who got to sit at Dave’s table.

We start with “How To Play The Game”, which notes people are unsure about the “sequence of play” in a fantasy game, so “here is a rundown of most play situations”.

The next line? “Overland Travel”.

Dave goes on to explain that you travel an hour, roll for random encounters, Then follows a bunch of stuff about line of sight, distance to the encounter, chances of an encounter, if the encounter is close, what kind of close encounter it is (OK, I made up those last two), if the monster is frightened or not, if it’s charging, how to determine initiative, and so on. This includes numerous die tables, of the “1-2 this, 3-4 that” type. Oh, wait, did I say “tables”? Bwahahaha! No, the entire “sequence of play”, including odds of random encounters (with modifiers for terrain type and time of day), and all the other folderol I mentioned, are all in one immense paragraph.

I’m guessing the “uncertainty” over the “sequence of play” came from wargamers used to “Player 1 Movement Phase, Player 2 Prep Musket Phase, Player 1 Rally Phase, Player 2 Sneers At Player 1’s Incorrect Color Scheme For The Seventh Lancers Phase, Player 1 Shoves Incorrectly Painted Seventh Lancer Up Player 2’s Nose Phase”, and so on. It’s a sign of the times, of the gaming world in transition, from groups of fat neckbearded nerds arguing endlessly over the effects of wind on massed fire to groups of fat neckbearded nerds arguing endlessly over the effects of wind on massed fireballs. Those kinds of radical cultural changes can be shocking to the people living through them.

Following the rules for rolling random encounters come the rules for experience points, because, why not? In Arduin, you don’t get XP for gold. “It is the act of robbery, not the amount stolen, that gives the thief his experience.” says Dave, and I concur.

This table is, at least, a table. You get 400 XP for dying (and being resurrected), 375 for being the sole survivor of an expedition (oh, that couldn’t possibly go wrong!) or for retrieving the most powerful of artifacts, all the way down to 50 XP for figuring out traps and casting “lesser” spells such as “locks and winds”.

To put these numbers in perspective, here’s the XP chart… (Please note the ‘Saint’ class isn’t actually in this book. Or the Courtesan.

The "Slaver" class isn't in here, either.

The “Slaver” class isn’t in here, either.

Yes, levels went up to 105. I assume you figured out the “missing” levels by extrapolating from the points given.

I’m just gonna let that “levels go up to 105″ thing sink in. First, remember this was published only three years after D&D came out. Second, next time some wannabe “old school Renaissance” type who wasn’t even born when AD&D Second Edition was published tries to tell you that in the Old Days (which he wasn’t around for, but which he heard about from this guy who knows this guy…) it was all fantasy fucking Vietnam and scrabbling for copper pieces and PCs were weak and no one had cool powers and everything now is all WoWMMORPGVideoGameSuperMarioCrap, you just point him this way. I’ll straighten him out. (Or her. One mustn’t be sexist. There’s just as many women repeating tired platitudes they’ve picked up from online forums as there are men. )

Following is another page of XP charts, and then, the Character Limitation Chart. And, hey, y’know what? Posting small articles frequently is probably better than long articles never, so, smeg it, this goes up now.

Arduin Grimoire, Part I

Walking Through The Arduin Triology (And Maybe The Others)

Or, Why Didn’t I Think Of This Before?

Because I’m Extremely Dim, That’s Why!

So, I’ve raved on and on about the Arduin books, how much they meant to me in my formative years (just as your first porn exposure will probably influence your YouPorn searches for the rest of your life, Or So I’ve Heard), and while I’ve done extensive writing on the heavily Arduin-influenced Booty And The Beasts and the Necromican, I haven’t actually taken the path more traveled and looked at the actual books!

So, here you go.

As with most of my stuff, this is a mix of humor, personal commentary, analysis, and random ephemera, mixed with extemporanea and just a hint of nutmeg. Those looking to discern a hidden agenda in it (see the IMPORTANT WARNING in the Necromican article linked to above) are morons. Those looking to discern a distinctive and coherent point of view in it are holding me in far too much esteem. To quote myself:

(Some people might note I make snide comments about how supplements like Booty And The Beasts veered heavily into a “screw the players”, highly adversarial mode of play, and then note I make snide comments about how 4e goes out of its way to avoid those types of mechanics, and wonder what side I’m on. It’s easy. I’m on the side of “Lizard wants to make snide comments.”.)

So, bear that in mind.

I’ve started three paragraphs with “so”. Weird.


Arduin Grimoire

I first encountered hints of these works in the “Best Of The Dragon” that came out around 1979, in an advertisement. In those days, there was no Internet, and gaming news had to spread slowly, through messages pounded into the pulp of dead trees, and sometimes, we had to just carve them in the bark, instead. The ad showed lizard-people and insect people and others, all far more exotic and interesting that the relatively tame Tolkien-inspired characters of D&D, and the ad copy hinted at untold wonders and strangeness beyond words.

But I didn’t actually find the books until a year or so later, at the Compleat (sic) Strategist in New Jersey, back when there was one in New Jersey. And, yes, unlike most things in life, from the covers of lurid paperbacks to the description of the job you’re applying for, the actual thing did not disappoint. The three little books were so densely packed with ideas, reality warped around them. If I have to pick “The books that influenced my life”, it would be these. Well, and Lee/Kirby FF. Oh, and the LSH where they fight Computo. But mostly, Arduin.

And so, we journey now into strange new worlds.. but first…

A Tale Of Two Covers

I had managed to borrow a copy of the Arduin Grimoire for a day or two, several months before I got my hands on it. For a long time after that, I thought I might be suffering from mixed, false, memories, as there were things I recalled from my first reading that I never saw again. However, the truth has since come to light: There was a first printing, with a different cover and interior art. The first printing had art by “a talented young man named Erol Otus”. You, ahem, may have heard of him. The subsequent editions… did not, and his name was excised from the forward, as if sliced out with a mu-meson sword (yes, that’s in there somewhere, Book 3, I think… we’ll get to it.) I am sure there is a story there, but as Dave Hargrave is long dead, we probably won’t get to hear it, and besides, I don’t really want to know the grungy details of mid-70s internecine geek warfare. 

Two Covers, No Waiting

Two Covers, No Waiting


Now, without any disrespect for Mr. Otus, whom I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time praising, I still sort of prefer the one on the right. The exotic weapons and armor, the fine detail, the diversity of the PCs, the glowering demon over the door… words like “evocative” and “inspiring” come to mind. I want to create worlds, and write books, that give others the same feeling that picture gives me.OK, enough of the early stuff. Let’s turn the page…Later. Time to take my wife to the fabric store. But I wanted to post up something, since it’s been almost six weeks, which is long, even for me.

Necromican, Level 10 And Up!

Necromican, Level 10 And Up

What Do You Mean? Nine’s As High As Spells Go

Nope, These Go To Eleven Twelve



OK, Boils and Ghouls! The last part of this series covers the seriously munchkin stuff, without the John Kovalic art. For earlier parts of this series, click one of the preceding words, each one takes you to a different part. For this part of this series, keep reading.

This booklet shows off one of the best parts of Old School Gaming — sheer over-the-topness, for when Power Word Kill and Wish just aren’t good enough. If you’re fighting galactic dragons, after all, they’re not! Forget all that Fantasy Fucking Vietnam and “let’s pour water on the floor and see how it pools” crap. In this kind of Old School play, if you wanted to find a pit trap… nah, you never wanted to find a pit trap. You were too busy casting Summoning Of The Black Hole. Not a euphemism.

As usual, this will be a selected subset of the wonderment that lies within, not an exhaustive repetition of the contents.

Tenth Level Spells


This spell creates 1-4 duplicates of the caster, without his magic items. It’s not clear if this means that if he’s wearing a magic wizard robe, and nothing underneath it, his duplicates appear with a non-magic version of the same robe, or naked. I suppose it depends on the emotional maturity of the DM and his fellow players. Given the state of gaming culture at the time…

Player 1: Oh, I know! I’ll cast Duplication!
DM: OK, you get (roll) 2 duplicates. They’re naked.
Player 2: (Snorting laugh) Dude, we can see your thingie!
Player 1: Can not! Shut up!
Player 3: Oh, gross! Isn’t your magic user 30 or something? That’s ancient!
Player 2: Yeah, I bet it’s all warty!
Player 1: SHUT UP!

The spell also notes, wisely, that duplicates cannot duplicate themselves. Hey, it was the first thing I thought of, and I guarantee you that line was added after the first time the spell was used in play to create Infinite Magic Users, presumably with infinite warty thingies. (Would “Infinite Warty Thingies” be a good name for a band? Probably not.)

Cube Of Space

This spell create a 10′ by 10′ by 10′ cube around the caster. Each face of the cube is a “portal into deepest outer space”. So, someone shoots an arrow into the cube, it goes into space, and possibly hits a small space-worm, who just says “Oh no, not again.”  Anyone charges at the caster, they’re tossed into space. It’s a one-way trip; the cube can’t be re-entered from the space side. It’s not clear, from the description, if the caster can fire out of the cube or not, which is kind of key. If they can, they can sit there like an artillery unit and blast the crap out of things. If they can’t, this is mostly defensive.

Excellent Prismatic Spray

Roll To See What Drop Off

Roll To See What Drop Off

Why should Gary Gygax be the only one to rip off Jack Vance? This spell is actually closer to the one in the Dying Earth novels than the AD&D spell of nearly the same name. Perhaps that’s why this one is the Excellent Prismatic Spray. (Coming soon: Enterprise Edition Prismatic Spray, Prismatic Spray Lite, Prismatic Spray for Workgroups…) Anyway, you cast this spell at a single target, and it dices him into 1-10 pieces, and you roll on the accompanying chart to see which pieces they are. For non-humanoids, you are instructed to “simply draw charts similar to this one”.

It’s kind of worth noting that there’s no specific rules for the damage done by any part being lopped off, or any other effects. “OK, you’re dead.” “Why?” “You got both your legs chopped off! And your thingie!” “So, I didn’t take any damage.” “Yeah, but you’re totally bleeding everywhere!” “Since when? You never bleed from wounds in D&D. I just have to crawl!” “No, you’re dead!” “Are you still mad about that pizza thing? I told you, I thought you’d taken your slice. Give it a rest, man.” Also, does a roll of 8 mean you lose your fingers? What if you were holding your hands in a different position, because, like, I totally was. My hands were nowhere near that ray.


When this spell is cast, the players stop seizing every opportunity to make lame double-entendres and try to reasonably evaluate rules conflicts without rancor or hostility. I seem to have constantly saved against it.

The Jaws Of Set

OK, so, this is awesome. Giant invisible snake jaws appear, biting your enemies for 1-100 points of damage. 100 hit points (remember, this was an era when the largest red dragons had only 88 hit points), moves at double speed, teleports without error, and has AC 2+2, which is AC 0, not AC 4. If you don’t understand why, you’re not Old School. N00b! The summoned jaws last until destroyed, which means, you’ve got invisible jaws that do 1-100 damage and can teleport to any point you wish and go chomp. I wouldn’t memorize any other 10th level spell. Seriously, can you imagine having… wait, how many 10th level spells do you get, anyway? There’s no rules for magic-users in this book, and none of the official D&D books gave you more than 9th level spells, no matter how high level your character was. Sigh. Yet another example of where the local house rules were so internalized the authors forgot to include them.

Eleventh Level Spells

Green Beam

I can only imagine this spell was created by DMs for use against players. It targets a magic item, and de-magics it. To restore the item, you need three simultaneous wishes, each cast by a magic-user, not from a scroll or item. This reeks of the got-you-last one-upmanship that most Monty Haul games reached in their final stages. It was very rare for monsters to have magic items in those days, so this is either DM vs. player or player vs. player magic. As is…

Magic Nullification

Simply nullifies all magic items, weapons, armor, power, and abilities for 1-6 rounds, save for half duration. Again, the main focus here seems to be to let the DM kill a player… I mean, a character… who is wrapped in so many magic items they can’t be easily thwarted.

Call Of The Comet

You call a comet. You designate a landing zone within 240′ of you when you cast it, then skedaddle. 1d6 days later, a comet appears. Based on the roll, it can be anything from pea-sized, doing 1d6, to 100′ feet in diameter, doing 100d6 and leaving a mile-wide crater. (Presumably, it does the damage to everyone within a half mile of the impact point.)

Probably really sucks if you wait six days then get a comet that’s about as impressive as a slingshot pellet.

For the mid-range effects, a standard issue fireball does about as much damage and doesn’t take days to show up. This spell is one of those “But.. but… it’s a comet!” things, where the sheer awesomeness of the concept distracted the designers from the utility of the spell itself.

Mass Insanity

This spell causes 10 x the caster’s level people within a one mile area to go insane, rolling on a chart to determine Paranoia, Schizophrenia, Sexual Perversion (what? No detailed subchart for that? Son, I am disappoint), etc. The description notes that it’s useful for livening up dull little hamlets. (And possibly dull little MacBeths, I suppose. Badum BUM!)

Twelfth Level Spells

The Sorcerer’s Spacecraft

A magical spaceship

Spelljammer, This Ain’t

So, how do you get into space to fight Galactic Dragons? With this, of course, which makes this an amazingly stupid spell to cast. Why give the DM any excuse to throw one of those TPK nightmares at you? Anyway, conjures spaceship, magically controlled flying saucer, top deck is good for cocktail parties which are things the typical D&D player of 1978 may have heard of but would never be invited to, speed is 10 million MPH, which pretty much means it’s limited to in-system travel (kind of surprising, really, you’d think there’d be an FTL drive. Maybe the designers thought that wouldn’t be realistic. You laugh, but I’ve seen far sillier debates).


Ah, now we’re getting somewhere! Uhm… no we’re not. This spell kills 10 times the caster’s level in humans. (Only humans? What if I want to destroy the Elven Menace, before they destroy us?) Assuming that casting 12th level spells requires being 24th or 25th level, that’s still only about 250 people. That’s not “genocide”, that’s “a typical summer in Chicago”. There are many less powerful spells that will kill many more people. The spell also notes that “a save results in no effect”. Does this mean each target saves individually? Damn, that’s a lot of rolling.

The Black Forest

This spell conjures ham, pickles, assorted mustards, and… no, wait. This spell creates a square mile of Evil Forest, which is exactly what you need to surround your Evil Wizard Tower. It springs up overnight, and also gives you 1-100 giant spiders, 1-100 evil ents, and 1-100 orcs, all under your control. Nothing in the spell description says it can only be cast in specific locations, so I’d cast it in the heart of a major city. In one night, the entire city is destroyed by the magical trees, and the survivors are hunted down by my spiders, ents, and orcs. Bwahahah! I’ll bet I kill a lot more people than that “genocide” spell does. Oooh, what a misnomer! I’m still pissed at that. Nearly as pissed as I was that time I went into the “Virgin Megastore”. Talk about false advertising! Where was I?

Soul Drain Deflection

This spell lets you pick someone else to be the target of any soul-draining effect cast on you. There’s no indication they need to be willing, or get a saving throw. The possibilities for amusement should be self-evident.

Summoning Of The Black Hole

A black hole is summoned. All in the area are sucked into it, and deposited into deep space, requiring three simultaneously cast wishes to bring them back. Presumably, they also get killed in the process of going through the singularity, though that’s not spelled out. (Argument time!) Those who do make their save are merely compressed to a piece of matter about a millimeter in size. I’d guess you only need a single Wish, or even a bog-standard Resurrection spell, to restore them to life.

And So, It Ends

Thus, we come to the end of the Necromican walkthrough. I really wish Fantasy Art Enterprises had made more books. There are rumors some of them went on to real jobs, or might have met girls, or otherwise were distracted from producing works of singular awesometude. Sic transit gloria mundi.  (“Gloria is ill on the subway on Monday.”)

Oh, and this is for an earlier spell, and I think I may have included it anyway, but, just in case I haven’t, here it is:

Thoth Amon's Organ Request

Thoth Amon’s Organ Request

Hackmaster 5e, Part II

Hackmaster Part II: Khan Strikes The Chamber Of Secrets Back

When Last We Left Our Intrepid Hero Protagonist…

OK! Welcome to Part II of my Hackmaster 5e character creation walkthrough! Now with more exclamation points! For those of you who missed Part I, it’s here. So, click the underlined part back there. Unless you’ve got your browser set funky so you can’t see links, in which case, you’re on your own.

Anyway, I had just finished adjusting my stats, and I was going to spend those lovely BPs I’d been hoarding. I had 59 left.

Step 7: Priors And Particulars

Oh, this isn’t about spending BPs. It’s about how much you weigh, that sort of thing. There’s some excellent advice in this section about how to use your background and history to create a rich and full character for roleplaying. Nah, I’m just messin’ with ya. There’s some excellent advice in this section about how to use your background and history to pull some sort of life-saving bullshit out of your ass (hmmm… that’s a disturbing mental image) when you really have to.

Age: I’m a human mage, so, my starting age is 25+1d6p. I roll a 5, so, 30.

Height: 71 inches.

Weight: “Unlike inferior games that utilize an uncorrelated table to determine a character’s body weight…” I just had to copy that in. See, that’s attitude. That’s old school. (I just picked up Chivalry & Sorcery Sourcebook I, circa 1980, and it contained a long rant about “other game designers” (i.e., Gary Gygax) who abused mythology and lore when creating their substandard and inaccurate monsters, blahdy blahdy blah. That’s part of what the OSR is missing. There was none of this ‘if everyone’s having fun, it’s all good’ attitude back then. The gaming community was, if anything, even more fractious and self-righteous in the late 1970s/early 1980s than it is now. We didn’t need no Internet to be assholes back then. But I digress.) Anyway, first I roll for my BMI, which turns out to be 21. The I multiply this by my height in inches, so, 1491. Then I scold my cat for pawing all my dice off my desk and sticking his orange butt in front of my screen. He’s actually scooping dice out of the plastic container so he can roll them onto the floor, where I can step on them and do the Dance Of The Spastic Cat Owner. I love my children. I divide 1491 by 703.. no that, can’t be right. Oh, I multiply BMI by height squared. Stop it, Rocket. Daddy can’t see the screen when you do that. OK, there we go. I weigh 150 lbs.

Handedness: I assume two, but who knows? Yeah, that was pushing it. Right handed. Oddly, half-orcs have an 80 percent chance to be left handed, perhaps because they’re sinister.

Birth: I have a 1-in-10 chance of being illegitimate. I’m not. Both my parents are still alive. My father was indifferent to me (-2 BP) but my mother loved and nurtured me (+2 BP).

Siblings: I have 6 siblings, 4 sisters and 2 brothers, but three of them are dead. So, two surviving sisters and 1 surviving brother. None of them are twins of me. Of the four of us, I’m third-born. I’m also the second-born son, so, not an heir. I have, thus, an older sister and brother, and a younger sister. I now roll 2d12 (Why? Why not?) and add the Morale modifier (+1) from my Charisma, to see how much they like/dislike me.

  • Older Sister: Argumentative, can’t get along.
  • Older Brother: Very close.
  • Younger Sister: Ditto.

 I Can Spendz Bild Pointz Naow?

Yes! Can spendz!

Sorry. I was just reading the Fark Caturday thread. Now, where was I? Ah, yes. Build pointz… er.. points. As I recall, I had 59 BP left. I now go to Chapter 8, Quirks And Flaws, or “How To Be An Annoying Prat At The Game Table And Then Justify It With ‘But I’m Just Playing My Character!'”.

Quirks are mental/personality issues, while Flaws are physical detriments. That’s a nice distinction, and more flavorful than “Mental Disads” and “Physical Disads”, for example.

If I cherry-pick what’s wrong with me, I earn fewer BPs, but I have a lot more control over my character. Screw that. I’m going whoring for BPs. I can spend a BP to re-roll, as often as I like, until I run out. With 59 BPs to blow through, I shouldn’t be saddled with anything so crippling my character is unplayable as a mage.

Random rolls on the chart are D1000. Yes, 1000. Hey, this allows a really high level of granularity, which I love. It means there are, in theory, quirks/flaws that will be in less than 1% of the player base (unless the chart has no ranges less than 10, of course). I need to write down which die is read as what… OK, the dark brown one is the “ones”, the light ten one is the “tens”, and the speckled one is the “hundreds”.

You get full BPs for the first quirk/flaw rolled, then -5 for each additional one, cumulative. This means that you could theoretically end up losing BPs while still being saddled with the drawbacks. Greed is punished in Hackmaster.

A roll of 156 gives me “Clean Freak”. Basically, I am the Felix Unger, or perhaps Adrian Monk, of mages. I go into panic attacks if I am forced to enter sewers. While this is a little problematic for an adventurer, it sounds like it would be a lot of fun to play. Also, the “metagaming” section notes I must begin each game session with a pristine character sheet. Heh.

So, do I want to go again, at a -5 penalty to the BPs? Sure, why not?

582 gives me Spendthrift. I spend my money as soon as I get it. This nets me 20 BP, -5 for the second quirk, so, 15. I think I’ll stop there. That’s an additional 23 BPs, on top of my 59, for 82, total.

Now, I purchase Skills, Talents, and Proficiencies, or STPs, not to be confused with STDs. I hope.

Weapon Proficiencies

As a mage, I can purchase any weapon proficiency, but at double cost, except for staff and dagger. While it might make sense to invest in melee for emergencies, each point in this area is a point I’m not spending on things that could help me avoid melee in the first place, so I will go for a minimal proficiency in dagger, which costs me 2 BP. 80 left. I will also pick up crossbow, at double cost, for 4 BP, so, 76 left.


As a mage, I get the Magical Transcription proficiency for free. And… huh. You know, this character doesn’t have a name, yet. He needs a name. Coracinus Nelumbo, I think, or “Corac” for short. There we go. He also gets a free purchase of Arcane Lore and two purchases of literacy in my native language.

Maintenance/Upkeep, for 5 BP. As a neat freak constantly polishing my staff (heh heh), this makes sense. 71 left.

Style Sense (home region): 2 BP. I know how what’s in this year, and what’s not. I look classy. 69 left.

Combat Casting: This allows me full defense when casting in melee, something that’s quite vital. It’s 30 BP, but that’s part of why I’ve hoarded them. 39 left.

Diminish Spell Fatigue, which lets me recover from casting more quickly, also looks good, but it’s another 20 BP. Let’s see what skills cost, first, then get back here.

Appraisal (Books, Maps, Scrolls): 2 BP gets me my Intelligence score (15)+my mastery die roll (d12p, for 7, +2 for my intelligence), or 23. I’ll spend another 2BP for another roll of the mastery die, a 3, +2 again, so, 28.4 BP spent, down to 35 BP.

Arcane Lore: I get the first purchase for free, and my mastery die roll is an 8, +2 for Intelligence, so, 25. A second purchase would be 10 more BP. Let’s get back to this, too.

Let’s see…

  • Astrology (2 BP) (Score ends up being 23)
  • Escape Artist (4 BP) (Score 21)
  • Hiding (6 BP) (Score 26)
  • Literacy (2 levels free, plus a third for 4 BP) (Score 47 — I rolled a 12 on the mastery die, which got me another roll.)
  • Monster Lore (5 BP) (Score 27)
  • Riddling (4 BP) (Score 23)

That leaves me with 10 BP left. I can save it, or get that other rank in Arcane Lore. Let’s go for it. Mastery die is 6, +2 for my high Intelligence, so 8, added to my existing score of 25, gives me 33.

That’s it for STPs.

Hit Points

Hit points are based on my Constitution (8), my size bonus (10), and my class Hit Die roll (D4 roll, I roll a 1. Yeah, that seems familiar.), for a total of 19 HP.

Other Numbers

My Base Attack is based on my Intelligence and Dexterity, which gives me a +4 (Go back to the first part of this article to see why!). My Base Initiative is +2, which is bad (the higher the number, the slower you act), and my Base Defense is also +2, which is better than nothing (high numbers are good for defense).

I have 45 sp to spend on stuff.

And So…

We’re done!

With 19 hp to my name, I can take a small amount of damage — a goblin with a crossbow does 2d6p, for example.

While I’ve got some mildly useful spells, the only one with even a marginal combat application is Phantom Irritation, which is a “debuff” — it gives the target a -2 to his Attack rolls. Not useless, but hardly a Nuclear Winter Fireball.

It should be noted that the combat rules, which are straightforward but not simplistic or abstract, are demonstrated through a comic-strip sequence featuring the Knight Of The Dinner Table stupidly goading BA into unleashing more monsters on them. It’s probably one of the best examples of combat I’ve seen, because it goes through every step, roll, and calculation in action, and does so in a way that’s fun and amusing to read. If I’m not mistaken, it actually continues the story from Hackmaster Basic, which used the same method.

As I said in the first part, this Hackmaster, while not as over-the-top gonzo as the prior edition, still retains a lot of humor. It’s just less in-your-face. You have to read the spell text, quirk and flaw descriptions, and so on, to find all the jokes and asides. (You can also tell, by reading some of the full text, what kinds of lame-ass exploits players attempted to get away with, and how they were smacked down by their GM.)

In conclusion? Unlike a lot of the more dubious games I perform this process on, there’s not a lot of head scratching, “what were they thinking?” moments, at least not for this particular character. Characters begin with mediocre skills and abilities, but that’s by explicit, called-out, design. There’s no disconnect between the promised game and what the mechanics deliver, and that’s a really good thing. I do admit I miss a lot of the “gonzo” of HM 4e, even if some of it was forced in by mandate; the wider range of races available, the more outre class choices, and so on, were a lot of fun. Mechanically, there’s not much that can stop you from adding such things in. Casters, in general, are very toned down in HM 5e. You have incredibly potent spells at high level, true, but you don’t get a lot of spells to cast at any one time, and the road to high level is going to be a very long slog, indeed.

Also, there’s no Game Master’s Guide yet for Hackmaster, and given that it took several years from Hackmaster Basic for the PHB to come out, I’m not betting on the GMG being at GenCon 2013. There’s a lot of material in the PHB that refers to the GMG, too. This brings back something truly old-school — it took three years for the three core AD&D books to come out. Yes, kids, three years. We made do. We cobbled together rules from OD&D and Holmes Basic and Dragon articles and Arduin. We also walked twenty miles to the game store, barefoot, and uphill, both ways. Through blizzards in summer and winter. So get offa my lawn!

Hackmaster 5e

Hackmaster 5e

This ain’t your father’s Hackmaster.

The original Hackmaster was based on AD&D 1e and 2e, put through a psychedelic blender and cranked up to 11. The only mechanics from that version that really remain in this one were the ones they added to the older game — percentiles for all stats and a working skill system. Gone are gummy bear golems, leperchauns (note spelling), and most (though by no means all) of the other stuff mandated by contract so no one would notice that, under the jokes, was a pretty workable evolution of older D&D, one which might have easily been AD&D 3e in another universe.

This Hackmaster has core mechanics rather unlike those of any edition of D&D, save that there’s a D20 involved and you still have basically 3-18 stats. 1 second combat turns, active defense rolls, and a spell point system are clear departures from the classic game. Mechanically, there’s almost nothing old-school about it. (Unless one defines “old school” as “anything that isn’t exactly like D&D 3.5 or 4e”.) The designers of Hackmaster 5e are aware that the last 35-odd years of game design have happened.

What Hackmaster retains of Old School, gloriously and wondrously so, is the attitude. My lack of God, this book drips with attitude. It knows what Old School really means: Kicking ass and taking names, so you can go back and kick the asses of people you didn’t get a chance to before. It also recognizes the rightful and proper relationship of players and Gamesmasters: The former kneel, grovel, and crawl before the almighty and unforgiving gaze of the latter.

Page 9. Paragraph 2: “In Hackmaster, any rule ambiguity related to character creation and PC powers is construed against the player character.”


It is made clear over and over in the rules: This game isn’t about mollycoddling your PC to godhood because he’s so special and wonderful. You begin as a worthless shlump and you might survive to be someone, someday, but you probably won’t. Instead of “Everyone’s a winner!”, the attitude of Hackmaster is, as the Demotivational poster says…

For Every Winner, There Are Dozens Of Losers

For Every PC Who Lives, There Are Dozens Who Don’t.

No gamer worth his dicebag can resist a challenge like that. Hackmaster dares you to confront it.

But does it work? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out. At least, we’re here to roll up a character.

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Chi-Chian, Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Roll Up A Communist Cockroach

Or Maybe Not, I Don’t Know Yet What I’m Going To Roll. Or Even If I Roll.

I don’t want to just do older games or D&D heartbreakers; I want to do any game I own and which might catch my eye. Chi-Chian is one of the games that originally inspired me to do this, way back when, because I knew I’d never play it; it’s only fitting I get around to it eventually, and eventually is now!

The campaign setting, according to the back of the book, is a New York City inhabited by six foot cockroaches, but it’s also set in 3049, so I assume there are some fictional elements added in to the mix, as well as the aforementioned gritty realism. Yes, I’ll be returning to this particular well a lot, folks. I never go for the hard jokes if I can go for the easy ones.

The setting is based on an animated web series and some comic books, neither of which I’ve heard of, by “Voltaire”, who is a modern gothy type and not an ancient philosopher. Knowing nothing but what’s in the book, I’m a good test subject for how well it works as a game in itself.

The first page features a summary of events, which involves skyscraper jumping as a hobby, sentient BioLogic clothing, giant worms that serve as subway trains (and the worm-wranglers that debrain them), lost blind sexbots, homicidal cousins (and the tentacle robots who serve them), and brain merges…. and it still makes more sense, and is better written, and more internally consistent, than Synnibarr.

It goes on for several more pages, in white text on black/grey photographic background. Why white text on black/grey photographic background? Because fuck you, that’s why, as they say on Fark. This book is the product of an artiste, and artistes do not care for your decadent capitalistic running dog bourgeoisie concepts like “legibility”. Actually, it’s pretty much readable, more so than a lot of White Wolf stuff, but there’s a range between “looks like it was Xeroxed in 1974″ and “looks like a MySpace page”, and it’s tilting a bit towards the latter.

Anyway… lessee… monks, dragon boats, wormtrains, caterpillar heads, giant samurai, Spirit World, Material World, neuronetic bra(?), waltzing with roaches, flip, flip, more stuff, flip, flip, a bit of fiction, flip, flip… we don’t get to the game until Page 19. I have a feeling I’m going to have to go back and read through the stuff I bleeped through eventually.

Writing for games is, or should be, the antithesis of writing fiction. Tell, don’t show. “Elves get +2 to Perception” is a lot better than three pages of a story about an elf listening for something. At the most, dress it up with “Elves are known for their keen senses, as they are master hunters. (+2 Perception)”.

Now, I get that Chi-Chian is a game set in a specific world, and, as such, introducing that world’s background and history is vital because, without it, you have no guidance as to how to apply the mechanics. Doing this is a delicate dance. You need to introduce the bare minimum of context on an as-needed basis, adding more when it becomes necessary, with dribbles and drabbles of flavor text and micro-fiction, ideally no more than 2-3 paragraphs in a sidebar, to set the mood. Page after page of background, especially background presented in a story fashion, instead of an encyclopedia fashion, is a huge barrier to anyone actually getting to the “play the game” part of things.

Sensei No More

The GM is called the Sensei. Sigh. Anyway, we still have PCs and NPCs, not “Heroic Protagonistic Archetypes” and “Secondary Metafictive Instruments” or some such twaddle. What is an RPG, blah blah, OK, some meat. We have Statistics, which mean what they do in every game, and Capabilities, which seem to incorporate powers, feats, skills, and so on. This isn’t bad; one word means “Shit everyone has some score in”, and one word means “Shit only some people have a score in/can do”. I can dig it.

Oh, cool! A white box, clearly set aside, that gives the framework for making a character. Pick a concept, spend Chi (character points), pick two Tragic Flaws, fill in all the roleplaying fluff (appearance, mannerisms). Good. We have a plan.

Concept. Uhm… uh… OK, this is the time where I go back and read the fluff again, isn’t it, so I can come up with a character who fits in the world… (Why don’t you just hum the Jeopardy theme to simulate the passage of time…)

You know what to do with little “More” type things now, don’t you? Good…

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The World Of Synnibarr

The World Of Synnibarr

World Of Synnibarr

First Edition Cover, Image From http://www.legrog.org/, because I’m too lazy to scan my own copy of the cover. Hope they don’t mind.

OK, first off, let me note I have a few weird psychological issues with the World of Synnibarr, because I bought my copy (the first edition of the game, with the lion man cover) at an SF con in the early 90s where I a)had a migraine, and b)had my girlfriend of the time decide to spend all her time traipsing around with other people. Yes, I still nurture my two-decade old psychological scars. I hold on to my trivial emotional traumas the way other people hold on to their grandmother’s good china. (If your china is made in New Jersey, why isn’t it new jersey? And how can you have eyeglasses made of plastic? Shouldn’t they be eyeplastics? And that airplane food…)

So. Synnibarr. I will attempt to put my personal issues behind me, and review this San-loss inducing book fairly. No, seriously. No matter what my weird cross-associations may be with things, this game is wonked. I’ve referred many times to things that teeter on the edge of awesome and awful… this doesn’t teeter. Hell, it didn’t even fall off. It never got out of the pit of Awful to begin with.

Or…. so it appears merely from flipping through it, then trying to reconcile what I’ve read with any notion of a sane and ordered universe, or at least, a universe which was not actively malign. I haven’t tried to make a character with it, yet. Let’s see how it goes. Who knows? It might be better than it seems. Odin knows, it couldn’t be worse.

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