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Starchildren Part II

Starchildren, Part II

Sex, Drugs, And Rock & Rolling Dice

Except… I Think You Use Cards In This?

Wow, There Goes That Headline Right Down The Pipes

OK. As we saw in our previous episode, aliens who though the 1970s were actually cool came to Earth in the 2070s, only to find an oppressive police state, which they are now trying to take down via the power of rock! Having spent all of the prior article going over the background, it is now time to create a character.

Be Ye Human, Or Be Ye Bishounen Alien Rocker?

First, we must choose our species. Because the point of these articles is to explore game systems, I’m going to go with Starchild, as that will give me access to the k00l p0werz…. erm, I mean, let me experiment with the full mechanics. Yeah.

As a Starchild, I get three “Backgrounds” (Humans get four.) There’s no specific rule limiting backgrounds by race, but “Businessman” and “Cop”, for example, don’t seem very appropriate to an alien with two years experience on Earth.

In many similar systems, “Performer” would be a catch-all for any kind of creative type, but, fitting the genre, Starchildren gives us Drummer, Bassist, Keyboardist, and Frontman backgrounds, among others. I like “Drummer”, as they’re described as being surly and belligerent (no stereotyping here, no sir!). The Drummer’s skills include “Percussion”, “Bludgeon”, and “Intimidate”.

Q: What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians?
A: A Drummer

Fitting with that default personality, I pick “Badass” for my second background. It is recommended that Badasses also take “Scrapper” to provide the combat skills needed to back up the bluster, so I’ll go for that.

Each background has 5 skills, which are ranked with on at 9, two at 7, and two at 5. The mechanics that give meaning to these ranks are not yet specified. If you don’t want to take all five skills, you can trade them for “Edges”.


Badass: Endure, Guts, Impress, Intimidate, Negotiate
Drummer: Bludgeon, Endurance, Intimidate, Percussion, Repair (Instrument)
Scrapper: Bludgeon, Brawl, Dodge, Slash, Throw

“Endure” is evidently a synonym for “Endurance”, probably a holdover from an earlier rules edit.

You can burn off one of your skill picks to raise the rank of another skill. This can be done when there are duplicate skills, (Such as Bludgeon, for me), or if you just don’t particularly want a skill or your character concept requires a higher starting rank.

I am strongly tempted to leave “Percussion” as my lowest-ranked skill, as it creates a kind of interesting concept… the drummer who is, in fact, not really good at drumming, but who is kept around by the band because he is really good at hitting people… which, in the grim future of the 21st century, is pretty useful.

So let’s see…

Presenting Thrash Beatnik

I’ll start with Bludgeon from Drummer at 9, then drop Endurance 9 from Badass to raise it to 10 and then use the Bludgeon I get from Scrapper to raise it to 11, losing my 9 from there, as well. That’s the highest a starting skill can get. I’m going to track which skills come from which background. Hopefully, I get it all correct.

Bludgeon: Jack (11) (Scrapper 9, Drummer 9, Endurance (Badass) 9)
Intimidate: 7 (Badass)
Brawl: 7 (Scrapper)
Endurance: 7 (Drummer)
Guts: 7 (Badass)
Dodge: 7 (Scrapper)
Percussion: 7 (Drummer) (I ended up not being able to drop it to 5, but now I can’t remember why. But here it is.)
Slash: 5 (Scrapper)
Throw: 5 (Scrapper)
Impress: 5 (Badass)
Repair (Instrument): 5 (Drummer)

Intimidate 5 (Drummer)
Negotiate 5 (Badass)

I didn’t spend one of my possible “Intimidate” skills in the hope of getting an Edge. Likewise, I dropped off Negotiate. I figure my character… who I am starting to think of as “Thrash Beatnik”… uses “Intimidate” as “Negotiate”. This gives me two unspent ranks for “Edges”.

Q. What does a drummer use for birth control?
A: His personality

Attributes, or, I Got Jack

There are eight attributes, four mental and four physical. Each pair is keyed a suit from a set of playing cards.

  • Diamonds: Presence and Appearance
  • Hearts: Wit and Speed
  • Spades: Perception and Agility
  • Clubs: Will and Body

I can assign ranks from a pool of Jack, 10, 8, 7,7,7,6,5. These are ordered highest to lowest, so, in Starchildren, “I got Jack” is actually a good thing. Starchildren are +2 ranks to Presence and Appearance, but -2 to Body and Will. This runs contrary to my concept of Thrash as a brawler, but, everything is relative, I guess. For a starchild, he’s a fighter.

So, Body gets Jack (as it were), which is downgraded to 9.
I’ll put 10 in Agility.
8 goes to Presence, +2 for 10.
7 into Will, -2 for 5.
Another 7 into Speed.
My last 7 into Perception.
6 for Wit
5 for Appearance, +2 =7.

So I end up like:
Presence: 10
Wit: 6
Perception: 7
Will: 5
Appearance: 7
Speed: 7
Agility: 10
Body: 9

Secondary Attributes, Or, There’s No Kill Like Overkill!

Now, secondary attributes:
My Speed is 7, so, I have 3 Action Cards, and my Movement is 4 walking/8 running.
My Body is 9, so my Trauma Threshold is 15, my Injury Threshold is 19, my Blackout Threshold is 39, and my Overkill Threshold 53.

Any game which includes an “Overkill Threshold” gets bonus points from me.

Q. What’s the difference between a government bond and a drummer?
A. Government bonds eventually mature and earn money.

Edges: I simply skipped two skill to get Edges. I dropped 2 5-rank skills.

I can get Feared, which gives me 1 Advantage Card for tests of a skill selected from a short, logical list. I pick “Intimidate”. For my other 5-rank, I select “Street Contacts”.

I also pick the Disadvantage “Usual Suspects” for 7. I can put this 7 into a skill or buy an edge with it. I will use it to buy “Flex”, which is a “Mojo”, or alien talent. Flex governs abilities related to altering ones own body, which seems like a good thing for someone like Thrash to have, even if most Starchildren just use it to give themselves magenta hair and rainbow spiral eyes like they were Pottersues.

Rocking Out

That’s basically it for character generation. It is worth at least mentioning the mechanics, though. As noted, they rely on playing cards. Except that the Ace is the low card, and Kings and Queens are reversed. Jokers are the wild card, and get +2 to kill Batman.

Everyone starts with a Hand of 5 cards, except The Man, who gets 7.

And here’s where it kind of gets tricky. Skill and Attributes each have suits. So, let’s go back to Thrash. Thrash has Jack in Brawl (yeah, I’m never going to get tired of that joke). The character sheet shows that Brawl is a “Clubs” skill, but it’s governed by Agility, which is a “Spades” skill.

If the card played matches the Trump suit for an attribute or skill, the value is equal to the rank of that attribute or skill. If it doesn’t match, it’s a “null” suit, so the value is your rank -3.

Then, The Man draws a number of cards equal to the difficulty of the test. The Man decides how difficult the test is, running from 1-5. Hopefully, examples are given. The Man then plays one of the cards they drew against you. If your score beats the card they played, you succeed. The rules note that The Man is not obliged to play the highest card they drew; they might give you a break. This provides an element of “sanctioned” GM fudging into the game; how much this appeals to you depends on how you feel about the Player/GM relationship in general. (It occurs to me that the harder the test, the more leeway The Man has to cheat… for an easy test, they draw only one card and so must play it, good or bad.) Nonetheless, the default assumption underlying the mechanics is that most of the time, the dice… erm… cards will fall where they may.

There’s also special rules for “really easy” tests, where The Man draws only one card, and the value on that card is reduced.

The Man and the player reveal their cards concurrently. If the player fails their test, they can “burn” a card, which gives them the value of that card on its face, regardless of the suit.

I don’t know how well this works in actual play, but it sounds like a decent enough system.

Opposed tests require that The Man play a card from his hand, and in this case, the suit matters. The Man is basically playing a hand for an NPC… sorry, an MC. The Man can also burn a card, just as a PC can.

Then, there’s “Boosts” and “Crashes”, or what more mundane, less rockin’, systems might call “critical successes and failures”, based on the degree of difference between the player’s card and The Man’s.

And there’s Advantage Cards. Thrash’s “Feared” Edge gives him one Advantage card when Intimidating something. This is essentially an extra card drawn when using that particular skill. Likewise, “Difficulty” cards are Advantage Cards granted to an opponent, either The Man or a fellow PC.

Finally, there’s “The Twist”. Twists are a form of metagame mechanics, akin to “bennies”, “hero points”, “action dice”, etc., allowing the player to gain bonuses, draw a new card, and so on.

Glam-Rock Alien Elvis Has Left The Building

And, that’s it for chargen and something of the mechanics. While it’s definitely odd, it’s not bad… there are no blatantly broken mechanics[1], pages of grammar/spelling/punctuation errors, or eye-bleedingly self-indulgent page layouts, despite this being a setting that could justify them. Other than the initial three chapter slog through setting material, it doesn’t hit too many of my eye-roll triggers. The art is a bit crude, hearkening back to some of the classic work from This Guy I Know (I miss his stuff in modern games), but it’s an effort from a tiny independent company which was trying to put out a hardcover book about alien rock stars at the peak of the D20 boom. No budget for art is forgivable.

If I ever see this being run at GenCon, I’ll sign up for it.

[1]Caveat: I haven’t actually played the game, and the interactions of the various systems outline above do not lend themselves to intuitive analysis of the actual odds of success or failure in casual play.


Starchildren : Velvet Generation

In The Grim Darkness Of The Third Millennium There Is Only Rock!

And/Or Roll!

And Judging From A Random Illustration, Jobs At McDonalds. Grim, Tyrannical, Oppressive, McDonalds.

So, Nothing New, Then?
I Dunno. Maybe The Burgers Are Made From Orphans, Or Something.


We’re (that’s me and my helper cats, who, at the moment, are actually helping by virtue of not being here) taking a break from RPGs produced in the 1970s to look at a game produced in the early 2000s that uses the cultural tropes of the 1970s for a game set in the 2070s. Got it? Good. Now, does the chalice from the palace have the pellet with the poison? No, that’s the flagon with the dragon.

The commentary in the Acknowledgments page informs us that although the game contains references to sex, drugs, and rock&roll, “XIG Games does not officially endorse any such activities except under guidance of a competent professional”. Oh, and the game contains a subliminal message when played backwards. So you start with characters getting wiped in a TPK and end by rolling them up?

I’m going to take the tongue-in-cheekness of the Acknowledgments into account when reading.

It Was Thirty Years Ago Today About 70 Years From When This Was Published

The introduction informs us that the world was changed when the first Starchildren came to Earth in 2071, and that we will join the action in 2073. Not bad — there’s enough time for the setting to establish itself, but not a huge amount of history to learn or hard-coded backstory for the part of the timeline the PCs are a part of. The Ministry of Music has begun “a terrifying crackdown on illegal and subversive rock music”. Damn, Voldemort must be back in charge. We are also introduced to the “Blue Army”, a violent splinter faction of Starchildren, and “the Osterberg Institute”, the “paranoid and xenophobic” scientists whose paranoia and xenophobia is based on nothing more than the fact aliens have landed, disguised themselves as humans, and started a mass movement to undermine the government. What a flimsy pretext! What are you gonna do? Haters gonna’ hate.

Working For The Man

Actually, The Man does all the work. That’s this game’s version of the GM. By the 2000s, the 90s trend of coming up with funky names for common parts of RPGs was dying like disco (see, this is a game about music, so, I made a music reference), but, much like the old man in Monty Python And The Holy Grail, it wasn’t dead yet. NPCs are “The Man’s character”, or “MC”. At least PCs are still PCs.

And I Want To Be A Paperback Writer…

“Chapters Two through Four of this book help bring the setting to life, and are written from the points of view of people who lived through it.”

In other words, I’ve got to slog through three chapters of fiction before I get to start creating a character. #FML.

Do you people appreciate what I do for you? The sacrifices I make? I could be losing another game of Civ VI, but noooooo, I’m reading this. Feh.

Part I

Our game published in real 2003 about a fictional 2073  that is inspired by the culture of real 2073 begins with excerpts from a book written in fictional 2091 about fictional 2073. There will be a quiz later. I’m going to try to summarize so we can get to the core of creating a character while still having some context as to what I’m creating.

In the 2040s, psychologists and sociologists decided that rock & roll was dangerous and subversive. I guess Tipper Gore won in the long run. The 2040s were an era of depression following a long war, class conflict, and economic despair, where the masses were desperate for simple solutions and the promise of a coming utopia following the removal of negative influences and dangerous ideas. Hm. Sounds familiar.

In 2047, violence erupted at a Times Square protest, and music was blamed. Within two years, music became a “controlled substance” in most of the world. The motto of the time was “Don’t insulate, isolate!”, meaning, instead of just tuning out or walking away if you heard something you didn’t like, all “negative influence” needed to be purged. Hmm. So, Tipper Gore and today’s campus activists won. Damn. This is one hell of a dystopia, I tell you what.

Various international bodies eventually merged into the global International Culture Correction and Control, or ICCC. The Ministry of Music (MoM) became known to the rebels as “Mad Mother”.  All unapproved items (i.e., anything anyone would want) became illegal contraband. If Grampa didn’t remember to toss out his old Justin Bieber CDs, it was curtains for him.

The music industry was reduced to peddling “New music”: Muzak on steroids, or maybe on sleeping pills — utterly bland, featureless, drivel. Radio was even worse… aw… that’s cute. In 2003, people believe radio would still exist in 2073. Thus, an era began of bootleg music, exploiting the vast demand for which there was no longer any legal supply. Capitalism, people. Ka-ching!

(Oh, the most popular legal entertainment is pinball… without any of the fancier modern features. Also, badminton and bowling. Kill me now.)

The “Rock Resistance” began in 2070 in New York City, at first a disorganized rabble that was regularly beaten up by the cops. They inspired copycats, and the movement started to spread. “Luckily, the Rock Resistance soon became Velvet, thanks to the dazzling inspiration and leadership of the Starchildren.”

Part II

The next chapter is in the form of a recording made by an undercover member of the ministry of music, with only the target’s side of the conversation recorded. This creates the illusion they are describing the world’s setting to you, the reader. Again, I’m mostly going to try to summarize enough to put what follows in context.

A reminder: I write these things linearly and extemporaneously, page by page. So when I finally get to chargen, I may end up backtracking.

A sidebar notes that in 2073, using a BBS(!) or the “increasingly risky internet” is a bad way to share music. Tangible media includes a 2″ disk which can store several days worth of high quality data, a data chip “about the size of a quarter”, or good ol’ vinyl. The term “tape” is used to refer to any musical media whatsoever, although no one uses actual tape.

“Dives” are where illegal musicians perform; “Record managers” are basically pimps (so, nothing’s changed), bribing cops and arranging gigs. Many have other illegal interests on the side.

Lots of various drugs, color coded for your convenience: Whitepills, Graypills, Blackpills, Redpills, etc.

We then get about two pages of details about how Velvet is organized and maintained, using a kind of ad-hoc networks assembled via portable servers and routers, along with a lot of what old folks like me call “sneakernet”.

We are also introduced to the concept of “Blackholes”: Starchildren, or something like them, working for the Ministry. And, as noted earlier, the Blue Army, the violent splinter faction of Velvet.

Part III

In which we finally get some background on the Starchildren. Yay. This takes the form of an interview with “Stainless Pakistan”, set in 2078. Trying to distill out the key points.

  • They (Starchildren) don’t “really distinguish between the sexes”.
  • Sex and food, as humans understand them, are “really alien”. Good lord, don’t get them mixed up.
  • Sex is for fun, but not how they reproduce.
  • They can’t get humans pregnant, they use clouds of spores that look like floating glitter.
  • They learned about Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc., on their way to Earth.
  • They’d get away with their alien appearance by saying they were from France… I mean, “from somewhere else”.
  • They know little about their own homeworld; they were coming to Earth because it would be a better place.
  • They were really pissed when they arrived expecting the free-love 1970s and got the totalitarian 2070s. Like most immigrants, the reality of the promised land turned out to be far worse than the fantasy, but it was too late to pack up and go home.
  • No word on if the government of the time planned to build a wall and make the Starchildren pay for it.
  • They only live to about 40, and are impressed by humans’ long lifespans of 70+. This is a nice twist from the immortal aliens lamenting that humans come and go so quickly you can’t get to know them. It also reinforces the youth/rebellion nature of the setting.
  • Their “landing pods” decayed very rapidly in Earth’s atmosphere, rusting to junk in a few weeks.
  • Also, humans are physically stronger and have higher endurance. Again, a welcome change from the “better than you at everything” aliens that dominate the genre, and it’s good to see mechanics and backstory that reinforce the bishounen archetype that defines the particular musical genre that inspired the game. (Well, I’m assuming there will be mechanics. I will be… irked… if the rules do not match the setting. “Does what it says on the tin” is one of my cardinal rules of game design. If X is supposed to be good at Y, the game mechanics better make that happen.
  • There have been several references to “The Humanity Campaign”, which seems to be some sort of xenophobic genocide, but I haven’t seen it well defined yet… or I missed it on my first read. I’ll check back later.
  • The “Blackholes” were a clique aboard the ship; their parents had some disagreement with the parents of the Starchildren before Stainless Pakistan was born.

OK, the text gets more text-y at this point, and so will I.It all started in 1972, when radio and TV signals from Earth reached a world “billions of light years away” — they acknowledge the impossibility of this, but there’s no in-world explanation for the phenomenon. The transmissions lasted only five years… again, no explanation why… but transformed the alien world.

Enraptured by Earth music, they built a generation ship and set out for a fifty year journey. Those born on the ship would become the Starchildren, naturally.

They originally planned to arrive in a public display, but after seeing what Earth had become, made multiple clandestine landings in various wildnerness areas, then set out to the big cities, instruments in tow.

Their bodies are mostly human-seeming, but these are not their native species’ form… that is unknown, even to them. They have an unearthly mien to them, being pale, slightly blue, and unusually thin. They can also perform minor alterations to their form, to look more human, or to create cosmetic changes to skin tone, hair length and color, or fingernails. The very skilled can use this ability to heal wounds.There are no Starchild country musicians.

And so we get to Chapter 5… page 37 out of 124… before the chargen starts. I think we’ll do that in Part II.

All The World’s Monsters, Volume 1 Part 3

All The World’s Monsters, Volume I

Part III

In 3-D!

Note: Not Actually In 3-D

Here we are again, continuing our expedition through the marvels, mysteries, and mayonnaise [[Note:Come up with something else that begins with ‘m’ before this is posted]] of “All The World’s Monsters”. Parts I and II can be found here and here. Part IV can be found here.

Hairy Howler: Not “Howler, Hairy”? Yeah, yeah, we beat that joke to death already. But that which is dead can never die! Anyway, as stated last week, this is a nine foot tall man-baboon hybrid… a maboon?… inspired by Hiero’s Journey by Sterling Lanier, which you should have read if you ever played Gamma World. It sometimes uses a meat cleaver as a weapon, with a +4 to hit and +5 to damage. Whoa.

Heffalump: An elephant-sized centipede “immune to lightning, fire, and spoken spells”. Known to prey on bears and young pigs. Sometimes accompanied by woozles. (Are there woozles in this book? (flip flip flip) No. No, there are not. For shame.)

The above video is clearly an inaccurate presentation.

Horned Bellower: A man sized, one horned, flying purple people… no, I mean, triceratops. Well, if it has one horn, it’s a monoceratops, isn’t it? Oh, it regenerates like a troll. And the horn is vorpal. And it detects treasure. With the horn. I’d say “You can’t make this shit up”, but, there’s the proof, in black and white. Someone surely did make it up.

Hound (Death, Hades, Night, Phase, Rock): I’ve discussed the tendency to create dragons, golems, and giants of every possible adjective… but hounds are kind of new. There’s generally only one or two new variants on “puppy” in most monster books, and they usually have some kind of sonic attack, because dog. Wolf. Howl. Trust me on this. When you’re charged with making up 12-14 monsters a day to meet a deadline, you’re not going to dig too deep in the idea mine. As soon as you get a concept you can hang a bunch of hit points and attack bonuses on, you run with it. But in this case… erm… these cases… the sonic stuff is skipped. The Hades Hound is a three-headed hell hound that breathes acid and chlorine in addition to flame. The Phase Hound is what happens when a hell hound and a phase spider love each other very much.

Icegrunt: A furry white boulder that breathes cold. Yeah. That’s what I said.

Jubal Cain:

A Flying Tablecloth With A 60 Inch Tongue. This Is The Next Big Internet Meme.

A Flying Tablecloth With A 60 Inch Tongue. This Is The Next Big Internet Meme.

Not Sure I Like The Dark Knight's New Costume

Not Sure I Like The Dark Knight’s New Costume

Killwing: It uses “microwave sound” to attack. What’s that? A really annoying “ding” that goes off every ten seconds no matter how much you scream from across the room “Shut up, you damn machine, I know the food is cooked!”?

Kobold: What’s this, you ask? Kobolds? No adjectives? Why are they even in a book of weird and wonderful creatures? They’re just core monsters!

Ah, but this is the edited Gilespie-Blacow-Slimax kobold.

The what?

Yeah. It sounds like something from the edges of physics, doesn’t it? “Well, you see, if you imagine the universe as a twelve-dimensional matrix of Gilespie-Blacow-Slimax conjugations, you can see that…”

But here it is. You make sense of it.

I Believe There's Three Of Them Guarding An Einstein Rosen Bridge Across The Uncanny Valley

I Believe There’s Three Of Them Guarding An Einstein-Rosen Bridge Across The Uncanny Valley

Lemming, Giant: If it bites you, you are infected with a “Death Wish” poison that will make you hunt down and kill those punks that tortured, raped, and killed your wife and daughter.

Libear: A “lion-bear-centaur”. It has the same chance of hugging as a werebear; nothing specifies the chances of kissing, fondling, or oral sex.

Longlicker: Giggity. Well, maybe not. It’s a giant sized anteater with a thirty foot tongue that “can impale its victims”, doing double damage. Naturally, no mechanic or percentage chance is provided for this. I am curious as to how this might play out in the afterlife.

“Oh, I died fighting Orcus to save the soul of the One True King of the Dwarves.”
“I perished holding a bridge against an army of trolls, allowing the villagers to flee to safety.”
“I was impaled on a thirty foot tongue.”
“Dude! Isn’t that how we’d all like to go? High-five!”

Minogon: A gorgon/minotaur crossbreed. Wasn’t this in one of the Arduin books? That wouldn’t be odd, per se, there’s a lot of crossover of contributors and no one claimed exclusivity to the critters in ATWM — nor could they, given how many are “based on” copyrighted works.  Well, if it was, I didn’t comment on it, having just wasted 10 minutes googling my own site for “medusa” and “gorgon”.

Morse: A mutated cross between a moose and a horse, with low-level telepathy which it can use to communicate simple messages using dots and dashes. (OK, that part’s not true. But the telepathy is.) Once more, Hiero’s Journey. Trust me, you’ll want a telepathic moose for your PC after you read it.

Nerve Flayer: It is “totally indescribable” but gorilla-sized. Anyone meeting its gaze will lose 1-3 life levels (and back then, level loss was nasty). Its claws also do lightning damage if both hit. If it kills someone with the lightning, it will dimension door back home and eat the corpse.

Nightstalker: An intrepid reporter who hunted down supernatural entities about 20 years before public tastes changed enough to make this sort of thing popular. Also, a “black velvet baboon” that will follow the party and attack at an opportune moment, e.g., just after combat.

Orgoyle: A creature whose diamond-patterned fur is greatly sought after by tailors and weavers, it has been hunted nearly to extinction and… no, wait. That’s the argyle. The orgoyle is an ogre/gargoyle crossbreed. That’s kind of cool, actually. Not necessarily as a full species, but as a unique individual in tribe of ogres or the result of yet another mad wizard’s experiment. Or, possibly, the nurtured, cared-for, and emotionally happy result of a love that was forbidden but could not be contained!

Panther: The hereditary enemy of dragons, it possesses a breath weapon which… dragons are immune to. Charles Darwin weeps. That’s kind of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer gaining superhuman speed, agility, and endurance, except when she’s fighting vampires. Please note this isn’t the “Panther, Anti-Draconic” or “Panther, Drakebane”, or anything… it’s just a panther. With a breath weapon. Here, read it:

Like Dragons, Panthers Are Color-Coded For Your Convenience

Like Dragons, Panthers Are Color-Coded For Your Convenience

Pegasone: Sorry for two scans in a row, but this is easier read than described.

Phase Wing: A killwing (see above) with phase spider powers. Because, why not? Why not a phase spider with three heads, and each head has a different breath weapon, and it’s got ten legs instead of eight, and when it bites you, you turn to stone? Hey, that’s kind of cool. Going to write that up.

Plink Plant: “Like many other plants, it detects body warmth within 60 feet.” Man, my science class’ section on botany left out all the cool stuff!

Quelt: What do you get when cross a crab with a World War I helmet? I dunno, but it’s killing me!

This May Be More Embarrassing Than Getting Killed By A Longlicker

This May Be More Embarrassing Than Getting Killed By A Longlicker

And that seems like a good place to stop for today. At this rate, the next part should be the last of Volume I. Please be sure to spread links to here around, like a virulent plague infesting the Internet.


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.

The Runes Of Doom, Part IV

The Runes Of Doom, Part IV

Deodanths, Saurigs, and Phraints


(You See What I Did There…)

Last week, I noted that much of the material was a rehash of existing classes for “most other roleplaying games”, part of Dave Hargrave’s gradual evolution of Arduin from a supplement to a stand-alone system, a migration not to be completed for a long, long, time. (And by the time it was done, it had mutated far beyond its roots). This week, we look at a few things very much not found in the default assumptions of the setting zeitgeist of the era.

Undead Hybrid Elves… From The Future!

Loosely based (sort of like the relationship of “Total Recall” to “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”) on Jack Vance’s deodands, the deodanths of Arduin are “an evolutionary hybrid of ‘undead’ Elven kind and some ‘other’ dark and unknown ‘thing'”. Legend claims they are “lost time travellers from eons in the future”, where “the suns are dieing”. (Spellcheck suggests “dieting”.)

They have a “vampire-like” ability to charm/hypnotize opponents, which “requires concentration, seldom found in combat”. That’s cool. Let’s see, this ability has a range of… uhm… and the actual effects are… hmm… and the degree of concentration needed is… erm… and it can be used as frequently as.. well. Basically, it’s tossed out there with no mechanics at all, which might be acceptable (given the tenor of the age, also the soprano) for monsters, but this is in the section entitled “Deodanths As Player Characters”, which means abilities do need a little definition. I went back to the Arduin Grimoire, where they have a monster listing. Nothing there about mind control powers, but it does say they’re 50% magic resistant. Perhaps “vampire-like” means “use whatever rules you use for vampires, don’t worry if they don’t make sense for a first level fighter”? That’s my guess.

Doesn’t matter. They’re awesome even if you can’t use them to mind-control the entire dungeon at once. They are brilliant tacticians either as “sole(sic) warriors in sword to sword melee’s(sic)” or as “Star Corsairs par excellance in spaceship to spaceship battles”. Because those happen a lot in high fantasy — why else would you have a spell to summon spaceships? Duh! (And if you think I’m against mixing Swords & Starships… and wouldn’t that be a great name for a retro-RPG? Hmmm… it’s not like I don’t have enough ongoing, incomplete, projects currently1… you haven’t read most of my stuff. Genre purists can bite me. Or, perhaps, I am a genre purist, and recognize that D&D is not a rules system, it is a genre, and that genre is “Fahfrd, Merlin, John Carter, Batman, and Elric team up to fight Dracula, Sauron, and Darth Vader (and their zombie ninja minions) in the Hollow Earth. While riding dragons. Cyborg dragons. Cyborg dragon wizards!” (/me begins singing “Ultimate Showdown“)

They generally eat their prisoners, being “omniverous”(sic), but those they don’t eat, they torture, sometimes for up to a decade. So, probably not suited for Paladins, is that the message I’m getting here?

In addition to being undead elf hybrid vampires from the future, they can jump in time! They can time-skip 1-3 melee rounds forward, 1/day per level, at a cost of one point of Con, Agi, Str, and Dexterity each time, each of which takes five hours (not contiguous!) to restore.

They also jump in space —  20-30 feet horizontally, 15 feet vertically, and hate elves for “historical reasons”. (See the Skull Tower walkthrough for more on that!)

I got your Fantasy Fucking Vietnam right here, pal. Along with your “waaaah! Modern games are like video games!” cliche. Back in the real old school, we had, as player character options, time-skipping high-jumping undead hybrid elf vampires from the future! But, yeah, you go ahead and play your dwarf fighter whose highest stat is a 12, because that’s “roleplaying, not rollplaying”. Go on. Have fun with that, Groin, son of Loin, or whatever your name is. I’ve got to go kill a star spyder(sic) with my deodanth. (We’ll get to star spyders, and much, much, more, when we do monsters… but that’s a ways in the future, I’m afraid.)

We also had…

Vulcan Mantis-Men From Outer Space!

No secret, here: Phraints are one of my favorite races. They’re visually distinctive, they have a cool backstory, and they actually fit in pretty well in a sword-and-sorcery world.

My Money's On The Phraint

My Money’s On The Phraint

Phraints are born into a caste system, as follows:

Phraint Gandhi Tried To Ban The Caste System, But It Pesisted

Phraint Gandhi Tried To Ban The Caste System, But It Persisted

There are also Black Phraints, who, with very minor technological aid, can survive in hard vacuum, and who shoot off monomolecular edged shuriken. Imagine a boarding party of them landing on the hull of your spaceship! Pack extra underwear! But on Arduin, they’re extinct, as the supporting technology to create them no longer exists.

Phraints are perfectly logical and unemotional, which is why they try to conquer the universe. It’s obvious they’re superior and should rule, so the illogical lesser races ought to just accept it. They don’t, which proves they’re illogical and inferior. “Tautology” is a class skill for Phraints.

They can stand motionless, waiting in ambush, for up to three days, drink pureed horse meat for fun, and get totally plastered off the juice of the Red Lotus. They also leap as well as deodanths, leading to spectacular battles between the two races, which make the most extreme wire-fu fight scenes look like a sedate chess match.

Sheldon Cooper Plays Nothing Else

Sheldon Cooper Plays Nothing Else

Yeah, it’s a real roleplaying stretch for someone like me to play a character with no understanding of emotion or normal human interaction. Really exercises the old acting chops, y’know, getting into a mindset completely alien to my own and viewing the world through a lens utterly antithetical to my normal perceptions.

Savage Lizard-Men From The Forgotten Past!

OK, compared to undead elf vampire time-hoppers from the future and insect men from outer space, lizard men, even when called “saurigs”, are kind of… meh. Still, a lot more interesting than wood elf, tree elf, root elf, leaf elf, branch elf, twig elf… (though ‘root elf’ does have potential…).

Saurigs are descended from “the dread reptilian Kthoi”, who ruled the world some 600,000 years previously… and ideas such as this, of a scope and scale orders of magnitude beyond the limits of human history, found fertile ground in my adolescent mind, and let’s not juxtapose ‘fertile’ and ‘adolescent’ ever again, OK? One of the interesting aspects of this whole exercise is seeing where a lot of my personal inspiration comes from, decades after I forgot the source.

After the tactical sadism of the deodanths, and the imperialist logic of the phraints, it’s nice to know the saurigs were bred as mindless killing machines. After the fall of the Kthoi, they divided into two groups — the tailed swamp saurigs and the tailless desert saurigs. (The delicious dessert saurigs were eaten into extinction.) After untold ages, they have achieved a modicum of sophistication, existing as tribal bands, which occasionally play gigs down at the oasis.

Desert saurigs are valued as mercenaries; swamp saurigs are valued as luggage. OK, it doesn’t say that exactly, but although the swamp-dwellers are larger and stronger, they are undisciplined and savage, and are thus of little worth as soldiers. However, you can get 1d4 suitcases of medium size out of one, with enough left over for 1d6+3 belts, and OK, I’ll drop it for now.

Keeping up the trend of “everyone hates everyone”, the saurigs hate the phraints — desert saurigs because “they took er jerbs!” (i.e., they compete for mercenary contracts) and swamp saurigs because… no, I’m not going to make another luggage joke… because phraints consider saurig eggs a delicacy for baby phraints to nom on. No, that’s not a joke. That’s in there. So, you kind of have to feel a little bit for the saurigs getting slaughtered on the cover of the Arduin Grimoire. They could have been like the horta, avenging their fallen young. So it goes.

And In Conclusion…

Next week, we dive deep into assorted variant mechanics and rules, presented in the usual orderly, logical, fashion, where each idea builds on the previous in a coherent and sensible manner.

My apologies to anyone whose sarcasm detector blew out reading that.

1:Do you know there are people out there afraid someone is going to “steal their ideas”? That would be like stealing paper clips when you live in a house built out of paper clips, that you use mostly to store your supply of paper clips that constantly expands, no matter what you do.

Welcome to Skull Tower, Part XII

Welcome To Skull Tower, Part XII

Monsters From Ali-Loraii To Zoomers

Also, From Bigglies To Tarrakks

It Looks Like He Had Two Pages Of Monsters In Alphabetical Order, Then Added Another Two Pages In a Slightly Different Style

Bah! Genius Does Not Care For Mortal Conceptions Of ‘Layout’ And ‘Design’! Genius Creates Its Own Order!

Welcome back to anyone actually reading these! This week, we look at monsters… may or may not get through them all, we’ll see. (Edit: We did! It took two days of writing time, but, we did!)

As is typical for the time, these creatures have detailed backstories, complex cultures, and are carefully woven into their environment in a way that enriches immersion in what Tolkien called a “secondary world”.

Also, I’m a Nigerian Prince and I wish to smuggle 20 million dollars into your country.

The Monsters

Ali-Loraii: A cloud of golden light that sounds like wind chimes and smells “like honey and almonds”. This is important. Certainly, there are other clouds of golden light that sound like wind chimes and smell like something else.

DM: There’s a cloud of golden light approaching you. You hear the sound of wind chimes.
Foolish Player: Ali-Loraii. No problem, they’re easy to kill. We use a sonic attack.
Wise Player: Wait, you fool! What does it smell like?
DM: (Sighing, annoyed at Wise Player’s wisdom) Like cinnamon and walnuts.
Wise Player: A-ha! This is the rare and majestic pseudo Ali-Loraii. It gains hit points from sonic damage! I use a lightning bolt on it!

Yes, Ali-Loraii take damage from sonic and stoning. They also shoot laser beams (in the ethereal and astral planes, as well as in the material).

Bubble Men: These are transparent humanoid creatures fill with gas. (“You mean, like Fred when he’s been eating at Taco Bell?”) They have no attacks except a “self destruct burst”. The text describes the three types of colored gas they may be filled with (explosive, poison, or sleep) and its effects, but, I notice now, never actually says what bursts them. As a player back in the 1970s, I didn’t even think to ask. Obviously, they burst when attacked. Duh. Now, I wonder if there could be more. Does any damage, even the most minimal, burst them? They have 1+2 Hit Dice… maybe you need to do fatal damage to them? They have no other attacks, so, they just stand there until they explode? Are they an actual species, or something from some alien plane, or a kind of golem? The damage they do — 8d6 explosion, for example — makes them a mid-level threat, at least. (Now I wonder, even more… do all the other bubble men in an area take damage when one of their own explodes, setting off a cataclysmic chain reaction? Wow, that would be nasty in any kind of enclosed area where the players would all be in range… kind of like being around Fred when he’s been eating at Taco Bell.)

These are sort of one-trick ponies, if ponies were transparent and filled with explosive gas, something Ken White at Popehat might consider. Since they have no other attacks, they can be mostly ignored, leading to an arms race of DMs finding ways to make them non-ignorable and players finding ways around it.

Player: Fine, they’re blocking the door? I just shove one out of the way, doing no damage.
DM:That picture you drew of your character has him wearing spiked armor…

Black Wind: There’s a really cool picture of it in the third book, “The Runes Of Doom”. Remind me to include it when we get there. (See how I avoided another “Fred tends to be flatulent” joke? Hm. Remind me to include that when we get to Book 3, too.)

Gryflisk: There’s a really cool picture of it in the first book. Just not the first book I used as my primary source, the other first book after Erol Otus was declared to be an un-person. So, here it is. Also: Those of you who think the picture of the monster ought to be, y’know, somewhere near the rules/description of the monster… you are blind, ignorant, fools who are trapped in linear time and two dimensional thinking!

Wrong Book Or Not, This Picture Is Totally Awesome On Every Possible Level

Wrong Book Or Not, This Picture Is Totally Awesome On Every Possible Level

Oh, as if you couldn’t tell from the name, it’s a griffon/basilisk hybrid. See the dude being turned to stone while the hobbit is being turned into an appetizer?

Haggorym: A crossbreed of goblins and neanderthals. Hey, both species live in caves, there’s lots of long cold winters… no need to be judgmental. I think there’s a picture of them in Book 3, too.


Serves You Right For Being Smart!

Serves You Right For Being Smart!

“A true symbiosis born in evil and horror!” Damn, I love that line.

Is it just me, or does it sound like Dave Hargrave was inspired by those statues outside the better sort of Chinese restaurant? (A statue out front indicates a roughly 25% increase in price (and a 99% decrease in the chance of dysentery) over ‘Mr. Wong’s Eggroll Palace’. It is known.)

Pybra: A python cobra… erm, python/scorpion … so why isn’t it a pypion?… hybrid. With rubies (Real rubies. Valuable.) for eyes. That spits venom. And particularly enjoys the taste of hobbits and kobbits. (An awful lot of species have a thing for hobbits. Makes you wonder how they survived.)

Sluggoth: Not shoggoth. They’re vampire maggots except they’re not undead and… oh, here.

Note: They Do Not Smell Like Honey And Almonds

Note: They Do Not Smell Like Honey And Almonds

These things, as described, are grade-a nightmare fuel, that’s for damn sure. I love the tiny hints of backstory. The ‘lesser demon’ saving roll charts are in the Arduin Grimoire, in case you were wondering. I assume the ‘writhing mass of bloodsucking leeches’ is in addition to the insects they command.

Vampusa: These are “nothing more than vampire medusas”. You know, run of the mill stuff. They also had a picture in AG I. The laws of time and space mean nothing, do you hear? Nothing! The original was in the prior article; here’s the revised version:

Yup, That's A Vampusa, All Right

Yup, That’s A Vampusa, All Right

They are often accompanied by moondogs.

Valpyr: Silver balrogs which burn in the astral and ethereal planes, allowing them to damage creatures normally immune to fire. They are also often accompanied by moondogs. You know, I’m starting to think Dave really liked his moondogs.

Windigo: A whirling air-elemental type thing. Pun on ‘wendigo’, obviously. Hey, I came up with the hellephant and dolphiend, who am I to judge? (Those who enjoy such things are invited to look at my own Earth Delta, as the monster book is full of Thermites, the Knights Of The Jade Eye, Acid Ants, Maul Rats, and so on.)

Yaanth: It’s a cross between a bear and an otter, and it’s got three eyes, and it’s got silver fangs, and its saliva can paralyze you, and it’s as smart as a six year kid, and what the hell was Dave Hargrave smoking? Moving on…

Shock Bones:

"Ha ha, look how they run when I create a monster solely to undermine their core mechanic!"

“Ha ha, look how they run when I create a monster solely to undermine their core mechanic!”

These are pretty cool and easily adapted to modern systems. Was “Dirty Harry” a PC or an NPC? Are there any non-mad Technos? I love that there’s a little detail like “chalk covers the wire”, because you just know someone would whine that they should have noticed it!

Also note that the name is not in italics. This marks the point in the book — the last entry on a page and the first not in alphabetical order — where Dave apparently decided to just start adding more monsters in a slightly different format.

(A Page Of Monsters)

Because That’s The Header On The Next Page In The Book

Bigglies: Hippo-sized St. Bernards with silver-based blood (instead of copper based like most mammals (???)… seriously, it says that, then notes “in this universe” (presumably, the one Dave Hargrave, and less presumably, the rest of us, live(d) in) “mammals have iron based blood”. The “Arduin mammals, except for giant St. Bernards, have copper based blood” didn’t seem to come up again, so I have no idea what’s up with that, as the kids say. They’re named after Clint Bigglestone, a game designer and, I’m guessing, a friend or player of Dave’s. There’s a lot of crossover between Dave’s circle and what would eventually become Chaosium… names like Steve Perrin and Greg Stafford are commonly dropped.

Chaeronyx: A cross between a centaur and a medusa. Man, medusae in Arduin get bizz-ay, don’t they? Of course, you have to keep the lights off. Sadly, they do not appear to travel with moon dogs.

Curiously, This Image Appeared On The Same Page As The Courtesan Class

Curiously, This Image Appeared On The Same Page As The Courtesan Class

Kill Kittens: These are tiny little adorable kittens with steel hard fangs and fatal poison that attack in swarms and kill you, hence, the name. They are also illustrated in another book. Perhaps more interestingly, they may have inspired George R. R. Martin, as something very, very, similar appears in his 1985 story, “The Plague Star”. While many ideas are spontaneously generated among multiple creators (please don’t get me started on my classic rant about “Why your ideas ain’t worth shit, so don’t worry about people ‘stealing’ them”), let me note that a)GRRM includes lots of gaming and comic book shout-outs in his work, b)The Wild Cards books were inspired by a game of Superworld that GRRM ran for his friends back in the day, and c)Superworld was published by many of the same people who played w/Dave Hargrave, so there was clearly a lot of overlap. However, anyone trying to verify this will distract him from finishing the next ASOIAF book, so, don’t do it!

(More Monsters)

Because That’s The Header On The Next Page

Perrinites: These are “with apologies to Steve Perrin”, and are basically hippies. Humanoids with flowers where their hair should be, they can control plants, see through the eyes of birds, and exude paralyzing sap. They like to trick orcs into wandering into the deep woods to be devoured by the Perrinites’ friends, the bears. The stat information (HD, AC, etc) is oddly in the middle of the description, between paragraphs.

Actually, now that I look a bit more closely, all the monsters in the “(A Page of Monsters)” and “(More Monsters)” sections have their stats scattered willy-nilly through the descriptive text, while the monsters on the prior pages followed a more uniform format of “Name, Stats1, Description”. I’d love some of the backstory of how the Arduin books were constructed… I mean, the literal process by which the raw material of Dave’s notes were laid out and turned into these bundles of wonder and madness.

Especially when you consider that the…

Tarrakk: … (the very last monster) is laid out much like the creatures on the prior two pages: Name in italics, followed by stats, but with %Liar (see my earlier article for more on this) added in, something not included in most of the other entries. Oh, what is a Tarrakk, you ask? It’s a cross between a dragon and a horned toad that can (once per day) (italics in original) shoot its 6-60 spear-like spiny scales in all directions, each of which hits “like a light catapult”. (It also breathes fire, of course, up to three times a day, but only every four melee rounds, except when alternate side of the street parking rules are in effect.)

And So…

We come to the end of this section. Next time, we delve into several pages of pure mechanics… some of Dave’s house rules and glimpses into the evolving Arduin system. Again, if you enjoy these articles, please share links on appropriate networks… I really suck at self-promotion.


1: Granted, the names of the stats and the order they were presented in varied a bit even on the more “organized” pages… sometimes it was “Speed”, sometimes “Move”, etc. It looks like it switched from “Speed” to “Move” halfway through the alphabetized list… as if Dave typed up some of the monsters one day, then went back and typed the rest, but changed his mind/got confused over what term to use as he transcribed his notes. Believe me, I’ve been there. There’s nothing more annoying, as a writer, to realize you changed a character’s name halfway through the book, or, even worse, transposed two characters so the guy who was killed a page back is now the guy fleeing down the hall, while the guy who’d originally been fleeing down the hall is lying dead in the other room. Across the decades, and the boundaries between life and death, I feel a connection.

Morno Lives!

So, in my most recent post, I mentioned the art of Morno, aka Brad Schenk, whom I rated as “pretty good”. As it turns out, he’s still around, still drawing, and I’ve actually used some of his stuff for my own nefarious porpoises, such  as the Pulpomizer!

I had, of course, no idea of the connection. So, this is a pretty awesome discovery, and thanks to imredave for bringing it to my attention.

Arduin Grimoire, Part XIII

Arduin Grimoire, Part XIII

Werecritters, Dinosaurs, And Escapes

And More

This may be a briefer-than-usual article, as I lost yesterday’s writing time to Mother’s Day duties, and today I have my weekly Pathfinder game, and normally I’d just say ‘smeg it’ and not post, but I did that last week, and once you get a two week gap, it turns into a three week gap, and then it’s August and I’m like, “Smeg, when was the last time I wrote anything?”, and so it goes…

Werescorpion? There Scorpion. There Dungeon.

Leaving grappling rules, we now turn to were-creatures, because, why not?

I remember the were-chart as being somewhat more outre than this, but that might be from another source, or it might be my aging brain finally catching up with me. Anyway, we have an assortment of were-critters. It’s worth bearing in mind that, at the time, there were only six ‘official’ werebeasts, and this was long before the age of templates that granted you the ability to make a half-ogre/half red-dragon who was also a were-fox and possibly a construct. Monsters were, for the most part, designed ‘whole’, so a were-otter was its own thing. (Honestly, it’s surprising that templates took so long to come into vogue… in hindsight, they seem an obvious idea, and in some ways more suited for the wild&wooly days when we cared more about ‘Awesome!’ than logic, game balance, common sense, or how long the DM had to work writing an Excel sheet to handle monster building.)

Werebadger Don't Care.

Werehoneybadger Don’t Care.

It is worth noting, because it will come up again (and there will be a quiz) that these creatures have a ‘hit dice range’. This was not common at the time. Normally, a monster had set HD, and that was that. One reason for the plethora of humanoids was to provide challenges across multiple levels, so you’d start with kobolds and work up to orcs, hobgoblins, bugbears, and ogres. Having hit dice ranges meant a creature could be a threat across a wider level range. And, since hit dice was basically the ‘level’ of the monster, affecting saving throws and some types of magic (such as sleep), this simple innovation by Mr. Hargrave foreshadowed 3.x’s ‘monsters and PCs follow similar rules’ design. Damn, I need to start cataloging all the mechanics in Arduin, many predating even AD&D 1e, which became standards in D&D 3.0.

I admit to being a bit confused by the experience rules… does his mean that a sixth level warrior becomes a second level wereowl? Also, I assume the DM is supposed to interpolate the attack damage against the hit dice range. Ditto AC, for the few cases where it changes.

I’ve Got A Golden Book Of Dinosaurs And I’m Not Afraid To Use It!

Next we have a bunch of basic dinosaur stats, roughly 1 1/4 pages, and then they turn into sea creature stats.

Not Shown: Icthyarsaurs Are Playful Unless Hungry Or Aroused. Good To Know.

Not Shown: Icthyarsaurs Are Playful Unless Hungry Or Aroused. Good To Know.

Not really a lot to add or comment on. These don’t dramatically extend the existing dinosaur stats; maybe Dave just wanted his own chart, or disagreed with how Gygax rated various extinct critters. Indeed, the exact hit dice of a T-Rex has been a subject of considerable paleontological infighting over the years, leading to more than a few academic careers being ruined by the incessant backstabbing. Jack Horner’s famous speech at Indiana University, ’15 Hit Dice, Armor Class 3, And No Claw Damage’ is often cited as the ‘Attack on Fort Sumter’ of the still-ongoing debate.

Oh, being scraped by a shark’s skin does 1-12 damage… when you consider a typical human had 1-4 hit points, total, this makes you wonder why sharks even needed to bite. Just brush past the prey, and it’s dead.

Escape From New York The Kraken

Half Percentages? Yeah, They Were A Thing.

Half Percentages? Yeah, They Were A Thing.

Just putting this here to show you what we went through in the absence of any formal ‘Escape Artist’ checks. Note, also, that neither Strength nor Dexterity formally figure in to these numbers… just raw class+level.

Coming Soon…

4-8 Greater Dragons. 'Nuff Said.

4-8 Greater Dragons. ‘Nuff Said.

I said, this was going to be a short one. (“That’s what she said!”) I’ll leave you with a bit of a ‘teaser’ for next time… a segment of the Encounter Chart, because we’re finally at the monster section.  (OK, we’re going to get through weather, diseases, and mists first… but here’s the encounter chart, anyway.) Shydras, Demon Locusts, and Ibathenes, oh my!



Arduin Grimoire, Part 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 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.