So I fell a little behind — I do indeed need to finish my overview of the Arduin Grimoire, but stuff happened because, you know, reasons. So here, without further delay, is my article about Volume II, certainly the least bizarre of the bunch, but interesting nonetheless. And also just because, here is a picture of my Guild Wars 2 character, the mighty charr warrior Barin Fierceclaw, and his favorite little friend, Fluffykins.
When last we left my exhaustive and wordy overview of David Hargrave’s Arduin Grimoire we had just gotten to what is unquestionably my favorite part of the entire series — the iconic, infamous and in places hilarious Critical Hit Table and its inevitable analog, the Fumble Table.
You may remember that in an earlier post I noted that, among Gary Gygax’s objections to critical hits was the suggestion that enemies and monsters get to inflict crits on PCs, and that if a “20” is a critical, then a “1” must be a fumble. Gygax then went on to claim that when those two suggestions are brought up “the subject is usually dropped,” which always made me wonder who the hell Gygax was talking to. Not only do certain GMs absolutely love to inflict critical hits on players, they also enjoy making them suffer through embarrassing fumbles.
I’m not saying that Hargrave’s tables are the best, or even that they should be used anymore — the whole “max damage” or “double damage” system for critical hits is fine, as is the idea that if you fumble you forfeit your next attack. Then again, people like Paizo make some very nice game aids such as critical hit/fumble decks that give much more flavor to combat and also don’t unduly unbalance the game.
Not so Hargrave’s tables. Their results range from the trivial to the utterly catastrophic and depend entirely on his much-loved percentile die roll. For entertainment’s sake I have painstakingly copied the tables for your amusement, since like so many other aspects of Arduin, they must be seen to be believed.
So Argor the fighter rolls a natural 20. “Huzzah!” cries the DM. “Roll percentile for crit!”
Argor’s player rolls, and gets a result of 02 — he’s hit the mother-lode. “Brain Penetrated, immediate death”.
Yup, an instant death critical. And to add insult to injury, it lists “Damage” as 4-32 points.
Wait a minute… Instant death, and 4-32 points of damage? In the over-powered world of Arduin, 4-32 points wouldn’t even scratch a larger monster like a maggoth, and would badly injure but not kill say, a phraint… So why the damage? Is it for creatures that don’t have discernible brains? Creatures that are immune to crits (though I can’t find any)?
Nah, it’s just “instant death” — the very type of crit that I dislike so much. But it’s described so vividly, it’s a shame not to use it, right?
Okay, never mind. Let’s say Argor rolled a 12. Now his opponent’s artery is cut, and he dies in 1-10 minutes (roll). Can he be healed? Is there any way to escape his fate? Again, no mention.
Other crits inflict small amounts of damage but cause incredible problems — roll a 21-25 and you inflict 1-3 points of damage, but slice you foe’s Achilles’ tendon, causing him to fall. A 26-30 severs 1-5 fingers with damage of 1 for each.
When we get up into high numbers, the damage gets even nastier. A golden roll of 00 results in “Entire head pulped and splattered over a wide area, irrevocable death results,” with a HP loss listed as “Total.” A 99 isn’t much better — Body split in twain, immediate death. A 98 results in “Head torn off, immediate death,” and so on.
Mind you, when I was using this table, for some reason I tended to keep rolling 41-42, causing PCs to die in the most humilliating fashion imaginable — “Buttock torn off, fall, shock.” I was also very proud of myself when I silenced a particularly annoying bard with a roll of 03 — “Voicebox ruined, total voice loss.”
In retrospect, this table is nothing but a huge accident waiting to happen. Remember how I noted that with “instant death” crits, every 1st level fighter has a 5% chance of killing an ancient red dragon with each blow? Well, this table isn’t really all that different. Of the results, 31% result in immediate death, or death within a specified time period. Another 18% result in permanent damage or disfigurement, and 17% result in the victim being rendered unconscious and incapable of further combat. That’s a whopping 66% chance of outright killing, maiming or knocking out your opponent. Despite all the entertaining blood and gore I think I find the table to be a bit too much, especially these days.
The fumble table is, oddly enough, a bit tamer. Results are pretty simple — glancing blow reduces damage by 50%. Weapon twists in hand, reduces damage to 25% and causes the loss of a round. A lost weapon takes either 1-3 or 1-6 rounds to recover. You might slip and fall or bump an ally and cause a loss of attack (what if your opponent’s on the other side of the room? I suppose that calls for a reroll, though it’s once more not specified).
When the fumble table reaches the 80′s however, the fun begins — you may take a blow intended for someone else, or hit the wrong target, inflicting only 75% normal damage. However, a roll of 91-92 results in “hit yourself” (!), inflicting half damage on yourself. A 93-94 means your magic weapon breaks (crap!), a 96-97 means you hit an ally for 50% damage, a 98 means you crit a nearby ally, and a 99%, naturally, indicates that yo have critical hit yourself.
Holy shit — imagine the embarassment: “Aw, crap… I rolled a one!” “Okay, loser… Roll for fumbles.” “Oh my fucking god… I rolled a 99% — I crit myself.” “Damn. Roll on the crit chart.” “A 100%??? FUCK! I pulped my own head and splattered it over a wide area!”
This is the kind of thing that causes unrest. One simply cannot imagine a situation where a fighter, however clumsy, could possibly decapitate himself. When I was running the game, my rationale was that the fumbler had blown the attack so very badly that he had given his opponent an opening, and that the opponent actually scored the critical. That seemed to keep the complaints down, but as noted, I’ve kind of moved away from this particular practice.
(On the other hand, I might go totally Old Skool one of these days and start using the white box D&D rules again… If I do, rest assured that the Arduin Grimoire will be kept close to hand.)
I’ll make the rest of the book quick, since I want to get to the other two supplements without writing an entire freaking novel. A boring travel chart follows, as does a table of were-creatures (including popular were’s such as were-badger, were-weasel, were-spider, were-dragonfly, were-centipede, were-beetle, were-crocodile and were-ape — in a way aren’t we all were-apes, actually?). Hargrave then crams a whole bunch of dinosaurs sea-creatures onto their own individual tables before getting to the onto a single table, followed by an “Escape Table” (listing the chance of escaping a creature’s grasp by level and class), a few useful encounter tables (which I also used heavily), an incongruous weather table, and a “Random Fog and Mist Generation Chart for Dungeon Rooms” in which we learn that a Gold mist has no smell, 3-foot visibility and sounds like wind chimes, while a Black and White mist smells like “dragon shit” (no, really), 5’ visibility, sounds like distant bells and causes “delayed magikal deafness.”
In addition to everything else, Arduin was as random as fuck.
Next we get a random trap table and a disease chart (“The Most Malignant and Malefic Miseries Known,” including colorfully-named illnesses such as the Green Ague, the Grey Rot and the Red Sleep), before finally getting to the “New Monsters” section.
Like the spells chapter, the monsters section is a bit light, but the monsters are pretty damned memorable. And, in a stunning development, they are actually listed in alphabetical order.
The very first monster was one of my favorites. Here it is, as written:
AIR SHARK: HD: 3+1 to 24+1; AC: 5+2; Speed: 18” to 36” (air only); Dext: 14-18; Number 1-20 (more in special “frenzy” situations); % Liar: too stupid to; Attacks: 1 Bite for 1-8 to 8-80 (the skin can do 1-2 to 1-12 points “scrape” damage on brush bys); Looks: As for each type of shark; Notes: they swim through air like normal sharks do through water. Due to hydrogen gas bladders in their bodies they are highly susceptible to fire, sometimes exploding in a fireball equal to its HD and 5 in diameter for each said HD. They are 100% fear proof. Their rushing attacks bowl over all they hit of their own size or less.
Now doesn’t that just say it all? Giant, flying, air-breathing, EXPLODING FUCKING SHARKS, MOTHERFUCKER!
The rest of the list shows similar imagination; the blue bellower — a bright metallic glue giant rinocerous beetle that bellows so loudly most unprotected ears are deafened for 1-6 melee rounds); the boogie man — shadowy, semi-winged, horned and fanged nightmare that can pass through solid objects; the deodanth, a creature inspired by the works of Jack Vance that resembles a tall ebon humanoid with flaming red eyes and silver claws and fangs; doomguard — magically animated armor that can teleport at will; hell maidens — voluptuous valkyrie-like warrior women with bare skull heads; kobbits and koblins (use your imagination0, maggoth — huge, grey-white and yellow mottled slugs that stink like cesspools; phraint — 9’ tall bright metallic blue, green or silver grey insect warriors resembling a cross between a mantis and an ant, cold, emotionless and logical, a veritable bug “Mr. Spock”; skyrays — manta-like versions of the skyshark; helltide — 3-9” long army ants; thermites — glowing reddish-yellow, red hot giant warrior termites (one of my favorite puns in the series); and of course thunderbunnies (probably inspired by the movie Night of the Lepus) — Crazed, foam-mouthed jackrabbits that travel in vast herds, their sound like distant thunder, devouring everything in their path.
The crazed imagination behind Arduin’s monsters is undeniable, and it certainly inspired some of my later work, particularly in the late, lamented Bard Games Talislanta series.
Our exciting trip through the first Arduin Grimoire concludes with a table and descriptions of lesser demons of the Arduin pantheon and an overview of the 21 planes of hell, with vivid descriptions — the second plane is inhabited by sea demons and is “88% deep green, salty warm water with pale green sky, 3 moons, wild tides, a 25-hour day, and frequent storms and typhoons. Islands are heavily jungled with metallic silver plants. The world teams with voracious life, all hungry and most large!”
And that’s one of the more hospitable planes — the third plane averages 350 degrees and is bare, blasted rock constantly scoured by a ferocious wind, while the 13th is covered in methane snows and rivers of ammonia, with deep purple skies and an average temperature of -180 degrees. The 21st plane, home to the greater demons, is extremely radioactive, and full of wrecked (H-bombed) cities and dark red, mutated seas.
The demons themselves are a bit disappointing, each being tied to a different element, with wind demons, ice demons, fire demons and the like. That’s really okay, as I think the real variation comes with the descriptions of greater demons (in a future book), and provides some familiarity in the midst of all of Arduin’s craziness.
And that wraps up Volume I of the Arduin Grimoire. The subsequent volumes are more of the same — random tables incomplete rules, suggestions, monsters, spells, NPCs and tidbits about the world of Arduin.
After the mad roller-coaster ride that was volume I, the second collection of Arduin rules, Welcome to Skull Tower, is a useful and interesting book, but to be honest it really isn’t anywhere near as colorful or eccentric as volume I. I’m mostly going to just hit the highlights, as the insanity returns full-bore in volume III, The Runes of Doom.
That’s not to say that WtST isn’t useful — it’s still chock-full of GM-delighting goodness. The illustrations, this time by Morno (Brad Schenk) are a step up from the early Erol Otus material in the first book which, despite Otus’ future of greatness were still a bit on the crude side.
The book starts off with a plethora of (you guessed it) charts and tables. The first interesting one is also in the same league as the harlot table from AD&D, which is to say the kind of table that drives female gamers up the freaking wall. Yes, it’s the ever-popular (with adolescent boys anyway) Female Attributes Chart. And I’m sure you can imagine exactly which attributes it generates.
While the table does not go so far as to generate cup size, it does indeed generate measurements for all your female characters using Hargrave’s ever-beloved percentile dice. Here — right now, as I sit at the table typing on my laptop, I’m going to generate a female character’s “attributes.”
First off — naturally — “Breasts”. Not “Bust”… Breasts. No one ever accused Dave Hargrave of dancing around a subject. Okay, I rolled a 76… Woo-hoo! That’s a whopping 41 inches! Just imagine.
Next I roll for waist measurement and get a 31 — that’s 20. Dang! I’m really trying very hard to envision this fascinating creature, but I think the final measurement — Hips — will have to come first.
Okay, here goes… Hips measurement roll is 37, giving her 35-inch hips.
Damn, what a seductive creature — a shapely 41-20-35. To give you some idea of what this would actually look at, consider this… Jayne Mansfield (see above) had a 41 inch bust, while a terrifyingly-thin Romanian model named Loana Spangenberg (right) claims to have a 20 inch waist. Try melding those two together, and I guarantee the result will haunt your nightmares. To be honest, Spangenberg alone is enough to haunt anyone’s nightmares, so I’ll just let it go at that.
Hargrave then really lays on the charm by saying, “Remember that these rolls CAN have an effect on the charisma of the lady in quesiton. For instance, if the lady’s waist is 34 or so, and she only has a 36 bust, it’s obvious that she’s fat, thus reducing her looks.”
I seriously think that right now we should be giving Mr. Hargrave a shovel so he can dig himself in a little deeper. Then, unaccountably, he finishes the page by saying “In combat, one tends to find oneself haggling over who can do what. Therefore this DM insists that all who play in this world read and heeed all that is in the Arduin Grimoire.”
Just what that has to do with rolling to determine how big a female PC’s breasts are is not made clear, but hell… It’s Arduin. They don’t have to explain.
He follows this disturbing and rather offensive table with another one titled “True Charisma and its Meaning In Game Play,” giving rules for each Charisma score from 1 to 20. Each score has a “Lie Bonus” (apparently good-looking people are better liars), a “Morale Bonus” (hirelings like fighting for hotties better than uglies, I guess, regardless of their gender) and a “Love Factor” (“How much you affect the opposite sex while trying to woo them”). Of course there are no rules anywhere for how one goes about “wooing” a member of the opposite sex, though if Hargrave was DM you can bet there would be a percentile roll in there somewhere.
The funniest part of the table are the “Actual Looks” and the “Notes” columns. Charisma 1 is described as “Too hideous to look at” and “Would scare a Troll!” A 2 gets you “Extremely ugly; yugh!” and “Poop is prettier!” and so on up to 18 — “A dream, a vision,” 19 — “A god or goddess” and 20 “Undescribable, a mirage.”
I admit that in my youth I did indeed use the Female Attributes chart for my female PCs. I admit it — I didn’t know too many real girls then, so it was at least a substitute.
The next tables are cool, if a bit strange — the “Optional Character Appearance” charts. Using these tables, you can generate hair, eyes, scars, birthmarks, pigmentation and various exotica. In a strange twist, these tables use d20 rather than percentiles. Maybe Hargrave was sick the day he generated them.
Let’s continue with our buxom, wasp-waisted lass. For hair, I roll a 18 — two colors mixed! Rolling again I get a 15 — Yellow (not blonde, mind you… yellow) and a 13 — bald. Okay, half her hair is long, lustrous and bright chromium yellow, and half is, well, just shiny, polished scalp.
For scars I roll a 10 — none. For birthmarks I roll a 1 — a crescent (it doesn’t say where it is, which is probably good). For pigmentation I roll a 14 — medium brown, and for eyes I get the jackpot — natural 20, requiring a roll on the “Special” chart.
On this chart, I roll an 18. The result is “invisible.” WTF?? The footnotes tell me that this means “The eyes are there but look like empty sockets.” Creepy.
Now just for fun I’ll roll on the “exotics” column, and I get a 13. She has no belly button. None.
Gods. Now add all those features to our emaciated hypermammary PC and you’ve got something out of a Clive Barker short story.
Okay, I’ll leave her to your imagination and move on.
Next we get to more new characters. Star-Powered mages have “matrix gems” implanted in their foreheads allowing them to channel star energy. The gem glows with different colors depending on alignment, which makes it really easy to figure out which starmages to trust. They get double normal mana, but can only cast spells at night under direct starlight. They can also exceed their normal mana levels, but every time they do there’s a percentile chance that a gem will go supercritical and explode, taking the starmages head with it. And oh, yeah — the gem also regenerates all of the mage’s hit points instantly, but also blows up if it absorbs too much damage.
The starmages are, as is typical with Arduin, a very interesting concept with limited use. I’m not entirely certain I’d be all that interested in playing a mage who can only cast spells outside at night under a cloudless sky, and is effectively immortal, except when his forehead-gem blows up. And oh, yeah… Everyone automatically knows his alignment.
The fun continues with rune singers, except this particular class really feels totally broken. Rune singers use magic like other casters, except that they “sing” their spells, taking one full minute per spell level to cast. Higher level singers take less time, but it still seems like an all but unplayable class. In typical fashion Hargrave writes conversationally about the singers — “Now I realize that that’s quite a long time for any mage to be trying to cast, weave or sing any spell, expecially (sic) in a combat situation. However they have one thing that seems to make up for any bad point they may have.”
That is to say that singers can cast multiple spell effects simultaneously, adding their levels together and then averaging the duration for a shorter casting time. Again, this makes no sense. If a rune singer wanted to cast, say Maryindi’s Spell of the Elemental Self, as a 12th-level spell it would then take a full 12 minutes (120 rounds) to cast. If the singer is, say 24th level, he can reduce this time by 24 melee rounds (2.4 minutes), so it would take only 96 rounds — still a long time. The singer could then reduce the casting time by combining the high-level spell with one or more 1st level spells like sleep or mage hand – if he added, say four first-level spells he would then reduce casting time to around three minutes, even though the low-level spells don’t really have any effect. In fact, there’s nothing in Hargrave’s rules to limit the number of spells that could be combined, so why not weave together twenty or thirty low level spells so your 15th level incantation goes off immediately? Again, the rules are vague and ill-defined, but the rune singer still seems like more trouble than it’s worth.
We then move on to other character classes — the Saint (ultra good, never wear armor or weapons, never fight, get some various abilities but also seem unplayable), martial artist, outlaw (a sort of hybrid fighter-thief type), slaver (more or less a rogue/thief type — Hargrave tells us, “Strangely enough, hobbits are occasionally slavers, and when they are, they are some of the cruelest!” thus creating some of the weirdest images that have ever stalked through my head…), and finally the celebrated Courtesan.
Given that this is my blog, and I think you all know about me, a few words on the courtesan are probably in order. Again, they’re non-combatants who receive a mere d4 hit die, and Hargrave describes them as being classic examples of “courtesans,” such as those women who worked in Renaissance Italy, or the Geishas of Japan. They can brew love and aphrodisiac potions and gain experience for gaining and selling secrets. The concept is again pretty fascinating, but once more the class seems unduly limited.
Various miscellaneous tables follow, including a random reincarnation chart which I used a few times. I distinctly remember my evil female fighter being reincarnated as a kobold and taking weeks to finally find a wizard who could change her back.
We then have another blood-drenched critical hit chart, this one for non-weapon caused injuries. I scarcely can see the difference, as the results are about the same — roll a 34 and you get “genitals torn off”; a 94 is “skull crushed, instant death” and so on. This is followed by a “real medicine” table that lists results of various critical hits, as described by Hargrave’s collaborator Dr.William Voorhees.
And next, in typical Arduin order, comes something that was pretty unusual for those days, a modern firearms table, with damage listed for projectiles by caliber. More equipment and cost tables follow, as do tables for coinage, gems and semiprecious materials.
New magic is next, with more colorfully-named spells like Angborn’s Spell of the Abysmal Itch and Voor-Hing’s Spell of the Eater From Within. The Crimson Bands of Cytorakk also make an appearance, which probably would come to a great surprise to the publisher of Marvel Comics, who came up with the name first and included it in the arsenal of sorcerer supreme Doctor Strange (my favorite comic character when I was a kid).
There’s more magic items, and lots of new monsters, this time in familiar non-alphabetical order, followed by miscellaneous rules for magic, combat and overland travel.
Welcome to Skull Tower concludes with some very fascinating stuff. While most of it can’t exactly be lifted directly for a campaign, it serves as an example of the kind of detail that keeps campaigns interesting. There is information about the seasons in Arduin, the cycle of years (the Year of the Dragon, Year of the Sword, Year of the Scorpion and so on), notable days of the year (the 3rd of Torkus is the holiday Vallorus, when warriors are celebrated; the 10th of Torchund is Equimass, when all are equal from dawn to dusk, etc.), a list of prominent guilds and societies, religious sects, law and punishment, rank and royalty, and finally a brief history of Arduin.
The history is bloody and vivid, even though Hargrave introduces it with the cryptic statement “…even though it is a hard and dangerous world, the rewards are usually more than a bold player can ever expect.”
The last few pages include a long list of the Inns and Roadhouses of Arduin (some of which sound pretty cool — another really excellent idea for the aspiring worldbuilder) and, unaccountably, a table with miscellaneous undead attack types and damage, and finally some advice on space creatures in frps, and how to deal with unruly players.
And that wraps up Volume II. The last volume of the original trilogy, The Runes of Doom has still more fun, plus a couple of truly offensive elements… Stay tuned, to learn more about the nightmarish evil that is “Shardra the Castrator”!