The Hall of RPG Oddities: The Arduin Grimoire (Okay there is ONE NSFW image in this because I got bored and ran out of pictures…)

d20It was originally my intention to write a review of the original D&D books that were released recently by WotC. After writing a few hundred words I changed my mind, since I was starting to fall into the snark again, and I think I’ve been snarky enough toward the legacy of E. Gary Gygax. I think I’d like to do an entry that details some of the weird and unnecessary aspects of the books — the harlot table, the incredibly complex unarmed combat rules, Gygax’s endless pontifications and his savage torture of the English language — but that’s for later. I decided that since I haven’t posted in so damned long I’d institute a new feature here, the Hall of RPG Oddities, a series of reviews of some of the stranger, lesser-known, or offensive publications that gamers have dealt with over the decades.

I’m starting off with a classic — the famous (and to some infamous) Arduin series by the legendary Dave Hargrave. From the top I want to make clear that I absolutely love the Arduin series. It contains material that I used for years in my D&D games, and in some cases still do. However, I am also of the opinion that the series is also one of the most insanely over-the-top examples of munchkin power-gaming ever published, one which remained unequaled until the publication of The World of Synnibar in the mid-90s (and don’t get me wrong — I also love Synnibar, for many of the same reasons — more on that particular work in a future entry).

Dave Hargrave’s contribution to the world of roleplaying is well-known. As one of the original cabal of west-coast gamers in the late 60s and early 70s, he and his compatriots, including such titans as Greg Stafford, Jeff Pimper, Steve Perrin, Clint Bigglestone, Tadishi Ehara and many others, brought their own ideas and sensibilities to the industry, injecting it with energy and imagination that drove it ahead for decades. Their contributions continue to be seen in the still-published Runequest and that classic of classics, Call of Cthulhu, a game that is still going strong decades after its original release.

Hargrave’s history and adventures have been amply chronicled elsewhere and they make for very interesting reading. His skills as a gamemaster, the high power-level and mortality rate of his years-long Arduin campaign, his elaborate house rules, fiery temperament, his feud with Greg Stafford and his legal tussles with TSR are all the stuff of history, and kind of beyond the scope of this piece — we’re going to focus on the obsessive madness that was (and actually still is) the Arduin series.

Journey to Arduin

ArduinCoverShannon Appelcline describes Arduin as  “a collection of rather ‘gonzo’ house rules” but calling Arduin “rather gonzo” is like calling the language in a Tarantino film “somewhat profane.” Arduin is a joyful melange of every single bizarre idea that crossed Dave Hargrave’s eccentric mind, and despite his continual insistence that Arduin was its own roleplaying system, totally distinct and separate from that alliterative thing published by those guys in Wisconsin, his books contained a treasure trove of modular rules, tables, classes, monsters and treasures that could be slipped into a D&D game with all the subtlety of a GBU-28 bunker buster.

Once more I’m going to journey back to the late 70s when I was attending Portland State University and gaming every weekend. This was about the time that my original group was splitting at the seams after a new group of younger players had joined, bringing a more power-gamer oriented style of play and sending me and my immediate companions off into our own separate group (the one where we could cast unlimited Sleep spells and automatically retired at fifth level).

I stayed in touch with members of the old group however. Though the overly-competitive nature of their campaign turned me off, I was impressed by their willingness to experiment, to use house rules and to resist the rigidity that TSR was injecting into AD&D. Among the various features that they added were such things as the All the World’s Monsters supplements from Jeff Pimper and Steve Perrin, and a curious collection of digest-sized booklets — The Arduin Grimoire, Welcome to Skull Tower and The Runes of Doom, all authored by David S. Hargrave.

I liked what I saw — there were really off-the-wall monsters, bizarre treasures, new character classes and tables, Tables, TABLES! I was later to learn that Hargrave had presented this eccentric collection of supplemental materials to Chaosium as a self-contained gaming system, but that it had been rejected, triggering a feud between Hargrave and Greg Stafford that was to last for years. After this rejection, Hargrave struck out on his own, publishing the supplements himself, and the rest his history.

As I’ve previously noted, being a broke young college student I played D&D with photocopies of the original booklets. I similarly borrowed the Arduin books and copied parts of them as well — since they were written in more or less stream of consciousness style, broken up into individual sections and horrifically organized (see below), it was easy to copy only those portions of the books that interested me, such as the pages that had naked women on them.

I still have those photocopies today — they’ve held together surprisingly well. However, I was able to score copies of the original booklets in cut-out bins at local gaming stores over the years, so later editions of the original Arduin trilogy are now in my possession.

So let’s start with book one, shall we? It’s titled simply The Arduin Grimoire, and I can’t help but wonder whether Hargrave’s decision to publish it as a digest-sized booklet wasn’t influence by the fact that D&D was originally released in the same format.

ArduinIlloThe original printing features art by the awesome Erol Otus, who contributed extensive work to TSR’s AD&D books, including the cover for Deities and Demigods. He also provided illustrations for the Lovecraftian deities that were listed in the first edition of that volume, but excised later (along with Moorcock’s Melnibonean pantheon) due to copyright issues. The Arduin Grimoire was Otus’ first major project, and a preview of things to come.

Mind you, his art in this book is no great shakes — he’s clearly a talented but inexperienced artist, and in later editions of the book his work was removed and replaced by pictures from the more-established Greg Espinoza.

So what of the book itself? Well, like the other volumes in the original trilogy, The Arduin Grimoire is a heady glimpse inside the mind of its creator. Dave Hargrave was apparently an outstanding game master, and had a real talent for running games on the fly, throwing in everything but the kitchen sink and coming up with elaborate rule systems essentially off the top of his head. While this made for a really great GM and a fine game designer, what Hargrave really needed was the discipline and organization that a good editor and/or developer could provide. He would spew out the amazing ideas, the elaborate tables, imaginative monsters, new spells and artifacts, then his editor would whip the resulting chaotic jumble into something resembling a coherent final book.

In all honesty, none of the Grimoires show signs that anyone other than Dave Hargrave worked on them. They throw out rules that are alternately brilliant and silly almost at random, they are dotted with typos and clumsy revisions, and they are printed in an all but unreadable tiny, Courier-style font, a telltale sign that the whole thing was typed up on a word processor with no access to professional typesetting or layout services (and having done that job back in the days before desktop publishing, I’ll tell you that such services were not cheap).

And before we get into the meat of the work, we need to be honest with ourselves. Despite Hargrave’s protestations to the contrary, the Arduin books were intended as supplements for D&D. Any suggestion that they were anything besides this is silly. Certainly, Hargrave’s version of D&D differs significantly from the original (character levels up to 100+, anyone?), but at its heart Arduin must have been intended to supplement rather than replace D&D, since its rules modules slide and click into D&D so effortlessly.

In one particularly goofy instance of D&D imitation, Arduin’s monster statistics include an entry called “% liar.” Presumably this is a measure of how honest the creature is, but it’s also very telling since it’s a duplication of a similar statistic in original D&D called “% lair,” a rather silly number intended to indicate how often a creature was present in its home base. In the first edition of D&D, the statistic was misspelled “% liar” and this misspelling found its way into the Arduin Grimoire as if it was a legitimate statistic. Each and every monster stat block has “% liar” listed right after “Number Appearing.”

And so the fun begins with Hargrave’s opening dedication, which I reproduce below in its entirety:

I am deeply indebted to many people, without whom many of the ideas on these pages would have died stillborn. It has been a long, long year of trial and trouble, but made easier by friends both old and new. This supplement is dedicated to them certainly and with heartfelt gratitude, but it is also to those characters that lived, loved, and died in pursuit of loot and glory that my true dedication goes.

Keryu, leader of the forty-seven Ronin; Elric the Hell-Lost; Daniel the True Defender of the Dreaming Isles; Jothar, Champion of the House of the Rising Sun and Baron of the Realm; Kazamon, the Ring Bearer, hobbit and changeling; Benk the Benighted; Hismal Assad’s Twelfth Lancers; Mithrom, bandit turned demon; Mogadore the drunken dwarf; Zorella, amazon leader of the doomed Hell Raid; Lasuli, elven and unafraid; Fredrick the Bold, Slayer of Smaug and Sauron; Bolo Mark Nine, destroyer of a dungeon and near slayer of an entire world; the Seven Spartans and their never broken shield wall; Talso the grim mage; all of you are forever graven int he iron legends that will forever follow your steps through alternity. To you and the shades of near four hundred dead I lift a tankard of Rumble Tummy’s ale in respectful salute.

Without all of you I could never have dreamed my dreams of glory, nor beheld the beauty of the Misty Mountains of Arduin.

I’d say that there was an entire column’s worth of material in that dedication alone. First of all — four hundred fucking dead? Did they print character sheets on toilet paper or something? Jesus Christ that guy was a freakin’ sociopath… (And I mean that in the nicest way possible.)

And then there’s Bolo Mark Nine… Keith Laumer fans I’m sure know that a bolo is a giant cybernetic tank equipped with nuclear missiles and capable of laying waste to an entire continent. Yes, folks… giant nuclear-armed cybertanks could be player characters on Arduin.

I’m not even going to mention Fredrick the Bold and his twin victories over both Sauron and Smaug. Hell, not even Gandalf could have pulled that shit off. Holy crap, we are in for one major roller coaster ride here, kids.

(Rumble Tummy’s Ale? Seriously, Dave? Seriously?)

After his dedication, The Arduin Grimoire kicks off with what Hargrave calls a “Forward.” Now I know it’s kind of petty of me, but I think that he meant “Foreword”, and to add insult to injury I feel compelled to point out that forewords are not normally written by the author. This might best be called an “Introduction” or possibly a “Preface,” but certainly not a “Forward.”

I have no picture to put here, so here's a sexy cosplayer.

I have no picture to put here, so here’s a sexy cosplayer. Seriously… Anyone know this woman? Got an email address or something?

Hargrave immediately gives us a taste of the take-no-prisoners trench warfare that was roleplaying publication in the 70s when he notes: “About three years ago fantasy role playing games began to become extremely popular… At first it was something new and wonderful… About a year or so ago things began to change: the joyous game was becoming big business. And those non-amateur game designers took on all the trappings of those things that have profit as their main motivational force: greed, secretiveness, hunger to ‘control the market’ and all of that other garbage.

“Amateurs who tried to publish their ideas were being told to cease publication if their ideas even remotely resembled any those big business types had published. Yet those same people ripped the amateurs’ ideas off quite freely, and with dismaying frequency.”

After reading a few of Gary Gygax’s vitriolic columns with their condemnation of APAs and anyone who wasn’t Gary Gygax, I can’t say that I’m unsympathetic to Hargrave’s position here. On the other hand, roleplaying games presented a fairly new phenomenon in the world of copyright, in that they presented the basic rules, but others produced work that derived from those rules and could be used with them, but at the same time did not actually COPY anything. In the end, I sympathize far more with the David Hargraves of the world than with the Gary Gygaxes.

As I said above, The Arduin Grimoire would have benefited from the services of a good editor. The first thing I noticed, after the crudely-typed word-processor text, was that all of the books are horrifically organized, written almost stream-of-consciousness, with each topic given one or two pages before Hargrave barreled on to the next. The subjects are broadly grouped together, but within these sections, topics are presented willy-nilly with no regard for order. Almost nothing is in alphabetical order.

Rather than a solid, concrete set of rules, Arduin reads instead like notes for a future roleplaying game. The text refers to rules, systems, spells and character classes that apparently don’t exist, rules are very ambiguously worded, effects are mentioned but never described, and so on.

The book starts promisingly, with a section called HOW TO PLAY THE GAME, which opens with a paragraph titled OVERLAND TRAVEL. While this paragraph does indeed describe movement distances, overland travel procedures, etc., it then segues into rules for random monster encounters, combat procedure and how to determine initiative — topics that wander quite a distance from the original subject matter.

Now we jump to a page called POINT SYSTEM in which XP awards for various events are given, such as death (yes, you get XP for dying in Arduin), being the sole survivor of a party (apparently this happened quite a bit), being cursed, obtaining cool magic items, casting certain spells, etc.

Next comes experience tables for Arduin character classes such as Thief, Slaver, Techno, Courtesan, Assassin and so on (as noted, not in alphabetical order), with XP totals for levels one all the way up to 105th level and beyond.

Next, in keeping with D&D’s strange obsession with keeping non-humans down, is a table with level limitations by class for each of 41 (count ’em — 41, all jumbled together in non-alphabetical order) player races, including the standard humans, elves, hobbits (Hargrave didn’t seem too concerned about Tolkien’s estate and their lawyers), dwarves and half-orcs, but with the addition of such exotica as uruk hai (different from half-orcs how?), amazons (yes, amazons are a race in Arduin… More on them later), kobbits (a kobold/hobbit hybrid… OH MY GOD!!), saurig (lizard-men), phraint (insect-men), gnorcs (gnoll/orc… since I think gnolls were originally supposed to be gnome/troll hybrids, this is getting downright messy), and so many more. These seem a bit harsh — as in D&D, humans can advance an unlimited number of levels in every class, while other races are severely limited.

Immortal, arrogant elves who have built ancient and powerful civilizations and act like they’re better than everyone else, for example, can only advance to 10th level as warriors, and 8th level as Clerics, Mages and Thieves. They are, however, allowed unlimited advancement as Psychics, and “All Others”, but cannot become Monks or “Palidins” (sic).

Most races are like this — they are seriously limited in most classes, forbidden from a few, and able to advance to unlimited levels in one or two. The distribution of these limitations seems, well, pretty random. Half-elves, for example, can be 10th level clerics, but only 6th level wizards, 12th level thieves but only 8th level warriors. Centaurs can be 4th level clerics, 12th level warriors and 3rd level psychics. And so on.

No wonder humans run the show. They can rise to 100th+ level in everything. Hell, if I were a human I wouldn’t be the slightest bit scared of an elf warrior, since he can never be higher than 10th level.

Next come ability limitations by race and gender. This has always been something of a sore point in roleplaying, since females invariably are given lower Strength and Constitution scores than males, but usually higher Intelligence and Charisma. I know that on average women are not as strong or large as men, but I’ve known women who were almost as tall as me, and one or two who could have put me through a wall, so I think this concept is kind of outdated. Just roll your stats and let the chips fall where they may — if you have a female with an 18 Strength, then have fun with her.


Don’t worry, censors… That’s a sword in the Vampusa’s left hand.

Next comes one of those tables that makes Arduin so much fun. It’s called the NOTES ON FANTASTIC BEINGS, and includes columns for player races’ average lifespan, age of majority, usual alignment, “ability to mate fertilly with humans” (so that’s where all those half-elves come from… and no, “fertilly” is not a word, but that never stopped Hargrave), general temperament and notes.

These brief, concise overviews of racial characteristics are extremely useful  for GMs who want to come up with characters on the fly, and for players to provide guidelines on behavior. Mind you, they’re also kind of weird. The Amazon, for example, has a lifespan of 90, age of majority of 18, alignment Neutral, able to mate with humans (assuming they want to), have a general temperament of Boastful & Arrogant, and under notes we learn that they are “Pushy, man-baiters, frequently lesbian.”

I’m not even going to get into how sexist Arduin is (or maybe I am, but later), but come on, Dave. An amazon is a powerful, aggressive, proud female warrior, so naturally she’s arrogant, a man-hater and frequently lesbian. I don’t know about you, but I’ve known a few amazons, only some of them were lesbians, and they all liked me just fine.

Next comes another useful table, the CHARACTER AND ALIGNMENT OF PLAYERS CHART. Apparently you have the option of choosing your alignment at random, and this chart gives guidelines for behavior and outlook for no fewer than 14 alignments (rather than the paltry eight of 3E and the paltry two of 4E). I have to admit, when Dave Hargrave goes, he goes big.

We have the familiar Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil axis, as well as a couple of others such as “Moderately” or “Marginally Lawful” (oddly enough there’s no “Marginally Chaotic”), “True Chaotic” (which us purists insist on simply calling “Chaotic Neutral”), “Amoral,” “Amoral Evil” and “Insane.”

Each alignment has a column for “Kill Factor,” “Lie Factor,” “Tolerance Factor,” “Loyalty Factor,” and “Cruelty Factor” although there is no explanation of what this means. If nothing else, it illustrates Hargrave’s penchant for reducing everything to percentage rolls. Does “Kill Factor” equal the percentage chance that a character of that alignment will try to kill you? How about “Cruelty Factor”? What the hell does that mean? The chances that the character will be cruel? Of so, how?

The last column is a hoot — under “General Notes” it tells us that Lawful Good is “Goody two shoes type, always smiles,” Marginally Lawful is “Losing ‘faith’ in the ‘system'”, Neutral Good is “Ready to accept most any decent idea,” True Chaotic is “So unpredictable even he doesn’t know what’s next” and Chaotic Evil says “You never know what he’ll do, but you can be sure it’s nasty!”

As loony as all this sounds, it really is a breath of fresh air compared to the stodgy, pretentious stuff that was coming out of TSR at that time. This, remember, is when Original D&D was switching over to AD&D, and Gygax was busy telling us that we had to play the game exactly as he’d written it, or we were all traitors who would wreck everyone else’s fun. As Hargrave was a huge advocate of critical hits, spell points and other heresies, my guess is that he sat squarely in Gygax’s crosshairs.

Next we come to one of the most fun collection of tables you’ll ever see — the Special Abilities chart. Each group of classes has its own percentile table, with a list of abilities ranging from the mundane to the bizarre. Roll a 37 for a fighter and you get “Ex-seafarer, who cannot be drowned even in full armor (he sheds it).” A roll of 18 for a wizard yields “Time and gate competent, with total inability to use all ‘cold’ spells.” Roll a 60 for a cleric and you get “Desert born, add plus 3 to constitution and ability to find water (90%).” Roll 00 for a techno or courtesan and you hit the jackpot — “Roll once on any three tables of your choice ignoring this number, but if you can’t use what you roll up, tough, you’re stuck with it.” And so on.

I loved these tables and used them a lot, though my characters invariably got abilities like “Hates all animals (and they can sense it so will attack 85% of the time)” or “Obese glutton of unsanitary and foul habits, -6 charisma, plus 6 versus poison” while my friends got stuff like “Sexual athlete, plus 5 charisma versus opposite sex, never get enough” or “Flesh tastes bad to monsters (98% chance they’ll spit you out).”

If you happen across a copy of The Arduin Grimoire, I strongly urge you to at least check out these tables — they will fuck your campaign up in the most entertaining way possible.

Next we finally get to character classes (remember what I said about organization?), including several (but not all) of the character classes listed earlier — here we have (once more in glorious non-alphabetic order) the Trader, Psychic, Barbarian (the class had not been introduced by TSR yet), Rune Weaver, “Techno’s” (sic), and Witch Hunter. Notably absent are the Courtesan, Slaver, Alchemist and Saint, even though they were discreetly listed on the earlier XP chart.

DemonVDragonThe classes are a strange lot — the rules for them are typically amorphous, with lots of room for GM and player interpretation (and, I’m sure, argument). The psychic can’t use magic, has to have low physical stats and gains special abilities such as “Mental scream” every few levels. The Barbarian is listed as being “extremely vulnerable to magik,” but no actual rules for this vulnerability are presented. As we all know, Barbarians can “go berserk,” adding +4 to their attacks but subtracting -3 from their defense. “Once berserk, they will fight blindly for 1 melee turn for each level less than 20th level that they are, even if all of the enemy are dead. There is also a 60% chance for 1st level Barbarians going berserk uncontrollably, rolled for every melee turn.

Okay, I’m confused. A Barbarian can go berserk at will, but must fight “blindly” for a number of rounds — say 10 for a 10th level Barbarian. What does he mean by “blindly”? He’ll attack anything? Attack the nearest figure? Attack trees and rocks? Attack the darkness? And when that period is over, is he still berserk, and can he continue to use his +4 to hit? Once more, it feels as if we’re reading someone’s campaign notes, rather than a coherent rules set. No wonder Chaosium rejected Arduin.

And so it goes — Rune Weavers are spellcasters, but it takes them one round per spell level to cast, and they get more spell points than regular casters. “Techno’s” (sic — dammit, Hargrave needed a copy of Strunk and White!) “are specialists that disbelieve 100% in magic and work from a strictly scientific point of view… They are constatnly dismembering dragons to see where the flame thrower was hidden!” Medicine Men are “Barb    ian priest/mages” (sic), Witch hunters “are religious fanatics (99% Chritian) that are obnoxiously ‘holier than thou’ in their attitude towards just about everyone and everything.”

The entries are all organized differently, as if (surprise!) Hargrave developed them all separately, then pasted them together for the book. Some have a single mass of text with the rules all run together, others (such as the Witch Hunter) are organized with headers and specific rules, each given its own lettered paragraph. Witch Hunters have entries for “Advantages” and “Disadvantages” but no other classes do. They have a level chart listing their “Fighting Capability” as being equal to “Man +1,” “2 Men,” “3 Men,” “Hero,” “Myrmidon +1,” “Super Hero,” and so on (reflecting the original D&D fighter level table, though I can’t for the life of me figure out what is meant by “3 Men.”).

The characters really are all over the map, with rules ranging from ironclad specifics to vague guidelines. To play them would require a huge amount of GM interpretation, yet Hargrave assures us that everything in Arduin has been playtested over “hundreds of hours “ of gaming. Clearly these rules worked for him and his fellows, and given that he brags about over 400 PC deaths, his players kept coming back.

I think that more than anything else, Arduin’s character classes tell us a lot about David Hargrave and the state of gaming in those days. Despite TSR and Gary Gygax’s insistence that everyone march in lock-step and play the game exactly as written (lest they be condemned as talentless fools and hateful luddites), a lot of people (I would even go so far as to say “most people” but I have no real proof of that, beyond the people that I myself gamed with) played the game any damned way they pleased.

Hargrave’s campaign was clearly high-powered, had a huge death-rate, and was pretty much over-the-top in every aspect. It was also very fast and loose, and given the vagueness of many of the “rules” he cites in his work, required some pretty heavy GM interpretation.

Fun as it is, the confused jumble of half-rules, guidelines and polite suggestions that passes for character class entries is followed by the Multiversal Trading Company Price List. Interestingly enough, armor is listed as “Defensive Weapons” which is an odd designation, but the chart is pretty familiar to any rpg-er.

Now we get to the magic rules which are, as always, pretty vague and make sense only in reference to the original D&D rules from which they are derived. Hargrave discusses in considerable detail how long it takes to memorize spells (one hour per spell divided by the number of spells that the mage may memorize at his or her current level).

In his example, a fifth-level mage takes three hours to memorize one third, two second level and one third level spell. Honestly, who ever really did that? Everyone I ever gamed with simply assumed that the mage’s spells automatically regenerated each day and didn’t bother intricately mapping out how long it took to memorize spells. I can imagine the real effects now:

It’s bright and early in the morning in the Lost Dungeon of Death. The party has awakened, unspiked the door, eaten a hasty breakfast and is preparing to set forth once more.

FIGHTER: Hey, guys, let’s go! I want to investigate that temple complex we found yesterday! I think there might be lizard men!

THIEF: You betcha! That idol with the giant gemstone eyes looked pretty sweet! Come on!

WIZARD: No, wait up guys. I have to memorize my spells.

FIGHTER: Criminey! Always with the spell memorization. How long is that gonna take?

WIZARD: Only three hours or so. Just hang on and I’ll get started.

THIEF: Oh, fuck. Here we go again. Okay, who wants another pot of tea?

Hargrave then goes over some familiar rules. Mages can’t wear metal armor. At fifth level they can use magical swords and a tenth level they can use all magic weapons (there is an uncomfirmed report that Gary Gygax experienced a minor stroke when he read that rule).

Then we get into one of the more bizarre rules that Arduin presents. Apparently, you only get one saving throw against a given spellcaster’s magic. If you save once, you save every time that caster throws that particular spell at you. The opposite is true too — if you fail a save against Magico the Magical’s fireball, then you continue to fail every time he casts a fireball at you. Until of course, “you yourself go up a level” at which time presumably everything resets and you can start making saving throws again.

Holy crap, that sounds complicated. I’d have ignored this rule the first chance I got.

Next comes something that sums up Hargrave’s love of minutiae and his fondness for percentage rolls all in one beautiful paragraph.

The upshot of all this is simple; you have to have to have your magical goodies where your hot little hands gan get them at an instant’s notice. And if you want to really jazz up your game, just add in a PHUCKER PHACTOR. What’s a P&P you ask? Simply put, it is a percent for mages or whomever, to grab the wrong end of a wand or to read off the wrong spell on his scroll in his haste to slay the onrushing purple uglys (sic) that are going to eat him. A suggested base is 50% to start, going down 2% per level attained, and modified by your dexterity (-5% per each point over 12 or conversely adding 5% for each point less than 9).

Oh my God. Seriously? Phucker Phactor? Mage’s have a 50% chance of accidentally grabbing their wands upside-down? You’d think they’d take that into account. Wouldn’t a fumble on the Attack roll be more realistic?

Erol Otus' take on Gandalf's battle with the balrog, I think.

Erol Otus’ take on Gandalf’s battle with the balrog, I think.

Hargrave goes on to suggest a surprisingly modern-sounding solution to a common problem that was not addressed until D&D 3E — touch attacks. If a magical attack simply requires contact and not penetration, he suggests giving the attacker a flat +4 bonus to do so. That’s elegant, though I think I prefer the “Touch AC” solution that D20 adopted.

Finally we get to another of Gary Gygax’s sore points — spell points or, as Arduin calls them, “manna points”. Here’s the formula that Hargrave used: “Take the mages (sic) intelligence and multiply it by his level, then if his intelligence is 8 or less, divide by four. If it is 9 to 12, divide by three, and if it is 13 or greater divide by two. Therefore, a 7th level mage with an intelligence of 16 would multiply 16 x 7 = 112 and divide 112 by  2 = 56 manna points that the mage will generate each twelve hour period of rest.”

Whew. More math. More fun. And the fun continues when we actually start casting spells. Most first level spells, we are told, cost one to one and a half manna points. One and a half? In addition to all that multiplication and division we’re expected to keep track of half points. At this point, Gary Gygax’s complaint that spell points add more unnecessary bookkeeping is beginning to sound better and better.

A mage can use his “manna” (I believe the correct spelling is actually “mana” which Hargrave uses later in the book) points to cast spells he has memorized, but how many spells can he memorize? Again, Hargrave’s answer is in the form of a guideline, but he essentially tells you to use whatever system you like:

…the Dungeons and Dragons game has a nice workable system but as this is the Arduin Grimoire, here’s mine: For every two levels of experience, a mage can use one level of spells… However, there is a limiting factor based upon intelligence… the user’s intelligence is divided by two, thus a mage with an 18 intelligence could do up to ninth level spells…

So take whatever I have that you like, use the old established system, delve into Empire of the Petal Throne, Red Moon and White Bear (sic… The game was actually called White Bear and Red Moon, and can be purchased on Amazon for a mere $269) in a magic system. Who knows, it may end up such a good system that people will want you to publish your supplement!

And so once more we have the general outline of a decent magic system, but lacking any specifics or exceptions. How do mages get spells to memorize in the first place? Do they have spellbooks as in D&D? Spells can be cast at fractional power with similarly fractional mana expenditure — do you round up or down? Does “half power” halve the range as well as the damage? If you are using spells from another game such as D&D, how much mana do those spells cost? And so on.

There’s a really joyful sense of experimentation and chaotic wildness to Hargrave’s work. It’s mad, to be sure, but it’s a pretty intense and infectious madness. I keep coming back to how rigid TSR was growing at this point, and how imaginative and unfettered the rest of the growing gaming industry had become. The entire situation seems today like a huge disconnect between TSR and their customers, as Gygax savagely condemned the very people he should have been encouraging.

Another welter of charts follows — the “Turn-Away” (i.e. turn undead) chart, the “Detect Ability” chart which lists percentage chances for various classes and devices to detect such things as poison, evil, magic, alignment, weather, enemies, undead, treasure, traps, invisible objects, etc., etc., and tables of saving throws for items, character classes and races.

When Mr. Oogie Boogie says/There's trouble close at hand/You'd better pay attention now/'Cause I'm the Boogie Man

When Mr. Oogie Boogie says/There’s trouble close at hand/You’d better pay attention now/’Cause I’m the Boogie Man

I love the next table to death — it’s a random matrix for generating magical items. Roll a 50 in the “Type of Weapon” column and, for example, you get a bolo (yes, a bolo — the weapon, not the giant cyber-tank). Continue to roll, and you discover that it is a +3 attack, +2 damage, Intelligence 15, Ego 16 magic bolo with the ability to detect undead, makes its user 100% immune to dragon breath and has a 9-step level draining ability.

Whew! That’s a lot for a damned little bolo. This table gives some other goofy results, like a dancing vorpal crossbow or a battleaxe of elemental conjuring.

Next we have a table for “prismatic walls and their usage.” I’m not entirely sure that prismatic walls deserve a full table here, but in any event you learn that a Bronze prismatic wall “stops all spells fired from wands, and does damage only to wands (they explode).” This is still more of Hargrave’s rough-note taking that takes the place of actually writing rules, and is only one example. I presume that any wand that “fires” through a bronze prismatic wall explodes, but the rule says “does damage only to wands.” Is the explosion harmless to the wielder, then? If so, how much damage is inflicted and does the wand get a save? I’m sure that all of this was handled by Hargrave on the spot, and may have changed from gaming session to gaming session.

The entry for Violet prismatic walls is similar — its effect is “General anti-magic shell, insanity.” What the hell does this mean? Anyone inside it goes insane? Anyone who tries to cast through it? Move through it? Look at it? Arduin is delightfully goofy and exuberant, but don’t expect specifics here. Ever.

Now we finally get to spells and even though there are only a few pages of them, they are indeed impressive. I can only go over a few of the more choice spells. They’re all identified by name, level, mana cost, range, area and effects. As I’m sure you’ve guessed they are jumbled together in random order, but thank goodness they are organized by character class.

Given the vagueness of Hargrave’s “rules” up to this point, his spells are surprisingly specific. The first spell in the druid list, for example is Yalywyn’s Spell of the Singing Winds:

Level: 3rd; Mana cost: 3 plus 3 per hour to sustain. Range: 120′; Area Affected: 60’diameter plus additional 10′ per level over level needed to use. Effects: A wonderfully scented gentle wind blows melodious music within the spell area, which immediately charms all up to 6th level into sitting and listening raptly.

Holy crap, that’s only the first spell! To me it seems like a pretty damnably powerful spell, since it apparently automatically (and “automatically” says to me “no saving throw”) charms every single life-form of level 6 and under in an area of over 45,000 square feet! And it evidently continues for as long as the caster cares to maintain it!

The fun never stops in Arduin — mage spells have names like Stephan le Strange’s Spell of the Instant Idleness, which essentially does the same thing as the Singing Winds spell, although targets are granted a saving throw. Masayuki’s Mist of Malevolent Misery creates “a purple, roiling, squirming greasy fog that moans and gibbers,” causing all victims of 2nd level or under to automatically choke to death (you get a save if you’re 4th level or higher, but still “suffer from intense confusion, dizzyness, nausea and watering eyes as long as still in the cloud,” even though there is no explanation what game effects these conditions have). Yorgan’s Falling For Forever Spell causes the target to become weightless and “fall” upward away from the planet at a rate of 100′ per turn. Khurluu’s Call of the Hell Spawn summons one demon locust +1 per level over minimum.

Clerics aren’t neglected either — they get things like Visions of Hell that causes victims to “see all your deepest ID nightmare sin living color and stereophonic sound. They can kill if they’re believed in.” The Spell of the Horns of Joshua (yes, the Judeo-Christian faiths are alive and well in Arduin) buildings to collapse (though again there are no specifics for the size of building, how much damage they do, etc.), and inflicts damage on everyone in the area.

As you can see, Hargrave didn’t hold back when it came to spectacular, Biblical-level spells. Jehovah might be a pretty mellow guy in this reality, but in Arduin he’s a fuckin’ badass. Real Old Testament Wrath-o-God shit here, kids.

Rune weavers then get some of their own spells, webs that they weave with magic. The webs are all different colors and have various effects — white webs cause cold damage, flashing metallic blue webs cause electrical shock, while mottled grey-green webs cause those caught in them to be “stoned for the duration of the web.” As this web is called Argoth’s Spell of the Spider Golem I strongly suspect that when Hargrave said “stoned” he meant “turned to stone” rather than “being reduced to complete dumbass status after using recreational drugs.”

The awesome Arduin campaign map. It makes it all seem almost real.

The awesome Arduin campaign map. It makes it all seem almost real.

Magical items follow, and they’re exactly what you’d expect from David Hargrave. The Misty Boots of Silent Speed allow the wearer to move on any surface, even illusions (!) at double speed and with absolute silence. Consider the consequences, my friends. An illusionist casts the image of a bridge across the deep chasm and presto! The rogue with the Misty Boots is across in a trice… Damn.

The Golden Drops of Heavenly Essence will “100% restore any dead being regardless of damage or how little of said being is left. They will cure disease, insanity and amnesia. They are so rare that only 21 drops have been seen in the last 1,200 years!”

Now I admit that I skipped most of the next section, packed with combat charts, guidelines for melee and missile combat and other stuff that I never really cared for in the first place. One of the best-known, most widely-known and infamous sections of Arduin is next, and it’s the part that I turned to most often. I speak, of course, about David Hargrave’s legendary Critical Hit and Critical Fumble tables!

But I think that’s going to have to wait until the next entry, as it’s getting late, my entry is already downright epic, and I’m exhausted. Tune in next time for the last part of the original Arduin Grimoire (including monsters and demons!), and the next two volumes in the series — Welcome to Skull Tower and the Rooms of Dune!

Excuse me. I mean Runes of Doom. My apologies. Peace out.

4 thoughts on “The Hall of RPG Oddities: The Arduin Grimoire (Okay there is ONE NSFW image in this because I got bored and ran out of pictures…)

  1. rafael

    loved this post. i even copy it to read it better later. im very into “weird stuff” of rpg 😉

    just have a question about this:Gygax was busy telling us that we had to play the game exactly as he’d written it, or we were all traitors who would wreck everyone else’s fun.

    where did you read this? old magazines, maybe? i cant recall reading such a negative thing from gygax (im not saying he was a saint, but i just dont remember all those things)

  2. Anthony Pryor Post author

    Check out this earlier entry: for a long piece I did on one of Gygax’s more cranky editorials. While he was a genuine character and the guy we should regularly raise our glasses to as the father of modern rpgs, he was (as you say) not without his flaws.


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