Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Arduin Grimoire, part 2

Today I'm going to cover pages one through thirteen of the original Arduin Grimoire.  Maybe that sounds like a lot bust most of these pages are bigass charts.

At the top of page one is the title HOW TO PLAY THE GAME and then it immediately dives into rules for overland travel.  This is pretty much how Hargrave operates throughout the trilogy; lots of interesting stuff but no obvious organization.   Anyway, Hargrave's stated rule is to roll a 1 in 6 chance of a wilderness encounter  every dang hour, with chances doubling for terrain like woods and swamps and also doubling at night.  So if you're camped in the woods you have a 4 in 6 chance of going to the wandering monster charts every 60 minutes.  And I thought the rules for this in the first edition DMG were harsh.  Honestly, I can hardly believe this rule was ever used as written except by total dick DMs.

Hargrave hides two neat charts in this section.  In more than one place in his books he describes a dice chart via a sentence in a larger paragraph.  Here's his idea in chart form:

Initial Wilderness Monster Reactions, unintelligent critters (roll d12)
1-3 frightened off
4-6 shies back, hesitant
7-9 warily approaches party
10-12 berserk attack

Initial Wilderness Monster Reactions, intelligent beings (roll d12)
1-4 flee
5-8 indecisive
9-12 unhesitating attack

So dumb monsters are less likely to throw themselves at you than intelligent ones.  Another gem in this section is when Hargrave gets around to applying his wandering monster rules to dungeons.  He assumes that the basic unit of dungeoneers is the three person party and that wandering monsters should be increased for larger groups.  "[I]f you have a party of three than only one red dragon shows up, if you have 4-6, then it's two and so on" (Emphasis mine.)

Next up is Hargrave's experience point rules.  No xp for gold in the world of Arduin.  "After all, it is the act of robbery, not the amount stolen, that gives the thief his experience."  The chart that follows reminds me just a bit of the system used in Rolemaster/MERP.  Does anyone know if those guys played Arduin early on?  You can score experience by acquiring potent magic items, defeating foes in single combat and taking important roles in the party like group leader or point man.  Hargrave awards 400 xp for dying and being brought back to life.  Killing a demi-god in single combat is only worth 350xp, so I hope these are bonus awards in addition to standard fight XP but the rules here don't say one way or the other.  All in all it's a fun-looking system, but I think I'll stick to 1gp = xp and 1HD = 100xp for sheer simplicity.

Pages three and four are XP charts for a buttload of classes: thief, slaver, techno, courtesan, assassin, alchemist, rune weaver, saint, "all outlaws", warrior, cleric, monk, mage, illusionist, druid, "singer or bard", ranger, normal, barbarian.  Not all of these classes are statted up in this volume.  The XP progressions looks fairly normal just glancing at the chart, but in fact advancement is much faster starting around level 5 or so.    For example a thief needs 21,000 xp to reach 8th level, but only 24,500 xp for 9th and 28,000 for tenth.  So maybe killing a demi-god really is worth only 350 points.  Another oddity is that the chart goes to 105th level for each class but after 20th level you seem to go up 5 levels at a time.  I.e. there is no 21st level.  A Techno with 100,000 to 149,999 experience is twentieth level.  Score one more point and that character is now 25th.  At least that's what the chart seems to imply.

Next up is the level limit chart for a huge variety of races, including giants, tritons, "piscoids" and all sorts of other stuff.  Note that two classes on the chart here, psychic and paladin, do not appear on the XP charts on the immediately preceding pages.  This is another common occurrence in the Grimoire: page 4 and page 5 don't seem to be on speaking terms.  Given that the XP charts go up to 105th level (with a 'for every level thereafter' amount as well) most of the level limits are quite low.  Most races have one or two classes they are allowed unlimited advance, with the rest severely capped or outright forbidden.  The absurd part comes in with the last column, which is labeled for All Others.  Most races have unlimited advancement in every class not specifically mentioned on the chart.  So if I made a Cave Man PC (which I totally would) I could play up to a 4th level Mage, a second level "Thief, etc.", an 8th level Warrior, a 2nd level Psychic or a 105th level Techno.  Personally, I love the insanity of this chart, but I could see how it would frustrate normal people.  On other note: only humans and half-elves can become paladins.  All other races are barred from this class.

Pages six and seven are a stat min-max chart by race.  Some races appear here that weren't on the level limit charts on the preceding pages.  For example, I can tell you that Balrogs have Wisdom scores between 5 and 10 and that Silicate Life characters are rated between 1 and 12 for Charisma.  This chart is the first place we Hargrave's expanded ability score list: Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, Ego, Agility, Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Mechanical Ability, Swimming Ability.  There's also a column labeled Magic Resistance, but it's not a 3-18 score.  Rather the entires here look like a saving throw adjustment between -2 to +4, or "even", presumably indicating no bonus, or "special", which according to a note indicates 50% magic resistance.

Pages 8 and 9 are random height and weight charts.  Per the height chart Hargrave goes in for Tolkienian tall elves.  The height chart and weight chart look to me like they were written at different times, as the height chart is all Tolkien races. (And Amazons. Hargrave always sneaks in some amazons wherever he can, a policy I heartily approve.) The weight chart contains a lot of other races.  So I can tell you the weight of a Arduin gnoll but I have no idea how tall he is.

Next up is a large illo of an Amazon (see, I told you) and a Vampusa throwing down.  A Vampusa is a vampire/medusa hybrid.  This is standard operating procedure for Hargrave: If two monsters are interesting, why not smoosh 'em together?  Also on this page is a small chart.  It's percentage based but is structured such that a single d10 will do.

Body Type Determination Table
1-2  Skinny-Boney, -1 Str
3-4 Wirey-Tough, +1 Dex
5-6 Average, "As It Says"
7-8 Muscular, +1 Str
9 Very Muscular, +1 Con, +2 Str
0 Obese, -1 Con, -1 Dex

Given the odds here, I would gladly roll on that chart.  Maybe I'll start using it.

The next two pages are another bigass racial chart labeled NOTES ON FANTASTIC BEINGS.   Basically for a whole passle of races you get average life span (noted as "Arduin years"), age of majority, usual alignment, ability to mate fertilly [sic] with humans, general temperment [sic again] and "Notes, Observations, Typical Stuff".  Again there are races here not appearing on any of the previous charts.  Elves, orcs, trolls, titans, pixies, nixies and demons are all immortal.  About half the races listed are interfertile with humans, but about half of those produce sterile offspring.  By the chart half-orcs are one of the mule races.  The last column has all sorts of brief stereotyping going on.  Amazons are "pushy, men-baiters, frequently lesbian" while kobolds "love to gang up on cripples, thieves", the sort of thing that can be useful to a DM but a terror to players whose jerkwad DM insists they play their PC 'by the book'.

Next up is the random alignment chart, which is labeled as being specifically for players.  Hargrave starts with Gygax's ninefold system but adds some edge case alignments like Marginally Lawful and Amoral Evil.  Each alignment is rated with a percentile Kill Factor, Lie Factor, Tolerance Factor, Loyalty Factor and Cruelty Factor.  The usage of these percentiles is not explained, but these numbers do a better job explaining alignment than most text descriptions, including most of the text descriptions in the far right column of this chart.  I do like that Marginally Lawful is the alignment of 'those losing faith in the system', though.  To ruin a perfectly good system/make things more interesting everyone has a 10% chance of their alignment secretly being Insane.

Whew.  That's all for now.  Next installment will feature two of my favorite sections, the random special ability charts and the new classes.


  1. "the chart goes to 105th level for each class but after 20th level you seem to go up 5 levels at a time..."

    I always figured Hargrave just couldn't fit the whole chart on the page and abbreviated it so it could fit. So a Techno had to earn 10,000 exp per level between 20 and 25.

    Not that imagine very many PCs playing in an Arduin campaign would ever make it to such high levels.

  2. Given that our party will be running into Vemusas every hour or so as we wander through the swamp, it is unlikely that the level cap for my troglodyte PC is going to be much of a problem.
    This is fascinating stuff --- keep it coming!
    Hopefully, Dave Hargrave didn't use all of his own rules at once.

  3. In the first edition, there is simply "The Dread Vampusa" illustrated on p. 12.

    On experience... yeah, it's hard to imagine anyone surviving that long using RAW, and my understanding is that Hargrave had a rep as a "killer DM". I suspect much of the high-level stuff in Arduin was "theoretical", or else some characters were given artificially high levels.

    It's also worth emphasizing that despite many attempts at historical revision, it is not possible to look at "The Arduin Grimoire" as it was published and say "Oh, this is clearly a new system." It is self-evidently and clearly Hargrave's house rules for D&D and they make no sense as a stand-alone game. You have "new" spells which clearly fit with existing spells, classes which aren't defined because they're defined in D&D, etc.

    Lastly, I love the "micronote" style on the charts. Just enough to kick your imagination off.

  4. I like this... It seems crazy, but it can work, with willing players!

  5. I've been meaning to acquire a copy of this forever. I really must do so.
    thanks for the run down Jeff.

  6. For years Hargrave wanted to publish his Magnum opus titled " Arduin, Bloody, Arduin. Eventually much of it was released as "The Complete Arduin" after his passing but quite a chunk of ABA never made it to the publisher.

  7. Anonymous11:52 AM

    Having 80th, 90th, 105th, etc. level characters is quite cool.

  8. The alignment rules are brilliant. I'd use them in an instant. The secret alignment seems to predict the White Wolf system of nature and demeanour, and I wonder if the percentile statistics indicate some kind of roll-play mechanic, so if your character is in a situation where he might lie, you have a look at your Lie Factor and roll against that to see if he does in fact tell a fib.

  9. The "Lie Factor" is a rather infamous consequence of an early typo in Original D&D, where rules meant to print "% lair" but instead wrote "% liar". Many people took it as written and assumed this was the chance the monster would lie, and all else springs from that.

  10. Vampusa! I love it.

  11. If you get around to the modules you'll see that there is no way characters of the specified levels could ever get past the second or third room.

    A lot of it sure seems like it would make more sense if you were really, really high.

  12. I have a copy of this volume which I got on e-bay for $12.50, or so. I feel I got a great deal with the understanding that the book has some writing and highlighting in it. I haven't taken the time to completely study the book so I really appreciate your cover to cover review. I believe see obvious influences from Arduin on EC already.

  13. By coincidence, my freshly ordered copy of the Emperor's Choice reprint volumes of the Trilogy arrived this very afternoon. I had the box of the Trilogy in my youth, but it appears to have been lost to bad luck or youthful indiscretion. I'm glad to have them back in my hands, after a fashion.

    In any case, the books are so chock full of gonzo that they're almost unusable as anything other than a well of ideas. But for that purpose, they are largely unsurpassed :)

  14. @Venemous: Meaning no sarcasm of any kind... what else would the books ever be used for? There's no actual game there, they're a very unofficial third party supplement for D&D. (When the OGL came out, EmpCho made noise about releasing Arduin stuff converted to 3e, but then they got confused as to their legal status and decided not to do it. Foo.)

  15. I like that even more so than OD&D, it seems to indicate that the earliest players of the game were modding things not to simulate a more realistic fantasy world, but to make things more fun and interesting as a game being played at a table. It didn't matter if it didn't make sense in the "world" because who cares? It's a glorfied boardgame, where you can do whatever you want. The coupling of insane variety with fast character turnaround shows how quickly some folks took D&D as a toolkit right away and threw literally everything they could at it. Thanks for reviewing this, since it's not available in PDF and I won't buy it in print.

  16. @Lizard: Oh, you're certainly right. Even when I was 12 I saw that it would be impossible to play Arduin without adding it in to some other game, with D&D being the natural choice. I actually attempted to put together a White Box + Arduin campaign with some of the non-RPGers in my Boy Scout troop back in the day.

    I guess what I was really trying to say is that the Arduin books are best dipped into somewhat sparingly, rather than ingested in their entirety as our friend Jeff is doing. I find that flipping to a random page in any particular Arduin book when I'm feeling low on the inspiration level is a guaranteed hit of needed gonzo. But reading them all the way through? Madness, I tells ya! :)

  17. Would anyone be interested in my slavishly imitating Jeff and doing a similar readthrough of the ultra-obscure and even more gonzo supplement from the same era, "Booty And The Beast"?