Thursday, 15 July 2021

OD&D 30+ years on, as played by Gygax

Gygax's House Rules for OD&D.

Three years before his death 2008, Gary ran an OD&D campaign for his group. This is a compilation of notes about the rules for that campaign, with my comments following. This information was gained from answers given in Gary's Q&A threads on ENWorld as well as some tales of the campaign posted by Deogolf. They boil down to these: 

 • Only use the three little books- Gary didn't use anything from the supplements.

Character Generation and Advancement 
 • Ability scores rolled as best 3 out of 4d6. Scores are arranged to taste. 
• PCs started at 3rd level. 
• Fighters get +1 HP/die. All PCs get +1 HP/die if Con >14. 
• No training necessary to gain a level.

 Initiative and surprise 
• 1d6 for surprise: 1=1 round, 2=2 rounds. 3 or more= no surprise. 
• PCs must declare actions before initiative. Caster's must declare the specific spell being cast. 
 • 1d6 for initiative. A tie means simultaneous combat. 
• A casting spell caster who loses initiative will lose his spell if hit. 
• All PCs get 1d6 hp/level. HP rolls are re-rolled on a 1. 
• Fighters do +1 damage if Strength> 14. 
• Dexterity does not affect AC. 
• Dexterity does affect missile attack "to hit" rolls. 
• PCs are unconscious at 0 hp. They can go as low as level +1 before death (e.g a 4th level fighter can be brought as low as -5 hp and just be unconscious). A healing potion or cure spell will restore them immediately. 

Spells & Spell Books
 • To acquire new spells, casters must find scrolls, spellbooks, or a friendly higher-level caster. 
• Clerics don't need spell books (The original books can be read to imply that they do). 

Magic items
• Gary identified most magic items immediately on return from the dungeon (by charging large sums of money for this service, when players rest and recouperate in town).
• Potions must be tasted to identify them however. 
• Unusual items require a trip to a very high level Magic-User.

I find these house rules interesting in several ways. The first thing that strikes me is how few of them there are. This is Gary playing more than 30 years after the game was first created and there isn't much he wants to change. Mostly, these notes are really clarifications rather than additional or changed rules. Such as the reminder that Clerics don't need spell books and that Magic-Users need to find new spells for themselves. 

Some of these house rules are actually really affirmations of "Old School" playing style such as Potions having to be tasted, high level magicians have to be sought out to identify some magic items and no need for special "training" when a PC has enough xp to go up a level.  Plus the fact that the referee can start PCs off at a level appropriate to the campaign.

The modified rules for surprise are quite fun and it's worth noting how much difference this simple tweak could make. Two rounds of surprise is enough for either the players or the monsters to prepare or inflict quite a lot of damage to their surprised and confused opponents. I think on the whole though, this rule benefits the players more than the monsters as they are more likely to be able to inflict missile or spell damage from a distance before the Melee proper starts.

The statement that players must declare intent before rolling for iniative is interesting too. Of course, many players and DMs may do it that way already, but Gary obviously felt it necessary to tell his players this. Making players make tactical choices before they know who is going to act first should make them think a little harder and possibly be more cautious.

The biggest rule changes Gary makes are around hit points and all are designed to make characters survive longer (a tacit agreement here from Gary with a lot of players, who deemed the game as written was a little too tough!) Fighting-Men get the best deal... an extra hit point per hit dice is a big boost! Interestingly, this brings the average score rolled per d6, up from 3 to 4. Which is roughly the same average per die as BX's d8 for Fighters' hit dice. Fighters (and Fighters only) also benefit from a change in the boundaries on the table for extra damage due to high(ish) Strength. The final house rule to affect survivability is also a big one for those players and DMs who play Rules As Written. In Gary's game, you ain't dead at 0 hit points- just unconscious. To be properly dead you need to lose extra hit points equal to one more than your level. Obviously, this benefits higher level characters and is more generous than some house rules such as using a character's Constitution score as a guide to exactly how dead you are.

These house rules of Gary's have been out in the wild for some years now but I've never heard anyone say that they have tried them out. Perhaps that's because people are either happy with their own house rules for these aspects of the game or they are playing OD&D RAW. So there's my challenge to myself I guess. Next time I crack open my White Box, I need a copy of Gary's House Rules nicely typed out in the right font an tucked in with my Reference Sheets.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Arduin Influences Part 2

Arduin Influences: A Triptych View—Part Two
By Gabriel A. Roark

Arduin, invented and re-invented

Publication No. 1b, Multiversalist Society of Sacramento
© 2021 Gabriel A. Roark
This essay concludes a two-part treatment of the influences on David A. Hargrave’s (DAH) most enduring work, the multivolume Arduin Grimoire Now we will look at DAH’s historical influences: the nonfictional works, mythologies, & religions of our own world. Personal influences consist of DAH’s experiences & relationships, such as those with other gamers.
DAH drew much material from historical sources: real-Earth chronicles & myths find representation in the Arduin corpus (e.g., Hargrave 1985a:25). The Arduin Grimoire (AG), Volume VIII, devotes nearly nine pages to summaries of Arduin’s best known or most prominent faiths. Of the 68 religions & cults summarized in those pages, eleven draw from our world’s mythologies. Some Arduinians worship the deities of the Celtic (the Emerald Star Cult), Christian (Khrysterios, League of Faiths of the Followers of Christ), Egyptian (the Aegyptian Pantheon), Greek (the Olympian Mysteries), Islamic (Falhaine, or The Confederacy of the Followers of Allah), Norse (The Temple of Iron), Roman (Pax Romana), Hindu (The Vedic Mysteries), & Zoroastrian (the Zoroastrian League) pantheons. Each is lifted straight from the pages of our holy texts, oral traditions, & scholarship, albeit with historical trajectories peculiar to their history since entering Khaas. (Hargrave 1985b:85, 1988:71–80, 2008:332–333.)

Arduin borrowed from many mythologies

Other, real-world religious borrowings include the Temple of Timat (Tiamat in AGII) & the Temple of the True Tarot (Hargrave 1985b:85, 1988:71–80, 2008:332–333). DAH’s Tiamat is also called The Destroyer & is supposedly destined to consume or destroy the multiverse (Hargarve 1988:78). A similar concept is contained in the Third Tablet of The Seven Tablets of Creation (Enûma Eliš), a Babylonian cuneiform epic. In this tradition, Tiamat gathers to herself an array of deities & created monsters (mainly dragons & serpents) to war against many younger gods, including her own offspring. Although the Enûma Eliš does not couch the conflict in terms of multiversal annihilation (as did DAH), the cosmic battle occurred before humanity existed & was on a grand scale. (King 1902.) Arduin’s Destroyer is clearly of the Babylonian ilk.
The Temple of the True Tarot is another borrowing or repurposing of real-world spiritual practice into the Arduinian mythos. Taroteers eschew the building of temples in favor of their personal tarot decks. Many adherents also take on a specific card as their patron or deity. The card motifs are identical to those of our world, though not always in their interpretations. (Hargrave 1988:78.)
DAH seasoned Arduin with game mechanics & assumptions garnered from his personal connections & experiences as well. Among these is a pair of supplementary critical hit tables entitled, “Real Medicine and Fantasy Gaming.” Hargrave’s friend, doctor of internal medicine William Voorhees, wrote a set of crits to add a higher degree of realism to AGI’s crit tables. Voorhees levied his knowledge of human somatic capacities to augment both the effects of a crit & the rate of healing implied by the wound. DAH integrated Voorhees’ contributions more-or-less wholesale into AGII. (Hargrave 1985b:29–30, 2008:34–35.) In Mark Schynert’s revision of the Arduin rules toward DAH’s “Arduin, Bloody Arduin,” Voorhees revised the main critical hit table (Hargrave 1992:Table 43; Schynert 1992:iii). DAH sought a core realism to gird his fantastical world; his collaborators followed suit with the posthumous revision & release of The Compleat Arduin.

Arduin Compleat. Book 1

In these essays, we examined a fraction of DAH’s inspirations behind Arduin. We saw how the Dreamweaver pulled threads from science fiction, varied mythologies, & the expertise of personal contacts & friends. Still, one might wonder what is significant about knowing anything about DAH’s influences?” Leaving aside curiosity or sentimentality, I can think of two reasons why one might care. First, knowing the sources that informed a work enhances verisimilitude in the game. The culture of the game milieu & the game rules governing it are more apt to harmonize if referees & players understand the game setting & assumptions. Acquaintance with the designer’s sources is invaluable for roleplaying & refereeing alike; it allows one to tinker with the game mechanics or setting in an intelligent way. Too, studying a designer’s key texts & aesthetic can lead one to works that might otherwise go unplumbed. Be like Dave: sift the immense strand of real & imagined lives, keep what is useful, & implement it in your campaigns such that gems of memorable personae & plausible worlds inhabit your table.
Hargrave, David A. 1985a. The Arduin Grimoire: Volume 1. 4th print. San Francisco: Grimoire Games. 94 pp.
—. 1985b. Welcome to Skull Tower. The Arduin Grimoire, Volume II. San Francisco: Grimoire Games. 99 pp.
—. 1988. The Winds of Chance. The Arduin Grimoire, Volume VIII. October. 1st Ed. Boulder, CO: Dragon Tree Press.
—. 1992. The Compleat Arduin, Book One: The Rules. Revised & edited by Mark Schynert. San Diego, CA: Grimoire Games. 102 pp.
—. 2008. Arduin Trilogy. Edited by Becky Osiecki & Ben Pierce. Cheektowaga, NY: Emperors Choice Games & Miniatures Corp. PDF version, 564 pp.
King, Leonard W. (Translator). 1902. The Seven Tablets of Creation. Electronic document,, accessed July 11, 2019.
Schynert, Mark. 1992. Preface to Book One. In The Compleat Arduin, Book One: The Rules, by David A. Hargrave, p. iii. Edited & compiled by Mark Schynert. San Diego, CA: Grimoire Games.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Arduin Influences part 1

Arduin Influences: A Triptych View—Part One

By Gabriel A. Roark

Publication No. 1a, Multiversalist Society of Sacramento

© 2021 Gabriel A. Roark

David A. Hargrave’s (DAH) The Arduin Grimoire (1977) is among the early, unofficial Dungeons & Dragons (D&D, Gygax and Arneson 1974) variants commercially published outside of the Great Lakes fold. The first volume of The Arduin Grimoire (AGI) was an outgrowth of DAH’s home campaign; subsequent Arduin releases not only brought mechanical variations on D&D but also revealed more about Arduin’s setting and history. The world of Khaas, in which Arduin is a small kingdom, is a complex milieu. DAH and several of the players in his Arduin campaigns devised cultures, laws, spells, races, and so on. What were the influences from which DAH weaved the rich tapestry of the Arduin Grimoires? Arduin gaming products and DAH’s correspondence are forthright about many of these influences. This short essay examines a fraction of the grist to DAH’s mill and highlights some areas where his reading and personal experiences manifest as Arduin rules and setting. In all of this, the existence of a new type of gaming—the fantasy wargame or roleplaying game (RPG)—is treated as a given and not as an influence as such. Although we could speculate whether DAH might have published an RPG had Tactical Studies Rules not published D&D (see Spoor 2012 for a little-substantiated report that DAH had claimed to have invented the RPG), the fact is that D&D was the catalyst for all RPGs that came after it. D&D was, in effect, the “Let there be light,” moment for the hobby we all enjoy.

In discussing DAH’s source inspirations for Arduin, I find it convenient to group them into three categories: literary, historical, & personal. The literary category covers fiction—whether written or visual media—and is the subject of this part. The historical taxon and personal influences appear in part two of this article. 

Literary influences on Arduin are multitudinous. DAH wrote about his sources of inspiration and recommended reading in several places: Arduin gaming books, amateur press associations, and professional gaming journals (Hargrave 1980:63–64). A prime example of his literary borrowing is the deodanth.

In Arduin, the deodanth is a playable race (that is, allowable for player characters as well as non-player characters). It was among the exotic monster options in RPG books when AGI was first published, although probably instantly recognizable to fantasy and science fiction fans of the 1970s. The deodand’s creator (Vance 1977:73) paints the deodand as, “taller and heavier than himself [Cugel the Clever], black as midnight except for shining white eyes, white teeth and claws, wearing straps of leather to support a velvet green shirt.”

DAH’s description is similar: “Deodanths are 6’ to 7’ tall ebon humanoids with flaming red eyes and silver claws and fangs. They wear military trappings, but no clothes.” (Hargrave 2008:208.)

As to the personality of deodands, Vance writes, “The Deodand, Mazirian knew, craved his body for meat” (Vance 2000:25). AGIII similarly characterizes deodanths: “They seldom take prisoners, and those they do capture, they have a tendency to eat (probably due to their totally omnivorous eating habits)!” (Hargrave 1985a:20, 2008:64)

Finally AGIII contains a thinly veiled reference to the creatures of Vance’s Dying Earth stories: “Thaumaturgical research confirmed the fact that they are an evolutionary hybrid of ‘undead’ Elven kind and some other dark and unknown thing. This supports the legend that they are lost time travellers from eons in the future, when the universe is old and the suns are dying.” (Hargrave 1985a:20, 2008:64; emphases added.)


An associate of Hargrave’s recently pointed out to me that Lin Carter’s deodand might also have influenced DAH’s conception of the race. Specifically, both DAH and Carter describe Deodanths as possessing cat-like qualities. Carter’s deodand was a six-legged felinoid creature—very different from Vance and DAH’s physical descriptions, but DAH describes the basic social unit (to the extent that this solitary creature socializes) of deodanths as a pride. Lore has it that DAH secured permission from Vance to use the deodanth in Arduin. (Hargrave 1992:12; CK, personal communication, June 23, 2019.)


~To be continued in Part Two~


Gygax, Gary, and Dave Arneson. 1974. Dungeons & Dragons. 3 vols. Lake Geneva, WI: Tactical Studies Rules.

Hargrave, David A. 1977. The Arduin Grimoire. 94 pp.

—. 1980. The Arduin Adventure. Berkeley, CA: Grimoire Games.

—. 1985a. The Runes of Doom. The Arduin Grimoire, Volume III. San Francisco: Grimoire Games. 95 pp.

—. 1992. The Compleat Arduin, Book One: The Rules. Revised and edited by Mark Schynert. San Diego, CA: Grimoire Games. 102 pp.


—. 2008. Arduin Trilogy. Edited by Becky Osiecki and Ben Pierce. Cheektowaga, NY: Emperors Choice Games & Miniatures Corp. PDF version, 564 pp.


Spoor, Ryk E. 2012. Under the Influence: The Arduin Grimoires. November 23. Electronic document,, accessed July 1, 2019.

Vance, Jack. 1977. Eyes of the Overworld. Gregg Press. Originally published in 1966, Ace Books. 189 pp.

—. 2000. Mazirian the Magician. Tom Doherty Associates. 186 pp. 

Friday, 21 May 2021



The Anxiety of Influence*

(*Yes, I've read Harold Bloom)

We are often told that Jack Vance was a huge influence of Gygax's vision for D&D. And indeed, reading the three little brown books it's clear that Vance is there in the mix. But it seems to me that Dave Hargrave's creation, Arduin, is much more Dying Earth than D&D straight ever was. It's not just the borrowing of some Vancian creatures (Deodand/Deodanth for example) nor the way in Arduin, every spell is named after the wizard who created it (à la Vance), but more so in the spirit of the world which comes through the writing. Arduin is famously odd and full of humorous eccentricity and absolutely as deadly a place to live as The Dying Earth. Magic in both worlds can propel any character to fantastic heights and then dash him to smithereens in an instant. Both places generate a picaresque feeling of multiple incidents flowing ever onward, all within a slightly off centred world. A place where unless you have your wits about you, a viciously random death is always waiting around the corner.

Deodanths of Arduin

In Arduin as in Vance's world, the astonishing mixes with the mundane in almost equal measure. A casual conversation in the Dancing Termite Inn can easily lead to a sudden adventure in the be-trapped home of a tremendously powerful Rune Weaver magician for example. And everywhere in Arduin there is colour and variety- how many races can players choose from, thirty at least! In the Dying Earth, one might be transported by magic or the whim of a powerful sage to other dimensions (the Overworld and Underworlds) and in Arduin, portals and various meeting places of the dimensions exist to whisk a character off to almost anywhere in the Multiverse.

The Famous Dancing Termite Inn

I don't know if an Appendix N of reading matter and influences exists for Dave Hargrave. But I'll bet Vance would be high up on the list if it did.

Post Script:

One of the great things about blogging is that quite often, you find the answers to the questions you have posed. Thus, I now have been reminded about the bibliography in The Arduin Adventure... and there's no Vance! Mind you, there aren't any other works of fiction either. Hargrave's reading seems mainly of the non-fiction sort. There is a short note 'thanking' several fiction writers however, chief amongst whom is Clark Ashton Smith. I have been told by someone who played at Hargrave's table (thanks CK!) that Dave was indeed a big Dying Earth fan and that he was in contact with Vance and even got an enthusiastic blessing to use the Deodand in Arduin. So there you go.

Now, it's seems about time I read some Ashton-Smith...