Wednesday 28 July 2021

Arneson and Gygax's first collaboration.

Cover of first edition

Most of us have heard the story of the collaboration between Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, which led to the birth of Dungeons and Dragons in 1974. But this was not the first time these two game innovators had worked together to produce and publish a game. Their first joint publication, together with Mike Carr, was for Guidon Games and it was a set of Napoleonic Naval wargame rules called: "Don't Give Up The Ship".

Early Naval wargames required clean floors.

The title is a reference to the dying words of the captain of the USS Chesapeake in 1812 during the American-English War of that year. 

Gygax had begun writing a set of Napoleonic Naval rules in 1968 but soon realised he was out of his depth (no pun intended!) Then, at Gen Con 2 in August 1969, Gary met a young Napoleonic wargamer by the name of Dave Arneson and gaming history began to happen.

The International Wargamer magazine.

When Gary heard that Dave and his group in Minneapolis were putting their own rules set together, they decided to co-operate and the first version of "Don't Give Up The Ship" was drafted. Mike Carr was brought in as an editor and by 1971 the trio were ready to publish. They tested the game out by publishing it as a partwork in the "International Wargamer" journal starting in issue 57 in June '71. The first, fifty page, edition of the game as a whole was with Don Lowry's Guidon Games in 1972. It sported a slightly reworked cover art also by Don Lowry, which was based on his drawing for the "International Wargamer". A second edition, with extra rules and scenarios by Carr, runs to fifty-eight pages and was published by TSR in 1975 (Gygax having previously begun the company because Lowry couldn't see the potential of "Dungeons & Dragons").

Early ship models for wargames by Joe Morschauser 

The Rules themselves were written for model ships of 1/1200 scale and clearly designed for gamers with lots of space! With ships engaging each other at ranges of up to 21" and ships becoming visible to one another at a range of 200"! Games involving even small fleets were not going to be possible on the dining room table. In fact the rules suggest an area of 100 square feet as a minimum. In this regard, Arneson's game rules reflect those he had been used to when playing WWII games using Fletcher Platt's "Naval War Game" rules across the floors of  local meeting rooms and ball room dancing halls. Platt's rules were first published in 1948 although they originated in 1929 and were themselves influenced by Fred Jane's naval warfare games beginning in 1906. Arneson's rules were for sailing ships however and required many more systems for dealing with movement and the wind, boarding actions, kedging, controlling fires on board and many more. There are essentially three sets of rules, of which the Advanced Rules add so much complexity that the game becomes almost a reconstruction of warfare down to the level each individual man on board ship. Almost a role playing game of sorts(?) Indeed, Jon Peterson in "Playing At The World", makes an argument for the play sheets for each Ship (which came with the first edition) as the precursors to what became the Character Sheets in rpgs later on.

An inspiration for Arneson's game.

From what I can see, the model of game development which Gygax, Arneson and Carr created when working on "Don't Give Up The Ship", was then used again when creating "Dungeons and Dragons" a few years later. Gygax had the motivation and vision to see the project through, with Arneson as the creative driver sending Gygax drafts which later got stitched together and shared around (although Carr edited Don't Give Up The Ship, Gygax didn't bring him on board with D&D until the second, Advanced version of the game needed an editor).

Mike Carr demonstrating Don't Give Up The Ship 

Although "Don't Give Up The Ship" has a long pedigree, it's complexity and space requirements soon made it less fashionable in wargaming circles. A planned follow up: "Ships of the Line" by Arneson, although completed and in use, was never edited and was dropped by TSR.

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...

Friday 7 May 2021

Hit Points, Saving Throws and all that.

The origins of D&D 

An awful lot has been written about Hit Points over the years. Lots of questions have been asked: What are they really representing? Should a PC die at zero or be just unconscious? How can we make the distribution of them fair? Should PCs begin to lose them as they get old? And... whoever thought it was a good idea to re roll my total every time I level up? So I doubt I'll say anything much new today. However, I have been re-reading early wargame rules sets recently including, of course, Gygax and Perren's Chainmail rules (first published in 1971 by Guidon Games) and the follow-up wargame supplement to Original D&D, Swords & Spells (TSR, 1976) also by Gary Gygax. This got me thinking about Hit Points and Saving Throws.

The pages that started it all.

Hit Points and Saving Throws were a couple of the mainstays of rpgs for thirty or forty years and are still present in a great many games. The concept of hit points has travelled out of Tabletop rpgs and into video and computer gaming and has thereby become part of everyday language, but their origin is in wargaming. Grognards please forgive me if I go over old ground here. In the wargames rule sets of the 60s and 70s, very often when a unit of soldiers receives 'a hit', individual models were removed from the table. Very often, one model per hit. A very practical (visual) way of recording that your company or brigade or whatever, has suffered casualties and may not be as efficient as it was at the start of the battle. This meant that your armies consisted of many individual figures, each representing 10 or 20 or even 50 actual soldiers. Moving all these hundreds of models took ages and issues with scale (does one model elephant actually mean one or five ot ten real ones?) meant that by the mid to late 70s wargamers were beginning to base their figures in groups on bigger 'stands'. But this meant that individual models could no longer be as easily taken off the field of battle. How did you or your opponent now know how relatively strong your units were as the Battle progressed?

Models weren't based in Chainmail

Various systems to indicate casualties were (and still are) used: "roster" lists or cards are kept for each unit and adjusted to show casualties, small caps or coloured rings are physically placed over the heads of model soldiers to indicate they've been taken out, number counters or dice are placed beside the unit to indicate it's condition. There are no doubt more. It's interesting to note that in Chainmail, no basing requirements are suggested at all, but by 1976 when Swords & Spells came out, very precise base sizes (given in eighths of an inch) are provided but models are still individually based and so could be removed when killed.

A Tolkien themed game of Chainmail

So what's this got to do with hit points? When Gygax wrote his fantasy supplement for Chainmail, he needed his heroes and superheros to stand out from the ordinary warriors as they did in the fiction which inspired them. They were to be harder to kill. Each one of these guys could take as many hits as a whole unit of ordinary soldiers. So how to show this in the game? Either Gary didn't want or didn't consider, little plastic cups over his heroes heads, nor did he seem to want (at this point) some kind of roster sheet (or as it was for an individual- a 'character sheet'?). So the solution he came to was that these heroes and superheroes needed several 'hits to kill' BUT, these blows all needed to fall in the same turn. So if Conan needed four hits to kill but only received three this turn, he walked away as if unscathed. 

So when Chainmail morphed into Dungeons and Dragons, Gygax and co-creator Dave Arneson (a fanatical Napoleonic wargamer) this same system was intended to be in place. That is, characters in the dungeon needed to be clobbered by those orcs many times *in one turn* to see if they died.

Now we all know that in D&D, the 'alternative combat system' prevailed, and the core of that now ubiquitous mechanic was that you no longer stomped about the battlefield shugging off wounds until the terrible moment came when four of the buggers got you at once- but that now, damage was a resource. Cumulative wounds eventually finished you off unless you were unfortunate enough to get the full force of a Dragon's breath. Yes, it's true, there were no consequences, mechanically, for how well your character performed as their supply of hit points dwindled. You were just as alive on 1 hit point as you had been when you had 20. But good referees made up for that, descriptively, and with only one hit point left most PCs became mighty cautious! And Gary gave up on his resistance to rosters. As players needed to keep a record of other things, why not keep a record of how wounded they were too?

Hah! I still have one hit point!

But I wonder, how different the game is if you actually play the 'multiple hits at once to kill' or nothing, rule. Although perhaps less realistic, somehow, the concept of your hero battling through hordes of monsters until they pile up on top of him, is more in keeping with the literary source material than the blood accountants we ended up with.

The other thing wargamers did/do, if playing in a campaign (see the previous post) was to figure out exactly how many of the casualties of a battle we really dead and how many were wounded, captured or had just run off. One mechanism for doing this was the 'saving roll'. If the battle was part of a longer campaign, when the fighting was over, you literally gathered up your casualty models and rolled dice to see if this or that figure was really dead and gone. Or had he been 'saved' to fight another day? British wargamer Tony Bath (what, him again?) took this one stage further and used the idea actually during the game, rather than after the battle was over. But only in specific circumstances. That is, when magic had been used to cause casualties. Bath ran a famous and long running Hyborian Campaign based on the Conan stories. Being Sword and Sorcery tales rather than those of High Fantasy, magic wasn't common in Bath's Hyboria, but it did exist (much to the disgust of some of his historical wargaming contemporaries). And magic was a risky and unpredictable business for both the caster and the victim. Thus, the 'saving' roll. I don't think Gygax and Bath ever met but both Perren and Gygax knew and used Bath's wargame rules. Gary 'borrowed' the idea of saving throws and roleplaying games never looked back.

Marc Summerloft took a different approach


It's a long time since I've played a wargame with Swords & Spells and even longer since I played Chainmail. So reading them both again side by side has been an interesting exercise. S&S was a complete redesign and is in many ways a much more sophisticated set of rules. But, strewth, it's complicated! So many factors go into each round of combat, I really cannot imagine how I got my teenage head round it. My maths teacher should have been proud! I couldn't do it now. Chainmail actually reads as more playable.

Judges Guild followed suit a few years later but it is interesting to note that City State Warfare is a wargame using cardboard counters on a hex graphed board/map rather than a game for minis (although it can be played that way). Their solution to the problem is that each 'chit' becomes it's own mini roster/character sheet. Much like in modern computer wargames, the characters and units run around the battlefield displaying their own little sets of data. Nothing is really new is it!

Monday 19 April 2021

Imagi-Nations: wargame and rpg campaigns

40mm 'flats' used in Tony Bath's Hyboria campaign in the 1960s

I've been thinking recently about what in wargaming circles, are now called Imagi-Nations. The term isn't new, but has, in the last decade or so, really taken off. The concept however, goes way back. When I was a kid, growing up in the UK in the seventies, what is now called an Imagi-Nations approach, was simply what we called 'a campaign'. We didn't have enough knowledge or sufficient numbers of miniatures to try anything realistically 'historical'.

Charge! Peter Young's classic wargame rules

Back then we hardly ever played recreations of Rorkes Drift or the Battle of Minden. Most of the really keen guys (myself included) were busy drawing up maps of imaginary worlds in which to fight our battles. Our discovery of Dungeons and Dragons could not have been better timed- here were rules to play the individuals in our fantasy worlds. This didn't put a stop to the bedroom carpet being taken over by hordes of Hinchliffe and Mini-Figs warriors fighting en masse however. My fantastic wargaming world was inspired by Tony Bath's Hyboria and thus was a world of ancients and early Medievals. Vikings often faught Persians with the occasional aid of the Romans! Ah, fun days.

But 'The Campaign World' idea is of course at the root of D&D. The style of wargaming we played fitted with it perfectly. And the split occurred right then. Some of our group (and the school wargaming club) wanted to carry on with the wargame side whilst others headed for the dungeon. As it happened, the World War 2 guys and the few Napoleonic gamers we had as members, carried on much as before, whereas the Ancients players (inc me) and Medievalists, became the core of the roleplayers. I'm willing to bet that this situation repeated itself all over the wargaming world.

Tony Bath's version of Hyboria 

As I said, for our campaigning, the inspiration was Tony Bath's Hyboria. For those who don't know, this was a massive and long lived wargaming campaign loosely based on Robert E Howard's Conan stories. Each player representing one of the countries; Aquilonia, Cimmeria, Ophir and so forth. The two versions of Hyboria (Howard's and Bath's) are not identical, but are clearly meant to be the same place. Quite why the Howard literary estate didn't complain when details of the Bath campaign began to be published, I've no idea. Bath and his associates initially played out the wargame battles which arose from the political intrigue (essentially, play by mail roleplaying) using 40mm 'flats' miniatures, usually used for Bath's Ancient's wargaming. It was this aspect of Bath's play which caught our imagination; the fact that one imaginary nation could be Viking-like and another Hellenistic. It also helped practically because few of us had big enough armies to game out a recreation of the Punic Wars for example.

Map of Charlotte Bronte's imaginary country: Angria. Used as an Imagi-Nation wargame setting

So we drew our own maps and named our cities and created the family trees of the nobility of these places. Some of us went deeper and created economic systems, religions and mythologies. Sounds familiar?
So when Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, came together with their experience of similar campaigns (notably Dave Wesley's Braunstein games) and magicked up Dungeons & Dragons and quite naturally bandied around words like 'campaign' they expected someone (the Referee/DM) to create a world to play in. All of which seemed so natural to us because we were doing it already.

Advanced D&D contained notes on world building and even simple wargame rules.

So the concept of a long lasting campaign in an imaginary world jumped, virus-like, from one species of game to another and has thrived ever since. But that split, between historical 'real' wargamers and 'those fantasy guys', which began all those years ago never really completely went away. This, despite all of the cross-over games and attitudes such as roleplayers, (who would never call themselves wargamers) regularly playing skirmish wargames but just not calling them that. Indeed, various iterations of D&D have morphed in and out of essentially being skirmish wargame rules with roleplaying added. Nowadays there are only a few wargames miniature manufacturers who don't have a fantasy range. And yet that split remains. Wargame blogs and forums are peppered with slightly derogatory remarks about fantasy gamers and many roleplayers claim to be baffled by wargaming. But, the core activity, which both sides of the hobby retain, is the campaign.

Dungeons & Dragons' World of Greyhawk

As mentioned previously, in wargaming circles, the concept of what is now called "Imagi-Nations" has gained traction. Wargamers invent imaginary continents, with imaginary nations, whose armies fight imaginary wars. These countries can be based on real world places or even real world maps, but with alternate or entirely fictional histories. Just as with a D&D created campaign world, the topography, weather systems, religions, even languages are created, and often a system of allocating resources (natural or manufactured) is created to give these Imagi-Nations something to fight over. The only real differences between an Imagi-Nation's campaign and a D&D type campaign is the differing degrees of realism and fantasy. I sometimes read wargamers' commenting on and describing the processes they go through to create their worlds as if they are indeed, creating the concept afresh. And I read Roleplayers thinking, hey wouldn't it be great if we had real wars to fight in our setting? So, here are two cousins, growing up in silos next to each other, both doing almost identical things and to a degree oblivious of the knowledge, expertise, even books and magazines which the others use. 

Tony Bath

Obviously, this is a simplification. There are indeed, I'm sure, plenty of folks who are as equally happy fighting orcs in Mordor as they are sitting behind The Old Guard with Napoleon. But what can be done to help those who aren't really aware of the rich pickings on the other side of the fence? Well, Wargamers could pick up a Greyhawk Gazatteer or two. And Rpgers could take a look at Tony Bath's 'How to set up a Wargames Campaign'. We can encourage those who run conventions to include elements from both halves of the hobby. And wouldn't it be nice if more games shops sold historical wargaming figures alongside all those boxes of Warhammer Space Marines?

Who knows what might happen?

Next time: Thoughts on how Hit Points and Saving Throws jumped the species gap.

Monday 22 March 2021

Uprising at Buzzard's Gulch: a campaign setting for Monsters! Monsters!

There's trouble on the Reservation.

 Here's something new! There have been a few campaign settings for the Tunnels & Trolls suite of games, but not many. What makes this one stand out is not simply because it has added to the pool but because it is usable with- nay, designed specifically to go with, the Monsters! Monsters! variant of T&T. That makes it a very rare beast indeed.

Uprising at Buzzard's Gulch Monster Rez (Rez, as in Reservation) is a setting guide and adventure seed set in a world (or part of Trollworld?) where humans and monsters live side by side- providing the monsters go back to the Reservation come nighttime. The title uses language redolent of the Wild West  and this puts you right into the zone for this setting. But we are playing Monsters! Monsters! here and the player-characters are supposed to be the bad guys, does that make the humans the goodies? Well, nope. The humans have, afterall herded up the monsters and put them in a reservation, and are exploiting them for their own gain. And now it seems, the monsters have had enough!

So what do you get for your money? Author, Thessaly Chance Tracy and publisher, Peryton Games give you a 93 page setting, nicely illustrated (the cover by Simon Lee Tranter is great), edited by the Troll Godfather himself and a minion called Monkey. The action is set on an island and can therefore be smuggled into most campaigns. There are maps, npcs a plenty, descriptions of places of note, the High City of Hylax, villages of The Rez, bars, brothels, revolting swampy areas that humans will hate but monsters (some of them) will enjoy. There are lists of foodstuffs, potions, diseases, random encounters, tribes of goblins and quite a few wicked and devious humans. As you'd expect there's a little history too. But there's more: new spells, new monsters, new kin and some extra rules for the Monsters! Monsters! game including monster talents and motivations.

The tone of the whole thing is as whimsical as one might expect for a T&T product and with an undercurrent of darkness. You get the feeling this town is gonna blow! There are some really noteble NPCs too. My favourites are Grimlar Steele, a mechanical monster who lives at the castle and Granny Grisstletit, a Madam, business woman of repute and potion brewer on the side.

There's a lot packed into these pages and yet the author hasn't fallen into the trap, as some campaign settings do, of getting bogged down in too much detail and history. Each place is described with brevity. Giving the GM easily enough to go on but at the same time, plenty of room for his/her own take on things.
Altogether, a really nice package and a great addition to the Monsters! Monsters! and Tunnels & Trolls games.

Sunday 17 January 2021

Rob Conley interview

Here's something new for the blog. It's an interview using a simple framework I'm calling the 5W+H Interview...

Who, What, When, Where, Why plus How?

And our first interviewee is man of the moment: Rob Conley, who has just successfully completed a KickStarter for his Basic Rules for The Majestic Fantasy rpg (reviewed in the previous blog post).

Who... is The Majestic Fantasy rpg aimed at?

The Majestic Fantasy RPG is aimed at new and old fans of the classic editions of the original 1974 roleplaying games. It is designed to expand the life of the setting outside of the dungeon and wilderness. This aspect of my campaign came about because I was a referee who let players "trash" his setting. If a referee does that for their campaign, to make it a plausible challenge you need to flesh it out a bit. At first I made do with the barebones listing found in Judges Guild's Wilderlands of High Fantasy and then started to fill it out with material from Harn, Ars Magica, and my own stuff. Eventually, so many players came and went, each doing their thing, that it took a life of it's own.

What.. was the hardest aspect of the design/writing of the game?

Keeping it terse but not so terse that needed information was omitted. Another was the decade long playtest. Making sure I incorporated what I learned along the way. Then designing the presentation and writing it up in a way that was useful for kitbashing. There a tension between describing what I did and making that description useful for campaigns with a different focus.

Why... did you decide to publish your rules?

In truth I rather stick to settings and adventures but when you do physical sales you need a rulebook that you can offer. I am on good terms with most of the OSR publishers but it's hard to coordinate. So I decided to take the additional material I developed and turn it into a rulebook. This started out as a series of reference cards combining Swords & Wizardry and my Majestic Wilderlands supplement and proceeded from there.

When... is the next ('Advanced'?) edition due?

Probably in the fall and it will be the Lost Grimoire of Magic. I will start getting the book into its final shape after the Wild North setting is released.

It will detail the different magic-user classes:

-Contain a complete reference for all the arcane spells.

-Useful topics for playing and refereeing magic-users.

-An adventure about magic-users.

-Details about the various magic-orders.

-How to setup and maintain a conclave, workshop, sanctum, etc for a magic-user or a group of magic-users.

-Referee advice about magic and magic-users.

As for the series as whole, there will be about ten supplements including the Basic Rules. One each for Fighters, Rogues, Magic-Users, and Clerics. Monsters, Magic Items/Equipment, Human NPCs, Non-Human NPCs, and one I am calling the Axioms of Sandbox Fantasy Campaigns Each will be more than what one would expect from a corresponding chapter(s) in a traditional rulebooks as what I plan for the Lost Grimoire of Magic shows above.

It a bit of a gamble as it is a non-traditional approach. I think kitbashing is the norm not the exception. While there will be fans of Majestic Fantasy RPG, I aim to be everybody's second choices for material to incorporate into their campaigns.

Where... will any further campaign material be set, your Majestic Wilderlands or Blackmarsh/Points of Light?

The short answer it will be Blackmarsh/Points of Light. I will be calling the series The Majestic Fantasy Realms.

I would love to continue with the Wilderlands but at this point it has to be made open content or something else done with it in order IPwise for me to start working with it again. Disappointment doesn't begin to cover my feelings about this.

The Majestic Fantasy Realms will have all my original content just with the Judges Guild serial numbers filed off. The foundation was laid with Points of Light as at the time I had no idea that I would get JG license. For Points of Light, I sketched out a loose background compatible with my Majestic Wilderlands came up with different names and went on from there.

How... do you see the product's future?

I think it will be solid seller and many will find it useful. It's not a barebones system as those systems based on the 3 booklets of the original edition are. But it also not as detailed as GURPS, Ars Magica, Mythras/Runequest, Fantasy Age, or 5th Edition either. The closest equivalent in complexity and tone is the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System by Autarch.

Until I get the rest of Majestic Fantasy supplements out it will have a tough uphill battle because of the wealth of quality systems available in the OSR. I also hope that the Majestic Fantasy RPG serves as a good example of looking at what your setting needs and then writing and assembling the rules needed to run a campaign using that setting.

Robert, thank you so much for participating in our first 5W+H q&a session.

Thanks for having me do this interview.

Bat in the Attic Games on drivethru:

Rob's blog can be found from here:

The Wilderlands MeWe group:

Wednesday 13 January 2021

The Majestic Fantasy RPG

Review of The Majestic Fantasy rpg (the basic rules) by Robert S

Conley, Bat in the Attic Games, 2020

Rob Conley has been a stalwart of the fantasy role playing game scene for a long time. Always modest about his achievements his work has been published by major names in the field. However, he is probably best known for his work on the Wilderlands of High Fantasy- creating amazing maps and content for both the Judges Guild and Necromancer Games versions of that setting. His mini setting, Blackmarsh, which he created as a free product for gamers and designers alike, has been used as a campaign basis for Delving Deeper, Swords & Six-Siders, Heroes and Other Worlds and probably more.

For years now, Rob has been playing with his group in an alternate version of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy which he calls, The Majestic Wilderlands. The rules set which he and his group use has been evolving and growing over the years with the campaign. Finally, this rules set is being published and this Basic Rules edition is the first installment.
Taking a lead from earlier starter editions such the Black Box edition of D&D, which takes characters up through levels 1 to 5, The Majestic Fantasy Basic Rules, gives a full rules set to enable the players and referee to run complete and detailed campaigns whilst leaving room for higher level play later. The rules are ultimately based on Original Dungeons and Dragons and are compatible with most, if not all, clones thereof. Matt Finch's Swords and Wizardry is mentioned specifically on the cover and indeed the book describes itself as a supplement to S&W. But make no mistake, this is a complete game on it's own.
But thus is not just another clone. Here, there are refinements and differences which show how Rob has modernised his rules as time and fashions tend to do. For instance, the classic six ability scores (here called Attributes) range from 3 to 23 although the normal human range is still 3-18. First level PCs get max hit points and starting cash is modified by Charisma (nice touch). In this volume we have the classic four main classes but with hints that in the Advanced(?) rules or in campaign supplements, there are more to come. For instance, although Rogue is a class, we are only presented here with the "Burglar" variant and the Cleric here is a "Cleric of Delaquain": presumably there are more cleric sects out there, each with their own specialisms and possibly, spells? (Indeed in his notes for the Kick Starter, Robert has more than hinted at this and there is another 'sect' detailed in the NPC section of the book). We have the four classic races plus Half-Elves. Here is a nod to more modern versions of the game: players of any background (race) can play any class. However, not all professions will be the best choice for each background. Hints at extra backgrounds can be found later in the book by looking at the notes on the cultures of non-human npcs. Look out for orcs, goblins and lizardmen backgrounds in future at least! Old school roots show themselves here- the backgrounds are not balanced, and are not intended to be. Elves in particular are designed to be somethin' else: "created as the shining examples of the potential of life" they are immortal beings, immune to disease and healing twice as fast as other humanoids.
And now we come to more modern twists on the old school warhorse rules: abilities. In this game abilities are not your rolled attributes but a skill system used alongside attribute tests, using a d20 roll. This version of the skill system has but twenty two abilities (although several of these are multi-faceted) ranging from Athletics to Intimidation, Survival to Haggling. These abilities help define or sharpen your character's chosen class. The system is simple and straightforward with one target number. Advantage and disadvantage are handled much like in D&D5e, and there are simple rules on levels or degrees of success/failure. The whole abilities section is only nine pages and feels light and streamlined (so OSR stick-in-the-muds like me don't need to get the heebie-geebies!) Similarly lightweight, but nevertheless there, if you want them, are the combat stunts and tricksie moves that are common in the modern game. Rules for grappling, swapping weapons, dual wielding etc are also present and concisely written. Character's attribute scores can affect surprise, initiative, ranged fire, melee efficiency and more. This has the effect of giving the classes more options which might otherwise 'belong' to different classes. This also means for example the Fighters in this game are beefed up compared with the original game, gaining extra attacks and with more hit points. Being a human fighter in these rules is not a default if your attribute rolls didn't come out too well. Players will actively choose to play one!
The spell casting system has a few extra twists too. Although spells are divided into Arcane and Divine magic, both Magic Users and Clerics need to have spell books to revise from. Both types of spell caster can also perform Ritual magic using their spell/prayer books and the right components etc. This enables spells to be cast without memorising them first. Scrolls therefore take on an extra dimension in the Majestic Fantasy RPG as they can take the place of spell books too precious to take adventuring. Be warned... some creatures in these lands have levels of magical immunity. This extra level of defense is used alongside a standard saving throw. This ability combined with the need to know how many hit dice your enemies might have (for fighters multi targetting purposes) means that players will need to get to know their monstrous enemies in a bit more detail than in other games. Rob justifies this by pointing out that hunters or warriors get a feel for the relative strengths and skills of their opponents as they gain experience with/of them. The final twist I want to mention is one which readers/users of the Blackmarsh setting will have come across before. The mysterious substance called "Viz". This is best described as an element of pure magic. A little like The Force in Star Wars, it suffuses everything, or perhaps more accurately- might suffuse anything. In the Blackmarsh setting it is suggested that Viz came to the world via a meteor or comet strike and became spread around the land and buried deep within it. You can actually dig it up or mine it I suppose. That isn't discussed here. But it's effects are. Viz essentially boosts magic in certain ways the most obvious is that a magic user can physically use up Viz whilst casting a spell and in doing so, the spell is not wiped from his memory. Very handy. Very expensive.
Many of you will have seen the author's Bat in the Attic website and blog. A place stuffed with excellent advice on running campaigns. Rob has cherry picked some choice morsels from there and included them here in the Basic Rules. It's worth saying here something about Rob's philosophy when putting these rules together. He describes the rules as a toolbox for 'kitbashing'. Customisation to you and me. Yes, that's right, the author of the game explicitly states he wants you tear his game up and use it how you will. I can see how lots of things in the book, and especially the advice sections, can be used this way. I could easily swipe the entire Abilities section and stitch it seemlessly into Epées & Sorcellerie for example. However, I'm not sure how well you could run the rules without, say, Viz. But I'm saying that without having played it.
All of the classic monsters are here, lots of treasure (including treasure assortment tables) and magical items. There are some excellent sections on NPCs and information on demi-human and goblinoid types etc which gives you scope to put together detailed tribes of goblins for example, complete with their warrior bosses, sages, shamans and so on. There ready made guards, NPC parties, the local witch, all sorts of good stuff.
The book is rounded off with helpful collections of tables and quick reference guides, combat tables and so forth. Lots of which are also available as free downloads.
The artwork is plentiful without getting in the way. All of it good to excellent. The cover work by Richard Luschek is especially good.
There are lots more lovely little touches I could tell you about- such as rules for using your trusty staff as a vaulting pole! Rob really has done an amazing job fitting all of this into one book. I went for the hardback because that's what I like but it's available in paperback and as a pdf... so what are you waiting for?
Headlines: the Majestic Fantasy rules are a bit like ODD all growed up. But without having it's teeth and complexion ruined by too many candies!