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!