Sunday, November 22, 2015

Player Characters in The Arduin Adventure

Art by Ramon Naylor

The first step in creating a character for The Arduin Adventure is to choose a race.  Hargrave's Arduin offers a plethora of playable races; however, for The Arduin Adventure (hereinafter ArdAdv) he presents only six options.  The limited number of races is appropriate for an introductory game, yet it's still 50% more than the number of races in Basic D&D.  The races available in ArdAdv are:  Human, Amazon, Half Orc, Dwarf, Elf, and Hobbitt (usually – but not always – spelled thus with two 'T's).

Amazons are treated as a race distinct from Humans.  For instance, “...Amazons can see better in the dark than humans...”  In Arduin,
There are three distinct types of Amazon.  The most numerous are the sea going “Gypsy Corsairs” who use light leather armor and cutlasses as well as short bows.  The least numerous are a very dark complexioned and tall jungle-living kind who fight with no armor...The third kind...come from the loose coalition of City States known as “The Motherland.”
Amazon “culture stresses 'the warrior ethic'” so much so that hardly any Amazons “have done anything except become warriors.”  So who carries out the non-warrior functions in Amazon society?  Slaves?  Amazon 'men'?

With regard to Dwarves, there are “'Mountain' or 'Dark Dwarves' and the taller 'Stone Downers' or 'Common Dwarves.'”  The Elf types are High, Wood, and Sea.  Hobbitts “usually come in one of three types: the taller, darker 'Gravellers' – who are usually associated with a Stone Downer settlement, the more common 'Plow Foots' usually found in small farm oriented villages and lastly the small and secretive 'Street Wise' or city Hobbitts.”

After selecting a race, players determine character 'statistics' by rolling 1d20 for each statistic.  (Instead of 1d20, I would have had players use 2d10 so as to achieve a more 'realistic' bell curve.)  For statistics, ArdAdv has the usual six D&D attributes along with Agility and Ego.  Agility is “A character's ability to dodge, duck, move about on his feet, etc.” as opposed to Dexterity, which is “A character's ability to wield a weapon or use his hands.”  Ego “is the character's force of will and arrogance factor.”

Statistics are modified in accordance with the character's race.  Amazons allocate eight points between Constitution and Strength.  Dwarves allocate twelve points among Constitution, Strength, and Ego.  Elves distribute twelve points among Dexterity, Agility, Intelligence, and Charisma.  Half-Orcs allocate six points between Constitution and Strength but must remove a total of four points from Intelligence and Wisdom.  Hobbitts distribute eight points among Agility, Dexterity, and Charisma.  Lastly, Humans either add or subtract points – a 50% chance of either.  They add (or subtract) four points between any two statistics.  For any race, the minimum modification for any applicable statistic is one point.  For instance, an Elf must allocate at least one point to each of Dexterity, Agility, Intelligence, and Charisma.  For all characters, the minimum value for any statistic is 5 (except for Intelligence, which must be at least 10).  Also, the maximum value for statistics is 20.

ArdAdv offers the standard four classes – Warrior, Mage, Priest, and Thief – and also offers Forester.  Apparently, the classes are open to all races and there are no level limits.  Each class also adds one point to at least one statistic.
  • Warrior:  Strength and Constitution
  • Mage:  Intelligence and Ego
  • Priest:  Wisdom
  • Thief:  Dexterity and Agility
  • Forester:  Constitution and Agility
Each class offers certain abilities.  Mages and Priests can both cast spells; in addition, Mages can sense magical magikal things and Priests can sense evil.  (I suppose that good Priests sense evil while evil Priests sense good, but I could be wrong.)  Warriors have a “chance of detecting ambushes and avoiding 'surprise.'”  Thieves can hide “in darkness and shadows” while Foresters have a “chance of following any track or spoor.”

“Finally,” Hargrave explains, “each character is allowed one character quirk or special attribute if it is not too outrageous.”  Hargrave didn't see fit to include the Arduin special ability charts in ArdAdv, but he encourages players to use “imagination to make each character unique and different.”   He also suggests the Arduin Grimoire “for those who have difficulty” in this regard.  The sample character, Jothar, is a Human orphan raised by Elves.  So, he “knows a lot about elves and elven ways (a rare thing for humans).”  Jothar also has +2 with bows.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

An Introduction to the World of Adventure Gaming

Art by Brad “Morno” Schenk

With the exception of 'Inspiration' posts, this blog tends to examine role-playing games that are complete – or at least claim to be complete.  As such, your humble host has elected to focus on Dave Hargrave's The Arduin Adventure rather than his Arduin Trilogy since said trilogy was presented as supplementary material. Having 64 pages, The Arduin Adventure book was sold individually and as part of a boxed set that included character sheets, two sheets of “magikal” item cards, and a die with “a total of twenty (20) sides numbered zero through nine twice each number.”

In the detail of the cover image shown above, we see the subtitle An Introduction to Fantasy Role-Playing/Adventure Gaming and it is in this context that The Arduin Adventure stands out.  The Arduin Adventure (hereinafter ArdAdv) was published in 1980, one year before the release of the Moldvay edition of D&D.  So, the contemporaneous, equivalent product from TSR was the Holmes 'Blue Book'.  According to its preface, the Holmes edition was “aimed solely at introducing the reader to the concepts of fantasy role playing...”  In this regard, ArdAdv compares favorably and could arguably be considered superior.  Essentially, the Holmes edition is a 'starter' set:  “Players who desire to go beyond the basic game are directed to the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS books.”  Hargrave references other Arduin products as options but only as options; he emphasizes that players and Game Masters can rely upon imagination.  While the Holmes edition rules “allow only for the first three levels,” no experience level limits are presented in ArdAdv.

In fact, the experience system in ArdAdv does not involve charts or large numbers.
Each character will gain one experience level (EL) for each five adventures completed (through fourth level). Thereafter it takes 20 adventures to gain each additional EL.
It's certainly not detailed, but it's satisfactory for an introductory system.

For many role-playing games, the rules begin with character generation.  This is not so with The Arduin Adventure ; the first topic after the introduction is an explanation of the Game Master's responsibilities.  Hargrave makes three points:
1.  Know all of the rules you have all agreed upon (and have the rule book(s) handy to settle disputes).
2.  Have not only the desire, but also the time to give the creation of each game’s “script” the attention it needs. It will take a good GM at least one hour to ready a game for play properly (usually the night before).
3.  Have the trust and confidence of all of the players so that they will not argue with his decisions. This confidence can only be earned as the GM demonstrates his integrity and honesty during the games. If the players feel that they are being short-changed by a GM, the play will soon become bogged down in arguments and hurt feelings. So, a GM must always maintain a detached and impartial attitude towards every player and every player’s character no matter what the GM’s personal feelings are. A good GM sees only the game, not those who play within it.
On the following page Hargrave states, “A GM never tries to run the players' game, but only operates as a referee, acting out the parts of the monsters or other things or people the characters meet.”

Later in the rules, Hargrave announces that the Game Master is really “a STORY TELLER!”  Some 'old school' aficionados prefer to distance themselves from the notion of game-as-story.  Here's a quote from Gary Gygax:
The adventure is the thing, not "a story." If you want stories, go read a book, If you want derring-do, play a real RPG and then tell the story of the adventure you barely survived afterwards. The tale is one determined by the players' characters' actions, surely!
Evidently, Mr. Gygax felt that stories are not the focus of “a real RPG.”  My philosophy is that the play of any game is a story – chess, poker, hopscotch – any game.  Gygax uses the terms “the story of the adventure” and “The tale.”  So, obviously, there's a story involved even in “real” role-playing games.  If the adventure is distinct from the story, then the adventure is the medium in which the story forms.  It is probable that Gygax meant two things in his quote:  (1) that the adventure should shape the story and not vice versa and (2) players should not influence the outcome of the adventure except through the actions of their characters.  I am not adverse to either point but, ultimately, a role-playing game generates a story.  How the story manifests is a matter of play style.  In any event, the Game Master is the impetus of the story.  (Hence the Game Master is really “a STORY TELLER!”)  In short, if you're pretending to be an elf in a make-believe world of magic and dragons, you're a participant in a story making process.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Take a Troll to Lunch

Before engaging upon an exploration of The Arduin Adventure, it is necessary to understand the beginnings of Arduin.

In 1977, prior to the release of the Advanced D&D books, Archive Miniatures published Dave Hargrave's The Arduin Grimoire.  This work was followed by several other volumes and adventures, but those later books are not the subject of this post.  In the “Forward,” Hargrave presented the book as an amateur effort with no intention “to replace or denigrate any other fantasy role playing supplement or game, either professional or amateur.”  There was an unstated presumption that the Grimoire required the Dungeons & Dragons rules as a foundation.  In terms of appearance, the Grimoire was quite amateurish and doubtless was a seminal influence on the ambiance of Encounter Critical.  However, to its credit, the Grimoire featured the early artwork of Erol Otus.

As a supplement, The Arduin Grimoire included new classes, new spells, new magic items, new player character races, new monsters, and an assortment of other new rules.  The advertisement reproduced below appeared in issue #6 of The Dragon (April 1977).  Counting its covers, the Grimoire indeed spanned one hundred pages.  There was something on every page, even if only artwork, but we must indulge “jam-packed” as an article of hyperbole.  In your humble host's salad days, photocopies of the special abilities charts and the critical and fumble tables made the rounds and were accorded “official” status without quite knowing their provenance.  The special abilities charts had titles like “Special Abilities Chart for Thieves, Monks, Ninja, Highwaymen, Corsairs, Assassins, Traders, Slavers, and All of Those with a More or Less "Secret" Nature” and included results such as “+1 to all character attributes but –2 versus all magic (even clerical)” and “Woodsman, +1 dexterity, +3 with all missile weapons, hide like angels.”  The critical table included effects like “Forehead...Gashed, blood in eyes, can't see” and the fumble table had results like “twist ankle...lose first attack, and one half of agility/5 min.”

The Arduin oeuvre is unabashedly 'gonzo'.  One of Hargrave's goals was to provide options and inspiration beyond the standard “Tolkeinian” [sic] paradigm.  In a section of the Grimoire titled “Notes on Player Character Types,” Hargrave lectured readers about limiting themselves to “classical” character tropes:
Never will you hear the complaints of Brownie infantry squad as they whine about that stupid half-ogres cheshire cat that keeps looking at them and licking his chops.  And never is such a lonely word.  Don't be lonely, take a troll to lunch.  The world is a small place but is even smaller still in relationship to the myriad worlds of the entire Alternity (alternate eternities).  Do not be a small player from a small world, embrace the whole Alternity and give the different types a chance.  I think you will find that the world your game is in will become a lot more fun if you do.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Black Lotus Moon (SPOILERS)

Art by Peter Laird

Had Tom Moldvay lived, he would have been 67 years old today.  At Thoul's Paradise, we typically celebrate Moldvay's birthday by focusing on one of his contributions to role-playing games (of which there are many).  Today, however, we look at Moldvay's fiction.  It is your humble host's understanding that the well-read Moldvay aspired to be a fantasy novelist.  Alas, his only entry in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database is for a short story, Black Lotus Moon, published in the Dragontales anthology.

Dragontales was “An original collection of fantasy fiction and art, presented by the publishers of Dragon magazine.”  The 78 page volume was edited by Kim Mohan who, at the time (August 1980), was assistant editor of (The) Dragon.  Moldvay's story is accompanied by art supplied by Peter Laird, before he gained fame and fortune as one of the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  (Another Dragontales artist, Kevin Siembieda, would go on to produce the TMNT RPG.)

One of the characters in Moldvay's story is a “black-haired, gray-eyed barbarian...clad only in a fur loincloth.”  He claims to be of the “Aesir” tribe from “the northern mountains.”  We also learn that he has “been a mercenary in more kingdoms than you have fingers to count with.”  During the story, this barbarian and two accomplices (one of them a woman) infiltrate a tower to gain treasure.  This may sound familiar, but Moldvay isn't being derivative – he's toying with readers' expectations.

Anyway, the protagonists – two 'thieves' named Tamara and Saris – recruit the barbarian, Arngrim Wolfbane, as an equal partner in a venture to loot the tower of Gorilon, an immortal wizard.  Gorilon sleeps only once a month, during the night of the full moon.  On these occasions, he “retires to his sanctum in the tower to inhale the fumes of the black lotus.”  (Hence, the source of the story's title.)  Central to the plot is the knowledge that...
...while he sleeps, his treasure is protected by safeguards which he claims a clever and daring individual can overcome, as long as the thief uses no magic.  He could easily make the tower impregnable using his magic, but the standing challenge to thieves amuses him.
One of the safeguards is a “demon-monster” (shown above).  Prior to the beginning of the story, Saris found the testament of a thief who tried to raid Gorilon's tower hundreds of years previous.  The document explains that “only a physical attack will kill the demon.”  This is the reason the two thieves bring the barbarian along.

A significant portion of the story details the trio's foray into the tower and Moldvay's role-playing game mindset is evident.  Many sections of the narrative could easily be an account of player characters exploring a dungeon:
          They tapped the walls for secret doors, and scanned the floor...One by one, each twist and turn was eliminated until only a single dead end remained.
          Tamara crept forward, sweeping her spear in front of her to check for traps.  An inch from the end wall, the spear tip vanished.  Tamara continued to push the spear forward.  It disappeared inch by inch until nearly all of it was invisible.  When Tamara pulled the spear back, it slowly reappeared, complete and intact.
          “The end wall is an illusion,” Tamara said.
Did Moldvay create a story from a gaming scenario?  Perhaps it was the other way around.

The protagonists survive the tower and get away with some treasure but the story doesn't end well for the ersatz Conan, as shown below.

Art by Peter Laird