Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Why I Enjoy Reading Arduin

Like the LBBs themselves, picking up a volume of The Arduin Grimoire and randomly reading a page is almost guaranteed to result in an interesting discovery. Sometimes it's genuinely insightful, while at other times it's amusing. Other times I just scratch my head and wonder, "What the heck was Hargrave thinking?" A good example of the latter comes from the original Grimoire, in a section devoted to "notes on combat:"
Another point that has come up, that needs clarification: YES! an invisible person in a thick fog or mist or rain or even smoke cloud will be visible by his outline. No exceptions to this rule should ever be allowed, because it is simply physics.
Remember that the Grimoire was published in 1977 and likely reflects rulings made by Hargrave and his circle before that date. Had it been published in, say, 1983 or thereabouts, I'd have considered the "it is simply physics" perspective to be very much in line with the kinds of articles you regularly saw in Dragon at the time. But, as you can see, it's of a much earlier origin -- a reminder that nearly all the schools/styles of gaming were present, to varying degrees, from the start of the hobby, even if many of them were outliers without much influence until later on.

I'll have more to say about Arduin in the coming weeks. As I've been re-reading it, I'm noticing that, moreso than almost any other published product from its era, it's primarily the record of a particular localized gaming "culture" and arrogates to itself no claim of authority beyond that. In short, it's a product by gamers for gamers "offered in the spirit of sharing," Hargrave puts it in his "forward" [sic] rather than a definitive statement by a game designer or game company. Much as I would never use at least half of what's in these books, I can't help but appreciate Hargrave's attitude.


  1. Weirdly enough, I was hung on the same passage the other day. Why should 'physics' be a factor when we're dealing with magic and make-believe? I imagine PCs with the ability to become invisible must have been running amok in Arduin for him to feel that rule was necessary.

  2. "I can't help but appreciate Hargrave's attitude."

    Me, too. When reading his stuff, Hargrave just seems so likeable.

  3. So, would you have an invisible person become visible if he were doused with flour? Or if he stepped through a patch of mud?

    Nothing meant by it, just saying.

    Yeah, there's a lot of cool stuff in Dave's books, but at the same time, there's a lot of stuff that just makes one scratch their head in wonderment. I still puzzle over why he thought the CF system was better than initiative, and why people still do. And hell, I like the game as it is!

  4. With all the comments and discussions on Deities & Demigods, It made me recall what Hargrave wrote in part of his introduction to Vol III :

    ...The Greater Demons are attended to provide players with opponents more terrifying then other publications " gods" yet dose not force them into unplayable " god killing" situations. Mere mortals simply could not kill Odin, Cthulhu or Set. that is just to unbelievable of play, yet that " style" of play is needed...

    He wrote that in '78 and was obviously making a reference to GD&H. Today the idea is pretty outlandish for any PC to be able to kill a deity, but 30+ years ago it was perfectly legit. It's interesting, that Hargrave with his reputation of mixing genres and high power gaming would draw a line on killing gods as he knew it wasn't right for anyone to do in a general gaming situation.

  5. part of the old school is using problem solving and by giving some examples of ways to outwit invisibility this puts the onus on the players to solve a problem with out resorting to perception checks. Saying its physics is silly, but forcing the players to be creative is good. "ok we can fill the whole chamber with smoke when we fight the invisible stalker, now we just have to figure out how to breath"

  6. The idea that something made invisible looks like air has always struck me as odd. I tend to think it would rather be (a) it is really invisible and thus cannot be trivially made visible, or (b) an SEP† field, or (c) it looks like void.

    The last option is interesting because the thing might be hard to see in air but wouldn’t be completely invisible.

    And I agree with sevenbastard. While magic doesn’t need to be explained, building some kind of logical framework around magical effects enables creative thinking by the players. Which—to me—is one of the main goals of this hobby.

    († The “somebody else’s problem” field from one of Adam’s Hitchhiker books. It doesn’t really make the thing invisible. It just causes a mental block that keeps people from perceiving it even though they physically could see it. This works well with the way that attacking dispels invisibility in D&D. The character is making themself so obvious that they overwhelm the mental block.)

  7. in that dragon tree Lost Grimore book he addresses how he tried to keep HP of PCs comparing to what a dragon had. the gods, semi untouchable. unkillable. are you a greater demon? star demon? world with a giant mouth? no you aren't.

    bingo, ahead of his time and whackin' away at the things he didn't care for insisting Arduin was modular, adapt into any system and go.

    used murphy's law a lot to spice things up which the OD&D stuff didn't so much. i sent him a creature in '79 for the hell of it to see what he thought. he liked it but reworked it so it was interesting. does anyone do that kind of stuff these days with dumb grade schoolers (referring to me)? with stamps and scorpion ghoul horses reworked to babbling Hell Maiden pals?

    btw if you don't buy the post trilogy volumes definitely check out the Orc Alchemy barfgrog/lotions, the idea of The Soothsayer PC, and the Random Magikal Phumble charts for kicks and inspriation. great thing about Hargrave's ideas is if you don't want to use something he fleshes out, you probably will get a notion to make something as fun.

  8. Remember that the study of physics was originally the study of "natural philosophy" (in fact, in many [Commonwealth] universities the study of theoretical physics was still considered part of the philosophy department until the early 1970's). "Physics" is really looking at the world and seeing how it works. And there is nothing wrong with that in any universe, even a fantastical one.

    Dave ruled that invisibility simple turns the person (and whatever the person was wearing/holding) "see through" at the time the spell was cast. Everything else follows from a logical consequence of this. Can an invisible person leave footprints, for example?

    [And speaking from experience, trying to identify a void in a fogbank or in heavy rain is not as trivial as most of the commentators seem to make it sound.]

    As campaigns develop, especially ones with extensive use of magic, it is inevitable that these observances are made. Sometimes they may lead to, or require, the creation of some sort of philosophical framework to explain it. My campaign has several, mostly developed in actual play (there have been at least two paradigm shifts in how the inhabitants of the world view magic as they refine their observations). But if you don't have some idea of how your universe works it can be difficult to rule on innovative uses of magic.

    In my universe things have an intrinsic nature, and magic can change that nature. Thus, for example, things fall because it is in their nature to fall. A cannonball falls faster than a feather because it is "heavier." As a consequence of this, there is no force of gravity in my game, and so sorcery cannot be used to manipulate it. Goodbye reverse gravity.*

    You could even define magic as illogical, chaotic, and irrational in your world if you wanted. Make it simply "magic." In which case every spell is probably a unique formulation (and by that I mean each individual fireball spell known by each magic user). But humans are ordered creatures – they like to put some sort of explanation on the universe that they live in, and so explaining such a magical system would, in the end, be very unhuman.

    [* Although this is one of the major distinction between sorcery and wizardry in my game. But the idea of wizardry requires a considerable and difficult paradigm shift on the part of the practitioner, making it rare, difficult, and very much in it's infancy (at the moment). But it has the potential so much more powerful than traditional sorcery. Sort of like the discovery of quantum mechanics. Of little use in and of itself, but it led directly to you reading this.]

    [@crow: I think the big problem that most commentators at the time had about GD&H were that gods were so effectively "underpowered" for being gods, as opposed to them being superheroes that were worshipped. Which is fine, but leads to a different type of game.]

  9. Everything else follows from a logical consequence of this. Can an invisible person leave footprints, for example?

    This is really the essence of Dave Hargrave's thinking. If you assume X then Y follows. Not about whether you are being realistic.

    Part of the reason I have this attitude is that it is a consequence of running a sandbox campaign. A successful sandbox relies on players reasoning X,Y, and Z from the premises of your setting.

    Those premises can be as fantastic as Wonderland or Oz. But if the player are truly going to have the freedom to roam your setting then as a referee you need to follow the consequences of your premises.

    This attitude seems to me the heart of Hargrave's appeal. He didn't impose his world on his player but went with whatever wacky direction they went and threw some ideas of his own in to see how they dealt with it.

  10. hey, ho... I have killed Blogger on Firefox it seems. ^^
    Later than planned...

    > it's primarily the record of a particular localized gaming "culture" and arrogates to itself no claim of authority beyond that

    Arduin was presented/"sold" to Greg Stafford as a "complete game system" - that surely implies a far greater intended claim to authority than a bunch of "how we do things around here" rules and tables?

    Not sure I get the point on your invisibility example - reads more like the result of a chat about watching the old James Whale movie and no different in 1977 from 1983 in that regard since such discourse, house rulings, explanations of game mechanics, etc., were there from the start throughout the hobby and the parallel F&SF fandom.