Arduin, Bloody Arduin – Thinking About How It Could Be Done
As some of you may know, I’m a big fan of The Arduin Grimoire – the original gonzo fantasy fest RPG which followed hot on the heels of White Box D&D back in the 70s. I was actually an Arduin player before I was a D&D player; back in 1980/81, I got the very first Arduin Grimoire Volume 1 (the one with the Erol Otus Tunch on the front – you remember!), and for the best part of a year I played the game just with that book, before getting hold of White Box and the other 2 Arduin volumes. Yes, Virginia, you can play an entire game with just the first volume of The Arduin Grimoire. You have to wing it a fair bit in places (mostly in how many experience points to award), but it can be done.
I’ve followed Arduin over the years, and have pretty much everything apart from the recent Arduin Eternal releases, but again and again I’ve found myself going back to those original 3 volumes (and their spiritual comrades-at-arms, the All The World’s Monsters vols 1-3). I’ve played happy sessions of Arduin using my Monsters & Magic RPG as the underlying mechanic, with Arduin in all its bloody glory ravaging chaotically over the top.
Imagine my excitement, then, to hear that the guys at Emperor’s Choice, the current publishers of all things Arduin, are planning to publish a new game, “Arduin, Bloody Arduin”, based principally on those original three volumes. At last: the circle is almost complete, and mayhem will be the master!
So naturally I spent the last night thinking about how I’d do Arduin, if I had the chance. This is what I came up with. Remember – this is all just my own opinion, after a night of winter storms here in Normandy, and isn’t approved or official or anything; I’m not associated with the Arduin folks. But I’m a big fan of Arduin, always have been, and maybe this is a cool way to talk about and get excited about what’s to come. 🙂
Well, one of the big hurdles the original Arduin Grimoire faced was that it wasn’t allowed to be a complete RPG using the D&D system. There was all kinds of litiginous stuff flying around in the day, and Dave Hargrave tippexed out all mentions of the game in subsequent printings. That left Arduin in the weird situation of not being quite a game, not being quite a supplement, which was always a bit of a shame.
That’s no longer the case. With the open gaming license, the d20SRD, and the whole Old School Renaissance movement, the d20 game system which underpinned Arduin is now available for use — and still wildly popular! So that’s where I’d start.
1. IT’S A D20 GAME
I’d go right back to basics on this one. Scrap all the percentile-based rulesy stuff from The Arduin Adventure and The Compleat Arduin. Emphasise Arduin’s genetic relationship to D&D – it’s D&D’s massively mutated, all-in-wrestling, steroid overdrive, rock-n-roll mega-Elric, demon-infested brother. It’s D&D with the safeties off; let’s rejoice in that.
On top of that, take advantage of the streamlining and advancements in the d20 mechanic of the past 30-40 years. So here’s the core mechanic:
- use the traditional Arduin attributes, but slightly streamlined: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, Ego.
- use the D20SRD attribute bonuses
- use the D20SRD core mechanic: roll 1d20+mods vs a difficulty class.
Reasons? Well, as much as possible keep the system familiar and easy to use. Arduin’s distinctiveness lies not in its atts and bonus and dice rolls, but elsewhere. Keeping consistency also makes the system easy to learn for new folk, and allows other products to be used with Arduin, and Arduin products to be used with other products. Good all round.
2. USE THE ARDUIN CLASSES
Take all the character classes from The Arduin Grimoire vols 1-3: Trader, Psychic, Barbarian, Rune Weaver, Techno, Medicine Man, Witch Hunter, Star-Powered Mage, Rune Singer, Bard, Saint, Martial Artist, Outlaw, Slaver, Courtesan, Alchemist, Assassin, Druid, Forester (Woods Ranger), Paladin, Sage.
Add to the above any classes from White Box + Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Eldritch Wizardry which are missing. Off the top of my head, that’s: Fighter, Thief, Cleric, Magic User, Illusionist.
Stop there. Don’t be tempted to go any further with new-fangled classes: what we’re doing here is a new edition of Arduin, and we must keep the atmosphere and flavour. People can add other classes if they want, but we want to create Arduin, not a.n.other d20 fantasy RPG.
Speaking of which…
3. IT’S NOT AN OSR GAME
It won’t be obvious to everyone; Arduin isn’t old school renaissance. It’s always been old school, in its vibe and approach. What we’re doing here is a new edition of the game. Which edition? Well, here’s my calculation:
- 1st edition: The Arduin Grimoire
- 2nd edition: The Arduin Adventure
- 3rd edition: The Compleat Arduin
- 4th edition: Arduin Eternal.
And that makes us 5th edition! There’s something nicely symmetrical about that, and something axe-wielding about that big letter “V” you can use. Ladees and gentle-barbarians, I give yew: The Arduin Grimoire V, 5th edition!
Not being an OSR game gives you freedom to do some other cool stuff, too. More on that below. Meanwhile, where was I? Oh yes…
4. USE THE ARDUIN RACES
Now, I’m being specific here: only the races from the Arduin Grimoire trilogy. NO PANDAS. NO WEIRDO CAT-FOLK. We’re keeping atmosphere here. Nevertheless, we have a huge pile of the trad fantasy races, including monstrous races, and the old Arduin favourites such as: kobbits, saurigs, phraints, gnorcs, haggorym, amazons, and more.
5. DON’T USE THE D20SRD SKILL SYSTEM
This is important, too; this is where we start getting into Arduin flavour. Instead of a bunch of skills, we distinguish 2 types of competence: abilities, and skills.
Abilities are things everyone can do. Things like running, swimming, jumping, climbing, etc. These are all attribute rolls; you roll 1d20, add your attribute MOD, and measure against a DC. All attributes have attribute rolls; nice and simple. Note that level has no relevance here.
Skills are things classes can do. In Arduin, these are mostly linked to your level; a fighter gets some core skills at 1st level, and these go up by level (probably by +1 per level); other skills come in at different, higher levels. This preserves the old school flavour of Arduin; skills are a function of class and level.
Races can give you modifiers to abilities and maybe skills. Some racial abilities are unique, or restricted in availability (infravision, etc).
6. CRITICALS AND FUMBLES
This is pure Arduin flavour: gonzo, big wild successes and failures, pretty lethal. It doesn’t just apply to combat; this applies to attribute and skill rolls, and magic too.
- Rolling a Natural 20: If your roll was going to be a success anyway, you CRITICAL. Roll on the critical tables. If your roll was going to be a failure, you achieve an automatic success.
- Rolling a Natural 1: If your roll was going to be a failure anyway, you FUMBLE. Roll on the fumble tables. If your roll was going to be a success, you commit an automatic failure.
This keeps things larger than life, and reduces rolling; no “critical threshold” multiple dice rolls here; Arduin has a reputation for danger and wildness, and this keeps that reputation intact.
7. “MODERN” STUFF
I’d like to see some scope for non-physical combat in Arduin, too. That means things like mental combat, intimidation, coercion, enchantment, fear attacks, undead turning, all that good stuff. That might involve a kind of “contest” mechanic being built into the core d20 mechanic, and the use of attribute and some skill rolls as saving throws. Nothing too heavy or onerous, and very flexible, too.
Use the Arduin mana system. In fact, pretty much import the whole spell corpus from Mark Schynert’s very excellent The Compleat Arduin. It’ll need a bit of conversion, but not much. Note that there’ll be a fair bit of tinkering needing to be done around the various mage classes; and, again, The Compleat Arduin does a lot of that for you. Use it.
9. HIT POINTS
Use the system in Arduin Grimoire III: The Runes of Doom. More hit points to start with, fewer hit points at mega levels. And, speaking of which…
Use the Arduin Grimoire standards. Yes, that does mean characters can go mega-gonzo high in level. That’s good. It also means a lot of thought needs to go into making those high level classes playable, which feeds into the class skill system and dice roll mechanic. The Compleat Arduin is a help, but if anything that’s where the new Arduin edition has its work to do.
Again, use The Compleat Arduin as a guide for which monsters to include, and derive stats from a mix of the d20SRD, the Arduin Trilogy, and Compleat Arduin. Wherever there’s a clash, the Arduin Trilogy takes precedence.
Include the core setting! A map of Khaora, with a brief gazetteer of the lands, with more detail the closer you approach Arduin; then a good map of Arduin, and a detailed gazetteer and encounter section. Show why Arduin is Arduin; some potted history here, too. This doesn’t need to be an encylopedia, but it should be a good solid chapter of evocative and very usable stuff. Bring in bits from the World Book of Khaas where appropriate.
And, a humble request from me: can we redraw the Khaora and world maps? Continents aren’t square. The detail is awesome, but these two maps really don’t do the setting any favours; for me, they really break credibility. By all means preserve the relative positions and even maps of individual nations as much as possible, but redraw the continent outline to be more realistic, and get a really cool world map done.
Similar for the Arduin map; it’s pretty good, but get a cartographer to tweak it so there’s a bit more realism in the geography. Gorgeous maps sell games, and the Arduin setting is so good it’s a shame to be let down by maps.
13. ART AND LAYOUT
Don’t underestimate this. Get a really good layout person and a cool stable of artists who can do this stuff. Apart from a god-awesome cover, it doesn’t have to be colour art — that depends on your budget — but it should look right. Get a good line developer on board, and good editor and proofers to make sure the final product is sharp, hot, and desirable. Hell, kickstart it if you need the boost. 🙂
So! I think that’s my two-penn’orth; a quick imagineering of my ideal “Arduin, Bloody Arduin” design brief. It’s only a start — there are a lot of wrinkles to iron out — but I think it’s a “mission statement” for the kind of book I think would be cool, would do Arduin justice, and would sell.
And then I’d follow it up with plenty of supplements. Adventures, country guides, what have you. Keep the game firmly in the d20 orbit, but with a clear “Arduin” identity – gonzo, awesome, the heavy metal demon-haunted magic-blasted 21 planes of hell-infested awesome that we know and love.
And maybe keep the title and subtitle:
“ARDUIN, BLOODY ARDUIN.
The Arduin Grimoire, 5th edition.”
Of course, all the above is just in my dreams, a fervid night’s brainstorming thinking about what Arduin, Bloody Arduin might be.
But I’d buy it. Anyone else? 🙂
You can buy Arduin products from the Emperor’s Choice, and also in PDF from DriveThru.
You can get my Monsters & Magic RPG, which you can use with the Arduin Trilogy, from DriveThru here.
Oh, and don’t forget my new transhuman space opera RPG “Mindjammer”, on sale right now with an immediate PDF download and hardcopy in March. Nothing to do with Arduin, but it’s pretty cool. 🙂