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Arduin, Bloody Arduin – Thinking About How It Could Be Done

February 15, 2014

That Erol Otus Tunch cover…

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.

The Compleat Arduin – Still Awesome

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.

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…

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…

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.

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).


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.

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.


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.

Cool Maps are Cool…


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:

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. 🙂

6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2017 4:29 am

    Hi Sarah, I don’t know if read comments on your older posts or not. I love the article and I loved it the first time I read it about a year and a half ago. I am asking for your permission to both link to it on my forum and to post the text in toto on my forum also in my new Arduin section that I am adding. I would also like to post it with full attribution on my blog along with my comments if you agree. No hard feelings if you want me to just link to this site and stop there.

    The section I am just starting on is at this link

    Thank you,

    Halenar Frosthelm

  2. December 18, 2015 8:33 am

    Great stuff. I have been a fan of Arduin since about 1978 when I bought a copy shortly after buying the white box. I love the swords and sorcery feel Arduin promoted. The races were particularly fun: Phraints especially. I like Arduin so much I named my blog Skull Tower:

  3. andyactionfulfillment permalink
    March 8, 2014 4:00 am

    Oh, and it goes without saying that Erol Otus should do the artwork (at least the cover art) for Arduin, Bloody Arduin..!

  4. March 8, 2014 3:42 am

    LOVE this post, Sarah & agree on all fronts – Paul’s comments are great too!
    This information and your opinions are invaluable to me.
    I am working towards running an OD&D (LBB) campaign with all the Arduin Grimoire (Vols. I-III) rulebooks set in the Hargrave’s campaign world. I play on running it over Google Hangout and I’ve started a facebook page in the meantime to gather potential players & to serve as a discussion forum/file repository for idea, files, maps, etc.
    I just made a .pdf of Hargrave’s 1979 article “Arduin, Bloody Arduin” from Different Worlds #2 if anyone’s interested, plus a combined image of his sketched campaign map (it was spread over two pages in that same article).
    Anyway, check out the the open facebook group I started, “The Ardiun Grimoire by David A. Hargrave” if you’re interested 🙂

  5. February 16, 2014 5:01 am

    Greetings Sarah! Before I start let me introduce myself. My name is Paul Mosher and I’ve been an Arduin gamer and GM since 1977 when I first discovered the Grimoires, then met David and became friends with him. I’ve provided EC with much material directly from the source and Co-Authored ‘The Heart of Darkness’ campaign adventure found in Vaults of the Weaver from EC. It and Hive Home were both provided by yours truly. I sat at his table and learned a tremendous amount from him; he taught gaming and GMing to me by rote as well as lessons he’d learned from life itself. He and Arduin have given me nearly 40 years of enjoyment, thrills and unmitigated fun.

    Arduin Grimoire comprises far more than the Trilogy. In this mix are also AG’s 4-9. These are comprised of The Lost Grimoire, Dark Dreams, House of the Rising Sun, Shadow Lands, The Winds of Chance, and End War. A total of over 600 pages of new material, magik, PC Races and Classes as well as monsters and ideas.

    As for the Trilogy itself there’s also the Hard Bound Version containing all the original material (Organized!) as well as The Arduin Adventure and some other tasty bits thrown in as well .

    When combined with Compleat Arduin (or Arduin II as its now called) that comes to a total of about 1030 pages of Arduin Goodness.

    4th edition: Arduin Eternal comprises 826 further pages of Arduin Material. Note that I personally do not use nor play AE. Though I was a Playtester of small influence, I found it to be far more Rules Heavy/Necessary and unnecessarily complicated. Just not my cup of tea; but Kudos and encouragement to those who do use it. It too contains some gems and ideas worth a GM’s consideration.

    But enough history and huckstering.

    I find most of your ideas viable and reasonable but I do differ on a couple of points. I’m not a fan of DnD as I don’t consider it a Role Playing Game. Its far more Roll Play, with less emphasis on game reality, story lines, and common sense and also allows/encourages players to Min-Max to an egregious “level” and suffers from the “everything must have a rule and there must be a rule for everything” syndrome.

    While Arduin (and virtually all other RPG’s) does owe its birth to DnD, you yourself know and have demonstrated that DnD is’t necessary for an Arduin game. Nor is a dependence upon the SRD for viability or legal standpoint. As for the rules and production themselves, Keep it Simple, keep it true to Arduin, keep it fun for everyone.

    1)It’s a D20 game. You are correct in that Arduin is a D20 game. It was a D20 game long before WotC issued its D2O concept. This concept was discovered and presented via Arduin Adventure in 1980. One can find the applicable passages on pp20 of the Combat section of that game, most specifically the 4th paragraph down;
    Quote “To determine if an attack is successful all you have to do is to cross index your weapon type against the DF (Defense Factor) of you opponent. This will give you a Base Number you must roll on a D20 to hit. Remember, if your Base Number is, say, 12, you must roll a 12 or more on a D20 to hit. Don’t forget to give yourself any AF (Attack Factor) bonus you may hae for your STR (or penalty either!). The GM will factor in all the bonuses or penalties for non-player characters of monsters in a melee, telling the players the adjudicated AFs and DFs needed for play.” End Quote.

    Attack Factor, by the way, is a numerical rating of the kind of weapon or attack used based upon STR and EL bonuses etc. Defense Factor is a numerical rating based upon Armor worn/used and DEX/CF/etc. Bottom line is that if that isn’t the heart and soul of WotC’s D20 system, I don’t know what is. Monty Cook and Jonathan Tweet did what David always advocated: to make a game your own, change the numbers. And DnD’s numbers have always been different from Arduin’s and Vice Versa.

    2) Use all the Arduin Classes. Agree! Use NONE of the White Box. For Arduin there are about 35 Character Classes and approximately 32 Character Races published. Note this does not count classes and types from other games/systems that are allowed to run in Arduin, nor does it count numberless GMs/players own ideas and input.

    3)It’s not an OSR game. I agree completely; it IS Old School at its finest. I’m with you 100% on Arduin V. Makes perfect sense and fits seamlessly as well into the niche provided by David.

    4) Use the Arduin Races. Use them ALL. To not do so ignores history and deprives players of the challenge of actual Role Play of a different race/species from the norm. Tzikki adventurers, Pahda-ha magi, Kai Shang Techno’w and Khai-Zirin thieves are all worthy of play and can and do give games a VERY unique flavor and feel. Its Arduin; anything is possible. Add your own, add some from other games. It all works. 🙂

    5) Don’t use the D20SRD Skill System. I’m with ya again. Don’t need it. Use the Special Abilities charts at PC roll up, use common sense and have a reasonably complete background to hand as well. Your character grew up in the desert? Very good chance he/she/it can’t swim. He’s a nobleman’s son that’s leaving home because he’s the 3d son and stands little chance of inheriting? Cool; mightn’t a servant/stableman accompany him? He might not know how to saddle his horse if its been done FOR him all his life…Skills themselves? I’m with ya for the most part. Just remember they aren’t a sure thing, not a ‘get out of the tar-pit free’ card.

    6) Criticals and Fumbles. Of course we keep them, total agreement. Those are what level the playing field in combat. CRIT! Oh the joy, the joy!

    7) Modern Stuff. GM purview, player ingenuity and gamer imagination. Don’t need any special rules or dispensation, Its all accounted for in the present Arduin trove o’stuff. Simplicity.

    8) Magik. You got it. Use the CA magik system en toto. I also agree re tinkering; there IS a way to simplify some things and bring ALL iterations of Arduin Magik into line with the CA rules. I’ve done it and a copy is available upon request. 🙂

    9) Hit Points. I’m with ya! I’d also note that CA carries basically the same HP system (minor tweaks perhaps). But I’m a big Runes of Doom HP fan and always have been.

    10).Levels. Over all I agree. The only proviso I would recommend is to use the CA Experience Level and Aging rules on pp103-105. Simple, easy and makes so much more sense than trying to keep a running tab on how many Experience Points one has. After all its the ACT of stealing that gives the Thief his knowledge and expertise, not how much. Or the ACT of slaying an Uruk that adds to the Warrior’s bag of tricks.

    11) Monsters. Use them all from CA and Grimoire/AA. They all fit, they all work. Forget the D20SRD. It might be useful for a reference, but the critters and the GMs don’t really need it

    12) History. Again, agree for the most part. I’d just toss in Capsule History from Welcome to Skull Tower and the published dungeons along with some SciFi StarWars/40K ideas and let the GMs and Players make their own world of Arduin come alive.

    13)Art and Layout. With ya all the way, complete agreement. In for a life level, in for a soul. 🙂 Same with the title.

    There. All done now, for now. Heh. I Do have some material that supports ABA and am waiting to hear from EC/Monty St. John on where and how to get it to them for their perusal. But, yeah. When ABA comes out, I’ll be gettin’ me one a’ them things. 🙂

  6. February 15, 2014 3:44 pm

    Good stuff. I’d play that version.

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