The Arduin Grimoire
the coolest RPG book ever

In 1977, the late David A. Hargrave published The Arduin Grimoire, the coolest RPG book ever. Basically, it showed you how to run a high-energy D&D campaign. It's full of crunchy roleplaying goodness. For example:

page 2: Experience Point System
Assigns various bonus XP awards for doing special things, like finding powerful magic items, being point man and or taking rear-guard, casting spells, taking damage, getting killed (and raised), etc.

page 6: Condensed Character Limitation Chart
Ability scores (including Ego, Mechancical Ability, etc.) for humans, elves, and the regular suspects. Also, amazons, orcs, kobolds, dragons, demons (lesser and greater), etc.

pages 11-12: Notes on Fantastic Beings
Lifespan, age of maturity, typical alignment, ability to mate fertilely with humans, temperament, and more for the standard races plus gnolls, orcs, giants, phraints (super-logical insect people, see illustration), etc. Gnolls are usually neutral, as well as cunning, and tenacious. Dwarves are touchy and greedy. Minotaurs are "always horny."

pages 14 - 18: Special Abilities Charts
Random special abilities on various charts. Your class type determines which chart you roll on. There's a chart, for example, for "thieves, monks, ninja, corsairs, assassins, traders, slavers, rangers, and all those with a more or less 'secret' nature." On it, you'll find

"+2 agility and dexterity, but -3 versus all attacks by oozes/slimes, etc." and
"+1 with longswords and spears but -1 with all missile weapons"

pages 28 - 30: Magic in Arduin
Mana point system and more.

pages 39 - 42 New Spells
Including Morgorn's Red Death, a 6th-level mage spell that turns the target inside out.

page 60: Critical Hit Chart
If you roll 95, you get "guts ripped out, 20% chance of tangling feet, die 1-10 minutes."

page 65 - 66: Dinosaurs
Ankylosaurus has the best AC, as it should be.

pages 78 - 79: Most Malignant and Maleficent
Mind-shattering and body-warping diseases. The scarlet screaming sickness makes you feel like you're on fire; it doesn't harm you physically but the pain can drive you mad. The steaming doom, bursting disease, and black bloat are good, too.

pages 80 - 84: New Monsters
From air sharks to the yellow perils (giant centipedes), and including the marvelous vroat (a frog/crocodile cross). Thanks to an early misunderstanding of the
D&D rules, each monster has a "% liar" stat to determine whether the creature lies to the adventurers. (D&D monsters had "% in lair" to determine the chance you'd encounter it in its lair, with its treasure.) There are cool big monsters, like ghost crabs (giant, level-draining undead crabs). There are also cool little monsters, like kobbits (half kobold, half hobbit, all wicked).

pages 87 - 90: The 21 Planes of Hell
They're all effectively planets. The 1st plane is the home of the earth demons. The atmosphere is mostly 130°F carbon monoxide, and humans die in 1-3 minutes. The 6th plane, home to the storm demons, has atmosphere that's high in ozone but liveable. Snow-covered tundras slope up to pine-covered mountains under a deep blue sky. The shadow titans live on the 10th plane, in a highly radioactive vacuum, -225°. The planet's surface is destroyed, pocked with H-bomb craters.


Hargrave followed The Arduin Grimoire with Welcome to Skull Tower and The Runes of Doom, further books of the same kind (both in 1978). He also wrote four crazy, high-energy, extra-crunchy dungeons based on the Arduin material. Hargrave called The Runes of Doom the final volume, but he wound up writing several more Arduin books. The later ones have better production values but don't have high content density of the first three books.

The Arduin system is usually unbalanced and often unbelievably complicated. For example, each weapon has 12 different damage ratings based on the Hit Dice of the target. (I guess this was supposed to be better than the damage rules in Greyhawk, which gave every D&D weapon two damage values, one for Man-size creatures [and smaller] and another for Larger-than-man-size creatures. Despite the vast amount of information, the trilogy doesn't really stand on its own as an independent game. Volume by volume, the work replaces most of the tables, rules, and systems in the D&D game (pre-AD&D), but it misses the basics. There's no section on elves as PC or goblins as monsters, for example, because that was all covered in the D&D books. There are variant rules for cure spells (curing a proportion of the subject's hit points in damage), but no rules for the cure spells themselves. The books were used almost exclusively as source material for D&D games.

The books' production values aren't great, either. The pages are type-written sheets photo-reduced to fit on digest-sized pages. The editing leaves something to be desired. There aren't chapters, per se, just collections of pages on similar (or sometimes dissimilar) themes.

Arduin's appeal isn't in its elegance, its comprehensiveness, its game balance, or its presentation. It's the author's enthusiasm that counts. Hargrave loved running his Arduin campaign, and the books read like the campaign notes of a manic DM. He often refers to his own campaign and how he makes rulings, runs combat, handles treasure, etc. Hargrave's enthusiasm is contagious.

The good folks of Emperor's Choice have reprinted the Arduin trilogy, so this pieceof RPG history is available again. They've reprinted a later edition from 1981 or so. It has references to Dungeons & Dragons edited out, and it has better art than the original. (The bare-breasted woman on the back cover, however, got a leather bra for the second edition.)

January 2002

PS: In Welcome to Skull Tower, Hargrave recommends Alarums & Excursions.