Saturday, March 28, 2009

Arduin - Welcome to Sandbox Tower


As I'm slowly making my way through the excellent issue 4 of Fight On!, I'm struck by just how unique an experience Arduin really was. Now, when it comes to old-school gaming, my flavor of preference is Wilderlands of High Fantasy, has been since '79 or so, and probably always will be. But as I enjoy game development more now than I did back then, I'm starting to have a greater appreciation for just what Arduin really was - the epitomy of a D&D sandbox.

I had very little knowledge of Arduin (aside from the occasional mention in magazines) until the early 90's or so. While scouring book, comic, and game stores for missing pieces of my 1E TSR and Judges Guild collection (this is pre-ebay!) I came across a plastic bag with 4 little brown books, and one big brown books. The little brown books were reminiscent of my copies of Blackmoor and Eldritch Wizardry, and the price tag was only a few bucks, so I grabbed them. I think at the time I believed them to be, simply, a campaign setting of some sort.

Later I would flip through them, squinting at the tiny print, scanning over encounter tables, lists of spells, classes, and magic items, and wonder, "wtf is this!?" It seemed interesting, but was almost completely unrecognizable. Mana costs for spells? Every monster has variable HD? "Genitals torn off!?" Respectful but slightly bewildered, I tucked the books back into their plastic bag, and placed them in the vault, where they would languish for years.

It was only much later that I would realize what Arduin was - a brillant example of what a near-completely houseruled and sandboxed D&D campaign looks like.

When my appreciation finally "clicked", I devoured the little books. They are dense, and complicated, and arcane, but full of little details and reimaginatings that are an invaluable creative resource for any DM. Hargrave was never afraid to take things one step farther than many DMs would have found acceptable. He customized his game to the point that it was nearly unrecognizable from its starting point, yet still undeniably D&D. And as an Erol Otus fan, its a delightful look at some of his (extremely) early art.

Some of his ideas took root in my own games, and some remain there still. Lizardmen as PCs. Wizards allowed to use magic swords after level 5. I've even afflicted Veluna with the Curse of the White Eyes as a plot point in a campaign.

It must have been a riot to participate in Hargrave's game. This was a game were every monster was unknown, as were most spells and magic items. Where Elric the Hell-Lost, Kazamon the Ring Bearer, Frederick the Bold, and the Seven Spartans adventured and fought against Phraint pirates, deadly Hell Maidens, and 36HD Maggoths.

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