Back in the ancient days of roleplaying games, Dungeons and Dragons was pretty much the only game in town, a game consisting of three little booklets: Men & Magic, Monsters and Treasures, and The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures, followed a bit later with the supplements Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Eldritch Wizardry.
But one day, I joined a game with a GM – John Robb – who was using a new book: like the others, it was a staple-bound pamphlet-style book with a sort of buff-colored cover, on which was a warrior fighting some kind of flying, long-nosed… thing. On the book was printed: The Arduin Grimoire, by Dave Hargrave.
NOTE: Arduin Products are available through "Emperor's Choice" games, here.
The Arduin Grimoire was the first "third-party supplement" I ever saw to D&D – a wide-ranging set of additional rules, items, creatures, and general ideas to add into your existing gaming campaigns. There were third-party adventure packs (many from "Judges' Guild" before their collapse), but I hadn't seen so comprehensive an addition to the game itself before.
And what an addition it was! Within those pages – printed in a font very nearly microscopic – lay everything from new character classes (the Star Powered Mage, the Techno, and others) to unique new monsters, magical items, demons, special abilities charts, critical hit charts, and even general musings on the "art" of gamemastering.
The Arduin Grimoire was typical in some ways of its early era: production values near nil, illustrations ranging from competent to terrible, misprints and other editing mistakes not caught. But it had a tremendous energy and vision that made it stand out brilliantly from even the original D&D and any competitors, something that continued to be true in its sequel volumes Welcome to Skull Tower and The Runes of Doom, which collectively came to be known as "The Arduin Trilogy".
The Arduin books told GMs and players that they should not believe in limits. That of course magic and technology could play in the same game – Welcome to Skull Tower gave rules for firearms, while The Runes of Doom had rules for advanced energy weapons! – that no species or type of character should be forbidden to enter the realms of adventure. Dave Hargrave painted Arduin as one of the most complex, amazing worlds ever created, with innumerable species coexisting in a world that had a massive history and mysteries hiding around every corner. There is little doubt that Arduin strongly influenced my development of Zarathan, especially early on (although Zarathan went its own direction as time went on).
The Arduin books gave us material ranging from the hilarious (giant ridable Saint Bernards called "Bigglies") to the epic and terrifying (the Curse of Tindalos, that called down the Lovecraftian Hounds of Tindalos upon its target) and sometimes both at once. It also gave both GMs and players power; in the Arduin system, the charts went a lot higher for everyone, and spells went to ludicrous levels of power not equalled in a D&Dish setting until much later.
Some years later, Dave Hargrave returned to make more in the series, having revamped his own system. This did make it somewhat harder to make good use of his material, since it no longer used D&D-type game mechanics as the default. Still, there was good material in the volumes that followed, which were: The Lost Grimoire, Dark Dreams, The House of the Rising Sun, Shadowlands, and The Winds of Chance. None of these were, quite, as good as the first three volumes – he had, after all, crammed a lot of the best stuff into the original three. Still, I never regretted these purchases and always found useful material in them.
One of the strongest and most powerfully attractive parts of the Arduin series was that, within and around the game mechanics, the statistics for demons and items and spells, Dave Hargrave wove tales and hints of his campaign world, giving us a look at the life of a world that didn't exist, but … perhaps… could, elsewhere. This was a world in which Multiversal Trading Corporation maintained branch offices in all major cities, allowing an adventurer to browse a selection of goods; a place where on one dark night of the year a horrific god might walk the world in the flesh; where potable liquors might be brewed from the most peculiar ingredients, and some of them might give you more than a buzz; where a laser-rifle armed mercenary might be found hunting a dragon.
I was, thus, somewhat disappointed when I was given a huge Arduin collection re-issue which had much of the personal material edited out of it. The fact is that much of the attraction of The Arduin Grimoire and its sequels was that personal, powerful writing that Dave Hargrave infused into the otherwise dry gaming mechanics – a point of view of a gamer who had thought long and hard on what kind of a world they wanted to run, and what it meant to run a campaign – the responsibilities of the game master as well as their powers.
As I have mentioned, the author of the Arduin Grimoire was a gentleman named Dave Hargrave, out in California. I found later that he claimed to have invented RPGing of the D&D sort independently (a dubious claim); still, it was clear by the fact that the first Arduin book came out roughly at the same time as Greyhawk that his had to be one of the earliest major campaigns and the stamp of his inventiveness (and ability to fit virtually anything into his game) was clear from the start. I also heard later, from some who had gamed with him, that in his own games he was perhaps more a matter of "do as I say, not as I do" – more arbitrary and "killer" a GM than his advice and philosophy implied.
But that, really, didn't change what it was he created, one of the most absolutely concentrated essences of the fun of roleplaying games ever made. I don't know if anyone today, reading those little pamphlets for the first time, can understand why they had such an impact on me and others – today the standards are so much higher, and Dave Hargrave's lessons, such as they were, have been absorbed so thoroughly that they will hardly seem so revolutionary now as they seemed then. But impact they had, and had it across the gaming world; during my first contact with Wizards of the Coast, I reviewed the draft of their first product, The Primal Order, and had to point out some areas where Arduin's influence was so strong that they might want to consider some judicious editing!
Dave Hargrave's Arduin inspired my games, and was a key tool in them, for decades, and led to many of my decisions in the design of Zarathan itself. For me, it still holds its magid; even today, I sometimes go downstairs and pick one up, reading it (squinting hard now, because the text is so very, very small)… and for a moment, I'm fourteen years old again, and seeing Wonder opening up before my eyes once more.