Under the Influence: The Arduin Grimoires



     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.





  1. I do remember seeing them but never got to play with any of the material. I think the only book the local shop that carried the original D&D set and chainmail rules that I have also did have a copy of blackmore but I never got to buy that one. It sounds like I missed much fun and enjoyment.

  2. Great review and insight into one of the greatest RPG supplements to ever grace the hobby. While it is true that *original* print run copies are hard to find and horribly expensive, the product line is hardly out of print and can be found hosted and distributed by Emperors Choice games, http://empcho.bizhosting.com/arduin.html

    You’ll find all the original Arduin material here (albeit with a facelift and cleaned up text), as well as material posthumously published from David A. Hargraves own notes, and some entirely new material as well, developed by Emperor’s Choice (Arduin Eternal).

    These supplements are still valid today, and any self respecting GM would do well to consider embracing any amount of gaming genius contained within their pages.

    • Well, thanks for the link! I’ll go edit the post to reflect that!

      I didn’t see, however, what I’m missing (used to have, but are now gone from my collection): the Arduin Modules like Death Heart, Caliban, etc.

      • You’ll want to pick up a copy of Vaults of the Weaver. Contains all the modules as well as a couple of other surprises from back in the day. AND there’s some previously unpublished material as well. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

        (SIDE NOTE) In the Vaults of the Weaver’s Heart of Darkness campaign section, there is one glaring typo that needs to be addressed. One of the areas listed is The Mist Hill Moors and the Brood Moors. This SHOULD read the Mist Hill Moors and the Brood Mounds. Editors. You can’t live with them and you can’t cut them into small pieces and tell the neighbors they moved to Florida. 🙂

  3. Arduin was that first game that I thought really went outside of the box. Was and still is a great inspration.

  4. I’d like to Thank You for your excellent review of the original Arduin Grimoire game material by my friend, Dave Hargrave. Its good to see there are people still around that remember the “golden years’ of gaming and still some fortunate enough to find and use Dave’s material for their games. He did indeed influence a great number of folk and his ideas and concepts are still in use to this day.

    BUT…(don’t ya just hate those)…there is on minor nit I’d pick overall. You wrote : Quote ” 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.”End Quote

    Actually, David was a very fair GM and he stressed Role Play as opposed to Roll Play in his games. Arduin, by its very nature was and remains lethal in the extreme. Words and actions have consequences and thus if the player were ill advised enough to do something..erm…stupid…more often than not the character would pay the price. Yes, characters got killed in David’s games all the time. It was and remains the nature of the world and the game system itself. BUT…if you could show and/or convince David that your character’s actions were indeed what the character would have done in the situation (via character background and Role Play) that character’s survival chances went UP as opposed to down. He would paint the picture for you, tell you in his flowing language what was going on, what he saw in his own mind…and the rest was up to you, Fate, Role Play and the dice. Many characters have died in Arduin, but a great many more have lived and gone down in its very history. Just sayin’.

    At any rate, thanks again for your kind words and thoughts. Somewhere beyond the Ebon Gates on the Plateau of Forever, Dave’s smiling. Peace.

    • Insofar as that part of the review, I was merely reporting what I’d heard from two people who had played with him. I think it’s inevitable that people will have different views of the same game, so both of you may be right, so to speak.

      In my case, as I’ve gotten more experienced as a GM, I’ve become vastly more reluctant to kill off PCs and our game contract, so to speak, basically says I WON’T do so unless either the player is cool with it (“the right time to die”) or the player’s deliberately done such asinine things that I have no choice. The amount of work that goes into creating and playing a character is too valuable to allow bad luck or situations to take it away, at least now that I’m an adult and can’t afford to spend 40 hours a week making characters and such.

      But I’ve taken a LOT of Arduin into my world and my heart, and Zarathan, my own game world and the world of Phoenix Rising, certainly has echoes of Arduin in it (the Iriistiik are very Phraint-like, though not identical, for instance), and I’ve often used quotes from Arduin in game discussions (his description of “good death” versus “straw death” has always been a useful one).

      Glad you enjoyed the review.

  5. Karl Steward says:

    Ah, such a nice reminder of how it felt to find those Arduin books for the first time… and the odd stares I got the first time I brought them to game.
    They really were/are amazing in the wild spirit they unleashed on us. I really can’t think of any gaming product (besides the first AD&D book I was handed) that had quite that deep or broad an effect on my gaming… and not just gaming but taste in imaginative fiction in general.
    My own homebrew settings always had Arduin DNA running through them and somewhere there was always a gate that would have led there if players stumbled across it… even in games of Traveller.

    • Indeed. All of my games for many years took place in the same multiverse, so whether you were playing in a superhero campaign, a high fantasy adventure, Shadowrun, or Space Opera, you could end up running into any of the others.

  6. Robert Tharp says:

    Ryk – Glad to see that Dave’s work is well remembered. I’d like to address the point that ‘Dave claimed to have independently invented’ RPG gaming. I gamed with Dave several times and was part of consortiums considering buying Dave’s material from Grimore Games. In all the time I knew him he never made that claim, and in due diligence I would have expected such a claim to be asserted. Dave DID claim to have invented/refined/mashed up many things, including critical hit tables, but not to have invented modern PRGing to my knowledge.

    He was a supremely catalyzing personality and many folks never got past the bombastic ‘stage’ persona, yet Dave had a lot more depth. He did have feuds with several in the early gaming industry, leading to spells and other in-game snipes. Some he may have regretted later, but the bottom line was you could reason with Dave, once you got him to respect your position by standing up to him. There’s a lot of sour grapes left from the early days in the industry and the clash of some truly titanic egos 😉

    I’ll ditto Paul’s comments regarding character deaths. Dave IMHO didn’t have to seek to ‘kill’ characters, they often managed quite well on their own. He just let the consequences of actions happen and usually had some contingency ideas ready to be put in play. Roll play in Dave’s game = die young. Role play and listen to GM clues = survive, although perhaps changed. When Dave passed I had one character held in a stasis bubble under a tomb we were the first explorers of, waiting to be summoned as an avatar of a minor god. Depending on gameplay by others I might have come back into play…

    There are some amazing stories of things Dave was supposed to have said at various times… some may well be true, but documenting the actual instance is tough. And Dave was quite the one to play with the minds around him if he was of the mood 😉


    • Well, not having known him personally (the closest I got was talking to someone from Grimoire Games many years ago) I could only go by various secondary sources. Dave’s claim to have independently invented FRPGs has been mentioned by other people who claim to have known him and I have seen it in other areas.

      I don’t see it as terribly important; if he didn’t invent it independently he was certainly by FAR one of the earliest adopters and he transformed the genre with ideas that weren’t matched by anyone else working at the time. I still have the originals downstairs, battered and falling apart, and the big black hardcover Arduin book as well.

      What I’m MISSING are the modules — Caliban, Death Heart, etc.

  7. Greg Ellis says:

    I had the pleasure of being friends with Dave for many years and even collaborating with him on a scifi game he was in the middle of developing for awhile. Dave was irascible, didn’t suffer fools gladly, adamantly committed to gaming, and generally a very likable guy. He didn’t like to be disagreed with, had an ego the size of the Grand Canyon, but he had a heart the size of the moon. I remember my friendship (all too brief) with Dave while he was living in Concord, CA and, for an equally brief time, running his own gaming shop just off Todos Santos Plaza. I spent way too many hours wasting away there, later at Light Brigade Hobbies after Dave’s store closed, and not a few hours talking game design with him at his home. I can honestly say that Dave was a great friend and AG heavily influenced my own games and later writings. Thanks, Dave. Hopefully, that BOLO’s standing guard over you in Heaven (in joke).

Your comments or questions welcomed!