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Arduin Grimoire IX: End War Review
Posted By Flames On March 23, 2006 @ 4:38 pm In Reviews,RPGs | 1 Comment
Dave Hargrave’s Arduin Grimoire series has been around since 1976, arguably representing the first unofficial line of third-party AD&D supplements ever. From its initial inception, the purchasing public has been deeply divided over the Arduin Grimoire series, some people hailing it as the work of a genius and others dismissing it as a set of third rate house rules. Despite this divide, the series has endured on the open market for more than twenty-nine years, undergoing multiple revisions, three printings and spawning two complete game systems of its own – love it or hate it, one can’t deny that the Arduin Grimoire series is doing something right.
The ninth and final book in the Arduin Grimoire series, End War is a somewhat disappointing end to the ubiquitous game line, lacking the generally even style of writing and advice found in earlier Grimoires. While it is primarily written for Game Masters and players of The Compleat Arduin game system, End War does have a few things to offer those individuals who prefer other fantasy game systems, though the fluctuation in content quality throughout End War somewhat detracts from its overall appeal.
Weighing in it at 108 pages of content, End War is a digest-sized, soft-cover, book that sports black and white line drawings of adventurers fighting against an advancing army of giant ants (and a single giant scorpion) on both the front and back covers. The cover art in question lacks the polish of artwork in (or on, as the case may be) most modern role-playing games, but it is certainly evocative of old school fantasy gaming and the baroque atmosphere for which Arduin is well known.
The interior artwork is of a similar quality to that seen on the covers, also rendered in black and white, and also evoking that ‘old school’ feel. The actual layout in End War has improved vastly over that of the Lost Grimoire (Arduin Grimoire IV) – one size of font is used throughout the book and white space is managed much better. The only real complaint that one might have with the layout of End War is that it is rather plain, compared to that found in many modern products.
While the layout isn’t visually stunning, it isn’t particularly painful, just plain.(But as I mention elsewhere, that’s really not what I buy role-playing products for, anyhow). If polished layout is something that you purchase role-playing products for, you may want to weigh End War’s basic presentation against the actual content that it has to offer before you decide to purchase it.
As to the content itself, its utility depends largely upon what kind of game you play (or are looking to play), as well as the themes that you enjoy exploring in your campaigns. As a fan of both old school fantasy gaming and older editions of D&D, I found that End War has a lot to offer folks like me. If you like those things, too, I suspect that you’ll enjoy this final installment in the Arduin Grimoire series.
The Game Master Advice
The Game Master advice in End War is divided up into four different sections. Like the Game Master advice found in the Lost Grimoire, all of the Game Master advice in End War can be applied to a number of different game systems, although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. Unlike the Game Master advice found in the Lost Grimoire, the advice that you’ll find here is really not worth much in terms of utility.
The first section of Game Master advice is less advice than it is an attempt to rationalize the existence of the traditional dungeon complex (i.e., an underground maze filled with wandering monsters of a randomly determined nature) by offering up a list of six rather poorly reasoned excuses for why sending a contingent of soldiers into a dungeon to clean it out isn’t a feasible idea. I appreciate the intent of the author (i.e., attempting to sensibly explain why dungeons exist), but the fact is that this intent is never realized due to the small amount of space allocated to the topic (roughly half a page).
The next section of Game Master advice tackles a rather unusual topic – that of characters sharing items with one another. Consisting of only three paragraphs, this section of advice amounts to “Sharing is good, because it’s realistic – however, magic items should be shared sparingly, because letting other people borrow magic items will-nilly is not realistic.” While that is pretty sound advice, the small amount of discussion and lack of explanation behind the author’s reasoning makes its usefulness questionable.
The third piece of Game Master advice found in End War deals with the topic of disruptive players and how to handle them. Rather than lay out the “Talk to the problem player and see how you can work with them to remedy the situation amicably” advice, the author cuts right to the chase and suggests that you kill the problem player’s PC to show them who the boss is, simply disallow their character in the game, or kick them (the player) out of the game. Obviously, unless you’re of a certain temperament, you’ll probably want to ignore this advice in lieu of the aforementioned ‘working things out approach (which is, incidentally, the approach that I prefer).
Finally, the last (and longest) section of advice for the Game Master deals with “looking beyond the gold” where character rewards are concerned. That said, the author doesn’t look too far past the gold, instead simply offering up an alternate list of material treasures that can be offered in place of gold coins. While this isn’t bad or useless advice, I’m really not sure that it is worth the two and a half pages worth of discussion that it receives – in fact, I’m almost of the mind that this space would have been better used for expanding upon earlier sections of Game Master advice hampered by their brevity and subsequent lack of depth.
Overall, I was unimpressed by the Game Master advice in End War – and this really surprised me, given that the Game Master advice in the Lost Grimoire had been incredibly strong. I can’t help but walk away with the feeling that somebody other than Dave Hargrave actually penned this advice, as its tone and nature seemed so very different from that found in earlier Grimoires.
Like Game Master advice, End War’s options for magic are also divided up into three different sections that cover new spells, new magical artifacts, and a very unusual (and powerful) magical ability. While this selection of magical options is shorter than that found in the Lost Grimoire, it is certainly no less wondrous.
The first section of the Grimoire devoted to the discussion of magical things presents a list of sixteen new spells culled from the world of Arduin, ranging from spells that allow you to randomly teleport annoying people away from your person while simultaneously wiping their mind to spells that allow you to conjure up an earthen fortress from the very ground. While this list of spells is short, it remains interesting enough to be worthy of your attention.
The next section of End War dedicated to discussing things of a magical nature is focused squarely in items, specifically magical artifacts. Herein you’ll find twenty unique magical artifacts described in detail, from a Figurine of Wondrous power in the shape of a kangaroo to a set of gauntlets that allow the wearer to extend his arms up to fifteen feet in length (Go, go, gadget!). While some people will obviously view such artifacts as comedy relief elements (and, indeed, they have that potential), Arduin fans will recognize them for what they are – a little piece of that legendary land.
Finally, the last section of End War to delve into arcane things presents a unique new form of dimensional travel called “Hell Walking.” This form of travel allows the practitioner to move from one reality to another in a series of steps (yes, physical steps taken), with each step corresponding to an intervening reality between the one on which the practitioner currently exists and the one in which they wish to travel to . . . I think. The fact is that the explanation of Hell Walking is extremely muddied, to the point of internal contradiction.
Ultimately, End War’s examination of magic and magical things is a mixed bag. Many of the spells I can see finding their way into my own campaigns, while only a handful of the artifacts presented seem to be worth considering – and Hell Walking? It’s a really neat idea, but pending a better explanation of how it works, it isn’t going to be of much use to anybody.
As it was in the Lost Grimoire, the amount of space devoted to character options in End War is quite small, being confined to three different offerings – the first of which is a new character class designed to be used with The Compleat Arduin rule; the second of which is a list of five new technological items that a character may purchase in the shops of Arduin; and the third of which is arguably the best bit of the whole book – a system for using the Swords & Dragons cards to add an extra dimension to the character creation process!
The new character class offered up is that of a ‘Scout’ which bears some passing similarities to the Compleat Arduin Forester class, but has more in common with a contemporary mountain man or plains-dwelling American Indian in that they prefer a nomadic lifestyle and open fields to city life or the confines of underground dungeon complexes. As an addition to the Compleat Arduin rules, the Scout is a welcome inclusion in End War, but it doesn’t have a lot to offer players of other systems.
The technological items presented for purchase by player characters are probably of less interest to fans of the Compleat Arduin rules (as they’re already accustomed to such things) than they will be to players of other games (who generally are not accustomed to such things). Of the five items listed, the “Peeper Shield” is easily the most unique, being a shield with a modular locking mechanism on its front to which different pieces of offensive weaponry can be attached (including the liquid dispersion system).
Finally, the character option entitled “Casting the Cards” is easily my favorite section of End War, as it adds a lot to random character creation in any role-playing system, as well as giving me an excuse to break out by set of Swords & Dragons cards (another Emperor’s Choice product). Here’s how casting the cards works in a nutshell:
After a player has drawn and been bound by a card, they compare it to series of tables in End War, which determines whether the card grants their character a boon or a bane, and exactly what they boon or bane is.
I like it. This character option is a nice departure from the expected dice rolling or point allocation that tends to dominate character creating in many game systems, and it gives the GM a way to easily integrate the Swords & Dragons cards into actual game play early on. Very cool.
Overall, I’m pretty impressed with the character options, although some more deviation from the archetypical D&D Ranger probably would have made the Scout class appeal to an audience outside of Compleat Arduin players (as it stands, I really think that its appeal will be limited to said folks). The option for using the Swords & Dragons cards during character creation is wonderfully reminiscent of Ogre Battle (yes, I know that it’s not a role-playing game in the strictest sense) and, in that regard, has completely won me over.
No general purpose role-playing supplement would be complete without serving up some monsters, and the End War knows this. Included withing the pages of the ninth Arduin Grimoire are eighteen new monsters, each of which is fully statted up for use with The Compleat Arduin system, but which can easily be converted for use with other game systems, such as AD&D, D&D, or Castles and Crusades (I plan on raiding this selection of creature for C&C, as a matter of fact).
Of the eighteen monsters, the two which really leapt out at me (no pun intended) as unique were the Demon Shark and Giant Ground Octopus. The Demon Shark makes its home deep within the ground, swimming through the earth, and erupting from beneath its surface to snare prey. The Giant Ground Octopus, on the other hand, typically lives above ground, on dry land as opposed to in the sea as their aquatic brethren do. I can envision having a lot of fun with both of these creatures as a GM.
Unlike the Lost Grimoire, End War devotes a rather large amount of space to Arduin setting information, including the same brief excerpt from the World Book of Khaas that was included as an appendix in the earlier Grimoire. So, what exactly does End War offer up in this department? Here’s the rundown:
A 2-page historical perspective of the Thieve’s Guild in Arduin.
A 7-page examination of Arduin’s subterranean ‘undercities’, including random encounters.
A look at ‘The Winds of Change’, a natural phenomena that kills and reincarnates those unlucky enough to get caught up in them as a random creature.
A 3-page look at the “Pearly Gates” inn and roadhouse in the city of Khurahaen.
Three examples of Arduinian war dogs, and eight common steeds of the country.
Five of the most legendary shipwreck tales, commonly known throughout Arduin.
A 2-page introduction to the elemental planes.
A brief overview of Arduin and the nations that surround it.
Although it comes in somewhat short spurts, when taken altogether, there is a sizeable amount of setting information to be found in End War that can conceivably serve as the jumping off point for a proper Khassian campaign (i.e., a campaign set on the same planet as Arduin) and can be expanded upon by purchasing either other volumes in the Arduin Grimoire series, incorporating adventure modules from other game systems, or creating your own material to supplement it.
There is one bit of discussion in End War that can’t be easily fit into any of the preceding categories – a set of random roll charts for inflicting insanity upon player characters. It might be offered up as GM advice, but there isn’t all that much advice to it – it’s largely just a series of two charts that you roll when to determine what mental illness a character has been afflicted with, with the how and when a character is afflicted with such an illness being left entirely up to GM fiat.
Honestly, this ranks among the worst insanity systems that I’ve seen in a role playing product. I suspect that if you’re familiar with the insanity rules in AD&D, Grim Tales, Call of Cthulhu (d20 and BRP), or Fear Effects, you won’t have much use (or love) for the rules found in End War that pertain to such things.
End War is much more a mixed bag where quality is concerned than the Lost Grimoire was. I find a lot of things to admire in End War, but I simultaneously find a lot of things that can be used as a persuasive argument to avoid End War. Overall, I feel that End War is a much weaker product than earlier entries in the Arduin Grimoire line, but given the low price of $10.99, I feel that it is still worth a purchase, especially if you’re a fan of Swords & Dragons (which I am).
Reviewer: James D. Hargrove
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