Arduin Grimoire was written by David Hargrave in 1977. It was the first book in a trilogy of fantasy role playing books that seemed to inhabit this weird space between unauthorized D&D supplement, stand-alone role playing game, and self-published fan fiction. The other two books in the three book collection were Welcome to Skull Tower (1978) and The Runes of Doom (1978). The series is usually referred to by the first book in the series, that is the Arduin Grimoire. Sometimes it's referred to as the Arduin Trilogy.

On the face of it, the Arduin Grimoire was an RPG highly similar to D&D in terms of mechanics: levels, hit points, armor class, hit dice, etc. While most D&D players would normally turn their nose up at some cheap knock off of D&D, the Arduin Grimoire was something more. It was what Simon's BASIC was to Commodore BASIC. It was what Doctor Who's Tom Baker was to Colin Baker.

Hargrave's ideas and attention to detail won him many, many fans. While few actually played Arduin Grimoire as a stand-alone RPG1, fans snatched up his booklets to use as alternative rules supplements for D&D. It was extremely popular with the class of gamer who actually likes there being a rule and a theoretically sound probability matrix for a multitude of seemingly mundane things. For example, Hargrave had a rule called the Phumblephactor (the "fumble factor"). Your party is surprised by a gang of trolls. Your wizard character reaches in his pack for his handy dandy wand of fireballs. What's the chance he pulls out the wrong wand or holds it from the wrong end? Well, Hargrave had a rule (50% at level one, less 2% per level, and modified by dexterity…).

The Arduin Grimoire also introduced the concept of the critical hit which found its way, more or less, into the AD&D system2. It also introduced dozens of exotic new character classes like the Dream Weaver, the Corsair, the Rune Singer, the Slaver, the Alchemist, and the Barbarian3. Some of Hargrave's material, notably the Alchemist and Barbarian character classes, found their way, word for word, into the various Internet "netbooks" TSR worked hard in the mid-90s to stamp out and suppress.

The Arduin Grimoire's combat system also attempted to ramp up the gore4 factor. Hargrave went into considerable detail about determining where hits landed. It was highly similar to Blackmoor's much-hated and little used alternative body location hit system. Hargrave spared few details about what actual visual effects an ax blow to an abdomen would produce. ("Dice roll: 37-38; hit location: crotch/chest; results: genitals/breast torn off".) To complicate matters further, every weapon had 12 different damage stats. Before determining damage you figured out how big your opponent was and then selected the proper damage rating. It's doubtful anyone actually adopted Hargrave's entire combat system. Some looked over Hargrave's combat system and immediate re-titled his works the "Arduous Grimoire".

The Arduin Grimoire's hit point/level system provided a radical departure from the D&D norm. Despite it addressing character levels up to 105 (!), it was actually tilted towards lower level characters. First level characters actually started off with a goodly amount of hit points. This was balanced by characters only acquiring two or three additional hit points per level. Hargrave believed this made the game more fun. Your first level player characters could take more risks. And high level characters couldn't stomp around with 98 hit points, lording it over lower level characters. In Hargrave's system a 1st level character might only be 10-20 hit points below a 10th level character.

Hargrave expanded the player character races. He added rules for running gnoll, giant, and minotaur characters. There was also a nice little random "special ability" twist in his system. Your character, depending on class, could roll for some special ability (like +1 attack bonus when using a spear). All special abilities were balanced out by a deficit (like you got a +1 using spears but a -1 using a bow).

The D&D Vancian or "fire and forget" magic system was replaced by a traditional mana system.5 In addition to the D&D-esque system that involved spell components and incantations, Arduin Grimoire also added an intriguing magic system that involved the manipulation of runes. All spell casters also had to check their cast was successful and one didn't fumble his cast.

The initial editions of the Arduin Grimoire was an amateurish self-published job by Hargrave himself. Each booklet was a simple stapled affair. "Typesetting" was done via a typewriter. Each page was photo-reduced to cram more of Hargrave's effulgent, text-heavy ideas into each booklet. Organization was shit and typos abounded. The books sold well and eventually Hargrave formed his own publishing company called Grimoire Games. Several years later Hargrave licensed Dragon Tree Press the right to reprint his books along with several dungeon modules he authored.

Hargrave died in 1988.6 These days Emperor's Choice Games and Miniatures has picked up the rights to reprint all of Hargrave's works. It's also released a massive, 800 page text dump of all of Hargrave's writings and notes. There are also some web pages devoted to converting his works to the d20 system.


1Many argued the system was so imbalanced and complicated in parts that it was actually unplayable. In fact, it was unplayable without owning the white box D&D set.

2 Although not an official part of AD&D critical hits/fumbles were popularized for AD&D in Dragon issue 39 article titled "Good Hits and Bad Misses" by Carl Parlagreco. Arguably critical hits/fumbles is the most popular unauthorized rule addition in the world of D&D.

3 The Barbarian of course was redone for AD&D by Gary Gygax, who seemed to view Conan-esque topics much the same way William Shirer came to view Hitler: it was his personal domain. When AD&D came out, many people noticed several ideas first appearing in the Arduin Grimoire made their way into TSR's new system. It would be wrong to scream plagiarism on the part of TSR as many of the ideas are simply logical additions any competent gamer would arrive at.

4 No relation to Al Gore4.1.

4.1See below for a more informative footnote.

5 I believe Gygax always argued against a mana system as it would add yet another thing a player had to keep track of: err, like hit points plus encumbrance plus wand charges plus the number of oil flasks you had in your backpack, plus, what, now mana points? No way!.

6A eulogy published at the beginning of Dragon Tree Press's reprint of Arduin Grimoire VIII:

In Memoriam David A Hargrave died August 29, 1988

Let life triumph whenever and wherever it can, but shirk not death in a good cause and in good company.

David A. Hargrave died in his sleep August 29, 1988 after suffering for many years from a heart disability with diabetic complications. He is survived by his wife, Brigitte, and by a multitude of friends and fans throughout the world.

He will not be forgotten because, somewhere beyond the Ebon Gates atop the Plateau of Forever, somewhere in that oldest and grandest of legendary worlds, somewhere in Arduin, we know that David Crossworlder still resides, walking the streets of Talismonde, sailing the Misty Sea or scaling the heights of the Mickleback Mountains.

And so, until we meet again, Dave we hoist a mug of Fairy Mead and drink to the memory of friendship and adventures shared.

Ben Ezzell--Dragon Tree Press

Yeah pretty gay eulogy but oh well...

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