I’ve been playing simulation games since 1972, when I discovered Strategy and Tactics magazine. In 1974, I learned about Diplomacy. I’ve been playing role-playing games since November 1975, when I received the original D&D books in the mail. By 1977, I had had enough of buying other people’s rules and decided to write my own. The first Argothald expedition was run in January, 1978. I’ve been gamesmastering Argothald ever since.
The name “Argothald” did not originate from anything in particular; it was just a set of syllables that seemed nice. If I had decided differently it would have been called the Crytolos campaign. It wasn’t until Christopher Tolkien published The Book of Lost Tales that I discovered Argothald meant “Helm of the [Evil] Sorceror King” in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Elvish. That established what exactly the Argothald was and how the Mekatrig controlled the planet Tala.
The game evolves
Versions 1 and 2 of the Argothald rules were composed on an electric typewriter. Some of it was published in a now-defunct fantasy-role-playing magazine, The Dungeoneer. The system included some rules that were too kludgy to retain; for example, there was a weapons design system that allowed a character to create any weapon and assign it an attack value. Also, the item weights and movement rates were unrealistic. But the biggest problem with the rules, especially version 1, is that they allowed characters to become too powerful for a low-entropy campaign.
Version 3 of the manual was composed using various word processors (EasyWriter,
SuperScribe, PIE Writer) on an Apple II Plus, and printed on an Epson MX-80. Most of it was published serially in the fantasy-role-playing publication, Pandemonium. There were lots of minor problems with the rules and with the organization of the manual.
Version 4 of the manual was composed using Microsoft Word 1.0 on a 512K Macintosh, and printed on an Apple Imagewriter. The organization of the manual was improved, a table of contents included, tons of spelling and grammatical errors were corrected, and the most complex part of the system (researching abilities) was clarified with many examples. Special attack rules were included to add realism to the combat system, and the race rules were expanded for variety in role-playing non-human races.
Version 5 of the manual was composed using Microsoft Word 3.01 on a 4MB Mac Plus, and printed on a Laserwriter II. The grammar and clarity of the manual were further improved, dialogs were added to show how the Argothald system worked in practice, and the rules on elves and dwarves were modified. New material on the planet Tala was also added.
Two decades pass
In the time since I started Argothald, other game systems were published that accomplished some of the goals I had set for the Argothald system. I was impressed by the way West End Game’s Star Wars system captured the “feel” of the movies, and how Phage Press’ Amber diceless system emphasized roleplaying. Also, it became clear that the research rules in version 5 of the Argothald system were too complicated; only about three mathematician/physicists understood it.
I wanted to re-write the Argothald system from scratch. It would have been version 6 and prepared on a PowerMac 7500/100 with at least 24MB. The traditions
of the original Argothald system would have been preserved, but the system of creating new skills and spells would have been vastly simplified. The “research” rules would go. Abilities would be organized hierarchically, somewhat like Traveller or Star Wars RPG, but tiered in a way that reflected the high-fantasy nature of Argothald.
There were three major obstacles in my path:
- Time. Argothald is a luxury, and it had to wait until after I completed my doctoral thesis.
- Playtesting. All my former Argothald players live far from me. I would have to get a new group of players together (or perhaps move closer to the old group… who knows?).
- Presentation. How would I publish the new Argothald system? Should I have used:
- Microsoft Word 5.1a, the word processor I used then?
- Switch to another word processor? I’d like something that I could easily convert to HTML, so I could offer the Argothald manual on the Web.
- Compose the manual using HTML? Sooner or later, HTML will be composed using filters of some sort. If I go through the effort of converting the manual to HTML, will something be able to get it back to Word 7 or whatever filter becomes the standard?
In February 2011, my friends and I got together and started running Argothald again!
For about three expeditions, we were using a variant of the Open D6 System. However, we found the D6 system to be ill-suited to the high-fantasy nature of Argothald; there too many things the characters couldn’t do.
In 2011, it was obvious that the rules should be distributed using PDF. I converted all the old Argothald files into Microsoft Office 2011 for the Mac. The mathematical complexities of the old system were still there, but nowadays everyone has computers and I can provide spreadsheets to handle it.
In 2013, I discovered the Fate Core system. This is what I’d been striving for: No fixed lists, freedom of character design, a campaign based on story elements instead of mechanics going back to the days of tabletop miniature.
Argothald System Traditions
From the beginning, the Argothald system has maintained certain traditions.
No matter what the system version, these were constant.
There were no lists of skills, spells, or abilities in the Argothald system.
Players were free to develop any ability for their characters that they choose.
Of course, some abilities were more likely to work than others; the odds that the “destroy the world with one word” ability will succeed were effectively zero.
Argothald is a role-playing campaign. It is “low-entropy,” meaning that characters only improve their abilities slowly through “experience points” or similar out-of-game rewards. If players want their characters to improve, they have have to interact with the game world somehow. Of course, they can do “dungeon crawls” to gain gold and treasure, but the characters’ greatest gains have come from players’ characters talking to the people they meet in the world of Tala.
I don’t know why or how this happened, but the Argothald system only used ten-sided dice. Our visit to a D6 system did not turn out well.
My Memories of Argothald
In the long run, what does a role-playing game create? Stories. My players and I
could tell hours of stories about our adventures in Argothald. Some highlights
- Damien Deimos almost defeating a horde of goblins. He would have slain them all, but the goblins cheated.
- The first quest for the Wicked Witch of the West. She wasn’t what anyone expected. Neither was her broomstick.
- Hans the werewolf, who saved the lives of everyone at least twice, and none of them know it.
- Springbuck’s victory. No one, not even I, expected him to survive being wrapped up tightly in the webs of the giant spiders.
- The victory of the alchemists. No one, not even I, thought the party would lose despite their numerical, strategic, and tactical advantage.
- The death of Terbalon. Exactly how many times did Terbalon die? I don’t know if even Terbalon knows for sure.
- The Sceptre of Diana, the only magic item in the entire campaign that actually worked without any form of gamesmaster intervention.
- What happened when the party, having no other choice, asked to meet the
master of King Cornelius. (They learned a great recipe for adventurer’s stew.)
- The death of Hal. When he heard about it, he was as surprised as anyone else.
- The second quest for the Wicked Witch of the West. Again, she wasn’t what anyone expected.
- When Hal had to decide between becoming the thing which he most despised, or
risk the destruction of the planet Tala.
- If an omnipotent being can do anything, can one make a stone so heavy that they cannot lift it? The players who went to Lorindal learned that the answer is yes, and the stone only has to weigh one ounce.
There are many more stories to be told. I created the world, but I don’t have any idea how Crytolos can be defeated, how the Mekatrig can safely give up the Argothald, and how the forces of Chaos can be evicted from Tala. Perhaps, one day, you’ll find the answer to those questions.