This is the third major game company that I’ve profiled since the publication of Designers & Dragons, following articles on Open Design and Midkemia Press. It’s also the first article that I really wish had been in Designers & Dragons itself, thanks primarily to its portrayal of early gaming culture. Ah well, there’s always (hopefully) the second edition. —SA, 5/25/12

This article was originally published as Designers & Dragons: The Column #16 & #17 on RPGnet. Its publication followed the publication of the original Designers & Dragons (2011) and preceded the publication of the four-volume Designers & Dragons (2014). A more up to date version of this history can be found in Designers & Dragons: The 70s.

Though Grimoire Games’ publication history is short, they left their mark on the hobby by releasing the works of David Hargrave’s Arduin to the world.

The San Francisco Bay Area Before Grimoire Games: 1975-1977

The Great Lakes region was the earliest locus of the roleplaying hobby — from Milwaukee (as described in the TSR history) to Detroit (as described in the Palladium history) and beyond. However, a community of RPG players also developed very early on in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Local players such as Clint Bigglestone, Dave Hargrave, Steve Henderson, Jerry Jacks, Bill Keyes, Adrienne Martine, Jim Mathis, Gordon Monson, Steve Perrin, Dan Piersen, Jeff Pimper, Niall Shapero, and Anders Swenson would soon be numbered among the earliest designers in the hobby.

Chaos reigned for the better part of the next year. Arguments over rule interpretations took up almost as much time as dungeoning … [a]nd at least one of our number flunked out of Berkeley at least in part due to the amount of time spent arguing and playing D&D as opposed to studying.

Niall Shapero, “My Life & Role-Playing”, Different Worlds #1 (1979)

The San Francisco Bay Area also saw some of the earliest Dungeons & Dragons conventions. DunDraCon — organized by Bigglestone and Martine for President’s Day, early in 1976 — was the first. Author Fritz Leiber attended as a guest, and in honor of that Bigglestone, Jacks, and Perrin prepared a Fafhrd and Gray Mouser inspired dungeon called The Ophidian Palace. Later that year — over Labor Day weekend — DunDraCon was joined by a second major Bay Area convention, Gen Con West (1976-1978). The new con started out in San Jose, moved to San Mateo, then mutated into Pacific Encounters (1979), which became the long-running Pacificon (1980, 1982-1997). A major national convention even came to the Bay Area in 1981, when Pacificon was run as Pacific Origins (1981) — back when the Origins convention used to move around the country.

In between the gaming conventions, roleplayers could also visit a huge multitude of gaming retail stores in the Bay Area, to keep in touch with the newest releases in the then-tiny niche of roleplaying. The best known store of the era was probably The Gambit, which was located in San Francisco but later expanded into Berkeley when it merged with the East Asia Book and Game Center there. Many people who would later influence the industry worked at The Gambit in the late ’70s and early ’80s, including: Charlie Krank of Chaosium, Tadashi Ehara of Different Worlds, and Donald Reents of Chessex. Rory Root, the founder of Comic Relief — one of the most forward-thinking comic stores in the country — also worked at The Gambit for a time.

There were several other game stores of note. GameTable of Campbell was opened in 1976 by Larry Duffield. D&D entered the store in 1977 when Dave Arneson himself came to run a few games. Gamemaster’s of San Francisco was founded around 1978 by Shelton Yee — who’d learned to play Dungeons & Dragons at DunDraCon I. Around 1983 Yee would also create Gamemaster Distribution — at least the third distribution company in the Bay Area, following Armageddon and Donald Reent’s Berkeley Games Distributors. Today he is still coordinating events at Bay Area cons. Older stores like D&J Hobby — founded way back in 1971 — were also entering the roleplaying sphere.

Returning to the gamers themselves, we find that early Bay Area players of Dungeons & Dragons (1974) were doing much the same thing as their peers across the country — designing their own variants to fill the gaps in that original ruleset and thus creating a somewhat unique style of “California Gaming”. Given the distance from the epicenter of roleplaying, it’s no surprise that California Gaming was more farflung than the variants of the Great Lakes. Steve Perrin collected together many of these early house rules from Bay Area players in The Perrin Conventions (March, 1976), which was published for the first DunDraCon and then made more widely available in All the World’s Monsters II (1977).

That latter book — a primordial monster manual edited by Perrin & Pimper — was published by Chaosium, likely the first hobbyist gaming company of the Bay Area. Owner Greg Stafford founded the company to publish White Bear & Red Moon (1975), a wargame set in his own world of Glorantha. Chaosium didn’t get into the RPG hobby itself until 1977 — with the publication of the World’s Monsters trilogy — nor was Stafford much involved with the roleplaying community at the time. Nonetheless his company was another indicator of the interest in fantasy gaming in the Bay Area at the time. Chaosium is covered extensively in their own history, but they’ll nonetheless return to this history of Grimoire Games and Arduin momentarily.

And that brings us back to another of those early Bay Area gamers, Dave Hargrave. He’d contributed to The Perrin Conventions, but he had many more ideas for how Dungeons & Dragons should be run, and the scope of his variants rules would end up being much, much larger.

Dave Hargrave Before Grimoire Games: 1968-1978

Dave Hargrave got into RPGs through a variety of different paths. He first heard of roleplaying in 1968 at the Military Intelligence School at Fort Holabird, Maryland — prior to his work with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Later he played miniatures naval battles and Russell Powell’s Air Aces (1975), a game of miniatures dogfighting. He was also a lifetime member of the International Gamers Association. This organization was founded by Powell in 1974 in the Los Angeles area — which has its own history of early gaming culture, just as the San Francisco Bay Area did. Most notably, Hargrave was playing Chainmail (1971, 1972) by 1973 or 1974 and was corresponding with TSR regarding the game. They told him about their new Dungeons & Dragons (1974) release, and suddenly Hargrave found his interests in roleplaying and gaming combined.

Upon obtaining Dungeons & Dragons, Hargrave began running a weekly campaign that would last for years. It was set on the world of Khaas, once ruled by a reptilian race called the Great Grey Beasts from beyond time — now long-since overthrown. Its focus was on Arduin, a neutral ground between many formerly warring nations and the home of the powerful nexus gates. It was also heavily house ruled, so that within a few years Hargrave’s game system was practically a D&D variant.

As with many early RPG campaigns, Hargrave’s Arduin games had numerous players. In later days, after Hargrave moved out of the Bay Area into Northern California, some of them would drive 250 miles just to play. The Arduin game also featured the high mortality and high power level of many primal roleplaying campaigns. Writing in Different Worlds #2 (1979), four or five years after the campaign’s start, Hargrave noted that a jaw-dropping seven hundred player characters had died in his campaign and that “two have become Princes, two have become Dukes, and about eight more have become Barons … One even managed to marry into the ruling Royal family.”

Now we return to Greg Stafford of Chaosium. Around 1976 neither he nor his company was that involved in the roleplaying community, but then he played in Hargrave’s Arduin game for a bit. Afterward Stafford asked Hargrave about publishing the game system as a book called “The Arduin Grimoire”. The book was soon placed on Chaosium’s schedule for February, 1977 — which would have made it Chaosium’s first roleplaying release. Hargrave and Stafford previewed the game system in Wyrm’s Footnotes #2 (1977) which included Arduin write-ups for some of Glorantha’s main NPCs, from Prince Argrath to Beat-Pot Aelwrin. The stats looked sort of like D&D, but had classes such as “Warrior Priest”, alignments such as “amoral” and “cyclical”, and an “ego” stat.

Unfortunately, the partnership was short-lived. Stafford had expected to receive a complete game that might be appropriate for a novice roleplayer. Instead he got a complex manuscript full of additions and variations to the D&D game. His typist also found the numerous charts in the manuscript hard to enter. The typographical issues turned out to be the last straw, leading Stafford to return Arduin to Hargrave. Chaosium’s Tadashi Ehara announced the change in Wyrm’s Footnotes #3 (1977) — released just a few months after the previous issue had brought Arduin to wider attention. It showed how fast things were moving and changing in those early days of roleplaying.

We wanted a thoroughly complete set of rules for the beginning gamer of role-playing games. Instead Arduin Grimoire is full of charts and specifications for the experienced, a supplement if you will, and practically useless for the noviciate.

Tadashi Ehara, Wyrm’s Footnotes #3 (1977)

Hargrave was annoyed enough by Stafford’s reversal that they didn’t talk for years afterward. Hargrave even named an Arduin spell after the incident: “Stafford’s Star Bridge.” It could be used to selectively drop the floor out from under various peoples.

Despite Hargrave’s anger toward Stafford, he continued contributing to Chaosium products — at least those being managed by other people. Thus, he submitted numerous Arduin critters to Perrin & Pimper’s All the World’s Monsters volumes (1977-1980), wrote a biography for Tadashi Ehara’s “My Life and Role-Playing” series in Different Worlds #1 (1979) and even penned an extensive history of Arduin’s world of Khaas for Different Worlds #2 (1979).

However, those contributions ended around 1980 after the publication of Moira Johnston’s article, “It’s Only a Game or Is It?”, in New West magazine (August 25, 1980). The article was somewhat typical of that era’s sensationalistic media coverage of RPGs, but it still managed to offer a pretty good snapshot of Californian roleplaying at decade’s end. Along the way, it presented a fairly positive view of Greg Stafford — who’d run a RuneQuest game for Johnston and her son — and a largely negative view of Dave Hargrave — who was lambasted for the violence of the critical hit tables in The Arduin Grimoire and the sexuality of its art. Johnston even went so far as to say, “the mother in me rebels at my kids playing in the garbage dump of Hargrave’s unhappy life.” Apparently the marked contrast that Johnston showed in her attitude toward the two creators was enough to fuel the feud even further.

Stafford managed to bury the hatchet when he asked Hargrave to contribute to The Asylum & Other Tales (1983), the second supplement for Call of Cthulhu (1981). The resulting adventure, “Black Devil Mountain”, was essentially a dungeon (containing no less than 28 monsters, among them three ghouls, two chthonians, and a full dozen zombies) that Stafford thought “really contrary to the game”. It probably was, but Stafford opted to publish it anyway. Hargrave would later apologize to Stafford for the discord between them and even authored a second “My Life and Role-Playing” article (1983) as well as one more Call of Cthulhu adventure: “Dark Carnival” for Curse of the Chthonians (1984). That one was a bit more in tune with Call of Cthulhu‘s style — though it ended with a dungeon too.

All of that work lay in Hargrave’s future, however. Back in 1977 he was still trying to decide what to do with his first manuscript, The Arduin Grimoire (1977). In the end he published it himself as a 96-page digest-sized book. That same year, Hargrave emerged into the gaming field in a second way: he opened a game store called The Multiversal Trading Company in Concord, California. That’s probably what delayed the release of the next two Grimoires until the next year. They were Arduin Grimoire Vol. II: Welcome to Skull Tower (1978) and Arduin Grimoire Vol. III: The Runes of Doom (1978), each produced in the same format and all self-published. Together the three books have become known as The Arduin Trilogy.

With those books published — though net yet by Grimoire Games — we can now take a moment to examine The Arduin Trilogy and its place in gaming history.

By early 1977, there were about a dozen RPGs on the market, but D&D was clearly the market leader. As a result, third parties had begun supplementing the game, with the most notable early supplements including Wee Warrior’s The Character Archaic (1975) and Palace of the Vampire Queen (1976), Little Soldier’s The Book of Monsters (1976) and The Book of Demons (1976), and Judges Guild’s City-State of the Invincible Overlord (1976) and Dungeon Tac Reference Cards (1976). It would be 1977 or 1978 before “generic fantasy” supplements intended for D&D really started to proliferate, but even then most would fit into the categories defined by these early publishers: accessories (like The Character Archaic), adventures (like Palace), monsters manuals (like Little Soldier’s Books), and setting books (like City-State).

Meanwhile, TSR was publishing a totally different sort of supplement: rules expansions. In the same time period, they put out Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975), Supplement II: Blackmoor (1975), and Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (1976). These supplements included new classes, new spells, new artifacts, and generally new rules — and almost none of the third-party publishers were duplicating them. Little Soldier did present some black magic rules in The Book of Demons, but that was a rare and much more focused exception. Enter The Arduin Trilogy, which was about to fill a niche among (unofficial) third-party D&D publishers that no one even realized was there.

Today we’d probably define The Arduin Trilogy as a collection of rather “gonzo” house rules.

As in those early D&D supplements, there were new classes. However, Arduin really pushed the limits of the genre, with The Arduin Grimoire alone containing psychics, technos, barbarians, witch hunters, and medicine men. The techno classes also showed one of the particular focuses of Arduin: science fantasy. Later books in the Trilogy would expand that by providing details on space critters and other aliens.

Beyond these new classes (and new magic items and new spells), The Arduin Trilogy also featured rules variants that were extensive and varied. This is where Arduin went far beyond what D&D‘s official supplements were doing. Hargrave extended levels out to 105(!). He explained standard rules like combat and alignment through the lens of his own point of view and often expanded and supplemented them as well — such as the addition of “amoral” to the alignment list. Many of these rules variants showed off the gonzo elements of Arduin, but so do other parts of the rules, such as the discussions of 24-color prismatic walls and the description of not nine but 21 planes of hell.

Way back in the late ’70s, Arduin was unique and groundbreaking. There were several reasons that it was particularly appealing.

  • Its gonzo-ness offered a pure joy in gaming that appealed directly to the 13-year-old in every roleplayer.
  • Hand-in-hand with that, it argued the philosophy that gaming should be fun, even if you had to diverge from the “official” rules to achieve that. This directly contrasted with the direction that the new AD&D (1977) game was trending, with its emphasis on precise rules to better support tournament play.
  • It offered one of the first public and unedited views of how a single individual might mash together his own D&D game, creating a unique campaign that matched his own vision. Thus, it was almost a guide to gamemastering.
  • In showing Hargrave’s unique vision, it also displayed possibilities in D&D that weren’t a part of TSR’s “official” vision. It was imaginative and original and it sparked imagination in its players.

The Arduin Trilogy deserves one other mention — for its artwork (and for the connections that this created in the small community of California game designers).

Much of the first edition of The Arduin Grimoire was illustrated by Erol Otus, who later became one of the hobby’s most iconic artists thanks to his covers for the Tom Moldvay Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (1980) and the Zeb Cook Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set (1980). It was Otus’ first major work, postdating only a remorhaz he drew for The Dragon #2 (August, 1976).

Otus didn’t work on Hargrave’s books after The Arduin Grimoire (and his art was removed from later printings of that first book), but he did go on to coauthor two of his own Arduin-influenced “generic fantasy” RPG supplements, Booty and the Beasts (1979) and The Necromican (1979), which were published by super small-press Fantasy Art Enterprises. This company was itself located in the hills north of the UC Berkeley campus, continuing to highlight the gaming and creativity of the San Francisco Bay Area in the late ’70s. Most consider Fantasy Art’s books even more gonzo than Arduin itself.

A later Arduin artist, Brad Schenck (or Morno), offered up another link to a California gaming company. That’s because Morno is better known for his work with Cosmic Frog Productions and Wee Warriors — located at various times in Morro Bay and San Luis Obisbo, all toward the south of the state.

Though he didn’t connect Arduin to any other game companies, it’s probably fair also noting Greg Espinoza, who would become Arduin‘s most prolific artist in those early years.

Besides any acclaim that the Arduin books received for their content and for their artwork, they also received some controversy. Some thought the game violent, a topic which Vietnam vet Hargrave found very hurtful. There was also (probably) a minor confrontation with industry leader TSR. Everyone seems to agree that Hargrave specifically mentioned Dungeons & Dragons in the first edition of the Arduin Trilogy and received a cease & desist from TSR as a result. As the story goes, he removed the name from his books with white-out and/or correction tape, but otherwise continued selling them with no interruption. The source of this story and thus its veracity isn’t clear, but it certainly wouldn’t be at variance with TSR’s approach to IP, especially moving into the ’80s.

True or not, this sort of issue soon wouldn’t be Hargrave’s problem. Following the self-publication of The Runes of Doom, he was apparently done with Arduin. In a special message to fans of Arduin at the end of the book, Hargrave announced that he was heading on to “new worlds” and that he’d be releasing a “new game” in the spring of 1979. He also said that he’d sold The Arduin Trilogy to someone that he described as a “true friend”.

Due to financial considerations, I have sold the rights to these three books (and only to someone I trust as a true friend). I hope you will give the new publisher all of the support you gave me.

Dave Hargrave, The Arduin Grimoire Vol. III: The Runes of Doom (October, 1978)

And that at last brings us to the story of Grimoire Games proper.

Enter Grimoire Games: 1979-1980

Somewhat ironically, it was Chaosium that offered many gamers of the late ’70s their first look at Arduin. They sold the Trilogy direct and may even have gotten it overseas to Games Workshop. Arduin monsters also appeared in the latter two volumes of All the Worlds’ Monsters — which were likely more widely distributed than Hargrave’s self-published books. Although Stafford hadn’t felt that Arduin worked as a beginner’s game, he was happy to sell it to experienced gamers.

Then, in 1978, a new proponent for Arduin appeared: Jim Mathis, one of Hargrave’s Arduin players and the true friend that Hargrave sold his first game to late in the year. Mathis lived in Berkeley and got his new Arduin-publishing company, Grimoire Games, started out of an apartment building on the south side of the UC campus (just two short blocks from where most of these histories have been written, as it happens).

Unfortunately, the early publishing history of Grimoire Games is a little murky from the viewpoint of the 21st century. That’s primarily due to several Arduin publications produced by others prior to Grimoire Games entering the scene. Besides the original Arduin Trilogy, printed by Dave Hargrave from 1977-1978, there also appear to have been three sets of illustrated cards that depicted Arduin artifacts, weapons, and monsters that were probably either published or distributed by the International Gamers Association in 1977. Grimoire reprinted all six of these products in later years but without changing the copyrights to reflect the new printings, so when they did so is unclear.

What seems more definite is that Grimoire’s first original publication was Arduin Dungeon #1: Caliban (1979), which appeared very early in 1979. It was authored by none other than Dave Hargrave himself. Though he wasn’t planning to write any more rules for Arduin, he was happy to design some adventures that showed how his game worked — and Caliban was the first.

With its first publication, Grimoire Games also showed off a close connection with the aforementioned International Gamers Association, who was doing distribution for them out of Long Beach while Mathis dealt directly with players from his Berkeley apartment. Through this connection, Grimoire ended up associated with two other Californian “generic FRP” supplements that were also being distributed by IGA: The Manual of Aurania (1977, 1978) and Wizard’s Aide (1977). The partnership between Grimoire and IGA, however, was relatively short lived.

Following the publication of Caliban, the rest of 1979 was a great year for Grimoire Games. They published two more Dave Hargrave dungeons, Arduin Dungeon #2: The Howling Tower (1979) and Arduin Dungeon #3: The Citadel of Thunder (1979). None of these were ground-breaking, like the Arduin Grimoires were, but they were tough, competitive adventures of the sort more common at the dawn of the industry.

The Dungeons were already looking more professional than the small-press Grimoires that Hargrave had typed up, then Grimoire Games took the next step: producing a gaming convention.

The result, Grimcon, was held in Oakland, California late in 1979, in conjunction with Hargrave’s store, Multiversal Trading Company. Though it featured quite a bit of Arduin (and excluded D&D, at least in its first year), GrimCon was intended to be a general gaming convention. It thus had dual purposes: to help keep Hargrave’s game visible and also to remain profitable on its own.

GrimCon I hosted 300 attendees. It was the first in a series that lasted through 1983. Together with DunDraCon and Pacificon, it helped to define San Francisco Bay Area roleplaying in the early ’80s. Hargrave himself would later say that the attendance at the GrimCons — which reached 1000 attendees within a couple of years — was one of the things that kept him in in the RPG industry.

[T]he con was under the auspices of Multiversal Trading Company and Grimoire Games who are shall we say rivals in the FRP world with TSR Hobbies.

Larry DiTillio, “System Snobbery”, Different Worlds #7 (April/May, 1980)

Somewhat surprisingly only three more Grimoire Games publications followed before the company disappeared (for the first time): Arduin Dungeon #4 & Overland Adventure: Death Hart (1980), the boxed Arduin Adventure (1980?) and a boxed set of The Arduin Trilogy (1980?).

By those two final, professional, boxed products, Grimoire Games was looking like a gaming company really finding its feet. However, The Arduin Adventure was something more: it marked a whole new direction for Arduin itself.

An Adventure & Other Revisions: 1980-1984

Before the publication of The Arduin Adventure, the Arduin Grimoires depended on the original Dungeons & Dragons game as the foundation of its own mechanics. Now The Arduin Adventure turned Arduin into a a truly standalone game system. This product also fulfilled some of Hargrave’s desire for a “new game” that he’d spoken of back in ’79. He hadn’t wanted to get away from Arduin so much as from D&D. Though the Arduin Adventure game system was still clearly D&D-derived, it was a first step that introduced some new rules, most notably a totally new initiative system called “CF” (or coordination factor). This movement away from D&D was a path that Hargrave would continue walking for the rest of his life.

The Arduin Adventure was notable for one other reason: it was focused on teaching roleplaying to novice gamers, which was ironically what Chaosium had been looking for several years earlier (and what companies like Pacesetter and Yaquinto were working toward around the same time). The general organization of The Arduin Adventure with one and two-page chapters each covering a basic concept was quite innovative and definitely ahead of its time.

The old days where everyone was an amateur are gone forever I’m afraid, and for the better, I think. … The public demands quality now that the novelty has worn off, and rightly so …

Dave Hargrave, “My Life & Role-Playing”, Different Worlds #31 (November, 1983)

Unfortunately, The Arduin Adventure wasn’t that well received by the industry at the time. By 1980 or 1981, a bare-bones not-quite-retroclone of OD&D wasn’t that exciting — except to Arduin players, of course, who had long needed this skeleton to hang their games upon. If anything the reception has cooled since then. Whereas The Arduin Trilogy is still appreciated and respected for its gonzo imagination and the Arduin Dungeons for their unforgiving nature, The Arduin Adventure is very much an artifact of its time.

The fact that The Arduin Adventure appealed more to existing fans than to new ones might have been one disappointment too many for Grimoire Games. The company was having increasing financial problems by that time. It’d never had the cash to advertise, which kept Arduin from reaching a particularly large audience. Now, the well was entirely dry, and Grimoire Games didn’t have the cash to produce new books at all.

At the same time, Hargrave was facing severe financial problems of his own. His problems started in 1980 when the city of Concord zoned The Multiversal Trading Company out of business. This caused a loss in the thousands of dollars for Hargrave and eventually required him to file for personal bankruptcy in 1982. It was after this that Hargrave left the Bay Area for northern California.

In April of 1982 — amidst this financial turmoil for both Grimoire and Hargrave — GrimCon was officially incorporated as “GrimCon, Inc.” with shareholders including Hargrave, Mathis, and others. It helped to isolate the potentially profitable convention from the financial woes of its parents. Sadly, this wasn’t enough to save the convention, which lasted for just one more year. GrimCon V, the last in the series, ran in Oakland in 1983.

Miraculously, Hargrave kept writing during this period, as a form of escape. He did work on a thirteen-part Arduin campaign called “The Heart of Darkness”, a superhero RPG called “Glory Wars”, and a WWII aerial combat game called “Sky Tigers”. More notably, he was working on “Arduin, Bloody Arduin”, a revamp of the Arduin game system that would take it even further from its D&D roots.

Unfortunately, “Arduin, Bloody Arduin” faced some challenges based on the fact that Hargrave was an “intuitive” designer. He knew what worked. This resulted in great game sessions in which he was able to combine his gaming intuition with an innate talent for telling stories. The flipside of this was that Hargrave didn’t have the knack for the systematic organization that was increasingly required for successful game publication. His somewhat piecemeal Grimoires — the obvious result of this design style — weren’t something that could continue to succeed as the industry matured throughout the ’80s.

Some of Hargrave’s friends and players saw these same problems cropping up in the “Arduin, Bloody Arduin” work. Starting around 1982, three of them — Mark Schynert, Carolyn Schultz, and Rod Engdahl — tried to do something about it. Over the next several years they did what they could to aid Hargrave in organizing what would be his final Arduin publication.

Their work became visible to the public when they prepared a thin 16-page booklet called Revised Arduin: A Primer (1984). Schynert, Schultz, and Engadhl produced the book to introduce the revisions to combat that would appear in “Arduin, Bloody Arduin” — most specifically the BF (battle factor) system which simultaneously simplified combat (by introducing a single value that could be precalculated) and made it more realistic (by including factors like training).

Through Grimoire Games, Jim Mathis printed up 100 copies of the booklet. It was given away to interested parties at DunDraCon that year — including to Hargrave himself, who hadn’t been aware that the booklet was appearing! Schynert and friends also ran several Arduin games at the convention, to support the upcoming revamp to Hargrave’s classic game.

Those 100 booklets were the last publications that Grimoire was ever able to afford on its own. It was the end of the company, as least as it existed in the ’80s. Somewhere around this time Mathis left the Bay Area too, relocating first to El Cajon (near Los Angeles), then to San Diego — where he’d still be when he reenters this story ten years down the line. He kept selling Grimoire Games’ products for a few years, but by the late ’80s or so Grimoire Games was a company of the past.

The work that Hargrave’s friends were doing to produce a better organized manuscript of “Arduin, Bloody Arduin” came to an end a short time later, around 1986. Hargrave had never taken to editing well and eventually threw up his hands and decided that he was going to produce “Arduin, Bloody Arduin” on his own — or not at all.

Dragon Tree & The Last of Grimoire Games: 1984-1993

While writing his second “My Life & Role-Playing” for Different Worlds #31 (November, 1983), Hargrave announced, “I have let it be known that I will be available for projects outside of my traditional Grimoire Games label.” This decision would soon lead to a new publisher not just for Hargrave, but for Arduin as well.

It was Mary Ezzell of Dragon Tree Press who — following some initial discussions — suggested that Hargrave create a new continent in their own campaign setting, the World of Delos. Hargrave (and Mathis) countered with the suggestion that this new material instead bear the Arduin name. Though Grimoire continued trying to raise money over the next several years — hoping to publish books like “Arduin, Bloody Arduin” — they were not successful, and thus Dragon Tree became the de facto Arduin publisher.

The result was five more Grimoires, from Arduin Grimoire Vol. IV: The Lost Grimoire (1984) to Arduin Grimoire Vol. VIII: The Winds of Chance (1988). These new books had some rules, but focused more on the setting of Arduin itself. They were also more generic than some of the earlier Arduin works, and thus could more easily be used in a variety of settings.

I want the world to know it was me. Mary. Who had the idea for publishing this and sat on the floor of Dave’s mountain redwood house under his lavender silk Phraint banner chanting ‘We want a new Grimoire’ till he agreed.

Mary Ezzell, The Arduin Grimoire Vol. IV: The Lost Grimoire (1984)

Dave Hargrave died on August 29, 1988 at the young age of 42. This brought Dragon Tree’s new Arduin production to a sudden end — though they’d keep the books in print for decades. It also brought Arduin back to Grimoire Games, who as it turned out had one more book in them.

Jim Mathis got the ball rolling by asking Mark Schynert — who he’d worked with when printing up Revised Arduin — to complete (and organize!) the unfinished “Arduin, Bloody Arduin” manuscript. This was a fairly monumental task, as Schynert had to wade through the reams of paper that composed the manuscript. At times he had to deal with duplicated content, different annotations from different times on the same manuscript pages, and other outright contradictions. Eventually, Schynert was able to put together a complete and coherent book.

However, there was still the problem of finances, as Grimoire Games remained unable to pay for printing. Enter Michael Sloan of Berkeley Games Distribution — a Californian games distributor that we’ve already met briefly. He put up the cash to print the manuscript in return for a share in its profits. The result was a two-book set called The Compleat Arduin (1993).

At 450 total pages, The Compleat Arduin was the largest-ever Arduin release. It was clearly based upon the original rules — as they’d developed through The Arduin Adventure and Revised Arduin: A Primer — but polished and reorganized.

In some ways, it wasn’t exactly what Hargrave would have produced. He’d wanted to keep the old D&D system in parallel with any updates, and he would have resisted simplifications of the sort that Schynert made as he polished the rules. The Compleat Arduin also contained considerably less background than Hargrave might have liked, but that was primarily a question of economics — the two-book set was already big enough. Despite all of that (or perhaps because of it) the books were generally well-received as both the first fully coherent set of Arduin rules and (much as Hargrave’s original books) as a great source of ideas.

Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into financial success. Part of that was due to cost. At $42 for the two-book set (or $62 in today’s dollars), the game was on the high end for a roleplaying system. However, the bigger problem was that The Compleat Arduin was a game whose time was already past — primarily due to the fact that it had been over a decade in genesis. If it’d been released in the late ’80s, it would have been in the company of systems like Megatraveller (1987) and AD&D Second Edition (1989) — polished revisions of primordial games. Instead, released in the early ’90s, The Compleat Arduin had to contend with games like Vampire: The Masquerade (1991), which totally shook up the way players looked at RPGs.

Sloan sold somewhere less than half of the run of The Compleat Arduin and had to remainder the rest, taking a loss. Though Schynert asked for submissions for a new line of Arduin releases at the end of The Compleat Arduin, they’d never come to be. In the end The Compleat Arduin was just a single (massive and impressive) release from a company that had already moved on.

Arduin After Grimoire Games: 1993-Present

For the next several years, Arduin was largely neglected other than the books kept in print by Dragon Tree Press. Then, around 1998, Grimoire Games sold its rights to Arduin to Emperors Choice Games. It took four years (and a disastrous partnership with — who is discussed more in the Hero Games history), but eventually Emperors Choice started publishing Arduin material of their own.

Their publication kicked off with Arduin Grimoire Vol. IX: End War (2002), the final Arduin Grimoire, which included content from Hargrave, Schynert, and others. Emperors Choice has since reprinted all of the Grimoire and Dragon Tree books. When reprinting a compilation of the Arduin Dungeons in Vault of the Weaver (2006), Emperors Choice also included “Heart of Darkness”, that 13-part campaign that Hargrave was working on 25 years earlier.

Emperors Choice has also printed two massive Arduin books all their own. World Book of Khaas: The Legendary Lands of Arduin (2004) is a huge 865-page look at Arduin, while Arduin Eternal (2009) is a largely new game system — the third major version of the Arduin rules — and also a mammoth book at 822 pages.

Emperors Choice may receive a history of their own in the future, but for the moment one other event is worth noting in this history of Grimoire Games and its various precursors and successors. In 2003, following Emperors Choice’s reprinting of the Dragon Tree Grimoires, Emperors Choice sued Dragon Tree Press, who they believed no longer had the rights to keep those same Grimoires in print. Dragon Tree Press counter-sued, with the core issue being who owned the copyrights to Grimoires IV-VIII.

In the end, the case was settled out of court. Dragon Tree sold the right to reprint their Grimoires, but have continued selling their existing stock and also will regain the rights if Emperors Choice stops printing the books.

For the moment, it is thus Emperors Choice who is carrying the Arduin banner into the 21st century. However, even if they fall by the wayside at some point, there is still another publisher willing to continue forward with the small-press game that Dave Hargrave created decades ago and that Grimoire Games published for a short time.

Links of Note

The following links will be of interest for folks interested in more on Arduin:

What to Read Next

The following histories (mostly found in Designers & Dragons) contain more information on some of the topics in this article:

  • For the almost-first publisher of Arduin, read Chaosium (pages 82-96).
  • For other game companies in the San Francisco Bay Area, read Chaosium including the mini-histories of Different Worlds PublishingWizard’s Attic, and Impressions Advertising & Marketing (pages 82-96), the first and latest incarnations of Hero Games (pages 145-154), SkyRealms Publishing (pages 201-202), R. Talsorian (pages 207-214), Green Knight Publishing (pages 356-358), and Issaries (pages 360-363). Many more game companies existed in southern California.
  • For other companies publishing games that started out as the original D&D, read Gamelords (pages 129-132), Midkemia Press (article #13), and Palladium Books (pages 155-163).
  • For other companies trying to produce games for newcomers in the early ’80s (like The Arduin Adventure), read the histories of Pacesetter (pages 197-199) and Yaquinto (pages 164-165).
  • For a similar legal disagreement between two publishers following the death of a setting’s creator, read Columbia Games (pages 181-185) including the mini-history of Keléstia Productions.

Special Thanks

Thanks to Brian Collins, Mary Ezzell, Leonard Heid, Steve Perrin, Donald Reents, Mark Schynert, and Greg Stafford for reading over this article and/or offering comments.

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