Sunday, July 8, 2012

Dave Arneson's Blackmooor (Part 1)

I've been sick for three days.

Or four, maybe. Yeah, it really was Thursday that I started getting "bad" and that turned "real bad" by Friday. In past years I had a habit of getting a cold at least once every 1-2 months due to a combination of over-work, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, etc. However, I started taking a daily multivitamin shortly before my son was born and this has resulted in me retaining near solid health despite averaging 5 hours of sleep at night. Unfortunately, I ran out o vitamins a week or two ago and I've been lazy about replacing 'em (they bulldozed the nice little grocery across the street from my house where I used to get 'em) combine that with my child being sick (Tuesday-Wednesday) and short sleep all week and the stress of putting out the new book; well, it was a recipe for disaster.

I'm still sick. Which has made an otherwise beautiful weekend kind of miserable.

[actually, I haven't been resting as much as I could due to the beautiful weekend and going out with friends and family, etc. resulting in lingering least I did pick up the vitamins]

Being sick has prevented me from blogging (till now) but hasn't stemmed the flow of blog ideas and inspiration. I picked up a couple-five books this weekend, several of which have been idea fodder for my feverish brain. The first one I want to talk about is Dave Arneson's Blackmoor. Published by Zeitgeist Games in 2006 for use with D&D 3.5, you might have missed this one. I certainly did...the copy I picked up was in the used book section for $8.

Now, of course, I don't play D20 or Pathfinder or anything would lend DA's Blackmoor any semblance of usefulness to my gaming library. However, as it was published in 2006, three years before Arneson's death, and was a book on his original campaign world ("Blackmoor") I figured it might have some useful tidbits to help me in my present pursuit of deconstructing the Dungeons & Dragons game. In fact, it appears this post will be the first in an on-going series of deconstruction posts I intend to I find the time to do so.

And, no, I was not disappointed. I own the original Supplement II ("Blackmoor") for OD&D but there's precious little of Arenson's home-brew campaign world. There's a lot one can infer from Supp. II (I've written before that it has a much more Sword & Sorcery vibe...almost a weird Eastern flavor to it, with its assassins and monks and whatnot)...but there's no detailed narrative from Mr. Arneson that accompanies the text.

Dave Arneson's Blackmoor, on the other hand, DOES have a preface from Dave himself (Arneson is credited as "lead designer" for the book), and it is this preface that contains the bulk of useful information I was hoping to find.

The first part, talking about getting the idea for dungeon delving while spending a boring weekend watch TV and reading fantasy books isn't anything that's not available from other sources. The part that perked my interest most was the following bits:

"By Sunday night the first six levels of the dungeon were done and the gaming table in the basement had been transformed into a small medieval town with a castle. A dungeon seemed like a good idea since it would keep the players from running all over the place. We still needed some more details... Ah! I drew a map of the town and the country around it. These last details took me most of the rest of the week to complete. I was really excited about this idea. Now everyone could be a hero like in a book but without a tight (and often dumb!) plot. They could do just about anything they wanted to do, for better or for worse.

"In that short time, Blackmoor was born. I had few rules and no plans for anything beneath the 6th level in the dungeon, or beyond the tabletop boundaries into a greater world. With the basic idea laid out, there were still questions to answer.

"Where did the players meet? Inns were popular in a lot of books and it was logical that the guys would meet in a public establishment. And there had been this neat medieval restaurant in Chicago called The Comeback Inn.

"What was their goal? Why, money, of course. They sought great treasure and cool magic items. These were quite popular quests in fantasy novels and movies. Maybe they will quest after the "Magic McGuffin Amulet!"

"The campaign setting now known as Blackmoor was done within the month with additional details added as needed. Both the setting and the rules continued to grow over the weeks. Most, but alas, not all, the guys liked the game and wanted to keep playing. So the next few weeks were spent fleshing things out and trying to maintain structure...

"Major combat changed from rolling a pair of dice that resulted in victory or death to one where the hero could fight on beyond the first swing just like in the movies! Killing critters in one blow was fine but not when it meant getting your character killed. Within the first month the players were getting quite attached to their characters. Then came the next big question... "Shouldn't we be getting better at killing stuff like our experienced troops on our Napoleonic campaign?" OK, let's work something out..."

All right, this post is getting a bit long and it's getting a bit late. I'll come back to it tomorrow.


  1. When my first kid was born, I was sick just about every other month.

    Anyway, I got this book back when it was released. Even though I was playing 3e at the time, the book had too many 3e-ism. By that point I just couldn't stomach the thought of pouring through yet another alternate class. As such I barely glanced through the book. I'd like to get hold of a copy of First Fantasy Campaign though as I'm very interested in how Arneson's early game worked compared to what got printed.

  2. Dude, how many times a week do you walk within 20 yards of the Walgreens across from the Safeway? I think it goes Baranoff, Something, Pillagers Pub, Street, Wallgreens. Really, no excuse on the vitamins! Heck I live on the other side of 99 and we got us some Ibuprofrin there on Friday cause I was sick from Last Saturday, to pretty much this Saturday night. And I still kind of have a cough. Don't come to Greenwood folks- tis the plauge.

  3. JB: not sure about the D20 Blackmoor stuff, but I'm guessing you'd really be interested in Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign, released way back when by Judges Guild. It's kind of a nonsensical jumble of stuff, a la Arduin, but very interesting as an historical document.

  4. @ Hedge: Totally agree with the "3E-isms;" I find it hard to believe an old gamer like Arneson would actually have run his annual Blackmoor campaign with the 3E engine; my guess is the conversion was mainly the province of the other designers in the credits. Though I could well be wrong: Arneson was a game designer/tinkerer since long before I got into the hobby and he may well have converted his entire campaign world to the new system. I've been known to do similar things with other systems.

    @ Steamtunnel: Dude, you don't have to tell me...understand that I am a creature of great (and sluggish) inertia which often ends up biting me in the ass. I did eventually pick up said vitamins from Bartells, but by then it was too little, too late.

    @ IG: Yeah, I just heard about the First Fantasy Campaign a few days ago, but it's a hard one to get ahold of. I AM very interested in seeing it (since JG stuff didn't always adhere strictly to RAW), though my interest is more in Arneson's SYSTEM than his SETTING.

    1. If you are interested in his system you should check out Dragons at Dawn by DH Boggs. You can get it from Mr Boggs has written extensively about the pre-D&D work of Dave Arneson in Dragons at Dawn. FYI First Fantasy Campaign can be located floating around the net in pdf format.

  5. Oh yeah, I always forget about Bartells. Yeah, even less of an excuse!