Thursday, April 21, 2016

DA1 Adventures in Blackmoor Finally Gets PDF Release!

DA1 Adventures in Blackmoor was the module that brought Blackmoor back to TSR and D&D. Supplement II: Blackmoor and the Judges Guild booklet the First Fantasy Campaign were the Blackmoor releases available to gamers in the 1970s, but in the following decade, gamers would be treated with four high production value modules that Dave Arneson co wrote with SPI designer David J. Ritchie.

DA1 was the first in the new series and gives a great overview of the setting that can be used as a toolkit to run sandbox style adventures in Dave Arneson's original setting. In addition it features an adventure revolving around King Uther being kidnapped. This adventure also has information for bringing AC1000 Known World /Mystara characters back to the era of Blackmoor.

After a long wait, this module is now available as a PDF release at Drivethru. DA2 Temple of the Frog and Supplement II: Blackmoor have been available for a while now, but it is great seeing DA1 finally available for fans of Blackmoor. Let us hope we don't have to wait this long to get the last two modules in the DA series. This is a must-have for any true Blackmoor fan.

Further discussion at the Comeback Inn,


Friday, March 4, 2016

GM's Day!

So March 4th, the day Gary Gygax passed away has become known as GM's Day. Since I am a fan of both D&D creators, I started thinking about the time back in 1972 when Dave Arneson first sat down and Game Mastered a game of Blackmoor for David Megarry, Rob Kuntz, Terry Kuntz and Gary Gygax.

Later, Gary would say the following about what Dave was like as a Dungeon Master:

"I can not recommend him more highly than simply saying that I would rather play in his campaign than any other"
-D&D Supplement II Blackmoor

So to all the D&D fans out there. Happy GM's day! :)


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Being a Fan of Both Dave and Gary

The two creators of Dungeons & Dragons

As mentioned the other day, it is difficult to talk about Dave Arneson without getting into his troubled relationship with Gary Gygax. This is the creative relationship that resulted in the creation of Dungeons & Dragons and the invention of the RPG hobby. But it is also a story of much grief and words and actions that both men would have been better without.

Early on in my gaming career I learned about Blackmoor. It was Blackmoor that made me curious about its creator, Dave Arneson, whom I only knew as the lesser known of the two D&D creators. The age of the Intenet opened up to new opportunities for learning about authors and game designers that I only knew from the covers of the books and games that my friends and I had so much fun with. With mailing lists and internet forums it  even became possible to interract with people like Frank Mentzer, Bruce Heard, Rob Kuntz, Colin McComb, Ed Greenwood, David Zeb Cook, Aaron Allston, Allen Varney and all the others. It was heaven for us fans.

The internet forums was where I first learned about the ugly side of fandom though. The lawsuits and falling out between Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax was not only the source of grief for those two men and their friends and associates. Long after Dave and Gary had seemingly put the conflict behind them, fans associated so strongly with their heroes that they continued the fight.
People arguing on the Internet

Gary Gygax has always had a huge following. Most of them are great people. But among them I also encountered quite a few people saying pretty nasty things about Dave Arneson. Claims that he had not really contributed to the creation of D&D at all. Blackmoor was just a variant of Chainmail. And what an evil man he had been to dare sue TSR and Gary. I didn't really know what to think about that at first. But these claims made me wonder. Could this really be true? Is the world really made up of good guys and bad guys like in the movies? Or could there be more than one side to the story? That was the beginning of a story that lead to this blog, a website and a forum. I have learned alot about the history of D&D since then.

So who is the good guy and who is the bad guy of the story? Ultimately I don't know. I never knew either Dave nor Gary. I never had a chance to speak to Gary. I met Dave once and corresponded briefly with him. But I cannot say I knew him. I think they were just two human beings who had some brilliant ideas and also made some mistakes in their lives, just like everybody else.

In 1974 both men agreed to put both names on the cover of Dungeons & Dragons. They were both willing to sign a contract that recognized both men as creators of the game. I am thankful to both men for the game they made and this is why I am a fan of both Dave and Gary. Fan theories, whether posted online or published in books is not going to change that.

 So thank you Gary. Thank you Dave. Your game brought alot of joy in my life.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The "Blackmoor is Just a Chainmail Variant" Fallacy

The "Blackmoor is Just a Chainmail Variant" Fallacy

This is something I have been planning to write about for a while, but a recent discussion with my friend Brynjar and others on Facebook inspired me to finally get to writing. I am not really sure anyone has ever actually made the ridiculous claim that Blackmoor was nothing more than a variant of Chainmail, the miniature skirmish game by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren. On the other hand, gaming amateur historians, Wikipedia contributors and other fans have in recent years seemed obsessed with proving Dave Arneson wrong, when he claimed that he only used the Chainmail combat system during a few sessions and then pretty much discarded it completely.

It is true that we need to to be critical to claims made by Dave Arneson when the process leading up to the creation of D&D involved if we wish to know the truth. It is clear that he had stakes involved in this debate. But am I the only one with the impression that people aren't giving Dave the same benefit of doubt that we are giving the other side? The most common argument used to defend this line of thoughts is that we can find the truth based on written documentation. However, Gary Gygax had the full resources of TSR on his side. He was also active in publishing various fanzines in the decades before D&D was published. The fact that there is alot of documentation supporting the claims he made does not equal the truth however.

Ultimately we will never know how much of Chainmail Dave Arneson used. In the First Fantasy Campaign there are many references to creatures and units from Chainmail, so he clearly borrowed those. As to the rules themselves, Dave kept most of those secret even from the players, so that part will boil down to whether you trust his word or whether you don't.

However, I think this whole discussion misses some central points. What we should really talk about is the very nature of these games and how different they are from eachother. Chainmail (by Gygax and Perren) is a miniatures game for running skirmish battles between small units. It was also not primarily a fantasy game, the few pages dedicated to fantasy at the end were added as an afterthought. Blackmoor on the other hand was a game that featured single character roleplaying, a Game Master running the monsters (somewhat later in the campaign), dungeon exploration and level advancement. All in a living fantasy environment. Dave Arneson may have borrowed ideas from Gygax and Perren, but he also borrowed ideas from Dave Wesely's Braunstein games, his own long experience in Napoleonic Wargaming, various board games and many other sources. And, just like Gary did his game design, Dave used input and ideas from his players, many of whom went on to become prominent game designers themselves.

While there might be similarities between what Dave did and those other games he looked at did, it seems clear to me that he was very much doing his own thing with Blackmoor. Not only was Blackmoor a different game, but it was also a different genre of game. When Dave Arneson demonstrated Blackmoor to Gary Gygax in 1972, Gary was already looking for a new game to publish. After having played with Dave as a Dungeon Master, Gary was convinced that he had found what he was looking for. Dave and Gary proceeded to sit down and design a new game that they would call Dungeons and Dragons. They did not sit down to design Chainmail 3rd edition. Both men realized that they had something new on their hands, though I doubt either man realized how revolutionary that game would truly become.

This article isn't written as an attack on Gary Gygax' legacy. But I think we are doing both men a disservice if we ignore the radically new ideas that arose with Blackmoor and was brought into the world's very first published roleplaying game: Dungeons & Dragons.

More on this discussion here.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Blackmoor on!

It has been all over the social media today: Supplement II Blackmoor for Original Edition Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D) has been made available for PDF sale on the website! Unlike the Greyhawk Supplement which appeared on the site yesterday, they have kept the original cover illustration for Supplement II rather than the revised art used in the 2013 reprint.

This is not the first Blackmoor PDF to be offered for sale from WotC though. DA2 Temple of the Frog has been out for quite a while. Now is the chance to get the original version of the Temple of the Frog it appeared in Supplement II back in 1975 though! You might need both of these modules if you hope to properly defeat D&D's first true Arch Villain, St. Stephen!

It would be nice if Blackmoor could be made to appear among the setting filters on the DMsGuild Website though. Even more frustrating is it that a search for "Blackmoor" does not give you DA2! I hope the fine folks at get both of those things sorted out as soon as possible.


Friday, January 22, 2016

No More Gygax Magazine.

I was excited from the moment I first heard of Gygax Magazine. Sadly, it was recently reported that Gary Gygax' sons were forced to leave Gygax Magazine due to legal action by Gail Carpenter Gygax, Gary's widow from his second marriage. Now Erik, over at Tenkar's Tavern reports that Gygax Magazine will no longer be published. TSR (The publisher of the magazine, not the original TSR) have stated that they will be focusing on publishing modules instead.

As I have mentioned in the past, I am very sad to see this happen. The Gygax brothers seem like excellent people and the way they and the people at GaryCon have been making an effort to involve everyone in the Old School Gaming movement, including Dave Arneson's original players and many others. It would be a shame if the Gygax brothers were prevented from contributing to the world of Dungeons & Dragons. I am glad we are still seeing the Hobby Shop Dungeon happening.

I am also interested in seeing what TSR is up to next. Apparently they plan on releasing a series of modules by Frank Mentzer and Merle Rasmussen. This is something I would love to see, being the huge BECMI fan that I am. At least there is some good news amidst all the sad news. I wish Luke and Ernie Gygax all the best and hope that there is some way to find a sollution that would allow them to participate in publishing game material as long as they want to. They deserve it and I'd like to think the gamers in this world deserves that too. :)


Sunday, January 17, 2016

GenCon II: When Dave Met Gary (1969)

21 Year Old Dave Arneson at GenCon II.

August 23rd-24th 1969 marked the third gaming convention arranged by Gary Gygax and his Lake Geneva Group. As the first convention was a much less formal gathering in Gygax' own home with only 12 participants back in 1967, the 1969 convention was called GenCon II. It was here that a meeting would take place between two men who could change the course of history together. Held in Horticulture Hall in Lake Geneva, this was the first time GenCon would run for two whole days and 187 guests would attend.

Gary Gygax at GenConII

Dave Arneson would later remember this convention very fondly. The 21 year old Dave was already passionate about gaming. 31 year old Gary Gygax had not yet begun his career in games publishing, but he had already made a name for himself in war gaming circles with being one of the founders of the International Federation of Wargaming.The two would later work together on Don't Give Up The Ship (1972) and Dungeons & Dragons (1974).  In the early 1970s, Dave Arneson also contributed several articles to the Domesday Book fanzine distributed by Gary Gygax and Rob Kunt'z Castle & Crusades Society. Dave Arneson also helped introduce David Megarry to Gary Gygax for the possibility of getting Megarry's Dungeon! Boardgame published. With all the amazing creative collaboration between the two in the years that followed, what could this first meeting between Gary and Dave have been like? This is some of Dave's recollection:

"It was the first time we really got to network with each other. Mostly you would talk on the phone with local guys. We got to meet [people from] as far away as Chicago — and from Minneapolis, that’s pretty good. I was excited to meet people you only read about in magazines. The only person I remember specifically is Gygax. That’s when he and I started to work out our collaboration for future game projects. He was just another gamer, full of gamer ideas." 

From the sound of it, the creative juices started flowing immediately when they met. Dave was not used to meeting gamers from out of town and it seems clear from all of this that it must have been very exciting for him. It also sounds like he did not expect the host of GenCon and co-founder of the IFW to be such a down to earth person and how easy it was for them to talk about their gaming ideas. Can you imagine sitting in on THAT conversation?

Horticultural Hall in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The site of the early GenCon conventions.

It was, not surprisinly, meeting Gary Gygax that later stood out the most for Dave Arneson at GenCon II. A 13 year old Rob Kuntz was also present as were many others. However, Dave also mentions, in his quote, meeting gamers from Minneapolis that he did not know about. In a comment to the Castle Blackmoor Facebook Page, David Wesely shed some light on this:

Dave's ironic comment above about meeting people from Minneapolis is because we first met Mike Carr and his gaming group at Gen Con II, which was surprising because we and they were all from the same cities and had no idea that the other group existed until we met at Gary's house!
This is pretty funny. Mike Carr, perhaps best known for his Fights in the Sky game and B1 Quest for the Unknown, is someone I had always thought of as part of Dave's gaming group, so it is interesting that both of them had to go to Wisconsin to meet. Mike would late be remembered as Bishop Carr in the Blackmoor stories. I made an interview with Mike which you can read here.

As we all know, the friendship and good professional relationship between Dave and Gary would not last forever. But in the time from that GenCon and for the first half of the 1970s it would be a source of magic!

Image Sources: Wargamer #204