Sunday, August 15, 2010

[Characters] Stephen the Rock – First D&D Arch Villain

In 1975, TSR published D&D Supplement II: Blackmoor. Unlike Supplement I, Blackmoor was not just a mere collection of additional rules and monsters, but also featured a unique look into the actual Campaign World of the author through the world’s first adventure module Temple of the Frog.


The Temple of the Frog featured not only a dungeon, frog people, cultist-like monks and other critters.  It also featured the first Arch villain in D&D history. The villain was known as Stephen the Rock, or simply St. Stephen. I have previously discussed Dave Arneson’s tradition of letting players control the bad guys. St. Stephen was no exception. The player who had come up with this character was Stephen Rocheford, known as “Rocky” or “the Rock” among his friends. He remembers how he and Dave first came up with the character back in 1973:

“Dave approached me to invent an 'evil' character that would be 'different from the norm' in this world. Ergo, I thought and settled on a character that was 'not of this world' of Blackmoor. My inspiration eventually was from an old episode of the original Star Trek television series. In it, Captain Kirk found a planet of Nazi's and found the earthling, an historian, who founded it in the hope eliminating it's excesses and organizing this society for the betterment of all in the name of efficiency. I told Dave Arneson and he was delighted. He asked that I ‘flesh out’ the character. “

As we know this was not the last time that Star Trek would be a source of inspiration for the Blackmoor Campaign. The line between fantasy and science fiction was more blurry back then and elements of science fiction had been present from the beginning of the campaign. However, Rocheford’s ideas took things one step further:

“My character was a soldier( I was an Army Officer) who crash landed in Blackmoor with several others from a 'spaceship'. He found a village organized around a group of monks. They and the villagers thought the stranger was a very powerful wizard; in fact he was a man who used a 'phaser' and so overawed the indigenous people that he was proclaimed the ‘High Priest of the Monks of the Swamp’. “

Not only do we see the early seeds to the fabled adventure of the Temple of the Frog here, but also what would become the City of the Gods. Two of the most famous adventures of the Blackmoor line thus sprung from the discussions between Arneson and Rocheford. Rocheford had further ideas for the religious order his character established.

“I set about to organize a theocracy based on the worship of frogs, which were in great supply in the swamp. These frogs were bred and genetically improved over time until some special breeds grew to enormous size. A Temple was erected and an Order of Monks reorganized around this hall of worship. The High Priest had his secret chambers in which no one was allowed except his companions who filled various roles: security chief, treasurer, medical staff (for the genetics ) and so forth. In the High Priests most secret room only the security chief was allowed in as it possessed the generators to 'charge' the weapons and maintain the remnants of the computers from the crash. This allowed this small group to take over the immediate environs of the swamp and the villages. The High Priest wore robes similar to a Roman Catholic Archbishop( I grew up Catholic), complete with staff and mitre. In the temple at the far end was a large pipe organ that ran to the roof and which the openings allowed the countryside to hear the strain of the High Priest playing THE music of this cult: Toccata and Fugue in d minor, by Bach. He played this piece at the time of weekly feedings of the frogs. Those who failed to convert were fed to the frogs, and their possessions were donated to the church. The Temple expanded to transform the original social structure found into a complete theocracy that was evil in nature and which preyed on it neighbors in raids for loot and captives but which always retreated to the swamps in which to hide. Outsiders who ventured into the swamps did not return. The myths and legends which grew were terrible as to what evil lurked in the swamp.”

The basics of the Order of the Frog were given in Supplement II, but it is impressive to see the level of detailed planned for the actual campaign, even down to the music St. Stephen played on his pipe organ. In Supplement II, Stephen was not the one who set up the cult originally, but an unsurper, who had taken over the Order. The DA series saw further developments to the character as Dave Ritchie explained St. Stephen’s relationship with the City of the Gods, making him a traitor to Captain Bork Riesling, seeking power instead of obeying Riesling’s orders to follow the “Prime Directive”.
Rocheford explains that the character was developed in several stages in discussions between him and Dave Arneson. The original concept was formulated in 1973, but the two gamers kept working on the character until 1977. However, already when the first ideas had been sketched out, the character was to be introduced into the campaign:

 Eventually 'The Great Svenny' and his friends heard of this and were intrigued sufficiently enough to launch an expedition. Dave made sure we had worked out several details about this prior to him, as referee, passing on the rumors of this society in the swamps to the players. I kept my role as High Priest, per Arneson's request, secret from the others until the first actual expedition. One of the characters was killed and his loss was a warning to the others and so set the stage for future endeavors by the group who wished revenge and to find out what happened. It was a great "what happened" set up when they finally found the the weird guy in the robes who shot an immensely powerful lightning bolt at them. Awaking later in the swamp, all that could be remembered evoked a 'riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma'. The game was on!!!

Thanks to Dan H Boggs for providing the information from Stephen Rocheford.

Image Source: Brainiac 5.





-Havard

1 comment:

  1. Great write up Havard. Reading this again makes me wonder again about that introductory paragraph in Supp II Temple of the Frog. While the adventure is pretty much straight from Arneson, I've often thought the introduction and background history was more polished and felt like it might be the work of the editor, Tim Kask. Who knows, but either way, I like Stevens' version best.

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