Saturday, December 10, 2016

Dan Nicholson: The Merchant of Blackmoor

The Merchant of Blackmoor was a character played by Dan Nicholson in Dave Arneson's original campaign. Dan Nicholson was one of the early members of the Midwest Military Simulation Association (MMSA) which was formed in 1964 by Ray Allard and friends. Dave Arneson joined this group when he was in high school and Dan went on to join Dave's Blackmoor game.

Untill recently, Dan's most well known character in the Blackmoor campaign was the Merchant, who would later go on to inspire the Merchant class in Zeigtgeist Games d20 Blackmoor product line. Nicholson was one of the older members of Dave's gaming group which by then had split from the MMSA.

The First Fantasy Campaign documents the game in which Dan Nicholson's Merchant tried to gain control over all the trade in Blackmoor. His organization gradually developed into a kind of mafia-like group. The Great Svenny, Mello the Halfling and the Blue Rider formed a secret organization of their own to try to counter the influence of the Merchant Mafia (FFC p 20). Although it is not mentioned by Dave Arneson, it has recently been revealed that David Megarry's Thief character, was also involved in trying to thwart Nicholson's plans.

The Merchant was apparently not the only character Nicholson played in the Blackmoor Campaign. Yesterday, the Secrets of Blackmoor documentary team revealed a character sheet provided to them by the late Nicholson's widow Helen. It details a Gnome character played by Nicholson in 1975:

It is possible that this Gnome and the Merchant are the same character, but I tend to believe they were two separate characters. This character sheet clearly uses the format of OD&D and looks a bit different from the character sheets used earlier in the campaign before ability scores and other aspects had been finalized. Also, 2000 XP does not seem like all that much if he had been playing the character from the campaigns beginning and all the way up to 1975. I do like that the Gnome character is in possession of gems though. That only seems appropriate for a Gnome character.

Dan Nicholson passed away in 2012 at the age of 72. I don't know much more about him. I do know that he was a computer programmer, working for companies called Coleco and 4D Interractive Vision. If anyone can provide me  with other details about his life and career, that would help make this article even better.

More discussion about this article here.



  1. $D was an Arneson spin-off company, doing programming work for Coleco and Atari; it was based in Rochester, Minnesota. Ross Maker and Dave Wesely also worked for 4D for a time. Dan was Dave's business partner in on the computer side of the house, and was not associated with AGI.

  2. Love the 1975 Gnome character sheet. Forty-two years: now that's a powerful relic! ☝😎

  3. Dan is a core emmber of the MMSA group. AS youv'e probably noted already, there is apost about his first letter the MMSA organizer: Ray Allard here:

    And we now have discovered what may be the first Charatcer sheet that belonged to Dan nicholson here:

    Dan's association with the Twin Ctities Circle of gamers is a very large influence on all the gaming they did. He also built the STRATEGOS casualty computer base on a design by David Wesely.

    Dan was the president of 4D interactive. Although Arneson was part of the intitial group, his skill and interest in programming was not as high as everyone else's. Arneson is best described a high level conceptual and theory kind of developer.

    What Dan brought to the group was IBM best practice methods which he proceeded to teach to all the younger guys, Megarry, wesely, Maker, Arneson. Interestingly Jannelle Jaquays also worked for Coleco and ended up being the manager for the 4D consulting group. She describes that team as being the most organized, professional, and effective team at Coleco.

    David Megarry decribes how one day while working with Dan, he was cllaed into Dans office where Dan pointed out a small tree growing out of the gutter of a building across the street. As they looked at this, Dan said to Megarry "See that, life is always optomistic."


Happy Gary Gygax Game Day 2023!

  Happy Gary Gygax Game Day 2023!