Friday, May 15, 2020

[Artifacts] Dave Arneson's Tome of Chaos

Note: This article was updated on May 16th to correct mistakes and add information provided by Dan Boggs and Jon Peterson. 

The Tome of Chaos

This dark artifact from the original Blackmoor setting is drawn from an adventure that Dave Arneson ran at different conventions in the 1970s. The book's cover is made from human skin and is adorned by a skull. Opening the book without speaking the proper rituals will release all kinds of evil undead spirits to destroy anyone in sight. The quest was simple. Venture into the dungeon below Castle Blackmoor and recover the book. The forces of darkness could not be permitted to have such a book in their posession. Deep within the dungeon there is a library filled with ancient tomes and scrolls. The Tome of Chaos was found on a pedistal at the center of the room. But why was the temptation to open the book so strong?

This artifact is not mentioned in any published material from Dave Arneson, but recently two separate accounts of Dave Arneson using this adventure for conventions has been discovered. The earliest account is from a convention in San Jose, California in 1976 where Dave Arneson and various other TSR personalities as accounted by in this youtube video by Jim Murphy. From Jon Peterson we learn that the same adventure involving the book was also used by Dave Arneson at Origins Game Fair at Staten Island New York in 1977. Arneson had quit TSR and TSR were boycotting Origins. 

Although the concept of an evil book is something that goes back in history, it is interesting that the Book of Vile Darkness appeared in D&D Supplement I: Greyhawk which came out in 1975, the the year before Dave used this adventure in San Jose. However, the effects of the Book of Vile Darkness are quite different from those of the Tome of Chaos so the two might be completely unrelated items. Or it is also possible that the book from Dave Arneson's campaign, which I have dubbed the Tome of Chaos was created much earlier by Arneson when he was developing the Blackmoor Dungeon. Over at the Comeback Inn, Blackmoor fans have been speculating to where in the dungeon this secret library might have been located. Right now, evidence points towards the library being found on Dungeon Level 5 even though this is not specified in either of the two published versions of the dungeon. If we learn more about the library's location or more details on the properties of the Tome of Chaos, I will make sure to share it!

Further discussion of this article here

Artifacts: Artifacts is a new series of articles where I write about powerful magical items and relics of the Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Campaign Setting which have appeared in any published version of the setting or in Dave Arneson's original campaign. Stay tuned for more! 

About the illustration: The hand crafted book depicted apparently exists in real life and was sold at the etsy website. Would be sweet to own one of these!



  1. Maybe Tome of Terror would be a better name? :)

  2. I actually like "Tome of Chaos." Works well in any three-alignment system.

    1. Thanks JB! Part of the reason why I added Chaos was because Dave would not have included evil as an alignment in 1976. Glad you like it! :)

  3. The Etsy site says “leather” but doesn’t specify what *kind* of leather.....

  4. I think you mean Supp 1 came out in 1975 (and "evil" was in alignment by 1976, per SR#6).

    I'd also remark that contemporary reports of the 1976 GenCon West do survive, like Hilda Hannifen's in A&E #16. She affirms that it was a Blackmoor adventure, but says that "first to fourth level characters were used." That at least is a bit different from the tournament composition for Origins 77. Her experience there seems to have consisted mostly in encountering spiders on the first levels, as the FFC suggests you might. She doesn't mention any objective of adventure.

    She also mentions, as other sources do, that "Gygax was unable to make the con," so any recollection of a GenCon West where Gygax is present might be conflated with some other event.

    1. Thank you Jon! I did indeed get the years mixed up. I have correted the mistakes now. Thank you also for mentioning the report in A&E #16 and differences between the adventures ran at the two different conventions. It would be very interesting to see Dave's notes for these two convention games. Did Hilda Hannifen play at the same table as Jim Murphy did?

      To be fair to Jim Murphy, I think he meant that he heard that Gary Gygax and others were coming to San Jose and not that he was actually there.

  5. Havard---

    You may be interested in a very-recent Legends & Lore show about artifacts in Greyhawk:


    1. Oooh! Very cool! And with some familiar faces too I see. Very nice :)


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