Sunday, September 8, 2019

Tortles! The Mystara / BECMI Race Makes Massive D&D Comeback!

Wanderers by Maximillain Degen. You can buy this print here (no, I'm not sponsored).

In 2019 it looks like Tortles is becoming one of the more popular D&D races! Crazy as it sounds, this race of turtle-like humanoids was introduced to the D&D 5th Edition with Volo's Guide to Monsters in 2016. In 2017, rules for playing Tortle PCs was brought to D&D 5E fans with the Tortle Package, a PDF product sold as an expansion to Tomb of Annhilation detailing the Tortle lands called the Snout of Omgar. Earlier this year, TruBlood actor and D&D superfan Joe Managiello revealed that he had created a character called Krull the Tortle. Krull is somehow connected to Managiello's main PC, Arkhan the Cruel known from Matt Mercer's Critical Role, but the Tortle will appear in Descent of Avernus, an upcoming D&D5E adventure from Wizards of the Coast set in Baldur's Gate.

Tortles go way back in the history of D&D however. In 1984, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for Mirage Comics, but only a year later Tortles appeared in D&D in Merle and Jackie Rasmusens's The Savage Coast set in the world of Mystara and for the BECMI edition of D&D. The module was followed up with a companion adventure spanning two issues of Dungeon Magazine called Tortles of Purple Sage, also by the Rasmussens. 

Tortles got an even more prominent role in Mystara and the Savage Coast Subsetting when they appeared in the Voyage of the Princess Ark and later in the AD&D 2nd Edition Red Steel Boxed Set detailing this part of Mystara.

In 2017, Wizards of the Coast staffers Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford had what seemed like a heated twitter debate about whether Tortles were a stupid idea or not. It late seems like it was all a (clever?) marketing ploy for their Tortle Package.

Oly Skiffback by David Rene

Over the years, the world of D&D has seen several iconic Tortle NPCS in D&D books and in other mediums. In addition to Managiello's Krull character, Matthew Mercer played a Tortle bard named Orly Skiffback in the Critical Role streaming series. 

You can find a complete list of Tortle references in D&D books here.

Are you a fan of Tortles? Why do you love them so much? If you don't love them, then Mike Mearls is awaiting your calls. 


Saturday, September 7, 2019

Bartertown Deathtrap Part 1: A New Free Blackmoor Adventure for AFF

Someone called Duncan Young has written a fan adventure for Dave Arneson's Blackmoor. The adventure called Bartertown Deathtrap Part 1 uses the Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPG rules, but is easy to adapt to any RPG or edition. The adventure is set in the land of Frisia, just north of Blackmoor.  Can you survive the Bartertown Deathtrap?

Download this adventure for free at The Comeback Inn!


Memorial Gathering for Rick Loomis on Oct 19th

As reported on this blog, Rick Loomis, founder of Flying Buffalo Games, sadly passed away last month. I now learn from the DeluxeTunnels And Trolls Blog that there will be a memorial gathering for Mr. Loomis on October 19th. More details can be found here.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

ArneCon: Should Dave Arneson Get His Own Convention?

This came up the other day when I was writing my article on David Megarry's important message about fans of Gary Gygax and fans of Dave Arneson uniting to preserve the memory of both D&D creatoLrs and also honoring the other creatives who worked to bring us this wonderful game.

"Luke is trying to keep his father's name alive with Gary Con and understands what contribution Arneson had to the collective effort. [..] maybe the Minnesota crowd needs to start an Arnecon (or whatever...don't worry, Luke, I will guarantee that it will be six months different;)"

GaryCon is indeed a great achievement and Luke and Ernie Gygax have worked hard to keep this convention going in order to keep the memory of Gary alive. So should Dave Arneson's friends and family get together and start their own convention? I don't know how serious David Megarry was about this, but it is an interesting idea. The most important thing I think is to get away from the idea that support for Dave Arneson is some kind of attack on Gary. The Dave vs. Gary concept is a distraction from the main goal which should be to unite both groups. From what I have been told, the organizers of GaryCon have been very welcoming towards David Wesely, David Megarry and the rest of the Minnesota Gamers. Creating an event which could be seen as a kind of competition would help light the flames of those who would seek to keep the fandom divided. This would be a step in the wrong direction.

 On the other hand, Megarry's comments about keeping the convention many months apart from GaryCon is probably a good idea. Also, it is not the first time Dave Arneson's legacy has been memorialized by a live event. Dave Arneson Day is spearheaded by the people of the Comeback Inn as an online event, but the Minnesota Gamers and others have also held various live meetups and game events on October 1st. See a full list of known activies since 2010 here. If an event like this could be given some kind of endorsement from the organizers of GaryCon, that would be a fantastic thing.

It should be kept in mind though, that organizing a convention at the level of GaryCon requires a lot of hard work. Are there enough people out there willing to help the Original Blackmoor Players set something like that up? It might be wise to start a bit smaller and then see where things might lead.

More discussion of this topic here.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

We Need to Make Sure Both Dave And Gary Are Remembered Megarry Says

David Megarry, designer of Dungeon!, friend to Dave Arneson and Original Blackmoor Player adresses the recent discussions surrounding Dave Arneson's role as Co-Creator of D&D. It's not really about one side supporting Dave and another supporting Gary, Megarry says:

The "sides" are somewhat artificial. Now that ego's are out of the way, we, the living, can moderate the division and start to bring a balance, if you will, to this great creation which was started in basements and is ending up in Fortune 500 board rooms. Just as the Irish figured out The Troubles, let us also do what needs to be done to keep Gygax and Arneson from being forgotten collectively and end the division. It is already happening: their names are relegated to small type on D&D credits. It won't be long before even that goes away. Luke is trying to keep his father's name alive with Gary Con and understands what contribution Arneson had to the collective effort. The Secrets of Blackmoor documentary is our effort to keep Arneson's name alive and maybe the Minnesota crowd needs to start an Arnecon (or whatever...don't worry, Luke, I will guarantee that it will be six months different;) The Kotaku article demonstrates that corporate could take over the narrative and construe whatever makes them the most fame and fortune.

While there were times of tension between different sides, Megarry stresses that even after the publication of D&D, people Dave Arneson's group worked alongside Gary's other employees to help TSR succeed in its early stages:

You must realize that the bulk of the creative Minnesota people were working for TSR in 1976: Arneson (D&D, Adventures in Fantasy, First Fantasy Campaign...), Megarry (Guerrilla War, Dungeon!, Pentastar...)and Carr (Don't Give Up The Ship, Fight in The Skies, 24 Hours of Le Mans...); the only people not represented were the David Wesely (Strategos N, Braunstein, Source of the Nile, Valley Forge...), Ross Maker (Source of the Nile), The Snider Brothers (Richard: Adventures in Fantasy, Mutant...John: Star Probe and Star Empires) and Professor Barker (Empire of the Petal Throne). Did I forget anyone? (Duane Jenkins with his Western RPG??).

Since TSR already had a creative staff working "upstairs" when Dave Arneson and his friends arrived at the company, the Minnesota group found other ways to help the company that didn't necessarily give them credits on published books:

We embraced the downstairs work as we realized the company would flounder if it wasn't done. Terry Kuntz got the Dungeon Hobby shop in order and it was contributing to the cash flow of the operation as well. Unfortunately (or fortunately from a TSR perspective) Arneson was an excellent shipping clerk and shipping hummed. As the inflationary growth spurt started to set in, Arneson's contribution to the company as a shipping clerk became more and more important. Arneson, of course, felt this was a demotion of a sort and began to rail against the role he had slipped into. When he tried to assert his creative input, it was rejected (almost out of hand). He had been hired to be a designer; that he stormed out after being rejected as such, is not surprising.

Tim Kask, editor of Dragon Magazine, has perhaps been the most vocal critic of Dave Arneson from the time Dave worked at TSR, but Megarry says he understands Kask's frustration:

Tim's dealings with Arneson were jaded with by the experiences we had together in 1976 at TSR Headquarters. From Tim's point of view, Arneson and most of the Minnesota contingent were not very productive on the creative front. The Arneson Basement crowd ended up that year doing a lot of nuts and bolts running the "downstairs" part of the business. It was the time of the 2nd stage of a business [...] Tim was really stretching himself to create a successful magazine and, IMHO, felt that the other "creative" staff was not pulling their weight. You must realize that the bulk of the creative Minnesota people were working for TSR in 1976: Arneson, Megarry and Carr; the only people not represented were the Snider Brothers and Professor Barker. That we produced not one item (other than the Blackmoor supplement) must have seemed to him we lacked the creative spark. Tim was part of the "upstairs" and wouldn't necessarily have appreciated what was happening to the company in the late Fall 1976.

I think Megarry makes some very important points here. If the people who were present at the creation of D&D and the early days of TSR are willing to let old conflicts go, D&D fans should certainly also do the same. While we live in a time when many are attracted to tribalist ideas of us vs. them, those of us who care about the  origin of our hobby have much more to gain by working together to preserve the memories of both D&D Co-Creators as well as the others who played an important role in those early years.

This does not mean that we should turn a blind eye to facts when they present themselves. If evidence is there to suggest credit is due, then we should be honest enough to examine that. Most of the readers of this blog will know that both Dave and Gary deserve tons of credit for bringing forth the game that we all love. We can all do our part to preserve that truth for the future.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Was Kotaku Wrong to Rehash Arneson vs. Gygax Debate?

Two days ago Cecilia D'Anastasio  published an article called Dungeons & Deceptions: The First D&D Players Push Back On The Legend Of Gary Gygax at a website called Kotaku. While I found the article to be well researched and making some very interesting points, some of Gary's family members and fans have reacted strongly against the article while others feel like this is stirring up old bygones that should have been left alone. Others again point to the fact that D'Anastasio wrote an article on Gary's Widow Gail Gygax earlier this year which many saw as rather one-sided.

Gary Gygax passed away in 2008 at 69 and Dave Arneson passed in 2009 at 61. While the two had a falling out early in their careers, both men apparently moved on long before they died. Is the "who did more, Dave or Gary" discussion really worth dragging up or is it just something D&D fans who love drama use to entertain themselves while getting in pointless fights over it on forums and social media platforms?

I have tended to stay away from this debate myself. Although my work has always focused on Blackmoor and Dave Arneson, I have always seen myself as a fan of both D&D creators. I have never had any interest in the drama beyond learning the basic facts of what happened.

The problem, however, is that by leaving this discussion alone, we risk forgetting half of the story. The story that is most often forgotten is the story about Dave Arneson and the Minnesota Gamers. The Kotaku article is correct in saying that some misconceptions about the history of the hobby are being perpetuated by books and articles that have been published on the subject over the years. Several documentaries are in the works and with only one notable exception, these appear to focus on the importance of Gary Gygax.

The topic that even the best works on D&D History get wrong is on the importance of Chainmail in the development of D&D. The Kotaku article correctly identifies how by describing Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign as simply a Chainmail Game, the real significance of Arneson's contributions to D&D are lost. I have talked about this problem back in 2016 on this blog.

I think the best part of the Kotaku article is where it describes Dave and Gary's contributions to the creation of D&D this way:

To be sure, there would be no Dungeons & Dragons without Gary Gygax. Chainmail is a clear influence for D&D’s famous combat rules, and Gygax’s particular tastes in literature and voracious reading habit helped populate D&D’s world with monsters, gods, and legendary beasts. Gygax saw the potential in Blackmoor, or the aspects of Chainmail it happened to bring out, and moved quickly and purposefully enough to put the idea into a publishable format. But what gets lost is that neither would there be D&D without Dave Arneson. And indeed, the things that D&D fans love the most about the game—the things that distinguish “role-playing” from “fantasy wargaming”—were Arneson’s vision.

By simply choosing to avoid these discussions, I think we risk overlooking the importance of powerful ideas and concepts that are still found at the core of the hobby today. Some of these ideas are the very things Dave passed onto the hobby, in part drawn from his friend David Wesely's Braunstein games and other ideas brought in by their fellow gamers in Minnesota.

More importantly to new generations of D&D fans, I think there is much more to learn from David Arneson and his friends. Because Arneson left TSR (or was forced to leave) so early, many of the ideas and concepts that Dave Arneson's Gaming Group experimented with in the late 60s and onwards never made it into D&D. Perhaps learning more about Dave Arneson and his friends and what they did in gaming can inspire young gamers today to take the hobby to new places in the future!

In the last decades I have been researching the story of Dave Arneson and his friends, not because I love to dig up dirt or because I want to hurt the legacy of Gary Gygax. I don't like hurting anyone's feelings. I have been doing this because I am interested in truth. There are many people out there telling Gary's story, so it is only fair that some are telling Dave's as well. Perhaps the Kotaku article could have been written in a more moderate fashion and avoided some characteristics, a few quotes and its provocative heading. But at least it is another voice telling Dave's story. Its not like our corner is that crowded.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Secrets of Blackmoor Now Available for All Audiences

For those who haven't caught the news yet, the documentary Secrets of Blackmoor is now available to those who missed the Kickstarter. The final version of the documentary was released to KS Backers on August 19. It was also shown at GenCon earlier this year.

Over the last few days, more attention was given to Secrets of Blackmoor thanks to an article at the somewhat controversial website Kotaku, which challenges what it calls the Legend of Gary Gygax. This caused some stir among hard core fans, friends and family of Gary's. However, it should be noted that the age old Gary Gygax vs. Dave Arneson debate is not the focus of Secrets of Blackmoor.

Secrets of Blackmoor instead, wisely allows those who knew Dave Arneson, played in his games and helped him develop Blackmoor to tell their story. The story about the games they played, how they played them and about friendship and a different time in America. This is an important story.

The documentary is part 1 in a planned series of documentaries and the first part focuses on the early years of the Minnesota Gaming group. The next installment promises to tell more about Blackmoor itself.

I was pleasantly surprised to see my own name in the credits. However, it should be noted that I did not directly contribute to the project. I did however have many conversations with one of the film makers and did my part in helping them get in touch with some of the people who were interviewed on screen. It is nice to know that my own part in running Blackmoor Websites and Blogs for the last 15 years (This blog since 2009), have played a part in something that others can watch.

There are many books out there that tell Gary's story and several documentaries are on the way. I have always felt that it should be possible to be a fan of both D&D creators. As such, Dave's story deserves to be told. That is what Secrets of Blackmoor does.

Watch the documentary here.