Tuesday, August 31, 2010

David Wesely Interview

Over at Theory From the Closet, there's a recorded interview with David Wesely. It deals mainly with the kind of gaming Dave Arneson was involved with before he sat down and invented Blackmoor. Check it out.


[Races] Tree Lords of Blackmoor

One of the oldest races of Blackmoor, older than the elves by far are the Tree Lords. Sometimes called Ents, these walking tree like humanoids are as ancient as the oldest forests of the planet.  Ordana the Forest Mother is said to be one of the first generation of Tree Lords. After her ascendance to Immortality, she created the elves. From the birth of the elven race, the forests took care of them. As the elven race matured, the elves learned to care for the forests, like children growing up to care for their aging parents. In the North, King Uhlmar instructed the elves to care for the Tree Lords.

The Oldest Tree Lords are known as the Gakkaraks. These creatures are easily mistaken for dark moss covered trees. These ancient ones have grown bitter over the centuries, recenting all but those who show the utmost respect for the woodlands. Gakkaraks have a special connection to the forests they live in, being able to sense intruders of any sort. In addition to the Wizard of the Woods himself, Druids are the only humanoids that the Gakkaraks will fully tolerate. Even the elves are viewed by suspicion by these woodland giants.

The more common of Tree Lords are usually referred to as Treants. In the Age of Blackmoor, Treants are the servants of the elves. Treants are often called for when elven realms are threatened. It is not unheard of to see armies of Treants marching at the command of elven lords. In the great wars of the North, Treants under elven leadership have been known to serve both Blackmoor and Thonia in various alliances.

As the elven race became divided, Treants remained loyal to the Cumasti elves. In the Western Woods, they no longer obey the Westryn, but instead act as they see fit for themselves. A powerful Gakkarak lives within the borders of the Duchy of Ten. His name is Benoit and he cares little for the affairs of man, trying to stay out of the recent conflicts in that part of the world. Still a creature such as Benoit would be a vast source of information, having lived for such a long time. He even remembers Halgred Forestwalker, the first druid in this part of the world.

In the Cumasti Woods, Treants remain loyal to Menander Ithamis. With the elven lord’s alliance with King Uther, it is not unlikely that armies of Treants could once again be called upon in the service of Blackmoor, just like in the days of King Uhlmar.

Behind the Curtain:

Ents are listed in the FFC as available army units for both Vestfold and The Great Kingdom (later Thonia). The term Ents was of course removed from later D&D products along with hobbits and  other terms borrowed from Tolkien.  Still, it is fascinating to imagine armies of Tree-men marching to war in Blackmoor, similar to how Tolkien described in Lord of the Rings. 

The DA modules did not feature Ents, but a new monster, the Gakkarak was introduced there. It was later included in the Creature Catalogue. Gakkaraks are more powerful than the Treants, which is what D&D’s Ents ended up being turned into, but the Gakkaraks are also more hostile towards humanoids. 

Ordana, originally a Treant herself appears in the Mystara product line, but Ordana is also the main patroness of the elves in the ZGG Blackmoor line.

Image Source


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lorraine Dille Williams

I came across this picture of Lorraine Williams over at Monte Cook's website. Williams was in control of TSR from 1985 til 1997 when she sold the company to WotC. I have heard so much about her and controversial role in running TSR that it was interesting to see what she looked like back then. The picture was taken in 1992.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Win Frank Mentzer's 1970s D&D Banner

Frank Mentzer is sponsoring a competition on The Piazza. You can win a Classic D&D Banner similar to the one on the picture above.

Design "A brief dungeon encounter with a new monster/variation and a magic item appropriate to it/them" and you could win the promotional banner shown in the picture for this event.

Contest rules, and information on how to enter, is in this thread:

See the Facebook Page: 


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Blackmoor Freebies

I've just been updating my Website at blackmoor.mystara.us. In particular, this update deals with the Downloads section, where I provide links to legal and free downloads related to Blackmoor and Mystara. Most of the files have been circulating around the Internet for some time, but I try to collect all the links in one place.

Blackmoor Archives Download Section.

Image Source


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Interview with Mike Carr

 Mike Carr is a game designer perhaps best known for his game Fight in the Skies (1968, later renamed Dawn Patrol) and for writing the legendary adventure B1 In Search of the Unknown (1978). He also worked as an editor for TSR in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

As most Blackmoor fans will know, Mike Carr was one of the original players in Dave Arneson's original Campaign, playing the role of Bishop Carr, one of the characters who were immortalized in Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign published by Judges Guild.

Earlier this year, I contacted Mike Carr asking him about his memories from those early days of gaming with Dave Arneson, which he kindly agreed to answer and share with the fans of the Comeback Inn Forum. 

You can now read the Carr's response here

Picture Source


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Legend of Uhlmar the Elf-King

Elves believe that they were created by Ordana, thousands of years ago. In the early days, they lived in a paradise-like state, protected by the spirits of the forest. As the elves began exploring the world outside the woods, they encountered other races. Only the Fey Lords still maintained the relationship with the forest spirits that all elves had at one time enjoyed. At the time when the first Thonians settled in the North, King Uhlmar was the ruler of the Northern Elves. King Uhlmar sought to befriend the Thonians and for centuries the two races prospered from this good relationship.

It was at this time that a great evil rose in the North. A dark cult, worshipping the deity known as Thanatos, threatened both the Thonian and Elven way of life. This dark army had constructed a stronghold upon the site where the God Temrin was said to have been murdered. The Stronghold was known as the Temple of Id.

King Uhlmar had seen many Thonian Kings be born and die since he first encountered this race. He now proposed an alliance of Elves and Thonians against the Cult of Id. The elf Aquassiru, who was Uhlmar’s friend and General of the elven armies warned the king. Thonian attitudes had changed and the current ruler was not as honorable as his predecessors. However, Uhlmar was confident that the humans would do their part. However as the elven army marched on the forces of Id, the Thonians pulled out, leaving the Elves to fend for themselves. General Aquassiru realized that his worst fears had come true. He had to make a hard choice. Drawing his sword, he bravely charged the enemy, demonstrating such courage that all his elven warriors were inspired. The elves came out victorious and the Temple of Id was destroyed. The enemy was defeated, but the victory had taken its toll on the elves. Many elves were dead. General Aquassiru had suffered a fatal wound. Upon his death bed, the General asked that his soul was to be transferred into his sword, so that he might serve future generations of elves as an advisor. The sword would be known as Tel’Aquassiru, or Feyhold.

The aging king, Uhlmar, was gravely saddened by the loss of his friend. Many elves now turned against the king, blaming Uhlmar for putting too much trust in the humans. The king was even more deeply hurt to learn that the leader of these elves was his own daughter, Princess Ceridrone. The princess declared herself ruler of the elves of the west. Her followers called themselves the Westryn and wowed never to trust humans again. Uhlmar was dying of extreme old age. As a young prince, he had been one of the elves to first venture outside the forests. At the end of his reign, he was now seeing the decline of the elven race. On his death bed he cursed his daughter and the elves of Westryn, a curse that would lay on this race until this day.

King Uhlmar’s successor was his son, Noris Ithamis, whose wife had recently given birth to their young son, Menander. King Noris became the leader of those elves who had remained loyal to Uhlmar, from now on known as the Cumasti. King Noris did not however, wear the True Crown of the Elves, as it had been lost with Uhlmar. It has been said that this Crown might hold the secrets of restoring the elven race, but many young elves dismiss this as a mere legend.

Ceridrone, now known only as the Black Queen of the Westryn was the ruler of a Cursed Race. She let dark things crawl into her withering forest realm, losing all care for life. Spirits of the dead began to haunt her halls. Today the paths to the City of the Black Queen are all but forgotten.

 Image Source


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Writing about Elves and listening to Frank Mentzer Podcasts

I've previously talked about Frank Mentzer's Aquaria setting and of course his BECMI rules which is the version of D&D that I started out with. I just thought I would mention a couple of interesting podcasts featuring interviews with Frank, which I have been listening to over the last couple of days.

Roll for Initiative

Save or Die

In these Interviews, Frank talks about the Gygax statue, his Aquaria project, TSR history, BECMI, the OSR and pretty much everything else. They are well recommended.

The other thing I have been doing is writing about the elves of Blackmoor. I have been posting some stuff on them on the Comeback Inn Forum and I hope to make something more finalized here later on. Stay tuned!


Monday, August 16, 2010

[Video] A Song for St. Stephen

Thanks to BlackBat242 (John) for reminding me about this Grateful Dead Song. As John says:

"That song was on Aoxomoxoa, released 1969 (and re-released in a "cleaned-up form" in 1971)Perfect timing for that 1973 conversation!"

Who knows, maybe it did in fact seep into the minds of Dave Arneson and Stephen Rocheford as they came up with the idea of first D&D Archvillain.


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.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Origin of the DA modules

From the publishing of the OD&D supplements, Blackmoor was a central part of D&D. Unfortunately, the tragic legal dispute between Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax prevented TSR from making use of it in the years that followed after Supplement II. So it wasn't untill the early 80s that discussion at TSR began with regards to what to do with this property. Several options were being discussed as Frank Mentzer recalls:

"Since the World of Greyhawk included Blackmoor, should it go there (AD&D1e)? Or since I was drawing from OD&D & supplements, should Sup2 (Blackmoor) go there? Anyway, it ended up in BECM, as you know."

TSR already had plans for a series of Gazetteers, each detailing one of the Known World countries, featured in the world map in Mentzer's Expert set. But it was decided not to make a Gazetteer for Blackmoor:

"Given the importance and nature of Blackmoor -- the first fantasy campaign, to some -- it got its own line, instead of being a 'mere' gazetteer."
Bruce A. Heard was product manager for the Classic D&D line at the time. As Mentzer was busy with other projects, he had to look to other authors to write the setting material. Aaron Allston, who would later make a significant impact on the Mystara setting, began writing the first Gazetteer. For Blackmoor, Heard got in touch with a man called David J. Ritchie. The result was a series of four adventure modules written for levels 10-14. The legendary fifth module in the series has been discussed earlier. The module series were labelled DA, the Dave Arneson modules.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dave Arneson's Fortune Cards

One of the news to have come out of GenCon this weekend is the planned concept of Fortune Cards for D&D 4E. In the upcoming Gamma World game, mutations will be made available in the form of cards, with randomized booster packs, remniscent of the booster packs from Magic the Gathering being sold to those interested in more mutations. According to Critical hits, on twitter the D&D4E Fortune Cards will follow the same model, though without the mutations:

"Fortune Cards: Cards in booster packs that include random benefits for characters. Adds extra "fun and power" for characters. Not an extra level of powerups, an extra level of chance and randomness."
The Piazza poster, Dulsi, made me aware of this idea of booster packs now being introduced into D&D. I have to say that I am very sceptical about this. I Cyber-Dave's post over at wizards.com sums up my feelings on this concept quite well. Fortune Cards are less problematic than card elements in Gamma World (and possibly also in the upcoming Ravenloft game), since the former can be ignored.

When I heard that WotC were planning to publish Fortune Cards, what first lept to my mind was the concept of Chance Cards, something that Dave Arneson started to use in his D&D Blackmoor Campaign in 1974. This was a rather different concept however. The Blackmoor Chance Cards were randomized story elements that were to be drawn once a year and which are detailed in the First Fantasy Campaign. As Arneson relates, The Great Peasant Revolt and the Raid from the Duchy of Ten were prominent examples of how the Chance Cards affected the campaign. Perhaps something like this would be worth looking into for WotC as well?

Image Source


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ravenloft returns!

I just saw this news over at the Piazza. Ravenloft will be the next D&D setting to be revived by Wizards of the Coast in 2011. According to poster Dragonhelm, the following was announced at GenCon:

"Ravenloft RPG announced! Characters can play all sorts of stuff that goes bump in the night - ghosts, vampires, etc"

If the focus is on playing undead characters, the 4E version of Ravenloft is going to be a bit different from the 2e version where the main point was not to become killed by the Undead. Of course, as I remember alot of people did use Undead PCs in their RL campaigns back then too.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Blood, Guts & Glory

I have earlier mentioned the BECMI D&D inspired RPG, Dark Dungeons. Now, the creator of the Dark Dungeons RPG, "Blacky the Blackball" has announced a new project called Blood, Guts & Glory. This time, both D&D and RoleMaster appear to be the two main sources of inspiration. The ideas for this game first began as posts by Blacky on the Piazza Forum.

You can follow the projects progress and download the first chapters here.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Aquaria gets its own Forum!

A few days ago, I wrote about Frank Mentzer's Aquaria Campaign, and how this setting was getting more attention, opening up to the possibility of getting the setting published. Thanks to the wonderful and hardworking Ashtagon, Aquaria now has its own forum on the Piazza. On this forum you can find Frank Mentzer himself talking about his setting and download free gaming material including a Player's Kit by Mentzer and Dave L's rendering of the Aquaria map. Later, I will reveal how I intend to steal this whole setting and place it within my own Blackmoor/Mystara campaign... :)


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Gazetteer Line and Blackmoor

I was happy to see yesterday's Grognardia article feature the D&D Gazetteer line. Maliszewski speaks very well of these products, of which I was somewhat surprised given his general view of D&D products in this period, though I certainly agree on his judgement on this particular product line. I consider the Gazetteer Series the best line of setting material ever produced. Although the quality varies somewhat, the line has aged remarkably well.

I would like to direct your attention to the remarks made by Allen Varney in the comments section under the article and to which I completely agreee:

It would be appropriate here to praise Bruce Heard, TSR's ace Acquisitions Editor during the Known World's heyday. Bruce lavished attention on the Known World and the Gazetteer line as beloved children. You might also mention designer Aaron Allston, who did standout work on several Gazetteers and the Hollow World boxed set, as well as the massive D&D Rules Cyclopedia. More than a few fans still assert the Cyclopedia was the finest incarnation of the D&D/AD&D ruleset. 

Looking at the list of other authors involved with the series there is a surprising number of names of people who later became legends of their own in the industry in addition to Heard and Allston. According to Bruce Heard, most of those who worked at TSR had a soft spot for the setting which later came to be known as Mystara.

DA1 Adventures in Blackmoor had been published in 1986 and the gazetteer line, beginning the very next year incorporated the background from the DA series into the history of the Known World. Blackmoor became a mythical prehistoric civilization that still had a significant impact on the setting described in the Gazetteer series. Gaz3 the Principalities of Glantri (by Bruce Heard) has several references to Blackmoor and even offers ways to connect the two settings through time travel. Gaz 7 The Brokenlands (also by Heard) also incorporated the legacy of Blackmoor's history into the setting. Gaz 13 the Shadowelves (by Carl Sergeant and Gary Thomas) featured among other things, Rafiel, an Immortal who could still remember Blackmooor. Most of the other Gazetteers also have some references to Blackmoor. The Gazetteer series did among other things helped keep the knowledge of Blackmoor alive among D&D gamers.

As Arneson's original D&D campaign, Blackmoor was already becoming legendary. In the Gazetteer line, Blackmoor became a sort of mythical land within the fantasy setting as well; a place from which everything originated.


Monday, August 2, 2010

New Look for the Comeback Inn Forum

The Comeback Inn, our forum for Dave Arneson's Blackmoor, has gotten an overhaul thanks to our hard working admin, Angelo. Here's the result:

I am gradually adjusting to the new look of the forum and getting to know all the new features. Hopefully the new forum will be smoother and easier to manage. This work is still in progress and new stuff is added as we speak. I hope everyone will enjoy the final result!. :)

You can visit the forum here.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Frank Mentzer's Aquaria

Aquaria is the name of BECMI D&D author, Frank Mentzer's, home campaign. For a while now, Frank has been talking about getting his setting published. Unfortunately, family affairs kept him busy over most of last year, but recent posts at Dragonsfoot and the Piazza have shown that he has not given up on this idea.

Recently, the Piazza in particular has seen alot of interest in the Aquaria setting, and rumours have it that the first ever Aquaria forum will be created at the Piazza in the near future. With the Piazza community getting interested in Aquaria, we are seeing alot of interesting discussions and creative input. Dave L is already in the process of making maps for the setting based on Thorf's hexes. This has all been done with Mr Mentzer's blessing.

Aquaria is of particular interest to me because of Frank's role in it ofcourse, but also the fact that he uses the cosmology he created for the BECMI system with his setting, including Immortals, 5 dimensional spaces, Dimensions etc. Like Blackmoor, Aquaria is nominally located within the Greyhawk Setting, though if it is published, it will probably be presented as an independent setting. This should be relatively unproblematic as the Greyhawk connection has perhaps not had such a strong impact on the Aquaria campaign in actual play.

Frank recieved alot of unfair criticism in the Blogosphere when he last made an annoucement on this subject, so I am hoping the sceptics will wait and see this time around, rather than attack something which might turn out to be the next really good thing for fans of Old School D&D and younger gamers alike.

A list of existing products tied to the Aquaria Campaign can be found here


Get your downloads while you can!

Rumour is that WotC are working to remove many of their old free downloads. The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope has a list of the old school items that might soon disappear. Time to download them now.


New Maps and More details on Blackmoor Foundations Book

More is being revealed about the Blackmoor Foundations book coming from the Secrets of Blackmoor crew. I mentioned the other day that the b...