Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Frog God

The players still remember the day when Dave Arneson placed a large ceramic frog from his mother's garden on the gaming table. This was their first meeting with the Temple of the Frog, an adventure location which would be the focus of four different published modules for three different editions of D&D spanning three decades. Something dark stirred that day, and the players grew nervous.... 

The order of the Frog, the religious group who used the infamous temple as their base of operations had been organized by St. Stephen, played by Stephen Rocheford. Last month, I described how Arneson and Rocheford came up with this idea back in the spring of 1973. At the time, the Blackmoor players had relocated to the swampy environs of Lake Gloomy and the Temple was located just a few days travel to the south.

St. Stephen himself may have been a cynical manipulator, his religion a trick to be able to control the followers of the cult. Imagine his surprise when the monks of the temple began channeling divine magic. Who had been manipulating who here, the alien may have wondered. Was the idea for the cult really his, or had the idea come from those strange whispers in his head? Who was the true master of the Temple of the Frog?

In Dungeons of Castle Blackmoor it is described how a now lost race called the Sar Aigu once lived in the area where the Temple of the Frog later was constructed. In the 2008 version of the Temple of the Frog, it is revealed that a strange god whom the Frogmen simply call Brr'brrt in their croaking language is the patron of the Frogman priests.

Over at the Comeback Inn Forum, Jeff Berry explains where the Frogmen came from:
"...all three of the 'first three' (Dave, Gary, and Phil [Prof. Barker]) all affected each other; you have to remember just how small the gaming world was back then. I'd be willing to say that this forum has more members then were around in the Twin Cities and Lake Geneva *combined*. Both Dave and Gary were hugely impressed at Phil's work on Tekumel dating back to the 1950's, and he in turn was impressed by their ability to run games and write the rules needed for those games. The D&D world-settings became a lot more detailed and 'culturally aware' after Phil's work became familiar to Gary and Dave. Likewise. Phil elaborated on elements of Tekumel that he'd largely neglected until he'd had a chance to work with Dave and Gary. [...] All three had frogmen because all three read a lot of H. P. Lovecraft, and you just had to have frogmen and other servants of the Old Ones infesting the place; it gave the players something to do when they weren't exploring the dungeons."
Frogmen need not be the only thing that wandered off out from the Cthulhu Mythos and into the Blackmoor Campaign. The Mythos also has a Frog-like deity; Tsathoggua created by Clark Ashton Smith:

"In that secret cave in the bowels of Voormithadreth . . . abides from eldermost eons the god Tsathoggua. You shall know Tsathoggua by his great girth and his batlike furriness and the look of a sleepy black toad which he has eternally. He will rise not from his place, even in the ravening of hunger, but will wait in divine slothfulness for the sacrifice."
—Clark Ashton Smith, "The Seven Geases" (1933)

Tsathoggua also has a counterpart in Stodos of the Icy Wates in the Mystara Setting, a setting which incidentally is also linked to Asthon Smith's universe through Tom Moldvay's classic module X2: Castle Amber (Chateaû d'Ambreville).

One thing is certain. There is a great power lurking behind the Temple of the Frog. There is a reason why the Temple keeps resurfacing. And that power is nowhere near being defeated.

Image Source


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ever wonder who else is reading this?

I once read that TSR had very poor knowledge of who their target audiences were. Recently I've been looking at the stats for this blog, trying to figure out who my audience is. I like the various options have added to review the readers. Here's a map showing where the blog readers come from in the world:

Here's a listing by country:

Obviously, there is some margin of error here with random image searches, bots, spammers etc being counted, but it still gives me some idea of where the readers come from. Mainly however, it was just fun poking around with this stuff and seeing what kind of options offer.


Monday, September 27, 2010

The Afridhi

The Afridhi are described as a race of hillmen from a frozen land. The Afridhi depended on fire to survive and fire became their god. They are a conquering race of humans with unnaturally black skin and red hair. They are violent fanatics lead by their high priestess, the terrible Toska Rusa (Rosy Dawn). Gradually the Empire of the Afridhi has expanded and is now threatening Blackmoor itself. In my campaign I describe the Afridhi as having their bodies decorated with glowing tattoos like the Dark Prince from the Prince of Persia games shown below:

The Afridhi were revealed to the general public in DA4 Duchy of Ten. Because DA4 was the one module of the DA series on which only Dave Ritchie's name appeared, some have speculated that the Afridhi were an invention by Ritchie. However this is not the case. I have previously discussed the nature of the working relationship between Ritchie and Arneson.

The Afridhi were actually introduced in Dave Arneson's Campaign around 1975 (Date yet to be confirmed). Dave created an image of the Afridhi as a kind of devil worshippers to his players. As was normal in Dave's campaign, other players would take on the role of the bad guys, and the Afridhi were no exception. Toska Rusa was most likely played by a Deborah Naffziger as Jeff Berry explains:

[Naffziger was]one of Prof. Barker's original EPT players and one of the early players in Dave's Blackmoor. (She also played in Greyhawk with Gary) She was the only girl in local Twin Cities gaming for many years, and the description of the character sounds pretty much like the one she had out at Prof. Barker's.

 Toska Rusa and the Afridhi were at one point available as Miniatures, as part of the Blackmoor Miniatures Line. The Afridhi remain one of Blackmoor's most dangerouns enemies.

Thanks to Greg Svenson and Jeff Berry for providing much of the information above.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Arneson & Ritchie

Recently there have been a lot of speculations to the nature of the Arneson Ritchie working relationship. As most of you will know David J Ritchie was the co-author of DA modules 1-3 and the only author listed for DA4. Over the years, some have questioned to what degree the DA modules could be considered Arneson’s work. Perhaps the credits on the covers were simply a nod to the original creator and nothing else? And why was Arneson’s name omitted from DA4? My attempts to reach David J Ritchie have so far been unsuccessful. Dustin Clingman has earlier stated that Arneson was consulted on the DA modules, but it has been unclear to what extent this consultation.

Greg Svenson clarifies:
“Dave Arneson worked with Dave Richie on DA1-3. His contract with TSR gave him the right to review all Blackmoor material before it was published, but DA4 was published before he was able to review. So, that was most of his problem with that module.”

Not only was Ritchie working based on notes submitted by Arneson over the years, but he was also able to review the modules with the exception of DA4. This confirms my suspicion that Arneson had significant influence over these products. In the case of DA4, there has been a lot of discussion to whether there were specific elements in that module that Arneson directly objected to, but Greg’s comment above does not seem to support this. In addition Greg reveals that:

“I am also sure that he objected to the fact that the Ran of Ah Foo, the leader of one one of Blackmoor's major enemies, was not even mentioned in the module. All the rest of this discussion […] is just speculation.”

The absence of the Ran of Ah Foo was indeed a surprise given the importance of this archvillain in the FFC. David Ross raised the question of Ran's disappearance in the Blackmoor Fan gazetteer and suggested that he might have died, but this explanation seemed less than satisfactory.It makes sense that this is something Arneson would have changed, had he been given time to review the module.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Great Rain of Fire

The Great Rain of Fire. A fiery cataclysm, destroying Blackmoor and Thonia, sinking lands into the sea and turning their shores into broken lands. When David L. Ricthie was asked to write the DA-series of modules for the BECMI/ Classic D&D line, Ritchie incorporated Blackmoor as a realm from Mystara's past. Ricthie detailed how the technology introduced to the Blackmoorians through the Temple of the Frog and City of the Gods would eventually lead to disaster. The combination of magic and technology would lead to a cataclysm.

The Great Rain of Fire was both a device that allowed Ritchie to connect Blackmoor to Mystara, but also the logical conclusion of the revelations from DA2 and DA3, which again were based on the details on St. Stephen in Supplement II. What would happen if a fantasy kingdom got its hand on highly advanced technology? Could this end in any other way than disaster?

What role could the Great Rain of Fire play for a DM who does not assume Blackmoor to be connected to Mystara? In my own campaign, I assume Mystara to be a possible future for Blackmoor, not a predetermined one. Blackmoor could end up destroying itself in a cataclysm, but this is not something that has to happen. What I did was to feed my players with prophecies about a coming Great Rain of Fire. This could be tied to the combination of magic and technology, but there could be a number of other explanations for the world to be destroyed.

What purpose would this story element have? The world is going to be destroyed? Why are we playing in this setting again? My idea was this. The Great Rain of Fire is what happens if the players do nothing. The prophecy has allowed the players to learn of this possible dark future, meaning that they have a key to changing it. While it creates an ominous atmosphere, there should be hope. Also, this means that the player characters matter. The coming Cataclysm can be averted and you are the heroes who can prevent this.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Defining the setting

Philosopher over at the Piazza, challenged me to write a text defining Blackmoor in one or two paragraphs. Trying to pin down a setting in just a few paragraphs was trickier than I thought. Here's what I've got so far:

Blackmoor is a small Kingdom which until recently was the northernmost province of a decadent Empire. Unlike the Thonian Empire, Blackmoor embodies the ideals of justice and chivalry; a realm of light surrounded by corruption and evil. Blackmoor is in desperate need of heroes because it is surrounded by enemies. The Mordor-like realm of the Egg of Coot to the North. Viking-like Skandaharian raiders attack both its coastal lands. And an exotic demon-worshipping conqueror race army approaces from the west. 

Blackmoor is a classic fantasy setting with a twist: highly technological items can be found and used by heroes and villains alike. Mechanical warriors guard powerful wizards. The sages of the Blackmoor University are working with the dwarves to figure out how these items work, where they came from and how to use them. This could be the key to saving Blackmoor from its immediate destruction. Tragically however, it could also be what spells their doom, in the prophesied apocalypse, known as Great Rain of Fire.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

And then we were 80!

Milestone reached!It's great to see more and more people reading this blog. The fact that people out there want to read the things I write is my main motivation for keeping this place going. My last couple of entries have also seen a surge of comments which is always appreciated. According to Trey's Scale, I am now a 6th level blogger. Not bad for a little Blackmoorian?

Thanks everyone for your continued support!


Monday, September 20, 2010

Formative Images

Since Grognardia brought up the subject of images you associate D&D with, its been all over the blogosphere. Here are a few which shaped my young mind, coming into D&D:

Yes, the story of Aleena had a tremendous impact on me, just like it did with most people who got into D&D through Frank Mentzer's Basic Set. Unlike those who started with previous versions of D&D and often moved on to AD&D, many of us who started with BECMI stayed with that edition. Sure, we also played AD&D and other RPGs, but our hearts forever remained with Aleena and the desire to finally get to give Bargle the punishment he deserved.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hobbits as weaklings?

I have previously discussed the Tolkienesque nature of Dave Arneson's Halflings. In all early D&D, the connection to Tolkien was apparent. With the release of the third edition, however, the halflings were re-imagined in a way which grognards have described as "ninja Kender". The reason for this change was a view of the older edition D&D Halflings, not just among WotC employees, but I believe among many D&D players as a whole, that Halflings in D&D were a race of fat, weaklings, useless as PC option.

When ZGG began publishing Blackmoor in 2003, they announced that Blackmoor's Halflings would be a return to the Tolkienesque halflings, in the spirit of Dave Arneson's original fantasy campaign. However, what does that really mean? Is it true that Tolkien himself described Hobbits as weak, fat and useless? Not at all, of course!

Sam carries Frodo. Scene: Return of the King, 
Peter Jackson, Dir. 2003

When looking at Tolkien's Hobbits, I think it is useful to distinguish between Hobbit adventurers and regular folks. Much of the early day inspiration for D&D halflings seems to have been drawn from the first part of the novel The Hobbit. But the descriptions there refers to the non-adventurer Hobbits of the Shire. Bilbo is said to have been the first adventurer from the shire (though there are some references to previous heroes of the race elsewhere in Tolkien's writing). Still, Bilbo wasn't much of an adventurer when he was first dragged out of his hobbit hole by Gandalf and the dwarves.

Similarly Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry were completely unexperienced at the onset of the Lord of the Rings. Compare this to the same characters towards the end of the trilogy. The Hobbits have all become heroes in their own right. They have no problem disposing the stooges of Saruman who have been destroying the Shire in their absence. Similarly, Bilbo makes the trek from the Shire to Rivendell completely on his own, even though the distance he covered was known to be populated by Wights, Trolls and other evils.

One of the abilities most often overlooked in Hobbits is their resiliance. Gollum was able to keep the Ring for centuries. Still, he had retained enough of his "humanity" to give Frodo hope that he could be redeemed in Return of the King. Frodo was the only one who would be able to carry the Ring to Mordor, a task none of the heroes of the other races would have been able to accomplish. Sam was even able to give back the Ring to Frodo after "carrying it for a while" for his master.

Take a look at Sam carrying Frodo up the slope towards Mount Doom. Is that the work of a weakling? I think not! Hobbits can be tough heroes without the need of being turned into anorectic ninja elflings. Dave Arneson and his players were aware of this, as shown in the adventures of Mello and his companions.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Most Enthusiastic Blackmoor Player

In the First Fantasy Campaign, Dave Arneson described Richard Snider as one of the most enthusiastic players of the original Blackmoor game.

Last November, I was sad to report of his passing. In my experience, a D&D campaign is never better than the players. The best games I have DMed, have been so enjoyable, as much thanks to the players as to the DM. Arneson recognized how lucky he was to have such great players. In the FFC, Arneson describes how Snider "evolved an entirely separate campaign and mythos" as well as developing more advanced rules for dragons.

Richard later went on to develop his own setting; the Perilous Lands, which he continued to work on long after the books for it had been out of print.

Above is a picure of Richard from the 1980s Origins Convention.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dave Arneson's XP system

I just read Paladin's interesting article on the XP system in Dragons at Dawn. According to the article, Dave Arneson did not award any experience points for killing monsters or taking their treasure. Instead they were awarded for roleplaying only.

In my opinion XPs are a useful tool in encouraging the players to behave in certain ways. I can think of few players who really need encouraging to go out and kill things and take their stuff. Arneson found a way around that. Worth thinking about for any campaign.

 Image Source


Douglas Niles to appear on Dragonsfoot

Just the other day I saw the announcement that Douglas Niles will appear in his own Q&A thread on Dragonsfoot. Niles is probably most famous for his novels and Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms material, but my favorite work of his remanis CM1 Test of the Warlords.

I also grew to enjoy his Quest Triad novels (warning: written for "young adult readers"). I adapted that setting, Karawenn, to Norwold. You can see a map from my adaptation here.

I am looking forward to seeing Niles answering the questions I have posted in his thread so far.

Doug Niles on Pen & Paper RPG


Sunday, September 12, 2010

City of the Gods: Bringing the Mystery back

Fans of the so called Golden Age D&D from the 1970s and early 80s sometimes criticizes later era game material for suffering from a need to create too much coherence, explaining much more than is really neccessary in order to run a fun game. The downside of this is of course that it detracts from what is important and even takes away some of the mystery.

Now, this is not normally my view of things. I am very interested in early age D&D, but I am also a fan of many of the products that were made in later decades. When looking at the various versions of City of the Gods, I am beginning to think that they were right. The best source to Dave Arneson's original version of City of the Gods is Rob Kuntz' account from the game Dave ran for him and Gary Gygax. The FFC also has references to the City of the Gods, but is fairly vague on the details.

While the 1970s sources are clear on the fact that the City of the Gods is a source of technology, it is Ritchie and Arneson's DA3 which introduces the space ship and its crewmembers. Granted, Stephen Rocklin goes all the way back to Supplement II, but even there it is unclear to whether St. Stephen is from space, another dimension or what. The vagueness of the nature of the city makes it more mysterious, leaving room for each player and DM to figure things out for themselves.

Image Source


The Piazza - D&D Worlds Forum Celebrates 16 Years!

  One of my favourite places to talk about D&D is The  Piazza . I can't belive its been 16 years since fans created that forum. Peop...