Monday, January 31, 2011

Bill Owen on the First Fantasy Campaign

In 1977, Judges Guild published the First Fantasy Campaign. In a recent Save or Die Podcast, Judges Guild Co-Founder Bill Owen talks about Judges Guild history, including his contact with Dave Arneson. Mr Owen and the legendary Bob Bledsaw had formed the Judges Guild in 1976. When they went to meet with TSR on July 18th 1976, it was Dave Arneson who gave them the verbal approval to publish D&D related material. More on this story can be learned from mr Owen's book, Judges Guild's Bob & Bill, a Cautionary Tale, which was reviewed at Grognardia.

Bill Owen in 1976

Dave Arneson left TSR later that same year and in 1977, he submitted his manuscript for the First Fantasy Campaign to Judges Guild for publishing. Echoing former TSR employees, Bill Owen describes the material Arneson sent them in the mail as "somewhat disorganised". Where mr. Owen differs from those who worked on Supplement II, is in his attitude towards the author. "I respected Arneson greatly", Owen says. He goes on to say that he was intimidated and frustrated that this work had been delegated to him, but the reason for that was that he was worried that the changes he felt neccessary to make in order to make the product "look like the kind of thing we would make" would not be worthy of an Arneson authored product. On the other hand, he stresses that Arneson was not the kind of person who might be upset about any such changes. "He was very easy going about the whole thing", Owen says, mirroring how many others have described Arneson's generous nature.

Perhaps it was this attitude of respect for the author and his professionality that made mr Owen that allowed the First Fantasy Campaign to become the gem among gaming products that it is. While others might have been tempted to apply heavy handed edititing in order to make the product onto a preconcieved idea of what a D&D product was supposed to look like in those days, Owen allowed the First Fantasy Campaign to appear as the unique product that it is, with the author's voice being heard clearly. We are eternally thankful for this!

Bill Owen in 2008


Friday, January 28, 2011

Vampires of the North

"In a mirror of the white, Baron Fant, before a desecrated altair. Beastly howls of agony and frustration. 'Bring her back! Bring her back! We had a pact! HONOUR IT, YOU BASTARD! HONOUR IT!'"(-The Last Fantasy Campaign)

Many manifestations of the Undead roam the lands surrounding Blackmoor at night, but few as dreaded as the Vampire.The most well known Vampire of Blackmoor was Sir Fang. The true origins of this Vampire are unknown, but the story goes back to the time when Blackmoor was ruled by Baron Fant. Fant was one of the heroes of Blackmoor. Under his command, the forces of Blackmoor twice repelled invasions from the Egg of Coot. However, the second war against the forces of Coot, left its marks on the baron. From having been a hero of the land, he was now reduced to a dark and shadowy figure. Some whispered that he would feed the blood of mortals. They called him Sir Fang.

For a time, the people of Blackmoor did not know that their Baron had become a creature of the night. Eventually, his most loyal vassal, Sir Jenkins of Glendower was also turned into a Vampire. But such secrets can not be kept forever. Especially in a land home to heroes of such quality as in Blackmoor. When the truth was learned, the Great Vampire Hunt was launched, and eventually Sir Fang was killed.

But he didn't die of course. Two dwarf-like Vampire creatures dug up Sir Fang's Grave and the Vampires fled into the night together. With these allies Sir Fang formed a legion of Undead who would threaten Blackmoor on multiple occasions. Some say he operated from the deep caverns below Blackmoor itself. Others say he constructed himself a Castle far from civilization.

Behind the Scenes: Vampiric Bloodlines
It is never actually specified that Baron Fant and Sir Fang are one and the same, but it seems highly likely. How he became a Vampire is also not known, though it may easily have been connected to the Coot Invasion. The Last Fantasy Campaign ties it to the Egg's ally, Lord Ran, who although himself a Lich, may have turned the Baron into a Vampire. Perhaps Fant even let himself be turned, in despair after having learned that his wife and children had been killed.

Sir Fang and Sir Jenkins represent one of the Vampiric Bloodlines of Blackmoor. These are the classical vampires, as seen in 1970s horror films, as explained by original Blackmoor player Mike Mornard:

[One player] wanted to play a Vampire. He was extremely smart and capable, and as he got more and more experience he got tougher and tougher. This was the early 70s, so the model for 'vampire' was Christopher Lee in Hammer films. No deep folklore shit.
Well, after a time, nobody could touch Sir Fang. Yes, that was his name.
I have previously discussed how the threat of the vampires lead to the creation of the Cleric Class.The player wanting to play Sir Fang was most likely David Fant. Duane Jenkins played Sir Jenkins of Glendower, later referred to as the Vampire-Knight. 

Another type of vampires are the so-called "Fangettes". I picture these "dwarven vampries" as short, crouching Nosferatu-like vampires, dwelling underground in sewers and deep caves. In the original campaign they were likely played by Joe Vail.

A third type of Vampire could be the swamp dwelling Velya, from the BECMI rules. In Return to the Temple of the Frog, St. Stephen has become a Vampire, and it may easily have been a Velya who turned him.

Vampires seem to have had a strong impact on the Blackmoor campaign and they are discussed extensively in the First Fantasy Campaign. Richard Snider provided additional rule for these creatures, something that suggests that Arneson's group considered them an important part of the game.

Image Sources:
Vampire Castle


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What might have been?

This fake cover is made by Knightfall, who recently posted about it on the Piazza. Its a shame that Mystara was never followed up by WotC neither for 3E or 4E, but looking at what happened to the Realms, maybe we are better off? I expect most of the readers of this blog have little interest in these later editions, but I think it is cool that Blackmoor was published for OD&D, BECMI, 3E and 4E. Only a few settings have seen such coverage.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sea Monsters of Blackmoor

As I mentioned in my blog article on Dinosaurs the other day, the First Fantasy Campaign reports of a great battle in Blackmoor Bay between sea vessels and sea monsters. In the same article, I also speculated that the aquatic dinosaurs from OD&D Supplement II. Let's take a closer look at these creatures:

These Gigantic marine lizards are over 40 ft long. They sometimes use their great bodies to overturn ships. Fortunately their main diet is other aquatic beasts.

This creature is about 14 m (46 ft) in length and weighed over 2,000 kg (2.2 tons), making it the second longest plesiosaur. It has a large body and four flippers for limbs. More than half of its length is its neck, which had more than 70 vertebrae, more than any other animal. It has a relatively small head with sharp teeth. According to Supplement II, it loves snatching crewmen from ships.

These huge serpents have short necks, but large heads. They will not hesitate to attack ships venturing into their territories.

These are but a few of the various aquatic monsters mentioned in Supplement II. It seems likely that these creatures have some times been encountered in the deep rivers of the swamps near Blackmoor and in the Black Sea. Some speculate that these monsters are being bred in the realm of the Egg. Perhaps the Egg also has some way of controlling the beasts. Fortunately not all denizens of the Black Sea are this hostile.

Image Sources


Monday, January 24, 2011

Frogman Cleric

Just a sketch I found over at Deviant Art that I wanted to share with you. Looks like a respected member of the Order of the Frog.

Image Source.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dungeons & Dinosaurs!

I have previously talked about how since in the 70s the line between the fantasy and science fiction genres was not so defined, Dave Arneson was able to include various sci fi elements into his fantasy game. It is odd however, that in the later decades Dinosaurs were to be considered more acceptable in the science fiction genre (through time travel or genetics for instance) than in the realm of fantasy. The best known example of Dinosaurs in D&D is probably X1 - the Isle of Dread (1980), by David Cook and Tom Moldvay. However, Dinosaurs appeared in D&D years before that legendary module was published. Although several people contributed to Supplement II, the Dinosaurs in that book are believed to be Arneson's work.

Three types of Dinosaurs were found in Supplement II: Elasomosaurus, Plesiosaurus and the Mosasaurus. All of these are aquatic creatures, which may have been useful for the naval battles Arneson enjoyed running. The FFC mentions a legendary battle in Blackmoor Bay between sea vessels and sea monsters, in which the sea monsters won! These sea monsters may in fact have been the Dinosaurs from Supplement II.

The DA series includes a few species of Dinosaur-like creatures such as Pteranodons, which are believed to have been spawned by the Egg of Coot. In the ZGG Blackmoor CS, the Egg of Coot is also said to spawn sea monsters such as the dreaded Naliseth, so perhaps the Egg is also responsible for the other great creatures roaming the lands of Blackmoor? Supplement II describes the Plesiosaurus as an endangered species, so perhaps the Egg is bringing ancient creatures back from extinction?

Pathfinder's Cave of Dinosaurs. Another nod to the good old days of gaming.

How common were Dinosaurs in Arneson's Blackmoor campaign? That is hard to say. It is easy to forget that the original Blackmoor campaign was mostly a regular D&D campaign, along with Gygax' and Kuntz' Greyhawk models for all D&D games to follow them. It is still interesting to take a look at the features that were not so often followed up on in later games. Dinosaurs being one of them.

And Dinosaurs did show up in Arneson's games from time to time, as Greg Svenson recalls:
The most recent adventure I played with Dave Arneson as DM included an encounter with a pair of T-Rexes.
Most Sea Going Dinosaurs are probably found in the North Sea, a few finding their way into the Black Sea, or even the Skandaharian Sea in the distant north. Land based dinosaurs like the Tyrannosauruses would have to be very rare. However they have been seen not far from Blackmoor itself:

I can recall battling T-Rex's several times in Blackmoor, including a recent encounter south of Kenville on an adventure a couple of years ago when I was playing as Svenny's son Sol.

Distant lands may hold more of these creatures, in particular if you link your Blackmoor campaign to the JG Wilderlands Setting. Even Svenson's experiences suggest that dangerous creatures lurk beyond the borders of Blackmoor:

They seems to be found more commonly on the south side of the Root River.
How common is unknown, but it seems likely that the Thonian Empire have their share of trouble with monsterous lizards roaming the countryside. That sounds like adventuring opportunities to me, which was probably Arneson's idea all along!

Image Source
Paizo's Dinosaur Cave
Tyrannousaur vs. Triceratops


Saturday, January 22, 2011

[Characters] Bishop Carr - First D&D Cleric

The first Cleric in the history of D&D was played by original Blackmoor player and former TSR Editor Mike Carr and the character was later known simply as Bishop Carr. Mike Carr was not the only player to have used this class. Another famous example is Richard Snider, when he played Brother Richard - the Flying Monk.  When I talked to Carr last year, he explained that:

"It's true that I did take part in the original Blackmoor campaign and did play the role of a priest, participating in a few dungeon or overland expeditions. [...] I also recall having the ability to cast one or two spells and having the ability to help heal minor wounds, but in retrospect it's obvious my character was low level and not particularly impressive. Since my primary interest was in historical games rather than fantasy games (which is still the case), I didn't play too often and didn't make any progress with that character. It's ironic that I knew both Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax fairly well and enjoyed their company from time to time, but never played much D & D with either of them."

Mike Mornard was another player in Arneson's campaign at this time. Mornard is also unique in the fact that he is the only player to have played in all three of Gary Gygax', Phil Barker's and Dave Arneson's original campaigns. Mornard recalls the origins of the Cleric class designed for Carr's character:

"Ahem. I was there. In CHAINMAIL there were wizards that functioned as artillery. Then there was Dave Arneson's first miniatures/roleplaying campaign. Some players were 'good guys' and some players were 'bad guys' and Dave was the referee. One of the 'bad guys' wanted to play a Vampire. He was extremely smart and capable, and as he got more and more experience he got tougher and tougher. This was the early 70s, so the model for 'vampire' was Christopher Lee in Hammer films. No deep folklore shit. Well, after a time, nobody could touch Sir Fang. Yes, that was his name."

The Vampire Lord, Sir Fang, that Mornard refers to here was actually David Fant's character, who used to be the Baron of Blackmoor. How Baron Fant was turned into a Vampire is a shrouded mystery. The Last Fantasy Campaign suggests that Ran may have been responsible for turning Blackmoor's Baron into an undead lord. My fellow Blackmoor scholar David Ross speculates that it must have happened in the year 998 when the heroes drew the forces of the Egg out of Blackmoor, reclaiming their city:

"Meanwhile, a strong fighter becomes the vampire Sir Fang. This is also the last mention of Fant as a ruling Baron of Blackmoor. Great Vampire Hunt in which Fant is “killed”, but later two dwarves free him and join his undead legion."(-Blackmoor Gazetteer)
Lord Fang was also recruited the Baron's ally, Sir Jenkins, Lord of Glendover, to the ranks of the undead. The appearance of a Vampire lord and an undead legion on the side of evil threatened the balance of the campaign. Mike Mornard recalls how the Cleric class was designed to reestablish this balanace:

"To fix the threatened end of the game they came up with a character that was, at first, a 'vampire hunter'. Peter Cushing in the same films. As the rough specs were drawn up, comments about the need for healing and for curing disease came up. Ta da, the "priest" was born. Changed later to 'cleric'. The bit about edged weapons was from Gary's reading the old stories about Archbishop Turpin, who wielded a mace because he didn't want to shed blood ("who lives by the sword dies by the sword")."

Grognaria also suggest Peter Cushing's role of Dr. Van Helsing as an inspiration for the Cleric class. Since Mike Carr was the first to play this class, it would make sense to assume that his character conformed to the ideas they all had of the class at the time.

Besides battling the Vampire Lord, Mike Carr recalls what was probably the most dramatic adventures of Bishop Carr. It featured one of Blackmoor's most dangerous monsters:

"One of my recollections is one rather disastrous encounter with a balrog where our party had to beat a hasty retreat because we couldn't defeat that particular monster."
Could this have been the battle recounted by Greg Svenson as the Great Svenny's First Dungeon Adventure? It would not be the only time the heroes of Blackmoor were faced with Demons.

Bishop Carr is described in a humorous way in the First Fantasy Campaign, a description which still makes me chuckle today. Dave Arneson's accounts of the Bishop suggests Arneson's fond memories of playing with Carr. While the character was still of very low level when Carr played in the campaign, Arneson promoted him to Bishop of Blackmoor. In DA1, Garamond Bolitho is the Bishop of Blackmoor. Garamond may have succeeded Bishop Carr since DA1 is set 30 years after the First Fantasy Campaign, or they may be one and the same character. David Ross points to both Clerics' friendliness towards the "pagan" elves as a possible indication that they may be the same, but also offers the years 1002-1005 as the period when Bolitho may have replaced Carr as the preceeding Bishop over Blackmoor.

In this series of character profiles, I have earlier described legendary Blackmoor heroes such as the Great Svenny, the Wizard of the Woods and villains like Moorkok the Slayer, Captain Krey and Stephen the Rock

Image Sources:


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fritz Leiber's Blackmoor

Over at the Comeback Inn, my friend Rafael started an interesting discussion about which literary works may have influenced Blackmoor. Dave Arneson himself commented on this in a 2004 interview:

"As far as books go, fantasy books, science fiction/fantasy books that inspired me, we’re talking about Poul Anderson, Robert Heinlein, and a lot of the other authors, like the author of the Horse Clans series. (Robert Adams) Gary [Gygax] Seems to have listed every book he’s ever read in his bibliography, and I’ll be blunt, I don’t think I’ve read a lot of those books. Although, after having read a few thousand books, I really can’t remember which ones I’ve read anymore… So a lot of it is, Yes, I was inspired by…; but where does the inspiration stop and the game design begin? I mean, you’ve got to make changes. You’ve got to do variations. You can be influenced by something you read and don’t even remember reading, because you want to include “oh here is something neat I can incorporate into my world."

 Fritz Leiber, creator of Fafhrd, the Gray Mouser and Lankhmar, is one of the authors Gygax often credited as an author who influenced him, but did Leiber have any influence on Arneson's game? I had seen no indication of this until I noticed this:

The Sinking Lands and Frogton both have their Blackmoorian equivalents. Furthermore, given their position in the landscape, could the Blackmoorian City of Maus be inspired by Leiber's Lankhmar? Maus could even be a reference to the Grey Mouser. The City of Maus is not unlike Leiber's city. Both are wealthy, corrupt and dominated by thieves guilds. Where Leiber's famous charaters dominate his city, Arneson's version is home to Debelfry, the rogue originally played by Scott Belfry

While we may never get any confirmation to these speculations, it seems like it would be a good idea to use the AD&D and (Mongoose) RuneQuest Lankhmar gaming source books to flesh out a game in Maus. Between that material and Harley Stroh's short story "A Night in Maus", you should have a pretty good idea of what the city's atmosphere is like.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Numeria: Pathfinder's Blackmoor

Pathfinder is doing really well these days. I am no expert on this game or its setting, Golarion, but as with everything from Paizo, the books look great. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Golarion nation of Numeria, which seems to have alot in common with Blackmoor. I asked about this in a discussion over at the Piazza and it was pointed out to me that Golarion pays a great deal of homage to Greyhawk. Since Greyhawk has a Blackmoor, then Golarion should have one too.

A German D&D forum describes Numeria as a cross between Blackmoor and Expedition to Barrier Peaks. The most significant similarity is that during a cataclysmic event known as the Rain of Stars,

"a metal mountain fell from the sky and lit up the plains of Numeria, modern scholars believe it to be a vessel of some sort but that night it was a raging fireball."

This vessel from the stars, is apparently the source of the technological wonders which is an overarching theme to this nation. Furthermore, the capital of Starfall, shares many traits with Blackmoor's Starport and the Duchy of the Peaks in general. Numeria's ruler, the Black Sovereign, seems like a cross between the Iron Duke of Thonia and the Egg of Coot. The Black Sovereign is supported by technology oriented wizards and mechanical constructs. The people living outside the cities of Numeria are described in a way that reminds me of Peshwah. It is great to see that Dave Arneson's ideas were so strong that they keep showing up in new games and settings.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

[Download] Dragon Age Mystara

Last year, Green Ronin launched the tabletop RPG version of Bioware's Dragon Age. One of the things that got me interested in the tabletop version was that its not yet another D20 variant, but a whole new system using a 3d6 mechanic. The fact that it is designed by Chris Pramas is also a plus.

Siroh, over at the Piazza has written a fantastic adaptation of Dragon Age for the Mystara setting, presented in a beautiful pdf which you can download for free here. Check it out!


Monday, January 10, 2011

Castle Blackmoor Project

Castle Blackmoor, site of the first RPG Dungeon in history. But the Castle is more than just the dungeon. What adventures can be found above ground level? Aldarron has started a project to flesh out the rooms of the Castle itself over at Dragonsfoot.You can participate by clicking on this link.

I was a little disappointed when the actual Castle was left out of the Dungeons of Castle Blackmoor Sourcebook. Maybe this project can help fill in the missing details?


Sunday, January 9, 2011

We are 100!

Yes my friends! 100 people are now following this blog. It has certainly come a long way since I first set it up in October 2009. In fact the number of followers is doubled in one year. It's great seeing that there are so many of us interested in Blackmoor and Arnesonian gaming. A perfect way of starting the new year. :)

Fight On!


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Races of Blackmoor Update

One of the first things I look at when I pick up a new campaign setting are the races. Usually the selection of races presented in a Campaign Setting book will give you some impression of the kind of setting you are dealing with. Since I started this blog, I have touched on many of the different races of Blackmoor in my blog entries.

Inspired by a comment from Rich in the last entry, I thought it might be interesting to give an overview of how this topic has been dealt with so far.

Federation Humans


Other races
 That's it so far, but I am working on other races as well, as Blackmoor is home to a wide range of creatures. Maybe one day I will even produce a source book collecting all of these and more?

Image Source: Ylla Fairy


Monday, January 3, 2011

Summarizing Blackmoor 2010

With Dave Arneson's passing the year before, things did not look good for Blackmoor as we entered 2010. The year began with Wizards of the Coast, not renewing their lisence with Zeitgeist Games, making the chances of seeing any official Blackmoor product in print in any forseeable future unlikely.

In spite of this, fandom were intent to carry the flame on. The readers of this blog one year ago, numbered 50. Now we are 99! Last february we launched the new Blackmoor Fan Forum; the Comeback Inn. I renamed my website, now called the Blackmoor Archives, to reflect its more defined role, with the forum and blog complementing eachother.

In March and April, I was happy to report, several gaming events dedicated to the memory of Dave Arneson and Blackmoor. On March 27th, the second Dave Arneson memorial game day was celebrated in New York City. On April 10, The second annual David L. Arneson Memorial Maritime Mayhem Miniatures Event was held at The Source Comics. I hope these events will return this year and go on for many years to come. 2010 was also the year when the Arnesonian RPG, Dragons at Dawn was published. In October, Full Sail University honored their former colleague. Last year, a new season of the legendary Blackmoor Play by Post game, the Last Fantasy Campaign was launched at the Comeback Inn with players including former Blackmoor players, former ZGG affiliates and die-hard fans.

The Original Blackmoor Players have also been kind to share their memories of gaming with Dave Arneson. Greg Svenson is a founding member of the Comeback Inn Forum and continues to contribute there. Stephen Rocheford told us about the first D&D archvillain. Bob Meyer told me about his Blackmoor memorial Game.  David Wesely ran Braunstein and gave  a podcast Interview. Thanks to Jeff Berry, we also learned about Deborah Naffziger who played Toska Rusa. Mike Carr also spoke about his memories of playing the first D&D Cleric in history in Arneson's Game. I am also in contact with other players who continue to be supportive of our work. More to be revealed on this later!

Finally, a big thank you to everyone who have been following this blog and responding to my forum posts at the Comeback Inn and the Piazza. You are the reason why I am doing this.

Those are but a few memories of 2010, all in all a great year in Blackmoor's history. All of these events make me optimistic about 2011. Let's make it even better than 2010!


Melissakainen is running Castle Blackmoor for 10$

  Melissakainen is running an online Castle Blackmoor oneshot game. She will be using the OD&D rules. The event costs 10$ for those inte...