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

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  1. Fantastic post, Havard! Keep that research flowing! :D

  2. Excellent summary. Doesn't seem likely that Carr's Balrog encounter is the same one recounted by Svenny as that is far too early for the Cleric. Balrogs were pretty common in early Blackmoor.

    Garamond Bolitho may have been a David Ritchie invention, or some later character in Arnesons' campaign. Otherwise doesn't make much sense why Arneson would have replaced Carr.

  3. @Nico, Fin & Akrasia: Thanks guys! :)

    @DHBoggs: Thank you! I agree that Garamond was probably Ritchie's invention. He probably wanted to avoid using too many real world names for the characters, and with the 30 years passing between the FFC and DA1, it doesnt seem unlikely that the Bishop had retired or died of old age. The Wizard of the Woods gets a similar treatment, with Sildonis taking over that post.

  4. Havard, as I recall Mike got it wrong when he said "Bishop Turpin". He corrected himself in a thread over on RPGNet in that "Odo of Bayeux" was actually the source.

  5. Hi Matthew, thanks for taking time to comment on this! :) I assume you are talking about this thread from where Mike Mornard was talking about the origins of the Mace as the Cleric's favored weapon. Although the Bishop mentioned seems to be Odo of Deuil?

  6. Yeah, if you read a bit further you will see me correcting myself in that thread! Odo of Deuil was of course the author of an account of the second crusade, and I had him on the brain when I asked Mike about it. We were both talking about Odo of Bayeux, which is to say the half-brother of William the Conqueror.

  7. Aha, now I see! Thanks again Matthew! :)

  8. I ran into Mike Carr at Gary Con in March 2013 and attempted to verify the "Origin of the Cleric" story. He said he wasn't around for the creation of the class. I actually heard the story from William Crolley, another of Dave's original players. Mike Carr did say that the origin story sounded entirely plausible, however.

  9. Thanks for looking into this Gronan! I am not familiar with William Crolley, but sounds like something worth finding out more about! :)


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