Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why Blackmoor ended up in Mystara

Mystara is a setting that grew out of the merging of various components such as the Known World, the Hollow World and Blackmoor. What these components had in common was that they were all linked to the Classic D&D rules instead of AD&D. But there was already a Blackmoor in the AD&D Greyhawk line. Why would TSR want to present another Blackmoor? In 2012 Frank Mentzer revealed the following:

"[...] We all remember the tussle between Gary and Dave :cry: and its effect on certain developments in the game, editions, etc. Once that was settled* (which was in the early '80s, during my time there), we discussed options. 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.

Once the executive decision for placement was made, tho, it was handled by others; I was too busy to do modules (except some RPGA tourneys on the side) or Gazetteers. Given the importance and nature of Blackmoor -- the first fantasy campaign, to some -- it got its own line, instead of being a 'mere' gazetteer.

* In actuality iirc 'settlements' were reached at 3 separate times -- late '70s, early '80s, and then later '80s with the PoG, post-Gary -- before Dave was finally happy with the whole shebang.

Time for my usual caveat, which I haven't offered for a while. All of these and other reminiscences are, and ever shall be, 'If I recall correctly', and I may be in error on various technical points, precise dates, and such.[...]

Apparently, Blackmoor's return was the result of Gary Gygax approaching Arneson. In spite of their differences, Gary must have realized the significance of Blackmoor and also likely believed it could have commerical value. The result were the DA modules.

The DA modules and later also the Gazetteers suggested that Blackmoor existed thousands of years ago. They were vague on its exact location, but seemed to suggest that it was located in the same region as the Known World would later appear. This was problematic from the beginning as locations didnt match up and was made further complicated when the Golden Khan of Ethengar suggested that the Steppes of Ethengar were the North Pole during the Blackmoor Era. Then the Hollow World Boxed Set came out and placed Blackmoor on Skothar, another continent. At the Piazza today, Bruce Heard explains why some of these decisions were made:

"I had to move it out of the Known World because of design contradictions and, basically, no good place to put it. It was relegated to Skothar which was essentially a blank area. Blackmoor was interesting but really not well integrated with Mystara. Management and marketing wanted to have Dave Arneson's material attached to Mystara because or their common connection to Basic and Expert rules, and so the non-negotiable "request" came down to accommodate Blackmoor. The whole thing was well-intentioned but terribly awkward. It should have been designed from day-one to fit Mystara and not pretty much slapped onto it."
Of course, us fans have been taking care of that last part. :)


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gaz3 The Principalities of Glantri: Behind the Scenes

One of my highlights in gaming this month has been Bruce Heard's return to the Mystara community on the Piazza. For those who don't know it, Heard was product manager for the Classic D&D line (ie not AD&D) during the 1980s and also wrote several key products for the Mystara setting as well as authoring the Voyage of the Princess Ark, a long running series in Dragon Magazine supporting the setting/system.

As part of a Q&A session on the Facebook Group "Mystara Reborn" (are you a member yet?), Bruce Heard was telling us about how Gaz 3 the Prinicpalities of Glantri came to be. This has just been reposted at Bruce's Blog.

Personally I find it interesting how there was no real formula for what a gazetteer could contain. While many of them included a section on General Skills, Gaz3 dodged this section and instead provides so much excellent crunchy content on rules on magic (yet not a single boring new spell!) combined with rich setting atmosphere and possibly the most fascinating NPC gallery in RPG history. It is funny compared to how today's discussion about Crunch vs. Fluff was completely ignored in the Gazetteer series and the decision was simply made to have high quality bits of both.

More discussion on this topic may be found here.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thorn's Blackmoor: The Source of Woe and Ruin

In this months guest entry for my blog RobJN takes a look at the darker side of magic in Thorn's Blackmoor:

The North was rich with magic, the lands and people saturated in it. Fickle, temperamental, the magic refused all attempts to tame it. At best, it could be said that some few men wrestled the forces into something of a stalemate: Robert the Bald; the Wizards of the Wood, Pete and then Sildonis. It is said that Jallapierie simply asked the magic nicely if it would cooperate.
In the frozen wastes even further north, the beast men saw the magic used by men and coveted it, yet their own chaotic nature would not allow them to master it.
And beyond the north, beyond the world itself, others saw the same magic, and craved it just as did the beast men. On some fateful, starless night, the two desires crossed somewhere in the misty realms of the Ethereal plane, where Dreams and Nightmares walk, and in the Dreaming was forged a pact: The beast men would have their power, in exchange for bodies, physical vessels for the churning, formless hordes of the Dark Beyond.
And in the dark of the next new moon, the beast man shamans gathered, and made their sacrifices: blood and the dying breath of of men of the North, flakes of the black rock on which their Castle would one day be built, water from the lake called Hope, fire, from the wooded home of the fey along the lake’s shore.
Thus were brought into the world the beings that would come to be known as demons: parasites, drawing on the lifeblood of a host, and the magic inherent in the land. When the parasite grew strong enough, it changed the very form of its host, taking it over completely. Some say the beings drove their hosts to insanity. Others insist that what men call ‘insanity’ is the normal thinking of demonkind. 
To the men of the North, it was only one thing: Evil. The magic men used to build, demons only used to destroy. Magics men would use to heal and to help were turned against them. Where men would make light in the darkness, demons made only deeper darkness, their flames bringing blindness and devastation.
It would be nearly a thousand years before demons grew weary of the chaotic blood of the beast men and leapt to feast upon a new host, the savage mountain tribes under the thumb of an ambitious priestess…

Rob’s blog and website chronicles a bit of a darker take on the Mystara presented in the D&D Gazetteers. Thorn's Chronicle is posted semi-regularly on the Mystara board of The Piazza.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Empire of the Petal Throne Original Manuscript now available

(A later Tékumel cover)

Since there was alot of contact between Dave Arneson's Blackmoor group and Professor Barker's Tekumel group, I have been following Tekumel activity lately. The following was just posted on the Tekumel mailing list:

The original manuscript for Empire of the Petal Throne is now available
from DriveThru/RPG
Now <>
.  Known as the "green cover" or "mimeo" version, it was produced in the
Spring of 1974 in *a limited and confidential run of fifty copies* for the
world of Tékumel, the creation of Professor M.A.R. Barker.*This is the
first time this original manuscript has been published or made available to
the general public.*  The PDF product now available for purchase was
prepared from a copy taken directly from Prof. Barker’s archive, and is
presented with each facing page containing the text of the original

This version is a precursor to the game published shortly later by TSR,
Inc. and contains a number of significant differences.  However, it is in
many ways is substantively similar to the later TSR publication, and is
being produced more as a historical document than as a different product.
Print-on-demand versions are in development and expected to be available by
mid-March. "Tékumel" is a trademark of M.A.R. Barker; for more information
about Tékumel, visit

Victor Raymond
Tékumel Foundation


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mystara Returns to 4E

Well not really. There have been several Mystara teasers inserted into D&D 4E books. Now WotC makes use of another iconic Mystara location in their new Lair Assault Program. I don't really know what Lair Assault is all about, but apparently it is a kind of adventure to be played in stores, similar to their Encounters series. Encounters used the Keep on the Borderlands and in March, Lair Assault will be using the Isle of Dread. Ofcourse current policy at WotC is to disassociate various D&D locations from their respective settings, but you know what? There is nothing stopping us from associating them right back where they belong! :)


Friday, February 10, 2012

Greyhawk's Blackmoor (Again)

Some may be frustrated that Blackmoor appears so differently in the versions presented by Arneson from what is seen in Greyhawk or Mystara material and elsewhere. On the other hand you could also see this as three or four different sources to steal ideas from for your Blackmoor campaign! My interest in Greyhawk's Blackmoor has been sparked again by various blog posts such as Mortellan's interview with map maker Rob Lazaretti. I went ahead and dug up an old discussion at the Comeback Inn on Fred Weining's take on Blackmoor which has become very influential on how Blackmoor has been presented in Greyhawk material over the last decades.

The little differences are as intriguing as the countless similarities between the different versions. Ramshead has become Ramsgate. The Peshwah have become the Wolf and Tiger Nomads. The Afridhi have been replaced by Iuz. The Duchy of Ten is now the Duchy of Tehn and has been placed in a very different place compared to where Arenson assumed it was. Ripvanwormer made some excellent suggestions on how to compare the different settings in this discussion we had ages ago.

My basic understanding based on most of this so far:

Peshwah=Wolf/Tiger Nomads
Duchy of Ten = Duchy of Tehn
Afridhi = Iuz
Temple of the Frog = Wastri
Maus = Mosshold
Glendover = Glendour
Dantredun = Vestfold (Or could that be Gloomy?)
Tonnsborg = Vestfold?
Ramsgate = Ramshold Castle
Dismal Swamp/Gloomy = Gloomfens
Thonia = Great Kindom of Aerdy
The Forest that the Flying Monk burnt down = Burneal Forest (where else could that name come from?)
Bramwald = Bromsage Abbey
The Egg of Coot = The Egg of Coot
Starmorgan = Nevond Nevnend
? = Frost Citadel (AFAIK this is Wolfgang Baur's addition)
?= Kolbenborg (AFAIK this is Wolfgang Baur's addition)
?= Stornawane
?= Trollbar
? = Dearthkettle Keep

While it would be easy to get lost in discussions about what is the right or true Blackmoor, what ultimately matters is what is fun in your campaign and mine, isnt it? :)


Monday, February 6, 2012

Megarry and Carr at Gary Con VI

I just learned from Paul Stromberg that two Original Blackmoor Players will be at Gary Con next month (March 22-25). Dave Megarry will be refreeing his board game Dungeon! and Mike Carr will be refreeing Dawn Patrol and Don't Give Up the Ship.

Other people who will be at the Convention include Frank Mentzer, Tim Kask, Jim Ward, Skip Williams, Tom Wham, Chris Clark, Harley Stroh, Ernie Gygax and quite a few other people that I would love to meet! Sadly I am stuck in Viking-land. If you go, make sure you send me reports and pictures!

More on this topic here.


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...