Monday, February 25, 2019

Will WotC's Next Book "Ghosts of Saltmarsh" Be a Missed Opportunity to Pay Homage to Dave Arneson, Master of Naval D&D Adventures?

WotC's next release for Dungeons & Dragons now has a cover and a title. Ghosts of Saltmarsh will feature all kinds of nautical and underwater adventures. While based on the U series, it now looks like Greyhawk references in the book will be limited. It also seems like there will be some Mystara material included in the book. Read more about all of this in this thread at The Piazza.

Now there have been many great nautical and undersea adventures in the history of D&D, but there can be no doubt that a pioneer in both these areas of D&D gaming was Dave Arneson. Dave was of course a huge fan of nautical war games. He even co-designed a Napoleonic era naval wargame with Gary Gygax, Don't Give Up The Ship in 1972. Naval adventures played a big part in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign. The First Fantasy Campaign (1977) references several naval battles, including a battle between ships and sea monsters ("Sea monsters won") and the attack on the Black Castle of the Orcs from a ship sailing along the river. Although Dave was not credited for DA4, it seems likely that the adventure across the Black Sea of Blackmoor in that adventure, where the heroes travel on board "The Blossom" under the command of Captain Castagere, must be a reference to Dave's style of gaming. Several Blackmoor adventures also took place on the waterways of the Dismal Swamp, including the epic adventures of Robert the Bald and Captain Krey, where Greg Svenson took on DMing duties for Dave Arneson.

Sahuagin, from Supplement II: Blackmoor

Underwater Adventures are also an important feature of Dave Arneson's adventures. Supplement II: Blackmoor (1975) included an entire section dedicated to Underwater Adventures and the supplement introduced many races and monsters that would later becoming iconic underwater D&D creatures. It is not surprised that the D20 Blackmoor line dedicated so much material to the Sahuagin-like race of the Sar-Aigu which tied to the origins of the Dungeons of Castle Blackmoor itself.

WotC's return to aquatic adventures presents them with a chance to pay some kind of homage to Dave Arneson, the master of Naval D&D adventures. Will they seize this opportunity?

More discussion of this article:



  1. At the risk of making a bad (if theme-appropriate) reply... I wouldn't hold my breath.

  2. At the risk of making a bad joke.... I wouldn't hold my breath.

  3. I would say you have a DRY sense of humor? ;)

  4. WotC, like TSR before them, is in the business of burying Dave’s legacy. I don’t know why. But it would be really strange if they consulted anything he did before making this product.

    1. I think there are a couple of reasons for this:
      1) Bringing up Dave Arneson brings up some negative sounding stories from the past. Negativity is always bad PR.
      2) WotC is very interested in keeping good relations with the Gygax family. They might be worried that something about Dave could offend them. This worry might even be baseless for all I know.

      Its a shame for those of us who are interested in historical accuracy rather than a good PR spin.

  5. While I understand the sahuagin (an Arneson creation) were a large part of the original Saltmarsh trilogy, I don't usually associate Arneson or Blackmoor with the "U" modules. But it's been a loooong time since I've owned/read those adventures.

    What kind of homage would you like/expect/hope to see?

    1. From what I understand, Ghosts of Saltmarsh (The new book) is not just an updated version of the U modules. It is also supposed to be a starting point for all kinds of nautical and aquatic adventures. I'd love to see some easter eggs to Arneson stuff and maybe a mention or two in the foreword. Perhaps a recognition of the first D&D adventure ever being set in a swamp? :)


Game Designer Jamie Chambers' Meeting with Dave Arneson

Jamie Chambers with Felicia Day (left)  Game Designer Jamie Chambers is perhaps best known for creating the Cortex RPG system for Margaret W...