Friday, May 15, 2020

[Artifacts] Dave Arneson's Tome of Chaos

Note: This article was updated on May 16th to correct mistakes and add information provided by Dan Boggs and Jon Peterson. 

The Tome of Chaos

This dark artifact from the original Blackmoor setting is drawn from an adventure that Dave Arneson ran at different conventions in the 1970s. The book's cover is made from human skin and is adorned by a skull. Opening the book without speaking the proper rituals will release all kinds of evil undead spirits to destroy anyone in sight. The quest was simple. Venture into the dungeon below Castle Blackmoor and recover the book. The forces of darkness could not be permitted to have such a book in their posession. Deep within the dungeon there is a library filled with ancient tomes and scrolls. The Tome of Chaos was found on a pedistal at the center of the room. But why was the temptation to open the book so strong?

This artifact is not mentioned in any published material from Dave Arneson, but recently two separate accounts of Dave Arneson using this adventure for conventions has been discovered. The earliest account is from a convention in San Jose, California in 1976 where Dave Arneson and various other TSR personalities as accounted by in this youtube video by Jim Murphy. From Jon Peterson we learn that the same adventure involving the book was also used by Dave Arneson at Origins Game Fair at Staten Island New York in 1977. Arneson had quit TSR and TSR were boycotting Origins. 

Although the concept of an evil book is something that goes back in history, it is interesting that the Book of Vile Darkness appeared in D&D Supplement I: Greyhawk which came out in 1975, the the year before Dave used this adventure in San Jose. However, the effects of the Book of Vile Darkness are quite different from those of the Tome of Chaos so the two might be completely unrelated items. Or it is also possible that the book from Dave Arneson's campaign, which I have dubbed the Tome of Chaos was created much earlier by Arneson when he was developing the Blackmoor Dungeon. Over at the Comeback Inn, Blackmoor fans have been speculating to where in the dungeon this secret library might have been located. Right now, evidence points towards the library being found on Dungeon Level 5 even though this is not specified in either of the two published versions of the dungeon. If we learn more about the library's location or more details on the properties of the Tome of Chaos, I will make sure to share it!

Further discussion of this article here

Artifacts: Artifacts is a new series of articles where I write about powerful magical items and relics of the Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Campaign Setting which have appeared in any published version of the setting or in Dave Arneson's original campaign. Stay tuned for more! 

About the illustration: The hand crafted book depicted apparently exists in real life and was sold at the etsy website. Would be sweet to own one of these!


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Greg Svenson's Lost Dungeon of Tonisborg: What Can The Maps Tell Us?

The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg is an adventure with a history going back to the Blackmoor Campaign of the 1970s. It was created by Greg Svenson, player in Dave Arneson's campaign back in 1973/1974. Greg placed the adventure in Blackmoor and the city also appeared in Dave's campaign, although when the First Fantasy Campaign was published in 1977, Dave changed the name of the city to Vestfold, which was kept in later publications of Blackmoor. The origins of Vestfold and Tonisborg are discussed in more detail in this article.

Greg's Dungeon Maps were thought lost forever untill a copy was rediscovered by another member of Dave Arneson's group, David Megarry, the designer of Dungeon! More details about the dungeon and its rediscovery can be read at Dan Bogg's blog here. A rewamped version of the dungeon is currently in the works to be published as a special stretch goal for the Secrets of Blackmoor Kickstarter. Recently many backers of the Kickstarter have joined the Comeback Inn Forum as the Secrets of Blackmoor creators have promised to share more details with Kickstarter backers there.

Recently, the Secrets of Blackmoor Facebook page shared Megarry's copies of the original dungeon maps for Dungeon Level 1 and Dungeon Level 3 of the Tonisborg Dungeon. It is interesting to see that this map shares certain features with Dave Arneson's dungeon maps that are less common in dungeon maps from later decades. We see the characteristic diagonal corridors, non-standard rooms and long corridors that seem to lead to no rooms.

David Megarry offered the following suggestion to why Dave Arneson may have used diagonal corridors in his dungeons

"My hunch is that it is a consequence of Arneson drawing the roads and streams for table top battlefield maps for the Napoleonic Campaign. Outside of urban areas, roads and streams go any which way; it is only in cities and towns you end up with grid systems (though some older east coast towns road designs may have been drawn by drunken city planners, who knows?;) He did use graph paper to draw his maps but was not bound by those grid lines. If you look at the original Blackmoor town map, you can see that a tunnel from the town to Elf home or the Freehold would follow a diagonal line.

This theory certainly makes sense, and I do agree that Dave Arneson was probably thinking in terms of what was going on above ground much more than what later dungeon mappers would have been. From the FFC we know that his maps point towards where certain corridors would connect to other dungeons (like the Glendower dungeon connecting to the Blackmoor Dungeon) and other parts of Blackmoor.

Interestingly, this might also tell us how the designers of such maps (in this case Greg) imagined the surface world above the dungeon might have appeared. Upon Greg's suggestion, I placed Tonnisborg on the small island outside of Vestfold. Do I need to revise my city plan map now? :)


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

New Blackmoor Livestreamed Campaign From Blackmoor Author Tad Kilgore and MMRPG Alumni

Live Streamed Dungeons & Dragons gaming is incredibly popular these days, so it is great seeing a live streamed game set in the first D&D campaign setting, Dave Arneson's Blackmoor.

This campaign is hosted by Tad Kilgore who has a long history with the setting. He was campaign organized for the Blackmoor MMRPG and was the author of the Riders of Hak Sourcebook for the Blackmoor d20 line. The players in this campaign are also people with a history of writing for the Blackmoor MMRPG campaign as well as being long time friends of Tad.

The players include:
  • Phil Slama, former head of Terror Inc. and MMRPG author. Phil has also released several 5E adventures which are available for free at The Comeback Inn.
  • Jenn Barth, former MMRPG author
  • Mathew Tearle, former MMPRG author and member of Terror Inc.
  • Jimmy, a newcomer to Blackmoor. Which is also awesome! 

This campaign uses the D&D 5th Edition Rules and is centered around the Dungeons of Castle Blackmoor and starts out at The Comeback Inn. It is going to be extremely interesting to follow these adventures!

The Campaign is livestreamed in Twitch and is also available on YouTube. You can also follow the campaign on Facebook via Kilgore's Lair page and the Blackmoor Fans Facebook Group.


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