Thoughts on the Cinematic inspiration for Blackmoor Castle.

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , , ,

Here is me having a little fun - don't take any of this as gospel, but rather as a speculative investigation.  I'm about to spin a "Just So" story that sounds good, but should only be seen as a possibility.

Arneson told his own story of the birth of his Blackmoor castle, dungeon, and it's immediate surroundings a hundred times.  Always this story involved the same 3 elements: popcorn, horror movies, and Conan.  Here is one early example:

"Some months after Mr. Wesley left, a local TV station had on several old monster movies, which I watched while eating popcorn and reading old Conan novels. It was then that Blackmoor
Dungeon was first conceived."  Wargaming #4 1978, p47

It's a fun story, but hard to pin down.  When asked about the dating of Blackmoor, Arneson almost always offered up 1971 as the year it started.  Here is one more example, this time with a slightly more specific date:

"I was sitting around... with nothing going on except the monster movie,... reading Conan and conceived of the idea for the dungeon. I populated it and the next time the boys showed up for a battle, they had a castle sitting in the middle of the board. That was the spring of 1971."  Game News #5, July 1985. p9

Sometimes he leaves us other little dating clues which might even be more reliable, for example:

"After Don't Give up the Ship I started in on Blackmoor" Knights of the Dinner Table #34, 1994.

Dave Arneson's version of DGutS was finished in the spring of 1971 and published in the IFW Summer of 71.

Here's another general clue:

"We were doing a historical campaign in Holland so my map ended up with a lot of water." Kobold Quaterly 9, Spring 2009 p31.

In Vol. 3 #5 of the Corner of the Table newsletter (the May 1971 issue), we read: 

"From June 11 to June 21, 1971 there will be a series of Napoleonic battles involving the Dutch for the spring of 1802 of the Napoleonic War Simulation.  The exact time and place have not been determined but contact Dave Megarry if you are interested in taking part as a Dutch or a non Dutch sub commander."  

Interestingly, this is the same COTT which, in the previous paragraph, announces "On Saturday May 22, 1971 a Brown Stein-type game set in the Middle ages will be held at Dave Arneson's home after the Napoleonic Campaign meeting is completed.  All those attending the Napoleonic meeting are invited to stay for this game."  This is the same meeting where Dan Nicholoson received his "Spanish Royals" character sheet I 'blogged about previously.

There's more circumstantial evidence for this general time too, coming in the form of Duane Jenkins Old West Brownstone campaign.  All the Twin Cities players - including Arneson - who mention Jenkins Brownstone, point to it being just prior to Blackmoor, and pioneering the novel idea of characters who survive and continue from game to game. 

In the same Vol 3 #5 of the Corner of the Table newsletter quoted above, Arneson relates the glorious and brief career of his "El Pauncho" character in Jenkins Brownstone.  El Pauncho's short life of banditry ran from late June to early August in the game's calendar - just over a month - before he was captured and Jailed by Sheriff Fant.  In real time, it is hard to say how many game sessions were involved - my guess would be anywhere from one to half a dozen, but probably not more.    In fairness, more adventures from El Pauncho were promised for the next COTT: "There will also be the continuing saga of El Pauncho and the start of the "Black Moors" battle reports..."  Presumably an escape was planned, but it isn't clear what this statement is really telling us about the state of these games.  Both of these promised reports could well be referring to things that may not have happened yet but are expected to, and will be reported on as they occur.  As it happened in fact, El Pauncho was never heard from again, but Black Moor certainly was. 

So it appears all these data points fit rather nicely and the signals from Arneson seem to direct us to the same general timeframe for the development of fantasy gaming in Blackmoor and the placement of the Castle/dungeon game - that timeframe being late spring of 1971.  However, there is one sort-of exception. One of the oldest references from Arneson is found in his First Fantasy Campaign publication where he said "The Dungeon was first established in the Winter and Spring of 1970-71."  If we presume he was being general and off-the-cuff, and that he meant "Sometime during" the Winter and Spring of 1970-71, then there really is no contradiction with a late spring date.  Hard to say.

Now here we run into a more significant problem.  Ross Maker, Dave Wesely, and Dan Nicholson have all said two things: First, they were introduced to Blackmoor in a scenario involving a Plane Crash in Iceland where they played versions of themselves, and second, that this game occurred after Arneson's trip to Europe in June/July of 1971.   

There are two ways around this problem.  The simplest is to just assume they are misremembering the timing.  It would be easy enough to be confused on whether you played the game just before or just after Arneson's European Vacation(TM).  

The other possibility is that we are simply looking at different participants in different games.  Dave Megarry says he was not at the May 22nd game.  He also says he was not at the Icelandic Plane Crash game, but that he was at Arneson's first Castle/Dungeon game, to which he arrived late. (Pers Comm 2017)

If Megarry is right, that would rule out the May 22nd date for Arneson's Castle/Dungeon game, but leave open the possibility that it was the date of the Icleandic Plane Crash scenario.  

So, in a couple places, I previously speculated that this May 22nd meeting is a good candidate for Arneson's Castle Dungeon game, one week after a weekend fueled with popcorn, Conan and monster movies.  However, as you can see, that would contradict Megarry, and seemingly be problematic in relation to the Icelandic Plane Crash scenario which appears to be earlier in character and timing.

In fact, if I may spin another Just-so story, placing the Icelandic Plane Crash game as the game played on May 22nd instead fits in a couple or three different ways.  

First, we could easily imagine Arneson being both a bit excited and a bit anxious about an upcoming flight to Europe.  

Second, Perhaps more interestingly, are the anecdotes about combat. The first reported "Black Moors" game isn't the May 22nd game, but an April 17th game with a troll at a troll bridge as found in the previous COTT Vol 3 #4.  This game seems to have had less participants, but Bob Meyer says he was one of them.  Bob Meyer's account of his encounter with the troll leaves little doubt about his disdain for the newly released CHAINMAIL combat system Arneson used for that session, which laid low Bob's hero with a single blow - the first to die in Blackmoor, according to Meyer.  Arneson had repeatedly indicated that the, um, lets say discontent, of the players at their characters easy demise is what led him to create his own combat system.

In David Wesely's account of the Icelandic Plane Crash scenario, he opined that combat consisted of only "arbitrary story telling" made up by the referee, and because they were playing themselves, "that they really can not die"  Wesely suggested that, like Fight in Skies, you take on a personality who gains experience and can be killed. (Pers Comm 2011).

Regardless of exactly when it was, the Icelandic Plane crash scenario seems most likely to fall sometime between the Troll Bridge game and the Castle Dungeon game.  If we accept that the Castle Dungeon game took place in "spring" 1971, and we accept that the Icelandic Plane crash is earlier, then it must also have been in the spring, prior to Arnesons trip.  If that sequence is correct and the Bob Meyer, David Wesely, and Dave Arnesons accounts are roughly accurate, we may be seeing an evolution in combat where Arneson begins with CHAINMAIL Fantasy, scraps that system because it is too deadly, tries (or resorts to) just arbitrary storytelling, scraps that because it is not deadly enough, and then comes up with a Hit Point based combat method. 

Like I said, it is a pretty good "Just So" story, but it does conflict with the report that the Icelandic Cave game came after Arneson's trip, so we will simply suggest that it may have been earlier, perhaps on May 22nd.

Let's consider Arnesons' European Vacation for a moment.  The exact dates for this trip have been elusive.  Generally it is said to be in June-July 1971.   No doubt you are wondering what difference it makes.   The main reason is that we (well I, anyway) generally haven't looked closely at what was going on in June because we assumed Arneson was overseas.  That includes the monster movies that were playing that month.  However, if he was home for most or all of June it means we can look for evidence that Arnesons castle/dungeon game took place in June, preferably on or before the end of Spring on June 21st, as we established above.

Arneson does have a few things to say about his plans for the trip in COTT Vol 3 #5 (May '71).  Right after the paragraph quoted above regading David Megarry's Dutch battles, Arneson writes:

"As the bulk of are officers are making trips to Europe about the middle of June, the time and place of the June Meeting will be difficult to arrange and there is a very good chance that it will be cancelled altoghether."

There is also this:
"The full rules committee will met June 12, 1971 at (fill in the blank) Hrs at (fill in the blank) Home.  Arneson wasn't on the rules committee, but as club Secretary and head referee of the Napoleonic campaign it seems somewhat unlikely he would fail to attend any of these meetings.

And Lastly this:
"The next issue of the paper will be prepared prior to my trip to Europe as well as they July issue so that if I do stay away from this nuthouse for two months there will still be a paper.  This is especially necessary since election results and ballots must be sent out to all the voting members."

My take-away from the above is that Arneson really had no idea exactly when his trip would be or exactly how long it would last when the May issue of COTT was prepared.

We (at least I) have been assuming that Arneson left on his European tour circa June 15 and returned a month or maybe 6 weeks later circa July 20ish.  Maybe that's about right, but maybe not.  Perhaps that information will come to light.  Meanwhile...

If Arneson's parents hadn't solidified their plans by April/May, it is not unreasonable to suppose they may have actually left a little later than "the middle of June".  The end of June or even early July seems at least as likely for their departure, if not more so.

There's tentative support for this idea coming from David Megarry.  I asked him about the Dutch campaign reported above.  He said:

"I seem to recall that very few people (if any) took Arneson up on the offer and I see myself and him being the only players. I think I attacked his forces but Arneson's more experience prevailed (though by 1971, I was getting better..;). I spent most of my time trying (and I think I was successful) to disengage from the battle. Arneson then Table T'd the campaign based on the outcome. Whether these memories were of the Dutch campaign or some other battles I am not sure. I would have just finished being a Junior at the University of Minnesota on those dates."

Arneson himself may have unknowingly provided us a corroborating clue both to his participation in the Dutch game with Megarry, and the creation of Blackmoor generally.  He said " We were doing a historical campaign in Holland so my map ended up with a lot of water." Arneson Kobold Quaterly 9, Spring 2009 p31.
He's talking here about the land map of Blackmoor, with all it's rivers, lakes and bays, as seen in the FFC.  

Nevertheless, and very importantly, this participation in a Dutch campaign (presumably Megarry's) appears to peg Arneson in the Twin Cites up to the 21st of June, working on Blackmoor material.

So, provisionally, lets presume that Arneson didn't go to Europe until no earlier than the last week of June.  Let's also presume that the monster/popcorn/Conan Saturday when Blackmoor dungeon was born was some Spring date after May 22nd as discussed above.  Lastly, let's presume that one of the movies Arneson watched that fateful weekend was inspirational in some way to the Castle and Dungeon mileu.

Before we cull through the candidate movies, lets consider what influences we might actually be looking for.  What are some of the outstanding characteristics of Blackmoor castle?  Here is a partial list:

The Castle:
Sits high atop a rocky hill
Overlooks the sea
Is creepy/haunted
Has at least one sealed/bricked up room
Has underground passages/tunnels with monsters
Has a passage leading to the cliffs above the sea
Has secret doors/hidden passages
Has a torture chamber
Has a laboratory/wizards workshop
Has a library
Lies next to a walled village
Has a graveyard positioned between the castle and village
Has secret tunnels that lead to various buildings in town and elsewhere

According to The Horror Incorporated Project(TM) website, these are the afternoon movies playing on channel 5 KSTP Minneapolis/Saint Paul:

Saturday May 29, 1971 - Werewolf of London (1935), The Black Room (1935)

Saturday June 5, 1971 - House of Frankenstein(1944), The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)

Saturday June 12, 1971 - House of Dracula (1945), The Man with Nine Lives

Saturday June 19, 1971 - The Raven (1935),  The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

Saturday June 26, 1971 - Murders In the Rue Morgue (1932), Behind the Mask (1932)

We can quickly dismiss most of these movies as no castle is involved.  We are left with three candidates:

Saturday May 29, 1971 - The Black Room (1935)

Saturday June 5, 1971 - House of Frankenstein (1944)

Saturday June 12, 1971 - House of Dracula (1945)

Taking each in turn:

The Black Room involves a castle in the Alps ruled by an evil baron with a good twin brother.  This movie has several interesting features:

There is castle, set high on the hill, near to a graveyard:

 There is also a village somewhere nearby:

Also, the castle does have a single secret passage leading to a bricked up room (the Black Room), and, like Blackmoor, the castle is ruled over by a baron.

These elements are intriguing, as is the fact that the villain of the movie chases and murders women, and Arneson's write up of "Facts about Blackmoor" in Domesday Book #5 1972 includes womenizing barons and numerous murders, however we are missing a number of other details. Especially notable is the absence of a dungeon, a sea, or any monsters.  

House of Frankenstein is a monster extravaganza.  It does briefly include a castle in ruins, where the body of Frankenstein lies frozen.   

Otherwise, there is nothing in House of Frankenstein suggestive of Blackmoor.

House of Dracula is the most intriguing of these three.  It has every single one of the points listed above, except for the last one.  Let's have a look.

There is a creepy haunted castle sitting on a craggy hill overlooking the sea:

It has secret passages leading to an underground dungeon maze populated with a werewolf and Frankenstien monster. The passages include tunnels to a seaside cave:

The castle also features a torture chamber and a mad scientist laboratory/workshop:

Outside, just like Blackmoor, there is a cemetery near to the castle, between it and the adjacent walled village.

As you can see, House of Dracula is strikingly similar in most of the basic and iconic details of Blackmoor, including monsters in a dungeon maze.  What are we to make of this?  It could of course all be coincidence, but it is an awfully big coincidence, considering the timing we talked about earlier, especially if one considers the possibility that Arneson had watched The Black Room merely two weeks prior to House of Dracula.  The shared elements of these movies might have increased their influence on Arneson's imagination.  

Now having said all that, I should point out that the reverse could actually be the case.  The June 12th airing of House of Dracula was actually the second time the film was shown by KSTP that year.  It had already aired 3 months earlier on March 6th.  Who knows.

What I would say, is that we have an alignment of data pointing to a spring 1971 date for the creation of Blackmoor dungeon and an intriguing cinematic hint suggesting that Blackmoor castle and dungeon may have been born on that June 12th Saturday when House of Dracula aired, or perhaps on May 29th when The Black Room aired, followed a week later with the famous castle/dungeon game set up on the ping pong table in Dave Arneson's basement.  

Dungeon in the Womb of Strategos

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , , ,

David Megarry's Dungeon! is fascinating on many levels.  We can trace the origin of this game with an exactness that is rare in game archaeology, to an early weekend in the month of October, 1972.

Dungeon!, or The Dungeons of Pasha Cada, as it was first officially named in early 1973, came about as an attempt to make a referee-less, family version of the Blackmoor game. As Dave Megarry put it, "Playing in Blackmoor is where I get my inspiration" (pers comm., Feb 2017).  

It is tempting to wonder then what rules and methods in Dungeon! were inspired by Blackmoor specifically, or perhaps Twin Cities play in general, including to what extent combat in Dungeon! may have been inspired by the use of Strategos, and CHAINMAIL(TM) in Blackmoor as experienced by Megarry..  

As it was with Blackmoor, CHAINMAIL certainly served as a primary source for Megarry when it came to adding to his list of monsters.  It is natural then to also look for CHAINMAIL influences in combat. 

In the 1975 printing of the Dungeon rules we are told "...the adventurer rolls two dice.  If the dice roll is equal to or greater than the number listed on the Monster Card, then the monster has been defeated...:  That's the same basic technique as used in the Fantasy Combat table in CM, and although rolling 2d6 verses a target number was common practice in gaming, we can say it was at least consistent with the CM method and perhaps derivitive.

However, what is interesting to me, as discussed in previous posts, is the notion in Dungeon! of non-equal combat methods, like we see in D&D but not in CHAINMAIL.  By that I mean, there is one table for players, and a different table for monsters.   Likewise, in Dungeon!, there are two concurrent systems.  The monsters simply die when you beat their "to hit" score, but something much different is done for players.  "If the dice roll is less than the number shown on the Monster card, then the monster has defeated the adventurer.  In such a case, the player must immediately roll 2 dice and refer to the Combat Losing Table"

That dichotomy is interesting in and of itself, but perhaps most intriguing is from where this table itself is drawn.

The reader may recall the discussion regarding the relevance of David Weselys' Strategos N (and family) to Twin Cities gaming in our delve into campaign level tabletop battles in Blackmoor.   Central to the play of Strategos, in any version, is combat resolution Table T,  Here is one example from Wesely (for ease of reading, I have used the one from Valley Forge(TM) - they are all much the same):

Arneson developed the naval rules for Don't Give up the Ship(TM), to work hand in hand with Wesely's Strategos N rules as reported in COTT v3(b) #4 published in 1971 - the year before Dungeon! Below is the DGutS "Melee Results" version of table T. 

For reference the morale levels are:


If you compare table T as given in these 2 examples, to the Combat Losing Table of Dungeon!, the results show a definite bond.

The table below shows this comparison directly.  The first column lists the die result table in Strategos, whereas the last column shows the die results table of Dungeon, while the inner columns compare the results.

Strategos N (Loser)
Dungeon! table
No effect
No effect
No effect
7, 11
Drops 1 morale, 3 turns
Loss of 1 area
Drops 2 morale, 3 turns
Loss of 1 area, drops 1 morale
Retreat 1 space, drop 1 prize
 Disorder, 1/4 out of action
Loss of 2 areas, drops 2 morale
Retreat 2 spaces, drop 1 Prize; lose 1 turn
Routed,  1/2 out of action
Loss of 3 areas, drops 3 morale*
Seriously Wounded, drop all prizes
3, 12
Loss of whole vessel,

*The 1971 self-published version of DGuts differs here with a loss of 4 areas and 2 morale steps.

The match aligns most closely with the DgutS version of Table T.  Notice in particular the matching results regarding the loss of an "area" and being force to retreat from a "space".  Whether it is seen as an advancing opponent or a retreating adventurer, the effect is the same.  Megarry was clearly adapting table T to dungeon, and moreover, it seems to be the DGutS table specifically, 

That's curious.  Megarry certainly could have used a DGutS version of Table T to base his Combat Losing Table off of, but that's an odd choice given that DGutS is a Naval game.   One wonders if Megarry was instead using a DGutS-like version of table T created or adapted by Arneson for use in Blackmoor.  If he got the table directly from Arneson, Megarry might not have known of the parallel to DGutS.  Here is what the man himself had to say:

I am a great fan of the Table T concept and would have had it in mind when I did the rules. .... FYI, I was not a naval fan and hardly dealt with Dguts at all....To answer the question, I am fairly sure I had Table T in mind but don't remember using it directly when I made the combat losing table."
Pers Comm Feb 18, 2018

For now, the close parallels between the DGutS table and the Combat Losing Table must remain a mystery.  What all this does illustrate, yet again, is just how deeply ingrained Strategos was to Twin Cities gaming.  We can't directly deduce anything from this regarding use of the Strategos in Blackmoor from these pairings.  We can't work backwards and say, "Because Megarry, therefore Arneson."  We do however need to acknowledge the likelihood of a strong Strategos influence in Arneson's gaming, manifesting in all sorts of ways, and we should keep the norms, mores, and formal rules of that system in mind as we sort through the historical data.

A Timeline From Braunstein to Blackmoor according to interviews of Major Wesely

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , ,

What follows is a timeline constructed from 3 interviews given by Major David Wesely.  To be clear, the following is only a series of notes from only these interviews.  I mean that it is not an attempt to correlate every time stamp ever provided by Major Wesely.  I have not been in any way thorough in tracking down all of Weselys interviews and statements, nor have I even included every single instance of dating information in the interviews listed here.  Rather, I have noted what seemed to me to be the key statements with dating information found in these particular interviews, and listed the information in chronological order to make a basic timeline according to what Major Wesely presents.  In other words, this is a practical rather than exhaustive examination.  There are, of course, minefields of potential error when attempting to cross list information from different interviews.  Nevertheless it is quite interesting to organize the Major's statements this way, and I did observe that in these three instances at least, the Major was consistent with the dates he remembers.  

However and again, these are notes based on one persons recollection.  Major Wesely's recollection may be perfectly accurate, partially accurate, or not at all accurate.  With that said, I felt the information was interesting enough and significant enough to warrant sharing and taking seriously.  Lastly, ellipses ... indicate places where I skipped over digressionary or redundant verbiage for the sake of clarity.

1958 "I got into wargaming in 1958... Avalon Hill Gettysburgh"
TFC59, 2:30

1964 "Our Wargaming group, which was very small in the 1964 timefame, by '65 this happened; we had maybe 5 of us playing wargames"
BC16, 5:50

April 1965* "...I was contacted by... this 55 year old guy who was trying to organize a group, and so 7 of us,... got together at his house... from April of '65 to '68"
TFC59, 12:50

1965* Dan Nicholson contacts Wesley from Strategos library card.
BC16, 9:00

1967 "Arneson and I traded off... We began to understand that there were a lot of psychological satisfactions to being the referee, putting together this clever scenario... We are doing that up through, well we're doing that a lot, when I go off to graduate school in 1967.  I graduated from Hamlin University, Bachelors degree, Spring '67, and Fall of '67 I go off to graduate school."
BC16, TC36:00

1967/8 (first Braunstein) "...By that point I had started in graduate school and I was just home on holidays... I went back to college and I had months before the next holiday and I thought about it and came back and had planned it all up... and it was a dud." (second Braunstein)
TFC59, 50:50

Fall 1968  "So I came back on Christmas of '68; came back home with months of thinking about this, and designed this game that's going to be run in a little town in Germany called Braunstein."
BC16, TC46:46

Spring Semester 1969 "The next time I came home, which would have been, you know, spring break, they came back and they said "When you gonna do another Braunstein?"  So the next time I put together a new revised version of Braunstien...  I did it with only 4 people... so I wouldn't have too many people to run, and it was worthless.... So I tinkered with it and at the next weekend I tried it again - that would be Braunstein 3 - and it was still a disaster.  Absolutely no fun for anybody, so I was just glad nobody else had seen that beyond the people I had just tried it on, and (I) went back to college."
BC16, TC54:05

Summer 1969 (June+) "And all the time I'm down in Kansas, from then until spring - June when I get to come back to Minnesota, I'm saying, why did it work the first time and not work the second time?...  and so I came back and set up a new scenario and this one was in Latin America."
BC16, TC55:05

Summer 1969 "And then, over the course of the summer of '69, Arneson and I, well first I and then Arneson, who had been after me to do it again, he would start refereeing the thing so I would get to play sometimes.  And we did that all the way through, and in the fall I went back to college.  And I came back on the usual vacations and we played Braunstein games then."
BC16, TC56:50

Spring 1969 - Oct 1970  (running Braunsteins with Arneson) "He and I were taking turns for about a year and a half"
MC369, TC 12:00

Fall 1969+
"Fall of '69, went through '69, '70 and on up into the summer of 1970, and in October of '70... It's time for me to go off to the Army.  And Arneson said to me, "Is it okay if I keep running these games if you're not here?"  And I said "Dave, it's set up in your father's basement.  Of course you can run it."...  I came back to the gaming community and I find people are playing this Blackmoor thing that Arneson has created.  Which, as he says in his Corner of the Tabletop magazine "a fantasy Braunstein set in the Black Moors."    
BC16, TC57:16

Fall 1970+ (following after Weseley leaves for service in October) "They continued to do Braunstien games, then Duane Jenkins introduced BrownStone, which is an Old West setting.." MC369, TC 13:00

1971 (early, following Xmass 1970)  "After I went off to the Army, Arnesons' running the Braunstien games...  I'd been, you know, home on leave at Christmas once during that time.  Then in the spring of '71 I'm still off in the army again, and Arneson and Jenkins had been doing all these games together.  Jenkins was one of the brighter guys... into joking alot...  He came up with a variant which was set in the old west."    
BC16, TC104:45

"(Jenkins) also made a very important step as well, in that, whereas I would run a Braunstien game and its' results were that evening, and the next time I ran that scenario you'd all be starting over again... Last time you were a tavern owner and this time you're the banker...  He came up with the very good idea of having what you did last week carry over into when you played again the next time...  So... El Pauncho was just some stray Mexican who had a few buddies who rode into town last time, but now there's wanted posters for him plastered all over town.  And that was good.  The other thing that he did was the notion that when Dave Arneson played El Pauncho in the last game, he kept on playing El Pauncho. And his character therefore carried on and on and on, the way you are used to seeing your player characters do in Dungeons and Dragons  Big big watershed."
BC16, TC107:43

1971 (apparently March or later) "about 2 months after (Jenkins' Brownstone), Dave Arneson comes out with Blackmoor..."
MC369, TC 15:00

Simplifying the above yields the following sequence

1958  Wesely begins wargaming
1964 Small Wargaming group
April 1965 group expands to 7
1965* Dan Nicholson joins - use of Strategos
1967 Arneson and Wesely referee
Spring 1967  Wesely graduates from Hamlin University
Fall of '67 Wesely at graduate school.
Christmas of 1968 First Braunstein
Spring Break 1969 Braunstein 2 and 3
June/summer 1969 ) Bannana republic Braunstein
Summer 1969 Arneson and Wesely run Braunstein games  
October of 1970 Wesely leaves for the Army - Arneson continues to do Braunstien games
Christmas of 1970 Wesely home on leave for first time
1971 (circa Jan-March)  Duane Jenkins introduced BrownStone, which is an Old West setting
1971 (circa March-May) about 2 months after Jenkins' Brownstone, Dave Arneson comes out with Blackmoor

As you might imagine, listening to long interviews and transcribing parts of them is quite time consuming, but I may well add to the above in the future if I come across more information in other interviews.  So it is appropriate to think of this as a work in progress. 

*Having come across some old letters, it's my understanding that Wesely now dates this about a year earlier.

TC (Time Code - Minutes:Seconds)

MattChatt 369, David Wesely on the True Origins of D&D, Matt Barton, Published on Mar 5, 2017

Theory From the Closet - by Clyde L. Rhoer the 3rd, Podcast #59,
2010-08-29 19:21:34

BrigadeCon 2016: An interview with David A. Wesely, Earl Tea Grey TV
Streamed live on Oct 29, 2016

The Sage: Rescuing a lost Blackmoor Character Class

Author: DHBoggs /

Tucked in the back of TSR's Supplement II Blackmoor is a curious expansion on the sage NPC.  It's curious because this section contains quite a bit of detailed information about an NPC type who's only function would be as a one off hire to research an answer to some obscure question the PC's might have once or twice in a campaign.  None of the other specialist hirelings are treated this way, and there really is no practical reason any of them should be. 

This detailed expansion of the Sage NPC is unusual, and seems even stranger when you consider that the sage's main function, researching obscure questions, is also well within the purview of Magic-users.  Use of a sage must surely be rare in most campaigns, so why is the sage, and only the sage, singled out for a detailed write-up in the Blackmoor Supplement?

When discussing his work on Supplement II Blackmoor in his Dragonsfoote Q & A forum, editor Tim Kask reveals that he cut sections of the material Arneson had written ("I said to hell with that and threw most of the crap away").  Kask considered the discarded material to be redundant or non-conforming to the rules of D&D.  Some other portions of Arneson's manuscript weren't discarde, but were reworked by Kask for the same reason. In particular, Kask has pointed to the Assassin and the Sage as being reworked in this regard.

Kask thought the Assassin was "more suited to be an NPC, but was overruled."  With the Sage in Supplement II, however, he appears to have not been overruled.

Arneson considered "sage" to be a player character class, not just an NPC, at least in the case of the Special Interests section of the FFC.  Notice the class list Arneson gives in th SI section:


This list is particularly interesting regarding the dating of the Special Interests section.  It is abundantly evident from the content throughout the piece that the section was written after the January 1974 publication of D&D, but exactly when is more difficult to ascertain.  The class list however provides some solid ground to reason from.  In addition to the three original classes, the list contains the Paladin from, Supplement I Greyhawk, (January 1975) the Ranger (Strategic Review #2, Summer 1975).  Tacked on to the end are the 3 "classes" associated with Blackmoor.  

Setting those last 3 aside for the moment and looking specifically at Fighting man to Paladin in the SI list, we find what would be an up to date player character class list for the summer/fall of '75, except that the "Thief" from Supplement I is missing.

In his Corner of the Table newsletter for August of 1975, Arneson informs the readers that he has just completed months of work on Supplement II.  Supplement II, of course contains 2 of the 3 "Blackmoor" classes on the end of the SI list - the Assassin and Sage - so only Merchant is missing from the material TSR published up to that time.

It seems quite probable, therefore, that the Special Interests section was among the material Arneson wrote that summer, which Kask subsequently considered unfit for publication in Supplement II.  This isn't so surprising, as the SI section substantially changes the rules for experience points.  Kask may well have thought it too rule-bending to be published as official material.  The Merchant class seems also not to have survived the editorial process.  

The fact that Thief is missing from Arneson's SI class list suggest that Arneson may have considered Thieves and Assassins to be equivalents, or perhaps he considered Theives to be a subclass of Assassin (instead of the reverse) or perhaps a replacement. 

Whatever the case with Assassin and Merchant, the reason the Sage gets such oddly detailed treatment in Supplement II would seem to be that Kask took what was intended to be a class and turned it into an NPC because he didn't think it was a suitable class.

That means that, theoretically, one could cut away all the text specifically discussing the details of hiring a Sage, and be left, more or less, with the specifics unique to the class, to a greater or lesser degree as Arneson originally wrote it.

Before we begin this exercise, we should ask why Arneson created a sage class in the first place.  The adventuring "Sage" isn't exactly an obvious  literary archetype, unlike the Assassin (hello Assasins of Gor ) but, just as with the Cleric and the Merchant, we do have a well established character in Blackmoor who could well have served as the model for a Sage character class.  That character would be David Megarry's Scholaress.  

The "Earl's Scholaress" began life as a pre-D&D character of what we would now think of as the Fighter class, being neither Priest or Wizard and being well armed.  In one particular adventure the "Scholar" character used a magical bracelet to change into a basilisk (female), and much to his chagrin, found himself a herself upon changing back to human.  Thereafter, the Scholaress increasingly researched and used magic.  

At one point after the rules of D&D were available, Dave Arneson had the Scholaress progress as a Magic user for XP purposes, and allowed her use what David Megarry characterized as "non-weapon" spells, as shown in the illustration below from Mr. Megarry's chemistry notebook.

The Scholaress was a magic user, but she was a magic user who had a limited spell repertoire and who wore armor and used swords.  The Scholaress, for all intents and purposes was a new subclass of MU.

Of course I can't know if the Scholaress was really the inspiration for Arneson's sage, but for now, let's assume so.

Making this assumption allows us to recreate the Blackmoor sage as a subclass of Magic-user, drawing on the information left in Supplement II when you cut a way all the NPC hiring details and just look at class specifics.  This subclass has limited spells, but can wear armor - an idea that would seem to have some appeal.  Have a look and feel free to comment:

The Blackmoor Sage

 Sages are a type of Magic-user who are members of a very powerful Guild dedicated to the study of knowledge.  

Each sage will have at least one category of specialization.  Sages with a higher Intelligence score (see below) may pick between being exceptional in one category or average in two.  Sages with an intelligence of 18 will have all three categories thoroughly studied.

These basic categories are:

1. Living Things and their History
2. Supernatural and Metaphysical Things
3. The Physical Universe

Each basic category covers a wide variety or related topics.  Although they are far too numerous to give in complete detail, a sampling is:

Living Things

The table of below indicates the chance which the sage has of being able to answer any given question within their category of knowledge. Each time a question is asked of the sage the referee will roll the percentile dice. A score of less than or equal to the base number, with bonuses and penalties considered, will indicate that the sage is able to give a relatively accurate answer.

Any question outside of the Sage's category of specialization are treated as below average knowledge and thus given a base 20% chance of success.

Subjective adjustments will be made by the referee for the relative difficulty of the question based on the overall setting for his campaign and general knowledge appropriate to the setting.

Very difficult questions will require time, for the sage must consult their various books and such, work in their laboratory, and so on.  Time can range from one day to many weeks, depending on the difficulty of determining an answer — providing one can ever be found — and funding of the study might be required by the referee.

Sage Intelligence
Sage is
Chance to Know Answer
below average
exceptionally knowledgeable
average with 2 categories
exceptional with 2 categories
average with 3 categories
exceptional with 3 categories

Add 5% to chances if a library is readily available.

For every 50,000 gold pieces spent in equipping a sage, from 1–10% will be added to his base score, subject to a maximum of 50%. Note that the referee will not reveal when this maximum is reached. For every 100,000 gold pieces spent on areas outside the sage’s basic category there is a 25% (cumulative) chance that he will be able to add the category to his knowledge; thus a sage can be brought to know all three categories with an expenditure of 800,000 gold pieces. There is a slight drawback other than cost, and doing so will raise the Sage's Intelligence score accordingly.  The Sage must spend an average of one month of study time in order to assimilate/employ an investment expenditure of 10,000 gold pieces, either in order to increase his base score or the fields of knowledge.

Sages do not learn "weapon" spells, that is spells like Fireball, that cause offensive damage.  All other spells are open for them to learn exactly as with any type of Magic-user.  As a consequence, Sages rely on spells to a far lesser extent than other Magic-users, and will frequently be found to wear armor and carry metal weapons when adventuring.  As with all Magic-users, these martial accouterments must be removed for safe spell casting, but since sages almost never cast spells in combat, it is rarely an issue for them.

Sages are able to cast curses when close to death or dying. The power of the curse depends upon the knowledgeability of the Sage. A very low-level one might curse a person so that all of his teeth fell out, while a very high-level one could curse you so as to never be able to make a saving throw again!  A normal curse removal would not work to remove a sage’s curse, but some form of Cleric assigned quest might.

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