Thoughts on Arneson's "Armor class"

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

He said it lots of times, like this:

" I adopted the rules I'd done earlier for a Civil War game called Ironclads that had hit points and armor class. It meant that players had a chance to live longer and do more. They didn't care that they had hit points to keep track of because they were just keeping track of little detailed records for their character and not trying to do it for an entire army. They didn't care if they could kill a monster in one blow, but they didn't want the monster to kill them in one blow."  Gamespy Interview 2004

Yet when we look at all the old material from the First Fantasy Campaign, there seems to be no evidence of anything that could be construed of as an "Armor Class".  Certainly none of the monsters have any sort of corresponding statistic in any of the old material anywhere.

But then again, why should they?  After all "Armor" class in a ship game only applies to the actual metal or wood plating protecting the ship.  Think about that.  We are so accustomed now, 45 years after D&D was published, to think of "Armor Class" as merely a general term for defense quality, we easily forget that "Armor" normally refers to a defensive shell or jacket of some kind, not skin or fur.

Why would a monster have an Armor class unless it was wearing actual armor?
In D&D, monsters have an Armor Class because it is inherent in the d20 combat method.   The attacker's target number is determined by the targets AC.  Giving both characters and monster an AC number was a decision per design - a design for a method we find no evidence for in pre D&D Blackmoor.

Moreover we can say with little doubt that the D&D Armor Class system as it stands was put in place by Gary Gygax, modeled directly on his types of Armor listed in CHAINMAIL.  It's worth reposting here the quote I mentioned back in 2012.  On the Troll Lords (C&C) forum Gary Gygax wrote: 

“I rather stepped in it when I reversed the AC system in the Chainmail man-to-man rules for the OD&D game. Had I not, then better armor classes would have simply progresses in higher numbers.”  Sun Sep 23, 2007 4:47 pm

Obviously then, for Arneson's statements to have validity, whatever he was doing in his game with Armor was something different.

We seem to have a good handle on how a character attacked a monster in early Blackmoor, and unlike in D&D, it had nothing to do with a monster AC.  Basically the player would roll 2d6 against their weapon score.  If they beat it, they would seemingly roll all their Hit Dice for a damage total along with any bonus.  Arneson also said he allowed a saving throw to avoid damage - probably only for Player Characters.

For the typical monster "Armor Class" played no role.

So, it is perhaps not surprising the FFC monster entries have no hint of Armor Class.  Even the Balrog in Blackmoor dungeon wearing a mail shirt has no special numbers attached in consequence.

So was Arneson lying or delusional regarding the claim that he added Armor Class to his early games?  Did armor have any mechanical meaning in pre D&D Blackmoor?

First, lets discard the notion that use of the term "Armor Class" or "Class of Armor" is somehow at all anything to care about.  A rose is a rose, to paraphrase.

What we are interested to answer is if Arneson had a method one might recognize functionally  as "Armor Class", regardless of what he may have called it at the time.

Further, we would be looking at this method as primarily applying to players.  That is, that Armor would usually only be worn by player characters, and usually only be relevant to characters in mechanical terms.

Further still, this application of "armor class" might be the key to understanding how monsters attacked player characters in early Blackmoor.  We've seen plenty of evidence suggesting that players attacked via their weapon skill score, but there is no evidence at all that monsters attacked characters that way.  In fact, lots of monsters don't use anything but tooth and claw, and it is clear that Arneson did not bother to roll up tooth and claw target numbers or  corresponding weapon skill numbers for any of the monsters that did use weapons,  They must have had some other kind of target number for determining hits.  

Initially, we might safely assume that Arneson continued to use the CM Fantasy Combat Table to determine a monster hit on a player.  However, that table is quite limited in scope, and Arneson does repeatedly insist it was dropped altogether as they added more monsters and character types.  So, if true, at some point Arneson must have introduced some other way for monsters to score hits on player characters, and that could certainly have been an AC type system.

I mentioned there is no hint of Armor Class for monsters in the FFC, or indeed any of the other early material, but there is one curious exception:

The robots entry appears in a list Arneson claims is of pre-D&D magic items.  They are in fact all sci-fi kinds of things like tricorders and Medical Units.  Dating this with any certainty is problematic, though non-standard references like +5 Magical Armor and "10-sided dice" make it feel later rather than earlier, perhaps well into 1973.  Nevertheless that 1-6 AC for robots is really odd.  For D&D 2-9 AC you would have to add 1, and even then you would be ignoring the possibility of AC 8 or 9.  Why not use a d10 and ignore the 1 and 0?  Taken simply at face value, it seems as though Arneson is saying he uses a 1-6 AC system.

That robot entry was something I've puzzled over for a long time, but more recently two key bits of evidence surfaced that may shed light on this and what may have served as an Armor Class target number in early Blackmoor.  The first is Dave Megarry's character sheets.  According to Megarry, the "square" numbers written on his character sheets applied to "hit class / armor class"  Across the 19 characters on the sheets, these numbers range from 0 to 4.  Regarding those "square" numbers, Megarry said, "The armor class dealt with what type of armor you had bought or acquired: no armor = 0; leather armor = 1; chainmail = 2; plate armor = 4."

A second bit of evidence for a numbering system like this is found in some curious pencil notes John Snider wrote on the side of his reference sheets (the ones that came with his original D&D boxed set), probably in 1975, since most of the notes added to the sheet concern the new material in Supplement II, Greyhawk.  However, the notes on the hit table are something else altogether:

What's particularly interesting is that John Snider doesn't seem quite sure where the numbers should go.  The number 3 is entirely missing and 4 appears across from Chain Mail & shield, but has a dash mark clearly connecting it to just Chain Mail.  What that hints at, is that the D&D/Chainmail armor scheme was not the same as the 0-5 system he is trying to map on to it.  In other words, two different and not entirely compatible ways of categorizing armor.

Megarry seemed to have the same difficulty with "3" in his description to me above.

 Perhaps that is a clue that Arneson's system was more general than the detailed CM armor scheme, something like what we see in older medieval rules with "half armor" and so on, such as this example from Don Featherstone's Advanced War Games of 1969:

A generalized scheme like this is a possibility, but we should also consider that Sniders notes were referencing a more concrete scheme.

These ideas are hard to test, but we do have some corroborating evidence, again from Megarry's character sheets.  One of Megarry's characters does list what armor they owned.

H.W. Dumbo, who's "square" number was 2

and who owned leather armor:

There is also another of Megarry's characters, the Scholaress, whose "square" number was 4,

and as Megarry remembered to me back in October of 2016, "I was not much into shields as they used one arm in combat and was hard to carry. I liked bow and arrow weapons and did not use shields. I did like leather armor as it gave a minimal protection for a relatively cheap cost. The Scholaress did have chainmail as she had money..."

Note that in both cases, the square number matches the number on John Sniders list; 2 = leather, and 4 = chainmail.  So in these two cases, there does appear to be a direct correlation between John Sniders armor numbers and the "square" numbers of Megarry's characters.

Intriguing as that is, it isn't essential to try to guess whether "Leather Armor" corresponded to "AC 2" or 3 or whatever in Arneson's system, because it need not have been a 1 to 1 correspondence of this nature.  It doesn't especially matter if it was or wasn't.   All we actually would need to know is whether he did in fact have a numeric range, somehow going from worst to best, or vice versa, functioning as an "Armor Class" in combat.  

With this apparent 1-6 Armor scheme in mind, our next question is whether there is any connection to Arneson's Ironclads game as he claimed.  So lets go back and look at some of the armor rules from the Ironclads game. Here is a table in Arneson's hand which shows what guns can penetrate what armor:

Without getting into the weeds on this chart, I'll just explain that it seems to indicate that type 2 through 5 guns (detailed elsewhere by caliber) are capable of penetrating the armor thicknesses listed up to 12" distant for rifled cannon and up to 6" distant for smoothbores.  The important point to take notice of here is that we again see essentially 4 grades of armor.

Otherwise, there is nothing about this table that seems readily adaptable to a single person melee game.  Sure you could translate caliber of guns into various hand held weapons - but let's not go down that rabbit hole.

Instead let's turn our attention to another section of the Ironclads rules which shows what score is needed by these same gun types at various ranges, from 36" distant, where only a wooden ship can be hit, to within 6", where all ship types can be hit.  There are several of these tables for different ranges.

Keeping in mind that we are considering applicability to hand to hand melee, distance effects on armor penetration are not the issue.  So we will look only at the close range table.

 Here then, is the table showing the scores needed to penetrate armor for up close fighting (up to 6"):

2-3-4-5-6 on wood
3-4-5-6 on 4” or less armor
4-5-6 on 4”-8” armor
5, 6 on 8”+ armor

We could rewrite that as follows

Roll over
Roll equal or over D6


 4” or less armor
4”-8” armor
8”+ armor

Let me be clear about what I'm saying.  If, we take Megarry seriously and accept that the square numbers on his character sheet are "hit types/Armor Classes" and we take Arneson seriously that he derived an "Armor Class" hit system from his Ironclad game, we find a compatible expression of those two statements in the table representing armor penetration at 6" or less - which is of course where we would expect to find it.

If we further assume that John Snider's notes represent an attempt to map Arneson's armor scheme onto the D&D/CM types, or something close to it, our table will look like this:
Roll equal or over D6
Armor Type

Leather and Shield*
 4” or less armor
Chain Mail
4”-8” armor
Plate Mail
8”+ armor

*Another way to express this would be to say that a shield adds 1 to "light" or no armor.

We can further speculate on how shields might have fit in, like this:

Roll equal or over D6
Armor Type

Leather or shield
Leather and Shield
 4” or less armor
Chain Mail
4”-8” armor
Plate Mail or Chain Mail and Shield
8”+ armor
Plate Mail and Shield

Alternatively, if we assume a more general scheme:

Roll over D6
Armor Type
Light Armor
 4” or less armor
Medium Armor
4”-8” armor
Heavy Armor
8”+ armor

We can play around with these numbers all day, but that's likely pointless.  In adapting Ironclads to his game, Arneson had no need of a formal table.  He had a mechanic in place: roll a d6 against a target number assigned to represent the armor.  As referee, he need only decide for himself if the chainmail hauberk worn by the character constituted the equivalent of the 4"-8" category armor in Ironclads.  It seems well within Arnesons modus operandi to have done exactly that sort of seat of the pants approximating.  Nevertheless, the evidence from Megarry's character sheets coupled with John Snider's notes do seem to show a correspondence between particular numbers and particular armor types.

The convergence of all these data points do appear to reveal a real system drawn from Ironclads, providing a meaningful explanation of Arneson's claim to have had "Armor Class" in his game, whatever he may have called it  

There are some other niggling bits of information this method would also serve to explain.  In my notes from a phone conversation with David Megarry in April of 2017, he said Arneson would ask your characters Armor class and then roll dice (d6's) to determine a hit.  The number of  "Hit Dice" rolled depended on the strength of the monster - bigger monster = more dice.

This has long bothered me because it makes no sense in terms of either the weapon based hit system we see on the character sheets, or any of the CHAINMAIL systems.  Even the mass combat table, which does incorporate rolling more dice, does so to increase the opportunities for the number of straight kills, without any concern for armor.  It is a different sort of system for a different sort of combat problem.

However, Ironclads does increase your armor busting dice based on "the strength of the monster", or rather the number of cannon you bring to bear on the target.  For the heavy guns, you get 1 die per gun, ranging to the lightest guns which are 4 guns per die.

Note, that these target numbers don't themselves change with the "experience" of the ship, which, translated into a character based system would mean the target number to penetrate a suite of armor in melee was whatever it was, the same regardless of the level of the character swinging the sword.  The increased chance for a hit would be purely in having more dice to roll.

In this context it is interesting to re-examine Richard Sniders dragons, as detailed in the FFC.  This section is not part of his campaign RPG rules - what we are styling the Richard Snider Variant.  Here Dragons are given levels and damage (hit point) ratings, with the weakest dragon starting identically to human fighters at 7, 14, 21 and growing.  Snider gives each dragon type "Hit Dice" per level, which he explains as:

The natural way for us to read this is to equate HD to damage dice, and indeed, that may be correct.  However, it is also possible that it means more than this.  The "Blackmoor System" need not have been some singular clean method.  

Perhaps characters and creatures roll all their HD when attacking, as suggested in the Ironclads derived method above.  In this case, the unarmored target would take the full number of hits indicated by the HD, possibly mitigated by a saving throw for no damage.

The armored target would only take as many hits as have successfully penetrated their armor.  In Ironclads, each hit resulted in 1 point of damage, however it would be possible to determine the amount of damage by the number of points above the armor roll or simply equal to the number rolled.  Alternatively one could roll a separate damage roll if needed.    All this works fine for monsters attacking characters.

But, player characters have weapon skills, and can roll against their weapon skill when attacking monsters to determine a hit.  So in this case, with successful hits, the player would roll all their HD for damage - a distinct advantage since it would seem to ignore monster armor.

Both these uses of "Hit Dice", as damage dice, or as "to hit" dice, can work together quite easily, and may well have been used that way in Blackmoor .

Secrets of Blackmoor Premiere Announced!

Author: DHBoggs /

That's right.  The long awaited premier of the Secrets of Blackmoor documentary has been announced for May 8th.

Check it out HERE

Also stay tuned to the 'blog this month - I have some really interesting pieces I'm going to release and some new things to talk about.

A Great World map for Blackmoor

Author: DHBoggs / Labels:

....Dave Arneson decided to begin a medieval fantasy campaign game for his active Twin Cities club. From the map of the "land" of the "Great Kingdom" and environs -- the territory of the C & C Society -- Dave local'ed (I nice bog wherein to nest the wierd enclave of "Blackmoor", a spot between the '''Great Kingdom" and the fearsome "Egg of Coot".  From the Forward to Dungeons & Dragons 1974

Ever since images of the campaign map from the Castle and Crusades society began floating about the world wide web, folks have taken an interest in locating the area where Blackmoor was supposed to be.

One of the best attempts came, of course, from Zenopus, seen HERE on his blog. 

For some time now, my running campaign has been set in a version of Blackmoor that is part of the C&C world, and even though my players have thus far not ventured beyond the Northern Marches, I thought it high time I make a map.

The idea is pretty simple - what could a C&C world look like if it took into account the lore and geography of Arneson's Blackmoor.  In other words, a Blackmoor world version of the C&C map.  Or I should say "maps", because as we have talked about HERE, there is more than one version which I took into account.

Anyway, below is my somewhat crude (hey, I'm no Raphael) but eminently functional world map of Blackmoor.  Feel free to use or improve as you please.

Tonisborg: The Lost Level of the Lost Dungeon

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , ,

In our first discussion of Tonisborg Here, I mentioned that we had the key for Levels 1-9 written on the side margin of the maps, but for level 10 the key was missing.  We worked under the assumption that the key to level 10 was either lost or never completed in the first place. Well, Mr. Megarry, seemingly an endless font of information, has graced us once again with a treasure from his vaults.  A few months ago he revealed that he had found a faded sheet of yellow legal pad paper, and written in Greg Svenson's hand on the front and back, is the lost key for Tonisborg level 10!

I had just finished creating a set of random tables for stocking level 10, but no matter.  Having the real thing was infinity better. 

Greg's method of stocking Tonisborg shows that he is very conscious of spatial organization despite the random nature of the stocking tables he used.  As M. Griffith - director and creative force behind the Secrets of Blackmoor documentary - observed in one of our emails "Greg... established a theme here which is a very cool concept to see presented so early on. It isn't just a random dungeon, the main story elements have been intentionally placed...."

Throughout the dungeon we see the deliberate placement of monsters in cluster and organized groupings - lairs in other words.  Thus we often find trolls and orcs near to one another, or hydra's and basilisks near wizards, or priests occupying several nearby rooms.  Along these same lines, we see repeated use of certain room labels "bedroom" "study" and so forth - labels that are often also hallmarks of both the Dungeon boardgame and Blackmoor dungeon, but that really is a subject of it's own. 

So while it is evident that Greg was careful and thoughtful about the placement of the random monsters he generated by the tables, Level 10 shows us the remarkable fact that that there was also an overarching plan for the dungeon itself.  The level features unique and powerful treasures (3 crown artifacts), a unique monster (the Yth'yl), and a unique feature, (evil area statues).

I'm not going to give out all the secrets of the level here since the book will soon be available.  However, what is most notable is the simple fact that a dungeon created before D&D was published was designed with a top to bottom purpose from the start.  The dungeon has a goal, an endgame, and level 10 is it.  Greg placed his greatest treasures, carefully, on this level.  These 3 powerful magical crown artifacts were in turn guarded over by an incredibly powerful "boss" creature, the Yth'yl.

We can presume or suppose that the crowns were not part of Greg's very first, pre D&D, stocking list, but were added when he restocked the dungeon circa January of 1974 to conform to the newly published rules or a late draft thereof.  This is because these crowns are mentioned on page 39 of Monsters & Treasure, under Artifacts:

"Examples of Artifacts: Teleportation Machine; Fight'er's Crown, Orb and Scepter; Magic-User's Crown, Orb and Sceptre; Cleric's Crown, Orb and Scepter; Stone Crystalization Projector, etc.

Greg's crowns are these crowns with added details.  However, even without the crowns, Level 10 still represents the endgame of the dungeon.  We can say this because the Ythyl was surely an original part of the dungeon from the time it was first created.  This creature appears handwritten as an original feature on the map to level 10.  Further, this level also contains numerous wish granting evil area statues - surely themselves a coveted goal for many an adventurer.  The statues alone represent an end goal.  Adding the crowns was sauce for the goose.

This idea of a special dungeon goal level at the bottom of it all - a "boss" level if you prefer - is really quite outstanding, and might be considered a unique contribution Mr. Svenson made to the game.

Blackmoor dungeon certainly has a variety of goals, but no particular special bottom level.  Originally, the orc lair on level 6 was the bottom, and one could argue that this level is similar to Tonisborg level 10 in having a special magical feature, (the Throne of the Growth), but this was itself not an overarching reason for the dungeon's existence or an end goal to be sought out.  In any case, Arneson soon added 4 more levels and hinted at even more.  There was no real bottom, and no particular end challenge or special treasure to seek out.  The same can be said of Dave Megarry's Dungeons of Pasha Cada.  Megarry's dungeon bottoms out at level 6, and there is nothing particularly special there other than tougher monsters and bigger treasures.

Reading through the 1974 D&D booklets likewise gives no hints or instructions that Greg could have keyed off of.  Page 4 of Underworld and Wilderness adventure, paints a picture of the expected D&D dungeon as a potentially endless series of levels.  Gygax describes his own Greyhawk dungeon, both in this passage and elsewhere as " a dozen levels in succession downwards, more than that number branching from these, and not less than two new levels under construction at any given time. These levels contain such things as a museum from another age, an underground lake, a series of caverns filled with giant fungi, a bowling alley for 20' high Giants, an arena of evil, crypts, and so on." (p4).

Tonisborg is a very different animal.  In design and in themes, it mimicks Blackmoor.  There are no bowling alley levels or gateways to China.  Like Megarry's Dungeon, it has a built in progression of difficulty, and like Blackmoor it is sectional and mazelike in both the horizontal plane and, through all the connecting stairwells, the vertical plane.  But Greg advances beyond even Blackmoor in considering and creating an end to his vertical maze.  He sees the dungeon, not as just a series of theme levels, but as a vertical obstacle maze featuring a prize at the end.  Mind you this vision of dungeon design dates to 1973!

All the details will be revealed in the upcoming book of course, and speaking of the book,  let me give a special thank you to all the folks who have supported the Kickstarter for Secrets of Blackmoor.  As you likely know, a special first edition of The lost Dungeon of Tonisborg is part of the Kickstarter rewards.  Griff has really pulled out all the stops to make this first edition of Tonisborg a real piece of art, an heirloom edition to last for the ages.  If you like this sort of thing, and who doesn't, you can still secure a copy.  While the campaign is already fully funded (Yay!), as of now, there are a few hours left for you to grab one of these premium editions if you hurry! Secrets of Blackmoor on Kickstarter

Meet the Baron of Blackmoor

Author: DHBoggs /

David Fant, Baron of Blackmoor

Inline image 1

Questions in italics by Daniel Boggs

Yes, I am that David Fant. I was a very good friend of Dave Arneson and participated in Blackmoor as well as the Napoleonic War Games that he organized. I do own two companies now. One with the link below, the other is relatively new and is in the same list brokerage business.

 I will try and remember the best I can, but remember all of this was 50 years ago so my memory is vague in some places.

Question: How did you come to be involved with Dave Arneson and his Napoleonic Games?

I had a neighborhood friend named Bill Hoyt, he was into gaming and knew Dave. One day when I was 16 he asked if I wanted to go with him and meet someone who was into tabletop gaming, I said yes. After that I would visit as often as I could and would play the Napoleonic Campaign. I was the Emperor of Austria and had some rather unorthodox methods of mounting and moving my army. I invaded Italy at one point, trapped the Roman army in a mountain pass by surrounding the north exit with artillery and infantry, and sending my calvery around the mountain to cut off retreat. Beat them that battle without firing a shot.

Question: About what years if you can remember, did you play?

Let’s see, I was 16, so that would be 1967 thru 1970. I entered the University of Minnesota in 1969 and got a full time summer/vacation relief job with KSTP-TV in St Paul running camera for their various programs. (I started working in television in 1967 at KTCA-TV the local PBS affiliate. I worked for them part time until I graduated High School and started at KSTP.

Question: Were you a player when Blackmoor first began?  Do you remember anything about the first game or two you played?  One of the stories Dave Arneson liked to tell was about watching a bunch of monster movies one weekend and coming up with the idea of a game involving Blackmoor castle and dungeon.  So the players came over expecting to have a Napoleonic’s game and found the model of a medieval castle sitting on the gaming table instead.  Do you remember if you were at that game or anything else about it?

I was at the first Blackmoor game. I arrived expecting a Napoleonic battle, and your right, there was a castle on the table, and drawings of passages. I honestly don’t recall who was there that first day, but, Dave asked if I would like to be the Baron of the Castle. I have no idea why he picked me, but that’s how I got to be Baron Fant. He explained the mission was to explore the dungeon, find treasure and kill monsters. It sounded like fun, so off we went.  That was about it, rather straight forward.

Question: How did you character become the Baron of Blackmoor?

Flip of a coin? First to arrive for the gaming day? I have no idea, but it was fun being the Baron.

Question: How did your character become sir Fang?

When I graduated from high school and started working full time for KSTP I couldn’t play as often, and so instead of killing off the Baron, had him “attacked” by a vampire and turned into one. The character became Sir Fang, but I never played Blackmore as Sir Fang. I know the person who took over that role, but can’t for the life of me remember his name.

Question: Did you have other characters?

Not really. In fact, I know I didn’t have other characters. I was the Baron, in charge of every expedition into the dungeons and the search party.  I was always the expedition leader, and the other players would follow me down into the dungeon.

Question: Do you have any particular adventure memories that stand out in our mind?

Sadly, I do not. I remember being in Dave’s basement, describing what we were going to do, rolling those odd sided die’s and fighting monsters.

Question: I came across something I wanted to ask you about - it's from an old, second-hand source posted on the internet like 20 years ago, so probably not so reliable - Here is what it said under a heading marked "First Coot Invasion" it said "Fant & friends sneak into the Castle and open gates from inside." with the footnote that read "one of the first times … in 1970" along with a link that is long dead.  I'm wondering if the incident described rings any bells at all for you?

I do not remember that specifically, but now that I read it again, I have a vague recollection of that event in the game. Since I seem to recall that, and the time frame is close to what I have been saying I would guess that it was one of the last expeditions I made into the castle and dungeon. (Although, I was the Baron and owned the castle, not sure why I’d have to break in unless it was a castle in the area that Dave made up.) 

 Question:  In Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign booklet he writes that Baron Fant was placed in command of Blackmoor Castle after his successful operations during the first Coot invasion.  Do you remember playing many medieval/miniatures battles in Blackmoor or was your character more focused on dungeon exploration or something else?  For any battles, do you remember what set of rules, if any Arneson was using?   

We were totally focused on Blackmoor, but we did do Napelonic campaigns some days it tended to rotate but it was mostly about Blackmoor. As for rules, at the time they were all verbal. Dave described them to us, As dungeon master if we tried something that was against the rules he would just tell us. 

Question: Would you say your experience in Blackmoor and your role playing the Baron was very different from your Napoleonic games or was it much the same to you?

Regarding play in both Napoleonic and Blackmoor roles, for me there were similar roles. I was the Emperor of Austria, and in Blackmoor the Baron of the castle. Both senior executive roles if you will. But, in terms of play it was very different. Blackmoor you were working with others on the trip into the dungeon. You collaborated with each other, shared ideas on what to do, then fought on a one to one basis. The Napoleonic campaigns were done largely on paper, moving armies, building your army, then when a battle developed, the table top was used with miniatures. You would move your troops, give commands but it was typically me against whomever I was fighting. So it was truly a tactical one on one activity. So, in that regard the experience was very different.

Question: David Megarry talked about colored markers being on the table during dungeon expeditions.  I'm just trying to get a picture of how Arneson did it.  Was he drawing the dungeon plan with markers on cellophane or something as you went along?  And I'm assuming you would place miniatures on the table to more or less show where your characters were? 

As I recall, he had brown butcher block paper he would roll out on the ping pong table. For both Napoleonics and Blackmoor he would then draw the design of the terrain or dungeons. Of course that would make going from one level of the dungeon to another.

Question: Did you have a chance to play in any other dungeons in the land of Blackmoor?

No, only Blackmoor and under my castle.

Question: Do you remember ever playing in the Great Swamp or The Temple of the Frog?

Since I don’t know these names, I guess the answer is no.

Question: Did you (or do you) continue to play Dungeons & Dragons or any other RPG's?

Interestingly enough my wife and I both play Dungeons & Dragons online. There I am a Wizard and my wife is a fighter. Work has been so busy we haven’t had a chance to play in quite a while, but talk about needing to get back into the game and the dungeons. I don’t remember what level I am, but somewhere around a level 12 or 13.

Question: Did you pay much attention to the growth of the hobby, and how did you feel about that considering your involvement in early Blackmoor?

I have. I have watched the growth of the role playing games. I will admit that D&D is the only one I’ve played. And I find it exciting that I was a part of the growth of this industry. 

I did happen to be in St Paul the day of Dave Arneson’s viewing. An odd quirk of fate, my wife and I were driving around St Paul, I was showing her the sights, and suddenly realized I was passing the funeral home where Dave’s viewing was. I asked her if I could stop, she said of course. As I was walking in I ran into David Wesley and another gamer. We walked in, caught up on what we had been doing and I took two of the dice from the bowl to remember Dave by. Then left. I honestly don’t know why I turned down the street that the funeral home was on that day, I had never been down that street the entire time I lived in the Twin Cities. Fate? Or, the call of the Dungeon one last time.

David Fant
Market Mapping plus Inc.
2285 Southgate Dr
Grand Rapids MI 49508

Interview with Dave Fant, Baron of Blackmoor, spring 2018.  Previous version published on my Patreon Page.

Almost Forgotten: A Published RPG Ruleset older than D&D

Author: DHBoggs /

I'm not particularly interested in the vanity of shouting "first" when presenting new information, that's the sort of braggadocio sober researchers leave to the yellow press.  Nevertheless there has been a lot of first reveals on this 'blog, a fact I've been repeatedly encouraged to point out so as to draw attention to the work done here and increase the readership.

So, for example, this 'blog was the first to recognize and analyze the Beyond This Point be Dragons mss, the Dave Megarry pre D&D character sheets, the first to identify numerous portions of Arneson's direct contribution to D&D such as magic swords, treasure tables, movement rates, and so on (particularly in This Post), the first to figure out how Blackmoor and Tonisborg and Temple of the Frog and Loch Gloomin were stocked, the first to reveal and identify lost maps of Blackmoor, the Spanish Royals character sheet,  etc. etc. etc.

Those are all great topics, regardless of where they first appeared, but now I'm about to reveal something that, for many, will surpass all of those in cultural historical significance - a set of rules for fantasy RPG play, typed and "published" via copies distributed prior to the printing of D&D.

The author of this ruleset was Richard Snider, so we are calling it "The Richard Snider Variant" or RSV for short, with apologies to the NCC.

In the Twin Cities group, Richard was young - just 19 years old in 1972 - and not a prominent figure.  Mostly he was thought of as John Sniders kid brother and something of a rebel.  In later years, Richard went on to work with Dave Arneson on Adventures in Fantasy, and then his own Powers and Perils game.  In 2009, Richard was married and working as a self employed landscaper, when sadly, he passed away at only 56.

Here is how we know what we know about the RSV.

In the course of research on the Beyond this Point be Dragons manuscript, I was sent a set of much faded copies, unsigned, undated, and unknown to the owner, who thought they might be more material by Mark Bufkin, editor of BTPBD.

Two of the 6 pages however contained material I immediately recognized, it was, word for word, these sections found in the "Richard Snider's Additions" portion of Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign:

Differences in Creatures From Blackmoor Game
Population of Known Area
Wizardry Apprenticeship
Languages (with additional text cut from FFC)
Odds of Creature Friendship

Thus we can safely ascribe the "RSV" to the pen of Richard Snider.  The"variant" refers to the nature of the rules themselves.  They are rules for a "spin off" sub-campaign of the Blackmoor game.

The RSV consists of the following topics in the following order (caps or lack of them are according to the original):

saving throws:
Odds of creature friendship:

In future posts we will be looking at the content of each of these topics in detail. - there is simply too much to talk about to squeeze it all in to this post today.

For now, let's begin with the eyebrow raising assertion I made that the RSV is a published set of fantasy RPG rules older than D&D.

The Terminus Post Quem is established easily enough.  The document itself repeatedly references Blackmoor, which must therefore have been well established when the RSV was created.  There are also apparent influences drawn from the British Midguard PBM game, initially developed in 1971.  Thus an absolute TPQ of 1971, and a probable provenance of 1972, as I'll show below.

That there could be ties between Blackmoor and Midguard, is no big shock.  Arneson made it a point, during his trip to Europe in 1972, to meet with members of the London war gaming scene and spend time in at least one prominent game store there.  That he might have then been exposed to Midguard is easily plausible, and through him, Richard Snider. 

The strongest parallels between Midguard and the RSV are to be found in the magic system of each.

An obvious connection is the prominence of Artifacts in both games - more on that in another post.  Both also use spell points to cast spells,  Midguard wizards have an Innate Power Rating (IPR) and Endurance Points; RSV wizards have a single Magic Power Ability (MPA).  These function identically as  a range of points the wizard has available to "spend" on casting spells.  They are also both determined by formulas combining several factors.

Endurance Points in Midguard also have a second function which allows a wizard to spend them in defense against an opponent's spell,  RSV has a separate Magic Resistance number.  Magic Resistance is not a reservoir spent in defense, but rather a fixed number that can be subtracted from the chance a spell has to effect a creature.  So while they function somewhat differently, both Midguard and RSV have a statistic which provides a defense against magic.

There are differences in these systems, however, and I haven't noted any direct rule copying by Snider.  It is even conceivably possible Richard based his rules on a detailed word of mouth description of the Migurad system, but the fact that both Midguard and Richard Sniders Variant feature artifacts and spell points should not be dismissed as coincidence as these were very novel ideas in the early 1970's.  It is very unlikely you would see both these features independently appear as equally prominent aspects of both games.  However, it is a bit trickier to say exactly what iteration of Midguard Richard drew inspiration from.  (For a detailed look at Midguard magic, see Jon Peterson's post Here.)

A revised version of Midguard - Midguard II, was prepared in the United States in the Fall of 1972,  It was possibly this version of Midguard, or perhaps both versions, that may have influenced Richard's magic rules.  There is a small hint in favor of Midguard II.  In Midguard II endurance points are recast as Energy Points.  The RSV rules uses the word energy in the term "Life Energy Level" (familiar to OD&D fans) and even "Life Energy Points".

Life Energy Level/Points of RSV is both like and unlike the Life Energy Level of OD&D.  Both Heroes and Wizards have Life Energy Level/points, but level advances much more quickly with Wizards.  Like Levels in D&D, Life Energy Levels benefit some statistics, such as MPA for wizards and bonuses for Superheroes, but has no effect on others, such as saving throws.

Further, in the RSV, Life Energy Level is not directly relevant to Hit Points (Hits), but effects hits only fractionally as one component of a complex formula to determine HP.

You said it was pre D&D?

Yes. Differences like that above are important when considering the relationship of the RSV to D&D, determining which came first, and whether one influenced the other.

Indeed, a strong initial hint is the very existence of the RSV itself.  The rules place themselves clearly as a variant of Blackmoor, playing off that campaign and its rules as played at the time he wrote.  It would have been unnecessary work and would have made little sense for Richard Snider to have taken the trouble to create and type 6 pages of new, entirely independent rules bearing scant genetic resemblance, even on a structural level to the D&D playtest rules for his variant campaign, once the D&D playtest began circa March of 1973.

If Richard Snider had decided to undertake his own version of the game, after they began using the D&D playtest rules, we would surely see multiple points of intersection where Snider drew from, contrasted with, or referred to the playtest rules of D&D.  Therefore we can look at the content and take note of both what it contains and what it does not in comparison to the known drafts of D&D.  For this I'm relying on BTPbD as my stand in for the Guidon D&D draft of 1973 - an imperfect but serviceable solution and all that is available to me at the moment.

Here is some of what is found in the GD&D draft, but not in RSV.

Numbered levels for "Fighters"
Level titles for wizards
Copper coins, silver coins, gems and jewelry
Treasure Tables
Spell Level tables
3d6 ability scores
Non-CHAINMAIL, non Blackmoor "new" monsters like gnolls and invisible stalkers,
saving throws that progress with each level for all classes
Clerics or Priest or Evil High Priest characters or NPC's - no hint of anything Cleric related in RSV
Terms like "Magic-user" "Fighting men", "Hit Points",  "Hit Dice" "Hirelings"

Instead of the familiar 6 ability scores, RSV expects rolls for Strength, Health, Intelligence, Leadership, Horsemanship, Sailing, Flying, normal (melee) combat skill, and archery skill.  This RSV list is clearly a close variant of the same characteristics found on early Blackmoor character sheets (see Here)

Perhaps even more telling, while there are references to Blackmoor norms and rules, there is no reference whatever in the 6 page RSV to anything like the 50 - 100 page GD&D document.

In each of these areas above, the RSV displays a strong resemblance to pre-D&D Blackmoor norms, and a correspondingly thorough ignorance of the early D&D material found in the GD&D draft.  An entire section of the RSV is devoted to specifying the differences in rules and monsters from those of Blackmoor, but there is absolute silence when it comes to the D&D draft rules.  Given the collaborative climate of the time, it would not be credible to argue Snider could have or would have willfully ignored the innovations and ideas and terms Gygax brought to the game.  Snider certainly did not ignore CHAINMAIL.  The THE SIDES IN LAW AND CHAOS  table being but one of several examples of CM derived material, copying, as it does, the "GENERAL LINE UP" table of alignments.

Compare to CHAINMAIL 2nd print below:

Thus the complete independence from"D&Disms" in these sections is explicable only in a pre-D&D context.  The RSV could not exist as created after the GD&D draft became available to Twin Cities gamers.

That being the case we can look to the known stages of development of Blackmoor and D&D for clues to a plausible timeframe for the creation of the RSV.

First, it is useful to consider the context of Richard Snider's place in the Twin cities scene.  Being younger, he, like David Megarry, was an up and coming player, eager to make his mark in the group as his older brother John had.  However, unlike Megarry, Richard is a virtual unknown as far as references in the Corner of the Table newsletter is concerned.  Its unclear if he participated in any early Blackmoor games, and if he did his participation must have been minimal.   This apparent fact suggest a later rather than earlier date for the RSV. 

Richards desire to become more involved with the group and with play in Blackmoor, may have found it's opportunity in complaints from Arneson. Arneson complained that his players were focusing on Blackmoor to such an extent that he was becoming overwhelmed and neglecting other gaming responsibilities.  His solution was to delegate:

"Persons would "stop" by to play day after day.  Some two to three months later (It's all a blur now!) the first referee collapsed in silly giggling and announced the destruction of the entire world, or some such nonsense.  Well, he needed a rest, but by then various dungeons were appearing, a space campaign was begun, others were allowed to use the original dungeon and referee with it, and role playing went on in Blackmoor and eslewhere." My Life and Role-Playing, Arneson, Different Worlds #3, June/July 1979.

"After six months I burned out for a while but by then the original dungeon crew had two other campaigns going." Arneson on Backmoor - undated floppy disk (Kevin McColl Collection). 

"Greg Svenson and Richard Snider were first to branch out; it took several months to start their kingdoms." Arneson Interview, Fight on #2, Summer 2008 

The "two - three months" and"six months" comments above can be taken with a grain of salt, as can the timing of the campaigns he mentions, and it's unclear if the "two other campaigns" referred to in the first quote were both fantasy campaigns.  I brought it up because of the quote above from Fight On! that seems to intersect with it.  Greg Svenson of course, created Tonisborg, but Richard Sniders campaign is much less well known. 

Regardless of exactly when Arneson first suffered GM burnout running Blackmoor, he seems to have (still?) felt pressured in the fall of 1972 at the time Dave Megarry created his Dungeon! game.  Megarry has commented that one of his incentives for creating Dungeon was that it would give Arneson a break.  Arneson seemed to agree in this comment from 1978:

"First conceived and played some two years before the publication of D&D, Dungeon!
relieved the pressure on the old dungeonmaster for multiple dungeon expeditions." Arneson, Wargaming #4, 1978.

Richard Snider may have been motivated and encouraged by Arneson to start his own campaign almost anytime in 1972, but perhaps especially by fall.

A fall of 1972 creation date would also make it easier to account for the apparent ties to Midguard, as that would post date Arnesons trip to Europe and his time spent with the South London Wargame Club.

Tentatively then, I'm assigning a "most probable" range of September 1972 to February 1973 for the creation of the RSV, with the recognition that it could date several months earlier. 

Lastly, I know what some of you are thinking.  If we have a set of pre D&D rules from Blackmoor, then HOLY GRAIL! it's Dave Arneson's Blackmoor system! Right?


These are Richard Snider's rules for Richard Snider's system.  Assuming more than that is fraught with faults.  Having said that, the RSV rules were intended to be familiar enough to Blackmoor players to be basically compatible with Arneson's play methods, so in that sense they do resonate with Dave Arneson's rules.  Richard undoubtedly codified some of the things Dave was doing, but then again, so did Gygax.  Some of these rules could be exactly what Arneson did in some cases, but on the whole we can only say with certainty that the RSV was Richard Sniders attempt to make sense of his Blackmoor experience and put his own spin on how to make and handle characters in their adventure games.

I hope you have enjoyed this post.  In the coming months, will be looking at the RSV in greater depth, and as always, other new and original topics.  Please consider supporting my research by clicking the Patreon widget at the top of the page.

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Rural American father of three. Archaeologist, Anthropologist, Filmmaker, craftsman, and a licensed Real Estate agent.
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