Monday, January 16, 2017

The Oldest Dungeon Maps in D&D History

David Megarry, inventor of the Dungeon! boardgame and one of the original players in the Blackmoor campaign that sparked the creation of Dungeons & Dragons, has once again dug deep into his sea chests and pulled out a notebook with a set of maps drawn as his character H.W. Dumbo braved the depths of Blackmoor Dungeon. 

As discussed previously (here: Early Blackmoor Characters earlier discussions, H.W. Dumbo was one of David Megarry's characters in the pre D&D Blackmoor game developed and run by D&D co-creator Dave Arneson.  As Megarry's 5th created character, he probably came to existence in 1972, but certainly within 1 year of that date.  That makes the maps Megarry drew as his character explored Blackmoor dungeon the oldest adventure role playing game maps ever revealed.

These maps were drawn in a bound notebook of graph paper at a time before D&D existed, probably even before Gary Gygax was himself introduced to the game, so naturally, a close study of the images reveals interesting details, especially for Blackmoor fans.

For comparison, I'll include images from the 1977 First Fantasy Campaign booklet by Judges Guild (JG).  These 1977 maps show the dungeon as drawn by Arneson and include a key.  (For a related post see here: # Appearing in Blackmoor Dungeon )  These same maps were, of course, redrawn nearly identically for the Zeitgeist Games (ZG) release of The Dungeons of Castle Blackmoor in 2006, and I'll refer to that publication from time to time also.

Megarry's scans of his notebook are of whole pages and show a lot of blank space.  However, to make the images easier to view, I have cropped together the portions showing the explored areas.  We begin with Level 1.

Here is the corresponding section of the JG map:

First, a bit about notation; Megarry's stairs are little circles.  Frequently he marks these as U.S  or D. S. - up stairs or down, just as on the JG maps, or as "Grand stair", to indicate both up and down.  Passages are also marked D.E. for Dead End.

Notice that D.E. appears where room 9 is marked on the JG map - very likely indicating that H. W. Dumbo failed to find the secret door leading into that room.  We also see in the passage just to the east of where room 9 isn't, an area marked "cave in", just where the Orchian Way stairs should be.  This and other cave ins we will see on Megarry's maps, are probably the result of the earthquake reported in Arneson's newletter the Blackmoor Gazette and Rumormonger released in the fall of 1971.

Curiously, the note "to castle" is written near room 2, and very interestingly, there is a note at the western end of the east west corridor at the bottom of the map which reads "way out; the side of cliff."  On the JG map the same corridor simply appears to end.

The long north/south passage ends in a "Grand stair", indicating both must exit above ground - I'll have more to say about that in a later post - but this does contradict the published JG map where these stairs are labelled down (and probably shouldn't be).  


Here's the corresponding JG section:

Perhaps the first thing to jump out is room 4, marked "Torture" on Megarry's map.  In the FFC key, this room is non-descript, but the ZG dungeon key describes this room as the torture chamber of Sir Fang, the vampire.  Further there is a mysterious circle on the JG map, which is described as a pit in the ZG text, but on Megarry's map we see only a half circle in that area marked "pillar".  I wonder if this might have been one of Arneson's elevator shafts, or probably more likely, some kind of a pedestal.

The configuration in room 2 is slightly different but there are the same 8 cells.  These are marked "pens" on the JG map.

Rooms 5 and 6 are slightly bigger on Megarry's map.

Lastly, there is a small note on Megarry's map that says "? 30' above house".  This note refers to a house Megarry had H. W. Dumbo build.  Mr. Megarry told me:

 "It is located on the isthmus between the town and the castle. It is amazing that Arneson let me dig a tunnel in that area. I recall that I dug a tunnel from the northwest shore to the location of the house and then dug down to the 5th level before I connected with the Blackmoor dungeon (I missed other levels by a hair). I earned enough on expeditions to finally build the house, which I put right on top of the down part."


And the JG section:

There is a slight difference in stair placement in the three pronged passage east of room 2 that could have some significance for map alignment issues.

Room 10 is oriented completely differently.

In the center east section of the map is a single colored in square marked "H. W.'s hole".  That's the location of the tunnel from H. W. Dumbo's house.


Compare to the JG map:

At the North east edge of Megarry's map there is a note that says "Devils Fountain" next to "cave in".  Devil fountains are mentioned in the FFC, where they are said to be marked on the maps with black squares.  Only level 9 of the JG FFC maps have black squares marked on them, and curiously, that map has a note - probably a mistake -saying the black squares are trap doors. 

There's also a note on the nearby stairs that says "damaged stair".

On the eastern edge, the note reads S.P. 50'.  This appears to be the same as the rough hewn passage indicated on the JG map, but at the next hallway just to the west.

Just east of room 16, there is a feature not shown on the JG map that appears to be the fire pit also shown on level 3.  

Just east of that, in the north end of the triangular shaped room, a down stair is marked.  The same stair is marked two squares further north on the JG map, and the significance of this is that the JG map does not align with a stair on level 5, but Megarry's position of this stair lines up perfectly with the published JG map of Level 5.

Once again, on the eastern edge of Megarry's map, we see a note against a colored square marked "Dumbo's hole".  The note in the upper corner reads "50' from house; down in Blackmoor; (4th level)" 


Here's the Corresponding are of the JG map:

Megarry's map notes this is "100' down in Blackmoor".  

Room 15 is marked "empty" on Megarry's map, but there is a note there that says "secret passage"

Just east of room 15 is a "down stair" in a hallway with the note " 7th level 100' down".

There is also a down stair marked on Megarry's map missing from the JG map - at the end of the hall adjacent (east) of room 4.

A little further east, we see the location where the tunnel breaks through.  The note reads "Hole in roof". "Way up; 20' S; 100' up".  Another little note pointing at a small line in the area says "Spike".  The rubble seems to be marked on both maps.

Lastly, there is a stair marked in a slightly different position in the room just north of room 5.


The Level 6 JG map portion:

 The corner notation on Megarry's map has "150' from Dumbo's house"

There's some pretty rich notation on the maps for this level.  The hatched squares on Megarry's map are marked "fire pit" as on the JG map.

The South passage extending from room 1 is marked "slopes down" and the doorway at room 1 is marked "S. P." for secret passage.

Room 14 in the JG map has but one stair marked.  Megarry's map however has two "up" stairs marked on the southeast wall, flanking a semicircle labelled "Throne".


Level 7 is the last level contained in Mr. Megarry's maps.  The areas shown are the northwest and southeast corners, so I will present them seperately;


Same portion on JG map:

Interestingly the Megarry map actually shows a small portion of tunnel at the top edge not found on the JG map.

The square in room one of the JG map is marked "firepit" on Megarry's map.  

Also of note also is the area at indicated by small dotted lines on the JG map but otherwise unmarked.  Megarry has this note at the location, "Alcove False Bottom" 

The note at the southeast corner reads enigmatically, "To Dwarfs Entrance"


  And this section of the JG map:

The corner notation on Megarry's map reads, "200' down in Blackmoor" 

This section of the map reveals some of the dungeon inhabitants.  The entrance to room 17 is marked with S. P. on Megarry's map and the room itself is noted to have "10 Ogres" and a gold something I can't quite make out.  

The stair at the west end of the east-west passage extending from room 17 is marked "up stairs 100' up".

Room 19 on Megarry's map is marked "168 Goblins"

Room 22 is drawn much larger on Megarry's map and is noted to have a "secret passage" entrance and "33 Trolls + riches"

Lastly, the unnumbered vertical corridor in the southeast corner is marked "20' wide passage", thus confirming the scale of 1 square = 10 feet.
I'll have more on HW Dumbo and Megarry's other Blackmoor characters in future posts, but for the maps, that wraps it up for now.  I believe some additional information and certainly some related content will shortly be available on the Secrets of Blackmoor documentary Facebook page HERE, so keep an eye on that page.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Megarry's Blackmoor Character Sheets IV - Missing Info

This post is about what is and is not on the character sheets, and why.  I'll start with a picture painted in quotations:

"..,Dave played things so close to the vest, when I asked him questions at the "My Awesome Gaming Group" panel, he answered my "is it this or that" question 'yes' because 'some of my players are here'"  Tavis Allison, commenting on the 'blog Beyond the Black Gate Monday, July 25, 2011, "Dave Arneson and Impartiality in the Temple of the Frog"

"Dave did lots of secret rolling and never showed us the results or explained what he was roling for. I am sure that sometimes he rolled dice just to make us nervous..." Greg Svenson Nov 27, 2009,

" We were not keeping our own records or character sheets as they are called now. Dave had an index card on each of the players (and NPCs) with their attributes, HP, possessions and other useful notes. I only remember seeing Svenny’s character card a couple of times.... he kept our character cards,... We didn’t track our experience points as is done now. Dave simply told us when we had transitioned from one level to another."  Shams Grog.& Blog Q AND A-with-Greg-Svenson

"To be honest, I never had a character sheet. Dave A. had my character (Svenny) on an index card that he kept. He let me use it during a couple of game sessions (maybe 2 or 3) but always collected it again. I never thought to make a copy of it, either."  Greg-Svenson, Post subject: Re: Megarry's Blackmoor Characters Posted: Oct 24, 2016 5:08 pm Comeback Inn forum.

"Don't ask me what you need to hit. Tell me what you're character is doing. I'll tell you what dice to roll" - Dave Arneson

If you are an OD&Der, it is only natural for you to be looking at Megarry's characters for signs of familiar stats, but you will be hard pressed to find them.  A few of the "ability scores" are there, albeit in 2d6 instead of 3d6, but the all familiar hit points, level, saving throws, etc., of the D&D are conspicuously absent.  Is this because these things were not a part of the Blackmoor game?  The answer to some extent depends on the particular stat.  In fact, while there seems to be a lot missing from the sheet, we can be certain nonetheless certain that there were some items of character information, that the players weren't allowed to know. 

As the quotes above show, Arneson prefered what we might call an immersion game, with as little "out of character" talk as possible.

"Just role playing not roll playing." Dave Arneson, Blackmoor at the Piazza, Sep 30, 2008 at 10:09pm ODD74 forum

Perhaps the genesis of this disposition lies in Arneson's contrasting experience of Wesely's nearly rule-less Braunstein games and all the "rules lawyering" that took place in his own Napoleonic games.  Arneson made a number of comments that one of the reason fantasy appealed to him was that no one could argue historical facts with him.  In one interview he said:

"How did it all start in Blackmoor?..... I was also quite tired of my Nappy campaign with all its rigid rules, etc., and was perhaps rebelling against it (in fact I'm sure I was!!).....  (For Blackmoor) rules were actually written down (but closely guarded by the referee and subject to change without notice if things got out of hand)."  Different Worlds magazine, June/July 1979, p6-7.

Given the context, it is pretty easy to see what is going on with Dave Megarry's character sheet.  Arneson apparently preferred to keep important rules details out of the hands of his players, including things that we would now think of as a part of character information.  The information the players had about their character was not the whole picture. 

Hit Points are perhaps the most obvious omission.  We might also expect to find Hit Dice, Level, and Experience Points. 

Despite not being directly referenced on the character sheet, we know these things were a part of a characters makeup.  Hit points and experience points are discussed in this POST, for example.  That post references Greg Svenson notes in the back of his 2nd edition CHAINMAIL.  Svenson had these notes, no doubt, because he was one of the first persons Arneson turned to with help refereeing Blackmoor adventures.  It was "need to know" information.

There's a bit more to be said about experience points, however.  Although it is true there is no XP total listed, Megarry does keep track of the monsters his characters have killed, and in the single case of the Scholaress character, he also writes their point value.  Which tells us at least something about the characters earned experience (more on this in a later post). 

Academically, this is all kind of interesting (to me anyway), but imagine for a moment, if Arneson's approach had become the norm for D&D.  Imagine character sheets where the only statistical information a player has is their ability scores, saving throws, armor class, and maybe their level.  It is the referee, not the players, who track the characters hit points and damage, experience points, and other "rulesy" type information.

So, you don't know what your hit point total is, or how much damage exactly (in points) you can do.  You don't know how close or not you might be to leveling up.  You probably don't know how much of a bonus that magic weapon has either.

Descriptions of action, especially of fights, would naturally be less laced with statistics and mathematics.  Instead of "You take 4 points of damage" it would necessarily come out as "You receive a deep gash and your character is feeling very weak." or some such.

One wonders what direction D&D would have developed in if the D&D player's character information had been limited in the same way it was in Blackmoor.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Megarry's Blackmoor Characters III - A Mystery

The mystery of the circle and squares.

Now here is a fun one.  You'll recall from the first post in this series (in point three) I mentioned two new stat which were added to the character sheets and placed near the character name.  These stats were unlabeled and distinguished from each other by having either a square or a circle drawn around the number.  Here's a close up of a couple:
It's hard to see in the pics I copied to the blog so here is a link where you can download better resolution jpegs.

So to reiterate, the "circle numbers" came first, at the time the Hercebeiner characters were created.  Then came the square numbers, and Megarry drew circles and squares around them to mark them as different.

What are they?

Before your mind goes racing to all the obvious D&D stuff, take note of the zeros, and keep in mind the ranges found on the 2 sheets; square numbers range from 0-4, whereas circle numbers range from 0-7.

My first thought was that they might perhaps represent levels.  Dave Arneson once said "Because the players in the original campaign could learn different skills and different abilities, virtually everybody who was a fighter also wanted to be able to throw magic.  And it seemed like everybody who was a magic-user also wanted to be able to fight.“  Dave Arneson, Mortality Radio interview, July 9th, 2004.   In FFC material, quite likely to be contemporary with Megarry's characters we read of an assistant to the Ran of Ah Foo who is "Level 7 Warrior and Magic". (1977:19)

However, when I presented the idea to Dave Megarry, he disagreed, "The only character that had some magic type ability was the Scholaress: she had the shape changing amulet and the vial of basilisk blood. I was not a magic user: my vision was more of Aragorn rather than Gandalf, if you get my meaning." Personal Communication, 2016

Mr. Megarry further explained that he knew what the squares were.  "The square numbers were the hit class / armor class of the characters. I am having a problem remembering what the round numbers meant. Arneson added something at the time or made us add the information at the time I did the Herk characters and I filled it in for my previous characters (for consistency, I guess:).  The Herk series is the three characters that were related to each other or part of the household in red.... 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. I think these are straight from the Chainmail combat system." Personal Communication, 2016

I suggested to Mr. Megarry that if it was from CHAINMAIL, then the numbers were probably no armor = 0; shield only = 1, leather armor = 2; chainmail = 3; plate armor = 4., and Dave Megarry thought that was probably it.

The puzzling thing about that is that it skips the "with shields" columns, so why use these numbers?  I mean, if you are just counting across on the Man to Man table "3" is leather and shield, not chain.  So it would seem to make more sense to just write "chain" or to number across all the column so as to avoid confusion.

I wondered if Mr. Megarry had gotten the circles and squares backwards, since circle numbers can be found as high as 7 (the Gester) which would be Plate armor, counting across.  Again, however Megarry corrected that notion, "The two characters, Earl's Jester and Hero Trany both have circle 7's and I know they did not have plate armor with shields!" Personal Communication, 2016

In fact, full plate seems to have been a rarity in Blackmoor.  I think it quite likely that the numbers in the squares do indeed refer to the Man to Man armor types in CHAINMAIL just as Megarry claims, but it is simply the case that none of Megarry's characters ever wore armor any more robust than type 4.  He said, "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..."  Personal Communication, 2016.  The Scholaress, by the way, has a square number of 4.  For reference here is the CM list, with numbers added:

no armor
Shield only
Leather + shield
Chainmail + shield
Plate + shield

Perhaps it is worth noting that this is also consistent with John Sniders remarks, "Armor .. I thought it was 1-8, my Boozero character started at 1 if I remember correctly, but then he was shall we say in his cups a tad much so Dave could have adjusted the system to account for this." Personal Communication 2009 

There's also this odd little note in the FFC, "ROBOTS - I roll one Six sided dice for Armor Class," (1977:74)

I also wondered if the circle and square numbers could both be armor class, like ascending vs descending, but the circle and square numbers do not correspond in any way that would allow them to be describing the same sets of armor, therefore, if they both represent a defense number of some kind, and the square numbers are a shorthand for CM armor types, it would seem that the only real option for the circle numbers would be helmets, or possibly shields.

Of course, there is no table in CHAINMAIL for shield types or helmet types - so if the numbers were intended to be a separate armor rating for either shields or helmets, Arneson would have to have created his own tables for them.  That seems a bit fiddly, and there is no evidence for such.  Also, when we look to the FFC, we find three kinds of helmets and 9 kinds of shields (three kinds of small, medium and large).  Since our number ranges in the circle and square figures are 0-4 and 0-7, helmets clearly don't fit the range.

Shields however remain a possibility for the 0-7 range of the circle numbers, but this again is problematic.  Yes, shields are already included on the Man to Man table, but it is conceivable that Arneson developed a shield rule like that found in the Dalluhn draft and in somewhat different form in the 3lbb booklets; namely that a magical shield would only "catch" a fraction (like 1/3rd) of the blows depending on the direction of the attack.  However, even this idea doesn't stand up well to scrutiny.  The numbers can't be a separate shield rating within the Man to Man method because the number combinations on the character sheet don't correspond in any meaningful way.  

Remember also that the circle numbers came first.  What sense does it make, for Arneson to have switched from a single "to hit" target number to determine a hit on a character, to a wholly unknown to hit table based on whether a character has a shield or not?

Well it doesn't.  About the only way it could make sense was if the circle numbers were a shield 2d6 saving throw number.  If a saving throw based on shields came first, then it might make some sense if armor were added in the manner Megarry suggested (no armor = 0; shield only = 1, leather armor = 2; chainmail = 3; plate armor = 4) because then the "with shield" column on the Man to Man table would be redundant.  Then again, type 1 "shield only" would seem to be redundant too.

There are two bits of circumstantial evidence that might support this; namely there is an "X5" shield, otherwise unexplained, in the treasure of the original Temple of the Frog (First Floor, Room 4, p37) and a cryptic comment in the FFC that "...the player received a "Saving Throw" against any hit he received." (1977:2).  Both are rather thin sauce, as the first might be a typo and the second doesn't seem to have any dependence on possessing a shield, but who knows.

Perhaps the only way it could make sense for the circles to represent shields and the squares to represent armor is if the numbers have nothing to do with the Man to Man table, and are instead "ablative" armor, like that found in the original Temple of The Frog and Craig Grasteck's "Rules to the game of Dungeon".  This type of armor will absorb a number of hits until it fails.

Honestly though, there's very little evidence for this type of armor in early balckmoor.  Further the numbers don't really fit well.  If the circles represent shields, then shields are significantly better than body armor according to the numbers.  They also don't come anywhere close to the number of hits the one known example found in the 1975 TotF.  That suit of armor could take 65! hits.  True it was space alien technology, but it is still a tremendous gap between the 2's and 3's we see in the circle and square numbers  and 65.

My last, best guess is that the circle numbers could represent an attack bonus, possibly also applicable to saving throws and such.  If you'll remember a good while back when I discussed Pete Gaylord's character sheet, there was an unexplained "+5" written next to his best weapon, the pole axe.  At that time I pointed to the "Blackmoor Military Manpower Distribution" list (FFC 1977:17), where following each Player Character, their Hit Dice are listed, and many of them include a bonus ranging from 1-5, though only Svenny has +5 and the rest are +1 or 2.  Maybe the circle numbers are this sort of bonus.

Okay, that was a lot of verbiage, so I'll summarize:

Squares: These numbers represent armor class corresponding to the Man to man table in CHAINMAIL.  They range either 0-4 or 0-7.

Circles:  These numbers could be:

* A shield saving throw rating possibly in cojunction with a 0-4 AC range
* A bonus applied to attacks, most likely to  damage rolls
* Something completely different  

l'm afraid I have to leave it at that until more information becomes available, but feel free to speculate in the comments.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Drive-Thru News

Quick Update

After several attempts that came back with unsatisfactory covers, I received a proof copy today of The Book of Elder Magic in softcover that came out great.

To date then, the following are available on RPGNOW and Drive Thru RPG Southerwood Publishing

* Champions of ZED (Hardcover, PDF)

* Book of Elder Magic (Hardcover, Softcover, PDF)

* Mines of Wexham (PDF)

There's also PDF freebies including the reference sheets

More to come..... 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Proper Dungeon Article

Hey all,

So I've been so engrossed (gaming time wise) with the study of Dave Megarry's character sheet that I failed to notice until yesterday that the latest issue of & Magazine has been released.

I mention that here because within the pages of that sterling issue is an article I wrote titled "Setting up a Proper Dungeon."  This is a substantially updated version of the article I gave out to Champions of ZED backers several years ago.

Here's the link to a free download & Mag

If you are not familiar, & Magazine is a terrific source of old school gaming goodness.  Check it out.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Megarry's Blackmoor Characters II

Megarry Matrix
Gaylord Matrix
AiF equivalents












Hand Axe
Hand Axe

Battle Axe
Battle Axe
Two Handed Axe
Morning Star
Morning Star

Composite Bow
Composite Bow
Composite Bow

Pole Arms
Pole Arms


Two handed Sword
Two handed Sword
Two handed Sword
Mounted Lance
Mounted Lance


Heavy Crossbow

Light Catapult
Light Catapult

Heavy Catapult
Heavy Catapult


Note: Bolded/italicized weapons are those of the more limited list on Megarry's second sheet. The order of items generally follows Gaylord's with some rearrangement for convenient comparison.

Previously, I've discussed Pete Gaylord's  character sheet in a short series of posts (please see  Character-Sheet-Clues  Character-Sheet-Clues-part-II  and  Character-Sheet-Clues-III ).

Now that Megarry's character sheets have been made available, we have a basis for comparison.  

One of our first concerns is relative dating.  It appears that Gaylords sheet may well be slightly older than Megarry's.  Although, as showh in the above table,  they are very nearly identical in the listed characteristics.  

Gaylord's character was a wizard and contains information on level and magic not on Megarry's sheet, so we will set that information aside for now.  Of greater significance may be the circle and square numbers mentioned in point three in yesterday's post.  Gaylord's sheet lacks these circle and square numbers, therefore seemingly placing the sheet at a time prior to Megarry's Hecebeiner chracters.  Admittedly, the circle and square numbers may have been irrelevant to a wizard, and so must be viewed with caution as a dating tool.  However,  Gaylord's sheet also lacks a Miscellaneous category, which we know was added to Megarry's.  It is therefore almost certain that at the least, Gaylod's sheet dates prior to the creation of the David "Diamonds" Balfour character.  Further, note that Gaylord lacks Loyalty, but has "Credability".  Loyalty is a trait we see mentioned in the FFC and is well known even in D&D.  I suggest that it is more likely for Credibility to have been dropped and Loyalty to have been added than the reverse.  It is likely also significant that on Megarry's sheet, Halbard is spelled correctly, "stone" is missing, and a new weapon "bow" appears.   The correctly spelled "halbard" in particular may indicate that Megarry's character sheet follows the publication of the second edition of CHAINMAIL in July of 1972, because the spelling in Gaylords sheet, "Halbear" copies a misspelling found in the first printing of CHAINMAIL.  Of course, it is also quite possible that Mr. Megarry simply corrected the spelling himself.

Notice on the above table I've included an AiF column.  Primarily, this was done as merely a useful reference and example of the extent to which AiF does, and does not, conform to the original Blackmoor game. 

There are 14 "non-weapon" skills on Megarry's sheet compared to 13 on Gaylords.  Eleven of these are shared in common.  The odd traits out are Credibility and Cunning on Gaylords sheet, and Throwing, Loyalty and Miscellaneous on Megarry's sheet. 
What remains is a core of  11 common "ability" or "non-weapon" traits, utilized reportedly and apparently as 2d6 roll under saving throws.

Likewise there is a great commonality in the weapon types.  That's hardly surprising since they are taken directly from the lists in CHAINMAIL.  However, Megarry's second page evidences an interesting change in the weapons list.  These are indicated in the table above by being bolded and italicized. Dave Megarry explains: "When we get to the shorter page 2, the number of items to roll has lessened as we determined we weren't using the mounted lance in the dungeon! And we would figure out what our ability was for a particular weapon if we bought or acquired it." Personal Communication, 2016