Post Apocalyse Blackmoor

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

Following up on my last post regarding mapping Blackmoor on Greyhawk, let's go in for a closer look at what that could be like.  I'll start with a new map, building on the earlier post and adding better detail.

This map is quite accurate in the placement of locations.  It follows the placement of towns exactly as in Arneson's original pre-CHAINMAIL map of 1971, with detail added from his hand-drawn FFC sketch and the maps from the DA and D20 series as needed.  That's why the coastline has a bit more detail.

Here is what I imagined happened, based upon my reading of Greyhawk lore using Greyhawk dates:

540 CY:  The Egg of Coot unleashes a massively overpowered Move Terrain spell on the Crystal Peaks. The entire mountain range is broken up and moved under the seabed around Blackmoor Bay.  The resulting seismic upheaval causes  the land to shift and rise, dries  up seas, rivers and lakes and drastically changes the geography of Blackmoor.  The void where the Crystal Peaks had been instantly floods with sea water.  As the resulting tsunami resides, a new bay is formed between the Black Hills and the Stormkiller Mountains.   

541 CY: Fifth Coot invasion - following on the devastation caused by the seismic upheaval, Coots armies easily sweep across the land.  Blackmoor castle holds out the longest, but falls within a week.  Surviving dignitaries and heroes retreat to the Comeback Inn. The Egg is unable to breech the Inn, but neither could anyone inside escape. It is possible that they still wait for rescue from without. 

542 CY: The archbaron's wife escaps to Dantredun, where she gives birth to the archbaron's son, Bestmo. 

What can we say about this world?  I imagine a place of ruin and desolation, where once prosperous towns are mere ruined piles or half flooded husks where a few poor fishermen eek out a living in the shadow of the ominous Coot.

The elves and dwarves have fled (or have they?), but the great elven forest remains, and has spread eastward, engulfing the abandoned ruins of Jackport.

The Dwarves of the Crystal Peaks are presumed dead, or are they trapped far underground?

Blackmoor Castle is a nightmare ruled by the centuries old cyborg Baron AhFoo surrounded by the slaves of Coot, Red Coven Sorceresses, Id cultist and twisted monsters.

The wealth of old Blackmoor lies hidden in moldering crypts, buried dungeons and broken cities.

Off the map to the West, the last Noble heirs to Blackmoor have built up the oasis of Dantredun into a stable walled town while still others live a trapped existence in the ComeBack Inn.

The Temple of Id is rebuilt and flourishing.

The Firefrost channel (a river coming down from the Black Ice) is now cut off from the sea, leaving Skandaharians landlocked and warring among themselves.

A great dry plain exists around Blackmoor where once there were lakes and rives - the waters have shifted south and west, but the Root river remains much as it was.

A great swath of the plains to the south and southwest of Blackmoor are now a flooded swamp "the Cold Marsh" which has even turned the dry Valley of the Ancients into a near impassable marsh.  Creatures from the swamps of old Blackmoor have spread and flourished in this expanded habitat.

In short, Blackmoor in the World of Greyhawk is a land of much opportunity for adventure!

Mapping Greyhawk on Blackmoor

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

The Greyhawk setting has a lot of fans - waaay more than Blackmoor.  But, in a way, that's an odd thing to say, because the city of  Greyhawk and the land of Blackmoor were birthed on the same continent at the dawn of the game.  

Of course, after Arneson and Gygax went their seperate ways, so did their campaigns.  Arneson continued to develop Blackmoor, which got transported first into the Wilderlands, and then into Mystara's ancient past, and then into an unspecified world. Each time Blackmoor moved, the setting built on it's own internal history, more or less, even though the outside world changed.

Meanwhile, The world of Greyhawk never lost it's Blackmoor, seemingly a vestigial of games past, largely neglected in play.

Blackmoor, as shown on maps of World of Greyhawk, is radically different from the map Arneson drew of his setting - but perhaps not entirely unrecognizable. Naturally there have been attempts to merge Arneson's vision of Blackmoor, with that neglect spot on the Greyhawk map.  Largely, these have involved redrawing the Greyhawk map - understandably not something very popular with Greyhawk fans.

The other day, a thought occured to me.  What if the differences found on the World of Greyhawk maps could be explained by an actual, world altering event?  After all, cataclysms are a familiar trope in Greyhawk, and indeed in D&D in general.  

Since Greyhawk has it's own lore regarding the current state of Blackmoor, any changes would have to have happened in the past - a past that could be greatly enriched with Blackmoor's deep well of gaming material.  Then what seemed the perfect solution hit me - the Egg of Coot.

The Egg of Coot exists in Greyhawk lore much as in Blackmoor, and has been hell bent on conquering the Blackmoor from the start.  In Blackmoor canon, The Egg launched 4, ultimately failed attempts, however, according to Greyhawk lore, The Egg eventually succeed. 

How is unspecified, but, let's suppose the Egg unleashed mighty magics to alter the face of the land, drain the bay that seperated it's forces from Blackmoor, flatten cities, alter the course of rivers and so on.  What then would the land look like?

Below are the maps to show this.  The first is a printout of the Zeitgeist games Blackmoor map with the "new" coastline drawn in black sharpie.  As a template, I used the version of Blackmoor shown in Dungeon #126 - primarily because it had a scale bar I could and did use to match scale to the Blackmoor map.  

Once I had the scales matched I layed one map atop the other and was delighted to find that the towns of Blackmoor and Maus/Mosshold lined up exactly - probably not a coincidence.  Then I just redrew the coastline following the Greyhawk exemplar.

Note that the coastline is a bit altered by me in the southern portion to account for major mountainous areas which I presume were less likely to flood (though one entire range- the Crystal Peaks - is now underwater).

Here is the Greyhawk map from  Dungeon #126 (2005) I used as a guide:

This map shows the location of major towns onto the Greyhawk map:

And to make it a bit clearer, here is a featureless map with the towns included:

You can see Blackmoor and Maus/Mosshold line up perfectly, as they should.  Ramsgate/Ramshorn and Glendower/Glendour are quite off, but the WoG placement of these locations is of no real consequence and they can easily be re-positioned to where they "should" be.

What's the advantage for the Greyhawk player to add these Blackmoor details to their games?  The answer is the wealth of detail they can mine from Blackmoor products.  Most of these locations will no doubt be abandoned ruins full of monsters and ancient treasure.  Some may be embattled castles and lost enclaves of magic.  The possibilities here really abound.  Enjoy.

The Dungeon! Board Game as a Foundation of D&D.

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , ,

Readers of this 'blog have heard the tale of Dungeon! before, so to quickly recap, the game was created by David Megarry in a fevered, 72 hour marathon of creativity in October of 1972.  His goal was to distill his experience as a player in Blackmoor dungeon into a simpler board game playable without a Referee.

Dungeon! is often described as a kind of D&D light or introductory D&D.  Most gamers, and seemingly most researchers have assumed that the Dungeon! rules as published are drawn from the rules of D&D.  In other words, when a rule or feature appears in Dungeon! with a compatible counterpart in D&D, D&D is the source, not Dungeon!.

This is a natural supposition, given that Dungeon! was first published more than a year after D&D, and David Megarry's name appears nowhere in the D&D booklets.  

Is it possible that we've gotten this story backwards and the reality of which game influenced which is the other way around? Could David Megarry actually be an unsung contributor to the foundations of D&D?

To examine these question, we need to consider quite a number of things, starting with an evening, late in the year of 1972. In late November or early December, David Megarry and David Arneson drove through a snowstorm from Minneapolis to Lake Geneva.  Arneson wanted to show Gygax his Blackmoor game, and Megarry's brought along his prototype Dungeon! in an effort to interest Don Lowry, owner of Guidon games.  Gygax was working for Lowry at the time. 

Megarry, of course, explained his game to Gygax in detail, which would suggest the possibility that Megarry's original Dungeon game rules could have inspired their analogs in D&D, but without a copy of those rules in hand it was difficult for researchers to develop substantive propositions.  The rules to the game generally available had been written and edited by Gygax well after D&D had been published, and it was impossible to know to what extent he had deviated from Megarry's original.

At least, that was the situation until August of 2018, when Megarry was able to get a copy of his second iteration of the rules.  Megarry had given a complete hand made copy of his game to Sandy Rosenberg as a birthday present in August of 1973.  Sandy still has her game, along with Megarry's hand written rules, photos of which she gladly sent to David.

These "Dungeons of Pasha Cada" rules are the oldest extant set we know of, but the immediate question arises, just how old?   According to Megarry;

"It appears after I got my rejection letter on 24 Dec 1972 from Parker Bros., I called Gary and asked if he would represent Dungeon to Don Lowry. There then ensued several phone calls over two months where I added material requested by Gary, the biggest change was player-to-player combat. I would read my changes to him on the phone. I insisted that these additional rules needed to be added to the advance rule section. He finally relented. So Sandy's rules are what got sent to Lowry in April 1973"  Pers Comm July 2019

"So the Pasha Cada name did come about after the prototype, but in Feb-Mar 1973 when I was preparing the prototype to be sent to Lowry. I felt I would need to have a name for submission to a game publisher....  I did not leave the prototype in November 1972 with Gary but sent it directly to Lowry in April 1973 (I have my transmittal letter). Gary had hyped the game to Don and Don agreed to look at it because of this recommendation. Lowry accepted the game for publication and sent me a royalty contract which was executed (I also have this documentation)....  Gary would not get the prototype until August 1973 (I think I have the bus ticket stub for that trip to Lake Geneva, as well)."  Pers Comm, August 2018

The bus trip to Lake Geneva Megarry is referring to is the last leg of a Greyhound Bus Pass summer excursion.  On his travels, he was able to retrieve his game prototype directly from Lowry in Belfast, Maine, and later physically deliver it to Gygax.    

"I returned to Minnesota in August 1973 with the prototype and found a letter from Gary asking for the prototype. My last trip on the Greyhound pass was down to Lake Geneva with the Prototype in early August 1973, just before Gen Con of that year. What I gave him was the board, the cards and a copy of the rule book that I had given Lowry by mail. The board was the original, and the cards were the original but the rule booklet would have been the enhanced Sandy set."  Pers Comm July 2019

These "Sandy set" Pasha Cada rules are not precisely identical to the rules he originally wrote in October of 1972.  We know with certainty of several changes; some slight differences in monsters and treasure, the added "Pasha Cada" name and more significantly the addition of a section of player vs. player rules at the suggestion of Gary Gygax.

However, Megarry contends that the addition of the Player vs. Player rules was the most substantial difference between the Pasha Cada rules and his original prototype. 

"The basic rules are what I produced for the original game, but I have not found a copy with just those rules. So, my story is that the basic rules are what I originally wrote and added the advanced rules with the suggested Gary changes."  Pers Comm July 2019

We can largely rule out any influence on Megarry's "Pasha Cada" version of the rules from the draft rules of D&D typed by Gygax (GD&D or Guidon D&D as they have been called), for while it is unclear exactly when the Twin Cities gamers first received these rules, it appears to have been no earlier than late March, and probably closer to June of 1973.

Nevertheless, we do have to concede some uncertainty here regarding the origin of some similar features between D&D and Dungeon because of the phone communication between the two.

Note however, that Megarry places these phone calls in January/February 1973, a time when the D&D manuscript was only beginning to take shape.  So while this line of influence is a possibility and we would be remiss if we didn't consider it, we have to ask how likely it would be for Gygax, over the phone, to have suggested, and Megarry to have subsequently made, additions and alterations to his rules and methods to make them match an unfinished, draft-in-progress ruleset for a largely different game.  Or is it more credible to suggest the reverse, that Gygax having already played Megarry's Dungeon game, and having Megarry reading his Dungeon rules over the phone for discussion and refinement, was incorporating aspects of Megarry's game into his fledgling D&D draft?  

In fact, if Gygax were making some effort to influence Megarry for purposes of compatibility with D&D we might expect a great deal more similarity between the two games.  Yet, overall, Dungeon! doesn't display any particular concern with compatibility to D&D in any of its early version. 

This last point is perhaps the most compelling fact in Megarry's favor.  It seems quite unlikely that Gygax, for example would have suggested Megarry change a handful of specific rules to match those in the fledgling drafts of D&D while ignoring many other similar rules and ignoring whole key features, like the Cleric class for example.  The more recent versions of the Dungeon! game do make these sort of changes, with the inclusion of character classes Clerics and Rogues, more spells, traps, treasures and so on.  In the Pasha Cada rules, any concern with compatibility, or even general conformity to D&D, such as in the familiar three character classes, familiar terms for spells, magic items and treasures and so on, is simply absent.  There is therefore no reason to suppose any Pasha Cada rules were changed or inserted in a conformity effort.

Further, it is important to note that Megarry himself holds that his Basic rules were much the same between the '72 and '73 versions, with most of the changes going into the Advanced section.

In short, between the original cards and game board of Oct '72 and the Pasha Cada rules with an absolute terminus anti-quem date of August 1973, we have a solid basis for comparison of features with D&D, and where questions arise, reasonable deductions can be made.

With all that in mind, let's look at some features Dungeons of Pasha Cada has in common with D&D.  Below I identify six items either integral or deeply associated with D&D which seem to first appear in Megarry's material.  These are items which may be uniquely Megarry's.   I have not included the many features which have clear antecedents in either Arneson's early Blackmoor material or are to be found within the pages of CHAINMAIL.

1.)* The Deeper You Go...

"Byword:  The deeper you go, the better they are but the worse it gets."  Dungeons of Pasha Cada, p14

It is important to note that we are actually considering three separate principles here, that have been deliberately entwined both in Megarry's Dungeon! and in D&D.

The first is that dungeons inhabitants grow stronger with depth

The second is that the degree of challenge for adventurers by dungeon level relates to the adventurers character level - i.e. dungeon level equals character level.

The third is that treasure rewards get greater in relation to dungeon level depth.

A classic trope of D&D is that dungeons get predictably harder by level, with predictably greater treasure, and that this difficulty is roughly matched by character level - Yet this is exactly what we see the Dungeon of Pasha Cada set up to do.  While we have the above quote from the Pasha Cada rules, we can also deduce the same rule from Megarry's 1972 game cards.  He clearly set up the game to be both more challenging by level and more rewarding. 

"I figured out the monster treasure mix. You have to sort of, what I call, balance the game.  You have to make sure that the prizes match the monster type for the level that they're at; so that you also want to give each player, even though they have really disparate abilities, all the way from an Elf up to a Wizard, an equal opportunity to be able to win the game."  
David Megarry, Miniatures, Board Games, and Beyond, YouTube video, published Aug 21, 2012

Now, many will say that this dungeon difficulty principle should be attributed to Arneson, not Megarry.  They will rightly point to Arneson's First Fantasy Camapign booklet, where in 1977 (page 44) he explained how he created a protection point system for stocking dungeons and a method for increasing the points and thus the difficulty as the dungeon got deeper.  

The problem is, in Arneson's published 1972 dungeon material, there is no evidence at all of the increasing difficulty factor he described in his 1977 introduction.  Arneson definitely used points to stock the dungeon, but he definitely did not worry about it being harder as it went deeper or in any way attempt to calibrate dungeon level to his character types.  This fact is well illustrated in the two tables below:

Dungeon Level
Total Monster Rooms
Total Points

4 (Tunnels)

Dungeon Level
Total Monster Rooms
Total Points

The "Level Difficulty" column quantifies the number of points allocated to the level (total of all monster Hit Points) divided by the number of inhabited rooms.  Basically, it tells us the average number of Hit Points players would face per room encounter.  A more difficult level will have a higher average of HP per room.

Even if we suppose that some of the Blackmoor dungeon levels were created at different times using slightly different methods, Glendower was certainly done all at once.  Neither Glendower nor Blackmoor dungeons show any hint of concern for tying dungeon difficulty to dungeon level.  

The same process illustrated above for monsters can be followed for the treasures found in Blackmoor dungeon, with similar results.  I won't bore you with more tables, but suffice it to say the value of Arnenson's Blackmoor dungeon treasures are just as unrelated to dungeon depth as his monsters are.

This is strong evidence that both Arneson and Gygax got the notion of dungeons being predictably more difficult as they go down, with lower levels designed to challenge more powerful characters and provide more treasure rewards, directly from David Megarry.

In fact, in the case of D&D we can be even more specific.  In a series of tables used both for wandering monsters and dungeon stocking found in booklet III Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, on pages 10 and 11, monsters are grouped into precisely 6 levels of difficulty - exactly as is the case with Dungeon!  While the lists do not correspond one to one between games, there may be two reasons why: the first being that D&D has a lot more monsters, and the second that each game handles monster variability differently for practical reasons.

Both games place easier monsters on level one and the hardest ones on level six. but in Megarry's Dungeon, monster variability between dungeon levels is achieved through having more or less cards of a particular monster, so it is more or less likely to appear on the board.  So, for example, Megarry's game has three orc cards on level one, but only 1 ghoul card.  D&D has no cards and so achieves the same effect of determining the frequency of a given monster on a given dungeon level by using a "MONSTER DETERMINATION AND LEVEL OF MONSTER MATRIX" table, where a die roll determines what "level" of monster from the 1-6 list appears on what level of the dungeon.

The D&D method is complex, and appears to be a conscious attempt through the use of dice to model the difficulty and variability seen in Megarry's 1-6 level monster cards.  The same principle of variability over 1-6 levels is achieved.

2.)  Secret Doors

From the start, there were Secret Passages in Blackmoor dungeon, but there is no clear evidence of what method Arneson used to determine if a character had found and opened the Secret Door.  Megarry says, "Arneson had us roll against one of our traits to find a secret door if one existed. I think it was a secret roll and would have been two dice. I used one dice to simplify things."
Pers Comm, May 2017

It's worth pointing out here that the Richard Snider Variant rules have yet another method for Secret Doors - a fact which lends support to Megarry's claim to have developed his own rule.

Megarry's one dice rule:

"To get through a secret entrance, a player must either roll a one or two on one die or else have a secret entrance card." Dungeons of Pasha Cada, p2

Compare to these rules from Gygax:

"Secret passages will be located on the roll of a 1 or a 2 (on a six-sided die) by men, dwarves or hobbits." U&WA, p 3.
"Secret Doors and Traps Detection: When held the Wand will give warning of either thing when it is brought within 2" of it." M&T p34
"The Secret Entrance Card represents a wand which detects Secret Doors." p4 Dungeon! rulebook 1975, written by Gary Gygax.

Clearly, an essentially identical rule regarding the use of Secret Door is present in Megarry's Pasha Cada rules and D&D. 

Interestingly, as shown in the quote above, Gygax interpreted the Dungeon! card as a wand, and similarly has a Secret Door wand in D&D.  Which idea inspired which?  

3.)   Leaving the Dungeon to Replenish Spells

"When the Wizard runs out of spells, or any type of spell,
he may replenish them by returning to the Main Staircase. Upon
reaching the Main Staircase, the wizard stops and draws new spell
cards from the spell deck. The next turn, the Wizard may go back
down into the dungeons." Dungeons of Pasha Cada, 6

"The number in each column opposite each applicable character indicates the number of spells of each level that can be used (remembered during single any adventure) by that character." Men & Magic, p19.

While exactly what constitutes an "adventure" in D&D terms may be a bit ambiguous, it is clear that neither Megarry nor Gygax allowed the re-acquisition of spells while exploring the dungeon.   The rule in both games is that you get a fixed number of spells and if you want to replenish those spells you have to go out of the "adventure" to safety in order to do so. 

There's no particular reason why this should be the case in D&D, it just is.  Later versions of the game changed the rule entirely to allow reacquisition of spells almost anywhere.  So in this case, the original D&D rule seems merely to mimic the Dungeon! rule.

4.)  Medallion of ESP

"The Gold Medallion card allows the bearer to see what the monster is in a large yellow room or behind a door. The player moves to a door square or next to a large yellow room and looks at the monster card without showing anyone else." Dungeons of Pasha Cada,

This one is a bit tricky since magic "Medallion" does show up in Blackmoor dungeon (Level 10, room 10), so it is possible that Arneson originated this item, but we have no description from Arneson regarding what his Medallion did.  Megarry's Gold Medallion is the first to specify a room scrying function.

When Gygax rewrote the rules for the 1975 publication of Dungeon! he altered the name to Medallion of ESP, but kept the rules for how it functioned in the game.  Thus the Gold Medallion and Medallion of ESP are one and the same.  Megarry's Medallion seems to have made the jump to D&D:

 "Medallions of ESP: These devices are usable by all classes of characters, even Dwarves, but the device malfunctions on a roll of 6, so whenever in use roll a six-sided die to check it." M&T p36

5.)  Wandering Monsters

"For added realism a rule for hallway encounters with monsters is
introduced. All the monster cards not used in the set-up should be
put in a box. (All subsequently destroyed monster cards will be put
into this box, too.) Before each player moves or during lost turns he
must roll one die. If he rolls a six, he must draw a monster card from the dead pile box and fight it on the spot."  Dungeons of Pasha Cada, p13

"Wandering Monsters: At the end of every turn the referee will roll a six-sided die to see if a "wandering monster" has been encountered. A roll of 6 indicates a wandering monster has appeared... The kind of monster is determined on the table below. (For wilderness encounters an entirely different table will be used.)" U&WA p10.

Conceptually, something like wandering monsters do appear in early Blackmoor first, but as far as we have evidence, they are to be found only in a wilderness context.  On page 34 of the FFC we find Arneson's "Encounter Matrix One", which provides a table for populating wilderness hexes and determining random encounters player characters might have while traveling.

There is no evidence Arneson was rolling for wandering monsters during dungeon explorations when Megarry designed his game, and if he was, it was perhaps only in certain cases, such as we see in the dungeons of the Temple of the Frog published in 1975.  In that dungeon, Arneson gives certain of the monsters a percent chance for travel outside of their rooms in certain areas.  So it is possible to encounter a medusa in the corridor instead of in her lair, for example.

Be that as it may, the idea of periodically rolling a 6 on a d6 to check for a randomly generated monster is not to be found in Arneson's early Blackmoor.   Yet we do find that exact rule in the Dungeons of Pasha Cada and in D&D.

6.)  Were Rats

Surely wererats are an iconic staple of D&D, yet they are a monster that was virtually unheard of before D&D was published.  The creature might have been inspired by Fritz Leiber's Swords of Lankhmar (1968), though the book has "Ratmen" not "wererats" and they aren't depicted as lycanthropes but rather as a tribe of intelligent rats who sometimes have a human-like form.  In any case, the wererat enters into the published D&D repertoire with the Greyhawk Supplement (1975).  However, David Megarry has Wererats on his list of dungeon monsters fully two years earlier.  Moreover, this isn't the only time wererats show up in Twin Cities material.  Greg Svenson has them in his Tonisborg dungeon stocking list dating to January 1974, give or take.  As with the "Medallion" discussed above, it is hard to say exactly who came up with the idea first.  This monster might have been something Arneson or Svenson or any one of the other guys first proposed.  Nevertheless Megarry must at least be given the credit for the oldest known listing and game stats, and appears to be the proximate source for the D&D version.   

Concluding Thoughts

The purpose of this essay isn't to demonstrate anything conclusively or to be completely thorough on the subject.  What I hope to have shown is that there is good reason to suppose that David Megarry may well deserve credit where none is usually given.  His dungeon game influenced D&D in many ways, some of them quite subtle, but others, specifically the six points discussed here, appear to be direct carry overs from Megarry's game.  

Of the six points discussed, wandering monsters and dungeon difficulty by level are especially central architecture of the D&D system - hardly a game has been played without some influence from these concepts.

The possibilities we are left with are rather simple: these six ideas were introduced to the game through Arneson, Gygax, or Megarry.  These particular cases were presented because the evidence in each favors David Megarry, as the creator of these aspects of D&D, suggesting his contributions are non-trivial.  The impact of Megarry's contributions may be hard to measure, but it seems time to acknowledge that some of the familiar aspects of how we play the game were the brainchildren of David Megarry, and none other.   

*P.S.  The idea that Megarry was responsible for the "more difficult as it goes down by level" concept was first voiced in a very interesting post by Tavis Allison in 2012,  You can read about it Here

Froghole Dungeon Part One

Author: DHBoggs / Labels:

Around March of 2013 I began a "by the book"campaign dungeon project as an outgrowth of the "Setting up a Proper Dungeon" article published in issue.

The idea was to use only the random tables in OD&D, and to use random maps generated from a mishmash of dungeon geomorphs (the intent was to have an artist I knew from the ski resort I worked at redraw the whole thing once numbers, stairs, and other changes were finalized, but now I will just release as is).

To generate the monsters and treasure I used dice, for the most part, but for the especially tedious task of rolling gems and jewelry I used a computer program.  Anyone who has ever attempted to roll up a by the book dungeon using dice will certainly know how incredibly time consuming it can be. 

The monsters were hand picked from lists made according to the number of Hit Dice, and I tried to pick them according to a theme chosen for the level.  Because my monster lists were not much expanded beyond the monsters of the original game, there wasn't always a whole lot of choice, but for the most part it was doable. 

The backstory of the dungeon was entirely flexible and could be changed without a whole lot of fuss.  I settled on a placement withing the Great Swamp of Blackmoor and the following story:

"Three thousand five hundred and forty four years before the founding of the Great Empire, the first magnificent civilization of the Northern Marches died a grisly death. For a millennium a highly intelligent and delicate amphibious race, the Groda, had raised wonderous stone spires, ziggurats, and cities surrounding broad plazas, throughout the great swamp of Mil. 

They had developed magnificent magics, arts and architecture, but their greatness became their downfall, as they began to reach out, seeking new territories and colonies, the discovered something else, a plague which ran through the populace like wildfire, killing millions. 

They had long attracted the attention of dark and sinister forces, the Baledraugs, who sensing their weakness, began to attack them. One by one the Grodian cities toppled. The Groda turned to dark magics to try to save themselves. They bred new warrior races, the Sar-Aigu and the Gator men, to fight the Baledraugs, but these new servants were easily corrupted, and often as not turned on their masters. The Groda soon were no more.

Their cities crumbled, leaving only the occasional ruin poking out of the fetid swamp.  Most of their underground structures have likewise collapsed.  The old faded map in your hands, however, claims that one such great dungeon remains intact, carved into a low jutting hill of black rock somewhere deep in the swamp."

Deep in the swamp lies many a mystery. Ancient ruins, barely visible rising from the muck and covered in verdure, surround a low hill. In a broad opening on the hill, a strange pyramid like ruins seem to guard a passage leading into darkness.....

From time to time between other postings, I'll share what I created for this dungeon.  Next up will be Level 1 maps and key, and maybe a bit about the swamp itself.

Leveling Up in the Dungeon Boardgame

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

Those familiar with David Megarry's Dungeon! boardgame know that the game wasn't designed with character growth or "leveling up" in mind.  Dungeon! is a simplified representation of an early 1970's dungeon crawl - minus the referee and the role-playing.

Recently I was reminded of an email chain I participated in just over a year ago, and I want to share here and expand on some of my thoughts from that discussion.  

We were talking about the seeming randomness in the OD&D experience point tables, and the point was made that Dave Megarry had put a great deal of thought and effort in determining a balanced number of gold pieces each character type needed to win in the Dungeon! boardgame.  It doesn't take much imagination to see a parallel between gold pieces and points, and winning and leveling up.

So for fun, I looked at the numbers in Dungeon! for each character type to win, and it looks like this:

Elf: 10,000 GP
Hero: 10,000 GP
SuperHero 20,000 GP
Wizard: 30,000 GP

That's a lot of "points" of course and we only see what it takes to go up one level, so to speak.  

However, here is a curiosity that strikes me as an interesting way of looking at Megarry's numbers.  The Beyond This Point be Dragons manuscript has a rule regarding XP from treasure, that the fighter class can use GP on a "10 for one basis" for experience points.  If we apply a similar 10:1 ratio to all the Dungeon! GP goals we get this:

Elf: 1000 XP
Hero: 1000 XP
SuperHero 2000 XP
Wizard: 3000 XP

Remember the discussion (HERE) of Greg Svenson's 1972 game notes with his comment "become super hero if you kill 1000 points of anything"?  

One tenth of the 10,000 XP from treasure for the "Fighter" classes in Megarry's Dungeon! and the 1000 XP from killing things being equal "leveling up" numbers could certainly be coincidental, but it looks less so when we also toss in the XP charts from the original "Guidon" draft of D&D.  In the GD&D draft, 1000 points are what the Fighter and Magic-user originally needed to go from level 1 to level 2.

Sound plausible? Thing is, the numbers I gave are for the published (1975) Dungeon! game.  They are altered by Gary Gygax, and not David Megarry's 1972 originals.  They reflect Gygax's perception of how the numbers ought to be.  Megarry's original numbers from 1972 are:

Elf: 12,000 GP
Hero: 15,000 GP
SuperHero 20,000 GP

Wizard: 25,000 GP

Megarry's numbers are more customized and also not as far apart as Gygax's, otherwise they aren't so very different, suggesting a generally accepted ballpark of what were appropriate goals for each character type. 

So what about the poor Wizard, who, at a 1/10 ratio needed a full either 2500 or 3000 points to level up?  Well the thing to realize is that the Dungeon! Wizard is a more powerful character, not some flunky starting out.  In D&D terms we would call this a "Name Level" character, and needs more points to win (level up), just as the superhero needs more than a hero.

Interestingly, even at this early stage, David Megarry recognized how unequal to the other classes a high powered wizard character would be.

Whether Dungeon! really reflects a 1000 XP to level meme in the pre-D&D era or not is hard to say.  That may not even be the most important thing to note, however.

Megarry's gold coin totals establish something else that translates to the D&D tables, and that is that higher levels require more points - not just a straight 10,000 for everybody.  Thus a superhero "level" character needs twice as many points and a Wizard even more.  It doesn't seem much of a stretch to see the architecture of the D&D XP tables being pioneered in Megarry's Dungeon! goals.

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 .

About Me

My photo
Game Archaeologist/Anthropologist, Scholar, licensed Real Estate agent, and a rural American father of three.
Powered by Blogger.

My Blog List