Sunday, October 9, 2016

Megarry Early Blackmoor Character Matrix






The illustration shown here is of two Blackmoor character sheets dating to circa 1971* belonging to David Megarry.  These are his sheets from his play in Blackmoor.  As such, they are a key witness to the early development of fantasy role playing games, and contain some of the very first "player characters" ever created.

" I was not there at the May 1971 event, I joined later. Most likely because I was not in the current Napoleonic battle. I only went to Arneson's basement when I was part of a battle. This changed when the fantasy was added: then we started showing up on a regular basis.  McDuck was the first explorer I kept track of...there might have been a first day character that I clumsily rolled with the help of Duane Jenkins, I think, but that one died on the first expedition. I then made up my sheet to organize my characters. McDuck also died on his first encounter, so I made up a #1 (think Picard..;) thinking that he would also die. But low and behold he lasted for a month or so (maybe longer, I am checking that...) and so I have come to consider #1 to be McDuck."  David Megarry, personal communication 2016

One of the most remarkable aspects of these sheets was not immediately apparent to me.   There are some 20 characters represented, but these characters were not, as one might suppose, rolled up for some purpose for a single game or even a short series of games.,

"...it is a moving history. The first column, McDuck, was the only entry when I started this sheet. As characters died, I would create a new one. These sheets represent 2+ years of gaming." David Megarry, personal communication 2016

Two plus years of gaming!  What is immediately surprising about that, is that we have a fairly entrenched concept of Arneson's gaming rules as being very fluid and evolving, yet these sheets evidence a much more stable situation within Blackmoor game mechanics than we had supposed.  Arneson's rules were fluid and evolving, certainly, but that variability now appears to have been a case of fluctuating rules at the margins built around a more stable, character centered core.

Nevertheless, such changes as we do find evidenced in the sheets are terrific clues to the growth of the game.  I'll start with four important observations.

" The availability of writing utensils determines the colors: green and red markers were used on those days that I grabbed them to write down the character and numbers." David Megarry, personal communication 2016

First, when the character David "Diamonds" Balfour was created, a miscellaneous category was added to the character traits list. - written with green felt pen.  Dave Megarry says " The misc. line was added...  I think Arneson wanted to streamline non-typical situations."

Second, when the Hercebeiner family was created, a new stat was added to all the characters.  This stat was written with a red felt tip pen near to the character name.

Third, prior to, or simultaneous with the creation of the first character on the second sheet (The Earl's Scholaress nee Scholar) another new stat was created and again placed near the character name.  To distinguish this stat from the previous new stat, a square was drawn around it, and a circle was draw around the previous stat.  Note that the very last character created - Adventurer George has neither of these stats.

Fourth, while The Earl's Scholaress nee Scholar character was in play, a bonus system was instituted allowing two traits per character to be raised by 1d6 points.  The new total was marked with an asterisk.


I'll be going through these character sheets in a series of detailed posts, so I'll leave it there for now.  Next post, we will talk about dating and content in comparison with Pete Gaylords character sheet.

*There appears "7/21" or "7/71" in the top left corner which might be a date, which might have been written in 1971 or 1972 (or not).  The first Blackmoor game is supposed to have taken place in April of 1971.  Arneson subsequently went on a long trip to Scandinavia, but returned in July.  A date of 7/21/71 would be entirely consistent with the known chronology.  On the other hand, a date of 1972 would be consistent with the release of the second printing of CHAINMAIL, as mentioned above.  There is a faint hint of some additional writing after 7/21 that might be a 2, though it doesn't appear to be very consistent in shape with the other numbers of similar size on the page.

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