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 an old Chemistry notebook with a set of maps on graph paper, drawn from sketches made as his character H.W. Dumbo braved the depths of Blackmoor Dungeon. 

As discussed previously (here: Early Blackmoor Characters ), 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 and key created by Arneson as redrawn for the booklet.  (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.

At the very bottom of the map, near the area between rooms 10 and 12 and in the east/west corridor below them, is a door in the south wall with a hint of the corridor beyond heading south.  Here is a note reading "Elves ?".


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 corridor 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 note the area indicated by small dotted lines and the word "down" on the JG map at the northwest end of the corridor in the middle of the image.  Megarry has an explanatory note at this 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 more 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 underneath it is somewhat hard to make out, but according to Dave Megarry it reads   "gold dinning room".  

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.


  1. Neat stuff.

    Considering the amount of angles on Dave's maps, Megarry was a pretty impressive mapper.

    1. Indeed! I asked Dave about the mapping process and here is what he said,
      "The basic scenario is Arneson telling us, "10 feet, 20 feet, room 20x20 with an up staircase in southeast corner, down staircase in northwest corner, a passage on the north wall and east wall and an ugly troll standing in the middle of the room. What are you going to do?" We had about 10 seconds to react and then he would announce, "the troll is attacking..who is in front?" We would be scrambling like mad to figure out a strategy. We would have been drawing the map by hand on loose graph paper. If the room was unusually hard to describe, he would draw what we could see on our map. We never got to see his map. For Dumbo, I would transfer the loose map into the chemistry notebook later."

  2. Thank you for the thorough investigation - it is a fascinating look into the game's prehistory!

  3. This is awesome, definitely bookmarking this for future study. Thanks for sharing these gems.

    1. Thanks Jason! If you haven't yet, check out some of my older posts. There's a lot of gaming historical material here that you just won't hear about anywhere else, if I do say so myself. :)

  4. Another great piece of analysis! I've been reading through this several times. I love seeing Dumbo's house from the side of the dungeon rather than from the surface this time!