Friday, May 12, 2017

The Spanish Royals - Arneson's pre-Blackmoor Character Sheet

In their continuing documentary research work (Posted Here), the Secrets of Blackmoor filmakers have found yet another tantalizing clue to Blackmoor history, a character sheet or matrix, if you prefer, for the royal family of Spain, prepared for one of Arneson's iterations of his Napoleonic campaign.  In this instance, Spain was under the control of Dan Nicholson, and the artifact was found among his papers.

You might well wonder why a royal family in a Napoleonics game has a character sheet.  It is obviously not necessary for even soldiers to have character sheets in a wargame, let alone the heads of state, but the gaming going on in Arneson's Twin Cities group wasn't wargaming of the usual sort.  They were developing characters, and developing ways for those characters to be modeled by game statistics.

The idea of assigning characteristic and related statistics to leadership figures wasn't novel.  One could argue even chess does that.  Perhaps a better example from the 1960's is that of well known British wargamer Tony Bath, who developed a system for his Hyborian campaign and made mention of the idea in wargaming publications of the era.

The details of Bath's system weren't published until 2 years after the date of the Spanish Royals sheet, but more significantly, they also functioned in a very different way.  Using a deck of cards. Bath randomly generated different characteristics for different characters, and these he would use in a descriptive fashion to decide how an event might turn out.  For example a character who is the possible suitor of a widowed queen might be described as ugly and jealous among other things, causing his marriage proposal to be rejected.  The whole scheme functioned as  a descriptive aid for Bath to decide how his characters would behave. 

The Spanish Royals in Arneson's scheme are delineated very differently.  There is a fixed set of 5 characteristics each adult character shares (Looks, Brains, Sex, Guts, Health) and a sixth, catch-all Miscellaneous category.  Each of these characteristics is defined by a numerical value generated by a 2d6 roll.  That last bit can be determined mathematically.  The 42 entries sum to 289, giving an average of 6.88 - consistent as expected with the average of a 2d6 roll (7).

Let's take note of this: Arneson has created actual game mechanics applied to personality traits for gaming purposes.  We are used to that for D&D games, but for a Napoleonic campaign in 1971 that's something different indeed.

Some observations:

·         I noted before, HERE when discussing Pete Gaylord's sheet, how the arrangement seems to separate in to three categories - "ability scores", "skills", and "weapons skills.  Ability scores meaning, not actual abilities, but personal characteristics of the sort usual referred to as ability scores in D&D - Intelligence, Wisdom etc.    The Spanish Royals share most of the "abilities" found on Pete Gaylord and Dave Megarry's character sheets.

·         Moreover, the scores for these characters are generated exactly the same way, with the well familiar 2d6 roll.

·         The second (learned skills) and third (weapons) categories aren't present at all.  There's no horsemanship, leadership, or woodcraft, etc.,  nor are their sword and battleaxe, etc. categories. 

·         Order - If we compare the Spanish Royals trait list with that written on the Wizard Gaylord's sheet, the order of the characteristics given to the Spanish Royals is very close to that of Gaylord's character.  The first two characteristics are brains and looks, as on Gaylord's sheet, though the order is reversed,   "credibilty " and "strength" are missing but then we have sex, health and "guts" in exactly the same order. 
-          If we compare the Spanish Royals trait list to Dave Megarry's character lists, (Here) we see the traits are organized entirely differently.  There is no correlation to the order the way there is with Gaylord's.

·         I'd also note that "courage" on Gaylord and Megarry's sheet appears to be a terminology upgrade over "guts" on the Spanish Royals sheet.  

These points further support the idea that Pete Gaylords Sheet pre-dates Dave Megarry's.

However. we also see the "Miscellaneous" category again.  Miscellaneous, as we noted before, was clearly a later addition to Megarry's character sheet and not found on Gaylord's at all.  I presume a likely explanation is that Arneson at first thought that with all the additional categories found on Megarry and Gaylord's character sheets there was no longer a need for a miscellaneous category, but later decided otherwise.


On page 4 of The Corner of the Table newsleter, Vol III no. 5, we are told about several upcoming events.  Included is this,

"On Saturday May 22, 1971 at 1300 hrs (1 PM) there will be a meeting of the Napoleonic War simulation commanders ALL of whom have been sent invitations for this meeting.  Interested parties are asked not to attend, unless they have been invited, due to space limitations.  Please bring your cards so that we can check off your attendance when you pick up your Campaign Suppliment put out by C.O.T.T.

On Saturday May 22, 1971 a Brown Stein-type game set in the Middle ages will be hold at Dave Arneson's home after the Napoleonic Campaign meeting is completed.  All those attending the Napoleonic meeting are invited to stay for this game."

On the top right hand corner of the Spanish Royals sheet is written: "received May 22, 1971".   

We can confidently conclude then, that Dan Nicholson received his Spanish Royals character sheet at that May 22nd meeting - the very same day Arneson ran what appears to be his second medieval Braunstein.  The previous issue of C.O.T.T. had announced plans for a Medieval Braunstein on April 17 involving a poker game under the troll bridge. These medieval Braunsteins were, of course, nascent manifestation of the game we have come to know as Blackmoor.

Given that Arneson's first known medieval Braunstein occurred a month earlier in April of '71 (shown above, Vol III no. 4), we are faced with the question of whether Arneson first developed similar character sheets for his medieval games, and then transferred the idea to the Napoleonic campaign, or vice versa.   As it stands, the current evidence points to the Napoleonics campaign as the birthplace of the concept.  In either case, this character sheet lies at the root of the D&D character ancestry.  The 2d6 fixed trait scores of Spansih Royals sheet is clearly directly related, and almost certainly directly ancestral to the Blackmoor PC 2d6 fixed "personality" scores which are themselves the direct ancestors of the D&D 3d6 fixed ability scores. 

In the long run, what may prove most important about the Spanish Royals sheet is that it is indicative of both growth and continuity in character focused game play within Dave Arneson's circle of gamers.  The fantasy content was novel in Blackmoor, but the style of character based play in Blackmoor, and even D&D were not new.  Dave Arneson had said several times that "the Role Playing" came first and a number of the original players had expressed identical sentiments, such as when Greg Svenson discussed the transition between Blackmoor and D&D, "I thought it was one and the same thing with what we had already been doing for several years. So, I didn’t really see much of a difference."  (source)


  1. There is a strong argument that OD&D characteristics are divided into two types - the three class abilities and three secondary abilities that describe the innate "other" characteristics of the figure. After all the only things these first three abilities affected was the ability to advance your figure faster. Capabilities were all focused on level.

    [A lot of the early LBB text was still heavily focused on the idea that these were really figures (for example even rating them as Chainmail figures rather than making the cognitive jump that considered them characters in their own right rather than "things" manipulated by the player).]

    You can see the transition in the thinking though - the "figures" were already "characters" in the author's minds, but it was being written up as a set of rules for describing the actions of the figures themselves.

    [Another reason was that the "character" domain was considered to be the "player" rather than the figure being manipulated. It was the player that faced the challenges presented by the gamemaster, not the character. Which is why the OD&D character interaction was very stunted.]

    YMMV of course.

    1. Hmmm. I can agree with some of what you say to some extent, but I'm seeing an awful lot of assumption and guesswork in your argument too. I would not agree that there is a "strong" argument that there was an intentional or meaningful difference between the prime requisites and the remaining ability scores. I don't see any evidence for that in any historical material - it was simply a function of the number of classes. Sure a prime requisite has some bearing on how fast one levels, but they otherwise function just the same as the other scores when used for such things a saving throws or other in play applications.

      As for "figures" and "players" being abstractions from immersive play - I would agree that Gygax wrote the 3lbb's in a fashion that seems abstract at times, but when you look at the historical records or have any converse with original Blackmoor or Greyhawk players, it is abundantly clear that they were very often quite deeply immersed in character during play. I can tell you, for example, that to this day, Dave Megarry still mourns the loss of his Scholaress character. In the twin cities, this kind of immersion begins even before they developed their Blackmoor characters, such as the in character correspondence in the earlier Napoleonics Campaigns.

      As far as players, not characters being the focus of the DM's challenges - I fail to see how that has changed. The game is played by players making decisions for the characters.

      It's also simply false to say "OD&D character interaction was very stunted". It was and is possible to play characters with very stunted interactions, no matter your ruleset, but it is not even remotely true to say that is how everyone played OD&D or EPT back in the day, or even that they were intended to.