Wednesday, August 16, 2017

BEYOND THIS POINT BE DRAGONS: Mystery Solved, Mystery Deepens

It was a nice story and a pretty slick bit of deductive reasoning, the series of posts I wrote introducing the existence of Beyond This Point be Dragons back in late April of 2012.  I concluded that Dave Arneson had been the creative force behind the production of the Beyond This Point be Dragons Manuscript.  The conclusion rested primarily on four lines of evidence:

1) The art looked a lot like the drawings in the FFC

2) The language of the text was significantly less "Gygaxian" than that of the 3lbb's and contained words most characteristic of Arneson (chops especially)

3) There were trace rules only found in the BTPbD and in the FFC.

4) Gygax claimed to have edited two drafts of D&D, and Arneson mentioned only creating a single unused "final draft".  Since BTPbD did not reasonably appear to be either of the Gygax drafts, Arneson's draft alone remained as the best fit explanation for BTPbD. 

The first of these arguments simply fell apart under scrutiny, because I choose to compare handwriting found on the various pieces of art and in the FFC that turned out to be a mix and match of hands.  Nevertheless a weaker case could still be made on stylistic grounds, but it just wasn't clear who drew the pictures.

Without the art, the second and third points still indicated a strong Arneson connection, but without any other, or earlier D&D drafts there was really no way to know if the "Arnesonianisms" and other mystery items were additions by Arneson to BTPbD or carryovers from some earlier draft that eventually got cut or changed before D&D was published.  

The last point teetered on what may have been oversimplified remarks by Gygax, a single unspecific remark by Arneson, and a lack of some of Arneson's D&D material.  What actually went on regarding the editing and typing of manuscripts wasn't perhaps as clear as the two men had let on.

There was another possibility that I acknowledged in the May 3rd 2012 'blog article "... we would need to find something unique, some quirky word or turn of phrase, or pattern of speech that really stands out as characteristically his.  Without such a marker, there would always remain the possibility that BPTBD could have been prepared by some other associate of Gygax and Arneson or some one of the couple of dozen members of the IFW who had an early script."

Zenopus (the ever clever Zac) picked up up on this very thought and in a post on ODD74  where he asked "Can it be excluded that this was prepared/edited/revised at a later date from Dave's notes by someone other than him?"  Cadriel (of the excellent Semper Initiativus Unum 'blog expressed much the same skepticism, "It's clear that this is a document out of the Minneapolis "scene" in Dungeons & Dragons, and clearly bears the mark of Arneson's play in large part. (There are things I think need more research, such as the "instant kill" rule - no Arneson player has ever reported that, and it should be confirmed.) However, given the presentation, I'm not sure it's a draft intended to be sent to TSR for publication. The other possibility is that it's a document emerging out of Arneson's large play group, possibly with a separate editor, that put forward his rules for play by other groups in 1973." source

Clever fellows, all three.

In response I wrote "The idea that BTPBD might somehow have been produced by someone in Arneson's gaming circle is the hardest to rule out. Unlike the other ideas, there's no direct contrary evidence in the text, particularly if you assume Arneson or notes from Arneson were involved.

We have to wonder who that might have been though and why they would have bothered.  Those whom I have been in touch with (J snider, G Svenson, S. Rocheford, M. Mornard) know nothing about BTPBD, and that's a big problem for your theory.  There's also the fact that Arneson only shared notes with a very few of his players (mostly the ones I just mentioned along with Ross Maker) - he didn't want rules arguments.  However, once the Minnesota group recieved Manuscript B from Gygax, they did begin playtesting it, so one of them could theoretically have created BTPBD.  Maker or maybe some other alternate DM in one of the splinter groups, such as that Ken Fletcher played in, could possibly have found Mss B inadequate and tried to expand it, but, as I mentioned, none of the other Blackmoor folks know of anyone working on D&D Mss. except Dave, and its hard to see what a splinter group not associated with Dave would be doing with some of his material and, apparently not much of their own."

In short, there seemed to me to be no credible reason and no credible candidate in the Twin Cities to explain a secret production of Beyond This Point be Dragons.  Turns out I was right about that.  There was no secret editor  in the Twin Cities.  There was however in Duluth....

The first clues came a few weeks ago when Jon Peterson, author of Playing at the World and an avid collector, turned up and published here, a flyer from a group in Duluth Minnesota that had a picture of a wizard that was part of one of the full page illustrations found in BTPbD.  The group was called Contax, and one of the people instrumental in starting that group had been Chuck Monson.


That's the same Chuck Monson, interviewed in our previous post, who played in Blackmoor and is mentioned in the FFC.   In the course of our dialog he told me about a manuscript he used to run games in Duluth  He said, (questions from me in italics)


"David allowed me to copy his notes in those days and that copy was my source to continue gaming back in Duluth for a couple of years during my college days.  I wore the ink off the pages running my own campaign. This was before any formal publication of D&D.   


I also remember that my copy of David's notes was from another copy.  The graphics were in background on graph paper and the lines were clearer than in the OD&D publication, but those marks were still evident there. My copy was on a heat-transfer ink copier so the ink sat on top of the heavy paper.  


Hard to recall the drawings. They included at least one sketch of a map and a monster certainly as an example and the graph paper it was drawn on was much clearer than as later appeared in the D&D booklets.  


Was this a "clean" copy or did it have scribbled hand written corrections or additions into the margins or anything like that.  I realize that may be something too difficult to recall.


Certainly difficult to recall, and, no, no marginalia that I can image.  Unlike Harry Potter, no magical notations to casting ."



I also sent him a copy of the BTPbD manuscript and mentioned that one of the images had also been found in a Flyer from Contax.  I asked if the manuscript rang any bells.  Here is his response (questions from me in italics):


"I know something of this.


Contax:  hearing that again caused me to remember vaguely using that group name for about one hour, then forgetting it.   One of those vain moments in college gaming days.   It referenced my Duluth gaming friends in that day with hopes of contacting other players.  


Among them was Mark Bufkin whose enthusiasm produced  Beyond This Point Be Dragons.   Mark's effort was to reduce the die rolling to d6's, not the polygonal version.  I do not believe he ever ran a game with those rules.


At some time I mentioned this to Prof. Barker and later delivered the only copy I had ever seen (actually unread until the car trip to the Twin Cities) .  Barker remarked right away that it looked like a copy of Arneson's work.  That made me uncomfortable, but it was after all not mine to defend.  Barker gave me a copy of his Wizard's War game at the time.  Barker was engaged with serious discussions of his intellectual property rights with TSR, but I think this was prior to the link to David Arneson's share holding interest in TSR. 


Mark was more engaged in his fantasy baseball league at the time.  His team in the 1970's was the Texas Rangers.  That puts my contact time with Mark around 1971 to 1975. "  


In your earlier email you mentioned "David allowed me to copy his notes in those days and that copy was my source to continue gaming back in Duluth for a couple of years during my college days."  Were those notes  what Mark Bufkin used to create his copy or was he working off of something else?


"I have to think that Mark worked from my copy but perhaps this was after the very first three book set was published and of course in his own style on a typewriter.  


Mark never ventured to the Twin Cities nor did he play with David Arneson during the time of our gaming friendship. "


Do you know if he drew the art in BTPbD? 

"I did presume at the time that he did draw that artwork himself.  There were no other common sources for us to work with that I recall. " 

There is a reference to Narnia as one of several fantasy world examples.  Was Narnia an inspirational setting in your gaming group?

"Mark would definitely be the most likely party to refer to Narnia.  No one else in my gaming group in those days had read the CS Lewis works.   This gave Mark a lot of story material which we would enjoy.  

My gaming story backgrounds were from reading the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series and then R. E. Howard's various tales."  

There are instructions in the manuscript for using playing cards to randomly generate percentiles.  Was using playing cards like that something you guys used to do?
"No, the playing card randomizers were only in Mark's game play.  I don't recall much more than that. " 


Although Mr. Monson was able to clear away much of the mystery surrounding BTPbD, there are still a number of questions remaining.  I wish my next statements were about learning more from Mr Bufkin, but I have to sadly report that he passed away in 2012 at just 57 years of age, and less than 2 months after my initial post on BTPbD.  He was only 18 in 1973.

What was Chuck Monson's copy of the rules that Mark Bufkin used to produce BTPbD?   Was it a straight copy of Gygax's "Guidon D&D" draft - the one used to produce the Mornard fargments?  Or was it a draft Arneson had prepared with his notes and changes?  Did Bufkin inject a "Twin Cities" vibe into BTPbD through being a participant in Chuck Monson's games, or did that come directly from the source materials he used?

For example, Jon Peterson has made the interesting argument on ODD74 that certain features, the "SETTING THE STAGE" section (bk II:16)  in particular, strike him as deriving from some campaign other than Greyhawk or Blackmoor.  The names are unique to BTPbD, but I felt they are fairly easily explainable as simply being generic examples from a generic sample map, but maybe they meant something more to Mark Bufkin.  One thing about that "SETTING THE STAGE" section that always seemed particularly odd to me was the mention of Narnia.  I'd say references to the works of C. S. Lewis are at least very rare if not completely absent in any of the contemporary material from either Gygax or Arneson.  Maybe this is an example of a section Bufkin wrote or edited, or maybe it's not.

So, while we can say the mystery of who created the Beyond This Point Be Dragons manuscript is resolved, there remains much work to be done and more mysteries to be solved with this fascinating little set of rules.



6 comments:

  1. Great work, Dan. Glad you were able to talk to Monsoon!

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  2. Thanks for sharing this, an interesting read. These things get documented so late...

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  3. *looks up from GenCon-museum-induced stupor*

    Thanks for following up on that!

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