Poor Monson. "Monson" refers to Chuck Monson, and aside from this entry in the FFC, he's not someone we've heard a lot about in regards to Blackmoor. As his name came up recently in regards to Beyond This Point be Dragons, I thought someone should remedy that situation. I'll be doing several posts on what Mr Monson has to say, but we'll start with his introduction. So here is Chuck Monson, original Blackmoor player, in his own words:
"I lived in Duluth, Minnesota, and played naval miniatures and Avalon Hill games in 1970. I heard about an open Diplomacy game when I visited the nearest wargame store, The Tin Soldier, about 150 miles from my home. I gained an invitation to play Diplomacy at the home of Greg Svenson. There I also met Bill Heaton, another gamer. Conversation lead to mention of a game club meeting in St. Paul.
At that meeting, Dave Arneson was in a heated discussion with Randy Hoffa about a game issue. Later that day I joined in a Dont' Give Up the Ship miniatures game with Mike Carr. I also learned about the next meeting. I was hooked on having a group of gamers in one spot, unlike my one-on-one gaming experiences.
At a following meeting we played Braunstein, something with a dragon that popped up in the middle of the game. It was interesting, but a bit confusing.
Again, another three hour drive to the Twin Cities, this time with the idea that a Napoleonic campaign was formed and that I might join the British team. Rear Admiral Sir Marmaduke Monson came to be in the battle of Denmark against Richard Snider's Russian fleet and Steve Rocheford's Prussian raiders. What was different here was the role of personalities rather than fleets or armies as expected. I rather enjoyed the experience, creating part of the story line from my perspective.
After that, I became involved in only a couple of Napoleonics games including sacking the Russian Winter Palace, then enjoyed the COTT articles, and the socializing of the other gamers. What passed from there was an introduction to David's Blackmoor games. Therein I took up the position of an armored fighter who by lack of luck met with scorched death more than once. Perhaps it was David's way of testing my resolve, or just a way to humor himself. I persisted however, and gained acceptance in the group.
Blackmoor was interesting as players carved out their vested interests on the maps. Eventually, this led to the Duchy of Ten campaign as noted by Judge's Guild. I was at Gen Con in the Playboy Club when I was called over to the company table and given a free copy of the publication, just because my name was in there. Well, it was there.. twice I think... I am not yet digging out my copy from the closet. Many years later I would use that mention as a ploy to get a better auction price for another person's copy.
John Snider ran the Egg of Coot; his brother Richard another character; the Great Swenny; Bill and Old Blue (his sword); Rocky and the Temple of the Frog. Dave Megarry was around somewhere and Bob who lived... at the Snider apartments on Riverside. Doug Hoffman was there a couple of times before he headed off to Anapolis. Blackmoor was fun and instilled a deep passion for role playing games in general.
Yes, I played in Blackmoor dungeons several times. Died, died, died. Melted like cheese on plate armor. We all noted that more monsters fit into tiny dungeon rooms than anyone thought possible. Yet we kept on playing... My characters were always humans. Always a fighter.
I also was an intermittent visitor at Prof. Barker's home games and played two large Tekumel miniatures games in the Cities. I remember vainly that my first character I rolled a 99 on appearance and that I named him Mulloch. Later, in the first game I played, David Sutherland's character sold him off to sexual slavery. That was the end of his story. I do remember that in part of the conversation that day, it was mentioned that Bill Hoyt recently had fronted funds ($800?) for the publication costs of some of the Barker game material.
There was a brief time one summer when I was supposed to be working on an American Civil War game between the Twin Cities gamers and the Lake Geneva gamers. I remember getting ammonia print (blueprint) copies of the 'official' West Point maps to manage the game (pbem) in background to actual table top play in each locale. Some aspects of 'generalship' bore RPG feel to them in the story telling, but no character cards, etc. with details.
I further played in several games based out of John Snider's apartment covering his Star Empires game, a very long WWII campaign, and later Rocky's Great War variant. John Snider was a remarkable game manager and a very practical game designer. Extremely intelligent (degrees in Mathematics, History and Physics (I think), ROTC and graduated in 4 years from the University of Minnesota); later an educator at the Army War College. He had a crowd of gamers at his residence in Riverside, near the UofM campus. He ran a WWII game (among others) on weekends and I would frequently travel there to play ( the great trek of 150 miles, gas was $0.35 a gallon and freeway speeds were easily 'variable').
John used a simple military rule set that seemed overwhelming in off-page details which he tracked on a small note book (3x4) each session. The rules were later adapted to a Great War campaign by Rocky (Stephen Rocheford) aka von Rocheford. Pencil scribblings of the 1970s were used to track data, and each team/player of a nation had a list of units for wargaming purposes -- not table top.
I played a role (sans character card) managing economic plans for the German team and Rocky was the military role. One of Rocky's early maneuvers was to assassinate Hitler and become the great marshal of the Army faction leading Germany. My character was down the hall occupying a toilet when the shooting was over. Our next mission, as it was, led to the marginalization of the SS units. On the diplomatic front, we grandly shook hands with the Russians (Richard Snider) to gain resources for the Reich, and stayed at arms reach for the rest of the game. Richard pursued a Near East strategy in Persia while we fought off the British and other allied forces. We conquered France and ran it pretty much as a Vichy nation. We supported the Italians across North Africa where the French had retreated (I think Greg Svenson played France). David Arneson became 'Arnesako' as player for Japan. (I still have a picture somewhere of David in a kimono). Fred Funk played the over-the-top British. One game ploy, carried on independently by Japan and Germany, was to keep the USA neutral for as long as possible. (I still have copies of the Great War campaign rules which Rocky adapted from John's handouts.)
The WWII campaigns ran part of every Saturday session for perhaps 2 years or more and these weekends also included campaigns (with David Arneson and the usual suspects) for Star Empires (written by John Snider and later published by TSR) and I believe a couple of other games, including a fantasy campaign (not a Blackmoor game as I recall; maybe a pre-quell to Richard Snider/Dave Arneson collaboration). A very active group of about 10 or more persons.
I played in the Twin Cities on weekends for about five years. I played in Duluth for about nine years. When I moved west to Salem, Oregon, in 1980, I continued play at the local club at Stuff 'n' Nonsense out of which I formed my first gaming convention.
I stopped playing D&D when my local players became power hungry around 3e. I prefer story telling as opposed to golf carts loaded with magic staves, spare Eyes of Odin, and dimensional windows back to a safe castle-home every evening. I did venture out once in a while, but I was required to fix up a 20th level character to qualify in the local group. Not my cup of tea.
I have from time to time ventured out in Tekumel, certainly Traveller, and Pathfinder for several years. I keep tabs on RPG games through the Metro Seattle Gamers club and the Dragonflight Convention, now in its 37th year this month.
I did meet up with M.A.R. Barker for a semi-private dinner out at a Pacificon Origins in San Mateo. It was memorable not just because of the contact time, but because Barker politely used his Cantonese to gain entry to the restaurant as it was about to close. He made quite a good impression on the owner. How many RPG players think to add a master linguist to their retinue?
David Arneson made it to the Dragonflight Convention (Bellevue, WA) as a guest a few years back. That's my local convention here in the Northwest. I helped out as convention manager for about eight years starting in 1980 and the 37th convention happens at the end of this month. I shall be a guest there.
David and I chatted for a couple of hours off and on between his duties. At the banquet meal, we sat together. He commented at the time 'if they (the others around the table) only knew about the early days". I replied that many did know, because I told them. I mentioned that I also had spoken at the first annual dinner of the Wizards of the Coast. My talk had been about my view of the industry revolving around my experiences with Arneson, Barker and others. Kind of a 'and now for the rest of the story' lecture, encouraging respect of contributors and others responsible for the success of a business. TSR had a dark reputation in that talk. David had heard that I had done that."