Monsters of Blackmoor Supplement II - part 2

Author: DHBoggs /

 Mermen are the first monster described in Supplement II, and one of the most interesting for the key role they appear to play in the underwater ecology of their environment.  As mentioned in the previous post in this series, mermen first appear in the Naval Combat section of OD&D book III, Underworld and Wilderness Adventures, under "SPECIAL SUGGESTIONS FOR MONSTERS IN NAVAL ADVENTURES".

We aren't told much about them in this entry - the key bits are:

"...have a l0% chance per 10 Mermen of grappling any ship which is within 1" of them. They may remain submerged indefinately... If they grapple a ship they must be on the surface."

Mermen in U&WA thus appear to be a serious threat to shipping and maritime activities - basically they are the sea equivalent to bandits on land.  Quite possibly these "sea bandits" represent only a fraction of mermen society, the roguish types perhaps.  It seems likely Blackmoor sailors would have developed a means of mitigating this threat, with convoys perhaps, or prepared bribes.  But while the text in SII is silent on this point it does reiterate the threat mermen pose to ships, going into greater detail on their use of grapples and combat.

Interestingly, the entry in SII begins with a curiosity.  Lets take note briefly of the very first thing SII says about mermen: "More intelligent than lizardmen..."   Lizardmen are nowhere else mentioned in SII.  We will come back to this fact in a later post. (hint Sahaugin).  

Leaving that for the nonce, another point of interest is the attack mermen are given - "1 bite/2 hands, 1–8 bite/1–4 hand".

Bite?, for up to 8 points of damage?!  This strongly implies sharp, perhaps shark like teeth.  So much for Ariel's pearly whites...

Nevertheless, this fits with their diet as given, which is fish, making mermen carnivores - carnivores who have an underwater civilization that "rivals that of humans." 

There is so much gaming potential in these simple descriptions in SII, it is a shame it remains largely untapped.  We can flesh out this underwater world of the mermen of Blackmoor by looking at the connections with other monster entries and see what creatures commonly interact.  

Mermen are mentioned in the following:

Giant Crabs - a menace to mermen fish farms

Giant Frogs - hunted by mermen

Giant Shark - "hereditary enemies of mermen"

Seahorse - (giant?) seahorses are ridden by mermen ride and use as horses are used by humans.

Next, looking at the monsters referenced in these entries we can add:

Giant Octopi - feed on giant crabs

Giant Squid - also a danger to ships


Aquatic Elves

We could of course also look at the encounter tables, but that doesn't really tell us what creatures are actually interacting with each other (and they are also nothing more than a list of all the monsters in the book), but using the list above as a starting point gives an "accurate" base to work from when creating underwater adventures in the seas of the north.

Next we will move on to the "giant" series of creatures.


Ancient Mysteries of Old Blackmoor

Author: DHBoggs /

Was there an ancient, technologically advanced civilization in Blackmoor? Tavis Alison wrote a piece a long while back on the Apocalypse Trope in D&D, and in that article he mentions the gigantic pipe organ found in the original (1975) Temple of the Frog.  The pipe organ was Steve Rochford's (Saint Steven) idea, but one that Arneson happily ran with.  To explain the existence of a mechanical modern-era musical instrument in an otherwise medieval setting, Arneson called it the last surviving example of its kind, detailed only in a "cryptic manual on artifacts found amongst the volumes in the Library."  The pipe organ then, is not some alien technology installed by the visitors from outer space who had taken over the temple, but a remnant of a distant time when there were builders with the technical skill to produce such a thing.  Does that mean Blackmoor once hosted a more technically advanced civilization?  Tavis wondered the same thing, so a year before Arneson's passing, Tavis asked him that question at a Gen con.  He asked "...whether this pipe organ implies a previous high-tech fantasy civilization or whether Blackmoor is a post-apocalyptic Earth."  Typically cryptically, Arneson answered "yes" to both, implying that he wasn't fully committed to either view, and that may be, but we can say with surety that back in the 1970's when they played  John Sniders Star Probe games or Arneson and Barker's crossover Tekumel games,  Blackmoor was considered to be a place distinctive from Earth.  

Now a single reference to a pipe organ may seem like pretty thin sauce, you might say, ah but there's more juicy bits to be had.

For example, we have this description in the FFC of the throne room of the  Egg of Coot, "...which is dominated by a huge old world artifact said to be an ancient war machine." (77:18)

What is this "old world" of which Arneson speaks?  It's a mystery of course except that undeniably there was once a civilization capable of building advanced machine artifacts, somewhere and somehow tied to present day Blackmoor.

The secrets of such technology might not be entirely lost either, at least, not all.  William of the Heath, an original Blackmoor character played by Bill Heaton, had among his possessions three blue items: the magical sword Blue, a mechanical horse named Bill, and mechanical blue armor.  Once again, neither the horse nor the armor appear to be space alien technology.  They are items with a history, having once been in the possession of a wizard and a dragon, and neither rely on rechargeable batteries or power packs as Arneson's alien tech usually does.  The text does not make it clear, but seems to hint the wizard made all three of these items, and if so he must have some bits of ancient knowledge.  There's really nothing definitive on the exact nature of the armor, but we do know the horse "never seems to eat anything and drinks lamp oil."  Drinking refined kerosene pretty clearly implies a mechanical creature, not an electronic one.

It's also worth noting that the d20/3.5 era Blackmoor books freely dip into steampunk, as exemplified by Clock and Steam wherein we find that "the titanium charger represented the peak of technological development in that it nearly perfectly replicated a horse, all the way down to its behavior and mannerisms, but improved upon the technology that powered mechanimals by making it a valuable companion in combat." (p124)  To my ears, the mechanical titanium charger seems meant to be an homage to "Bill".

While it is certain Arneson did see Blackmoor as having some sort of a lost "old world" advanced civilization, he never really pursued the idea beyond references like those above or to ambiguous "Technical Manuals" and "ancient books and manuscripts".  Even the steampunk creations in the 3.5 era Blackmoor books were attributed to gnomish and dwarvish inventors, perhaps a bit inspired by alien tech, without mention of an ancient, advanced civilization.

However, the idea of a lost ancient technological society in the region of Blackmoor was picked up by Greyhawk writers - eventually.  Perhaps the first hint of this was in The Living Greyhawk Gazeteer, "It is not known what, if any, civilization existed in the far northern land before the Ice claimed it, but the rumor of evil in the north was old even when the Oeridians and Suel were new to the Flanaess." (2000:34)

However it was Wolfgang Bauer who really ran with the idea in two adventures published in Dungeon Magazine The Land of Black Ice (#115) and The Clockwork Fortress (#126).

In the former adventure, we find a nimbleworks who is "a strange construct from an ancient realm that predated the Black Ice." (p32)  In the latter an entire fortress of this ancient civilization is detailed, and we learn that long before the Oridian migrations, "...a small fiefdom in the northlands reached the heights of civilization - its craftsmanship and knowledge of artifice were unmatched." (43).

Bauer goes on to conflate this ancient civilization with the City of the Gods in the second adventure, but we know that label usually refers to a crashed spaceship, not a lost civilization and attributing it to an incredibly old civilization causes a dating conflict with the information from the Codex of Infinite Planes in Eldritch Wizardry.  Of course, there certainly can be more than one City of the Gods, or the name of one could have been carried over to the other by people who didn't know the difference easily enough.

Whatever the role of the City of the Gods may be, the advanced ancient technology of lost civilizations found Bauer's two Blackmoor adventurers isn't coming out of nowhere but is rooted in a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of our hobby.

Monsters of Blackmoor - Supplement II, part 1

Author: DHBoggs /

I'm going to start this series looking closely into the monsters in D&D Supplement II, published by TSR in 1975.

Unfortunately I have to begin by discussing a confusion over authorship that has more to do with personal conflicts and internet drama than reality.  Simply put, there are folks whose negative assessments of Mr. Arneson finds expression in this case in asserting with no evidence beyond hearsay that Arneson wrote little of the booklet, instead ascribing it to various other authors including the editor Tim Kask or even Gary Gygax.

I'm not interested in any of that shit slinging.  The fact is that most of the text is Arneson's. Some parts are all his (TheTemple of the Frog) and other parts received more or less revising as the editor felt was needed to produce the product TSR wanted - as per usual.   I've touched on this topic before and it doesn't make gaming more fun to re-hash it.

What is certainly true is that the final editor Tim Kask cut certain section of Arneson's manuscript which he felt were not consistent with the published D&D rules (too Arnesonian).  Some of these cut pieces were apparently later recycled into the Judges Guild First Fantasy campaign booklet, but regardless, this cutting left room for more material, and provided opportunity to add several pages of cool underwater material that had been submitted to TSR by freelancer Steve Marsh.

For our purposes this presents a problem if we want to distinguish what monsters may be Arnesons and what may be Marsh's.  On  the other hand, as far as the "official" setting goes it doesn't really matter who wrote what monster since they were all published as "Blackmoor" monsters, and since at the time, anything  Blackmoor was considered a part of the Greyhawk setting - as was everything published by TSR for D&D up to that point.  

So we will take a look at all of it, but since we are all naturally curious about what sprang from the mind of D&D co-creator Dave Arneson, here is my take:

The Supplement II booklet provides us with a list of all the monsters on page 14.

This list is interesting because there is no apparent rhyme or reason to its organization; it's not alphabetical or ordered in any way, and it's definitely an interesting and curious mix. 

The arrangement of the monsters look like two or three separate lists that were simply tacked on to each other - and I think that's just what it is. Tim Kask has said the giant creatures were Arnesons, which certainly fits with his style and other monsters he created.  All of these giant creatures are listed before the entry for Sahaugin. Indeed, most, if not all the monsters before Sahaugin have similar wording and often reference each other.

When one entry references another it is a pretty strong indicator that they come from the same author.

The first monster in the list is the Merman. We know that the material Steve Marsh wrote was predominantly, perhaps entirely about underwater adventure.  But while Steve has said he *might* have contributed the Merman but wasn't sure, we can actually be pretty sure it was from Arneson.  First the Merman reads like an Arneson entry. A good bit of it is devoted to mermen attacking and grappling ships – an Arneson hallmark, and Mermen are closely referenced several times in Arneson’s giant monsters section, so there's that tie in.  Importantly we also have a short list of monsters from Arneson in the 3LBB that includes Mermen.  This list can be found in the Naval section Arneson wrote on pages 34 and 35 of  The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures.   Of course Gygax edited this section so we can't be sure he didn't add one or two of the monsters himself, but  of course Gygax could have - and did - put monsters he came up with in the regular monster list so there would be no reason for him to put extra monsters in this section. Here is the list:



Dragon Turtle 

Water Elemental

Giant Leeches:

Crocadiles (Including Giant Crocadiles) (yes, misspelled)

Giant Snakes:

Giant Octopi and Giant Squids: 

Giant Crabs

Giant Fish 

It is apparent that Arneson fleshed out this list as part of the material he created for Supplement II.  In fact, only four of the monsters listed here aren't repeated in Supplement II - Giant Snake, Giant Fish, Water Elemental and Dragon Turtle - and only the last one of these is actually a specific monster not covered elsewhere.   

In any case it is apparent that some of the water monsters are from Arneson, which no doubt made it easier to integrate Marsh's material. I think that there can be little doubt that the monsters in the list from Mermen to Fire Lizard are Arneson’s. The others after this are more problematic. The water monsters between fire lizard and Sahaugin do not have the exotic names Marsh used for his other monsters - like Ixitxachitl, nor do they have the within-type variations he favors, and there’s none of his unique wordings like “class VII armor”. I don’t think they are all his. They look like more of Arnesons, especially as some of them are more “giant types, but being mostly underwater creatures, its also possible that some come from other TSR sources. 

Giant sharks, for example, have a classic Arnesonian wording (such as hobbits being bite sized) and reference Mermen. Portuguese MOW have hit location (tentacles 1 point each) and Arneson favored hit location gaming, but being non-standard D&D it seems not so likely Marsh would have included it. 

Dolphins, on the other hand, are the first entry to mention Sahaugin and are followed by sea elves.  We know for a fact that both Sahaugin and sea elves came from Steve Marsh, so if I had to bet, I’d peg Dolphins as Marsh’s too and break apart the list this way:

Mermen to Portuguese Man of War – Arneson

Dolphins to Mashers – Steve Marsh

Okay, next we will look at the monsters more closely.

Tonisborg Second Printing

Author: DHBoggs /

 For those who may not have heard, Greg Svenson's Tonisborg dungeon, brought back to life by yours truly and Griffith Morgan with additional commentary by Greg himself and plenty of gaming goodness besides is heading for a second printing through The Fellowship of the Thing.

These are very high quality books well worth a few extra dollars and you get a really terrific 1973! dungeon from one of the game's founding players.  How cool is that!?  Here is the link to the page where they are taking pre-orders.

A Greyhawk Guide to Blackmoor

Author: DHBoggs /

 I think it is time to put down the pen on this one.  Thank you all for your patience over the past year+ that I have been head-down buried in work on this.  Greyhawk and Blackmoor began their journey together and bringing them back in harmony, while a daunting task, has been a true pleasure.

Here is the promised Greyhawk guide to Blackmoor.

It is a dropbox link so hopefully will work for you all, but if not I will be posting it elsewhere in the coming days.

In a nutshell, this book serves as a guide to people, locations, history, and geography of Blackmoor for Greyhawk players, including a deeply researched timeline.  It brings Arneson's traditional Blackmoor back to the Flanaess where it started.


For those (like me) who enjoy having real books, I've created some print-on-demand friendly files.  This includes a cover you can upload to a service like Lulu, if you like, and have your own premium color copy printed as a book.


Interior file

The most up-to-date version is 2c.


The Blackmoor Greyhawk Map, an Anniversary Gift

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

 Ten years ago I started this 'blog.  To celebrate I have a gift for all of you.

Below is a new, top quality map of Arneson's Blackmoor set within the Flanaess, continent of Oerik, world of Greyhawk, drawn by professional mapmaker Daniel Hasenbos of the Netherlands - where better to find a mapmaker for Blackmoor!  For more of Daniel's Maps look here.

Last fall I began to create something I realized was sorely needed.  Blackmoor, as my readers will know, and Greyhawk started out together as locations on a shared world.  Blackmoor belongs to the world of "Oerth" as much as Greyhawk does, yet few Greyhawk fans know anything of Arneson's Blackmoor and those who may be interested can't be faulted for not knowing where to start the journey, being bombarded with an array of products from OD&D supplement II to current day fan works.

So I took it upon myself to write a free guidebook to Blackmoor for Greyhawk fans.  To that end I commissioned this fantastic map.

Interestingly, and coincidentally Daniel finished the map in March of this year - the fiftieth anniversary of the letter Arneson sent to Rob Kuntz with his first map of "the Northern Marches" enclosed.  That map formed the bases of our new map, along with some input from the "sketch map" of Blackmoor found in the FFC.  All the later maps were also drawn upon for fringe areas, particularly to the south. For more see these posts:



I'm releasing the map now because I am nearly finished with the guidebook and will have that out shortly.  You all may freely use this map as you please as long as you ALWAYS acknowledge where you got it.

I cannot begin to explain in this blogpost all the care and research that went into the maps production but let me reassure you all that this map is as true as I can make it.  I'll even venture to say no Blackmoor map has been so exhaustively researched for accuracy and fidelity to the 1972 Blackmoor and Castle & Crusade society originals while simultaneously designed to fit directly onto the popular Greyhawk map of Anna B. Meyer as shown below.  

And a better resolution version on the 2017 hexmap:

As can be seen, rivers, trails and coastlines match up directly, with the exception of the (inconsequential) Tusking strand in the north, which was a deliberate choice on my part to align with  a bay shown on the Darlene map at that point.  Anna deviated a bit from Darlene here and I wanted our new Blackmoor map to fit on either Anna's or Darlenes maps:

Happy Anniversary everybody.

How Big is Blackmoor?

Author: DHBoggs /

 Surprisingly, nobody really knows.  In the First Fantasy Campaign Arneson described drawing his first Blackmoor map:

 "The basic campaign area reproduced on a large mapsheet outside this book, was originally drawn from some olden Dutch maps. Much of the rationale and scale was based on data found with the Dutch maps."

We have copies of that original map - its the one we have discussed that was enclosed with a letter to Rob Kuntz in March of 1971.  However when we look to that original map, no scale is given, nor is there a scale on the next map we have from Arneson, the "Sketch map" reproduced as an illustration in the FFC.

We can get a rough idea - a very rough idea - if we take Arneson at his word and plop his March 1971 map onto a map of the Netherlands as shown below:

Of course there are a lot of assumptions here.  The map of the Netherlands I used is probably not the one Arneson used.  I just picked an older but modernish map with clear borders to serve the purpose.  Further I placed the Blackmoor Map/Northern Marches map in what seems to be the likely location based on a few coastlines.  In any case, the Blackmoor map stretches pretty much across the width of Holland and those coastline features do fit quite well.

Alright then, using the scale of the Netherlands map, from side to side the Northern Marches map is somewhere in the ball park of 120 kilometers, or about 75 miles.

Possibly Arneson was focused on a smaller area and the distance should be less, but it is hard to see where that could be in terms of analogous features in the Netherlands.  Possibly he meant the map to be bigger, although if we stay inside the borders of the Netherlands there's not a lot more room, perhaps another 25 miles at most, and that would mean moving the Blackmoor map to an area where there are no matching features, so we can be reasonably sure the 75 miles end to end scale, give or take a few miles, is about right for the original Blackmoor/Northern Marches map.

Of course, that scale is not at all what we find with later maps.  Instead, as we will see, scales are all over the place.

The first Blackmoor regional maps to be published came with Judges Guild's First Fantasy Campaign, and were drawn by Bob Bledsaw.  These maps do have a scale, and they also encompass a much larger area of the Northern Marches than what we see in Arneson's original map.  Indeed, as we will see, maps of Blackmoor have sometimes taken in less, sometimes more, of the surrounding area.  

On the JG maps themselves, the scale is given as 10 miles per hex, and on the same page as the "sketch map" of Blackmoor, Arneson writes:

"In redrawing the first campaign map, I have decided that it would be advantageous to make some minor changes along the south and west borders to link it with the Judges Guild's "Known World" area (as shown in the Guide to the City State).  My map is twice the scale, 10 miles per hex, and fits into the northeastern corner, bordering the Valley of the Ancients." 

Ten miles per "square" was a favorite scale Arenson used in a number of instances, so ten miles per hex here isn't surprising.  What is a bit more confusing however is the "twice the scale." statement - twice the scale of what?  Neither of Arneson's earlier maps have any scale on them.  Possibly he is merely referring here to the fact that D&D used 5 mile hexes and that was a change Gygax had made late during the D&D draft process. (Edit: see comments below for the explanation)

In any case, I'm not convinced that the Judges Guild maps give us a "true" scale, whatever the hex size.  Possibly they do, but just as possibly it was Bledsaw who determined the physical size of the hexes he overlaid on the map.  Arneson notoriously deferred on details, allowing others to set things up however they wanted.  Arneson clearly told Bledsaw to make the hexes ten miles across, but probably did not give much direction on the actual physical size a hex should be on the map.  In other words, I think it likely Bledsaw laid a hex grid on top of the map as he pleased and called the hexes 10 miles across.

Whatever merits or faults they had, these maps from Judges Guild are the first scaled maps of the area. 

The next publication that to have a map of the whole of Blackmoor is DA1.  The DA1 map has the hexes marked now as 24 miles across, even though the hexes appear to be physically about the same size they were on the JG map.  Twenty-four miles is in keeping with the new 6 mile hex system introduced by Steve Marsh in the Expert set rules and carried through to all the later Basic D&D sets.

So Blackmoor appears to have grown - a lot - more than double in fact.  Interestingly however, when a new map was created for DA4, the scale was changed again, but reduced by half, so that the DA4 map was now down to 12 miles per hex, and this scale was apparently retconned to new printings of the earlier modules.  

If this isn't confusing enough, new maps at new scales appear during the d20 Zeitgiest games era.  The principal map was released as a fold out with the Campaign Sourcebook and had hexes slightly larger than the previous Judges Guild and TSR iterations.  These were given as 12.5 miles per hex.  The accompanying scale bar has 25 miles per inch.

ZG also produced a hand drawn, hexless map by Clayton Bunce. 

 Here it gets interesting because two different scales - again - are given for this map at different releases.  Though both versions are identical and use the same scale bar, one iteration of the Bunch map has the bar marked 0-80 in 20 mile blocks with the other is 0-40 in 10 mile blocks.  

Thus the era of "official" Blackmoor publications ended with as much scale confusion as it started.

Now, given that these various maps cover differing amounts of territory, perhaps the best way to grasp these differences in scale, is to consider two points on the map.  In the table below I compare the differences in distance between the towns of Blackmoor and Jackport,  These two locations were chosen because they are on most of the maps and have a fairly straight, close-to-horizontal road between them. 

We can use the scale bars on the ZG maps to give us a pretty good sense of the distance between our reference points, like so:

ZG hex map

ZG Bunce Map

 Roughly speaking, looking at the various maps and scales yields these figures for the distance between Jackport and the town of Blackmoor:


# of Hexes Between

Jackport to Blackmoor Town in Miles

March 1970 Map at 75 miles E-W



Bledsaw 1977 Maps



TSR 24 mile hex



TSR 12 mile hex



ZG 12.5 mile hex



ZG Bunce map 0-40 scale



ZG Bunce map 0-80 scale



Greyhawk Dungeon mag



Note that I included a Greyhawk map estimate for fun.  Jackport isn't on the Greyhawk maps but we can plot it useing Mosshold/Maus and it comes out to a scale comparable to the 1970 map estimated scale.

Whats' interesting to note is that either version of the Bunce map, but especially the smaller scale is closer to the scale we got above for the original March 1970 map, and the Greyhawk map came out virtually the same.

The other scales measure the distance in hundreds of miles and make for a rather large Blackmoor.

One way we can look at these is to put them on the real world.  Conveniently, the distance between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh is quite close to the largest scale of 24 miles per hex.  When  the Blackmoor 24 mile per hex map is superimposed on the Eastern United States with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as reference points, here is what you get:

At that scale, Blackmoor is literally half a continent.  

Downsizing to the 125 mile distance between Jackport and Blackmoor town (roughly Philadelphia to Gettysburgh) leaves us with a Blackmoor about this big:

In this case Blackmoor covers the size of five or six American states.  Depending on how you view Blackmoor, that could be just right, but if your idea of Blackmoor is an isolated northern land akin to Ireland or Estonia, you may find this still to be overly large.  As an interesting comparison, here is a similar map of with four European countries in roughly the same location:

At the scale of ten miles per hex used on the Judges Guild map, Blackmoor is about equivalent to three Great Britains, side by side.

 On the other end of the spectrum, matching the real world with our scale of 27 miles between Jackport and Blackmoor town results in this: 

Even at this smaller scale, Blackmoor is still quite a large area - larger than the state of New Jersey with plenty of room for adventure at perhaps a bit more manageable size.  For me, this is just about right.  It is also convenient that Greyhawks' Blackmoor appears to be at about the same scale.  

Ultimately however there is no definitive answer to the question of scale for Blackmoor, and game masters can choose from the various  scales for what works best for their campaign.

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