Fifty Years of Fantasy Role Play Table-top games.

Author: DHBoggs /

 Today marks an interesting, possibly momentous, anniversary.  It has been 50 years since the Boris Karloff movie The Black Room aired as part of a double feature with Werewolf of London on Channel 5's Saturday run of Horror Incorporated in the Twin Cities.  

This marks the second time that the Minnesota station had shown The Black Room, but it may be the most significant.  Lets take a step back and remember what Dave Arneson said:

"Some months after Mr. Wesley left, a local TV station had on several old monster movies, which I watched while eating popcorn and reading old Conan novels. It was then that Blackmoor Dungeon was first conceived. Starting with a few sheets of graph paper, the upper levels took shape. The next week was spent laying out my wargaming table to represent the castle and countryside around Blackmoor."  Wargaming #4 Jan/Feb 1978

The quote above is perhaps the oldest telling of a tale told many times, with much the same detail.  He could never seem to remember the exact books he read or movies he watched, but it seems far to great a coincidence that the pun-loving Arneson called his land the Black Moors in his May 1971 Corner of the Table Newsletter Vol 3 #5, at a time when The Black Room had already aired twice on his beloved Horror Incorporated (January 16, 1971 and February 20, 1971).

So why am I calling particular attention to the February 20 showing?  We have talked before about the Northern Marches map and accompanying letter Arneson mailed in March of 1971 to Rob Kuntz as king of the Castle & Crusade society.  This letter represents the earliest datable record connected directly to Blackmoor.

It is also a matter of only two or three weeks after the February 20 showing of the The Black Room that Arneson mailed this letter.

It's the closeness of the Feb 20 airing date to the composition of the letter that makes me wonder about the precise details of Arneson's genesis story.  Mind you, I'm only speculating, but what if, in trying to call up how he started the whole thing some 7+ years afterward, Arneson muddled it a bit.  What I'm suggesting is that watching movies and reading Conan novels inspired the creation of Blackmoor, just as he said, but perhaps it wasn't the dungeon maps he drew that first weekend, but the Northern Marches map sent with the letter to Kuntz?  Perhaps the dungeon maps came a few months later, as seems to be the case from the scant records we have.

There is another hint in the letter itself suggesting this may be the case.  In telling his story Arneson always made sure to point out the influence of Conan novels.  Looking at the early descriptions of Blackmoor Castle, village, and dungeon, there is nothing suggesting a connection to Conan or the Hyborian Age.  We could suggest that those initial connections were lost, overwritten by the Tolkienesque material of Chainmail, but that seems at odds with Arneson's habit of recycling gaming ideas.  We'd expect those hints to still exist in the dungeon if ever they were there.  However, when we turn to the short March 1971 letter to Kuntz accompanying the Northern Marches map, we see a different picture:

"...to the east lay the forested domains of the ERAKS, a breed noted for their cunning and banditry. To the North lie the domains of the SKANDANARIANS, a savage band of sea raiders whose ferocious nature brings them into constant conflict with all their neighbors. To the [northwest] lie the accursed lands of the unholy RED WIZARDS COVEN, whose lands are more dangerous than even the wizards themselves. Finally, to the west and south west lie the lands of PICT'S, a savage band of uncivilized barbarians noted for their cruelty and fierce loyalty to the abomination they call king."

The influence of Conan on the Northern Marches map is abundantly clear in that paragraph.

Whether The Black Room really had anything to do with the genesis of fantasy roleplaying games or not, or whether it was really the Northern Marches map and not dungeon maps Arneson drew after his movie, novel, and popcorn binge,  there is one thing we can say with absolute certainty: by March of 1971, David Lance Arneson had created the idea for a game that would change the cultural landscape of planet Earth.


For more fun on movies and the genesis of Blackmoor, have a look here: More Thoughts on the Cinematic Influence




Education for Character Variability

Author: DHBoggs /

 A complaint voiced toward OD&D and traditional D&D in general is that characters are all the same, whereas "modern" games offer a delicious variety of options for customizing and "building" characters.  Dave Arneson echoed these sentiments in a radio interview:

A lot of the changes between second edition and third edition are actually changes in so far as what I originally wanted to do with the (game) system. For instance with the different classes and the different fields you could learn. I wanted to do that originally, but it was considered too complicated and people couldn’t handle it. Well now that’s come back, you can do that. You could really make a unique character class with the variability; and I always wanted to do that and I do that in my original campaign even today…. Because the players in the original campaign could learn different skills and different abilities, virtually everybody who was a fighter also wanted to be able to throw magic.  And it seemed like everybody who was a magic-user also wanted to be able to fight.

Dave Arneson, Mortality Radio interview, July 9th, 2004.

Back in the day, Arneson's solution for being able to "really make a unique character" was to create an education process where characters could learn the things they needed or wanted.  We can see the roots of his thinking on education in how he initially set up his mechanics for learning spells:

"Progression reflected the increasing ability of the Magic user to mix spells of  greater and greater complexity. Study and practice were the most important factors involved. A Magic user did not progress unless he used spells...  So to progress to a new level, one first learned the spells, and then got to use that spell."

Breaking this idea down generically, a character could progress in "class" skills through learning and subsequent successful practice.

It was an idea that could be applied to much more than magic.

Arneson took it further in his collaboration with Richard Snider, the Adventures in Fantasy ruleset.  He described his thinking in an interview in Pegasus 1:

"I also wanted to get in something on educating your character so one could learn different skills."

Interestingly, while Gary Gygax developed the AD&D system along the rigid class based lines we are all so familiar with, when writing his Gord the Rogue novels he described his protagonists growth very much in keeping with an education based method.

Gord doesn't develop his abilities naturally as a consequence of leveling up and gaining XP.  Initially, Gord is a nothing, but he spends several years learning to climb, pick locks, hide in shadows and so on in a sort of boarding school under the tutelage of master thieves,  Later, he seeks out and hires fencing masters to learn fighting skills and he spends time with Rhenne acrobatics instructors learning tumbling, jumping, juggling and so on.

In game terms Gord begins on the thief class and then becomes a fighter/thief and fighter/theif/acrobat.  The class system as it evolved in D&D is all very complex and all very artificial, and all very uniform.  For Gord, that uniformity is strange, because the novels present him as a uniquely individual character learning his new skills one at a time under instruction.  No doubt, most players want their character to be just as individualized as Gord, so shouldn't they be able to learn through schooling just as Gord did? 

Some may argue, as Arneson was implying in the opening quote, that contemporary games offer character individuality to players as part of their class structure.  However, it has been pointed out more than once that such character customization is largely illusory since players in particular classes are given particular options which often result in players choosing the same "best" options that most other players choose.  The design pressures of today's games funnel players to create very similar "individual" characters.  

Furthermore, because the characters choices occur automatically at certain stages of the game - usually when leveling up, flexibility to craft the character in unique ways is limited.

A character with something like all of Gord's abilities and variability could be better modeled through an education system within 3 broad and encompassing classes - the original three - Fighter, Cleric, Magic-user.

Gord is obviously not a cleric or MU, so he is a fighter.  Using the money he got from thieving, for example, Gord sought out fencing instructors of a particular sort and this particular training can be reflected in his character sheet through education. 

To be clear, what I'm advocating here is something more than a skill system.  This idea is a bit more radical and it is simply this: 

ANY ACQUIRED FEATURE, BONUS, SKILL, ABILITY, POWER, FIELD OF KNOWLEDGE, OR DEVELOPED TRAIT AVAILABLE AS A BENEFIT OR OPTION OR ATTRIBUTE AT ANY POINT IN ANY CHARACTER CLASS, SUB-CLASS, OR PATH IN ANY VERSION OF D&D, CLONE, OR VARIANT OF ANY SORT CAN BE REPLICATED AND LEARNED THROUGH AN EDUCATION PROCESS.

Sorry for the all caps, but it's a fairly radical thesis.  The only exception to the above statement is abilities that require the character to be of a certain nature that they aren't.  A human can't learn to flap their arms and fly like a bird or self immolate on command like a balrog, but they can learn to kick open doors like a monk or assess the value of jewels like a jeweler.  Likewise a Magic- user can't learn to turn undead like a Cleric, but they could learn to backstab if they wanted to.

For how this might work, we can look to the ideas in the AiF education system and see what might be gleaned from there for a D&D game.

Sure, folks can adopt wholescale the education system in AiF or for that matter, some other rule set, but these tend to be fiddly and specific, whereas what we need is a ruleset that will cover any characteristic we want a character to acquire. 

The first thing to note about AiF's education system is that it isn't simple.  Not surprisingly, it is designed to fit a particular system.  It also attempts to "realistically" asses how hard it will be and how long it will take to learn each particular subject and a laundry list of subjects is provided, each with it's own statistics.

Characters are assigned a formula to asses how well they can learn, that is based on the presumed difficulty of the subject and the length of time spent studying and the character's Intelligence score.

For a game, the simulationist approach taken in AiF is really overkill.  We really don't need to do all that. Instead, we can take the basic principals that Ability Scores and practice time are key factors and rather than guessing this and that length of time for this and that subjects, an average learning time will work just as well for game purposes.

So here is what I do, and here is what I recommend.  For any thing a character wants to learn or any skill they wish to acquire, I assume it will take them a number of months of continuous study to master.   The number of months is equal to 20 minus their Intelligence score for any cerebral subject, or minus their Strength score for any purely strength based activity, or minus their Dexterity score for activities requiring a steady hand and a quick eye.

A character with an 18 Dexterity could learn to pick pockets efficiently in a mere 2 months, but a character with an 8 intelligence would take a year of dedicated study to learn a new language well enough to carry on a street conversation.  Some negotiation between referees and players is inevitable, but will also ensure that each character will truly have their own unique qualities.

This method is very flexible and you can add layers of expertise and skill to any subject.  A character might learn basic cooking skill and then go on to expertise in orc cuisine, for example.

You could apply this method to weapon specialization rules or technical skills, to going berserk or learning to heal - anything.



 

Greyhawk Timeline According to Gord

Author: DHBoggs /

 When the original Greyhawk folio was published, the default date for the setting was Common Year 576.  Since then the setting date has been continually advanced through various publications.

Among the first to advance the date was The Greyhawk Wars, a product which has had a somewhat contentious reception, in part because it was published after Gygax's ouster from TSR and did not have his blessing.

Interestingly, Gygax himself also continued to advance the Greyhawk timeline, both in Dragon Magazine articles and in his Gord the Rogue novels.

Below is what can be cleaned of the political machinations ongoing in Greyhawk according to details from the Gord series of books.

Surprisingly, while a lot of folks have given thought to various parts of the timeline, including most notably the esteemed Eric Mona, I have yet to come across anyone who put it all together as I have here.  

(Events of Saga of the Old City)

559 CY:  Flocktime: Gord Born.

576 CY: Small naval battles erupt between the Rhennee and Duke Karall of Urnst.

578 CY: The Horned Society occupies the Bandit Kingdoms of Warfields and Wormhall.

578 CY: (Sunsebb 1) The Battle of Woodford. A twelve thousand strong Aerdian army led by Grand Marshal Dreek bent on invading Nyrond through the Adri forest pushed back at the Harp river. 

(Events of Artifact of Evil).

579 CY:  The Horned Society wages war against the Bandit Kingdoms.  The war is ongoing and in stalemate. (p95)

The Scarlet Brotherhood and the Horned Society act in concert as allies. 

580 CY:  The principality of Ulek attacks and conquers Strandcastle Keep in the Pomarj - a bastion held by the Scarlet Brotherhood. (Chap 1&2)

Iggwilv frees Zuggtmoy from her prison in The Temple of Elemental Evil. (p. 330)

A large army of Pomarj monsters under The Scarlet Brotherhood moves through the Suss and Welkwood forests, harried by elves and woodsmen.  The force attacks Celene, and are defeated in a battle that lasts 2 days. (p231)

Iuz Moves against the Hierarchs of the Horned Society.  Blackmoor, the Hold of Stonefist, and the Bandit Kingdoms ally with him.  (188-189)

An Army of Iuz under the command of the wizard Lord Ormuz is ambushed in the Vesve Forest and defeated by an army under the command of the wizard Mordenkainen. (chap29)

Iuz conquers Molag, subjugates the Horned Society, and begins construction of a new palace in Molag as winter sets in.

Iuz is now the self-titled Emperor of Evil and Lord of Pain. He receives tributes and offers of alliance from all of the Bandit Kingdoms, the Hold of Stonefist, and factions of the Wolf and Tiger Nomads. (p. 343-44)

*581-582 CY: (Events of Sea of Death)

*583 CY: (Events of Come Endless Darkness)

Iuz, assisted by by Iggwilv and Zuggtmoy, launches a massive, multipronged, attack.

Iuz takes control of the Vesve, and the lands west and south to the Velverdyva, but is stopped at Chendl.

Iuz captures the territories of Furyondy north of the Crystal River, and the Shield Lands excepting only the capital island.

The Bandit Kingdoms and the Rovers of the Barrens acting under orders from Iuz, overrun the Duchy of Tehn.

Iuz directs the The Hold of Stonefist to attack the Theocracy of the Pale. Urnst holds. Highfolk holds.

The Great kingdom marches against Nyrond, Almor, and the Iron League.

The Bakluni fight the nomads to the North and South and come to a stalemate.

The Scarlet Brotherhood in the Pomarj attacks Celene, Ulek and Urnst.

*584 CY: (Events of Dance of Demons)

The Great Kingdom is in a state of civil  with both north and south provinces allied against Ivid. Medegia is also in open rebellion.

 

* These dates are not possible to nail down through internal chronology in the novels.  While Gord's age is stated in several instances, his journeys into and on other planes make his age greater than it would be by an unknown number of years had he remained in Greyhawk.  This is made explicit in Sea of Death where it is stated that he appears to be merely 20 years old (p55) but is actually at least 28 (p58). Given his birthdate of 559, Gord should have seen his 21st birthday near the start of SoD, so his appearing to be 20 years old at the start of that book fits the 581 date as following shortly after the events of AoE. DoD has Gord being 30 - two years older than the 28 he is said to possibly be at the Start of SoD. Therefore the dates used here follow the logic that, not counting the 8 years he ages while plane hopping, he is 20/21 in SoD and 22/23 at the start of DoD and reflect an approximate of the amount of time needed to account for the events mentioned.  They also roughly match the published Greyhawk Wars dates.

Interestingly, while the Greyhawk Wars unfold differently in the TSR publication, the end results are much the same.  It may be worth a post attempting to harmonize the two...

Obscure Mythical Monsters

Author: DHBoggs /

I don't often indulge in creating new monsters, but over the years I've put together a few here and there.  Some of these I briefly published elsewhere, but they haven't seen the light of day for a decade, and others I just found in a recent perusal of old papers.

In my anthropology work I have had exposure and access to a range of mythologies from people and places not well known (or known at all) by the general public, and a few of these are drawn from such obscure origins. 

Stats are either Basic or AD&D, according to what I was playing at the time.  Adapt/adopt as you please.  Art is courtesy Michael Hill - rights reserved.



Aswang   Varieties - Mananaangal, Penanggalan, Nukekubi

 Armor Class 9
Hit Dice: 2
Move: 9"
Attacks per round 1
Damage – 1d6 + sleep inducing bite.   

Aswang are young female blood sucking infected undead.   Due to their limited magic powers, Aswang are often described as a combination of vampire and witch.  Aswangs are able to change their appearance, normally appearing as shy but typical females (although they usually have bloodshot eyes and unusually long tongues), but changing at night to ghoul like creatures that enjoy eating unborn fetuses and small children, favoring livers and hearts in particular.  Some even grow long proboscises, which they use to suck children directly from their sleeping mothers' wombs.   Aswangs will also suck the blood of males they find attractive – about a pint at a time, but it is usually not their preferred meal.  

The bite of the Aswang injects a sleep inducing drug.  The victim must make a Constitution Save to avoid going to sleep in one round.

Aswangs also have limited spell casting ability - they can cast 3 Charm spells a day.

Aswangs live no longer than normal humans.  Those who have reached the age of 40 transform into Mananangal.   Despite being older females, Manananggal are quite beautiful.

The Mananangal gains an additional Level Dice but is identical to Aswang most of the time.  However during the full moon, the Mananangal is able to split itself in half and fly through the air to hunt for victims.   The head and shoulders, ofthe Mananangal flies through the sky using huge bat-like wings, while the attached entrails (heart, lung, liver, intestines, spine.) glow and sparkle like fireflies

The lower torso is left in a secluded lair for safety.  While the head, neck and organs are detached, the torso becomes inanimate, standing like a headless statue.  Of the Mananaangal's two halves, the lower torso is thus the more vulnerable.  It is said that if one finds this torso and either sprinkles salt or sand on it or burns it, the Mananaangal will die with the coming dawn.

An aswang/manananggal can be revealed by using a bottle of a special oil extracted from boiled and decanted coconut meat and mixed with certain plant stems upon which special prayers have been said.  When an aswang comes near or roams around the house at night, the oil is said to boil (or froth into bubbles) and continue boiling until the aswang departs.

 Behind the Curtain:  Variation of this monster are common throughout southeast Asia and rural japan.  Although it has been written up elsewhere, this version takes a deep dive into several related mythologies, particularly those of differing regions of the Philippines.

Glory Hand

Frequency: Rare
 # Appearing: Solitary
Armor Class: 7
Move: 12", can hop 15 feet.
Hit Dice: 2 +2
% In Lair: none
Treasure Type: nil
Attacks per round: 1
Magic Resistance: Immune to Fire, Cold, Sleep
Intelligence: Average
Alignment: Neutral
Size: 5' 4" long
Damage – 1d6

A Glory hand is a severed human/humanoid hand cut from the victim of a violent death and animated by necromancy.  Although greatly restricted in many ways, the small size and great mobility of the glory hand has a great many uses, being able to get in almost anywhere, unnoticed.  The hand will usually obey it's master, whoever it understands that to be, but can act on its own accord.

 Behind the Curtain:  The Glory Hand is a late medieval/early modern folk tale found in england.  Of course it is a familiar trope.


Hafgygr

 # Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 2
Move: 13"
Hit Dice: 4
% In Lair: 16%
Treasure Type: A
Attacks per round: 1
Magic Resistance: High
Intelligence: Low
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Size: 7' tall
Damage – 4d8 or weapon

Shaggy, amphibious giants standing twice the height of the average man, Hafgygr have large jaws with sharp teeth, sharp hard nails, and very tough hides.  They are cold blooded and live in swamps and lakes, often raiding more civilized areas for prisoners and food.  Hafgygr are aggressive, selfish creatures who seethe with hatred toward any perceived slight or wrongs, and being notoriously territorial, they will attack anyone who trespasses, wittingly or not.  Hafgygr disdain the use of weapons, preferring to rend and pummel their victims or simply scoop them into their great, deadly maw.  Nevertheless, magical arms and armor are often found in their treasure.

Behind the Curtain:  Half-Gygr literally means half giantess in old Norse, meaning a creature who's mother was from the realm of the giants and monsters.  The description here is based very closely on that of the monster Grendle in Beowulf. 
 

Hoyauk

 Armor Class 8
Move: 9"
Hit Dice: 6

The Hoyauk is a giant water serpent with a pointed shark like snout and slim head and tail.  It also has long, wing like fins with which it can sail up to 100 feet through the air.  It frequently launches itself through the air in this fashion to catch large birds of prey hovering near the waters or hunting for fish.  It also attacks people in open boats in the same manner.  Hoyauk have a terrible stench, and exhale a caustic gas that causes burns and blisters to anyone standing within 10 feet of its head.  The stench can cause vomiting (+3 on Saving Throw) and the breath does an automatic 2 points of damage per turn on exposed skin. 

 Behind the Curtain: The hoyauk is a traditional monster of the tribal Ainu people on  the island of Hokkaido.

Jimru

 Armor Class 5
Move: 12"
Hit Dice: 6
% in Lair: 16%

The Jimru is a large, dangerous and cunning beast the size of a large bear, and vaguely similar in appearance, although the head is shaped more like that of a tiger and the tail resembles that of an elephant with the tuft at the end being made of quills, not hair.  The overall color of the Jimru is also an elephant like stone grey.  The creature is covered, porcupine like, with quills instead of fur.  These quills are barbed so that any bare flesh that touches them will very likely be impaled and stuck.  The Jimru often catches prey this way.  It is capable of relaxing the musculature that holds in the quills at will so that it can detach a stuck creature at leisure – after it has been killed by the Jimru’s deadly bites, usually.

Behind the Curtain: The jimru is a greatly feared monster of the native people on the Andaman islands in the Indian ocean.

Snow Serpent

Climate:  Cold
Frequency: Very Rare
 # Appearing: Solitary
Armor Class: 6
Move: 9"
Hit Dice: 10
% In Lair: 90%
Treasure Type: nil
Attacks per round: 1 
Special Attack: Constriction: 3-30 HP per round
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Animal
Alignment: Neutral
Size: 7' 10" long
Damage – 1d10

This furred, white snake burrows itself in mounds of snow near mountain trails from which it will ambush passers by.  The serpents are entirely carnivorous, and have been know to eat anything up to the size of a bear.  Creatures too large to swallow whole are chewed into manageable pieces.  Snow Serpents live a solitary, wandering existence, staying in one place only until they feed, after which they move to a new snow mound in a new area.  The single exception to this habit is that a pregnant Snow  Serpent will burrow deep into a snow mound to create a nest, where she will remain untill her eggs have hatched.  The fur of a snow sertent is rare and highly valued. 

Behind the Curtain:  When I was very young my father managed a ski resort (Bear Rocks, Pa) and the workers there used to tease newby customers about watching out for the snow snakes that liked to hide in the moguls.

SPIRIT RAVENS

AC: 2, M: 1"/48", HP: 14, #ATT: 1, DAMAGE: 1-6, SPECIAL ATTACKS: can steal the spirit of the dying, SPECIAL DEFENSE: Teleport, MAGIC RESISTANCE: 75%, ALIGN: Neutral Evil

Spirit Ravens are indistinguishable in appearance from normal ravens but they are much tougher and more intelligent.  They are capable of carrying spirits from place to place and are employed by some gods to steal spirits from others, especially during battles.  The ravens have the ability to teleport from plane to plane and from place to place within a plane.

Spirit Ravens will often wait when they anticipate death in the hopes that they can steal a spirit.   Naturally, people take the sight of a raven as an ominous sign.

It is believed that these ravens can be called upon by exceptionally strong casters  or to simply spy and report back or even to transport a the caster's spirit from plane to plane.  A spirit and  spirit raven thus bound together are each affected by damage suffered by the other.  If the raven dies the spirit will cease to exist and vice versa.  

Trows

Frequency: Rare
 # Appearing: 2-14 (4-30)
Armor Class: 4
Move: 13"
Hit Dice: 4
% In Lair: 40%
Treasure Type: A
attacks per round: 1
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Low
Alignment: Chaotic Neutral
Size: 4 1/2' tall
Damage – 1d6 or weapon

Trows are horrid fairy creatures found in cool, and damp climes.  They stand about 4 ½ feet tall on average and are very ugly, being covered with thick, greasy, flea infested green black hair – the older the trow, the darker the green.  They have long, snotty noses, big ears, a short tail and peach colored skin.  Trows stink.  They love to eat or wreck – in that order – everything they chance to find.

Trows speak crude common, prefer to dwell in caves, and are good swimmers.  They have infavision up to 60',

Trows take such bad care of everything they find that capture weapons and tools are soon ruined from corrosion, but they can bite and claw effectively.  They will use hand weapons should they happen to have them, but rarely will a troll bother to carry more than a spear or a knife when traveling.  Trows love to set up an ambush, and will always do so if given a warning that an opponent (just about everybody) is coming.  They also love to hide under dark bridges and demand a toll of passers by.

Trows, will occasionally kidnap a human baby to raise as a slave, sometimes leaving a sickly trow baby in its place.  Trows also love to torture small creatures and other huldufolk for entertainment.

Older Trows are capable of brewing a concoction that affects them with symptoms much like that of alcohol consumption for humans.  Should any of this potion of Trow Strickening come into contact with the flesh of any creature not a trow, that unfortunate must make a Saving Throw at -2 or be paralyzed for 1d4 turns and develop an itchy rash for 24 hours. 

Society – Trows live in small, matriarchal family groups – usually 2-10 individuals.  The “Mama” of the group rules with an iron fist.  She is very protective of her “babies”.

Ecology – Trows dwell exclusively in caves.  They are omnivorous and none to picky eaters, being immune to most poisons and diseases.  Eighty percent of all Trows are male.  Trows cannot tolerate sunlight.  If a Trow is caught in the light of the sun it will be Earthbound until the sun sets.  Earthbound trows are still as statues, unable to move or speak, but otherwise unchanged.  Some trows know how to make a magical helmet – called by them a sun shield – which prevents the trow from becoming Earthbound when it is worn.  It has no other effect.  Trows wearing such a helmet are at +1 to AC and -1 to all Chance to Hit rolls when in daylight.   Trows thus equipped tend to wander much farther than those without sunshields.

Behind the Curtain: "Trow" is a name for a miserable troll like creature found in the areas of Scotland settled by the Norse in the early middle ages.  This monster incorporates those Norse inspired myths, with a heavy dose of the trolls as depicted in the popular Gnomes book and cartoon.  This is probably the first monster I attempted to create and it went through several updates.  N.B.    An Encyclopedia of Fairies by Katharine Mary Briggs was a go to resource for me and its influence is present in several of the monsters here including this one.

Water Cobra

Climate:  Freshwater/Temperate
Frequency: Uncommon
 # Appearing: 1-8
Armor Class: 8
Move: 12"
Hit Dice: 3 +3
% In Lair: 40%
Treasure Type: nil
Attacks per round: 1
Special Attack: Poison
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Animal
Alignment: Neutral
Size: 5' 4" long
Damage – 1d6 

Because of the snakes chameleon-like ability to change color to match the color of the surface beneath it, this water dwelling snake is effectively invisible most of the time (95%).  The bite of the water cobra is a deadly poison.  

Behind the Curtain: Found this one handwritten on a 2e form but I don't remember doing it.  I *think* it was an original.


WEATHER SPIRITS

Each of these spirits is able to exactly control the intensity of their powers.  No roll is necessary.  These spirits can also move at incredible speed 20 times normal rate and can spread their effects over hundreds of miles or localize them to within a few feet.

S:10, I:19, W:12, D:19, C:19, CH:17 

AC: -5, MOVE: 1000", HP 55, # ATT: 4, DAMAGE: (varies), MAGIC RESISTANCE: 50%, ALIGN: Neutral

Jack Frost: 
Spirit of cold.  Jack Frosts touch causes instant cool to freezing.  1d20 damage range when used against living creatures.

Sunmeister:
Spirit of heat.  Sunmeisters eyes emit a ray of heat that can range from a gently warmth to a blazing intensity.  1d20 damage range when used against living creatures.

Howler:
Wind spirit.  Howlers breath causes gentle breezes to hurricane force winds.  2mph to 200mph.  

Pelter:
Precipitation spirit.  Pelter creates water in its hands at any temperature including freezing, and in any size ranging from fine mist to three inch diameter balls.  Once created, this precipitation is flung and can cover an area ranging from a few feet to several hundred miles.

Darkfog:
Spirit of the mists.  Darkfog's breath can create any fog from light to dense. 








Links to Blackmoor Play on Youtube

Author: DHBoggs / Labels:

 Watching other people play online is a mixed bag, but can be both informative and entertaining.  I'm tempted, but I won't bore you with a discussion of the quality of gaming on Youtube, but I do want to keep a running list, both for my reference and yours, of known games of Blackmoor play recorded online.  Please comment if you come across something not mentioned here that I should add to the list, or just let us all know what you may think of particular shows.

 I'll list them in the order the shows were uploaded:


City of the Gods - TSR DA3

Nominally set in Greyhawk, this is a fairly straight play of DA3, converted to 5e.  One of the characters is a particularly interesting sort of golem. June 2019.

1975 Temple of the Frog

Grognards having fun playing OD&D.  July 2019.

 Kilgore's Lair

Tad Kilgore was one of the central figures in the d20 Blackmoor era.  He was involved in practically everything, and is the author of the excellent Riders of Hak book.  Tad runs an excellent 5e version of Blackmoor based on the d20 material but made very much his own.  The games feature excellent play courtesy of other DAB/Zeitgeist era veterans.  There is a fair dose of pure character development vignettes which some may appreciate more than others but not to worry, there is also plenty of good old fashioned dungeoneering.  May 2020

 Hex Game

I no spreken-vous el lingo (Portuguese?) but this is a Blackmoor hexcrawl of some sort.  It looks interesting in any case.  Nov 2020.

Justin Alexander's Blackmoor

 The ever prolific and interesting Justin Alexander running an OD&D version of Blackmoor Dungeon.  He uses the classic Dave Arneson maps but has restocked the dungeon, taking inspiration from the contents of the FFC.                                               November 2020





Locating Tamoachan in Greyhawk

Author: DHBoggs /

 Tamoachan - where is it?

The subject here was first posted on on Flanaess Geography Society on Facebook, but I know not everyone reads that and as with most social media, posts soon get buried and lost which is one reason I never bothered with the muck that was Google Plus or that twit site.

The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan is a classic adventure that was groundbreaking in that it showcased Mesoamerican culture in a fantasy setting.  The principal author, Harold Johnson, initially intended the module to be on some version of Earth, but Gary Gygax decided to incorporate it into Oerth - the world of Greyhawk.

In the introduction to the 1981 module it tells us, "Tamoachan lays south of the Olman Islands and southeast of the Holds of the Sea Princes."

Fine, but there are hundreds of miles of land meeting that criterion. We've also got coordinates in the World of Greyhawk, but those indicate the very bottom hex of the map as if to say its somewhere down there but we ran out of map. 

A couple years ago the original principal author, Harold Johnson graced the gaming community with a new version, Return to Tamoanchan - spelled with an additional n as he had originally intended it to be.

This product has a beautiful area map showing exactly where Johnson means for Tamoanchan to be in relation to the coast and sea. There are no Greyhawk references in his Tamoanchan, but that is of no consequence for out purposes.  We can simply line up the coast of his map with the right spot on the Greyhawk map and bingo.

Except, of course, it's never that simple, is it?

First, as mentioned, the exact location on the Darlene map of the World of Greyhawk is a bit fuzzy. The Greyhawk Glossography places the Shrine at hex A4-137 on the Darlene map - which is a half hex at the bottom.  

Anna B. Meyers's maps of the Flanaess combine a lot of research and references and cover more territory to the south, including a location for Tamoachan at about the place indicated in the Glossography or maybe one hex to the west.  So we can conveniently start with Anna's map and match it with Johnson's.

However there is an issue. The new map in Return to Tamoanchan shows a 10 mile per square scale. Tamaoanchan is situated on the map about 32-34 squares south of the coast. That is a whoping 320 to 340 miles in. That's further than the distance between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for example, and almost the distance between London and Glasgow. It's a long ways.

Well, fine you say. If that's where Johnson wants it, that's where it is. Except, in the text Johnson writes "The dense Jungle is difficult terrain and movement is very slow. From the coast to the ruins will take 7 days of travel." p4.

That makes complete sense, and is surely exactly what he intended for the location.

Breaking out the old abacus, 7 days of travel at the minimum distance of 320 miles gives us a travel rate of 45 miles per day. Forty-five miles a day is decidedly not very slow, in fact, it is impossibly fast for a jungle excursion. A lightly equipped group walking all day in good clear weather and on very good roads might be able to manage 45 miles, but certainly not an adventure outfitted, armored party trying to fight and navigate their way through dense rain forest.

Another issue with the 10 mile square is that if you overlay the Tamoanchan map onto Anna's Greyhawk hexmap at that scale, the city of Tamoanchan ends up not far from the south coast of the Amedio - which makes no sense at all.

So I ignored the scale, or rather I rescaled the Return to Tamoanchan map so that one square equals only 2 miles. That makes 6 squares to one of Anna's 12 mile hexes.  If we reduce the scale to one square = 2 miles, then a 7 day journey across 32 squares gives just over 9 miles a day covering a total distance of 64 miles inland. That puts us squarely in line with the 10 miles per day given as the jungle travel rate the World of Greyhawk Gazeteer on page 4. Case closed.

So here is the fun part. Exactly where to align the two maps is a guessing game, and I tried a few different spots, but best seemed to align the "Return To Tamoanchan" city location on the same longitude Anna has the X for Tamoachan on her map. The results shown here have the relevant portions of the Return to Tamoachan map showing through Anna's map, with her X left in place for reference. One happy coincidence seems to be that Tamoanchan falls on what looks like a plateau on Anna's map and it is also on a plateau on the Tamoahchan map. 






Sagard's Greyhawk and Izmer

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , ,

 You might think that placing Izmer off the western edge of the Greyhawk map would be a fairly simple matter.  The trouble begins, however, with the fact that no map of the lands of Izmer was ever published. 

Luckily (?) it is pretty well established that "Izmer" was drawn from the filmmaker's home brew campaign, loosely based on Alphatia, an Island empire in the Mystara setting.  Again fortunately, Bruce Heard, one of the principal creators of Mystara, has been posting useful maps of the island. So I just snagged one of Heard's maps of Alphatia, played around with resizing to get a good fit, and tacked it on to the missing end of the Oerth map.  Okay, that's good, I thought.  I'm done.

That's not quite the end of the story, as I read deeper into what others had to say about western Greyhawk, more "canon" material came to light.  First there is a fair amount of information to be found in Gygax's Gord the Rogue books, a useful summary of which is On Drangonsfoot.


So, of course I had to add all those in.  I also found a useable Telchuria map that fit and scanned in some screen shots of area maps from the movies, including a map of the islands where the Orb of  Falazure was hidden: 



and This map of the area around Antius and the Tomb of Savrill.



Other location details had to be drawn out of the movie dialog, such as when Berek explains that to find the Vault of Malek the quickest root will be to pass through the Heartshorn Forest, sail down the Mudwash River to the goblin village of Kurtl where they can learn it's location.  

The final sources were written adventures posted free on WotC and even the novelization of the D&D movie written by Neal Barrett Jr. 

Then, again, I thought "done". But, of course, the rabbit hole goes deeper...  When I placed all the movie locations on the map, the scale didn't jibe well with the geography, so I shrunk "Izmer" to an appropriate size and decided to use information from the Kara-Tur map in OA1 to fill in the resulting gap.  Kara-Tur was initially intended, and therefore should be IMHO, on the world of Greyhawk, across the ocean, presumably on the otherwise undescribed giant continent of Gonduria, however the map shows a coastline across the ocean to the east that many have interpreted to be part of Greyhawks western Oerik. (More discussion of this can be found in the Drangonsfoot thread linked earlier).

Still not done.  Many of the fan made maps  of Western Oerik that reject the Dragon Annual "Bearskin" continent, still do like to incorporate a part of it - namely this turd-like peninsula dangling from the south end.


So at first I reluctantly added it too.  Part of the reason for doing so was to provide a logical location for "Jahindi" (Zindia) from the Gord books, while also keeping the theme of Western Oerik being largely isolated and not as prosperous as the Flanaess - you would have to sail around the turd to get to Izmer or cross a vast desert.


Okay, now I'm done right?  Nope.  Enter Sagard the Barbarian.  Let me quote Wikipedia. "Sagard the Barbarian is a series of four Hero's Challenge Gamebooks written by Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons and Flint Dille, screenwriter,... Flint Dille met Gary Gygax while Gygax was in Hollywood and they began collaborating on a number of projects, including the Sagard the Barbarian gamebook series (1985-1986)...".  


These are teen "choose your own adventure" type books, set in yet another version of Greyhawk.  I don't have these books, but the maps are readily available online.  Here they are in order from the books:


The leftmost maps, from books 1 and 2, are straight-up Greyhawk.  They show Ratik in Northeastern Greyhawk, with some new towns added, along with the Hydranian islands.  These books span the time Gygax got ousted from TSR, so it is not surprising that the first two maps (1985) conform to Greyhawk while the last two maps from books 3 and 4 (1986) introduce a whole new geography set in a far southern land.  

If you look closely, you will note that it is only the Hydranian Islands that connect all these maps.  We can easily assume their placement on the book 3 map is simply wrong, and therefore Ratik can remain as Ratik is in the first map and as it is in all other Greyhawk maps.  

So then we are left with placing the peninsula shown in maps 3 and 4, and where better to put this than in the place of the "turd" peninsula from the Dragon Annual, non-Gygaxian map.   

It turns out I wasn't the first one to think along these lines.  Oerth Journal #26 (Here) has an excellent article by Erik Mona wherein he distills all the important setting information from the Sagard books and places them on the map in this very location.  Unfortunately, he choose to scrap the Sagard maps and tries relocate these countries onto the turd, along with the place names TSR had already put there ("Nippon") and some fan created material ("Sunela").  Nevertheless, most of the country descriptions in the article are terrific and useful if you just ignore his map.  Heck, if I had seen this article first I might not have done all the research into the Sagard maps, but I'm glad I did.

Now, yes, I'm done.  Below is a map - crudely but accurately done - that incorporates all the research from Izmer, the Gord novels, the Sagard novels and the Kara-tur coastline into one functional, fascinating, gameworld. Whew! 



 

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Game Archaeologist/Anthropologist, Scholar, Historic Preservation Analyst, and a rural American father of three.
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