Meet the Baron of Blackmoor

Author: DHBoggs /

David Fant, Baron of Blackmoor

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Questions in italics by Daniel Boggs

Yes, I am that David Fant. I was a very good friend of Dave Arneson and participated in Blackmoor as well as the Napoleonic War Games that he organized. I do own two companies now. One with the link below, the other is relatively new and is in the same list brokerage business.

 I will try and remember the best I can, but remember all of this was 50 years ago so my memory is vague in some places.

Question: How did you come to be involved with Dave Arneson and his Napoleonic Games?

I had a neighborhood friend named Bill Hoyt, he was into gaming and knew Dave. One day when I was 16 he asked if I wanted to go with him and meet someone who was into tabletop gaming, I said yes. After that I would visit as often as I could and would play the Napoleonic Campaign. I was the Emperor of Austria and had some rather unorthodox methods of mounting and moving my army. I invaded Italy at one point, trapped the Roman army in a mountain pass by surrounding the north exit with artillery and infantry, and sending my calvery around the mountain to cut off retreat. Beat them that battle without firing a shot.

Question: About what years if you can remember, did you play?

Let’s see, I was 16, so that would be 1967 thru 1970. I entered the University of Minnesota in 1969 and got a full time summer/vacation relief job with KSTP-TV in St Paul running camera for their various programs. (I started working in television in 1967 at KTCA-TV the local PBS affiliate. I worked for them part time until I graduated High School and started at KSTP.


Question: Were you a player when Blackmoor first began?  Do you remember anything about the first game or two you played?  One of the stories Dave Arneson liked to tell was about watching a bunch of monster movies one weekend and coming up with the idea of a game involving Blackmoor castle and dungeon.  So the players came over expecting to have a Napoleonic’s game and found the model of a medieval castle sitting on the gaming table instead.  Do you remember if you were at that game or anything else about it?

I was at the first Blackmoor game. I arrived expecting a Napoleonic battle, and your right, there was a castle on the table, and drawings of passages. I honestly don’t recall who was there that first day, but, Dave asked if I would like to be the Baron of the Castle. I have no idea why he picked me, but that’s how I got to be Baron Fant. He explained the mission was to explore the dungeon, find treasure and kill monsters. It sounded like fun, so off we went.  That was about it, rather straight forward.

Question: How did you character become the Baron of Blackmoor?

Flip of a coin? First to arrive for the gaming day? I have no idea, but it was fun being the Baron.

Question: How did your character become sir Fang?

When I graduated from high school and started working full time for KSTP I couldn’t play as often, and so instead of killing off the Baron, had him “attacked” by a vampire and turned into one. The character became Sir Fang, but I never played Blackmore as Sir Fang. I know the person who took over that role, but can’t for the life of me remember his name.

Question: Did you have other characters?

Not really. In fact, I know I didn’t have other characters. I was the Baron, in charge of every expedition into the dungeons and the search party.  I was always the expedition leader, and the other players would follow me down into the dungeon.

Question: Do you have any particular adventure memories that stand out in our mind?

Sadly, I do not. I remember being in Dave’s basement, describing what we were going to do, rolling those odd sided die’s and fighting monsters.

Question: I came across something I wanted to ask you about - it's from an old, second-hand source posted on the internet like 20 years ago, so probably not so reliable - Here is what it said under a heading marked "First Coot Invasion" it said "Fant & friends sneak into the Castle and open gates from inside." with the footnote that read "one of the first times … in 1970" along with a link that is long dead.  I'm wondering if the incident described rings any bells at all for you?

I do not remember that specifically, but now that I read it again, I have a vague recollection of that event in the game. Since I seem to recall that, and the time frame is close to what I have been saying I would guess that it was one of the last expeditions I made into the castle and dungeon. (Although, I was the Baron and owned the castle, not sure why I’d have to break in unless it was a castle in the area that Dave made up.) 

 Question:  In Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign booklet he writes that Baron Fant was placed in command of Blackmoor Castle after his successful operations during the first Coot invasion.  Do you remember playing many medieval/miniatures battles in Blackmoor or was your character more focused on dungeon exploration or something else?  For any battles, do you remember what set of rules, if any Arneson was using?   

We were totally focused on Blackmoor, but we did do Napelonic campaigns some days it tended to rotate but it was mostly about Blackmoor. As for rules, at the time they were all verbal. Dave described them to us, As dungeon master if we tried something that was against the rules he would just tell us. 

Question: Would you say your experience in Blackmoor and your role playing the Baron was very different from your Napoleonic games or was it much the same to you?

Regarding play in both Napoleonic and Blackmoor roles, for me there were similar roles. I was the Emperor of Austria, and in Blackmoor the Baron of the castle. Both senior executive roles if you will. But, in terms of play it was very different. Blackmoor you were working with others on the trip into the dungeon. You collaborated with each other, shared ideas on what to do, then fought on a one to one basis. The Napoleonic campaigns were done largely on paper, moving armies, building your army, then when a battle developed, the table top was used with miniatures. You would move your troops, give commands but it was typically me against whomever I was fighting. So it was truly a tactical one on one activity. So, in that regard the experience was very different.

Question: David Megarry talked about colored markers being on the table during dungeon expeditions.  I'm just trying to get a picture of how Arneson did it.  Was he drawing the dungeon plan with markers on cellophane or something as you went along?  And I'm assuming you would place miniatures on the table to more or less show where your characters were? 

As I recall, he had brown butcher block paper he would roll out on the ping pong table. For both Napoleonics and Blackmoor he would then draw the design of the terrain or dungeons. Of course that would make going from one level of the dungeon to another.

Question: Did you have a chance to play in any other dungeons in the land of Blackmoor?

No, only Blackmoor and under my castle.

Question: Do you remember ever playing in the Great Swamp or The Temple of the Frog?

Since I don’t know these names, I guess the answer is no.

Question: Did you (or do you) continue to play Dungeons & Dragons or any other RPG's?

Interestingly enough my wife and I both play Dungeons & Dragons online. There I am a Wizard and my wife is a fighter. Work has been so busy we haven’t had a chance to play in quite a while, but talk about needing to get back into the game and the dungeons. I don’t remember what level I am, but somewhere around a level 12 or 13.

Question: Did you pay much attention to the growth of the hobby, and how did you feel about that considering your involvement in early Blackmoor?

I have. I have watched the growth of the role playing games. I will admit that D&D is the only one I’ve played. And I find it exciting that I was a part of the growth of this industry. 

I did happen to be in St Paul the day of Dave Arneson’s viewing. An odd quirk of fate, my wife and I were driving around St Paul, I was showing her the sights, and suddenly realized I was passing the funeral home where Dave’s viewing was. I asked her if I could stop, she said of course. As I was walking in I ran into David Wesley and another gamer. We walked in, caught up on what we had been doing and I took two of the dice from the bowl to remember Dave by. Then left. I honestly don’t know why I turned down the street that the funeral home was on that day, I had never been down that street the entire time I lived in the Twin Cities. Fate? Or, the call of the Dungeon one last time.

David Fant
Market Mapping plus Inc.
2285 Southgate Dr
Grand Rapids MI 49508
www.marketmappingplus.com


Interview with Dave Fant, Baron of Blackmoor, spring 2018.  Previous version published on my Patreon Page.










Almost Forgotten: A Published RPG Ruleset older than D&D

Author: DHBoggs /

I'm not particularly interested in the vanity of shouting "first" when presenting new information, that's the sort of braggadocio sober researchers leave to the yellow press.  Nevertheless there has been a lot of first reveals on this 'blog, a fact I've been repeatedly encouraged to point out so as to draw attention to the work done here and increase the readership.

So, for example, this 'blog was the first to recognize and analyze the Beyond This Point be Dragons mss, the Dave Megarry pre D&D character sheets, the first to identify numerous portions of Arneson's direct contribution to D&D such as magic swords, treasure tables, movement rates, and so on (particularly in This Post), the first to figure out how Blackmoor and Tonisborg and Temple of the Frog and Loch Gloomin were stocked, the first to reveal and identify lost maps of Blackmoor, the Spanish Royals character sheet,  etc. etc. etc.

Those are all great topics, regardless of where they first appeared, but now I'm about to reveal something that, for many, will surpass all of those in cultural historical significance - a set of rules for fantasy RPG play, typed and "published" via copies distributed prior to the printing of D&D.

The author of this ruleset was Richard Snider, so we are calling it "The Richard Snider Variant" or RSV for short, with apologies to the NCC.



In the Twin Cities group, Richard was young - just 19 years old in 1972 - and not a prominent figure.  Mostly he was thought of as John Sniders kid brother and something of a rebel.  In later years, Richard went on to work with Dave Arneson on Adventures in Fantasy, and then his own Powers and Perils game.  In 2009, Richard was married and working as a self employed landscaper, when sadly, he passed away at only 56.

Here is how we know what we know about the RSV.

In the course of research on the Beyond this Point be Dragons manuscript, I was sent a set of much faded copies, unsigned, undated, and unknown to the owner, who thought they might be more material by Mark Bufkin, editor of BTPBD.

Two of the 6 pages however contained material I immediately recognized, it was, word for word, these sections found in the "Richard Snider's Additions" portion of Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign:

Differences in Creatures From Blackmoor Game
Population of Known Area
Wizardry Apprenticeship
Languages (with additional text cut from FFC)
Odds of Creature Friendship

Thus we can safely ascribe the "RSV" to the pen of Richard Snider.  The"variant" refers to the nature of the rules themselves.  They are rules for a "spin off" sub-campaign of the Blackmoor game.

The RSV consists of the following topics in the following order (caps or lack of them are according to the original):

BATTLE BETWEEN LAW AND CHAOS
ARTIFACTS OF LAW AND CHAOS
saving throws:
SECRET PASSAGE
KNOWN LEGENDS
MOVEMENT
RECOVERY OF DAMAGE
MAGIC SPELLS AND MINIMUM POINTS NEEDED TO USE THEM:
MAGICAL EXHAUSTION:
EFFECT OF SPELLS:
THE SIDES IN LAW AND CHAOS
HERO, SUPER HERO CREATURES
THE PLANES OF CONTACT
THE PENTAGRAM
CREATURE ATTACK VALUES:
MAGIC RESISTANCE OF CREATURES:
POINT VALUE OF CREATURES:
POINTS NEEDED TO RAISE LEVEL:
COST OF SPECIAL FLUNKIES:
COST OF THINGS
HOW TO FIGURE HOW MANY HITS A CHARACTER CAN TAKE :
CREATURES
THINGS TO ROLL FOR IN MAKING HERO OR SUPERHERO:
THINGS TO ROLL IN MAKING WIZARD:
DIFFERENCES IN CREATURES FROM BLACKMOOR GAME:
POPULATION OF KNOWN AREA:
WIZARDRY APPRENTICESHIP:
Odds of creature friendship:

In future posts we will be looking at the content of each of these topics in detail. - there is simply too much to talk about to squeeze it all in to this post today.

For now, let's begin with the eyebrow raising assertion I made that the RSV is a published set of fantasy RPG rules older than D&D.

The Terminus Post Quem is established easily enough.  The document itself repeatedly references Blackmoor, which must therefore have been well established when the RSV was created.  There are also apparent influences drawn from the British Midguard PBM game, initially developed in 1971.  Thus an absolute TPQ of 1971, and a probable provenance of 1972, as I'll show below.

That there could be ties between Blackmoor and Midguard, is no big shock.  Arneson made it a point, during his trip to Europe in 1972, to meet with members of the London war gaming scene and spend time in at least one prominent game store there.  That he might have then been exposed to Midguard is easily plausible, and through him, Richard Snider. 

The strongest parallels between Midguard and the RSV are to be found in the magic system of each.

An obvious connection is the prominence of Artifacts in both games - more on that in another post.  Both also use spell points to cast spells,  Midguard wizards have an Innate Power Rating (IPR) and Endurance Points; RSV wizards have a single Magic Power Ability (MPA).  These function identically as  a range of points the wizard has available to "spend" on casting spells.  They are also both determined by formulas combining several factors.

Endurance Points in Midguard also have a second function which allows a wizard to spend them in defense against an opponent's spell,  RSV has a separate Magic Resistance number.  Magic Resistance is not a reservoir spent in defense, but rather a fixed number that can be subtracted from the chance a spell has to effect a creature.  So while they function somewhat differently, both Midguard and RSV have a statistic which provides a defense against magic.

There are differences in these systems, however, and I haven't noted any direct rule copying by Snider.  It is even conceivably possible Richard based his rules on a detailed word of mouth description of the Migurad system, but the fact that both Midguard and Richard Sniders Variant feature artifacts and spell points should not be dismissed as coincidence as these were very novel ideas in the early 1970's.  It is very unlikely you would see both these features independently appear as equally prominent aspects of both games.  However, it is a bit trickier to say exactly what iteration of Midguard Richard drew inspiration from.  (For a detailed look at Midguard magic, see Jon Peterson's post Here.)

A revised version of Midguard - Midguard II, was prepared in the United States in the Fall of 1972,  It was possibly this version of Midguard, or perhaps both versions, that may have influenced Richard's magic rules.  There is a small hint in favor of Midguard II.  In Midguard II endurance points are recast as Energy Points.  The RSV rules uses the word energy in the term "Life Energy Level" (familiar to OD&D fans) and even "Life Energy Points".



Life Energy Level/Points of RSV is both like and unlike the Life Energy Level of OD&D.  Both Heroes and Wizards have Life Energy Level/points, but level advances much more quickly with Wizards.  Like Levels in D&D, Life Energy Levels benefit some statistics, such as MPA for wizards and bonuses for Superheroes, but has no effect on others, such as saving throws.

Further, in the RSV, Life Energy Level is not directly relevant to Hit Points (Hits), but effects hits only fractionally as one component of a complex formula to determine HP.

You said it was pre D&D?

Yes. Differences like that above are important when considering the relationship of the RSV to D&D, determining which came first, and whether one influenced the other.

Indeed, a strong initial indicator is the very existence of the RSV itself.  It would have been unnecessary, and therefore seems unlikely, for Richard Snider to have taken the trouble to create and type 6 pages of new, independant rules once D&D's 50+ page playtest rules became available to the Twin Cities gamers circa March of 1973.

Furthermore, if for some reason Richard Snider had decided to undertake his own version of the game, we would surely see multiple points of intersection where Snider drew from, contrasted with, or referred to the playtest rules of D&D.  Therefore we can look at the content and take note of both what it contains and what it does not in comparison to the known drafts of D&D.  For this I'm relying on BTPbD as my stand in for the Guidon D&D draft of 1973 - an imperfect but serviceable solution and all that is available to me at the moment.

Here is some of what is found in the GD&D draft, but not in RSV.

Numbered levels for "Fighters"
Level titles for wizards
Copper coins, silver coins, gems and jewelry
Treasure Tables
Spell Level tables
3d6 ability scores
Non-CHAINMAIL, non Blackmoor "new" monsters like gnolls and invisible stalkers,
saving throws that progress with each level for all classes
Clerics or Priest or Evil High Priest characters or NPC's - no hint of anything Cleric related in RSV
Terms like "Magic-user" "Fighting men", "Hit Points",  "Hit Dice" "Hirelings"

Instead of the familiar 6 ability scores, RSV expects rolls for Strength, Health, Intelligence, Leadership, Horsemanship, Sailing, Flying, normal (melee) combat skill, and archery skill.  This RSV list is clearly a close variant of the same characteristics found on early Blackmoor character sheets (see Here)

Perhaps even more telling, while there are references to Blackmoor norms and rules, there is no reference whatever in the 6 page RSV to anything like the 50 - 100 page GD&D document.

In each of these areas above, the RSV displays a strong resemblance to pre-D&D Blackmoor norms, and a correspondingly thorough ignorance of the early D&D material found in the GD&D draft.  An entire section of the RSV is devoted to specifying the differences in rules and monsters from those of Blackmoor, but there is absolute silence when it comes to the D&D draft rules.  Given the collaborative climate of the time, it would not be credible to argue Snider could have or would have willfully ignored the innovations and ideas and terms Gygax brought to the game.  Snider certainly did not ignore CHAINMAIL.  The THE SIDES IN LAW AND CHAOS  table being but one of several examples of CM derived material, copying, as it does, the "GENERAL LINE UP" table of alignments.


Compare to CHAINMAIL 2nd print below:



Thus the complete independence from"D&Disms" in these sections is explicable only in a pre-D&D context.  The RSV could not exist as created after the GD&D draft became available to Twin Cities gamers.

That being the case we can look to the known stages of development of Blackmoor and D&D for clues to a plausible timeframe for the creation of the RSV.

First, it is useful to consider the context of Richard Snider's place in the Twin cities scene.  Being younger, he, like David Megarry, was an up and coming player, eager to make his mark in the group as his older brother John had.  However, unlike Megarry, Richard is a virtual unknown as far as references in the Corner of the Table newsletter is concerned.  Its unclear if he participated in any early Blackmoor games, and if he did his participation must have been minimal.   This apparent fact suggest a later rather than earlier date for the RSV. 

Richards desire to become more involved with the group and with play in Blackmoor, may have found it's opportunity in complaints from Arneson. Arneson complained that his players were focusing on Blackmoor to such an extent that he was becoming overwhelmed and neglecting other gaming responsibilities.  His solution was to delegate:

"Persons would "stop" by to play day after day.  Some two to three months later (It's all a blur now!) the first referee collapsed in silly giggling and announced the destruction of the entire world, or some such nonsense.  Well, he needed a rest, but by then various dungeons were appearing, a space campaign was begun, others were allowed to use the original dungeon and referee with it, and role playing went on in Blackmoor and eslewhere." My Life and Role-Playing, Arneson, Different Worlds #3, June/July 1979.

"After six months I burned out for a while but by then the original dungeon crew had two other campaigns going." Arneson on Backmoor - undated floppy disk (Kevin McColl Collection). 

"Greg Svenson and Richard Snider were first to branch out; it took several months to start their kingdoms." Arneson Interview, Fight on #2, Summer 2008 

The "two - three months" and"six months" comments above can be taken with a grain of salt, as can the timing of the campaigns he mentions, and it's unclear if the "two other campaigns" referred to in the first quote were both fantasy campaigns.  I brought it up because of the quote above from Fight On! that seems to intersect with it.  Greg Svenson of course, created Tonisborg, but Richard Sniders campaign is much less well known. 

Regardless of exactly when Arneson first suffered GM burnout running Blackmoor, he seems to have (still?) felt pressured in the fall of 1972 at the time Dave Megarry created his Dungeon! game.  Megarry has commented that one of his incentives for creating Dungeon was that it would give Arneson a break.  Arneson seemed to agree in this comment from 1978:

"First conceived and played some two years before the publication of D&D, Dungeon!
relieved the pressure on the old dungeonmaster for multiple dungeon expeditions." Arneson, Wargaming #4, 1978.

Richard Snider may have been motivated and encouraged by Arneson to start his own campaign almost anytime in 1972, but perhaps especially by fall.

A fall of 1972 creation date would also make it easier to account for the apparent ties to Midguard, as that would post date Arnesons trip to Europe and his time spent with the South London Wargame Club.

Tentatively then, I'm assigning a "most probable" range of September 1972 to February 1973 for the creation of the RSV, with the recognition that it could date several months earlier. 

Lastly, I know what some of you are thinking.  If we have a set of pre D&D rules from Blackmoor, then HOLY GRAIL! it's Dave Arneson's Blackmoor system! Right?

Wrong.

These are Richard Snider's rules for Richard Snider's system.  Assuming more than that is fraught with faults.  Having said that, the RSV rules were intended to be familiar enough to Blackmoor players to be basically compatible with Arneson's play methods, so in that sense they do resonate with Dave Arneson's rules.  Richard undoubtedly codified some of the things Dave was doing, but then again, so did Gygax.  Some of these rules could be exactly what Arneson did in some cases, but on the whole we can only say with certainty that the RSV was Richard Sniders attempt to make sense of his Blackmoor experience and put his own spin on how to make and handle characters in their adventure games.

I hope you have enjoyed this post.  In the coming months, will be looking at the RSV in greater depth, and as always, other new and original topics.  Please consider supporting my research by clicking the Patreon widget at the top of the page.

Follow up Thoughts on Cinematic Inspiration and the timing of the First Castle/Dungeon Game

Author: DHBoggs /


Last post was a bit of a romp.  This time around I want to point out some of the problems with the story I spun and some of the competing possibilities.

First lets recap some of the strengths of a June date for the popcorn/movie night and week later castle/dungeon game:

-we have a range of data points in broad agreement with a "Spring" 1971 date, and June still mostly counts as Spring.

- we have Arenson saying he was involved in a Napoleonic campaign in Holland while he is working on the Blackmoor area map, and Megarry was running such a campaign in June.

- we have the movies The Black Room and House of Dracula airing at that time.

That's admittedly thin sauce.  Here's the major problems:

- June barely counts as spring, and Arneson was supposed to be leaving for Europe in the middle of the month.

- Megarry's Netherlands campaign could have been in the works for months, and it is also entirely possible Arneson could have been talking about some other Holland campaign.  Since there is a known area map of Blackmoor accompanying a letter that is believed to predate June, one of these two possibilities appears to be the case.

- Arneson always presented the Castle/dungeon game as THE debut game of Blackmoor, but we have two instances of what must be Blackmoor games mentioned in CoTT (April 17th and May 22nd) prior to June, neither of which appears to be the Castle/Dungeon game.

We can make excuses for each of these and any other objections, but the issues raised certainly can't be dismissed.

I have to thank Hutch Hubbard for pointing out something in the comments that my dense brain completely missed all this time - The Black Moors appears for all the world to be a play on The Black Room - "Moor" being "Room" backwards.  It seems all the more likely to me given Arneson's somewhat juvenile love of just these sort of word plays.  For example, turning Gregg Scott into egg of ott, Randy Hoffa into, Ran of Ah Foo, referring to peasants as "pheasants" and so on.

So it would seem we should consider seriously that Arneson came up with the idea of a place with a castle called the Black Moors sometime when the movie The Black Room was fresh in his mind.  The creation of the name probably wasn't far removed from the time he dreampt up the first dungeon game.

Now here is the thing about The Black Room - the May 29th showing was actually the third one that year.   There were also showings on Saturday, January 16, 1971 and February 20, 1971.

Hutch Hubbard's simple observation regarding the word play of Moor and Room, really set me to thinking that we were on to something with this film link to Blackmoor, but that being the case, we should look for evidence for or against the earlier air dates.

If we continue to follow Arneson's claim that the Castle/dungeon game premiered one week after his monster movie/Conan novel binge, we would be looking at the dates of Jan 23rd or Feb 27th. While we are at it, let's continue to presume House of Dracula had a key influence on the set up, and conveniently, we find that movie also aired earlier in the year, two weeks after the Feb 20 airing of The Black Room on Saturday, March 6, 1971.  

Any of these dates could be our winner.  They are all solidly in a late winter/early spring context and they all pre-date both Arneson's trip to Europe and the first games mentioned in CotT.  If there is any significance to the similarities between Blackmoor castle and House of Dracula, then a game one week after that movie would have taken place on March 13th,  although it is also conceivable that last minute inspiration was taken from that movie on the very day it aired because these KSTP Horror Incorporated movies were shown in the afternoon, and would have been over prior to the evening game session.  We might also look at the Saturday, February 27, 1971 movie The Ghost of Frankenstein, because it also contains (briefly) a spooky castle, a graveyard, and a nearby village.

In the case of any of these dates (Feb 20 - March 13th), it means we, (well, me) need to rethink some of our assumptions about this castle/dungeon game.  Specifically what it involved in nature.
Why?  Because a February to mid March date for the castle/dungeon game likely predates the arrival of CHAINMAIL in Dave Arneson's mailbox.  CHAINMAIL was apparently printed some time in March.

When I think of a Blackmoor dungeon adventure, I think of a trip into a monster filled maze - orcs and spiders and trolls, etc.  The goal of the players is to kill monsters and get treasure.

However, it occurs to me that a castle/dungeon game needn't be like that at all.  If the dungeon game were a "Medieval Braunstein" the dungeon itself may have simply been a creepy obstacle to finding some Mcguffin goal - a prisoner (the lost Baron of the Black Room?), or a treasure (a magic sword?).  Maybe the dungeon was guarded by, well guards, of the human variety, or maybe there was a monster or two like a vampire or werewolf.  Maybe combat, if there was any, was handled simply or arbitrarily.

Some of this sounds rather suspiciously like Greg Svensons remembered first game.  HERE  That's possible, but Greg believes the game he remembers was played during the Christmas break between trimesters.  I suppose there is some possibility his game took place over a different holiday than he remembers (Easter 1971 was Sunday April 11 - a date by which Arneson very likely had CHAINMAIL).  However, the game Greg remembers was much more developed in terms of character advancement and other features, than other early games, such as the Icelandic Cave game as related by other Twin Cities players.  So we need to be cautious regarding the dating of Gregs game, and/or about some of the evolved facets of play he remembers.  This account also seems to conflict with that of Dave Fant, who almost certainly was at Arneson's first castle/dungeon game, because, according to him, he was made the Baron at that game, and led the expedition into the dungeon.  

In any case, if we accept the Black Room/Black Moor connection as likely, then it would seem a better case can be made for a circa March game than a circa June game for the first dungeon delve.


Thoughts on the Cinematic inspiration for Blackmoor Castle.

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , , ,

Here is me having a little fun - don't take any of this as gospel, but rather as a speculative investigation.  I'm about to spin a "Just So" story that sounds good, but should only be seen as a possibility.

Arneson told his own story of the birth of his Blackmoor castle, dungeon, and it's immediate surroundings a hundred times.  Always this story involved the same 3 elements: popcorn, horror movies, and Conan.  Here is one early example:

"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."  Wargaming #4 1978, p47

It's a fun story, but hard to pin down.  When asked about the dating of Blackmoor, Arneson almost always offered up 1971 as the year it started.  Here is one more example, this time with a slightly more specific date:

"I was sitting around... with nothing going on except the monster movie,... reading Conan and conceived of the idea for the dungeon. I populated it and the next time the boys showed up for a battle, they had a castle sitting in the middle of the board. That was the spring of 1971."  Game News #5, July 1985. p9

Sometimes he leaves us other little dating clues which might even be more reliable, for example:

"After Don't Give up the Ship I started in on Blackmoor" Knights of the Dinner Table #34, 1994.

Dave Arneson's version of DGutS was finished in the spring of 1971 and published in the IFW Summer of 71.

Here's another general clue:

"We were doing a historical campaign in Holland so my map ended up with a lot of water." Kobold Quaterly 9, Spring 2009 p31.

In Vol. 3 #5 of the Corner of the Table newsletter (the May 1971 issue), we read: 

"From June 11 to June 21, 1971 there will be a series of Napoleonic battles involving the Dutch for the spring of 1802 of the Napoleonic War Simulation.  The exact time and place have not been determined but contact Dave Megarry if you are interested in taking part as a Dutch or a non Dutch sub commander."  

Interestingly, this is the same COTT which, in the previous paragraph, announces "On Saturday May 22, 1971 a Brown Stein-type game set in the Middle ages will be held at Dave Arneson's home after the Napoleonic Campaign meeting is completed.  All those attending the Napoleonic meeting are invited to stay for this game."  This is the same meeting where Dan Nicholoson received his "Spanish Royals" character sheet I 'blogged about previously.

There's more circumstantial evidence for this general time too, coming in the form of Duane Jenkins Old West Brownstone campaign.  All the Twin Cities players - including Arneson - who mention Jenkins Brownstone, point to it being just prior to Blackmoor, and pioneering the novel idea of characters who survive and continue from game to game. 

In the same Vol 3 #5 of the Corner of the Table newsletter quoted above, Arneson relates the glorious and brief career of his "El Pauncho" character in Jenkins Brownstone.  El Pauncho's short life of banditry ran from late June to early August in the game's calendar - just over a month - before he was captured and Jailed by Sheriff Fant.  In real time, it is hard to say how many game sessions were involved - my guess would be anywhere from one to half a dozen, but probably not more.    In fairness, more adventures from El Pauncho were promised for the next COTT: "There will also be the continuing saga of El Pauncho and the start of the "Black Moors" battle reports..."  Presumably an escape was planned, but it isn't clear what this statement is really telling us about the state of these games.  Both of these promised reports could well be referring to things that may not have happened yet but are expected to, and will be reported on as they occur.  As it happened in fact, El Pauncho was never heard from again, but Black Moor certainly was. 

So it appears all these data points fit rather nicely and the signals from Arneson seem to direct us to the same general timeframe for the development of fantasy gaming in Blackmoor and the placement of the Castle/dungeon game - that timeframe being late spring of 1971.  However, there is one sort-of exception. One of the oldest references from Arneson is found in his First Fantasy Campaign publication where he said "The Dungeon was first established in the Winter and Spring of 1970-71."  If we presume he was being general and off-the-cuff, and that he meant "Sometime during" the Winter and Spring of 1970-71, then there really is no contradiction with a late spring date.  Hard to say.

Now here we run into a more significant problem.  Ross Maker, Dave Wesely, and Dan Nicholson have all said two things: First, they were introduced to Blackmoor in a scenario involving a Plane Crash in Iceland where they played versions of themselves, and second, that this game occurred after Arneson's trip to Europe in June/July of 1971.   

There are two ways around this problem.  The simplest is to just assume they are misremembering the timing.  It would be easy enough to be confused on whether you played the game just before or just after Arneson's European Vacation(TM).  

The other possibility is that we are simply looking at different participants in different games.  Dave Megarry says he was not at the May 22nd game.  He also says he was not at the Icelandic Plane Crash game, but that he was at Arneson's first Castle/Dungeon game, to which he arrived late. (Pers Comm 2017)

If Megarry is right, that would rule out the May 22nd date for Arneson's Castle/Dungeon game, but leave open the possibility that it was the date of the Icleandic Plane Crash scenario.  

So, in a couple places, I previously speculated that this May 22nd meeting is a good candidate for Arneson's Castle Dungeon game, one week after a weekend fueled with popcorn, Conan and monster movies.  However, as you can see, that would contradict Megarry, and seemingly be problematic in relation to the Icelandic Plane Crash scenario which appears to be earlier in character and timing.

In fact, if I may spin another Just-so story, placing the Icelandic Plane Crash game as the game played on May 22nd instead fits in a couple or three different ways.  

First, we could easily imagine Arneson being both a bit excited and a bit anxious about an upcoming flight to Europe.  

Second, Perhaps more interestingly, are the anecdotes about combat. The first reported "Black Moors" game isn't the May 22nd game, but an April 17th game with a troll at a troll bridge as found in the previous COTT Vol 3 #4.  This game seems to have had less participants, but Bob Meyer says he was one of them.  Bob Meyer's account of his encounter with the troll leaves little doubt about his disdain for the newly released CHAINMAIL combat system Arneson used for that session, which laid low Bob's hero with a single blow - the first to die in Blackmoor, according to Meyer.  Arneson had repeatedly indicated that the, um, lets say discontent, of the players at their characters easy demise is what led him to create his own combat system.

In David Wesely's account of the Icelandic Plane Crash scenario, he opined that combat consisted of only "arbitrary story telling" made up by the referee, and because they were playing themselves, "that they really can not die"  Wesely suggested that, like Fight in Skies, you take on a personality who gains experience and can be killed. (Pers Comm 2011).

Regardless of exactly when it was, the Icelandic Plane crash scenario seems most likely to fall sometime between the Troll Bridge game and the Castle Dungeon game.  If we accept that the Castle Dungeon game took place in "spring" 1971, and we accept that the Icelandic Plane crash is earlier, then it must also have been in the spring, prior to Arnesons trip.  If that sequence is correct and the Bob Meyer, David Wesely, and Dave Arnesons accounts are roughly accurate, we may be seeing an evolution in combat where Arneson begins with CHAINMAIL Fantasy, scraps that system because it is too deadly, tries (or resorts to) just arbitrary storytelling, scraps that because it is not deadly enough, and then comes up with a Hit Point based combat method. 

Like I said, it is a pretty good "Just So" story, but it does conflict with the report that the Icelandic Cave game came after Arneson's trip, so we will simply suggest that it may have been earlier, perhaps on May 22nd.

Let's consider Arnesons' European Vacation for a moment.  The exact dates for this trip have been elusive.  Generally it is said to be in June-July 1971.   No doubt you are wondering what difference it makes.   The main reason is that we (well I, anyway) generally haven't looked closely at what was going on in June because we assumed Arneson was overseas.  That includes the monster movies that were playing that month.  However, if he was home for most or all of June it means we can look for evidence that Arnesons castle/dungeon game took place in June, preferably on or before the end of Spring on June 21st, as we established above.

Arneson does have a few things to say about his plans for the trip in COTT Vol 3 #5 (May '71).  Right after the paragraph quoted above regading David Megarry's Dutch battles, Arneson writes:

"As the bulk of are officers are making trips to Europe about the middle of June, the time and place of the June Meeting will be difficult to arrange and there is a very good chance that it will be cancelled altoghether."

There is also this:
"The full rules committee will met June 12, 1971 at (fill in the blank) Hrs at (fill in the blank) Home.  Arneson wasn't on the rules committee, but as club Secretary and head referee of the Napoleonic campaign it seems somewhat unlikely he would fail to attend any of these meetings.

And Lastly this:
"The next issue of the paper will be prepared prior to my trip to Europe as well as they July issue so that if I do stay away from this nuthouse for two months there will still be a paper.  This is especially necessary since election results and ballots must be sent out to all the voting members."

My take-away from the above is that Arneson really had no idea exactly when his trip would be or exactly how long it would last when the May issue of COTT was prepared.

We (at least I) have been assuming that Arneson left on his European tour circa June 15 and returned a month or maybe 6 weeks later circa July 20ish.  Maybe that's about right, but maybe not.  Perhaps that information will come to light.  Meanwhile...

If Arneson's parents hadn't solidified their plans by April/May, it is not unreasonable to suppose they may have actually left a little later than "the middle of June".  The end of June or even early July seems at least as likely for their departure, if not more so.

There's tentative support for this idea coming from David Megarry.  I asked him about the Dutch campaign reported above.  He said:

"I seem to recall that very few people (if any) took Arneson up on the offer and I see myself and him being the only players. I think I attacked his forces but Arneson's more experience prevailed (though by 1971, I was getting better..;). I spent most of my time trying (and I think I was successful) to disengage from the battle. Arneson then Table T'd the campaign based on the outcome. Whether these memories were of the Dutch campaign or some other battles I am not sure. I would have just finished being a Junior at the University of Minnesota on those dates."

Arneson himself may have unknowingly provided us a corroborating clue both to his participation in the Dutch game with Megarry, and the creation of Blackmoor generally.  He said " We were doing a historical campaign in Holland so my map ended up with a lot of water." Arneson Kobold Quaterly 9, Spring 2009 p31.
He's talking here about the land map of Blackmoor, with all it's rivers, lakes and bays, as seen in the FFC.  

Nevertheless, and very importantly, this participation in a Dutch campaign (presumably Megarry's) appears to peg Arneson in the Twin Cites up to the 21st of June, working on Blackmoor material.

So, provisionally, lets presume that Arneson didn't go to Europe until no earlier than the last week of June.  Let's also presume that the monster/popcorn/Conan Saturday when Blackmoor dungeon was born was some Spring date after May 22nd as discussed above.  Lastly, let's presume that one of the movies Arneson watched that fateful weekend was inspirational in some way to the Castle and Dungeon mileu.

Before we cull through the candidate movies, lets consider what influences we might actually be looking for.  What are some of the outstanding characteristics of Blackmoor castle?  Here is a partial list:

The Castle:
Sits high atop a rocky hill
Overlooks the sea
Is creepy/haunted
Has at least one sealed/bricked up room
Has underground passages/tunnels with monsters
Has a passage leading to the cliffs above the sea
Has secret doors/hidden passages
Has a torture chamber
Has a laboratory/wizards workshop
Has a library
Lies next to a walled village
Has a graveyard positioned between the castle and village
Has secret tunnels that lead to various buildings in town and elsewhere

According to The Horror Incorporated Project(TM) website, these are the afternoon movies playing on channel 5 KSTP Minneapolis/Saint Paul:

Saturday May 29, 1971 - Werewolf of London (1935), The Black Room (1935)

Saturday June 5, 1971 - House of Frankenstein(1944), The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)

Saturday June 12, 1971 - House of Dracula (1945), The Man with Nine Lives

Saturday June 19, 1971 - The Raven (1935),  The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

Saturday June 26, 1971 - Murders In the Rue Morgue (1932), Behind the Mask (1932)


We can quickly dismiss most of these movies as no castle is involved.  We are left with three candidates:

Saturday May 29, 1971 - The Black Room (1935)

Saturday June 5, 1971 - House of Frankenstein (1944)

Saturday June 12, 1971 - House of Dracula (1945)

Taking each in turn:

The Black Room involves a castle in the Alps ruled by an evil baron with a good twin brother.  This movie has several interesting features:

There is castle, set high on the hill, near to a graveyard:




 There is also a village somewhere nearby:




Also, the castle does have a single secret passage leading to a bricked up room (the Black Room), and, like Blackmoor, the castle is ruled over by a baron.




These elements are intriguing, as is the fact that the villain of the movie chases and murders women, and Arneson's write up of "Facts about Blackmoor" in Domesday Book #5 1972 includes womenizing barons and numerous murders, however we are missing a number of other details. Especially notable is the absence of a dungeon, a sea, or any monsters.  

House of Frankenstein is a monster extravaganza.  It does briefly include a castle in ruins, where the body of Frankenstein lies frozen.   




Otherwise, there is nothing in House of Frankenstein suggestive of Blackmoor.

House of Dracula is the most intriguing of these three.  It has every single one of the points listed above, except for the last one.  Let's have a look.

There is a creepy haunted castle sitting on a craggy hill overlooking the sea:



It has secret passages leading to an underground dungeon maze populated with a werewolf and Frankenstien monster. The passages include tunnels to a seaside cave:





The castle also features a torture chamber and a mad scientist laboratory/workshop:


Outside, just like Blackmoor, there is a cemetery near to the castle, between it and the adjacent walled village.




As you can see, House of Dracula is strikingly similar in most of the basic and iconic details of Blackmoor, including monsters in a dungeon maze.  What are we to make of this?  It could of course all be coincidence, but it is an awfully big coincidence, considering the timing we talked about earlier, especially if one considers the possibility that Arneson had watched The Black Room merely two weeks prior to House of Dracula.  The shared elements of these movies might have increased their influence on Arneson's imagination.  

Now having said all that, I should point out that the reverse could actually be the case.  The June 12th airing of House of Dracula was actually the second time the film was shown by KSTP that year.  It had already aired 3 months earlier on March 6th.  Who knows.

What I would say, is that we have an alignment of data pointing to a spring 1971 date for the creation of Blackmoor dungeon and an intriguing cinematic hint suggesting that Blackmoor castle and dungeon may have been born on that June 12th Saturday when House of Dracula aired, or perhaps on May 29th when The Black Room aired, followed a week later with the famous castle/dungeon game set up on the ping pong table in Dave Arneson's basement.  

Dungeon in the Womb of Strategos

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , , ,

David Megarry's Dungeon! is fascinating on many levels.  We can trace the origin of this game with an exactness that is rare in game archaeology, to an early weekend in the month of October, 1972.

Dungeon!, or The Dungeons of Pasha Cada, as it was first officially named in early 1973, came about as an attempt to make a referee-less, family version of the Blackmoor game. As Dave Megarry put it, "Playing in Blackmoor is where I get my inspiration" (pers comm., Feb 2017).  

It is tempting to wonder then what rules and methods in Dungeon! were inspired by Blackmoor specifically, or perhaps Twin Cities play in general, including to what extent combat in Dungeon! may have been inspired by the use of Strategos, and CHAINMAIL(TM) in Blackmoor as experienced by Megarry..  

As it was with Blackmoor, CHAINMAIL certainly served as a primary source for Megarry when it came to adding to his list of monsters.  It is natural then to also look for CHAINMAIL influences in combat. 

In the 1975 printing of the Dungeon rules we are told "...the adventurer rolls two dice.  If the dice roll is equal to or greater than the number listed on the Monster Card, then the monster has been defeated...:  That's the same basic technique as used in the Fantasy Combat table in CM, and although rolling 2d6 verses a target number was common practice in gaming, we can say it was at least consistent with the CM method and perhaps derivitive.

However, what is interesting to me, as discussed in previous posts, is the notion in Dungeon! of non-equal combat methods, like we see in D&D but not in CHAINMAIL.  By that I mean, there is one table for players, and a different table for monsters.   Likewise, in Dungeon!, there are two concurrent systems.  The monsters simply die when you beat their "to hit" score, but something much different is done for players.  "If the dice roll is less than the number shown on the Monster card, then the monster has defeated the adventurer.  In such a case, the player must immediately roll 2 dice and refer to the Combat Losing Table"



That dichotomy is interesting in and of itself, but perhaps most intriguing is from where this table itself is drawn.

The reader may recall the discussion regarding the relevance of David Weselys' Strategos N (and family) to Twin Cities gaming in our delve into campaign level tabletop battles in Blackmoor.   Central to the play of Strategos, in any version, is combat resolution Table T,  Here is one example from Wesely (for ease of reading, I have used the one from Valley Forge(TM) - they are all much the same):



Arneson developed the naval rules for Don't Give up the Ship(TM), to work hand in hand with Wesely's Strategos N rules as reported in COTT v3(b) #4 published in 1971 - the year before Dungeon! Below is the DGutS "Melee Results" version of table T. 



For reference the morale levels are:


+1
Flushed
0
Normal
-1
Shaken
-2
Disruptred
-3
Routed
-4
Surrender


If you compare table T as given in these 2 examples, to the Combat Losing Table of Dungeon!, the results show a definite bond.

The table below shows this comparison directly.  The first column lists the die result table in Strategos, whereas the last column shows the die results table of Dungeon, while the inner columns compare the results.


Die
Strategos N (Loser)
DgutS
Dungeon! table
2d6
Tie
No effect
No effect
No effect
7, 11
+1
Drops 1 morale, 3 turns
Loss of 1 area
 -
-
+2
Drops 2 morale, 3 turns
Loss of 1 area, drops 1 morale
Retreat 1 space, drop 1 prize
6,8
+3
 Disorder, 1/4 out of action
Loss of 2 areas, drops 2 morale
Retreat 2 spaces, drop 1 Prize; lose 1 turn
4,5,9,10
+4
Routed,  1/2 out of action
Loss of 3 areas, drops 3 morale*
Seriously Wounded, drop all prizes
3, 12
+5
surrenders
Loss of whole vessel,
 surrender
Killed
2





*The 1971 self-published version of DGuts differs here with a loss of 4 areas and 2 morale steps.

The match aligns most closely with the DgutS version of Table T.  Notice in particular the matching results regarding the loss of an "area" and being force to retreat from a "space".  Whether it is seen as an advancing opponent or a retreating adventurer, the effect is the same.  Megarry was clearly adapting table T to dungeon, and moreover, it seems to be the DGutS table specifically, 

That's curious.  Megarry certainly could have used a DGutS version of Table T to base his Combat Losing Table off of, but that's an odd choice given that DGutS is a Naval game.   One wonders if Megarry was instead using a DGutS-like version of table T created or adapted by Arneson for use in Blackmoor.  If he got the table directly from Arneson, Megarry might not have known of the parallel to DGutS.  Here is what the man himself had to say:

"Dan,
I am a great fan of the Table T concept and would have had it in mind when I did the rules. .... FYI, I was not a naval fan and hardly dealt with Dguts at all....To answer the question, I am fairly sure I had Table T in mind but don't remember using it directly when I made the combat losing table."
Pers Comm Feb 18, 2018

For now, the close parallels between the DGutS table and the Combat Losing Table must remain a mystery.  What all this does illustrate, yet again, is just how deeply ingrained Strategos was to Twin Cities gaming.  We can't directly deduce anything from this regarding use of the Strategos in Blackmoor from these pairings.  We can't work backwards and say, "Because Megarry, therefore Arneson."  We do however need to acknowledge the likelihood of a strong Strategos influence in Arneson's gaming, manifesting in all sorts of ways, and we should keep the norms, mores, and formal rules of that system in mind as we sort through the historical data.



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Rural American father of three. Archaeologist, Anthropologist, Filmmaker, craftsman, and a licensed Real Estate agent.
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