Vecna Rebooted and Greyhawk

Author: DHBoggs /

 Having spent most of my life working as an archaeologist and now as a public historian, I suppose it is not surprising that I would be drawn to puzzles involving the ancient past - even when that past is entirely fictional.

The age of Vecna in the history of Greyhawk is just such a fiction with just such a puzzle swirling about the ancient lich, but I honestly had not thought much about Vecna specifically until recently, beyond reading the research others had done.

This Vecna Timeline on Canonfire, for example, covers the character fairly thoroughly - at least to the extent needed for generating backstory in a Greyhawk or Blackmoor campaign. 

But casually watching this Bob World Builder Video brings up a whole new level of curiosity.  The basic idea put forward in the video is that Vecna has played a pivotal role in the stories put out by the owners of the D&D IP each time the game has undergone a revision or edition change. 

 The video further highlights that of Jorphdan - another Youtuber - who points out that WotC products going back several years have been seeding mysterious obelisks that were finally revealed to be part of a plan by Vecna to alter history. To quote from a sidebar in Icewind Dale "“These obelisks could alter reality on a grand scale, sending a region or an entire world back to an earlier time, effectively erasing part of history."

Just last month, we got this tidbit from Chris Perkins "...super excited to let people know that our Vecna adventure is going really really well and you'll get to visit a number of cool places and worlds in the course of this adventure." Vecna, Planescape & What’s Next w/ Christopher Perkins | D&D Beyond, April 14 2023

Of course I have no knowledge of what WotC is doing, but it would seem particularly strange for a Vecna adventure involving world hoping to exclude the one world most closely associated with the lich.

One intriguing possibility I mentioned on Canonfire last October is that WotC is planning to bring back Greyhawk - sort of - by recasting the setting into the distant past and thus avoiding any concerns they may have with lets say, politically incorrect aspects of the published material.   It would further have the advantage of not angering Greyhawk fans any more than they already are, by mucking up the large pool of fan material for the current age.

Regardless of how one feels about WotC right now, a detailed empire of Vecna in ancient Greyhawk is surely an appealing idea and if WotC doesn't take that path, perhaps someone else will.  Could Vecna's goal be to remake history by not giving Kas his famous sword or killing him early or...? Well there are lots of possibilities.

Arnesonian Time Keeping

Author: DHBoggs /

The original Blackmoor game as Dave Arneson ran it between 1971 and 1975 may be described as a living world campaign. - meaning that the world moves through time regardless of play. 

In his grand Napoleonic campaign Arneson had scores of players, including many play-by-post participants such as Gary Gygax, and time in the game had to advance on a regular schedule for the game to work.

Although Blackmoor by contrast was played almost entirely in person, Arneson again had to deal with many players who came in and out of the game at various times and locations of play and he again adopted a "living world" approach reflective of his Napoleonic campaign where time advanced regardless of who made it to the table.  Because Arneson had a revolving door of players coming in and out of Blackmoor games, he did not have the "luxury" of pausing the world for a particular player or group of players.

Although this doesn't necessarily mean Arneson would have had to have run Blackmoor with strict 1 to 1 play, i. e. one day of real time equals one day of game time, it does appear that Arneson did something quite close, perhaps even exactly that.  Let me provide some 1 to 1 time examples:

In the summer of 1972, Arneson's most prolific player, Greg Svenson had to leave for a six weeks due to employment at a summer camp.  This occurred during the 2nd Coot invasion, after the Egg's forces captured Blackmoor and the group of heroes who were supposed to be defending it got exiled to Loch Gloomin.  Greg left for camp, but while he was away The Egg of Coot launched an attack on Lake Gloomin and Svenson's iconic character "The Great Svenny" was killed, having been experimentally placed by the other players as the sole defender of the town gate against an army of orcs.  Time did not stand still for Greg or his character, but as a consequence The Great Svenny became almost certainly the first character to be resurrected in a fantasy RPG upon Greg's return to the game.

The next summer Greg again had to leave the gaming table for a while and this time it was decided Svenny went on a business trip to Greyhawk city to explain his absence.  Time marched on.

We can move to one of Dave Megarry's characters for further insight.  David Megarry has actually preserved a log he kept of his character HW Dumbo's activities.  HW Dumbo was Megarry's 5th character - the others having had much shorter careers. It seems the best way to interpret the dates in the table are that they correspond to the real month and day and that 1072 corresponds to the year 1972.  Here is the table:

Note that between June and September Megarry's character was on something of a long hiatus building Freehold.  Freehold was of course Greg Svenson's tower which had been destroyed during the 2nd Coot invasion earlier in the year.  It is apparently not coincidence that while Megarry's character was working on a building, Megarry himself was working on buildings as a house painter and too busy that summer to participate in the games.  Time in the game moved on without him at the table.

In fact, this way of managing time carried straight over from Blackmoor into the OD&D rules.  This isn't especially surprising.  There was only roughly 10 months between the time of Gygax's first RPG experience when Arneson and Megarry demoed Blackmoor to him and the actual publication of the three little brown books.  Gygax did not fail to draw on Arneson's much longer experience running an RPG campaign. In the TIME section of D&D Vol. III (1974) we read:

"As the campaign goes into full swing it is probable thot there will be various groups going every which way and all at different time periods. It is suggested that a record of each player be kept, the referee checking off each week as it is spent. Recon the passage of time thus:

Dungeon expedition = 1 week                                                                                              Wilderness adventure = 1 move = 1 day                                                                                 1 Week of actual time =  1 week of game time...

Actual time would not be counted off for players "out" on a Wilderness adventure, but it would for those newed in their dens, hideholes, keeps, castles, etc., as well as for those in the throes of some expedition in the underworld,"

An entire post could be written about the TIME section, but for our purposes here I only wish to highlight the point of 1 to 1 time being expressed.

No player was seemingly so important that time stood still for them, not even the DM.  In one of my favorite blog posts, HERE Al of Beyond the Black Gates relates an amusing anecdote about a convention game Arneson ran where, 

"Once, when the party's boat was a attacked by a horde of lizardmen, he told us how many there were, their armor class, their hit points, what they needed to hit us, and so on. They were stupid, he explained, and fanatic, and would fight to the death, so we should be able to take care of that ourselves, and he was going to go get a coke and he'd be back in a few minutes to check on us."

As the quote illustrates, the principle of time continuing in motion in the game and the real world concurrently can be found sprinkled throughout Arnesons' gaming, not just in regard to the passage of days and months but in the passing of seconds and minutes.  

Much ink has been spilt in forums, some of it by me, arguing over the intended length of a combat round in OD&D, but whatever the published rules may intend, in early Blackmoor combat took place in the moment.  Attack rolls were often called "chops" and there can be little doubt attack rounds lasted only as long as it took to state an action and roll the dice.  As Greg Svenson Remembered it on Wandering DMs

"At the time I probably thought of it as one swipe with my sword; one attempt or one chop."

Wandering DMs S04 E06 (TC 50:22)

Time at the table was being measured as time in the game, and thus the question of "how long was a combat round" had no meaning for Arneson's players.

"The basic scenario is Arneson telling us, "10 feet, 20 feet, room 20x20 with an up staircase in southeast corner, down staircase in northwest corner, a passage on the north wall and east wall and an ugly troll standing in the middle of the room. What are you going to do?" We had about 10 seconds to react and then he would announce, "the troll is attacking..who is in front?" We would be scrambling like mad to figure out a strategy."

Pers Comm, David Megarry, Jan 17, 2017

We in the traditional gaming community are so used to the carefully sliced time units of our various rulesets of D&D, that the idea of measuring time in the real world as time in the game seems novel and alien, but in fact the idea fit comfortably within the earliest days of play.

That, by the way, is why you can't waste time arguing and chit chatting at the table without expecting a wandering monster roll...

"Usually if they stay in one spot five minutes screaming at each other a (not too powerful) wandering monster shows up to remind then where they are!"  Dave Arneson, ODD74 Forum: Re: Rust Busting « Result #27 on Jan 14, 2009, 6:51pm »

Arneson's Early Thoughts on OD&D

Author: DHBoggs /

This month marks the 49th anniversary of a debut demonstration game of the newly published Dungeons & Dragons that Arneson ran at the University of Minnesota.  He and his friends were clearly eager to showcase "their" newly published game, but as is often the case when more than one person creates a product, there were some things in the booklets Arneson would rather have handled differently.  

In a letter Arneson wrote to fellow gamer Scott Rich he asked Rich to send in a paragraph to Jim Lurvey's Great Plains Game Players Newsletter explaining the things in D&D he had different ideas about.  Arneson's paragraph was published in Issue 16 on pages 19 and 20.  The content provides an all too brief but nonetheless fascinating early look at Arnesons thoughts on the game. 

Arneson to Scott Rich

“There was also a certain amount of communication breakdown in D&D over populating Dungeon Levels and the wandering creatures therein. For one thing the weaker creatures are on the upper levels but the encounter table compensates their weaknesses by giving them higher numbers, which is OK out in the open but not in the Dungeons. Also the wandering creatures are supposed to be wandering in levels where they would normally be found inhabiting, and again in somewhat smaller levels. Now Blackmoor was not set up as a totally random Dungeon originally but with a overall plan and scheme in mind, not just a meatgrinder for adventurers. This gets me a lot of complaints about lack of action and no treasure (everyone keeps going to the same rooms and I refuse refill them to please them). Another point of mixup was that players were not intended to become harder to hit and take more damage as they progress. Instead they were to take the same amount of hits all the time (with the exceptions of spells, magic, etc.) while becoming more talented in inflicting hits and avoiding the same. This was a great equalizing influence. I should note that I gave them all about twice the potential number of hits (one die roll for the number of dice you roll is a three meaning you cast three die 3, 4, 2 meaning that you take nine hits (but you could take as many as 36 hits). Also the number of hits you could take were partially in relation to the of points the person possesses.”


"There was also a certain amount of communication breakdown in D&D over populating Dungeon Levels and the wandering creatures therein. For one thing the weaker creatures are on the upper levels but the encounter table compensates their weaknesses by giving them higher numbers, which is OK out in the open but not in the Dungeons."

This letter was really quite a surprise to me when I first was able to read a copy, in the sense that it had been mentioned a few times here and there, leading one to expect a bitter tone from Arneson with a laundry list of strong complaints about the "communication breakdown" and what was wrong with the first printing of D&D.  That's what the hype had been, painting Arneson as something of a jerk.  The truth, as is readily apparent and often the case in life, is much more banal.   The paragraph is short and perhaps disappointingly drama free.  Arneson expresses only a "certain amount" of communication breakdown regarding only the stocking of monsters in dungeons, and a "point of mixup" regarding how he envisioned Hit Points and Damage in combat.  From the whole game Arneson finds only these two areas to be important enough to mention that he envisioned them differently - hardly the wailings of an injured man with a list of complaints.  What we do have however, is some fascinating ideas, so lets dive in.


Part 1 Setting up the Dungeon.                

"For one thing the weaker creatures are on the upper levels" - Arneson is telling us here he doesn't like that weaker creatures only appear on upper dungeon levels.  We can infer from that that he preferred an even distribution, or at least a distribution that allowed for the possibility of any creature to appear on any level.  That is precisely what we see in the original, pre-D&D levels of Blackmoor dungeon, where dwarves and goblins might inhabit the same level as Balrogs and Dragons and lowly orcs could be rulers of the very bottom level.

" the encounter table compensates their weaknesses by giving them higher numbers, which is OK out in the open but not in the Dungeons."  Arneson is telling us that dungeon level should not be a factor regarding the number of creatures encountered.  Thus the complex formulas such as in the Holmes rulebook for calculating the number of wandering monsters encountered based upon the size and experience level of the adventurers was not something Arneson approved of.

". Also the wandering creatures are supposed to be wandering in levels where they would normally be found inhabiting"  Arneson is telling us that only the monsters already "inhabiting" the level can become  wandering monsters.  That's precisely what one sees in Temple of the Frog.  There the monsters in each room are given a chance to be absent when the PC's arrive, or encountered wandering nearby. 

"and again in somewhat smaller levels."  This is a little tougher to catch his meaning.  I think the "smaller levels" he is referring back to "again" is meant as the antithesis of the higher numbers he disliked above.  In other words "in somewhat smaller levels (amounts) than the idea of having larger numbers compensate for dungeon level". 

So rather than talking about the size of the dungeon (smaller levels) or the Hit Dice of the monsters (smaller levels) he is talking about numbers appearing (smaller levels of group numbers).  Dungeon size really makes no sense.  Hit Dice makes some sense if taken to mean smaller totals, but no sense if taken to mean only low power monsters should wander.  So by smaller levels I think he is trying to express that the overall strength of wandering monsters should not be jacked up to match that of the Player Characters.  That makes total sense if the wandering monster is but a subset of some group inhabiting the dungeon level - a trio of goblins wandering out of a room, for example.  It is a naturalistic explanation of the appearance the monster.

"Now Blackmoor was not set up as a totally random Dungeon originally but with a overall plan and scheme in mind, not just a meatgrinder for adventurers."

Here is the heart of Arneson's objection.  The tables of U&WA create a random, meatgrinder dungeon.  Arneson's point has been echoed more recently by Dan "Delta" Crowley, in a rather intense analysis he undertook with computer modeling. HERE 

Delta's analysis shows just how deadly the U&WA methods will be to parties of an experience level equal to that of the dungeon level they are on, but I think Arneson's objection wasn't just to the deadliness of it, but also, and perhaps mostly, to the senselessness of it.  He points out that Blackmoor was set up according to a plan, with forethought, and not just as a monster zoo. Arneson of course, allows for some random input, but expects the result to fall within the confines of an "overall plan and scheme". 

Looking at the surviving original keys we have of Blackmoor dungeon, I'm not sure if Arneson's players would agree that their dungeon delves were "meatgrinder free", but at least we know Arneson's ideal, and it may well have been the voice of experience talking in this case.


" This gets me a lot of complaints about lack of action and no treasure (everyone keeps going to the same rooms and I refuse refill them to please them)."

Here Arneson equates having an overall plan for the dungeon with restraint in restocking areas previously cleaned out by the adventurers.  From this we can infer that Arneson was granting agency to his dungeon inhabitants.  He reasoned that the monsters would avoid an area heavily trafficked by PC's, and act with some intelligence to the threats occurring in their environment.



Part 2 Attack and Defense.

Another point of mixup was that players were not intended to become harder to hit and take more damage as they progress.  Instead they were to take the same amount of hits all the time (with the exceptions of spells, magic, etc.) while becoming more talented in inflicting hits and avoiding the same. This was a great equalizing influence. I should note that I gave them all about twice the potential number of hits (one die roll for the number of dice you roll is a three meaning you cast three die 3, 4, 2 meaning that you take nine hits (but you could take as many as 36 hits). Also the number of hits you could take were partially in relation to the of points the person possesses..”

 This section has a lot of amiguity, but let's start with that first sentence.

" Another point of mixup was that players were not intended to become harder to hit and take more damage as they progress.  

The and is underlined in the newsletter on purpose, of course, and I take that purpose to indicate both these things were not intended to go together.  Arneson is saying if you have a character who is harder to hit, then that character should not also be able to take more damage.  It should be one or the other, not both.  Arneson is arguing that both together is a "double dipping" of the defensive value.

" Instead they were to take the same amount of hits all the time (with the exceptions of spells, magic, etc.) while becoming more talented in inflicting hits and avoiding the same. This was a great equalizing influence."

Arneson here indicates he decided against the "take more damage" growth in hit points (except increases that are granted by magic).  Which means he advocated for a combat mechanic that made characters get progressively harder to hit, while at the same time increasing the characters damage dealing ability by level.

Note that in D&D character's do not become harder to hit as they level up.  The "hit class" of a character or monster depends on their Armor Class, so a 1st level character and a 10th level character are both hit at the same TN depending on their AC.  Nor do they inflict damage at different amounts when using the same weapon.

When Arneson coupled "becoming more talented in inflicting hits" quote with "and avoiding the same", it seems as if he could well be speaking of a single matrix.  This would be a matrix where level was pitted against level so that a higher level character could hit a lesser level more easily, and be less easily hit by a lesser level.  I will note in passing that "X fragments" apparently had such a matrix per Jon Peterson, and we do se simmilar ideas expressed in other games.  For example, warriors in Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne deal out greater damage against lesser level opponents.

Theoretically, we could also be talking about a ratio here, for example a Hit Dice ratio, where a 4 HD creature had a 2:1 advantage over a 2 HD creature.  That method would seem to be open to a number of complications but may be an idea worth exploring.  

Perhaps most intriguing of all, the Adventures in Fantasy system c0-authored by Arneson with Richard Snider also conforms to the principals Arneson outlined here.  Hit points are indeed fixed, being derived from a formula using 3 ability scores.  HP can only be increased a bit through physical conditioning.  

Likewise, one component of the fairly convoluted combat procedure involves the levels of the combatants being compared and the difference between them applied to the "to hit" chance in favor of the combatant with the higher level.  For example, a 10th level human fighting a 5th level human (difference of 5) results in an added 5% chance being given to the 10th level fighter to hit, whereas the 5th level fighter has 5% subtracted from their chance to hit.  Perhaps this AiF system reflects what Arneson had in mind, but perhaps not quite in the manner it appears in these rules.  Level differences between opponents may often be quite small, especially in D&D style levels, and one or two levels only equals 1 or 2 percent - hardly worth caring about.  Given that Blackmoor, at least at one point, was restricted to 20 experience levels, we could imagine a d20 system where you had to get a base 10 to hit (for example) and you subtracted or added level difference from that.  Then even a 1 level difference becomes significant.  Such a level difference adjustment would have to be capped at 10, in this example, but AiF itself has a cap of 15.  So it's not impossible Arneson had something like this in mind.

Whatever the exact method, why is this a "great equalizing influence"?  I think what Arneson meant here was not that some sort of level vs level mechanic was an equalizer, but rather, having a fixed HP number was.  The idea, I suppose, being that anybody, regardless of level, could be killed by a similar blow if it manages to land.

" I should note that I gave them all about twice the potential number of hits (one die roll for the number of dice you roll is a three meaning you cast three die 3, 4, 2 meaning that you take nine hits (but you could take as many as 36 hits).

Though the language here is ambiguous Arneson is no doubt explaining a hit point method he envisioned for D&D.  Since the text above indicates he intended Hit Points to be a permanent number, we can see that characters would range from 1 to 36 HP with an average of 11 HP.   Maybe this average is what he had in mind when he described it as "twice the potential number of hits", because a typical 1st level character had a potential of 6 maximum HP.

As a final comment I should remind the reader that Arneson wrote this letter specifically about changes he had in mind for the D&D rules after the rules had already been published.  We should not infer that any of the things Arneson proposed here were actually play tested or used to any great extent and we must especially guard against assuming that they bore any particular resemblance to Arneson's pre-D&D Blackmoor procedures.   We know, for example that the HP method he describes here was not that of 1972 Blackmoor, and we shouldn't expect the combat method to be either - though it certainly would not be impossible.  Arneson, like all of us, continued to think of ways to build and improve his game.

The Arnesonian Sandbox and The First Hexcrawl

Author: DHBoggs /

 When I looked previously at the Lake Gloomy material (HERE) from early summer 1972, I focused on organizing the material in a user friendly manner.  The presentation of Arneson's Loch Gloomin material in the FFC seems as if it was typed directly from his notes with little thought of clarity for the reader.

The focus of this posts relates to the actual nature of the game which the notes describe, that being what we might today label as a sandbox hexcrawl

For the first year of gaming in the Northern Marches, play had focused in and around Blackmoor Castle and town surroundings, with perhaps the occasional foray north to Glendower.

With the exile of a significant portion of the Blackmoor PC's into the western swamp town of Loch Gloomin aka Lake Gloomy, a whole new chapter opened up, and it was a chapter without a large central dungeon.

Yes, there was still a town to call home base, but the town itself did not have an underworld full of treasure.  One had to go out in the world to find gold.  Arneson was forcing his players to explore the world beyond the dungeon.

In creating Lake Gloomy, Arneson was again creating a whole new kind of gaming - the Hexcrawl, and mind you this was months before Outdoor Survival was released.

He set the area up on a 10 * 10 miles per square grid with Loch Gloomen at the center, as if the whole were a wargame board.  Then he determined there would be "Twelve Special areas located in random directions... and distances..." (FFC 77:86)

He then created the tables and rolled the rolls to determine exactly what those "special areas" would be, such as haunted cemeteries, abandoned mansions, monster-filled cave complexes and so on - all as detailed in the previous post linked above.

Further, he employed rules he created for overland travel, probably made earlier, but if not, certainly by this time - the same travel rules that morphed into those of D&D as I explained in this post on the 18 pages of notes (HERE).  Rates are in 10 mile squares. (FFC 77:34)

Likewise rules for wilderness wandering monsters, as seen here (and previously discussed HERE), which again formed the bases of those in D&D, at least in the categories.   (FFC 77:34)

One square at a time (usually), Arneson's players could move out of the town and find what adventures may await them.  Being outdoors and unconstrained by walls and tunnels, this new kind of adventuring was entirely different from dungeon dives yet it was built on several of the same principles in dungeon design and stocking Arneson had already worked out.  The wilderness, in a sense, was a horizontal dungeon level on a larger time and distance scale, but it was free and open in ways a dungeon never could be.  In developing the Loch Gloomin hexcrawl Arneson created methods that allowed his players to explore the world - methods used by gamemasters to this day.

The Egg of Coot - Canon

Author: DHBoggs /

 A thread on the Piazza HERE inspired me to whip out this post.  The complaint that there isn't much game information on the Egg of Coot stems less from the lack of information and more, I think from its scattered character.  

Yes, the Egg of Coot is mysterious, particularly in origin and exact detail but not really much more mysterious than other characters in D&D lore who amount to little more than names.  In fact I'd say we know a lot more about the Egg than we do about any number of figures in D&D.  For example, St. Cuthbert.  What is his origin story?  Yes there is a myth about Cuthbert, as indeed there is about the Egg; or Camazotz from the famous Shrine of Tamoachan adventure - in fact I'd say we have more concrete facts about the Egg than Camazotz, for example.

So here I present the canon material gathered in one place.  Myths and speculation regarding the Egg are not included. 

  • In the year 970 the Realm of the Egg is noticed for the first time. (CS 2004:97)
  • Few have ever seen the Egg. Those who have seem unable to remember anything about it. 
  • The Egg's realm is either rocky cliff or nearly impassable fen, points of entry are few and far between. 
  • At the head of the bay lies the Egg's Nest, a walled town and port of 6,000, inside of which is the Egg's citadel. (DA1 86:42)
  • The abomination is known by several names - Egg of Coot,  Ogg of Ot, Orrg er Druag, etc. (FFC 77:17).
  • The Egg of Coot is a Dark Lord - cthonic like beings inimical to the great gods (FFC 77:20, 24) 
  • Once, thousands of years in the past, the Egg possessed humanoid characteristics, but no longer.
  • The Egg is a complete egotistical narcissist with a juvenile sense of humor, particularly enjoying harmful pranks.  In alignment the Egg is Lawful Evil. (FFC 77:17)
  • The Egg of Coot ingests magic. (CS 2004:176)  It is a an evil entity that feeds on magic itself and keeps its minions in constant search for more. (TWC 15)
  • All communications From the Egg are through direct telepathy or by voice transmission from its throne-room which is inside  a huge construct described as an ancient war machine.
  • Thus no one is known to have seen the Egg directly or know exactly what it looks like.
  • The Egg carries out its activities through the use of surrogates under its control.
  •  The Egg is able to completely crush the ego of its servants and rob them of free will.
  • In addition to mental ability, the Egg has some ability to create spells. (FFC 77:17)
  • The Egg is not simply magical but makes use of scientific technology, techno-magic, and the like. (FFC17, DA1 86:55) 
  • The Egg uses devices, such as amulets, to enhance its mental control ability.  One commonly worn by thralls is called the Eye of the Egg, which allows the Egg of Coot to see and hear through the wearers' senses. (DA1 86:55)  The Egg’s eyes are hidden throughout Blackmoor. The Egg uses these to continuously spy. (CS 2004:176)

Those under the mental control the Egg of Coot are called Thralls - as in Thralls of Coot, or Thralls of the Egg.   Thralls of Coot gain the following advantages:

"Magical Puissance (Ex): A thrall of Coot casts all spells and uses all spell-like abilities at +2 caster level.

Mage’s Sight (Sp): The thrall’s eyes glow an eerie blue and allow it to see magical emanations from all objects and creatures. This ability continually duplicates the detect magic spell. This ability aids the thrall in retrieving magic items for the Egg of Coot.

Fast Healing (Ex): A thrall heals 1 point of damage each round as long as it has more than 1 hit point. If reduced to 1 hit point, it attempts to flee to the Island of Coot. It must reach the Island of Coot within 1 week or be utterly destroyed. Once it is allowed to rest on the Island of Coot, the thrall gains 1 hit point after 1 hour and then resumes healing at the rate of 1 hit point per round.

Resilient (Ex): The Egg of Coot’s domination toughens the creature’s vital areas. A thrall takes 1d6 less damage from a successful sneak attack and takes one-half the additional damage normally dealt by a critical hit.

Immunities (Ex): A thrall of Coot is immune to mind affecting effects, poison, charm and sleep effects, paralysis, and stunning." (DoCB 2006:140)

In summary then, the Egg was once a human or human-like person, but is now something like a computer download or a brain in a jar with tremendous telepathic power, magical skills, and technical, scientific knowledge all of which it uses to manipulate, control, and rule. The Egg derives sustenance from consuming magic, derives pleasure from juvenile pranks, and cares for nothing but itself.

That's it for official canon but that's plenty to game with Imho.  There is one more source worth mentioning.  The 90+ MMRPG adventures tends to be treated as semi-canon by Blackmoor fans.  There are so many authors and directions in the adventure collection that it tends to be treated more as a source for cherry-picking ideas than a hard and fast part of lore.  There is one adventure of particular interest for Coot lore however because it was co-written by Arneson's Zeitgeist games partner Dustin Clingman and by MMRPG coordinator (and Blackmoor Youtuber) Tad Kilgore.  In other words, it is not "canon" has a bit more cred than the usual MMRPG adventure.  This adventure is Episode 35 All the Egg's Men.  It should be mentioned that the episode appears to have never received a final edit and also weirdly refers to the land of Coot as "the Isle of the Egg" and "the Isle of Omsfet".  Omsfet is a city, and the land of Coot is a peninsula, not an island. <shrug>

Most of what we have gone over regarding the Egg is repeated in the adventure, but we do learn

 - The land of coot is gridded with eight-ten foot tall crystalline pillars.  These are the entrapped bodies of spellcasters totally drained of their magic.  Together, these pillars constitute a communication network whereby the Egg and thralls tapped in to the network can instantly communicate together.  This allows the Egg to communicate telepathically with multiple thralls at once instead of just one at a time.

- Thralls wearing an amulet are part of the network - it isn't clear if this amulet is an Eye of the Egg amulet but that seems a reasonable assumption.  In any case these amulets are organized by rank.  The higher a leader is the more valuable the metal out of which the amulets are made.  Lesser value amulets must obey greater values - save vs 10 to resist.  The ranks are bronze, copper, silver, gold, mithral.  Platinum is reserved for the Egg.  Non thralls may use the amulet but must save vs 12 or be tainted.  Each use of the amulet (save or fail) increases the saving throw difficulty by 1.

- Taint - exposure to this network may lead to a mind taint where the victim will sometimes hear whispers and suggestions from the Egg.  Presumably this taint can happen various ways.  The tainted character must save vs 10 any time an action is taken against a servant of the Egg and the character will suffer a -2 on saves vs. spells cast by Thralls of Coot, and, if they are a spell caster each time they fail they will loose one spell slot from a single spell level, low to high.  Loss of one spell slot in all spell levels results in the victim becoming a thrall.  In exchange for the loss of a spell slot, the victim can take an automatic detect magic but if they do their eyes will turn blue. 

- The ground itself in the land of Coot is "geometric" meaning it can move and grow and has weird effects on gravity.  It can be telepathically controlled.  In game - this translates to balance checks when running.

- teleportation spells don't work in the land of Coot


FFC - First Fantasy Campaign

DA1 - TSR Adventures in Blackmoor

CS - Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Campaign Sourcebook

TWC - Dave Arneson's Blackmoor The Wizards Cabal

DoCB - Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Dungeons of Castle Blackmoor

Tonisborg News and More

Author: DHBoggs / Labels:

Less than a week to go on the latest Kickstarter for the deluxe hard cover copy of Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg!


These are seriously nice books folks.  They contain my most recent Zero Edition Dungeoneering rules, new maps for Tonisborg, and Greg Svenson's entire 1973-1974 stocking key retyped and cleaned up by yours truly.  There's also lots of Arneson and company quotes, an entire section on gaming advice, some great art including pieces by original Twin Cities gamer Ken Fletcher and by Walter Moore who did the art for Arneson's Garbage Pits of Despair.  On top of all that, the book itself is a limited production work of art, sure to grace any gaming shelf it sits on for many, many years.

In other news, well I rarely clutter the 'blog with updates but there are some things coming up you all will likely be interested in.

Perhaps the most exciting is the work that is being done with the Lenard Lakofka archive material through Canonfire.  Len's last completed adventure The Ravages of the Mind is in the final layout and looks absolutely great.  My own pastiche of some of Len's orphaned material The Lanthorn of Velzarkis is on the que for maps and art now that I've finished typing in and Len's material.  I've been doing a lot of work on that lately which is largely why I haven't put out any posts in a while, but fear not I currently have five half finished or less posts that will make it onto the blog soon.

Other projects are in the works and it looks like the next couple years are going to be exciting ones for traditional gamers and D&D enthusiasts in general.  Nice to have some good news for a change, right?

An Easy and Fair way to handle XP

Author: DHBoggs /

Here is a quick post to tide you over till I get back from vacation.  Upcoming we are going to look at the age of ID in Blackmoor, the oddities in Garbage Pits of Despair, and continue our dive into the Supp II monster lists among other things. :)

Calculating XP is certainly an issue in D&D.  While the methods of adding up treasure, and/or monsters killed and/or specials works, it does require significant bookeeping, and hardly anybody likes doing that.

Popular alternatives have included counting number of adventures or setting milestones or simply handwaiving the whole thing.  I'm not going to go through the downsides of these alternatives, except to say they are subjective, unfair, and kinda suck.

Fear Not! There is a way to avoid all the bookeeping and still hand out XP objectively and fairly and it has to do with the law of averages.  

What I'm proposing here is something like the gaming equivalent accounting for machine hours, meaning the play equivalent of the time that a machine spends in active operation and the associated "cost" of that time.

So many D&D games have been played for so many years now that we have a fairly good idea of how much play time it takes for level y to get x number of points, on average. 

There is a thread on Enworld that discusses this in length.  Here is the link:

There is also this very useful quote by Gary Gygax from The Strategic Review Vol II, No. 2, April 1976, p. 23:

"It is reasonable to calculate that if a fair player takes part in 50 to 75 games in the course of a year he should acquire sufficient experience points to make him about 9th to 11th level, assuming that he manages to survive all that play. The acquisition of successively higher levels will be proportionate to enhanced power and the number of experience points necessary to attain them, so another year of play will by no means mean a doubling of levels but rather the addition of perhaps two or three levels. Using this gauge, it should take four or five years to see 20th level. As BLACKMOOR is the only campaign with a life of five years, and GREYHAWK with a life of four is the second longest running campaign, the most able adventurers should not yet have attained 20th level except in the two named campaigns. To my certain knowledge no player in either BLACKMOOR or GREYHAWK has risen above 14th level." 

Therefore, knowing that across the average OD&D/Classic/AD&D campaign, the average player of an X level fighter will accumulate the XP to reach the next level after Y amount of play time, WE CAN SIMPLY USE THE AMOUNT OF PLAY TIME AS THE GOAL, and skip all the bean counting of XP.

The natural and best way to measure this, I think, is in hours. In fact, in the real world, that's exactly how we often measure experience. For example, going back to machines, we talk about how many operator hours a person has on a machine as a gauge of their experience.

In short we assign a certain amount of character XP for each hour that a player spends playing the game.

One benefit of measuring play hours that immediately springs to mind, is incentivising your players to come to games!

A natural objection a DM might have is not wanting to award the same amount for players who spend all game session shopping in town, verses the session where they kill a dragon, but that misses the point.  Since the system is an average of all play, it absolutely doesn't matter what the players did during any given hour of play.  It all averages out.  It's the long term average of play over time.

The only other objection I can think of is that counting time played instead of actual XP might seem to disincentivize players from carrying out specifically XP related activities. That might actually be a good thing though since XP related activities usually means monster massacres for XP or railroady dangling XP carrots. 

Charging ahead then, if we look at the poll on the Enworld thread I mentioned above, the biggest chunk of votes went to 15hrs worth of gaming between levels (although if the last two options of the poll were combined (20 hours or 25+ hours) they would be equal)

I'm going to assume (yeah that word) the conceptual model is something like going from 4th to 5th level or maybe 5th to sixth, because everyone seems to agree (cf Gygax quote) that lower levels go fast and high levels go slow and that 4-6 is smack in the middle for most campaigns.

So with all that in mind - and of course, the usual rules of level up only one level at a time and excess xp earned vanish after leveling -looking at the three classes in Men & Magic, to go from 5th to 6th level takes 16,000 xp for a fighter, 15,000xp for a Wizard, and 13,000xp for Clerics. So 14,666 points on average - lets call that 15,000 to make it easy.

Going back to the poll, if we divide that by 15 hours we get 1000. So obviously I'm picking these as middle of the road numbers that divide well and we could look at some of the other figures but this seemed a good place to start.

Anyway, if players were awarded 1000xp per real time hour of gameplay, they would go from 5th to 6th level in 15 hours. Higher levels would take much longer, lower levels much faster.

For Players who don't show up, I'm thinking if their character participates in the adventure anyway, they would be treated like a hireling and receive half XP.

In looking a little deeper, I notice that Gygax in his quote specifically says 50 to 75 "games", not sessions, however that might be defined. By "games", I think it is safe to assume he means get-togethers at table. In other words, 50 to 75 evenings of play, for example.

If we take the high number there, and not the low number, the formula becomes

300,000/75 = 4000 per game. And if we assume a typical game lasts 4 hours, then we are right back at the 1000 XP per hour figure.

Of course we can tweak our numbers all over the place, for example by averaging Gygax game numbers and making the game session longer:

300,000/63 =4762

4762/5hr "game" = 952

In the end, I'm getting pretty comfortable with the 1000 XP per hour figure. It seems "about right" from several different angles and it is an easy figure to use.

Now, awarding 1000 xp for every hour will mean that low level characters will advance quite quickly at first - much as they do in 5e, while higher levels will get progressively slower.  I personally think this is a good thing, but I can see how some DM's may want at least to slow down the lower levels to a more traditional pace.  That can be accomplished quite easily by simply cutting the XP award in half to 500 point per hour played for "veteran" tier characters - meaning levels 1-3 for fighters, 1-5 for M-us and 1-6 for Clerics.  Hero tier characters and above can then be bumped to the 1000p figure.  However you want to handle it is fine as long as it is consistent.

Next, it is important to specify the time period at which XP awards are given to the players. I mean exactly when do you hand out the reward.

I think the likely options would be:

a) at or after the close of the game when everyone leaves the table


b) when the party has a safe place to rest


c) only when the party has left they adventure and returned to their base (town presumably)

All of these would work, and I think it is up to the DM.  They don't need to be mutually exclusive either, but can be done as to what is most convenient at the time for everyone.

Finally, it is worth noting that I've been using this method for a few years now and have been extremely happy with it.  The players seem to like it just fine and it is sooo much easier to keep track of.  Give it a try.


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