# Appearing in Blackmoor Dungeon

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

The subtext of much of the discussions about OD&D revolves around the space between author intent and author practice.  When it comes to dungeons, Levels 1-6 of Blackmoor Dungeon represents perhaps our best window into practice because it is one of the only published examples we have of a D&D dungeon by one of D&D's designers in the glory days of OD&D1974 - 1976.  To my knowledge, the only other examples are levels 1 & 2 of Tsojconth and the Origins II Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by Gygax, Temple of the Frog level 2 by Arneson, and the D&D sample dungeon level. Further, as of this writing, the original Origins II Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is extremely rare and I've never read a copy.

Blackmoor Levels 1-6 were prepared "for convention games, and set up along "official" D&D lines."  (FFC 77:42)

To begin with, it is evident and significant that Arneson used the original 3lbb stocking tables found on U&WA 10-11 to stock the monsters in the dungeon.  As distributed throughout the dungeon, all the monsters, fall precisely into the monster to dungeon level ranges of the Monster Determination and Level of Monster Matrix table on page 10, and consequently, all monsters present in the dungeon correlate exactly with the 6 monster by level lists on pp 10-11, just as one might expect with a by-the-book stocked dungeon.  All the monsters are taken from these tables, that is, except for one. 

The exception is significant, it being the vampire, sir Fang, who appears as a wandering monster on level 1 with his two companions.  Sir Fangs presence, is, of course, an example of a "thoughtfully placed" or "allocated" monster, in keeping with the advice on U&WA p 6.

Mention should also be made here of toads, which appear on the Level 2 Monster list in 1st - 4th print U&WA but somehow got altered to "thouls" in the 5th print.  Blackmoor dungeon retains the earlier print monster.

So we can see how Arneson determined the monsters on each level and room, but it is not so easy to suss out the method he used to get the numbers present in a given room.

It might be useful to know what numbers and levels of adventurers Arneson was planing for.  The only "official" comment comes from the d20 Dungeons of Castle Blackmoor, where we are told. "The dungeon... was targeted towards a higher level party;..." p 12.

There's some reason to doubt that though, and to think Dave may not have stocked the dungeon with concessions in respect to PC levels at all.  In particular, we have a play report from a game at the 1976 Gen con found in Alarums & Excursions 15 wherein the very dungeon given in the FFC was run.  The plan at the convention was for 12 PC's of levels 1-4.  It should be noted two additional high level PC's, (Svenny and Bosero from Arneson's original group) also joined in the actual game.  So it does not appear to be the case that Dave was anticipating high level players when he stocked these 6 levels, but he doesn't seem to have been averse to including them either.  

So, our only recourse is to take a close look at the numbers.  One of the first things one might check is the the # appearing ranges given in the monster tables in M&T, pp 3-4.  Doing so reveals that many of the monsters in the first six levels of Blackmoor dungeon don't fit the # appearing ranges.  These monsters have too few to fit the range - Gnolls, Goblins, Dwarves, Kobolds, Orcs - while Spectres have too many.

However, a careful study of the numbers reveals a few things. Importantly, but with one exception, there are never more than 40 of anything.  That one exception is a shocker - a room with 74 Heroes!  I feel very confident that this is a typo, likely stemming from a poorly written 1.  I'm sure the number should be 14 not 74, for pity's sake, which puts it right in line with other groups of fighters, like the 13 swashbucklers on level 4.

Looking closer, we see some more distinctions that allow us to begin to make some meaningful groupings:

*  Magic-users and Clerics never exceed 6 in number.  

*  Fighters (assuming that 74 # is wrong) never exceed 14.

*  Likewise "fantastic" or "individualistic" type monsters never exceed 20.

*  "Normals"/group type monsters never exceed 40.

* The average number of these "normal type" monsters present is 21.

*  Dungeon Level appears to make no difference whatever in numbers stocked in a given room.

Of course to get the above conclusions, some assumptions had to be made about what monsters belong on which list.  By the numbers given, it is evident that Arneson was counting the "giant" creatures as fantastics.  However there are some animals/insects in the U&WA lists that aren't specifically called "giant" and likewise these same aren't called "giant" in Blackmoor dungeon either,  Toads, spiders and centipedes are the prime example here.  Now spiders could go to either the normal or fantastic categories, numbers wise, without affecting the average outcome too much, but I placed them on the normals list because toads and centipedes fall into the 20+ range and I figured spiders would be considered similarly. 

Another consideration is that it is possible that Arneson had a finer grained breakdown of some of the "fantastic" creatures.  For example, there is only one room of manticores, and there are but 4 of them.  So while they are definitely less than 20, they are also less than 6.  Perhaps some deeper HD or level comparison may turn up something, but for now I note no compelling reason to separate out these few such examples from the other "fantastic" monsters, like wights, who number in the teens.  

So, here is what I believe Arneson was categorizing as "fantastic":

Giant Creatures, Ochre Jelly, Ogres, Manticores, Fighters, Lycans, Gargoyles, Cockatrice, Specter, Wight, Wraith

For Normals, we have:

Gnolls, Goblins, Dwarves, Kobolds, Orcs, Spiders, Centipedes, Toads, Bandits, Skeletons, Zombies

My conclusion from all of the above is that Arneson derived his monster numbers for the OD&D version of the first 6 levels of Blackmoor dungeon using the following procedure in any given room, on any given level:

For spell casting monsters/NPC's roll 1d6

For Fighters and fantastic monsters roll 1d20

For Normal tribal type monsters/NPC's roll 2d20

Note that the average roll of a 2d20 is 21, just as we see in Blackmoor Dungeon.

Now, I'm not saying "go and do likewise", though I suppose we could.  Personally, I would prefer some modification accounting for dungeon level.  What this does tell me though, is that Arneson does not seem to have found a method in the 3lbb's for deriving stocking numbers in a dungeon, and so choose a fairly straightforward method of his own.  


Unknown said...

Thanks for the interesting article. I think to have noticed that Arneson also tried to make those random numbers to fare below the lowest limit of monsters encountered in M&T. Maybe he did so because the book clearly states on a foot note that the numbers shown on the list were specifically for outdoor encounters.

DHBoggs said...

Thanks Javier,

I just saw your post. Ah, that infamous note. Well, I can guarantee you that Arneson wouldn't have cared a whit about that (check out my posts on the Point Buy stocking method). The note itself is rather bizarre and silly, given that most of the monsters are dungeon dwellers in the first place and some of them are only to be found in dungeons. It is also a last minute addition/change to the game. Those same tables in older drafts say nothing about being limited to wilderness encounters. Gygax may have made the change because of some ideas he was introducing about monster numbers based on a formula of dungeon level and character level, I dunno. Whatever the reason, the "wilderness only" rule for monster numbers makes no sense and was duly ignored in the various TC dungeons I've seen.

Post a Comment

About Me

My photo
Game Archaeologist/Anthropologist, Scholar, Historic Preservation Analyst, and a rural American father of three.
Powered by Blogger.

My Blog List