Megarry's Blackmoor Characters III - A Mystery

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , ,

The mystery of the circle and squares.

Now here is a fun one.  You'll recall from the first post in this series (in point three) I mentioned two new stat which were added to the character sheets and placed near the character name.  These stats were unlabeled and distinguished from each other by having either a square or a circle drawn around the number.  Here's a close up of a couple:
It's hard to see in the pics I copied to the blog so here is a link where you can download better resolution jpegs.

So to reiterate, the "circle numbers" came first, at the time the Hercebeiner characters were created.  Then came the square numbers, and Megarry drew circles and squares around them to mark them as different.

What are they?

Before your mind goes racing to all the obvious D&D stuff, take note of the zeros, and keep in mind the ranges found on the 2 sheets; square numbers range from 0-4, whereas circle numbers range from 0-7.

My first thought was that they might perhaps represent levels.  Dave Arneson once said "Because the players in the original campaign could learn different skills and different abilities, virtually everybody who was a fighter also wanted to be able to throw magic.  And it seemed like everybody who was a magic-user also wanted to be able to fight.“  Dave Arneson, Mortality Radio interview, July 9th, 2004.   In FFC material, quite likely to be contemporary with Megarry's characters we read of an assistant to the Ran of Ah Foo who is "Level 7 Warrior and Magic". (1977:19)

However, when I presented the idea to Dave Megarry, he disagreed, "The only character that had some magic type ability was the Scholaress: she had the shape changing amulet and the vial of basilisk blood. I was not a magic user: my vision was more of Aragorn rather than Gandalf, if you get my meaning." Personal Communication, 2016

Mr. Megarry further explained that he knew what the squares were.  "The square numbers were the hit class / armor class of the characters. I am having a problem remembering what the round numbers meant. Arneson added something at the time or made us add the information at the time I did the Herk characters and I filled it in for my previous characters (for consistency, I guess:).  The Herk series is the three characters that were related to each other or part of the household in red.... The armor class dealt with what type of armor you had bought or acquired: no armor = 0; leather armor = 1; chainmail = 2; plate armor = 4. I think these are straight from the Chainmail combat system." Personal Communication, 2016

I suggested to Mr. Megarry that if it was from CHAINMAIL, then the numbers were probably no armor = 0; shield only = 1, leather armor = 2; chainmail = 3; plate armor = 4., and Dave Megarry thought that was probably it.

The puzzling thing about that is that it skips the "with shields" columns, so why use these numbers?  I mean, if you are just counting across on the Man to Man table "3" is leather and shield, not chain.  So it would seem to make more sense to just write "chain" or to number across all the column so as to avoid confusion.

I wondered if Mr. Megarry had gotten the circles and squares backwards, since circle numbers can be found as high as 7 (the Gester) which would be Plate armor, counting across.  Again, however Megarry corrected that notion, "The two characters, Earl's Jester and Hero Trany both have circle 7's and I know they did not have plate armor with shields!" Personal Communication, 2016

In fact, full plate seems to have been a rarity in Blackmoor.  I think it quite likely that the numbers in the squares do indeed refer to the Man to Man armor types in CHAINMAIL just as Megarry claims, but it is simply the case that none of Megarry's characters ever wore armor any more robust than type 4.  He said, "I was not much into shields as they used one arm in combat and was hard to carry. I liked bow and arrow weapons and did not use shields. I did like leather armor as it gave a minimal protection for a relatively cheap cost. The Scholaress did have chainmail as she had money..."  Personal Communication, 2016.  The Scholaress, by the way, has a square number of 4.  For reference here is the CM list, with numbers added:

no armor
Shield only
Leather + shield
Chainmail + shield
Plate + shield

Perhaps it is worth noting that this is also consistent with John Sniders remarks, "Armor .. I thought it was 1-8, my Boozero character started at 1 if I remember correctly, but then he was shall we say in his cups a tad much so Dave could have adjusted the system to account for this." Personal Communication 2009 

There's also this odd little note in the FFC, "ROBOTS - I roll one Six sided dice for Armor Class," (1977:74)

I also wondered if the circle and square numbers could both be armor class, like ascending vs descending, but the circle and square numbers do not correspond in any way that would allow them to be describing the same sets of armor, therefore, if they both represent a defense number of some kind, and the square numbers are a shorthand for CM armor types, it would seem that the only real option for the circle numbers would be helmets, or possibly shields.

Of course, there is no table in CHAINMAIL for shield types or helmet types - so if the numbers were intended to be a separate armor rating for either shields or helmets, Arneson would have to have created his own tables for them.  That seems a bit fiddly, and there is no evidence for such.  Also, when we look to the FFC, we find three kinds of helmets and 9 kinds of shields (three kinds of small, medium and large).  Since our number ranges in the circle and square figures are 0-4 and 0-7, helmets clearly don't fit the range.

Shields however remain a possibility for the 0-7 range of the circle numbers, but this again is problematic.  Yes, shields are already included on the Man to Man table, but it is conceivable that Arneson developed a shield rule like that found in the Dalluhn draft and in somewhat different form in the 3lbb booklets; namely that a magical shield would only "catch" a fraction (like 1/3rd) of the blows depending on the direction of the attack.  However, even this idea doesn't stand up well to scrutiny.  The numbers can't be a separate shield rating within the Man to Man method because the number combinations on the character sheet don't correspond in any meaningful way.  

Remember also that the circle numbers came first.  What sense does it make, for Arneson to have switched from a single "to hit" target number to determine a hit on a character, to a wholly unknown to hit table based on whether a character has a shield or not?

Well it doesn't.  About the only way it could make sense was if the circle numbers were a shield 2d6 saving throw number.  If a saving throw based on shields came first, then it might make some sense if armor were added in the manner Megarry suggested (no armor = 0; shield only = 1, leather armor = 2; chainmail = 3; plate armor = 4) because then the "with shield" column on the Man to Man table would be redundant.  Then again, type 1 "shield only" would seem to be redundant too.

There are two bits of circumstantial evidence that might support this; namely there is an "X5" shield, otherwise unexplained, in the treasure of the original Temple of the Frog (First Floor, Room 4, p37) and a cryptic comment in the FFC that "...the player received a "Saving Throw" against any hit he received." (1977:2).  Both are rather thin sauce, as the first might be a typo and the second doesn't seem to have any dependence on possessing a shield, but who knows.

Perhaps the only way it could make sense for the circles to represent shields and the squares to represent armor is if the numbers have nothing to do with the Man to Man table, and are instead "ablative" armor, like that found in the original Temple of The Frog and Craig Grasteck's "Rules to the game of Dungeon".  This type of armor will absorb a number of hits until it fails.

Honestly though, there's very little evidence for this type of armor in early balckmoor.  Further the numbers don't really fit well.  If the circles represent shields, then shields are significantly better than body armor according to the numbers.  They also don't come anywhere close to the number of hits the one known example found in the 1975 TotF.  That suit of armor could take 65! hits.  True it was space alien technology, but it is still a tremendous gap between the 2's and 3's we see in the circle and square numbers  and 65.

My last, best guess is that the circle numbers could represent an attack bonus, possibly also applicable to saving throws and such.  If you'll remember a good while back when I discussed Pete Gaylord's character sheet, there was an unexplained "+5" written next to his best weapon, the pole axe.  At that time I pointed to the "Blackmoor Military Manpower Distribution" list (FFC 1977:17), where following each Player Character, their Hit Dice are listed, and many of them include a bonus ranging from 1-5, though only Svenny has +5 and the rest are +1 or 2.  Maybe the circle numbers are this sort of bonus.

Okay, that was a lot of verbiage, so I'll summarize:

Squares: These numbers represent armor class corresponding to the Man to man table in CHAINMAIL.  They range either 0-4 or 0-7.

Circles:  These numbers could be:

* A shield saving throw rating possibly in cojunction with a 0-4 AC range
* A bonus applied to attacks, most likely to  damage rolls
* Something completely different  

l'm afraid I have to leave it at that until more information becomes available, but feel free to speculate in the comments.


derv said...

Did they have horses? Chainmail gives only "no armor" and "barded" on the man to man table, but light, medium, and heavy with the mass combat.

D&D likewise has light, medium, and heavy horses. But, all are AC 7. The cost is 40/100/200. Barding costs 150. Interestingly, the FFC has the three types of warhorses for 25/100/400, yet sells horse armor seperately for 320. Obviously the different horse types have different movement rates. And, of course, only war horses can melee.

In CM the different types are harder to hit on the mass combat tables. On the man to man table barding does offer more protection, for the most part. So, though it may be grasping at straws, consider the possibility of a more complex system with and without barding that may have ran from 0-4 AC.

purple purple purple purple said...

Arneson always talked about how he did not use chainmail after the first few games. there are interviews were he speaks of a lot of different systems being tried out.

The whole skills concept is something we all thought came later. That is no where like chainmail. Maybe it's worth comparing all of this to Adventures in Fantasy. Who knows, maybe there is continuity between that and the character sheets.

DHBoggs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DHBoggs said...

Yeah I did think about the Horse Armor columns a bit but that didn't seem to fit in any meaningful way. The Blue rider of course did have a mechanical horse, and Svenny had a tarn, and there are a few heroic horses mentioned here or there. They don't really figure prominently in the campaign though and aren't of much use on the many dungeon expeditions the guys talk about. So it is good to keep in mind, but I doubt the circle numbers had anything to do with horses.

DHBoggs said...

Have a look at the second post in the series. There is a comparison to AIF there. :)

Hedgehobbit said...

For this round number you've got:
One - 0
Three - 2s
Six - 3s
Four - 4s
Two - 5s and
Two -7s

These numbers seem a bit low for a 2d6 saving throw but the lack of any 1s also means that it doesn't really fit a d6 save either.

If it were shields, you'd expect a larger number of 0s.

DHBoggs said...

Yeah, although there's actually 7 threes. :) Those figures total 67 across 19 characters averaging 3.5 per character.
That does seem to point to 1d6 - but then how do the 0 and 7 fit in? Could be there is a +/- 1 being given for some reason. I noticed that the character with 0 has a low Brains score, whereas the two characters with 7 have high brains score - but with only three characters to work with it could easily be coincidence.
One stat we would expect to see is the "saving throw for no damage" after a hit Arneson mentioned in the FFC and other places. Logically it makes perfect sense for Armor class (square number) and damage save (circle number) to be paired together, but how 0-7 could relate to a saving throw in a 1d6 or 2d6 scheme is escaping me.
It could be a bonus - but a bonus added to what? My best guess is that perhaps you were supposed to add the circle and square together and that gave you the save #. That actually makes sense, but it's hard to know if that's it or not.

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