Megarry's Blackmoor Character Sheets IV - Missing Info

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , , , ,

This post is about what is and is not on the character sheets, and why.  I'll start with a picture painted in quotations:

"..,Dave played things so close to the vest, when I asked him questions at the "My Awesome Gaming Group" panel, he answered my "is it this or that" question 'yes' because 'some of my players are here'"  Tavis Allison, commenting on the 'blog Beyond the Black Gate Monday, July 25, 2011, "Dave Arneson and Impartiality in the Temple of the Frog"

"Dave did lots of secret rolling and never showed us the results or explained what he was roling for. I am sure that sometimes he rolled dice just to make us nervous..." Greg Svenson Nov 27, 2009,

" We were not keeping our own records or character sheets as they are called now. Dave had an index card on each of the players (and NPCs) with their attributes, HP, possessions and other useful notes. I only remember seeing Svenny’s character card a couple of times.... he kept our character cards,... We didn’t track our experience points as is done now. Dave simply told us when we had transitioned from one level to another."  Shams Grog.& Blog Q AND A-with-Greg-Svenson

"To be honest, I never had a character sheet. Dave A. had my character (Svenny) on an index card that he kept. He let me use it during a couple of game sessions (maybe 2 or 3) but always collected it again. I never thought to make a copy of it, either."  Greg-Svenson, Post subject: Re: Megarry's Blackmoor Characters Posted: Oct 24, 2016 5:08 pm Comeback Inn forum.

"Don't ask me what you need to hit. Tell me what you're character is doing. I'll tell you what dice to roll" - Dave Arneson

If you are an OD&Der, it is only natural for you to be looking at Megarry's characters for signs of familiar stats, but you will be hard pressed to find them.  A few of the "ability scores" are there, albeit in 2d6 instead of 3d6, but the all familiar hit points, level, saving throws, etc., of the D&D are conspicuously absent.  Is this because these things were not a part of the Blackmoor game?  The answer to some extent depends on the particular stat.  In fact, while there seems to be a lot missing from the sheet, we can be certain nonetheless that there were some items of character information, that the players weren't allowed to know. 

As the quotes above show, Arneson prefered what we might call an immersion game, with as little "out of character" talk as possible.

"Just role playing not roll playing." Dave Arneson, Blackmoor at the Piazza, Sep 30, 2008 at 10:09pm ODD74 forum

Perhaps the genesis of this disposition lies in Arneson's contrasting experience of Wesely's nearly rule-less Braunstein games and all the "rules lawyering" that took place in his own Napoleonic games.  Arneson made a number of comments that one of the reason fantasy appealed to him was that no one could argue historical facts with him.  In one interview he said:

"How did it all start in Blackmoor?..... I was also quite tired of my Nappy campaign with all its rigid rules, etc., and was perhaps rebelling against it (in fact I'm sure I was!!).....  (For Blackmoor) rules were actually written down (but closely guarded by the referee and subject to change without notice if things got out of hand)."  Different Worlds magazine, June/July 1979, p6-7.

Given the context, it is pretty easy to see what is going on with Dave Megarry's character sheet.  Arneson apparently preferred to keep important rules details out of the hands of his players, including things that we would now think of as a part of character information.  The information the players had about their character was not the whole picture. 

Hit Points are perhaps the most obvious omission.  We might also expect to find Hit Dice, Level, and Experience Points. 

Despite not being directly referenced on the character sheet, we know these things were a part of a characters makeup.  Hit points and experience points are discussed in this POST, for example.  That post references Greg Svenson notes in the back of his 2nd edition CHAINMAIL.  Svenson had these notes, no doubt, because he was one of the first persons Arneson turned to with help refereeing Blackmoor adventures.  It was "need to know" information.

There's a bit more to be said about experience points, however.  Although it is true there is no XP total listed, Megarry does keep track of the monsters his characters have killed, and in the single case of the Scholaress character, he also writes their point value.  Which tells us at least something about the characters earned experience (more on this in a later post). 

Academically, this is all kind of interesting (to me anyway), but imagine for a moment, if Arneson's approach had become the norm for D&D.  Imagine character sheets where the only statistical information a player has is their ability scores, saving throws, armor class, and maybe their level.  It is the referee, not the players, who track the characters hit points and damage, experience points, and other "rulesy" type information.

So, you don't know what your hit point total is, or how much damage exactly (in points) you can do.  You don't know how close or not you might be to leveling up.  You probably don't know how much of a bonus that magic weapon has either.

Descriptions of action, especially of fights, would naturally be less laced with statistics and mathematics.  Instead of "You take 4 points of damage" it would necessarily come out as "You receive a deep gash and your character is feeling very weak." or some such.

One wonders what direction D&D would have developed in if the D&D player's character information had been limited in the same way it was in Blackmoor.


Unknown said...
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Jeremy "frothsof" Smith said...

Very interesting, thanks!

bmg said...


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