Monson On Playing and Wargaming

Author: DHBoggs /

More of my discussion with Blackmoor Original Player Chuck Monson.  Again, my questions in italics:

 Did (do?) you prefer tabletop wargaming over D&D style dungeon delving?

I like both styles of gaming.  Role playing is a great deal of fun for me because I like to be involved in stories with other players.  I like the spontaneity of play and the creativity of adventures.  I also consider myself an avid table top miniatures wargamer for historical wargames: Napoleonic land battles being a favorite period. Wesley's Strategos N was a lot of fun, but too siege oriented at times (the Totten effect).  All in all, after nearly forty years of this hobby, role playing remains a favorite pastime.   

 In the First Fantasy Campaign you are mentioned in a section where it says: "Later, the game moved south....  Major border changes occurred when Monson was wiped out....  Significant event included a Nomad attack from the Duchy of Ten that was wiped out by Svenson and the Sniders. A great Peasant revolt that wiped out Monson, badly hurt Nelson and was then wiped out by all the other players. An expedition to the City of the Gods (located in the Desert south of Monson's old place)..."    Was the peasant revolt mentioned in the paragraph a tabletop battle you played out?   

I remember gathering forces and building a strong point to defend.  I don't think any of us there knew what to expect.  David had his fun too.  Yes, my great plans fell awry.  The first 'fall' was pretty hard fought, but overwhelming invaders.  That was when I figured out the meaning of 'Ten'... David multiplied the opponents by huge numbers and stomped his way through the defenses.  A second defense was even more crushed, but noting the game history, it took all the other players to counter the events.  As I can't remember any table top battle, likely not.  There would have been heaps of figures on the tables, the floor, the stairs...  LOL.    

 Did you have anything to do with the Duchy of Ten Nomads or the Peshwa?

No, I had nothing to do with the Nomads or the Peshwa. 

Did you adventure at all in the City of The Gods?

No, I did not venture to the City.  I was after all only a weekend visitor from 150 miles away.  
Did "Monson's old place" have a name?

It was only a place for the one battle.  No one was left alive to remember a name, or didn't care to do so.  LOL.  

I've made the argument that Arneson was using a variant of Weselys Strategos N, since that's what those guys seemed to have used for everything, but others have thought that he was probably using CHAINMAIL by Gygax and Perren to resolve the battles.  Any idea?

I thought David was winging it much of the time and used brief references on notepaper at best.  Certainly no copy of Chainmail or other rules clarified his numeric horde armies.  I never saw anyone referencing Chainmail after the earliest of days.  I picked up a copy of CM perhaps ten years later, then lost it.    

I found the tales of who influenced whom very typical for revisionists wanting intellectual property control.  In reality, gamers 30 or more years ago really adapted from many sources, including literature and actual games.  Had anyone thought to ask from where did Chainmail derive its data and terminology?  CM is not the font of all being in RPG, just another reference with a muddied history. Personally, I am more convinced that Tony Bath has the earliest published common source.  Then again, there are WWII simulation rules that formulate a single soldier running through sand firing an SMG (Korne's Rules).  A gaming buddy and I used to name our characters to play on a sand table we built in his basement.     

BEYOND THIS POINT BE DRAGONS: Mystery Solved, Mystery Deepens

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , ,

It was a nice story and a pretty slick bit of deductive reasoning, the series of posts I wrote introducing the existence of Beyond This Point be Dragons back in late April of 2012.  I concluded that Dave Arneson had been the creative force behind the production of the Beyond This Point be Dragons Manuscript.  The conclusion rested primarily on four lines of evidence:

1) The art looked a lot like the drawings in the FFC

2) The language of the text was significantly less "Gygaxian" than that of the 3lbb's and contained words most characteristic of Arneson (chops especially)

3) There were trace rules only found in the BTPbD and in the FFC.

4) Gygax claimed to have edited two drafts of D&D, and Arneson mentioned only creating a single unused "final draft".  Since BTPbD did not reasonably appear to be either of the Gygax drafts, Arneson's draft alone remained as the best fit explanation for BTPbD. 

The first of these arguments simply fell apart under scrutiny, because I choose to compare handwriting found on the various pieces of art and in the FFC that turned out to be a mix and match of hands.  Nevertheless a weaker case could still be made on stylistic grounds, but it just wasn't clear who drew the pictures.

Without the art, the second and third points still indicated a strong Arneson connection, but without any other, or earlier D&D drafts there was really no way to know if the "Arnesonianisms" and other mystery items were additions by Arneson to BTPbD or carryovers from some earlier draft that eventually got cut or changed before D&D was published.  

The last point teetered on what may have been oversimplified remarks by Gygax, a single unspecific remark by Arneson, and a lack of some of Arneson's D&D material.  What actually went on regarding the editing and typing of manuscripts wasn't perhaps as clear as the two men had let on.

There was another possibility that I acknowledged in the May 3rd 2012 'blog article "... we would need to find something unique, some quirky word or turn of phrase, or pattern of speech that really stands out as characteristically his.  Without such a marker, there would always remain the possibility that BPTBD could have been prepared by some other associate of Gygax and Arneson or some one of the couple of dozen members of the IFW who had an early script."

Zenopus (the ever clever Zac) picked up up on this very thought and in a post on ODD74  where he asked "Can it be excluded that this was prepared/edited/revised at a later date from Dave's notes by someone other than him?"  Cadriel (of the excellent Semper Initiativus Unum 'blog expressed much the same skepticism, "It's clear that this is a document out of the Minneapolis "scene" in Dungeons & Dragons, and clearly bears the mark of Arneson's play in large part. (There are things I think need more research, such as the "instant kill" rule - no Arneson player has ever reported that, and it should be confirmed.) However, given the presentation, I'm not sure it's a draft intended to be sent to TSR for publication. The other possibility is that it's a document emerging out of Arneson's large play group, possibly with a separate editor, that put forward his rules for play by other groups in 1973." source

Clever fellows, all three.

In response I wrote "The idea that BTPBD might somehow have been produced by someone in Arneson's gaming circle is the hardest to rule out. Unlike the other ideas, there's no direct contrary evidence in the text, particularly if you assume Arneson or notes from Arneson were involved.

We have to wonder who that might have been though and why they would have bothered.  Those whom I have been in touch with (J snider, G Svenson, S. Rocheford, M. Mornard) know nothing about BTPBD, and that's a big problem for your theory.  There's also the fact that Arneson only shared notes with a very few of his players (mostly the ones I just mentioned along with Ross Maker) - he didn't want rules arguments.  However, once the Minnesota group recieved Manuscript B from Gygax, they did begin playtesting it, so one of them could theoretically have created BTPBD.  Maker or maybe some other alternate DM in one of the splinter groups, such as that Ken Fletcher played in, could possibly have found Mss B inadequate and tried to expand it, but, as I mentioned, none of the other Blackmoor folks know of anyone working on D&D Mss. except Dave, and its hard to see what a splinter group not associated with Dave would be doing with some of his material and, apparently not much of their own."

In short, there seemed to me to be no credible reason and no credible candidate in the Twin Cities to explain a secret production of Beyond This Point be Dragons.  Turns out I was right about that.  There was no secret editor  in the Twin Cities.  There was however in Duluth....

The first clues came a few weeks ago when Jon Peterson, author of Playing at the World and an avid collector, turned up and published here, a flyer from a group in Duluth Minnesota that had a picture of a wizard that was part of one of the full page illustrations found in BTPbD.  The group was called Contax, and one of the people instrumental in starting that group had been Chuck Monson.

That's the same Chuck Monson, interviewed in our previous post, who played in Blackmoor and is mentioned in the FFC.   In the course of our dialog he told me about a manuscript he used to run games in Duluth  He said, (questions from me in italics)

"David allowed me to copy his notes in those days and that copy was my source to continue gaming back in Duluth for a couple of years during my college days.  I wore the ink off the pages running my own campaign. This was before any formal publication of D&D.   

I also remember that my copy of David's notes was from another copy.  The graphics were in background on graph paper and the lines were clearer than in the OD&D publication, but those marks were still evident there. My copy was on a heat-transfer ink copier so the ink sat on top of the heavy paper.  

Hard to recall the drawings. They included at least one sketch of a map and a monster certainly as an example and the graph paper it was drawn on was much clearer than as later appeared in the D&D booklets.  

Was this a "clean" copy or did it have scribbled hand written corrections or additions into the margins or anything like that.  I realize that may be something too difficult to recall.

Certainly difficult to recall, and, no, no marginalia that I can image.  Unlike Harry Potter, no magical notations to casting ."

I also sent him a copy of the BTPbD manuscript and mentioned that one of the images had also been found in a Flyer from Contax.  I asked if the manuscript rang any bells.  Here is his response (questions from me in italics):

"I know something of this.

Contax:  hearing that again caused me to remember vaguely using that group name for about one hour, then forgetting it.   One of those vain moments in college gaming days.   It referenced my Duluth gaming friends in that day with hopes of contacting other players.  

Among them was Mark Bufkin whose enthusiasm produced  Beyond This Point Be Dragons.   Mark's effort was to reduce the die rolling to d6's, not the polygonal version.  I do not believe he ever ran a game with those rules.

At some time I mentioned this to Prof. Barker and later delivered the only copy I had ever seen (actually unread until the car trip to the Twin Cities) .  Barker remarked right away that it looked like a copy of Arneson's work.  That made me uncomfortable, but it was after all not mine to defend.  Barker gave me a copy of his Wizard's War game at the time.  Barker was engaged with serious discussions of his intellectual property rights with TSR, but I think this was prior to the link to David Arneson's share holding interest in TSR. 

Mark was more engaged in his fantasy baseball league at the time.  His team in the 1970's was the Texas Rangers.  That puts my contact time with Mark around 1971 to 1975. "  

In your earlier email you mentioned "David allowed me to copy his notes in those days and that copy was my source to continue gaming back in Duluth for a couple of years during my college days."  Were those notes  what Mark Bufkin used to create his copy or was he working off of something else?

"I have to think that Mark worked from my copy but perhaps this was after the very first three book set was published and of course in his own style on a typewriter.  

Mark never ventured to the Twin Cities nor did he play with David Arneson during the time of our gaming friendship. "

Do you know if he drew the art in BTPbD? 

"I did presume at the time that he did draw that artwork himself.  There were no other common sources for us to work with that I recall. " 

There is a reference to Narnia as one of several fantasy world examples.  Was Narnia an inspirational setting in your gaming group?

"Mark would definitely be the most likely party to refer to Narnia.  No one else in my gaming group in those days had read the CS Lewis works.   This gave Mark a lot of story material which we would enjoy.  

My gaming story backgrounds were from reading the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series and then R. E. Howard's various tales."  

There are instructions in the manuscript for using playing cards to randomly generate percentiles.  Was using playing cards like that something you guys used to do?
"No, the playing card randomizers were only in Mark's game play.  I don't recall much more than that. " 

Although Mr. Monson was able to clear away much of the mystery surrounding BTPbD, there are still a number of questions remaining.  I wish my next statements were about learning more from Mr Bufkin, but I have to sadly report that he passed away in 2012 at just 57 years of age, and less than 2 months after my initial post on BTPbD.  He was only 18 in 1973.

What was Chuck Monson's copy of the rules that Mark Bufkin used to produce BTPbD?   Was it a straight copy of Gygax's "Guidon D&D" draft - the one used to produce the Mornard fargments?  Or was it a draft Arneson had prepared with his notes and changes?  Did Bufkin inject a "Twin Cities" vibe into BTPbD through being a participant in Chuck Monson's games, or did that come directly from the source materials he used?

For example, Jon Peterson has made the interesting argument on ODD74 that certain features, the "SETTING THE STAGE" section (bk II:16)  in particular, strike him as deriving from some campaign other than Greyhawk or Blackmoor.  The names are unique to BTPbD, but I felt they are fairly easily explainable as simply being generic examples from a generic sample map, but maybe they meant something more to Mark Bufkin.  One thing about that "SETTING THE STAGE" section that always seemed particularly odd to me was the mention of Narnia.  I'd say references to the works of C. S. Lewis are at least very rare if not completely absent in any of the contemporary material from either Gygax or Arneson.  Maybe this is an example of a section Bufkin wrote or edited, or maybe it's not.

So, while we can say the mystery of who created the Beyond This Point Be Dragons manuscript is resolved, there remains much work to be done and more mysteries to be solved with this fascinating little set of rules.

Melted like cheese on plate armor. ...

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , , ,

In the First Fantasy Campaign, under the section titled Campaign Map Notes, we find the following, ""Later, the game moved south....  Major border changes occurred when Monson was wiped out....  Significant event included a Nomad attack from the Duchy of Ten that was wiped out by Svenson and the Sniders. A great Peasant revolt that wiped out Monson, badly hurt Nelson and was then wiped out by all the other players. An expedition to the City of the Gods (located in the Desert south of Monson's old place)..." 

Poor Monson.  "Monson" refers to Chuck Monson, and aside from this entry in the FFC, he's not someone we've heard a lot about in regards to Blackmoor.  As his name came up recently in regards to Beyond This Point be Dragons,  I thought someone should remedy that situation.  I'll be doing several posts on what Mr Monson has to say, but we'll start with his introduction.  So here is Chuck Monson, original Blackmoor player, in his own words:

"I lived in Duluth, Minnesota, and played naval miniatures and Avalon Hill games in 1970.  I heard about an open Diplomacy game when I visited the nearest wargame store, The Tin Soldier, about 150 miles from my home.  I gained an invitation to play Diplomacy at the home of Greg Svenson.  There I also met Bill Heaton, another gamer.  Conversation lead to mention of a game club meeting in St. Paul.  

At that meeting, Dave Arneson was in a heated discussion with Randy Hoffa about a game issue.  Later that day I joined in a Dont' Give Up the Ship miniatures game with Mike Carr. I also learned about the next meeting. I was hooked on having a group of gamers in one spot, unlike my one-on-one gaming experiences.  

At a following meeting we played Braunstein, something with a dragon that popped up in the middle of the game.  It was interesting, but a bit confusing. 

Again, another three hour drive to the Twin Cities, this time with the idea that a Napoleonic campaign was formed and that I might join the British team.  Rear Admiral Sir Marmaduke Monson came to be in the battle of Denmark against Richard Snider's Russian fleet and Steve Rocheford's Prussian raiders.  What was different here was the role of personalities rather than fleets or armies as expected.  I rather enjoyed the experience, creating part of the story line from my perspective.  

After that, I became involved in only a couple of Napoleonics games including sacking the Russian Winter Palace, then enjoyed the COTT articles, and the socializing of the other gamers.  What passed from there was an introduction to David's Blackmoor games.  Therein I took up the position of an armored fighter who by lack of luck met with scorched death more than once.  Perhaps it was David's way of testing my resolve, or just a way to humor himself.  I persisted however, and gained acceptance in the group. 

Blackmoor was interesting as players carved out their vested interests on the maps.  Eventually, this led to the Duchy of Ten campaign as noted by Judge's Guild.  I was at Gen Con in the Playboy Club when I was called over to the company table and given a free copy of the publication, just because my name was in there.  Well, it was there.. twice I think... I am not yet digging out my copy from the closet.  Many years later I would use that mention as a ploy to get a better auction price for another person's copy. 

John Snider ran the Egg of Coot; his brother Richard another character; the Great Swenny; Bill and Old Blue (his sword); Rocky and the Temple of the Frog.  Dave Megarry was around somewhere and Bob who lived... at the Snider apartments on Riverside. Doug Hoffman was there a couple of times before he headed off to Anapolis. Blackmoor was fun and instilled a deep passion for role playing games in general.  

Yes, I played in Blackmoor dungeons several times.  Died, died, died.  Melted like cheese on plate armor.  We all noted that more monsters fit into tiny dungeon rooms than anyone thought possible.  Yet we kept on playing...  My characters were always humans.  Always a fighter.

I also was an intermittent visitor at Prof. Barker's home games and played two large Tekumel miniatures games in the Cities.  I remember vainly that my first character I rolled a 99 on appearance and that I named him Mulloch.  Later, in the first game I played, David Sutherland's character sold him off to sexual slavery.  That was the end of his story.  I do remember that in part of the conversation that day, it was mentioned that Bill Hoyt recently had fronted funds ($800?) for the publication costs of some of the Barker game material.  

There was a brief time one summer when I was supposed to be working on an American Civil War game between the Twin Cities gamers and the Lake Geneva gamers.  I remember getting ammonia print (blueprint) copies of the 'official' West Point maps to manage the game (pbem) in background to actual table top play in each locale.  Some aspects of 'generalship' bore RPG feel to them in the story telling, but no character cards, etc.  with details.  

I further played in several games based out of John Snider's apartment covering his Star Empires game, a very long WWII campaign, and later Rocky's Great War variant.  John Snider was a remarkable game manager and a very practical game designer.  Extremely intelligent (degrees in Mathematics, History and Physics (I think), ROTC and graduated in 4 years from the University of Minnesota); later an educator at the Army War College. He had a crowd of gamers at his residence in Riverside, near the UofM campus.  He ran a WWII game (among others) on weekends and I would frequently travel there to play ( the great trek of 150 miles, gas was $0.35 a gallon and freeway speeds were easily 'variable').  

John used a simple military rule set that seemed overwhelming in off-page details which he tracked on a small note book (3x4) each session. The rules were later adapted to a Great War campaign by Rocky (Stephen Rocheford) aka von Rocheford.  Pencil scribblings of the 1970s were used to track data, and each team/player of a nation had a list of units for wargaming purposes -- not table top.  

I played a role (sans character card) managing economic plans for the German team and Rocky was the military role.  One of Rocky's early maneuvers was to assassinate Hitler and become the great marshal of the Army faction leading Germany.  My character was down the hall occupying a toilet when the shooting was over.  Our next mission, as it was, led to the marginalization of the SS units. On the diplomatic front, we grandly shook hands with the Russians (Richard Snider) to gain resources for the Reich, and stayed at arms reach for the rest of the game.  Richard pursued a Near East strategy in Persia while we fought off the British and other allied forces.  We conquered France and ran it pretty much as a Vichy nation.  We supported the Italians across North Africa where the French had retreated (I think Greg Svenson played France).  David Arneson became 'Arnesako' as player for Japan.  (I still have a picture somewhere of David in a kimono).  Fred Funk played the over-the-top British.  One game ploy, carried on independently by Japan and Germany, was to keep the USA neutral for as long as possible.   (I still have copies of the Great War campaign rules which Rocky adapted from John's handouts.)   

The WWII campaigns ran part of every Saturday session for perhaps 2 years or more and these weekends also included campaigns  (with David Arneson and the usual suspects) for Star Empires (written by John Snider and later published by TSR) and I believe a couple of other games, including a fantasy campaign (not a Blackmoor game as I recall; maybe a pre-quell to Richard Snider/Dave Arneson collaboration).  A very active group of about 10 or more persons.  

I played in the Twin Cities on weekends for about five years.  I played in Duluth for about nine years.  When I moved west to Salem, Oregon, in 1980, I continued play at the local club at Stuff 'n' Nonsense out of which I formed my first gaming convention.   

I stopped playing D&D when my local players became power hungry around 3e.  I prefer story telling as opposed to golf carts loaded with magic staves, spare Eyes of Odin, and dimensional windows back to a safe castle-home every evening. I did venture out once in a while, but I was required to fix up a 20th level character to qualify in the local group.   Not my cup of tea.

I have from time to time ventured out in Tekumel, certainly Traveller, and Pathfinder for several years.  I keep tabs on RPG games through the Metro Seattle Gamers club and the Dragonflight Convention, now in its 37th year this month.  

I did meet up with M.A.R. Barker for a semi-private dinner out at a Pacificon Origins in San Mateo.  It was memorable not just because of the contact time, but because Barker politely used his Cantonese to gain entry to the restaurant as it was about to close.  He made quite a good impression on the owner.  How many RPG players think to add a master linguist to their retinue?

David Arneson made it to the Dragonflight Convention (Bellevue, WA) as a guest a few years back.  That's my local convention here in the Northwest.  I helped out as convention manager for about eight years starting in 1980 and the 37th convention happens at the end of this month.  I shall be a guest there.  

David and I chatted for a couple of hours off and on between his duties.  At the banquet meal, we sat together.  He commented at the time 'if they (the others around the table) only knew about the early days".  I replied that many did know, because I told them.  I mentioned that I also had spoken at the first annual dinner of the Wizards of the Coast. My talk had been about my view of the industry revolving around my experiences with Arneson, Barker and others.  Kind of a 'and now for the rest of the story' lecture, encouraging respect of contributors and others responsible for the success of a business.  TSR had a dark reputation in that talk.  David had heard that I had done that." 

About Me

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

My Blog List