Dungeon in the Womb of Strategos

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , , ,

David Megarry's Dungeon! is fascinating on many levels.  We can trace the origin of this game with an exactness that is rare in game archaeology, to an early weekend in the month of October, 1972.

Dungeon!, or The Dungeons of Pasha Cada, as it was first officially named in early 1973, came about as an attempt to make a referee-less, family version of the Blackmoor game. As Dave Megarry put it, "Playing in Blackmoor is where I get my inspiration" (pers comm., Feb 2017).  

It is tempting to wonder then what rules and methods in Dungeon! were inspired by Blackmoor specifically, or perhaps Twin Cities play in general, including to what extent combat in Dungeon! may have been inspired by the use of Strategos, and CHAINMAIL(TM) in Blackmoor as experienced by Megarry..  

As it was with Blackmoor, CHAINMAIL certainly served as a primary source for Megarry when it came to adding to his list of monsters.  Slightly over half (51%) of his original monster cards are CHAINMAIL monsters while the rest are either leader types (Chieftans) of Blackmoor originals (Green Slime, Grey Pudding and so on).  It is natural then to also look for CHAINMAIL influences in the combat rules. 

In the 1975 printing of the Dungeon rules we are told "...the adventurer rolls two dice.  If the dice roll is equal to or greater than the number listed on the Monster Card, then the monster has been defeated...:  That's the same basic technique as used in the Fantasy Combat table in CM, and although rolling 2d6 verses a target number was common practice in gaming, we can say it was at least consistent with the CM method and perhaps derivative.

However, what is interesting to me, as discussed in previous posts, is the notion in Dungeon! of non-equal combat methods, like we see in D&D but not in CHAINMAIL.  By that I mean, there is one table for players, and a different table for monsters.   Likewise, in Dungeon!, there are two concurrent systems.  The monsters simply die when you beat their "to hit" score, but something much different is done for players.  "If the dice roll is less than the number shown on the Monster card, then the monster has defeated the adventurer.  In such a case, the player must immediately roll 2 dice and refer to the Combat Losing Table"

That dichotomy of player combat results verses monster combat results is interesting in and of itself, and very likely reflects a similar dichotomy in how Arneson handled players with greater care than monsters in Blackmoor play.  However that may be, perhaps what is most intriguing is where this table itself is drawn from.

The reader may recall the discussion regarding the relevance of David Weselys' Strategos N (and family) to Twin Cities gaming in our delve into campaign level tabletop battles in Blackmoor.   Central to the play of Strategos, in any version, is combat resolution Table T,  Here is one example from Wesely (for ease of reading, I have used the one from Valley Forge(TM) - they are all much the same):

Arneson developed the naval rules for Don't Give up the Ship(TM), to work hand in hand with Wesely's Strategos N rules as reported in COTT v3(b) #4 published in 1971 - the year before Dungeon! Below is the DGutS "Melee Results" version of table T. 

For reference the morale levels are:


If you compare table T as given in these 2 examples, to the Combat Losing Table of Dungeon!, the results show a definite bond.

The table below shows this comparison directly.  The first column lists the die result table in Strategos, whereas the last column shows the die results table of Dungeon, while the inner columns compare the results.

Strategos N (Loser)
Dungeon! table
No effect
No effect
No effect
7, 11
Drops 1 morale, 3 turns
Loss of 1 area
Drops 2 morale, 3 turns
Loss of 1 area, drops 1 morale
Retreat 1 space, drop 1 prize
 Disorder, 1/4 out of action
Loss of 2 areas, drops 2 morale
Retreat 2 spaces, drop 1 Prize; lose 1 turn
Routed,  1/2 out of action
Loss of 3 areas, drops 3 morale*
Seriously Wounded, drop all prizes
3, 12
Loss of whole vessel,

*The 1971 self-published version of DGuts differs here with a loss of 4 areas and 2 morale steps.

The match aligns most closely with the DgutS version of Table T.  Notice in particular the matching results regarding the loss of an "area" and being force to retreat from a "space".  Whether it is seen as an advancing opponent or a retreating adventurer, the effect is the same.  Megarry was clearly adapting table T to dungeon, and moreover, it seems to be the DGutS table specifically, 

That's curious.  Megarry certainly could have used a DGutS version of Table T to base his Combat Losing Table off of, but that's an odd choice given that DGutS is a Naval game.   One wonders if Megarry was instead using a DGutS-like version of table T created or adapted by Arneson for use in Blackmoor.  If he got the table directly from Arneson, Megarry might not have known of the parallel to DGutS.  Here is what the man himself had to say:

I am a great fan of the Table T concept and would have had it in mind when I did the rules. .... FYI, I was not a naval fan and hardly dealt with Dguts at all....To answer the question, I am fairly sure I had Table T in mind but don't remember using it directly when I made the combat losing table."
Pers Comm Feb 18, 2018

For now, the close parallels between the DGutS table and the Combat Losing Table must remain a mystery.  What all this does illustrate, yet again, is just how deeply ingrained Strategos was to Twin Cities gaming.  We can't directly deduce anything from this regarding use of the Strategos in Blackmoor from these pairings.  We can't work backwards and say, "Because Megarry, therefore Arneson."  We do however need to acknowledge the likelihood of a strong Strategos influence in Arneson's gaming, manifesting in all sorts of ways, and we should keep the norms, mores, and formal rules of that system in mind as we sort through the historical data.

A Timeline From Braunstein to Blackmoor according to interviews of Major Wesely

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , ,

What follows is a timeline constructed from 3 interviews given by Major David Wesely.  To be clear, the following is only a series of notes from only these interviews.  I mean that it is not an attempt to correlate every time stamp ever provided by Major Wesely.  I have not been in any way thorough in tracking down all of Weselys interviews and statements, nor have I even included every single instance of dating information in the interviews listed here.  Rather, I have noted what seemed to me to be the key statements with dating information found in these particular interviews, and listed the information in chronological order to make a basic timeline according to what Major Wesely presents.  In other words, this is a practical rather than exhaustive examination.  There are, of course, minefields of potential error when attempting to cross list information from different interviews.  Nevertheless it is quite interesting to organize the Major's statements this way, and I did observe that in these three instances at least, the Major was consistent with the dates he remembers.  

However and again, these are notes based on one persons recollection.  Major Wesely's recollection may be perfectly accurate, partially accurate, or not at all accurate.  With that said, I felt the information was interesting enough and significant enough to warrant sharing and taking seriously.  Lastly, ellipses ... indicate places where I skipped over digressionary or redundant verbiage for the sake of clarity.

1958 "I got into wargaming in 1958... Avalon Hill Gettysburgh"
TFC59, 2:30

1964 "Our Wargaming group, which was very small in the 1964 timefame, by '65 this happened; we had maybe 5 of us playing wargames"
BC16, 5:50

April 1965* "...I was contacted by... this 55 year old guy who was trying to organize a group, and so 7 of us,... got together at his house... from April of '65 to '68"
TFC59, 12:50

1965* Dan Nicholson contacts Wesley from Strategos library card.
BC16, 9:00

1967 "Arneson and I traded off... We began to understand that there were a lot of psychological satisfactions to being the referee, putting together this clever scenario... We are doing that up through, well we're doing that a lot, when I go off to graduate school in 1967.  I graduated from Hamlin University, Bachelors degree, Spring '67, and Fall of '67 I go off to graduate school."
BC16, TC36:00

1967/8 (first Braunstein) "...By that point I had started in graduate school and I was just home on holidays... I went back to college and I had months before the next holiday and I thought about it and came back and had planned it all up... and it was a dud." (second Braunstein)
TFC59, 50:50

Fall 1968  "So I came back on Christmas of '68; came back home with months of thinking about this, and designed this game that's going to be run in a little town in Germany called Braunstein."
BC16, TC46:46

Spring Semester 1969 "The next time I came home, which would have been, you know, spring break, they came back and they said "When you gonna do another Braunstein?"  So the next time I put together a new revised version of Braunstien...  I did it with only 4 people... so I wouldn't have too many people to run, and it was worthless.... So I tinkered with it and at the next weekend I tried it again - that would be Braunstein 3 - and it was still a disaster.  Absolutely no fun for anybody, so I was just glad nobody else had seen that beyond the people I had just tried it on, and (I) went back to college."
BC16, TC54:05

Summer 1969 (June+) "And all the time I'm down in Kansas, from then until spring - June when I get to come back to Minnesota, I'm saying, why did it work the first time and not work the second time?...  and so I came back and set up a new scenario and this one was in Latin America."
BC16, TC55:05

Summer 1969 "And then, over the course of the summer of '69, Arneson and I, well first I and then Arneson, who had been after me to do it again, he would start refereeing the thing so I would get to play sometimes.  And we did that all the way through, and in the fall I went back to college.  And I came back on the usual vacations and we played Braunstein games then."
BC16, TC56:50

Spring 1969 - Oct 1970  (running Braunsteins with Arneson) "He and I were taking turns for about a year and a half"
MC369, TC 12:00

Fall 1969+
"Fall of '69, went through '69, '70 and on up into the summer of 1970, and in October of '70... It's time for me to go off to the Army.  And Arneson said to me, "Is it okay if I keep running these games if you're not here?"  And I said "Dave, it's set up in your father's basement.  Of course you can run it."...  I came back to the gaming community and I find people are playing this Blackmoor thing that Arneson has created.  Which, as he says in his Corner of the Tabletop magazine "a fantasy Braunstein set in the Black Moors."    
BC16, TC57:16

Fall 1970+ (following after Weseley leaves for service in October) "They continued to do Braunstien games, then Duane Jenkins introduced BrownStone, which is an Old West setting.." MC369, TC 13:00

1971 (early, following Xmass 1970)  "After I went off to the Army, Arnesons' running the Braunstien games...  I'd been, you know, home on leave at Christmas once during that time.  Then in the spring of '71 I'm still off in the army again, and Arneson and Jenkins had been doing all these games together.  Jenkins was one of the brighter guys... into joking alot...  He came up with a variant which was set in the old west."    
BC16, TC104:45

"(Jenkins) also made a very important step as well, in that, whereas I would run a Braunstien game and its' results were that evening, and the next time I ran that scenario you'd all be starting over again... Last time you were a tavern owner and this time you're the banker...  He came up with the very good idea of having what you did last week carry over into when you played again the next time...  So... El Pauncho was just some stray Mexican who had a few buddies who rode into town last time, but now there's wanted posters for him plastered all over town.  And that was good.  The other thing that he did was the notion that when Dave Arneson played El Pauncho in the last game, he kept on playing El Pauncho. And his character therefore carried on and on and on, the way you are used to seeing your player characters do in Dungeons and Dragons  Big big watershed."
BC16, TC107:43

1971 (apparently March or later) "about 2 months after (Jenkins' Brownstone), Dave Arneson comes out with Blackmoor..."
MC369, TC 15:00

Simplifying the above yields the following sequence

1958  Wesely begins wargaming
1964 Small Wargaming group
April 1965 group expands to 7
1965* Dan Nicholson joins - use of Strategos
1967 Arneson and Wesely referee
Spring 1967  Wesely graduates from Hamlin University
Fall of '67 Wesely at graduate school.
Christmas of 1968 First Braunstein
Spring Break 1969 Braunstein 2 and 3
June/summer 1969 ) Bannana republic Braunstein
Summer 1969 Arneson and Wesely run Braunstein games  
October of 1970 Wesely leaves for the Army - Arneson continues to do Braunstien games
Christmas of 1970 Wesely home on leave for first time
1971 (circa Jan-March)  Duane Jenkins introduced BrownStone, which is an Old West setting
1971 (circa March-May) about 2 months after Jenkins' Brownstone, Dave Arneson comes out with Blackmoor

As you might imagine, listening to long interviews and transcribing parts of them is quite time consuming, but I may well add to the above in the future if I come across more information in other interviews.  So it is appropriate to think of this as a work in progress. 

*Having come across some old letters, it's my understanding that Wesely now dates this about a year earlier.

TC (Time Code - Minutes:Seconds)

MattChatt 369, David Wesely on the True Origins of D&D, Matt Barton, Published on Mar 5, 2017

Theory From the Closet - by Clyde L. Rhoer the 3rd, Podcast #59,
2010-08-29 19:21:34

BrigadeCon 2016: An interview with David A. Wesely, Earl Tea Grey TV
Streamed live on Oct 29, 2016

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