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.


Paul Stormberg said...

Howdy Dan,

Pasha Cada was not the original name, it came later around mid-1973, the time Don Lowry rejected the game as it was too expensive to produce.

Also, there is a "results" section to the Chainmail table but it is built into the single attack roll and the return attack roll by opponents. The results are: exceed matrix number = opponent killed, equal to matrix number = opponent moves back 1 move, under matrix number = no effect. Further, on a no effect result opponent or defender may withdraw. There is also a sub-system for this under wizard's lightning bolt or fire ball and saving throws for monsters that can result in killed, "back 1 move", "routs off board", and "no effect". Of course, both Strategos and Chainmail assume an animus force opposing and counter attacking, i.e, the other player. Dungeon! does not have an opposing player (normally) and thus, there is system to auto-determine what effect the monster has.

I think the monster vs. hero attack-counter attack system is clearly more similar in Chainmail and D&D than Dungeon! Just because there is one table in Chainmail does not mean there are not two "weights" with one favoring heros over monsters. However, even stating there is any sort of advantageous vs. disadvantageous nature of the D&D tables seems disingenuous. They are simply weighted by the relative power of creature or hero. There is no advantage for a 1st level character if facing an ogre or troll. Indeed, even a 4th level fighter in chain mail vs. a 4+1 HD ogre is at a disdavantage as the ogre needs a 9 to hit and the fighter hero needs a 12. In Chainmail they need a 9 and a 10 respectively.

I agree the Strategos seems a likely influence but we *know* Chainmail was. To discount or minimize the similarities in a known influence over and emphasize the similarities of uncertain one seems to unnecessarily favor your posited theory.

Futures Bright,


DHBoggs said...

Hey Paul,
That's a terrifically thoughtful response. Thanks for taking the time, and thanks for the note about Pasha Cada. I'll reword that more accurately to reflect what you said. I did speak to David Megarry about it and according to him, prior to sending his prototype to Don Lowry, the game didn't have an official name.

It is definitely interesting to consider the influence of the CHAINMAIL on Dungeon; influence which is certainly there in a number of facets (including monster TN's - but that's fodder for another post). However, to be honest, I don't think there is much to commend links drawn between the Combat Losing Table of Dungeon and the Fantasy Combat table of CM, if that is what you are suggesting.

In regards to the CM Fantasy table roll results you mentioned, It is a simple and common rule of Win-Loose-or Draw with losing equating to death and the rare draw equating to the losers movement distance retreat in inches. Clearly, this FCT results rule bears no correlation whatever to the organization of the CLT schema nor do any of their individual components match, except that both assign some possibility of death. The same point can be made in regards to the CHAINMAIL post melee morale table. So, I can't agree that I've minimized CM's role in the CLT. On the contrary and with all due respect, there is no there there.

Likewise, the connection between Strategos table T and the CLT is in no way uncertain. It is directly apparent just in physical comparison, that the Combat Losing Table shares the exact organization and stratigraphy of the Combat Losing column of Strategos table T. Indeed the Combat Losing Table of Dungeon!, like the DgutS table, is a Combat Losing column of Table T. There is no meaningful distinction.

However I totally agree that " the monster vs. hero attack-counter attack system is clearly more similar in Chainmail and D&D than Dungeon!", if I understand what you mean correctly. Meaning both CM and D&D rely on a single method applied to a TN on a similar matrix. Dungeon is certainly different in that respect.

I think where we would part company is if you are suggesting that there is a difference in the attack protocol applied to monsters from the protocol used by hero's and superheroes in CM. Your point regarding the CM FCT being potentially skewed in favor of hero's and superheroes is well taken. It is possible for that sort of bias to be embedded within a single matrix, but if it is, it is far from obvious in the case of the FCT. I'm not sure how a hidden bias of this sort could be an influence on the split we see in D&D of two entirely separate tables.

So I'm talking about a split in sub-system mechanics that exists in Dungeon! and D&D but not in CM. CM does not offer a separate, unequal table for "players" in the attack protocol. Both D&D and Dungeon! do. D&D gives a Monster Attacking Table and a Men Attacking table. However, you are quite right to point out that D&D, unlike Dungeon! and probably early Blackmoor, disfavors the player (I'll edit the blog above to reflect your point). For example, a 3 HD monster attacking an unarmored human needs only an 8 to hit AC 9 on the Monster Attacking table, whereas a 3rd level player needs a 10 on the Men Attacking table, but there is nevertheless a clear mechanical distinction being drawn between two factions. While I don't intend to overdraw the issue, I do find these split sub-systems intriguing as a design artifact.

Anyway, thanks again for the input Paul. It's always great to hear your thoughts.

David Megarry said...

So could you relate what the *known* influence Chainmail had on Dungeon!?

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