Follow up Thoughts on Cinematic Inspiration and the timing of the First Castle/Dungeon Game

Author: DHBoggs /

Last post was a bit of a romp.  This time around I want to point out some of the problems with the story I spun and some of the competing possibilities.

First lets recap some of the strengths of a June date for the popcorn/movie night and week later castle/dungeon game:

-we have a range of data points in broad agreement with a "Spring" 1971 date, and June still mostly counts as Spring.

- we have Arenson saying he was involved in a Napoleonic campaign in Holland while he is working on the Blackmoor area map, and Megarry was running such a campaign in June.

- we have the movies The Black Room and House of Dracula airing at that time.

That's admittedly thin sauce.  Here's the major problems:

- June barely counts as spring, and Arneson was supposed to be leaving for Europe in the middle of the month.

- Megarry's Netherlands campaign could have been in the works for months, and it is also entirely possible Arneson could have been talking about some other Holland campaign.  Since there is a known area map of Blackmoor accompanying a letter that predates June by two months, one of these two possibilities appears to be the case.

- Arneson always presented the Castle/dungeon game as THE debut game of Blackmoor, but we have two instances of what must be Blackmoor games mentioned in CoTT (April 17th and May 22nd) prior to June; the first of which did not involve dungeons and the second unknown.

We can make excuses for each of these and any other objections, but the issues raised certainly can't be dismissed.

I have to thank Hutch Hubbard for pointing out something in the comments that my dense brain completely missed all this time - The Black Moors appears for all the world to be a play on The Black Room - "Moor" being "Room" backwards.  It seems all the more likely to me given Arneson's somewhat juvenile love of just these sort of word plays.  For example, turning Gregg Scott into egg of ott, Randy Hoffa into, Ran of Ah Foo, referring to peasants as "pheasants" and so on.

So it would seem we should consider seriously that Arneson came up with the idea of a place with a castle called the Black Moors sometime when the movie The Black Room was fresh in his mind.  The creation of the name probably wasn't far removed from the time he dreamt up the first dungeon game.

Now here is the thing about The Black Room - the May 29th showing was actually the third one that year.   There were also showings on Saturday, January 16, 1971 and February 20, 1971.

Hutch Hubbard's simple observation regarding the word play of Moor and Room, really set me to thinking that we were on to something with this film link to Blackmoor, but that being the case, we should look for evidence for or against the earlier air dates.

If we continue to follow Arneson's claim that the Castle/dungeon game premiered one week after his monster movie/Conan novel binge, we would be looking at the dates of Jan 23rd or Feb 27th. While we are at it, let's continue to presume House of Dracula had a key influence on the set up, and conveniently, we find that movie also aired earlier in the year, two weeks after the Feb 20 airing of The Black Room on Saturday, March 6, 1971.  

Any of these dates could be our winner.  They are all solidly in a late winter/early spring context and they all pre-date both Arneson's trip to Europe and the first games mentioned in CotT.  If there is any significance to the similarities between Blackmoor castle and House of Dracula, then a game one week after that movie would have taken place on March 13th,  although it is also conceivable that last minute inspiration was taken from that movie on the very day it aired because these KSTP Horror Incorporated movies were shown in the afternoon, and would have been over prior to the evening game session.  We might also look at the Saturday, February 27, 1971 movie The Ghost of Frankenstein, because it also contains (briefly) a spooky castle, a graveyard, and a nearby village.

In the case of any of these dates (Feb 20 - March 13th), it means we, (well, me) need to rethink some of our assumptions about this castle/dungeon game.  Specifically what it involved in nature.
Why?  Because a February to mid March date for the castle/dungeon game likely predates the arrival of CHAINMAIL in Dave Arneson's mailbox.  CHAINMAIL was apparently printed some time in March.

When I think of a Blackmoor dungeon adventure, I think of a trip into a monster filled maze - orcs and spiders and trolls, etc.  The goal of the players is to kill monsters and get treasure.

However, it occurs to me that a castle/dungeon game needn't be like that at all.  If the dungeon game were a "Medieval Braunstein" the dungeon itself may have simply been a creepy obstacle to finding some Mcguffin goal - a prisoner (the lost Baron of the Black Room?), or a treasure (a magic sword?).  Maybe the dungeon was guarded by, well guards, of the human variety, or maybe there was a monster or two like a vampire or werewolf.  Maybe combat, if there was any, was handled simply or arbitrarily.

Some of this sounds rather suspiciously like Greg Svensons remembered first game.  HERE  That's possible, but Greg believes the game he remembers was played during the Christmas break between trimesters.  I suppose there is some possibility his game took place over a different holiday than he remembers (Easter 1971 was Sunday April 11 - a date by which Arneson very likely had CHAINMAIL).  However, the game Greg remembers was much more developed in terms of character advancement and other features, than other early games, such as the Icelandic Cave game as related by other Twin Cities players.  So we need to be cautious regarding the dating of Gregs game, and/or about some of the evolved facets of play he remembers.  This account also seems to conflict with that of Dave Fant, who almost certainly was at Arneson's first castle/dungeon game, because, according to him, he was made the Baron at that game, and led the expedition into the dungeon.  

In any case, if we accept the Black Room/Black Moor connection as likely, then it would seem a better case can be made for a circa March game than a circa June game for the first dungeon delve.

In my opinion, then, a March date for the Castle/Dungeon game is a serious contender.  However I don't mean to entirely rule out May 22nd as a possibility too.  David Megarry - who was a participant in the Castle/Dungeon game - thinks he didn't go to the May 22nd game due to finals, but we don't really know what took place, beyond Dan Nicholson being there that night.  (It's also a curious fact that Megarry remembers coming in late to the Castle/Dungeon game, so perhaps he did go on May 22nd for a short while at the end?)  It is possible Arneson came up with the name Black Moor for the castle in March and just didn't mention it until later.  After all, he did watch those monster movies more than once!


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