Mordenkainen's Glimpse of Blackmoor

Author: DHBoggs / Labels:

"They entered the store as Mordenkainen looked north towards Castle Blackmoor, another enigma of the North which for now would be left unplumbed by them."  Rob Kuntz, Oerth Journal #6:45

What did Mordy see?  What does castle Blackmoor  look like to those wandering the streets of the village?  

The earliest description comes from Domesday Book #13 (circa July) 1972. Arneson writes "Blackmoor Castle was built... Over a period of six years on the hill that dominated the small village of Blackmoor... The newer structure incorporates many of the underground galleries of the older structures as well as the main tower which has stood throughout the history of the area."

From other sources we know that the hill the castle sits on is one hundred feet higher than the town and both the castle and hill are made of a dense black rock.

Even with details from later sources, there has never been a lot of written description for artist to go on.  The images they have drawn have unsurprisingly depicted all manner of castle types.  Here are a few:

First from the 1975 Blackmoor Supplement cover:

From the 2016 Blackmoor Supplement cover:

This Background image in TSR's DA1 from 1986:

There have also been a number of non-official representations such as this one below on the Three Castles Award trophy.  Blackmoor is the one on top.

No doubt these images are all very lovely.  They're also all very wrong. 

Folks "in the know" have long been aware that the original Blackmoor Castle was in fact an N scale model Arneson owned of Branzoll, a castle in the Italian alps.  This one in fact:


Confirmation of that can be seen readily enough in the top down view Arneson gives of the castle in his Blackmoor village map:

So the Branzoll model gives us some idea of what Blackmoor Castle should look like when viewed from the town.  There are a few details however that make Blackmoor Castle a little bit different from the model.

First, as can be seen in Arneson's drawing, the outer walls are somewhat bigger, wider, and longer.  In fact, they are bigger still if we judge by the dungeon plan as talked about in my previous posts.

Looking at the picture of the model, you can note exterior stairs on the tower.  Not only are these stairs never mentioned anywhere in any Blackmoor material, the two floor plans of the castle (Bob Bledsaws in the FFC and Jeff Berry's done for show at conventions) show no sign of an exterior stair, so we really should discount that detail.

Then there is the gatehouse.  We have two Arneson drawings of this.  One in the FFC that shows a small tower next to a gate with the castle behind:

And a second, older, drawing, shown here from inside a display case at Garycon, that shows an entrance into a larger tower:

This second image seems to me to be a better fit with Arneson's overhead drawing, but in any case, given that the castle was sacked, wrecked and repaired any number of times, we could simply see these drawings as being from different times in the castle's history. 

So keeping these details in mind, what might Mordenkainen have seen high upon the rocky crest above Blackmoor village?

Working a little paint-program magic with an image of the model, here is my rough attempt at the answer to that question (properly speaking, this angle would be from the area of the docks or behind the church):


Baron Greystone said...

Interesting article, I hadn't known about the castle model. Thanks for the photo.

grodog said...

Looks good, Dan, thanks for sharing this!


Hyrieus said...

Amazing work!

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