The Gnome Cache and the Sketch Map of Blackmoor

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

The esteemed Paleologos has put up a couple very interesting posts on The Gnome Cache, an early Greyhawk story written by Gary Gygax and serialized in The Dragon magazine.  Have a LOOK.

Paleologos pointed out that the installments in issues 6 and 7 feature Blackmoor and reading his posts have prompted me to take a closer look at this portion of the tale. 

The protagonists are part of a merchant caravan heading north to a settlement called "Weal" in the north of Blackmoor to trade for furs.  They depart from "the walled town of Rheyton" where they exchanged their carts for pack animals because "the roads to
the frontier and beyond being little more than rough tracks".

Two ethnic groups seem to dominate this frontier.  Western, bow using plainsmen, some of whom are from a place known as the Vale of Kimbry (Wolf Nomads?) and other "Northerners" from the more immediate area of "Nehron"(Rovers of the Barrens?).  Nehron seems to be a regional term including Blackmoor and lands east to the sea.  Blackmoor is populated by Nehronlanders.  

The caravan reaches Blackmoor where it is taxed, and then journeys on toward Weal.  Here is the description:

"As they departed from the village of Blackmoor, the grim walls of the guardian castle frowned down upon their left,..."

"A few leagues journey brought them to the beginning of the great evergreen forests, and they entered into the heart of a foreign land. Each day’s travel brought them closer to the town of Weal.... beyond that place Nehron became a wilderness of forest and hills.... hostile barbarians dwelling there..."

"A large tree had been felled so as to completely bar the road where it passed between two very steep hills. The dense growth of trees on either hand made by-passing the track next to impossible"

These quotes tell us there is a road entering Blackmoor village from the south and another leaving to the east and heading north.  This road passes through an evergreen forest and between an area of steep hills before reaching Weal, beyond which is a rough wilderness.

We can find a near identical Blackmoor as that described above in this map:


For clarity, I added the red labels and yellow dots on the roads.  This is of course a section of Arneson's hand drawn Blackmoor map from the FFC, just discussed a few days ago HERE

Take note of Wolf's Head Pass.  We find a description of this location in the "Facts About Blackmoor" article in Domesday Book #13 circa July 1972 and reprinted in the FFC. 

Wolf's pass is also an oddity consisting of a solid outcropping of rock from the apparently bottomless depths of a swampy inroad of the sea...

WOLF's HEAD PASS: This area lies some five miles to the North East of the Castle along the only road that leads to the Southern confines of the Egg of Coot. Beyond the pass there lies an extensive no man lands of some twenty miles before the southern reaches of that evil area are reached. The interveneing lands and forests have resisted the intrusions of large bodies of outsiders although individuals and parties have penetrated the area. Dominated by Ent-Like trees and populated by Wood Elves of uncertain allegiances there are few who pass through the area who return.

To my ears, the above sounds much like the description of the road in Gnome Cache that "passed between two very steep hills. The dense growth of trees on either hand made by-passing the track next to impossible."

While these apparent matches between the Gnome Cache and Arneson's Blackmoor could be coincidences, I think that's unlikely.  Gygax was certainly well aware of the article and village map in the Domesday book and may well have seen Arneson's sketch map of the Blackmoor region designed to fit in the C&C Great Kingdom map. (discussed HERE)  Thus, Gnome Catch gives us a rare glimpse at a Greyhawk in which Gygax is working within Arneson's ideas to collectively create the world. 

In the story, the protagonists remain within the borders of the Great Kingdom the entire time they are traveling to Blackmoor.  If we wanted to retcon the Gnome Catch to canon Greyhawk, we would need to place it at a time prior to the Nyrond rebellion in CY 356, when the Great Kingdom still held sway  in the lands south of Blackmoor, and even better would be the period c. CY 150-250 when Aerdy was strongest in the area.  If we wanted it to also fit the Blackmoor material per the timeline I laid out (HERE) then we would look for a time when a baron might have been overthrown by a rebellion, and that would have to have been prior to the height of the Mage Wars starting around CY 175.

In fact, the start of the Mage Wars, could be the best fit.  There certainly would have been a baron or a duke in Blackmoor castle prior to the wars, and whoever they were, they were certainly overthrown at this time.  Gnome Cache informs us that the rebels "somehow managed an intaking of the castle. My guess is that it was treachery."  

We can easily imagine a scenario where the court magician orchestrated the coup - Jaffar in Aladdin comes to mind as an example of the trope.  This Mage Lord in turn would fall themselves to another Mage Lord in a few years, probably Raddan Goss. 

As for the location of Weal, there is no such village in Blackmoor lore, though the road north from Blackmoor leads to the trading city of Maus, so perhaps Weal is a little market just outside the city or perhaps the city itself.  

1 comments:

paleologos said...

Very intriguing - plus, the banner of the united bands of Nehron is "green with a white wolf's head"...

I hope that we'll see the full manuscript of "The Gnome Cache" published, one day. It's a fascinating glimpse into a pre-D&D fantasy setting, incorporating Blackmoor.

It must have been written after Arneson's article in the Domesday Book #13 mid-1972, but prior to the publication of D&D in Jan 1974.

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