The Arnesonian Sandbox and The First Hexcrawl

Author: DHBoggs /

 When I looked previously at the Lake Gloomy material (HERE) from early summer 1972, I focused on organizing the material in a user friendly manner.  The presentation of Arneson's Loch Gloomin material in the FFC seems as if it was typed directly from his notes with little thought of clarity for the reader.

The focus of this posts relates to the actual nature of the game which the notes describe, that being what we might today label as a sandbox hexcrawl

For the first year of gaming in the Northern Marches, play had focused in and around Blackmoor Castle and town surroundings, with perhaps the occasional foray north to Glendower.

With the exile of a significant portion of the Blackmoor PC's into the western swamp town of Loch Gloomin aka Lake Gloomy, a whole new chapter opened up, and it was a chapter without a large central dungeon.

Yes, there was still a town to call home base, but the town itself did not have an underworld full of treasure.  One had to go out in the world to find gold.  Arneson was forcing his players to explore the world beyond the dungeon.

In creating Lake Gloomy, Arneson was again creating a whole new kind of gaming - the Hexcrawl, and mind you this was months before Outdoor Survival was released.

He set the area up on a 10 * 10 miles per square grid with Loch Gloomen at the center, as if the whole were a wargame board.  Then he determined there would be "Twelve Special areas located in random directions... and distances..." (FFC 77:86)

He then created the tables and rolled the rolls to determine exactly what those "special areas" would be, such as haunted cemeteries, abandoned mansions, monster-filled cave complexes and so on - all as detailed in the previous post linked above.

Further, he employed rules he created for overland travel, probably made earlier, but if not, certainly by this time - the same travel rules that morphed into those of D&D as I explained in this post on the 18 pages of notes (HERE).  Rates are in 10 mile squares. (FFC 77:34)

Likewise rules for wilderness wandering monsters, as seen here (and previously discussed HERE), which again formed the bases of those in D&D, at least in the categories.   (FFC 77:34)

One square at a time (usually), Arneson's players could move out of the town and find what adventures may await them.  Being outdoors and unconstrained by walls and tunnels, this new kind of adventuring was entirely different from dungeon dives yet it was built on several of the same principles in dungeon design and stocking Arneson had already worked out.  The wilderness, in a sense, was a horizontal dungeon level on a larger time and distance scale, but it was free and open in ways a dungeon never could be.  In developing the Loch Gloomin hexcrawl Arneson created methods that allowed his players to explore the world - methods used by gamemasters to this day.

The Egg of Coot - Canon

Author: DHBoggs /

 A thread on the Piazza HERE inspired me to whip out this post.  The complaint that there isn't much game information on the Egg of Coot stems less from the lack of information and more, I think from its scattered character.  

Yes, the Egg of Coot is mysterious, particularly in origin and exact detail but not really much more mysterious than other characters in D&D lore who amount to little more than names.  In fact I'd say we know a lot more about the Egg than we do about any number of figures in D&D.  For example, St. Cuthbert.  What is his origin story?  Yes there is a myth about Cuthbert, as indeed there is about the Egg; or Camazotz from the famous Shrine of Tamoachan adventure - in fact I'd say we have more concrete facts about the Egg than Camazotz, for example.

So here I present the canon material gathered in one place.  Myths and speculation regarding the Egg are not included. 

  • In the year 970 the Realm of the Egg is noticed for the first time. (CS 2004:97)
  • Few have ever seen the Egg. Those who have seem unable to remember anything about it. 
  • The Egg's realm is either rocky cliff or nearly impassable fen, points of entry are few and far between. 
  • At the head of the bay lies the Egg's Nest, a walled town and port of 6,000, inside of which is the Egg's citadel. (DA1 86:42)
  • The abomination is known by several names - Egg of Coot,  Ogg of Ot, Orrg er Druag, etc. (FFC 77:17).
  • The Egg of Coot is a Dark Lord - cthonic like beings inimical to the great gods (FFC 77:20, 24) 
  • Once, thousands of years in the past, the Egg possessed humanoid characteristics, but no longer.
  • The Egg is a complete egotistical narcissist with a juvenile sense of humor, particularly enjoying harmful pranks.  In alignment the Egg is Lawful Evil. (FFC 77:17)
  • The Egg of Coot ingests magic. (CS 2004:176)  It is a an evil entity that feeds on magic itself and keeps its minions in constant search for more. (TWC 15)
  • All communications From the Egg are through direct telepathy or by voice transmission from its throne-room which is inside  a huge construct described as an ancient war machine.
  • Thus no one is known to have seen the Egg directly or know exactly what it looks like.
  • The Egg carries out its activities through the use of surrogates under its control.
  •  The Egg is able to completely crush the ego of its servants and rob them of free will.
  • In addition to mental ability, the Egg has some ability to create spells. (FFC 77:17)
  • The Egg is not simply magical but makes use of scientific technology, techno-magic, and the like. (FFC17, DA1 86:55) 
  • The Egg uses devices, such as amulets, to enhance its mental control ability.  One commonly worn by thralls is called the Eye of the Egg, which allows the Egg of Coot to see and hear through the wearers' senses. (DA1 86:55)  The Egg’s eyes are hidden throughout Blackmoor. The Egg uses these to continuously spy. (CS 2004:176)

Those under the mental control the Egg of Coot are called Thralls - as in Thralls of Coot, or Thralls of the Egg.   Thralls of Coot gain the following advantages:

"Magical Puissance (Ex): A thrall of Coot casts all spells and uses all spell-like abilities at +2 caster level.

Mage’s Sight (Sp): The thrall’s eyes glow an eerie blue and allow it to see magical emanations from all objects and creatures. This ability continually duplicates the detect magic spell. This ability aids the thrall in retrieving magic items for the Egg of Coot.

Fast Healing (Ex): A thrall heals 1 point of damage each round as long as it has more than 1 hit point. If reduced to 1 hit point, it attempts to flee to the Island of Coot. It must reach the Island of Coot within 1 week or be utterly destroyed. Once it is allowed to rest on the Island of Coot, the thrall gains 1 hit point after 1 hour and then resumes healing at the rate of 1 hit point per round.

Resilient (Ex): The Egg of Coot’s domination toughens the creature’s vital areas. A thrall takes 1d6 less damage from a successful sneak attack and takes one-half the additional damage normally dealt by a critical hit.

Immunities (Ex): A thrall of Coot is immune to mind affecting effects, poison, charm and sleep effects, paralysis, and stunning." (DoCB 2006:140)

In summary then, the Egg was once a human or human-like person, but is now something like a computer download or a brain in a jar with tremendous telepathic power, magical skills, and technical, scientific knowledge all of which it uses to manipulate, control, and rule. The Egg derives sustenance from consuming magic, derives pleasure from juvenile pranks, and cares for nothing but itself.

That's it for official canon but that's plenty to game with Imho.  There is one more source worth mentioning.  The 90+ MMRPG adventures tends to be treated as semi-canon by Blackmoor fans.  There are so many authors and directions in the adventure collection that it tends to be treated more as a source for cherry-picking ideas than a hard and fast part of lore.  There is one adventure of particular interest for Coot lore however because it was co-written by Arneson's Zeitgeist games partner Dustin Clingman and by MMRPG coordinator (and Blackmoor Youtuber) Tad Kilgore.  In other words, it is not "canon" has a bit more cred than the usual MMRPG adventure.  This adventure is Episode 35 All the Egg's Men.  It should be mentioned that the episode appears to have never received a final edit and also weirdly refers to the land of Coot as "the Isle of the Egg" and "the Isle of Omsfet".  Omsfet is a city, and the land of Coot is a peninsula, not an island. <shrug>

Most of what we have gone over regarding the Egg is repeated in the adventure, but we do learn

 - The land of coot is gridded with eight-ten foot tall crystalline pillars.  These are the entrapped bodies of spellcasters totally drained of their magic.  Together, these pillars constitute a communication network whereby the Egg and thralls tapped in to the network can instantly communicate together.  This allows the Egg to communicate telepathically with multiple thralls at once instead of just one at a time.

- Thralls wearing an amulet are part of the network - it isn't clear if this amulet is an Eye of the Egg amulet but that seems a reasonable assumption.  In any case these amulets are organized by rank.  The higher a leader is the more valuable the metal out of which the amulets are made.  Lesser value amulets must obey greater values - save vs 10 to resist.  The ranks are bronze, copper, silver, gold, mithral.  Platinum is reserved for the Egg.  Non thralls may use the amulet but must save vs 12 or be tainted.  Each use of the amulet (save or fail) increases the saving throw difficulty by 1.

- Taint - exposure to this network may lead to a mind taint where the victim will sometimes hear whispers and suggestions from the Egg.  Presumably this taint can happen various ways.  The tainted character must save vs 10 any time an action is taken against a servant of the Egg and the character will suffer a -2 on saves vs. spells cast by Thralls of Coot, and, if they are a spell caster each time they fail they will loose one spell slot from a single spell level, low to high.  Loss of one spell slot in all spell levels results in the victim becoming a thrall.  In exchange for the loss of a spell slot, the victim can take an automatic detect magic but if they do their eyes will turn blue. 

- The ground itself in the land of Coot is "geometric" meaning it can move and grow and has weird effects on gravity.  It can be telepathically controlled.  In game - this translates to balance checks when running.

- teleportation spells don't work in the land of Coot


FFC - First Fantasy Campaign

DA1 - TSR Adventures in Blackmoor

CS - Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Campaign Sourcebook

TWC - Dave Arneson's Blackmoor The Wizards Cabal

DoCB - Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Dungeons of Castle Blackmoor

Tonisborg News and More

Author: DHBoggs / Labels:

Less than a week to go on the latest Kickstarter for the deluxe hard cover copy of Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg!


These are seriously nice books folks.  They contain my most recent Zero Edition Dungeoneering rules, new maps for Tonisborg, and Greg Svenson's entire 1973-1974 stocking key retyped and cleaned up by yours truly.  There's also lots of Arneson and company quotes, an entire section on gaming advice, some great art including pieces by original Twin Cities gamer Ken Fletcher and by Walter Moore who did the art for Arneson's Garbage Pits of Despair.  On top of all that, the book itself is a limited production work of art, sure to grace any gaming shelf it sits on for many, many years.

In other news, well I rarely clutter the 'blog with updates but there are some things coming up you all will likely be interested in.

Perhaps the most exciting is the work that is being done with the Lenard Lakofka archive material through Canonfire.  Len's last completed adventure The Ravages of the Mind is in the final layout and looks absolutely great.  My own pastiche of some of Len's orphaned material The Lanthorn of Velzarkis is on the que for maps and art now that I've finished typing in and Len's material.  I've been doing a lot of work on that lately which is largely why I haven't put out any posts in a while, but fear not I currently have five half finished or less posts that will make it onto the blog soon.

Other projects are in the works and it looks like the next couple years are going to be exciting ones for traditional gamers and D&D enthusiasts in general.  Nice to have some good news for a change, right?

An Easy and Fair way to handle XP

Author: DHBoggs /

Here is a quick post to tide you over till I get back from vacation.  Upcoming we are going to look at the age of ID in Blackmoor, the oddities in Garbage Pits of Despair, and continue our dive into the Supp II monster lists among other things. :)

Calculating XP is certainly an issue in D&D.  While the methods of adding up treasure, and/or monsters killed and/or specials works, it does require significant bookeeping, and hardly anybody likes doing that.

Popular alternatives have included counting number of adventures or setting milestones or simply handwaiving the whole thing.  I'm not going to go through the downsides of these alternatives, except to say they are subjective, unfair, and kinda suck.

Fear Not! There is a way to avoid all the bookeeping and still hand out XP objectively and fairly and it has to do with the law of averages.  

What I'm proposing here is something like the gaming equivalent accounting for machine hours, meaning the play equivalent of the time that a machine spends in active operation and the associated "cost" of that time.

So many D&D games have been played for so many years now that we have a fairly good idea of how much play time it takes for level y to get x number of points, on average. 

There is a thread on Enworld that discusses this in length.  Here is the link:

There is also this very useful quote by Gary Gygax from The Strategic Review Vol II, No. 2, April 1976, p. 23:

"It is reasonable to calculate that if a fair player takes part in 50 to 75 games in the course of a year he should acquire sufficient experience points to make him about 9th to 11th level, assuming that he manages to survive all that play. The acquisition of successively higher levels will be proportionate to enhanced power and the number of experience points necessary to attain them, so another year of play will by no means mean a doubling of levels but rather the addition of perhaps two or three levels. Using this gauge, it should take four or five years to see 20th level. As BLACKMOOR is the only campaign with a life of five years, and GREYHAWK with a life of four is the second longest running campaign, the most able adventurers should not yet have attained 20th level except in the two named campaigns. To my certain knowledge no player in either BLACKMOOR or GREYHAWK has risen above 14th level." 

Therefore, knowing that across the average OD&D/Classic/AD&D campaign, the average player of an X level fighter will accumulate the XP to reach the next level after Y amount of play time, WE CAN SIMPLY USE THE AMOUNT OF PLAY TIME AS THE GOAL, and skip all the bean counting of XP.

The natural and best way to measure this, I think, is in hours. In fact, in the real world, that's exactly how we often measure experience. For example, going back to machines, we talk about how many operator hours a person has on a machine as a gauge of their experience.

In short we assign a certain amount of character XP for each hour that a player spends playing the game.

One benefit of measuring play hours that immediately springs to mind, is incentivising your players to come to games!

A natural objection a DM might have is not wanting to award the same amount for players who spend all game session shopping in town, verses the session where they kill a dragon, but that misses the point.  Since the system is an average of all play, it absolutely doesn't matter what the players did during any given hour of play.  It all averages out.  It's the long term average of play over time.

The only other objection I can think of is that counting time played instead of actual XP might seem to disincentivize players from carrying out specifically XP related activities. That might actually be a good thing though since XP related activities usually means monster massacres for XP or railroady dangling XP carrots. 

Charging ahead then, if we look at the poll on the Enworld thread I mentioned above, the biggest chunk of votes went to 15hrs worth of gaming between levels (although if the last two options of the poll were combined (20 hours or 25+ hours) they would be equal)

I'm going to assume (yeah that word) the conceptual model is something like going from 4th to 5th level or maybe 5th to sixth, because everyone seems to agree (cf Gygax quote) that lower levels go fast and high levels go slow and that 4-6 is smack in the middle for most campaigns.

So with all that in mind - and of course, the usual rules of level up only one level at a time and excess xp earned vanish after leveling -looking at the three classes in Men & Magic, to go from 5th to 6th level takes 16,000 xp for a fighter, 15,000xp for a Wizard, and 13,000xp for Clerics. So 14,666 points on average - lets call that 15,000 to make it easy.

Going back to the poll, if we divide that by 15 hours we get 1000. So obviously I'm picking these as middle of the road numbers that divide well and we could look at some of the other figures but this seemed a good place to start.

Anyway, if players were awarded 1000xp per real time hour of gameplay, they would go from 5th to 6th level in 15 hours. Higher levels would take much longer, lower levels much faster.

For Players who don't show up, I'm thinking if their character participates in the adventure anyway, they would be treated like a hireling and receive half XP.

In looking a little deeper, I notice that Gygax in his quote specifically says 50 to 75 "games", not sessions, however that might be defined. By "games", I think it is safe to assume he means get-togethers at table. In other words, 50 to 75 evenings of play, for example.

If we take the high number there, and not the low number, the formula becomes

300,000/75 = 4000 per game. And if we assume a typical game lasts 4 hours, then we are right back at the 1000 XP per hour figure.

Of course we can tweak our numbers all over the place, for example by averaging Gygax game numbers and making the game session longer:

300,000/63 =4762

4762/5hr "game" = 952

In the end, I'm getting pretty comfortable with the 1000 XP per hour figure. It seems "about right" from several different angles and it is an easy figure to use.

Now, awarding 1000 xp for every hour will mean that low level characters will advance quite quickly at first - much as they do in 5e, while higher levels will get progressively slower.  I personally think this is a good thing, but I can see how some DM's may want at least to slow down the lower levels to a more traditional pace.  That can be accomplished quite easily by simply cutting the XP award in half to 500 point per hour played for "veteran" tier characters - meaning levels 1-3 for fighters, 1-5 for M-us and 1-6 for Clerics.  Hero tier characters and above can then be bumped to the 1000p figure.  However you want to handle it is fine as long as it is consistent.

Next, it is important to specify the time period at which XP awards are given to the players. I mean exactly when do you hand out the reward.

I think the likely options would be:

a) at or after the close of the game when everyone leaves the table


b) when the party has a safe place to rest


c) only when the party has left they adventure and returned to their base (town presumably)

All of these would work, and I think it is up to the DM.  They don't need to be mutually exclusive either, but can be done as to what is most convenient at the time for everyone.

Finally, it is worth noting that I've been using this method for a few years now and have been extremely happy with it.  The players seem to like it just fine and it is sooo much easier to keep track of.  Give it a try.


How many actual editions are there?

Author: DHBoggs /

 People talk about D&D editions generally with the idea that an edition reflects a version of the game with substantive rules differences.  By that it is generally meant you couldn't simply port a character over, or an adventure without making changes that would alter a lot of how things work.  Adding rules, such as new character class doesn't count as a new edition, changing core rules does.

When we look at the list of numbered editions people commonly use, we don't really see that however.  Theoretically, 5th edition, for example should be, well, the 5th revision of the D&D core rules, but it plainly isn't.  People have to talk about "zero" edition to refer to OD&D and Basic D&D isn't even in the equation.  

So for fun, and without any of these being hills to die on, I took a stab at what the numbers should be, in my educated opinion, if we went in chronological order and numbered the rulebooks according to having substantive rule differences from previous releases.  Basically, what I mean by substantive is that you can't play adventures from a given era using only a previous rulebook without running into major problems that would need to be addressed during play.

1) Alpha edition - 1974 OD&D

2) Beta edition - Supplements 1-4.  Supplement 1 significantly changes core rules in OD&D, adds new classes, and creates a more complex game.  

3) Gamma edition Basic D&D (Holmes, B/X, BECMI, Rules Cyclopedia, Black Box)

The Holmes Bluebook rulebook largely adheres to "Supplement" D&D and it is tempting to lump them together.  However Holmes notably introduces new movement and time rules that are carried into the rest of the Basic line.  While all these editions of Basic continue to grow the rules base, the core rules are in substantial agreement throughout.

4)  Delta edition AD&D, 1st and 2nd editions.  Many may balk that I have placed the entirety of 1st and 2nd edition under one heading, but the simple fact is that the core rules of both "versions" are nearly identical.  Flavor issues and class tweaks aside the actual rule differences between 1st and 2nd are so minor they rarely even come up in play.  Sure, new rulebooks came into the game throughout both these editions that kept adding things, and 2nd edition had loads of splatbooks and rule variants, such as in Ravenloft and Dark Sun, but those are all in the orbit of the core rules, without which none of the add-ons would function.     These aren't separate editions in the sense of significant rule change.

5) Epsilon edition - 3.0 D&D

6) Zeta edition - 3.5 D&D.  While 3.5 D&D  billed itself as being only a revision, the truth is that the changes between 3.5 and 3.0 were quite substantial - far more than say between AD&D and OD&D + Supplements.

7) Eta edition - 4th edition D&D

8) Theta edition - 5th edition and D&D next.  I've put these two together since "Next" was a free playtest that led to 5th but maybe one could argue otherwise?

Anyway, there you have it.  I see 8 distinctive "editions" of D&D to date.  Let me know what you think.

Education, Fleshing out a System

Author: DHBoggs /

 A little over I year ago I posted on the value of an education system in your old school game.  What follows is some further exploration of the idea and a set of straightforward yet powerful rules to give your OD&D game a boost.

In his notes in preparation for the creation of AiF, particularly the December 1977 session, Arneson talks a good bit about an education system.  These notes are free form discussions spoken into a tape recorder where Arneson is just spitballing varying ideas, many of which are then developed in to what we see in AiF.


Here, I'm cherry-picking and simplifying a few of his ideas on skills and education that I've found work really well with an OD&D game, but first let me say that over the course of years of gaming I have developed a couple different "Skill" methods and they worked fine, but involved new subsystems that just further complicate the game.  Complication gets in the way of immersion, and we like immersion.  The method I give here avoids added complexity and works just as well as any of the methods I have tried. 


Basically, I'm advocating the "Skill Check" method from the Rules Cyclopedia - which is nearly the same in principal as how it works in 5e too, and combining that with an Arneson-inspired education system.  The end result, as I've mentioned before allows endless character customization without endless class bloat.  A few tailored subclasses may still be the most desirable way to handle certain specializations, (like paladins, or druids) but the need for dozens of full fledged, cookie cutter classes is obviated.


In his AiF notes Arneson proposed a flat 6 month education system:


"Now, if you have no other problems, then you progress at a six month interval...  Each six months spent in random education...  improves your chances by one...  One chance in six per month learning.


...this (is) in a base six month block... for ease and simplicity of play, based on the fact that six months seems to be about the longest time it takes to really learn a skill; the actual physical manipulation of skill, even though perfecting that skill (gaining additional experience) may take longer... The purpose of the game is to represent the amount of time required to learn the basic skill, not how to gain a great deal of proficiency within the skill. " December '77


In a later passage he gives the example of the Merchant skill, and there's more here that I also think is worth adapting.


"Merchant Skills: There will be ten courses of instruction in merchant skills. Merchant 1, Merchant 2, Merchant 3, 4, etc.  Each of these will give a defined increase in your chances... The actual content of Merchant's class 1 through 10 is not defined; only a percentage chance of completing a deal successfully...  This will avoid a lot of interpretation as to what exactly... is contained within the course of instruction. is beyond the scope of the game... and is indeed, detrimental as it add complication without adding understanding." December '77


And Lastly:

"If a player is interrupted during his six month period of education, one half of all preceding time,... is lost and must be added on to the end of the six months." December 1977.


So putting it all together, here is how it works: 


Weapon Specialization

Weapons, as with AD&D proficiencies,  are their own category - lets just go with "Weapon Specialization".  For each course of study completed a +1 bonus accrues to attack rolls, damage rolls and possibly AC.


Proficiency Level

For everything else, the Referee should have a course list.  Some skills or areas of learning will grant particular advantages as detailed in their description - Gambling, for example.  For all others each 6 month course of study completed successfully grants a "Proficiency Level" of +1.  A character can continue to complete 6 month courses of study in the skill up to a maximum Proficiency Level of +10, that is, they can complete 10 courses of study and no more.


Skill Checks

For "checks" each skill is tied to an ability score and provides a bonus to the score for the check.  Checks are roll under, as usual with saving throws and virtually all non-combat rolls in OD&D.


"Each skill is based on one of the character's ability scores (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom,

Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma). Whenever the DM feels a character's selected skill is appropriate to a game situation, (they) will ask the player to roll 1d20 against the corresponding ability score. This is called a skill roll or skill check. If the roll on the 1d20 is equal to or less than the ability score, the skill use succeeds." Rules Cyclopedia page 82


Characters, of course, add any Proficiency Level or other bonuses to the ability score, raising the target number and their chances of succeeding.


In essence, aside from roll under instead of roll over, this is very similar to the 5e method, however the range is far greater, and by using this method you can quite literally replicate any class ability you want, so long as it is a learnable skill, and because it isn't tied to character level or class, each PC is truly unique.



For every month spent learning a given skill there is a 1/6th cumulative chance of successful learning.  If 6 months pass the skill is acquired automatically.  Each successful period of study grants a either +1 bonus or other ability as specified under the skill description.  Maximum bonus obtainable is +10.  Each time, cumulatively, learning is suspended for a month or more, half the time already spent in study is lost and must be made up with more study.


Costs will vary and may be assigned as the Referee sees fit.  Bargain basement instruction is a minimum 1.5 gp per month and the sky is the limit from there.  Rare and specialized skills could easily cost thousands of gold pieces to learn.  Yes, education, as in real life, is an excellent way of parting people from their gold.


Learning can also only take place where and when there is actually opportunity for it.   Some types of skills could be acquired with daily practice or through a book, but many will require an instructor - these situations are case by case and up to the Referee.  A merman couldn't for example, learn how to ride a giant eagle while living on the bottom of the sea or without an instructor or at the least a textbook for doing so.


More than one skill can be learned at the same time, possibly at a package discount, but all courses must still be paid for.  The number of courses a character can learn simultaneously depends on Intelligence.  The character needs to have 3 full points of Intelligence per course being attempted simultaneously.  Thus a character with a 12 Intelligence score could learn up to 4 skills in one six-month period.  A character with an 18 Intelligence could learn up to 6 skills simultaneously, but a character with a 17 Intelligence could not learn more than 5 skills at once.


Starting Education

Social standing is often left up to the players in most RPGS, and that's fine, but when it comes to starting education, status cannot be ignored.  Here I've taken the fine grained social chart in AIF and reduced it to the three major categories.  Players in my game will choose their character background and social position, but the % given in the table can also be used to determine social standing as needed.  At character creation, the player will get the Proficiency Level points indicated in the last column to distribute as they please, either all to one skill or all to several skills of their choice depending on opportunity as usual.




Starting Gold

Proficiency Level Points


Peasant or Barbarian

2d6 x 10

2 Proficiency Levels per 10 years of life lived



3d6 x 10

4 Proficieny Levels per 10 years of life lived



4d6 x 10

8 Proficiency levels per 10 years of life lived




In this method (unlike Arneson) I have not taken the character's ability scores or any other factors besides time into account regarding their ability to learn.  For game purposes, it is assumed that even a low starting ability score will not hinder the dedicated individual from completing a course.  The low ability score will however remain a limiting factor to successful skill checks.

You can download the complete list of skills I use HERE

Monsters of Blackmoor Supplement II - part 2

Author: DHBoggs /

 Mermen are the first monster described in Supplement II, and one of the most interesting for the key role they appear to play in the underwater ecology of their environment.  As mentioned in the previous post in this series, mermen first appear in the Naval Combat section of OD&D book III, Underworld and Wilderness Adventures, under "SPECIAL SUGGESTIONS FOR MONSTERS IN NAVAL ADVENTURES".

We aren't told much about them in this entry - the key bits are:

"...have a l0% chance per 10 Mermen of grappling any ship which is within 1" of them. They may remain submerged indefinately... If they grapple a ship they must be on the surface."

Mermen in U&WA thus appear to be a serious threat to shipping and maritime activities - basically they are the sea equivalent to bandits on land.  Quite possibly these "sea bandits" represent only a fraction of mermen society, the roguish types perhaps.  It seems likely Blackmoor sailors would have developed a means of mitigating this threat, with convoys perhaps, or prepared bribes.  But while the text in SII is silent on this point it does reiterate the threat mermen pose to ships, going into greater detail on their use of grapples and combat.

Interestingly, the entry in SII begins with a curiosity.  Lets take note briefly of the very first thing SII says about mermen: "More intelligent than lizardmen..."   Lizardmen are nowhere else mentioned in SII.  We will come back to this fact in a later post. (hint Sahaugin).  

Leaving that for the nonce, another point of interest is the attack mermen are given - "1 bite/2 hands, 1–8 bite/1–4 hand".

Bite?, for up to 8 points of damage?!  This strongly implies sharp, perhaps shark like teeth.  So much for Ariel's pearly whites...

Nevertheless, this fits with their diet as given, which is fish, making mermen carnivores - carnivores who have an underwater civilization that "rivals that of humans." 

There is so much gaming potential in these simple descriptions in SII, it is a shame it remains largely untapped.  We can flesh out this underwater world of the mermen of Blackmoor by looking at the connections with other monster entries and see what creatures commonly interact.  

Mermen are mentioned in the following:

Giant Crabs - a menace to mermen fish farms

Giant Frogs - hunted by mermen

Giant Shark - "hereditary enemies of mermen"

Seahorse - (giant?) seahorses are ridden by mermen ride and use as horses are used by humans.

Next, looking at the monsters referenced in these entries we can add:

Giant Octopi - feed on giant crabs

Giant Squid - also a danger to ships


Aquatic Elves

We could of course also look at the encounter tables, but that doesn't really tell us what creatures are actually interacting with each other (and they are also nothing more than a list of all the monsters in the book), but using the list above as a starting point gives an "accurate" base to work from when creating underwater adventures in the seas of the north.

Next we will move on to the "giant" series of creatures.


Ancient Mysteries of Old Blackmoor

Author: DHBoggs /

Was there an ancient, technologically advanced civilization in Blackmoor? Tavis Alison wrote a piece a long while back on the Apocalypse Trope in D&D, and in that article he mentions the gigantic pipe organ found in the original (1975) Temple of the Frog.  The pipe organ was Steve Rochford's (Saint Steven) idea, but one that Arneson happily ran with.  To explain the existence of a mechanical modern-era musical instrument in an otherwise medieval setting, Arneson called it the last surviving example of its kind, detailed only in a "cryptic manual on artifacts found amongst the volumes in the Library."  The pipe organ then, is not some alien technology installed by the visitors from outer space who had taken over the temple, but a remnant of a distant time when there were builders with the technical skill to produce such a thing.  Does that mean Blackmoor once hosted a more technically advanced civilization?  Tavis wondered the same thing, so a year before Arneson's passing, Tavis asked him that question at a Gen con.  He asked "...whether this pipe organ implies a previous high-tech fantasy civilization or whether Blackmoor is a post-apocalyptic Earth."  Typically cryptically, Arneson answered "yes" to both, implying that he wasn't fully committed to either view, and that may be, but we can say with surety that back in the 1970's when they played  John Sniders Star Probe games or Arneson and Barker's crossover Tekumel games,  Blackmoor was considered to be a place distinctive from Earth.  

Now a single reference to a pipe organ may seem like pretty thin sauce, you might say, ah but there's more juicy bits to be had.

For example, we have this description in the FFC of the throne room of the  Egg of Coot, "...which is dominated by a huge old world artifact said to be an ancient war machine." (77:18)

What is this "old world" of which Arneson speaks?  It's a mystery of course except that undeniably there was once a civilization capable of building advanced machine artifacts, somewhere and somehow tied to present day Blackmoor.

The secrets of such technology might not be entirely lost either, at least, not all.  William of the Heath, an original Blackmoor character played by Bill Heaton, had among his possessions three blue items: the magical sword Blue, a mechanical horse named Bill, and mechanical blue armor.  Once again, neither the horse nor the armor appear to be space alien technology.  They are items with a history, having once been in the possession of a wizard and a dragon, and neither rely on rechargeable batteries or power packs as Arneson's alien tech usually does.  The text does not make it clear, but seems to hint the wizard made all three of these items, and if so he must have some bits of ancient knowledge.  There's really nothing definitive on the exact nature of the armor, but we do know the horse "never seems to eat anything and drinks lamp oil."  Drinking refined kerosene pretty clearly implies a mechanical creature, not an electronic one.

It's also worth noting that the d20/3.5 era Blackmoor books freely dip into steampunk, as exemplified by Clock and Steam wherein we find that "the titanium charger represented the peak of technological development in that it nearly perfectly replicated a horse, all the way down to its behavior and mannerisms, but improved upon the technology that powered mechanimals by making it a valuable companion in combat." (p124)  To my ears, the mechanical titanium charger seems meant to be an homage to "Bill".

While it is certain Arneson did see Blackmoor as having some sort of a lost "old world" advanced civilization, he never really pursued the idea beyond references like those above or to ambiguous "Technical Manuals" and "ancient books and manuscripts".  Even the steampunk creations in the 3.5 era Blackmoor books were attributed to gnomish and dwarvish inventors, perhaps a bit inspired by alien tech, without mention of an ancient, advanced civilization.

However, the idea of a lost ancient technological society in the region of Blackmoor was picked up by Greyhawk writers - eventually.  Perhaps the first hint of this was in The Living Greyhawk Gazeteer, "It is not known what, if any, civilization existed in the far northern land before the Ice claimed it, but the rumor of evil in the north was old even when the Oeridians and Suel were new to the Flanaess." (2000:34)

However it was Wolfgang Bauer who really ran with the idea in two adventures published in Dungeon Magazine The Land of Black Ice (#115) and The Clockwork Fortress (#126).

In the former adventure, we find a nimbleworks who is "a strange construct from an ancient realm that predated the Black Ice." (p32)  In the latter an entire fortress of this ancient civilization is detailed, and we learn that long before the Oridian migrations, "...a small fiefdom in the northlands reached the heights of civilization - its craftsmanship and knowledge of artifice were unmatched." (43).

Bauer goes on to conflate this ancient civilization with the City of the Gods in the second adventure, but we know that label usually refers to a crashed spaceship, not a lost civilization and attributing it to an incredibly old civilization causes a dating conflict with the information from the Codex of Infinite Planes in Eldritch Wizardry.  Of course, there certainly can be more than one City of the Gods, or the name of one could have been carried over to the other by people who didn't know the difference easily enough.

Whatever the role of the City of the Gods may be, the advanced ancient technology of lost civilizations found Bauer's two Blackmoor adventurers isn't coming out of nowhere but is rooted in a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of our hobby.

Monsters of Blackmoor - Supplement II, part 1

Author: DHBoggs /

I'm going to start this series looking closely into the monsters in D&D Supplement II, published by TSR in 1975.

Unfortunately I have to begin by discussing a confusion over authorship that has more to do with personal conflicts and internet drama than reality.  Simply put, there are folks whose negative assessments of Mr. Arneson finds expression in this case in asserting with no evidence beyond hearsay that Arneson wrote little of the booklet, instead ascribing it to various other authors including the editor Tim Kask or even Gary Gygax.

I'm not interested in any of that shit slinging.  The fact is that most of the text is Arneson's. Some parts are all his (TheTemple of the Frog) and other parts received more or less revising as the editor felt was needed to produce the product TSR wanted - as per usual.   I've touched on this topic before and it doesn't make gaming more fun to re-hash it.

What is certainly true is that the final editor Tim Kask cut certain section of Arneson's manuscript which he felt were not consistent with the published D&D rules (too Arnesonian).  Some of these cut pieces were apparently later recycled into the Judges Guild First Fantasy campaign booklet, but regardless, this cutting left room for more material, and provided opportunity to add several pages of cool underwater material that had been submitted to TSR by freelancer Steve Marsh.

For our purposes this presents a problem if we want to distinguish what monsters may be Arnesons and what may be Marsh's.  On  the other hand, as far as the "official" setting goes it doesn't really matter who wrote what monster since they were all published as "Blackmoor" monsters, and since at the time, anything  Blackmoor was considered a part of the Greyhawk setting - as was everything published by TSR for D&D up to that point.  

So we will take a look at all of it, but since we are all naturally curious about what sprang from the mind of D&D co-creator Dave Arneson, here is my take:

The Supplement II booklet provides us with a list of all the monsters on page 14.

This list is interesting because there is no apparent rhyme or reason to its organization; it's not alphabetical or ordered in any way, and it's definitely an interesting and curious mix. 

The arrangement of the monsters look like two or three separate lists that were simply tacked on to each other - and I think that's just what it is. Tim Kask has said the giant creatures were Arnesons, which certainly fits with his style and other monsters he created.  All of these giant creatures are listed before the entry for Sahaugin. Indeed, most, if not all the monsters before Sahaugin have similar wording and often reference each other.

When one entry references another it is a pretty strong indicator that they come from the same author.

The first monster in the list is the Merman. We know that the material Steve Marsh wrote was predominantly, perhaps entirely about underwater adventure.  But while Steve has said he *might* have contributed the Merman but wasn't sure, we can actually be pretty sure it was from Arneson.  First the Merman reads like an Arneson entry. A good bit of it is devoted to mermen attacking and grappling ships – an Arneson hallmark, and Mermen are closely referenced several times in Arneson’s giant monsters section, so there's that tie in.  Importantly we also have a short list of monsters from Arneson in the 3LBB that includes Mermen.  This list can be found in the Naval section Arneson wrote on pages 34 and 35 of  The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures.   Of course Gygax edited this section so we can't be sure he didn't add one or two of the monsters himself, but  of course Gygax could have - and did - put monsters he came up with in the regular monster list so there would be no reason for him to put extra monsters in this section. Here is the list:



Dragon Turtle 

Water Elemental

Giant Leeches:

Crocadiles (Including Giant Crocadiles) (yes, misspelled)

Giant Snakes:

Giant Octopi and Giant Squids: 

Giant Crabs

Giant Fish 

It is apparent that Arneson fleshed out this list as part of the material he created for Supplement II.  In fact, only four of the monsters listed here aren't repeated in Supplement II - Giant Snake, Giant Fish, Water Elemental and Dragon Turtle - and only the last one of these is actually a specific monster not covered elsewhere.   

In any case it is apparent that some of the water monsters are from Arneson, which no doubt made it easier to integrate Marsh's material. I think that there can be little doubt that the monsters in the list from Mermen to Fire Lizard are Arneson’s. The others after this are more problematic. The water monsters between fire lizard and Sahaugin do not have the exotic names Marsh used for his other monsters - like Ixitxachitl, nor do they have the within-type variations he favors, and there’s none of his unique wordings like “class VII armor”. I don’t think they are all his. They look like more of Arnesons, especially as some of them are more “giant types, but being mostly underwater creatures, its also possible that some come from other TSR sources. 

Giant sharks, for example, have a classic Arnesonian wording (such as hobbits being bite sized) and reference Mermen. Portuguese MOW have hit location (tentacles 1 point each) and Arneson favored hit location gaming, but being non-standard D&D it seems not so likely Marsh would have included it. 

Dolphins, on the other hand, are the first entry to mention Sahaugin and are followed by sea elves.  We know for a fact that both Sahaugin and sea elves came from Steve Marsh, so if I had to bet, I’d peg Dolphins as Marsh’s too and break apart the list this way:

Mermen to Portuguese Man of War – Arneson

Dolphins to Mashers – Steve Marsh

Okay, next we will look at the monsters more closely.

Tonisborg Second Printing

Author: DHBoggs /

 For those who may not have heard, Greg Svenson's Tonisborg dungeon, brought back to life by yours truly and Griffith Morgan with additional commentary by Greg himself and plenty of gaming goodness besides is heading for a second printing through The Fellowship of the Thing.

These are very high quality books well worth a few extra dollars and you get a really terrific 1973! dungeon from one of the game's founding players.  How cool is that!?  Here is the link to the page where they are taking pre-orders.

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