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?

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