Saturday, December 26, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Remastered

Before his passing, Dave Arneson indicated that he wished to re-edit JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign", as reported in First Fantasy Campaign Belongs to Arneson Estate Bledsaw Confirms on Havard's Blackmoor Blog.

Although we can't know exactly what Arneson had in mind, having just completed a review of each section in "The First Fantasy Campaign", I have attempted to reorganize its contents, adopting the OD&D framework:

Foreword (Bob Bledsaw, August 9, 1977)

Introduction (Dave Arneson)

Men & Magic:
Special Interests
 - Definition of Terms
 - Examples
 - How to Become a Bad Guy

 - Egg of Coot
 - Ran of Ah Fooh
 - Gin of Salik
 - Marfeldt the Barbarian (A Short Biography)
 - Duke of the Peaks
 - The Blue Rider
 - Mello and the Hobbits (Mello's Hobbit House)
 - The Great Svenny (Svenson's Freehold)
 - The Bishop
 - Final Notes

Monsters & Treasure:
 - Dragons
 - Orcs
 - Bandits
 - Nomads
 - Trolls and Ogres
 - Wights (and Ghouls)
 - True Trolls
 - Rocs
 - Tarns
 - Basilisk
 - Balrog
 - Giants

 - Magic Swords Personality Matrix "Blackmoor"

 - Explanation
 - Combat Characteristics Table
 - Magic Characteristics Table
 - Special Characteristics Table
 - Sword Enchantments by Magic-Users
 - Holy Swords
 - Special Notes

The Underworld & Outdoor Adventures:
     - Population, Area, Resources, Ruling Class, The Country
     - Blackmoor Castle, The Pits, The Ruins, Wolf's Head Pass, The Comeback Inn
     - Blackmoor Military Manpower Distribution (Initial)
 - The Blackmoor Castle's History
 - Haunted Rooms and the Like
     - The Black Hall
     - The Catacombs
     - The Tower
         - Haunted Rooms

 - Sir Fang
 - Elves
 - Dungeon Map Notes
 - Magic Protection Points
 - Wandering Monster Areas

 - Level Maps

Campaign Map Notes (Part 1, Part 2)
 -Terrain Key to Campaign Map
Glendower Dungeons
 - Sample of Playing Area
 - Description of an Area
 - Defense of Area

 - Encounters
 - Moves, Budget
 - Outdoors in Blackmoor
 - Migration
 - Drawing Your Own Map
 - Human Habitation
 - Area Pattern in Hexes

 - The Great Invasion
 - The Original Price/Unit Ratio List
     - Additional Weapon Cost/Limit
     - Additional Price Lists (Standard Castle Types)
     - Personnel Costs (in GP for 1 Year's Pay and Upkeep)
 - The Later Prices Lists
     - Earl of Vestfold
     - Northern Lords (Sea Raiders)
     - City of Maus
     - Regent of the Mines
     - Duchy of Ten
     - Minor Holdings of Ten - Nomads of Ten
     - Egg of Coot
 - Internal Investments
     - Roads, Bridges, Canals, Inns
     - Hunting, Armories and Animal Branding
     - Religion, Exploration
     - Ship Building, Farming, Fishing
     - Trapping, Tourism, Arrival of New Persons
 - Land & Sea Trade
     - Price List 
 - Gypsy Sayings
 - Legends
 - Chance Cards

 - Differences in Creatures from Blackmoor Game
 - Population of Known Area
 - Wizard's Apprenticeship
 - The Languages
 - Hero and Superhero Flunkies
 - Vampires
 - An Explanation of Creature Psychology

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Monsters

The final section of JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign" lists a number of monsters, apparently drawn from Chainmail, for which additional descriptions are provided.  My guess is that these predate OD&D, and may have been used in preparing the Guidon manuscript.


Table of dragon types, presumably based on those mentioned in Chainmail (note the inclusion of "purple" dragons, and the lack of gold dragons).  Percentage given is the % "in lair" when encountered.

The first edition of Chainmail describes red dragons (based on Smaug from "The Hobbit") and also lists white, black, blue, green, and purple (each of which were described previously by Gary Gygax in the "Diplomacy" fanzine Thangorodrim (see OD&D Dragons: On the Origin of Species).

The chance for any type of dragon to be found asleep in its lair is given as 80%, in which case a "free chop" is permitted.  There is also a % chance of talking and rules for encountering mated pairs, which were probably incorporated into the OD&D description.

Finally, there are rules for capturing or "subduing" a dragon, which were likewise probably incorporated into the OD&D description.  Richard Snider expanded upon these rules in his additions (see Richard Snider's Additions: The Dragons).


The five tribes of orcs mentioned are those appearing in Chainmail (Orcs of the Red Eye, Orcs of Mordor, Orcs of the Mountains, Orcs of the White Hand, and Isengarders).  Descriptions of their fortified villages are similar to that found in the OD&D description.


Bandits are not mentioned in Chainmail, and so much of Arneson's description might have been used as the basis for the entry in OD&D.


Nomads are not mentioned in Chainmail, and so much of Arneson's description might have been used as the basis for the entry in OD&D.

Trolls and Ogres:

Trolls and Ogres appear under the same category in Chainmail.  Some additional details are provided regarding their vulnerabilities and lairs.

Wights (and Ghouls):

Wights and Ghouls appear under the same category in Chainmail.  Some additional details are provided regarding their paralysis attack and lairs.  Energy drain is not mentioned, but appears in Richard Snider's Additions.

True Trolls:

Are differentiated from normal trolls, as in Chainmail, and certain details regarding their treasure is provided.


Rocs are mentioned in Chainmail, although Arneson provides additional details regarding their nests and the value of their eggs and flightless fledglings,


Tarns, which appear in John Norman's Gor series, are described as the same as Rocs, but larger in some cases (War Tarns, Cargo Tarns, and Racing Tarns are described).


Basilisks are mentioned in Chainmail, although Arneson provides additional details regarding their treasure when encountered in lairs.


Balrogs are mentioned in Chainmail, although Arneson provides additional details regarding their treasure when encountered in lairs.


Giants are mentioned in Chainmail, although Arneson mentions that they "carry their wealth with them and vary in size".

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Magical Items Summary

A chart for determining magical items (including weaponry, equipment, formulas and potions, and books, manuscripts and maps) appears towards the end of JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign".

The weaponry category includes "lightning bolt thrower" and "fireball thrower".  Similar devices were described in more detail in DA3 "City of the Gods".

A hand blaster ("wand of sunflame") which functions as a "fireball thrower", from DA3 "City of the Gods".  Illustration by Jim Holloway.

The equipment category includes many of the items from the prior section "Description of Mechanical Marvels" which suggests that these two sections were originally intended to be presented together.*

*DA3 also includes descriptions for the communicator ("talk box") and medkit ("cube of healing")

The formulas and potions category includes many of the prototypical potions appearing in OD&D.

The books, manuscripts and maps section includes technical manuals, as well as "formula" (spell?) scrolls, and treasure maps.

One wonders if this table was the basis for the treasure tables appearing in OD&D, given the similarities.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Bleakwood

Dave Arneson includes a brief description of a region called Bleakwood in JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign".  It is described as being next to Bramwald, which is east of Blackmoor.

The first mention of Bleakwood appears to have been in a piece written by Arneson for the Bel-Ran Rumormonger in 1974, the fanzine for a Midgard Limited play-by-mail game, as described by Jon Peterson in this post on his blog.

Bleakwood was "marked on huge hexes and used plastic and clay models to represent everything." for special convention demonstrations, although was only used at Gen Con VIII in 1975, where Rob Kuntz also ran The Sunken City.

Bleakwood reappeared, this time as a fief in Arneson and Snider's "Adventures in Fantasy" game, first published in 1978.

Bleakwood Fief, from "Adventures in Fantasy" (1979) by Dave Arneson and Richard Snider.  Note the "Shrine of St. Cuth".

Many of the geographical features on the map of Bleakwood Fief are present in the description for the Bleakwood "medieval demographic area" given in "The First Fantasy Campaign".

As a final note, The Comeback Inn released the excellent, fan-made Province of Bleakwood Sourcebook as part of Dave Arneson game day, this past year.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Loch Gloomen

At the end of the 3rd year, the guys at Blackmoor were exiled for losing Blackmoor to the Baddies (they really messed it up bad).  So under heavy escort, they all ended up in Lake Gloomey with the goods they could carry and were dumped there.

Dave Arneson, The First Fantasy Campaign

The Loch Gloomen phase of the campaign represented an area for the characters to explore, following the dungeon-delving expeditions beneath Blackmoor Castle.  These games took place in mid-1972, by which time sessions were being held at St. Thomas College.

The perils of Loch Gloomen, illustration by Mark Nelson, from DA2 "Temple of the Frog" (1986)

Arneson includes a description of these menacing borderlands:

The most interesting aspect was exploring the surrounding swamps which lent a new aspect to Judging and map making for the following considerations:

1) There was a prevailing Cloud cover and magnetic disturbance precluded compasses, sun spotting and star gazing.

2) While traveling through the featureless swamp, there was a 20% chance of going off the desired track, right or left, without knowing it.

3) The only notable changes in the swamp was the appearance of islands and/or clear water routes.  But if you were unsure how you got there...  River routes were fun, what with stray Galleys and Merchant Ships ready to swarm over you.  Plus the Picts who inhabited the few islands in the area.*

Dave Arneson, The First Fantasy Campaign

*The mention of Picts is interesting, and hearkens back to the mention of barbarian Picts to the west and southwest of the Northern Marches map.

Loch Gloomen constitutes a prototypical sandbox, with old mansions, burned-out farms, ruined castles, monster-infested caves, and haunted villages.  Daniel Boggs reviews how these locations were stocked in Stocking Blackmoor Adventures in 1972.

Under "General Characteristics" there is a list of machines (Teleportation Machine, Flying Machine, Fighting Machine, and Water Machine) without further details.  Justin Alexander discusses these in a blog post, Reactions to OD&D: Arneson's Machines.

Events in Loch Gloomen soon focused upon the defence of the town, covered in Jon Peterson's post "Blackmoor, in the Era of Loch Gloomen".  (For the remainder of the summary, see this excerpt, shared by the Secrets of Blackmoor crew on their Facebook page, March 6, 2017).

*Greg Svenson reminisces about the fall of the Great Svenny and his subsequent resurrection by Mike Carr's character, the Bishop Carr in this thread on The Comeback Inn discussion boards.

The mention of Wesely, Scott Belfry, and Pete Gaylord taking their characters "to the town held by the Monks of the Swamp" was probably the start of a series of adventures involving Stephen Rocheford and The Temple of the Frog.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Richard Snider's Additions: The Dragons

"Richard Snider's Additions" in JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign" provide detailed statistics for six types of dragons, and I can't help but wonder if this might have been the source used for dragons in OD&D vol. 2 "Monsters & Treasure".

Gary Gygax had previously published descriptions of white, black, green, blue, and "mottled" dragons in the "Diplomacy" fanzine Thangorodrim (see OD&D Dragons: On the Origin of Species).  (Mottled dragons were another name for purple worms).

The entry for dragons in Chainmail includes a description of "the Great Red Dragon (Draco Conflagratio, or Draco Horribilis) which is typified in Tolkien's The Hobbit", and lists the other colored types, except for gold dragons.

Illustration of a Gold Dragon (Draco Orientalus Sino Dux) by David Sutherland, from the AD&D 1e Monster Manual (1977).  Note the lack of wings, in keeping with a Chinese dragon.

Dragons in Blackmoor were originally mentioned in the Blackmoor Gazette & Rumormonger, under "Gertie Has Kiddies":
As all in the village are now aware, thanks to the massive appetites of the little ones, the Wizard's pet Dragon, affectionately called Gertrude, has been reliably reported to have given birth (Hatched?) five offspring of various sizes, shapes, and colors.  The young Dragons have been busy learning to fly and hunt with sharp increases reported in the cattle herds of the vicinity.
Dave Arneson, BG&R #1

The final section of JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign" provides additional details for many monsters, including dragons.  The five colored types previously described by Gygax (including purple) as well as red dragons (from Chainmail) are listed.

In "Differences in Creatures from Blackmoor Game", Snider describes three types of dragons; green (which cannot breathe fire), brown (which can breathe fire), and gold (which can breathe fire, and are described as the "Lords of Dragondom").

Snider appears to have incorporated five of the six dragons used by Arneson (leaving out purple dragons), equating brown with red dragons, and adding gold dragons as the most powerful type, in the table, below:

Table for calculating the amount of damage a Dragon can sustain, as well as the number of die rolled for a breath attack, by a Dragon's color type and level.  From JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign".

Snider's table for dragons presents "levels" for color type, which correspond to the Hit Dice range as given in OD&D vol. 2, where the amount of damage a Dragon can sustain is likewise related to its age.  It's possible that Snider's table came first.

Damage from a dragon's breath weapon in Snider's system is variable (d6 per "age level" in the left-hand column or more, depending on color type), as opposed to fixed as in OD&D (equal to a dragon's hit points, linked to its age).

Snider describes an alternate method for determining the damage from a dragon's breath weapon (% of a dragon's maximum hit points, increasing by 5% for each level above 2nd, and an additional 10% for each level above 7th).

The rules for subdual are reversed, with dragons having the ability to subdue humans, rather than the other way around, and the likelihood of a dragon having spell-casting ability is discussed, similar to what appears in OD&D.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Richard Snider's Additions

JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign" includes notes by Richard Snider, who "evolved an entirely separate campaign and mythos" as well as "an exceptional set of rules for Dragons" (to be covered in more detail, tomorrow).

Snider's campaign notes likely relate to a set of rules based on Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign, described as the "Richard Snider Variant" by Daniel Boggs in his post Almost Forgotten: A Published RPG Ruleset older than D&D

Illustration of a wraith, by Gary Gygax's wife's half-sister Keenan Powell, from OD&D vol. 2 "Monsters & Treasure".  Did the idea for level-draining undead in OD&D derive from the Richard Snider Variant?

What's interesting about the RSV is that the last couple of pages include the following sections from "Richard Snider's Additions" to JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign":

Differences in Creatures from Blackmoor Game:
Specifies that wraiths do not paralyze with their Touch (as per Chainmail) but rather drain one Life Energy point per hit - inspiration for the draining of "life energy levels" in OD&D vol. 2?
Defines three types of Dragons - Gold, Brown, and Green. Golden Dragons breathe Fire, are very intelligent, and "are the Lords of Dragondom" - see tomorrow's post, for more details.

Population of Known Area:
Lists a number of "Known Baronies" with exotic names (Patursia, Kusan, Koda, Rizzo, Chulan, Kankiang, Monkai, Relaco) described further in the fan-made Empire of Thonia: The Eastern Marshes

Wizardry Apprenticeship:
Rules for gaining Magic Power ability and using Artifacts of Wizardry.

The Languages:
Alludes to alignment languages.

Odds of Creature Friendship:
Based on speaking a creature's language, and modified by alignment.


I'm not sure if parts of the remaining sections appear in the Richard Snider Variant:

Hero and Superhero Flunkies:
Describes the risks involved in retaining powerful characters.

Lists methods to destroy a true Vampire, as well as rules for creating a Flunky-Vampire (involving the "Mass of the Undead").

An Explanation of Creature Psychology:
Describes three major motivational factors - Hate, Greed, and Egotism.

To learn more about the RSV, see RSV Character Creation: The Hero over at Hidden in Shadows.  An examination of the Wizard class and magic system is also forthcoming.

For more on Richard Snider and his contributions to RPGs in general, see this post over at Havard's Blackmoor Blog.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Svenson's Freehold

Greg Svenson began as a player with all the others but during the later part of the first year, he really began clicking and had a character that has been in the game ever since that date.  He plays more than most but rather than take great risks, runs to fight another day.  Thus, although incredibly long lived, he is still only 15th level.

In his early days, Greg built a small keep for himself and some friends (all from Carr's FITS society group) and herein are the plans of that edifice.  It was destroyed once (the 2nd time Blackmoor fell) but was rebuilt in total.

Dave Arneson, The First Fantasy Campaign

"The Great Svenny" is described in "Blackmoor's More Infamous Characters".   Carr's FITS society group refers to Mike Carr's "Fight in the Skies" society.

Svenson stated "I did the floor plans when I was taking an architectural drafting course in the Spring of 1972." in this thread on the Comeback Inn discussion boards.

Plan for the 2nd floor of Svenson's Freehold, from JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign".  Note "Sgreg" (Greg Svenson's) room in the center.

"Svenson" is alternately spelled "Swenson" or "Zvenson" in many sources.  The Great Svenny's room is depicted in greater detail (rotated by 90 degrees), below:

"Zvenson's Room", denoted "Sgreg" in the plan for the 2nd floor of Svenson's Freehold.

Arneson states "Greg then went on to build Vestfold Dungeon and another complete castle of his own on the Outdoor Survival Board."  Vestfold Dungeon refers to "The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg" soon to be released by the Secrets of Blackmoor crew.

Dave Arneson might have been referring to the castle on the Outdoor Survival Board, mentioned above, when he stated "Greg is preparing maps etc. of his castle.  Not just the dumpy little freehold in FFC.  He is looking for a publisher." in this post back in 2008.

Update (Dec 17, 2020): The Comeback Inn actually released the GS3 Castle Newgate Gazetteer by Greg Svenson, also downloadable herecomplete with a foreword by Dave Arneson, as part of Dave Arneson game day, back in 2018.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Special Interests

JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign" contains an approach to awarding experience points very different from that used in OD&D:

Instead of awarding points for money and Jewels acquired in the depths of the Dungeon or hoarding items against the indefinite future, the players will receive NO points until they acquire the items listed below unless it happens to already fall within the area of their interest.

Dave Arneson, The First Fantasy Campaign

Descriptions are provided for seven categories of special interests defined for the purposes of gaining experience points (Wine, Women, Song, Wealth, Fame, Religion or Spiritualism, and Hobby).  Types of hobbies include animal, magical research, legend leads, and languages.

(There appears to have been an earlier reference to Hobbies under "Hunting, Armories and Animal Breeding" in the Internal Investments section of "Blackmoor, The Campaign" where "Player Motivation" might refer to "Special Interests".)
Chart for determining special interest(s) based on character type, from "The First Fantasy Campaign" (1977).

The method Arneson describes is to first roll percentile dice and consult Table II to determine a character's prime "special interest", based on character class (each of the rows add up to 100%), also referring to this attribute as a character's "motivation".

(Fighting-men are more likely to be motivated by fame, whereas clerics are more likely to be motivated by religion, for example.  However, it's possible for a fighter to be primarily motivated by religion, or a cleric by women or song, for that matter).

Players then refer to Table I in order to determine the percentage of experience points gained for gold pieces expended on various activities, based on the prime "special interest" column (the rows labeled a. to g. represent the seven categories of special interest).

Two alternative methods of determining the percentage of experience points gained for gold pieces expended on multiple special interests are given, although neither differ substantially from the first method, and one might involve 3d6 where percentile dice are mentioned.

What's interesting about the character classes listed, is that these include the three original classes, the ranger from The Strategic Review #2, the paladin from the Greyhawk Supplement, the assassin from the Blackmoor Supplement, the merchant, and the sage.
(Daniel Boggs makes a good case for this section to have been written by Arneson for the Blackmoor Supplement, in The Sage: Rescuing a lost Blackmoor Character Class, in which case the monk class may have indeed originated with Brian Blume.)

How to Become a Bad Guy (Basic Procedures): 

There is an additional section describing level advancement for monster types, with notes on alignment changes, for which I recommend checking out Experience Points, levels and Combat in Blackmoor over at OD&D Discussion.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Description of Mechanical Marvels

The next section in JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign" is titled "Description of Magical Items" although is listed as "Description of Mechanical Marvels" in the Table of Contents.  These technological items, like the Blue Rider's and Stephen the Rock's battle armor, are examples of Blackmoor's science-fiction elements.

Illusion Projector:

Can create the 3D image of anything and animate that image. Range is line of sight, no limit, and image must be less than 100 yards on a side. (A technological effect similar to the "phantasmal forces" spell).



Can cross stretches of water at great speed, 50 mph and greater, as well as marsh and short (10 yards) stretches of low unobstructed land. Hitting a snag will wreck the Skimmer and cause the occupants one Hit Die in damage per 5 mph of speed. Chance of hitting a snag is about 1% per 100 miles of water, 5% in marsh and 5% every time any land is crossed. All encounter chances can be ignored due to its speed.


Borer, illustration by Allan Alegado, from Dave Arneson's Blackmoor (Zeitgeist Games, 2004)
Can dig through ten yards of any material every hour. Makes a hole 10' x 10' as it goes. It has no weight but can only move about 1 mph. (Certainly inspired by the "iron mole" from At the Earth's Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs).



Shuts out all outside sounds, light, magic, etc. Those within the barrier are behind the equivalent of +5 Magic Armor. Magic cannot pass the barrier, although Fireballs and Lightning Bolts can attack the outside.



Will give the operator complete physical information about any item it is pointed at. Has a range of 100 yards, only metal will block its effect. Will only give out that information that is specifically asked (saying "tell me everything" will get an automatic 30 day lecture on the basic universe which will run it's course no matter what the operator does. Similar answers to other general questions have also occurred! (Clearly based on Star Trek's tricorder).


Medical Unit:

Will Heal all wounds within 24 hours and cannot "get out" early. (Similar to the Medical Kit as described in The Temple of the Frog).



Any jolly you ever wanted, and some that might kill you. User loses track of time and is open to attack. Roll ten-sided dice for hours of use. Cures all fatigue and raises fighting level by one for the rest of the day.



Teaches you how to use these mechanical marvels. One tape in machine, other tapes can be used as treasure finds, etc.


Robot, illustration by Allan Alegado, from Dave Arneson's Blackmoor (Zeitgeist Games, 2004)
Roll one 6-sided die for Armor Class, and another die for the number of Hit Dice. All Robots have a 10% chance of being able to throw one Lightning Bolt every tum up to 20 Bolts. (Robots are mentioned in OD&D vol. 2 and featured in The City of the Gods).


Controller: Allows players to get Robots to do what the player wants, otherwise, there is only a 20% chance you can use the Robot, 20% chance it is defective, 60% that it is hostile.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: The Original Blackmoor Magic System

Dave Arneson included a brief section in JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign" outlining how magic worked in the original Blackmoor campaign, an approach differing in many respects from the Vancian "fire and forget" system used in OD&D.

A magic-user blasts a section of a castle wall using a lightning bolt.  Illustration by Ken Simpson, based on the original by Dave Arneson.

The first magic-user spells were probably drawn from those listed in the 1st edition of Chainmail (phantasmal forces, darkness, wizard light, detection, concealment, and conjuration of an elemental), in addition to fireball and lightning bolt, depicted above.

The latter two were also used in David Megarry's Dungeon! board game, in addition to "transference", (a spell inspired by Star Trek's transporters, the origin of "teleport").  Megarry leveraged the Blackmoor mechanic for casting spells, using cards.

Arneson later described "A system of magic based on ANIMAL-Type, VEGETABLE-Type, or MINERAL-Type with a hodge-podge of spells." in discussing the original Blackmoor campaign in Different Worlds #3 (June/July 1979).

In Blackmoor, magic followed the "Formula" pattern for most magic. The reasoning behind limiting the number of spells that a Magic User could take down into the Dungeon was simply that many of the ingredients had to be prepared ahead of time, and of course, once used were then powerless. Special adventures could then be organized by the parties to gain some special ingredients that could only be found in some dangerous place.

Dave Arneson, The First Fantasy Campaign

Spell preparation or "manufacture" is mentioned in the character profiles for the Egg of Coot, the Ran of Ah Fooh, and the Gin of Salik, and echoed in the Holmes rules for scroll creation, as discussed here.  The concept of adventuring for special components also emerged in AD&D.

Progression reflected the increasing ability of the Magic User to mix spells of greater and greater complexity. Study and practice were the main important factors involved. A Magic User did not progress unless he used Spells, either in the Dungeon or in practice (there was no difference) sessions. Since there was always the chance of failure in spells (unless they were practiced) and materials for some spells were limited (determined simply by a die roll) the Magic User did not just go around practicing all the time. The Magic User could practice low level spells all the time, cheaply and safely, but his Constitution determined how often he could practice without rest. Thus, the adventurers might want a Magic User to come with them only to find him lying exhausted.

Dave Arneson, The First Fantasy Campaign

Update (Dec 3, 2020): The role of Constitution in determining how often spells could be practiced suggests that Arneson may have been at least partly influenced by the concept of "endurance points" in Midgard (see Spellcasting before D&D in Midgard over at Playing at the World).

The method by which magic-users gained experience in Blackmoor was further developed in Arneson & Snider's "Adventure in Fantasy" (1979).  Daniel Boggs has examined Spell Failure in Blackmoor in depth.  Note the role of constitution in a magic-user's advancement.

So to progress to a new level, one first learned the spells, and then got to use that spell. There was no automatic progression, rather it was a slow step by step, spell by spell progression.

Dave Arneson, The First Fantasy Campaign

For more on the original Blackmoor magic system, with comments from some of the original players, see threads on The Other Magic System for D&D and Blackmoor Wizard's Duel over at OD&D Discussion.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Chance Cards

Dave Arneson describes the use of "chance cards" in JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign".  I suspect these had their roots in wargames by Avalon Hill and other companies, but I couldn't locate any specific examples.

A chance card was drawn for each game month, and the events worked into the campaign timeline.  Arneson mentions drawing the cards one game year in advance, in order "to allow for a logical progression of events."

Chance cards were only employed "after the 3rd year" of the original Blackmoor Campaign, and primarily involved the Outdoor Survival phase of the campaign.  They are presented in tabular form, reproduced below: 
01-02: Small Duchy of Ten Raid (2/3 Cavalry, 1/3 Mixed)
03-04: Large Duchy of Ten Raid (maximum once a year)
05-06: Migration and Travelers (maximum once a year)
07-08: Special (maximum once a year): Horror of the year - Judge's option!
09-10: Large Orc Uprising (Civil War) Report
11-14: Wandering Heroes
15-16: Wandering Superheroes
17-20: Mercenary Company (small)
21-22: Mercenary Company (large)
23-26: Small Bandit Attack
27-28: Large Bandit Attack
29-32: Small Tarnsmen Raid
33-34: Large Tarnsmen Raid
35-36: Caravan to Empire
37-39: Caravan ro Small Capital
40-41: Caravan to Large Capital
42-43: River/Coastal Convoy
44-47: Legend Lead
48-49: Large Viking Raid (maximum once a year)
50-52: Small Viking Raid
53-54: Dry Spell: Will convert sinking land to marshes
55-56: Wet Spell: Negates a Dry spell or similar magic
57-59: Draw Two Cards
60-61: Draw Three Cards
62-74: No Activity
75-77: Peasant Revolt
78-80: Small Nomad Raid
81-82: Large Nomad Raid (maximum once a year)
83-86: Earthquake hits - Roll for intensity
87-88: Army Revolt
89-92: Storm: Delay Trade by one month, movement reduced.
93-94: Crusaders Passing Through
95-96: New Wizard Arrives
97-98: Plague!
99-00: NPC(s): 1-3 turn Traitor

Arneson mentions that events such as the Great Peasant Revolt and the Duchy of Ten Raid originated through the use of chance cards.
In a similar vein, the Companion Set Rules (1984) by Frank Mentzer describe 1-4 "Dominion Events" to be selected or randomly determined at the beginning of each game year:

Table of "Natural Events" for a Dominion, from the D&D Companion Set Rules, by Frank Mentzer.

Table of "Unnatural Events" for a Dominon, from the D&D Companion Set Rules, by Frank Mentzer.
I'm not sure if Frank was thinking about Arneson's chance cards when he came up with these tables, although many of the events are similar.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Gypsy Sayings

Unlike many other forms of advance warnings about upcoming events, the infamous Gypsy Sayings merely state what might happen, and allow the players a chance to get out of the steamroller's way. Gypsy Sayings are also obscure, generally, and subject to numerous interpretations about their meaning. One man's cake is another man's poison....

Dave Arneson, The First Fantasy Campaign

Gypsies, or the Romani people, have traditionally been associated with fortune-telling, something which was also incorporated as a plot mechanic in I6 "Ravenloft" (1983), although concerns were rightly raised about the portrayal of the Vistani in 5E's Curse of Strahd.

Gypsy fortuneteller, illustration by Val Mayerick, from A Guide to Transylvania (1996) by Nicky Rea

The Blackmoor Gazette and Rumormonger #1 included a section "travelling gypsy band comes and goes without a trace":
After a two day stand at the edge of town, where almost the entire town partook of the entertainment offered.  There were several private performances by individual female members of the troop up at the castle along with a rash of fortune telling.  Shortly after the completion of the last performance the band disappeared during the great Earthquake of All Hallows Eve last.

Arneson states that "Gypsy Sayings" were first used in the 2nd year of the original Blackmoor Campaign.  He provides these in JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign", along with explanations in parentheses:

1) When the six Vultures alight on the six hills, Doom will come in six turns.

(The Vultures are a giant variety that live above Wolf's Head Pass. There were only four hills on the playing board, but the player's forgot about two towers in the area. Doom, referred to Wizard's Darkness and should have read "Gloom".)

2) Those who live in Darkness desire Light.

3) When three rule the land, the Dark Lord will come.

(Referring to the committee set up by three of the players to rule Blackmoor. Such a political mishmash would certainly cause the Baddies to attack thinking that the opposition was too divided to resist.)

4) When the skies Darken at noon, the land will be barren.

(Bad weather)

5) That which is valuable is well-guarded.

6) When Evil gathers its Might, two will succeed where a Host fails.

(Rather than get the Army wiped out, try an assassination!)

7) The Jewel of the Sun will pierce any Darkness.

(Reference to an artifact.)

8) When the Undead walk, their companion is Darkness.

(Undead shun darkness, so ...)

9) A man who is an animal is not man.

(An interesting psychological discussion on Lycanthropy or maybe personal habits....)

10) Light will conquer Dark but a Cloud can be a Shield.

11) The Evil that lurks in man is always present.

(Paranoia anyone??)

12) The Mists at noon foretell far-reaching Doom.

(If there is fog everywhere, then the Baddies are probably sneaking up on the walls. Or perhaps Doom just means Gloom. Gypsy accents are terrible.)

13) That which is, might not be.

(Psychological talk or comment on Phantasmal Forces??)

14) Rider, Jewel and Marsh are a Doomful Threesome.

(see Temple of the ID.)

Arneson finishes by stating these "should be used sparingly and changed regularly" and "are especially useful if a particular scenario is planned, like saving a Princess, or saving someone's hide...." by which I'm not sure what he means.


The "Gypsy Sayings" section is followed by "Legends".  Arneson describes these as a refinement of the "Gypsy Sayings" and indicates there were 100 of them, but that 75 were false.

False legends were randomly determined to be local (presumably in the vicinity of Blackmoor; 1-2), arising from Vestfold (3-5), or beyond (6).  Additional determination is made for "Gold PD x PD x 1000" (1-4), "Philosopher's Stone" (5), or "Magic" (6).

I'm not sure what "Gold PD x PD x 1000" means.  Perhaps the false legend could refer to a cache of gold, a mythical "Philosopher's Stone", or some type of magic item?

There are 25 True legends ("sort of").  These appear to represent a list of magic items or artifacts (with a location given for some of them):

1) The Mare of Steel
2) Sign of the Wolf (Blackmoor Dungeon)
3) The Prisoners Stone
4) The Black Egg of Blackmoor (Pete's Place)*
*likely in reference to Pete Gaylord "The Wizard of the Wood"
5) Place of the Gods
6) The Frogs (Rocky)* (Temple of the Frog)
*likely in reference to Stephen Rochford "Saint Stephen the Rock"
7) Orc Treasure (Freddy)* (Blackmoor)
*likely in reference to Fred Funk "King of the Orcs"
8) Emperor's Crown
9) Dragon's Island (Blackmoor Dungeon)
10) Radiator of Death (Dray Is. Blk. M.)
11) Loch Gloomen Legend (L.G. #F)*
*Castle (13 Rooms, 4 Passages, 2 Levels) 370 Magic Points (25 Ogres) Shape Changing, Fireball Wand, Fighting Machine
12) Loch Gloomen Legend (L.G. #E)*
*House (10 Rooms) 310 Magic Points (twelve Wrights), Sword (lettered), Horse (4), Water Machine
13) The Great Bell (4000 #) 2 1/2 mil.
14) Viking Cap. 1 #
15) Viking Cap. 2 #
16) Egg of Coot (Egg of Coot)
17) Throne of the Skies
18) Throne of the Gods
19) "The Golden Dragon"
20) Sign of the Eagle
21) Sign of the Elephant
22) Treasure of the Payme Princess
23) Three Crowns of Tonisberg (Tonisberg)*
*likely in reference to the Three Crowns in The Lost Dungeons of Tonsiberg
24) Mount Rocky* (Duchy of Ten)
*mentioned as a dragon breeding area in the Ran of Ah Fooh's description
25) Mount Doom (Egg of Coot)

Not much else is known about the "Legends" section, which has been the topic of a couple of threads in the past, over at The Comeback Inn.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Matrix

The Magic Swords of Mythology are varied creatures that can give great power to their owners, who sometimes are helpless without them.  Only Swords have these powerful variations and capabilities.  Other weapons being relegated to lesser bonuses due to their shapes, that do not lend themselves to magical incantations.

Dave Arneson, The First Fantasy Campaign

The second section on magic swords in JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign" has been identified as the basis for the section on magic swords appearing in OD&D vol. 2, as discussed by Daniel Boggs in Tracing Magic Swords, back in 2012.
Arneson's matrix to determine a magic sword's characteristics and will, from JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign"

The categories "Side Determination", "Origins", "Intelligence", and "Egotism" correspond to the sections "Alignment", "Origin/Purpose", "Intelligence", and "Egoism" in OD&D vol. 2.

"Magic Characteristics" roughly correspond to "Primary Powers" in OD&D vol. 2, although are based on magic-user spells.  Arneson appears to be referring to an early version of the spell tables in OD&D vol. 1 when discussing the spell tables in this section.
"Special Characteristics" include "Communicative Ability" and roughly correspond to "Extraordinary Abilities" but also include a range of impressive "Special Powers" such as conjuring elementals, and even granting wishes.
Arneson concludes with short paragraphs on "Sword Enchantments by Magic Users", "Holy Swords", and "Special Notes":

Special notes for magic swords, including a form of life stealing ability, ultimately resulting in transcendence of the wielder to another plane of existence, and for swords with multiple origins.

The best way to understand a set of tables is to grab some dice and give it a go, and so with that in mind, I rolled up a magic sword from scratch:

Side Determination: 8 (Chaos)
Origins: 1 (Holy Sword)
Intelligence: 9
Egotism: 10

Magic Ability: 37 (No Special Characteristics)
Combat Ability: 73 - One roll on Combat Table:
Versus Law Types: 1 on d6 - Normal: 22 (Men)
Versus Neutral Types: 4 on d6 - Magical: 97 - Two more rolls:
40 (Hippogriffs)
47 (Elves)
Special Ability: 5 on d10 (for Holy Sword): 58+5=63 (No Special Effects)

So, we have a chaotic, (un)holy sword (Intelligence: 9, Egotism: 10), +1 vs. Lawful Men, +2 vs. Hippogriffs and (Neutral) Elves.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Magic Swords & Matrix

There are two sections on magic swords in JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign" by Dave Arneson, the first of which describes "an entire family of Magical Swords", created for use in the original Blackmoor campaign.

Daniel Boggs posted a lengthy analysis of this section in The First Magic Swords back in October, 2016, which I highly recommend.  The second section was written by Arneson at a later date, and will be discussed in more detail, tomorrow.


Magical swords are described in Chainmail:

Because these weapons are almost entities in themselves, they accrue real advantage to the figure so armed.  In normal combat they merely add an extra die.  It is in fantastic combat the Magical Swords are most potent.  Besides allowing Elves to combat certain fantastic figures, they give a plus 1 to the dice score when employing the Fantasy Combat Table, and Magical Swords shed a light of their own over a circle 12" in diameter, which dispels darkness - but does not equal full light.  Excalibur and other "Super Swords" would give a plus two or three!

Chainmail, 3rd ed.
From this paragraph and other parts of Chainmail (see "Magic Swords" in this post), Arneson developed the "Magic Swords Personality Matrix".
18 swords were designated by the letters A-R, six of which were stocked in the Blackmoor dungeons.  Another 11 swords were designated by color.  "Blue" was the Blue Rider's sword, while "Maroon" was the Great Svenny's.

For those interested in using these venerable weapons in your own campaign, check out Converting the FFC swords to OD&D.


DA1 "Adventures in Blackmoor" (1985) describes the famous "White Sword":

This powerful lawful sword +2, +3 vs. goblins, orcs, undead, and dragons has an intelligence of 12 and an ego of 12.  It was forged at the command of a previous bishop to be the sword of champions and "the defense of the Church and the people" against evil.  It has the powers to detect evil, detect magic, and see invisible.  It can also read magic and has the extraordinary powers extra damage, telepathy, and healing.  It speaks Gnoll, Gnome, Goblin, Hobgoblin, Kobold, Ogre, Orc, and Pixie.  Unsheathed, the sword raises the morale of all friendly troops within a mile of the wielder by 1.

DA1 "Adventures in Blackmoor"

Back in the day, I was inspired by this weapon to create a companion blade, complete with backstory, which I named Arbus, the White Avenger.  Arbus was obtained by one of my players, developing a prominence in the campaign rivaling that of most NPCs.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Glendower Dungeons

The road to the northwest out of the Town of Blackmoor leads to the Barony of Glendower, the northernmost march of the Great Kingdom, resting on the actual frontier with the Egg of Coot, where it is indicated on most maps.

Glendower was ruled by Sir Jenkins, a noted bandit prior to the First Coot Invasion, driven to that extreme by the former Baron of Blackmoor, "the Weasel".   Later on, Sir Jenkins was bitten by a vampire while exploring the Blackmoor Dungeons.

The town of Glendower (right), with the Tomb of the Grey Dragon in the foreground (left) and what appear to be the ruins of a castle in the background (center).  Illustration by Ken Simpson, from JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign" by Dave Arneson.

In addition to the sprawling Blackmoor megadungeon, "The First Fantasy Campaign" also contains a page of maps and a stocking list for the much smaller "Glendower Dungeons", consisting of a mere 4 unfinished levels.

Superimposed levels of the Glendower Dungeons, by David "Zimri" Ross, posted at the Blackmoor Archives, here.

We know little else about the Glendower Dungeons, although they would certainly make for a great introductory adventure when starting a Blackmoor campaign.  I envision them beneath the ruins of the castle depicted in the illustration, above.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: The Dungeon Levels

The section "Blackmoor Dungeons" is followed by "The Dungeon Levels" with maps and keys for levels 1-10.  Arneson states "These maps comprise the ones used over the first five years, and at various conventions around the country over the last two years."

Interestingly, only about 1/6 of rooms on the 1st level are occupied, increasing to 1/3 of rooms on the 3rd level, and 1/2 of rooms from the 7th level onwards, which seems appropriate for a dungeon complex beneath an active frontier town.

Levels 1-3 are built into the hill upon which Blackmoor Castle stands.  Levels 4 and 5 are connected to a series of tunnels and caverns that extend beneath the Town of Blackmoor and beyond.  The remaining levels continue straight downwards.

Blackmoor Dungeons (New Convention Set):

Blackmoor Dungeons, Level 10, from JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign" by Dave Arneson.  Note the "Orcian Way" in the upper right.

Arneson's maps are fascinating to examine, and represent a truly labyrinthine underworld.  Daniel Boggs describes Blackmoor Dungeon Map Oddities in relation to how doors and secret passages are indicated, over at his blog.

All stairs are circular stairways, descending 20-30 feet from level to level.  There are several stippled areas designating cave-ins, likely dating from the great earthquake that leveled the castle mid-way through the first year of the original Blackmoor campaign.

Arneson mentions cross-hatched sections* representing "deep flue-like chimneys that go into the deepest regions of the Dungeon to connect with the great lava pit beneath the Castle (level 25)."  These are circled by low railings and sometimes adorned with religious images.

*I don't see any cross-hatched sections on the maps, but several areas on levels 6-8 are labeled as "fire pits".

Round black dots and black squares* designate "Devil Fountains" made of an obsidian material with "Ruby eyes, Gold horns, Silver accoutrements and spewing out sulphuric acid."  Tampering with these will trigger a great howling sound and earth tremors.

*These seem to be mostly present on level 9.

For an amazing look at maps of Blackmoor Dungeons drawn by David Megarry, one of the players in the original Blackmoor campaign, check out The Oldest Dungeon Maps in D&D History and Monster lists and Megarry's Maps over at "Hidden in Shadows".

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Blackmoor Dungeons

Continuing our examination of JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign" we come to the section describing the Blackmoor Dungeons, a sprawling underworld complex, representing the very first megadungeon in what would become Dungeons and Dragons.

Arneson states "The Dungeon was first established in the Winter and Spring of 1970-71" although later states "Back in 1972, I started doing dungeon explorations with the local gamers building up a set of rules as we went along." in an interview published in Pegasus #1 (April/May 1981).

He mentions "The Castle itself is still blank since it has been destroyed twice and rebuilt twice and then taken over by non-player Elves when the local adventurers were exiled." in reference to events at the close of the first year of the original Blackmoor campaign.

Doorway to one of the fouler areas of the Dungeon.  Illustration by Ken Simpson, based on the original by Dave Arneson.

The Orcian Way

One of the central features of the Blackmoor Dungeons:

...a great glowing stairway (with Orc Music, Rule Britannia played backwards!), that goes directly from the 1st level to the 10th level magically, although the players seem to be walking down an endless stairway.  Upon entering the stairs, the Orcs, Ghouls, Wraiths, and Balrogs at the bottom are warned of the adventurers approach and composition.  If too strong, the expedition will descend the stairs forever with no apparent way out.  If weak enough, the Orcs and Company, will attack and try to take them all prisoner, sacrificing them to a great feast.  There are two Balrogs, six Wraiths, 200 Ghouls, 50 Ogres and 750 Orcs waiting at the bottom.  They are all that is left of King Funk's Orcs' Grand Army that took Blackmoor.

Should the players ascend the stairway. they will reach the top at about 250 feet where the stairs end in a small room (10' x 10').  In the ceiling of the room is a trap door.  When you open the trapdoor, all you can see is sky and what is apparently a small platform 3' x 3' with a one foot wall around it.  When the players reach this platform they seemingly (to those in the room) continue on through the trapdoor and vanish out of sight.  Actually those that are passing through the trapdoor suddenly find the entire structure (trapdoor. platform. dungeon, etc.) vanishes and they fall towards Blackmoor Bay some 5-100 feet below them.

Dave Arneson, The First Fantasy Campaign

For a first-hand account, see Bill Paley's Gen Con IX report, published in Alarums & Excursions #15, and discussed over at The Comeback Inn, here.

Sir Fang:

Originally the Baron Fant, a 9th level fighter played by David Fant, transformed into a "traditional" Slavic Vampire (a "nosferatu" in Mystara terms, as detailed in Gaz 1 "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos") as opposed to a "Hollywood" type.

Interestingly, Sir Fang is noted to have attained 3rd level as an illusionist (introduced in The Strategic Review #4), and 2nd level as a magic-user/anti-cleric, which implies D&D rules, as well as level advancement despite having become undead.


Charged with the care and protection of the area, following the second destruction of Blackmoor Castle.  Those wishing to enter the dungeons beneath the castle must first pass a test of Purity at the foot of the hill.  Each of the entrances and exits are heavily guarded.

Dungeon Map Notes:

Arneson states "All Dungeon Levels and Castle Plans are in scale with each other and will superimpose" something Daniel Boggs has tackled, as described in Aligning the Stairs, Shafts, and Elevators in Blackmoor Dungeon.

Also, be sure to check out Blackmoor Dungeon in 3D an amazing video from the "Secrets of Blackmoor" crew, demonstrating how the dungeon levels align.

Wandering Monster Areas (Levels 1-6)

Wandering monsters were predetermined per quadrant using the D&D rules for the first six levels, prepared for use at convention games.

"Magic" Protection Points (Levels 7-10)

Encounters for the lower levels, including the tunnel systems, were those used in the original Blackmoor campaign.  Daniel Boggs explains the Point Buy systems for Stocking Dungeons in another informative post.

For a look at how this all works out in practice, check out The Arnesonian Dungeon posted by Justin Alexander over at his blog.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Into the Great Outdoors

...I preferred going out into unexplored and wild areas to being near the cities...

Bob Meyer, posted at OD&D Discussion (February, 2008)
Yes Bob and that is why I had to do all those encounter charts.  "The best laid plans of players and DMs are for naught."  Plan on them turning right and they are bound to go a different direction not always left either!

Dave Arneson, in response to Bob Meyer's comment, above

Many of the rules for wilderness exploration in D&D appear to have their roots in Dave Arneson's use of the mapboard from "Outdoor Survival" (Avalon Hill, 1972).  The six categories of terrain, given in the table below, are identical:

Encounter Matrix for wilderness exploration, from JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign" (1977).  The overlap with monsters listed in Chainmail has been pointed out by Dan Boggs, here.

The rules for encountering wandering monsters in the wilderness, given in OD&D vol. 3 "The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures" also use the same six categories, with the addition of a column for city encounters.

The chance for avoiding monsters is based on party size in both "The First Fantasy Campaign" and in OD&D vol. 3, and rules for movement by land, by water, or by air are likewise similar.

"The First Fantasy Campaign" includes a price list for the different types of aerial mounts (or "tarns" after the Gor series), horses, wagons, artillery (including cannons!), specialists, mercenaries, and slaves (differentiated by silk color, another Gor reference).

Outdoors in Blackmoor:

Approach to preparing outdoor adventures, based on the Outdoor Survival board, similar to the general wilderness adventures described in OD&D vol. 3.  Rules for "% in lair" are spelled out, as well as for replacement of losses suffered by monsters.


Rules to determine whether new monsters have moved into cleared areas, each spring:
A) Outside (Outer) Hexes
B) Inside (Inner) Hexes
C) Chance Cards (detailed in a later section of "The First Fantasy Campaign")
D) Spring Migrations

Drawing Your Own Map:

Guidance is provided for those who wish to create their own maps.  Arneson provides a detailed method for square-by-square or hex-by-hex random determination of terrain.  I'm not sure if anyone has ever tried this, but I'd be interested to see the results.

Human Habitation:

If a human settlement is indicated, these will represent abandoned ruins in a swampy region, etc.  Otherwise, size is determined on a roll of 1d10, ranging from small hamlets of 50 - 500 people, to cities of 2,000 - 20,000 people, with 1-2 keeps.

Table summarizing rules for random determination of terrain and likelihood of human settlements, from JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign".  Note mention of D&D character classes, including assassins and druids.

The rules for wilderness encounters are summarized as follows:
1) There are 0-5 lairs per hex.
2) Roll location for each with percentile dice.

If an encounter is indicated:

1) Roll for which group is met (equal chances of encountering each).
2) Roll probability chance of group being met "in lair".
3) 10-60% of the group will be out of the lair, and 40+% will be in the lair.
4) For groups out of the lair, roll location.

In conclusion, this section may be viewed as the blueprint from which the D&D Expert Set would evolve.  Some of the ideas didn't make it into B/X or BECMI, but could be used to expand upon the rules for wilderness exploration.