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.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

The First Fantasy Campaign: Blackmoor Castle

Today marks Dave Arneson's birthday, commemorated as Dave Arneson Game Day, across the internet.  Consider heading over to Havard's Blackmoor Blog for more details.

For my part, I'll be wrapping up my look at the Blackmoor section of JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign" with an overview of Blackmoor Castle.

The Blackmoor Castle's History:

We begin with a brief description of the castle's history, which mentions the threat of barbarian invasion out of the north, (reminiscent of the backstory to module B1 "In Search of the Unknown" by Mike Carr, one of the original Blackmoor players).

Main Gate to Blackmoor Castle.  Illustration by Ken Simpson, presumably based on the original by Dave Arneson.

Haunted Rooms and the Like:

The next section describes locations within the castle, such as the Black Hall, the Catacombs, and Blackmoor Tower.  The accompanying map is unkeyed:

Map of Blackmoor Castle, from JG 37 "The First Fantasy Campaign".  For a later version, drafted for Origins 1984, see this post from chirine's workbench.

The Black Hall (No.1):

The main reception hall (presumably the largest room on the 1st floor), although renamed after a gruesome incident "during the Second Coot invasion some 40 years ago".

The Second Coot invasion occurred at the end of the first year of the original Blackmoor campaign, which suggests that this section was written after the original campaign had drawn to a close in late 1975, or during Arneson's time in Lake Geneva in 1976.

The Catacombs (No. 2):

The tunnels and galleries dug into the hill beneath Blackmoor Castle, with short descriptions for notable locations including:
A) The Tombs
B) The Gallery of the Undead
C) The Dungeons
D) The Wizard's Pit
E) The Black Pit
F) Miscellaneous
Check out Mapping the Entrances to Blackmoor Dungeon for a discussion of how the castle floorplan lines up with the dungeon, below.  

The Tower:

Also known as "The Bloody Tower", "The Terrible Tower", and/or "The Wizard's Tower", and inhabited by the assorted spirits of past rulers.  Haunted rooms include:
1) The Gray Room
2) The Secret Room
3) The Lair
4) The Library