Some shots from Denver Book Binders of The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg.
This year is special.
It has been 50 years since Dave Arneson created what is the first Fantasy Role Playing milieu and effectively the first D&D campaign.
You don't believe me? Read what Gary Gygax says about Arneson in the forward of the Blackmoor D&D supplement II.
We should be hollering about it all over the web and celebrating. And yet, there is a pervasive silence about this singular moment in time all over the web.
I personally have reached a point of burn out on the subject. I am going on a decade of concentrating on researching the subject of Role Playing. Chris and I released our Feature Documentary Film on the subject. There seems to be little interest in our movie project within the RPG community at large.
Many have asked about the sequel movie. I personally have mixed feelings on it. I would love to do one. We have tons of footage that is worth seeing and we want to interview more people as well. Yet, our company is in the hole from making the first film. To top it off, Amazon has removed all independent films from their site. Our sales went from reasonable traffic and sales on Amazon, to about 1 sale per day on Vimeo. We have decided to turn our energy toward game design, production, and distribution, instead.
Keep your eyes open for an upcoming War Game KickStarter.
It's been a year of dealing with Covid-19. It was really damaging to all of our planned projects. We've been set back a year on everything. The second movie was put on ice during this time since we could not shoot interviews, and even our Tonisborg Dungeon book got delayed.
When we call our friends in the Twin Cities they seem to be feeling it as well. The other day I spoke with David Megarry, and he had bad news for me about his chess playing partner, Edward Conway; a man I had hoped to meet and perhaps even play a casual game of chess with myself. Sadly, he succumbed to Covid - 19 last September.
You can see Ed playing chess with David in Secrets of Blackmoor. We feel honored to have captured him on video and preserved his joy for chess in the movie.
Please take a moment to reflect on a fellow gamer wherever he may be now.
Yes, the malaise is upon us. I have had little energy for blogging, or much of anything else. It can bring the worse out of people too. I want you to take a minute for yourself. Don't think - just do. Step away from the computer. Go for a walk. Step outside your front door and breath deeply until you can feel a change within yourself. Grab your phone and reach out to someone you haven't spoken to in a while. Get lost in the moment.
Despite my own slump, I was checking Reddit today. A gamer asked me some simple questions about using chainmail with D&D. Before I knew it I was SPARKED!
Yes! Yes, I love talking about RPGs and D&D and War Games. I began to explain my ideas. Before long I was on a bit of a rant. The rant became a volcanic spew of stream of consciousness babble. I likely spewed more than the person I was speaking to expected in our discussion. Before long I was lost to the moment.
My advice to all of you is simple: GET LOST!
Pssst: get lost in the moment.
What follows is an out of context rant about RPGs. I haven't really bothered to check for grammar and typos. I mostly need to update the blog which I have allowed to lay fallow for a bit.
Cutting fabric samples, I haven't had a haircut since before Covid began.
I really wish we had any concrete evidence of how Arneson ran his Blackmoor fighting mechanics. There may be something out there, but it is in some collectors cache thus hidden from researchers.
I will be honest, my knowledge is a bit limited to what documents we can find, which is very little. In the published First Fantasy Campaign, as well as some interviews, there is mention of the great Svenni fighting 50 orcs at once. Or, even targeting Svenni with fire balls because the orcs hated him and would surround him, thus it would hurt Svenni and kill all the low level orcs.
Design wise, what Arneson says and what Gygax says, leads me to think that they were somewhat at odds on design ideas. Arneson was designing past CM and creating lots of new systems, along with design ideas from players in his group. So his concepts exceed what one sees in OD&D. Gygax was fixated on CM and wanted the new game to reflect the CM influence, thus as editor, he was tossing CM based concepts back into the rules.
In retrospect, I think Gygax was wise to prune things and make D&D easier for most gamers to understand.
Dan Boggs uncovered the Snider Variation, a set of what looks like Pre-D&D rules. It is 6 pages of rules. It states that some of it is divergent from Arneson's house rules. That set of rules specifically states that there are two combat systems, one is for massed combat, the other for 1 to 1 combat. It states that anyone can be trained to use magic, it costs time and money. It has rules on how to generate wizard characters. It lists four levels of spells. It mentions life force, if I recall correctly, It mentions magic resistance. It lists colored dragons, which is a mixture of what Gygax produced in a fanzine around that time, but had no rules. It has spell points. you name it, and these simple rules contain it. and the ideas never make it to D&D. I was fascinated by the door opening mechanic, which bases door opening ability on character level. Concepts of gaining ability in non combat actions do not appear in D&D. The Snider Variant does have some minor CM influence, but also indicates a divergence from CM.
My personal focus is more with what happened before Gygax even knows what an FRP is, and within Arneson's group. I am told that they had CM, but they had their own system. I am inclined to believe this because of the Arneson Medieval Battle Notes which are likely from early 1970. This predates the CM rules being published. If Arneson had his own Medieval Rules then they were likely a hand written variant of the Strategos - A (ancients) variant he designed with Randy Hoffa which still exists. The A variant contains hit points as well. (Michael Wittig wrote a paper on this.)
Most D&D research runs afoul of the Gygax ad speak, mostly in the Dragon and after Arneson is ousted. Where Gygax tries to load up the argument that D&D comes from Chainmail. Even comparisons between the Chainmail Man to Man combat table and the Alternate Combat system in D&D run afoul of flawed conclusions. People look at the labels, which are irrelevant and easily altered, but do not look at the contents of the chart itself. Thus the combat system is attributed to Gygax based on a letter he wrote, yet the design smacks of Arneson. Arneson himself claims he created it. He states this often in many publications.
If you look at a lot of the design work coming out of Arneson's house group, and you have to carry over its lineage as being Wesely's house group; then you get a clear indication that their most prominent source is always Strategos by Totten. Wesely's reduced variant on Totten's morale system only has 5 states of order/disorder for troops. Arneson employs Wesely's Strategos system for use in Don't Give Up The Ship.
Rob kuntz says he reviewed Arneson's notes for Blackmoor that were sent to Gygax at the beginning of the Arneson + Gygax collaboration. He describes a design made up of linear equations and without charts. For me, that too smacks of the Twin Cites influence coming from Totten.
Perhaps the greatest difference in approach between myself and other researchers, is a chicken and egg perspective mixed with relational properties that come from anthropology.
I asked simple questions.
People often communicate to me about some source that reveals role playing earlier than the Twin Cities group. Yet, the missing element is the existence of a lineage of games. For example, recently I was shown a medieval Play Acting RPG source. This medieval game is interesting, but it literally dies out. Some people cite the Bronte sisters and their make believe yet we do not have a Bronte game that people play.
My issue with every instance of RPG discovery is fairly simple. I treat RPGs like a living organism. I want to know how it evolves and gathers different variants and traits over time. What gets handed down to whom? What are the genetics of these games? I ask, how is this connected to the greater body of work, or, is a particular instance merely a dead end organism?
Well, I doubt you expected this kind of response. Sorry if it is a bit long. I may be citing some obscure items as well.
I suppose my point is, if you want to simulate what D&D was as an early design, there are a lot of options. And perhaps what is most important are the results you are looking for. Thus what rules you decide to use is really up to you, because in the early stages there are a lot of rules and even methods being attempted.
<End of rant on RPGs>
As I mentioned up top, we're struggling to get the word out about Secrets of Blackmoor. We can't do it without your help. If you've seen the film and value your viewing experience; please send this link to a friend, or post it to your social media feed.
If you have not seen the film, do yourself and us a favor and click the link.
Ok, get out there and Get Lost!
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Secrets of Blackmoor is a Feature-length documentary about the birth of the “Mother of all Games;” Dungeons & Dragons.