Art courtesy of Ken Fletcher (1976)
The following is a sample from an upcoming Blackmoor setting book that I am working on. All rights Griffith Morgan and The Fellowship of the Thing, LTD.
The Essential Blackmoor
Core Concepts for Play in Dave Arneson’s Living World
Griffith M. Morgan III
Forward to Blackmoor!
Blackmoor is obscured by the mists of time, and in its purest form, only ever existed when a group of gamers would gather in the Arneson family home, and later in Gail Gaylord’s dining room, in the early 1970’s. Yet, since the release of the feature documentary Secrets of Blackmoor, many are asking: What is Blackmoor? More importantly, they are asking: how can I play in this seminal world setting?
Blackmoor is the very first Fantasy Role Playing game setting. It originates in the Twin Cities of Minnesota where different kinds of play methods were being explored by a group of wargamers Dave Arneson referred to as, The Blackmoor Bunch.
It is difficult to pinpoint an exact date for when the Blackmoor campaign begins. Some would say as early as the fall of 1970, others would argue for March of 1971.
Led by Dave Arneson, their Campaign Referee, much of what we gamers call Role Playing today, evolved organically through the actions of players in the early Blackmoor game sessions. It is significant that everything the Blackmoor Bunch did, yes even those who played in these adventures, lent a hand in the invention of RPGs. Many of these players can claim the title to being the first to do something that has become common in the fantasy games we play today. Most notable being Pete Gaylord who asked if he could be a wizard. Arneson allowed and even encouraged these infusions of new ideas into his world setting. Thus Blackmoor is a quandary, in that it is highly collaborative and synergistic, unlike what one sees in the published versions of modern RPGs since D&D in 1974.
Because of the nature of how RPGs are played, as a performance art form that only exists in the moment, very little remains today that can fully reveal exactly what happened during those first few years of gaming and how to reproduce the entirety of what was being played at that time in Dave Arneson’s basement game room. It is doubtful anyone can reproduce a true Blackmoor Campaign, as it came out of Dave Arneson’s unique vision for how a game campaign should be conducted which goes far and beyond what any game referee is capable of creating today.
Certainly there is a great deal of lore about the world that has been revealed by Arneson’s players. Much of it is still preserved in the online forum, The Comeback Inn. Yet documented facts have a way of obscuring the essential truth to past events.
This is the core premise here: how can one re-capture the essence of Blackmoor?
Perhaps one needs to firmly understand that although Blackmoor originates as a role played historical war game campaign, almost immediately one see’s fantasy elements appear, The Red Wizard Coven, and even more surprisingly, a great deal of tongue in cheek humor, such as when a toll bridge gets embellished by Arneson and becomes a troll bridge.
Blackmoor is constantly evolving. Consider that within a few years of having started the campaign, Arneson is sharing Referee duties with several other Referees and there are easily over a hundred developed characters exploring Arneson’s creation.
Up until the publication of Dungeons & Dragons, and likely even afterward, the rules for Blackmoor are a moving target and are constantly changing. Arneson, and a select few referees, are home ruling based on what direction players are choosing to direct their activities. Rules are being quickly drafted and used, many of them are just as quickly discarded. Thus most of the rule concepts one finds in modern RPGs, that many would think are novelties, have already been explored within Blackmoor in its early stages, along with many more that most game world settings are not even capable or willing to attempt.
Dave Arneson’s genius is expansive and what one sees of his ideation when his vision is then merged with Gary Gygax’s in Dungeons & Dragons is merely a glimmer of what is Blackmoor.
The scope of Blackmoor as demonstrated by Arneson, cannot be presented within a small volume such as this, as Arneson conceived and implemented the only truly living fantasy campaign world setting in the history of tabletop games. What at first may seem simplistic and almost childish in this game setting, once comprehended and fully understood, reveals a highly sophisticated and expansive milieu, both within the game world and within the minds of Arneson and his Blackmoor Bunch.
Arneson’s Blackmoor is highly complex and exists on several modes of scale that are operating parallel to each other in time. These overlapping modes can be described like so - a referee’d game with: Strategic Role Play between lords of realms, Socio-Economic internal management of domains, Strategic land, naval, and air maneuvers, Tactical tabletop war games between armies navies and sometimes flying creatures, Individual exploration and Role Play with personal development, and skirmish level tactical man to man/man to monster conflict.
Ok, that seems overly complicated and I realize that after having spoken at such length about the scope and complexity of Blackmoor, you may be intimidated and even afraid to try your hand at creating a Blackmoor campaign of your own. Fear not, all of this complex ruling and background is not something anyone would expect you yourself to implement in your own Blackmoor campaign.
Yes, it is possible to snap off just one piece of Arneson’s creation, just as D&D did, and explore the most fascinating element of his creation, the make believe story telling aspect; what most people have dubbed Role Playing, and what I refer to as The Adventure Game.
All of this information is meant to guide you into creating your own Home Brewed setting based on Blackmoor and allow you to fully explore a variant of your own, because Blackmoor is at its best when a Referee takes Arneson’s unspoken yet fundamental philosophy for a Role Playing Campaign and then weaves their own story into what is already there. Most of all, Blackmoor is an easy setting to get one’s head around and you can easily bring this ‘First Fantasy Campaign’ to life in your own game room.
Please let me know if there is anything that is of interest to a new Blackmoor referee and I may even add it to my outline as something that needs to be discussed within the manuscript. I am always open to criticism and suggestions.
Oh oh, I nearly forgot this.
I love learning about gaming. You may want to check out this Blog post about different kinds of Experience Awards. I found it quite interesting:
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Secrets of Blackmoor is a Feature-length documentary about the birth of the “Mother of all Games;” Dungeons & Dragons.