Thursday, April 16, 2009

Into the First Fantasy Campaign Part 1

History remembers Statesmen, Philosophers, Kings, and Conquerors. Dave Arneson was none of those. He merely figured out a cool way to have fun that wasn't seen before. Yet in the last quarter of the 20th century and continued into the 21st century his legacy has impacted millions and ignited fires of imagination that still burns today. And it started in a place that only existed in Dave's mind, a place called Blackmoor.

Thanks to the good graces of WoTC, the OGL and the d20 market Dave Arneson's Blackmoor has been republished for a new generation. There was an earlier version that player of Mentzer's D&D got to see. But the earliest published record was the First Fantasy Campaign by Judges Guild.

Sadly this work hasn't been released in PDF form. The most recent accounts say that while any rights that Judges Guild had was returned to Dave Arneson, he passed away before it could be properly revised for a release. I am lucky enough to possess a copy. And for those of you who don't have a copy let's take a trip inside.

The book itself is very sturdy for a softcover. It's cover made of parchment and the interior pages are of the heavy newsprint paper that most Judges Guild products. Despite 30 years of use my copy still together in one piece without anything falling out.

The table of contents is on the second page. Looking at you can see that we are going to be reading about a great deal many things. From the Great Invasion, the Egg of Coot, to info on True Trolls and Tarns. My printing has about 64 pages

Then comes a forward by Bod Bledsaw Sr and a Introduction by Dave Arneson. Written three years after the release of the original Boxed set the two show that there was interest in the origins of roleplaying games and D&D.

Dave explains how his campaign grew organically, first the Castle, then the town, and finally the surrounding countryside. Dave then explain how all of this got out of hand him coordinating six Dungeons and a 100 detailed player characters. Sounds like it had many of the element's of today's living campaign from the get go.

The next section is titled Blackmoor the Campaign. From page 4 to 11 in my printing (I think 2nd) are details on what is essentially a wargame/miniatures setup. It starts off with Dave apologizing for having lost the first two scenarios (I, II) and explaining that these are the notes for Scenario III which was a great war between the Good Guys (Law) and the Bad Guys (Chaos)

He then proceeds to give various prices lists, levy schedules, and example lists for the City of Maus, Duchy of Ten, and the Eggo of Coot. We learnd that Female (Red) cost 25 gp to 100gp, Female (White) 35 gp to 250 gp, and rare Female (Special) cost a princely 300 gp to 3500 gp. The poor guys are only worth 10 gp to 50 gp.

Pages 9 to 11 are useful because they list specifics on making internal improvements. What is a vague suggestion in Book III of OD&D is now expanded into specifics. Roads, Bridges, Canals, Inns, Hunting, Religion, Exploration, Ship Building, Farming, Fishing, Trapping, Arrival of New Persons, and even Tourism.

This is section looks a lot like the notes I later developed when I had a campaign phases involving a lot of armies moving around. I forgotten about this in FFC and later when I reread it I was struck at the similarity. If you going to do wargaming in a RPG there definitely some prep work that is the same regardless of time or system.

After this section comes the Campaign Map Notes. He explains that the original map of the Blackmoor Countryside was drawn from some old Dutch maps. (I would love to know which ones). Is probably explains why there are so many swamps as much of Holland is at or below sea level. Then he goes on to explain how he started using the Outdoor Survival Board.

"Later, the game moved south and the used the Outdoor Survival tm map for this phase of the campaign when exiles from Blackmoor set up shop after the bad scene at Lake Gloomy."
This statement is what started me on the path to the publication of Points of Light and the inspiration for the name and the them of Southlands in the first release.

Also it brings back memories of all the "Bad Scenes" my own player caused that required a change in locale.

Then we come across a hand sketch by Dave of countryside around Blackmoor. He also make a note that in redrawing this for the map in First Fantasy Campaign that he redrew it to line up with Wilderlands of High Fantasy. The southwest corner of Blackmoor lines up with the northern border of the Valley of the Ancients.

Note that the map used the Mentzer Basic release of Blackmoor is virtually identical to the map in First Fantasy Campaign. It has color and a few cosmetic changes. I would say you can get the PDF to see the full map but the recent move by Wizards has precluded that.

Tommorrow Part 2


James said...

Just stumbled into this entry from a link, and I saw your mention of Arneson's Dutch source maps. James Mishler posted about this last month, and included scans of source maps which, if they're not exactly the sources Arneson used, are at least geographically convincing. Enjoy!

Robert Conley said...

Thanks but I am step ahead on it.

See Introducing Blackmarsh on this blog