Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Great Kingdom (Domesday Book #9)

Since the first copies of my book have trickled out, I've noticed that the coverage of the Great Kingdom as described in Domesday Book #9 has garnered a lot of attention. Several early commentators have pointed out that the map prefigures the later development of Gygax's world of Oerth. Initially, we see little hint of that in the Domesday Book, however: this map was distributed as the basis of a wargame that Gygax hoped would involve the entire Castle & Crusade Society. While he only provided a sketch of the intended system, it is worth studying to see both what it includes and what it omits.

First of all, the planned game was a wargame, of a particular type called a multiple-commander play-by-mail wargame. All of the major "peers" of the Castle & Crusade Society, that is prominent members of the club, would be granted holdings, and each would serve as a commander of their own forces. The final sentence notes that the game should incorporate elements of both Avalon Hill board wargames as well as aspects of Diplomacy. The only hints we see about how the game would be conducted are mentions that the King can reach out via the Society Newsletter (the Domesday Book) or through personal correspondence.

The sketch we see here leaves us with as many questions as answers about the manner of play. We are shown a hierarchy of feudal leadership, ranging from a Great King through subordinate, weaker Kings down to various lesser nobility. Each holds a certain number of castles, and it seems that crusades are a major subject of the game. We can infer this from the presence of a Paynim Kingdom, where "paynim" is here a medieval word for pagan used throughout the literature of the crusades to refer to the Islamic antagonists of the West. We see that the Paynim forces have a far greater strength than other kings, which may be intended to establish them as a long-standing antagonist for the Great Kingdom.

What little of the system we see largely concerns the ability of Kings to demand military service from their nobles. We can only infer that the purpose of the assembling a large force would be to go to war against another kingdom, such as the Paynim, as a crusade. We see that Kings who make unwise decisions may face a rebellion, and that the system for resolving a rebellion requires the King to win a vote of confidence - in the event of a loss, however, the King is reduced in rank instantly to that of a gentleman, the lowest station in the Society. At the term of this writing, Rob Kuntz ranked as King, Gygax as Steward and Earl Palatine, and Dave Arneson as an Earl.

The map attached to this article does not in fact contain any designations that assign territory to particular peers, nor does it delineate any "nearby lands." We cannot infer the location of Blackmoor or Greyhawk, except by reference to later maps. Nor do we see anything here implying a fantastic dimension to the Great Kingdom. Interestingly, this issue contains the first notice of the publication of Chainmail in the Domesday Book, so certainly those fantasy elements had now become a matter of public record. But what we see here is mostly just a game of castles and crusades - approrpriate enough for the Castle & Crusade Society.


  1. Hi Jon---

    While the map may not be divided into territories controlled by the players, it does contain a few elements that carry forward into the original Greyhawk setting as well as the published version from the 1980 Folio:

    - Sea of Dust
    - Nir Dyv
    - Dry Steppes
    - Northern Barbarians (are the nearby hills to the west the "Snowy Hills"?)

    and the overall shape of the map area is strongly reminiscent of the NE of the Flanaess, including something that looks an awful lot like the Flanmi River basin (assuming you ignore that it's running into the Nyr Dyv, of course :) ).

    The anomaly of the "Western Ocean" to the eastern side of the map is interesting, too: do you have any further background on that, by chance?

    Thank you for sharing all of these pieces of lore and such: it's all very good stuff! :D


  2. PPS: Any ideas what that shape is in the mountains between the Dry Steppes and the Sea of Dust?---it's almost directly below the "EP" of Steppes.


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  4. Jon, I got your book a few days ago in the mail. I read a few scattered sections and then started with the Introduction, which I'm almost through. Wonderful writing.

    Here are my thoughts on the location of Blackmoor and Greyhawk on the original Great Kingdom map reprinted in your book:

    The Weird Enclave of Blackmoor

  5. Just catching up on this and loving it all! Your book is on its way across the Atlantic for me to read. :)

    Some older rumors suggested that the Duchy of Ten(h) originated in "a section 10" of the map. Have you found any such reference or other link to this Duchy, which appears in both Gygax' and Arneson's settings?

  6. Several Blackmoor place names are referenced in COTT in 1972 - the Vestfold, Branwold, etc., but off the top of my head I don't recall seeing the Duchy of Ten. I am however away from my stacks at the moment for GenCon, I'll take another look when I get back.

  7. Jon - question about the Map of the Great Kingdom (Figure 7 in Playing at the World). To the east of the Lake of the Unknown Depths there is a dot on the edge of what appears to be a lake. There's some kind of faint marking to the southeast of this that may be a word - is this clearer in the Domesday Book?

  8. Um, no, it doesn't seem to be a word, looking at it very up close. There's just a squiggling line and a dot there, though some of the type of the reverse page maybe bleeds through here and makes it look more interesting than it is.

    That dot on the edge of the lake is an asterisk, it is very deliberate.

  9. Thanks Jon. The asterisk is interesting. I wonder if it was intended to represent the seat of the Great King?