FANTASY NUTS UNITE! [Someone] is producing a multi-player Fantasy game... It will include giants, wizards, Heroes and Rulers as some of the cast of Characters. The rules of the game are but a guide to the use of your own imagination in play. Many unique concepts are outlined.
This blurb appeared in 1972, about a month before the first notice of Arneson's Blackmoor campaign in the Domesday Book; just a rumor spreading through science-fiction and wargaming zines. Of course we all know what game that was about - or do we? As Dungeons & Dragons developed over the next year and a half, another fantasy campaign game that let players adventure as magicians and warriors in an imaginary world developed in parallel. It was one of the Midgard games, which briefly lived in the shadow of their more famous cousin. The particular game that inspired the blurb was "Midgard II," which took place on the map shown above.
Playing at the World explains how the original German game of Armageddon (dating from 1967) inspired U.K. resident Hartley Patterson to create the first English-language "Midgard" sword-and-sorcery play-by-mail game. When the game had difficulty getting off the ground, one of the players asked for permission to run another version in the United States: that was Thomas Drake, who then began "Midgard II." He distributed the first advertisements for the game through science-fiction fandom zines, including the following two-page advertisement that ran in the CULT (dating from August 1972):
This circular amply demonstrates why "Midgard II" is of such profound interest to scholars of Dungeons & Dragons. It is a limited information game, where players remain ignorant of the setting at the start of the game, and learn by exploring or purchasing maps. The object of the game is to acquire treasure, magical weapons, spells, and so on, while conflicting with other players and "magical creatures of all sorts." But most striking of all is Drake's insistence that "one of the basic rules of this game is to innovate," to treat the rules as only guidelines. In his capacity as referee, Drake encourages players to "suggest" anything they might want to do, and "if it doesn't violate the basic tenets of the game," then he will make a system ruling for it. The game is moreover endless: there are no victory conditions, you just keep adventuring until you retire or die.
Unfortunately, "Midgard II" comprised a very small base of players and referees, so only a minuscule set of persons ever saw the complete system. The rules were also in a constant state of flux: each issue of the Midgard Journal, the campaign newsletter of the game, modified the rules, and even shipped with a voting card so players could register their opinion on proposed changes. These cards might prove difficult to decipher today:
To vote on these proposals, you needed access to the letter-coded sections of the "Midgard II" rules. Rule M1.4 fell under the naval rules, for example. The sections were as follows:
- Basic (B): Terrain features, time scale, movement, sighting. Also includes information on religion, languages, the world calendar, and in post-D&D rules, character attributes (Strength, Agility, Battle Rating, Leadership Rating, and Intelligence).
- Expedition (E): Movement into non-friendly territories. Supply, morale, etc.
- Fortifications & Siege (F&S): Building and destroying castles, mines, etc.
- Maritime (M): Ship building, statistics, movement, wind and weather at sea.
There were then rules for each of the character classes:
- Rulers (R): Rulers control countries and have cities, fortifications and armies at their disposal. Population rules, taxation, circumstances leading to revolt, slavery, spies, succession, and court wizards.
- Armies (A): Rulers command armies. Composition and movement of forces, classes of morale, organization, circumstantial modifiers, and leadership.
- Heroes (H): Heroes wield weapons. Rules of weapon use, armor types, personal combat with other heroes, combat with groups of ordinary soldiers, acquiring armies, raiding and looting, healing wounds.
- Wizards (W): Wizard power ratings, wizards vs. wizard, wizards vs. supernatural beings, wizards vs. non-wizards, elemental summoning, demons, contracting with rulers, developing spells.
- Spells (LM/MM/GM): Wizards cast spells. Spells are divided into three categories: Lesser Magic, Major Magic, and Grand Magic. Spells are in turn divided into Offensive (O), Defensive (D) or Miscellaneous (M). So spells are desginated by a three-letter acronym and a number: like LMD1, the "Spell of Dodging," or MMM19, the "Zone of Darkness."
- Labyrinths (L): 28 pages of rules describing various types of monsters and treasure, all cast in the "Midgard II" system, though many clearly derive from Dungeons & Dragons.