Friday, August 3, 2012

Blackmoor Gazette and Rumormonger #1

The year before Domesday Book #13 ran part one of Dave Arneson's article "Points of Interest about Black Moor," Arneson circulated a one-page campaign newsletter called the Blackmoor Gazette and Rumormonger. Like "Points of Interest," the BMG&R does not tell us a great deal about the system of Blackmoor, but it does give significant insight into the setting and the state of the campaign at the time of its publication.

At this early date, the form "Black Moor" is more common than "Blackmoor," though the condensed form does appear in the title of the campaign newsletter. The BMG&R circulated under the imprint of the MMSA, whose address given here was Arneson's home at the time. The only internal dating evidence is the setting year 1071 AC, and references to events at All Hallow's Eve. Considering these in light of some external sources, it seems safe to accept 1071 as 1971, and that the events described probably correspond to the state of the campaign late in the fall of that year.

We see mentions here of several well-known early Blackmoor characters: the Wizard of the Wood (Pete Gaylord), John of Snyder (Snider), Baron (Dave) Fant and Baron (Duane) Jenkins. Baron Fant at the time clearly controls Black Moor Castle, whereas Baron Jenkins ordinarily controlled northern territories that served as a buffer between Blackmoor and the Egg of Coot. We can see some evidence of the wargame campaign component of Blackmoor, in that "several thousand enemy troops" have driven Jenkins south for the winter. Curiously, DB #13 will later demote Baron Jenkins to Sir Jenkins.

Economics play a large role in the events described. Inspector General John of Snyder comes to collect taxes. The Wizard pays restitution for damages caused by his dragon's mischievous offspring. Gypsy fortune telling will be familiar to readers of the First Fantasy Campaign, though it sounds from the description as if "private performances by individual female members of the troop" were equally popular - both surely involved money changing hands. Baron Jenkins has "all but ruined the tavern," and that too sounds like an expensive error on his part. It is furthermore clear from these sorts of developments that Blackmoor was far more open-ended than a mere wargame, and that a significant amount of role-playing antics factored into the campaign.

Finally, there are a number of references to fantastic elements of the setting: most notably dragons "of various sizes, shapes and colors," but also a more oblique reference to "evil creatures overrunning the region." Curiously, however, we see no reference to dungeons. This is especially noteworthy as the next issue of the BMG&R (which seems to date from the following year) talks about little other than dungeons. We might recklessly infer from the final news bulletin here, regarding the earthquake that rendered Black Moor Castle "some dozens of feet lower," that interesting things were already underfoot - however, it is unlikely that dungeon adventures played a significant role in the campaign at this time.


  1. For Pity's sake Jon, why don't I know who you are? Congratulations on the book! Your blog posts indicate careful scholarship,so I'm looking forward to seeing what you've come up with. I'm not able to offer much commentary at the moment, because i'm about to leave for an overnight camp. More to come.

  2. Thanks much for posting this and the work you are doing to shed light on the origins of the hobby!

    Alrighty, my initial concern, as with any ethnohistoric text, but especially with the BG&R being very rare, almost unheard of documents, is with establishing provenance. I imagine you've done that in the book, though, and what you've shown of it seems quite genuine to me. It certainly sounds like the real deal, and I'm 100% onboard with the 1971 date.

    Which means the Blackmoor timelines ought to be revised by 100 years (971=1071), but that would confuse the hell out of everything, no doubt.

    Though largely repeating the info found in the FFC, there's a few bits that caught my eye:

    Dragon's don't breed true, producing various color offspring instead of only their own kind. That's an early echo of the AiF dragon.

    "Inspector General" Snider has tax authority over the baron of Blackmoor. Meaning he is the Kings man (king of Vestfold or King of the Great Kingdom - I'd guess the latter).

    Jenkins marries Fants sister, not cousin as reported in the FFC, Facts about Blackmoor section.

    Would love to see the next page to see what else there may be.

    I actually don't find it curious that no dungeons are mentioned; the opposite really. I've been pointing out for some time now that Blackmoor (and all of Arneson's gaming) was more above ground focused, especially compared to greyhawk and the direction TSR went with published adventures. You see that in the FFC of course, not to mention the original player accounts that more often than not involve some overland journey or enterprise. It was Arneson, after all who invented all those wilderness encounter tables etc.

  3. Glad you find the document interesting, Dan. The absence of dungeoneering at this stage of the campaign is curious as many authorities argue that underworld adventures had begun at a far earlier date. This document is one of several data points that makes me think otherwise, so it sounds like we're on the same page.

    Regarding the provenance, one of the reasons why I took on this book project was because, as a collector, I have access to some obscure resources that haven't gotten a lot of prior attention. If you glance through the book, you will for example find a reproduction of a pre-D&D Blackmoor character sheet, with the original names of the abilities and so on. I also have some circa-1974 letters from Arneson, including material that sheds light on which ideas from the Blackmoor system Gygax rejected. Having the big picture from Corner of the Table really helps as well. In short, there are a lot of resources that the community has lacked to date. Expect that as people start assimilating what's in the book our picture of early Blackmoor will probably shift a bit.

    1. It would be neat to see a readable copy of thatsheet. I have the e-book and you can't actually read it.

  4. In discussions I had with Dave Arneson, he chanced across his back issues of COTT, with the date of May 22, 1971 as the announced date for "a new game called Black-Moor" (IIRC). But he did not recall what exactly transpired that day, save that it was the first day of what would become Blackmoor and D&D.

  5. Corner of the Table actually lists April 17, 1971, as the first instance of "a medieval 'Braunstein'" which "will feature mythical creatures and a Poker game under the Troll's bridge." It does take until May that we hear about "the start of the 'Black Moors' battle reports" that will describe those adventures. The early sessions at this stage were wargames, featuring events like the Coot invasions. Unsurprisingly, I cover this in my book, in Section 1.10.

  6. > The year before Domesday Book #13 ran part one of Dave Arneson's article "Points of Interest about Black Moor," Arneson circulated a one-page campaign newsletter...

    Do you know that for a fact, or is that just a rumor?

    1. I think "rumor" doesn't capture the situation, but there is always a certain amount of inference required when dealing with these ephemera and periodicals. The BMG&Rs do have some internal and external dating evidence; the "1071" date mentioned above is an internal example. From external dating, these definitely circulated at least some months before DB #13, and while the evidence I've seen doesn't point to any exact date, quite late in 1971 is the most consistent with what we know today. I don't say this on basis of gossip, though.