Blackmoor

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Make sure your rose-tinted glasses are on nice and tight, and prepare for a lovely walk down nostalgia lane.

Before Greyhawk, there was Blackmoor.

Blackmoor was created by Dave Arneson in 1970 as a setting for a fantasy Braunstein campaign amongst his local wargaming club, the Castles & Crusades society along with Gary Gygax and other legends. Arneson used the Blackmoor campaign as a testbed for his new dungeon-crawling mechanics, paving the way for Dungeons & Dragons, which Arneson co-wrote with Gygax. Although this dungeon wouldn't see publication until 1980 and not real publication until the mid 2000s, one tangential adventure was published in full - the first ever published in fact: "Temple of the Frog".

Meanwhile Gygax half-heartedly put Blackmoor in Greyhawk's WG1-2 box set in 1983, complete with the City Of The Gods. It was out-of-the-way for the rest of what was going on in that setting. This instance is considered Not-Blackmoor in both Greyhawk and Blackmoor fandoms, especially since the DA series came out.

The Original Setting[edit]

Arneson went to Judges Guild to publish the Blackmoor notes he had. Editing was near-nonexistent but we did get a map, and a summary of some of the major factions:

  • the Land of Coot, a round peninsula connected to the north via a causeway or isthmus, full of monsters led by the Egg of Coot, whatever that is. [An anon with an IP address here asspulls "an eldritch horror that once was humanoid but has warped over time into a gray fleshy oval covered in mouths and eyes" which we didn't read up to DA4] (Ironically, Lovecraft fans saved the info on their own wiki https://lovecraft.fandom.com/wiki/Egg_of_Coot )
  • King Funk, leader of the orcs, chosen by the Egg of Coot to lead them in assaults against the southern folks. Ruler of a massive underground dungeon system.
  • the Duchy of Ten, sometimes antagonists sometimes trading partners
  • vikings, from further north of the Egg
  • various baronies: Maus, Vestfold, Glendower
  • the horsemen of Peshwah
  • a Great Kingdom, presumably the liege lord of all this; taken from the Castle & Crusade Society

Arneson's gamers played out several invasions and wars. In the 3rd Coot invasion Blackmoor proper started out neutral and Maus sided with the Egg... until the baddies attacked Blackmoor, being stupid.

The JG version was mixed in with Chainmail references down to the last balrog. One can also see here how much Greyhawk took from the same C&C source: not just the Great Kingdom, but also Ten(h) and Blackmoor itself.

One notable landmark in Blackmoor City is the Comeback Inn. If you haven't paid your tab and you try to leave, you get switched around to come... BACK. Dohohoho! Only an employee of the Inn can pull you out again. Keep an eye on that'un.

The DA Series[edit]

Years later when BECMI D&D was being published, Blackmoor popped up again and was integrated by TSR into its default setting "Mystara" as an antediluvian or precursor civilization. Three modules were writen by David J. Ritchie and Dave Arneson:

Then they parted ways and Ritchie hustled this one out, against Arneson's will:

Also in this period Arneson published, "The Garbage Pits of Despair", a Blackmoor adventure found in Different Worlds magazine.

The DA series sold well, despite the flaws of its components. Ritchie was about to do a DA5, for Blackmoor Castle proper. Also planned, or perhaps coterminous with that, was a present-day Mystara boxed set that would have incorporated Blackmoor - as had DA1. But Lorraine, in her infinite wisdom, decided to axe Blackmoor and Mystara both. While Bruce Heard has told everyone to move on, he is supposedly still upset over this.

As to the character of the DA adventures, this was more Ritchie's input than Arneson's - much as From The Ashes was Sargent's, not Gygax's. The time travel aspect was entirely inserted by TSR.

In the Ritchie vision, The Great Kingdom is here identified with the Master Set nation Thonia, but far in the past. Here the Kingdom / Thonia aren't the good guys; they're another Rome knockoff, like the collapsing Great Kingdom in the Flanaess.

Most of all - this is clearest in DA4, which is entirely Ritchie - something's happened to the west of the map. A new nation, the Afridhi, have overrun the Peshwah and annexed the Ten. Squeezed from the west, Blackmoor leads the surrounding baronies to secede from Thonia to the southeast. That is the war in the DA series' past; not the war which Arneson's group played out. The Afridhi serve a paraZoroastrian creature from the Sphere of Energy, Zugzul, who has a thing for fire.

(As for what's up with all the Iranian references, Ritchie had a throbbing hard-on for Northwest Frontier / Flashman stories. It shows.)

As matters stand at the start of DA1, one Taha Marcovic has rallied the northern marches of the Empire, like Bel Riose in Foundation. Taha proposes to restore Blackmoor to the Empire. Blackmoor wouldn't normally mind, since Taha is more competent BY FAR than the losers whom Thonia has posted up here in the past. But - reasonably - the northerners suspect that Taha doesn't want the place for its own sake; he wants to drain it of its wealth and soldiery for a new adventure: taking the Imperial Purple. That would leave Blackmoor wide open to the Afridhi, or the Vikings - "Skandaharians".

One obsessive compiled a "Blackmoor Gazetteer" over the 1990s to attempt a harmony between all this material. It was no such thing, more of a collection of documents... in the full spirit of Judges Guild's efforts before him. Whether you call it "canon", is up to the reader - after all, to what extent is even DA4 canon?

The Zeitgeist Era[edit]

While teaching at Full Sail University, Arneson partnered with fellow college lecturer Dustin Clingman and together they acquired the license to publish Blackmoor material from Wizards of the Coast. In 2004 they formed Zeitgeist Games and started publishing MMRPG adventures and a bunch of Blackmoor books for 3.5e and one for 4e.

Shortly before Arneson passed away, the license expired and, as with other such arrangements in the 4e era, WotC declined to renew. New Blackmoor content ceased. Proposed supplements like "Age of the Wolf" became nothing more than myth and vaporware. The legal status of the setting is said to be a jumbled mess, furthering the setting's fate in limbo. It is likely that ownership has reverted back to Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast, but few people seem to be talking. For the time being, any and all support has been left up to the fans. This has lead to all sorts of fan creations, like filling in the timeline blanks, creating new enemies for Blackmoor and even bringing it back to Mystara through several improbable incarnations (including one where it's evil for some reason). Many of these can be found on the Vaults of Pandius.

For information on the setting itself, it's suggested that you go to the Mystara fansite's section on Blackmoor.

Gallery[edit]

Dungeons & Dragons Campaign Settings
Basic D&D: Mystara (Blackmoor) - Pelinore
AD&D: Birthright - Council of Wyrms - Dark Sun - Dragonlance
Forgotten Realms (Al-Qadim - The Horde - Icewind Dale
Kara-Tur - Malatra - Maztica) - Greyhawk - Jakandor
Mystara (Hollow World - Red Steel - Savage Coast)
Planescape - Ravenloft (Masque of the Red Death)
Spelljammer
3rd/3.5 Edition: Blackmoor - Dragonlance - Eberron - Forgotten Realms
Ghostwalk - Greyhawk (Sundered Empire)
Ravenloft (Masque of the Red Death) - Rokugan
4th Edition: Blackmoor - Dark Sun - Eberron
Forgotten Realms - Nentir Vale
5th Edition: Eberron - Exandria - Forgotten Realms
Greyhawk - Ravenloft - Ravnica - Theros - Strixhaven