|Branzoll Castle in N. Italy; the 'real life' Castle Blackmoor|
Way back in the 1970s, before Gary Gygax had written down the rules to what later became Dungeons & Dragons, there were, as I understand it, a bunch of guys in the Twin Cities who were friends with Dave Arneson and who played war games together. I think they used to gather regularly in the Arneson family basement and used little lead soldiers or model ships to re-fight various historical battles.Apparently, Arneson was a bit burned out on the whole Napoleonics/historical battles thing. He wrote that he spent a few days reading Conan novels, eating popcorn and watching monster movies and came up with the idea of a fantasy campaign with wizards, fighters, etc., where everyone controlled just one guy rather than an army. This was apparently inspired by David Wesley’s famous ‘Braunstein’ game. I think they used Gygax & Keogh’s “Chainmail” rules as the basics and expanded from there.
Arneson told his players to pretend that they were all castle guards who had been ‘volunteered’ by their ruler to go into the dungeons of the castle and find a renegade wizard. Unfortunately for them, the dungeons were vast and unexplored, so they had to go carefully, with torches out and sword drawn, exploring as they went. Arneson had various inventive methods of resolving different issues. At one point, when wind blew out the guard’s torches while an enemy attacked from the cover of darkness, Arneson switched off the lights, told the players they were under attack and they should try to get into the position they wanted their character to be in and then switched back on the light to see who was standing where after they had all gotten done stumbling over one another in the dark. By the end of the night the wizard and his pet demon had killed off most of the players with only one survivor who returned to sell the magic sword he had found to the king for the fabulous sum of 100 gold coins. Arneson’s experiment was a success and the players clamored for more.
Assuming what I read in things like ‘The First Fantasy Campaign’ (Judges Guild) is accurate, Arneson developed more and more of the rules as he went along. One player, inspired by the Dark Shadows TV show, wanted to play a vampire, so Arneson made up rules for vampires. Other players wanted to beat dragons into submission and force them to serve them; again, Arneson (or his fellow players) invented rules. As they invented the rules, they wrote them down. Arneson claims that this eventually became the skeleton that was fleshed out to become Dungeons & Dragons; Gygax tells a different story. Because of a court case and settlement, we may never know the truth (and I question if it matters).
|One of Arneson's original maps from the First Fantasy Campaign book.|
None of what I am writing here is ‘news.’ People with even a passing familiarity with role playing games will know all this as a matter of course (and will probably be able to offer a lot of details and corrections). But I find the concept of the original Blackmoor game fascinating, especially since it involves players engaging in both the one player = one player character style of dungeon and wilderness exploration AND the larger scale campaign/resource management game; a duality of scale concept that I find fascinating.
Major David Weasley (on Braunstein): “The key thing was letting them (the players) do whatever they wanted to do and not worry about who won or lost the game.
I've wondered if this "Strangler of Castle Blackmoor" movie has anything to do with inspiration for Arneson's original Castle Blackmoor game.