Friday, August 10, 2012

The Weird Enclave of Blackmoor

     One of my earliest impressions of the Holmes Basic Set, from before I even understood any of the rules, comes from the memorable Foreword by Gary Gygax, which was reprinted from the original Dungeons & Dragons set and begins:

      "ONCE UPON A TIME, long, long ago there was a little group known as the Castle and Crusade Society. Their fantasy rules were published, and to this writer's knowledge, brought about much of the current interest in fantasy wargaming. For a time the group grew and prospered, and Dave Arneson decided to begin a medieval fantasy campaign game for his active Twin Cities club. From the map of the "land" of the "Great Kingdom" and environs — the territory of C & C Society — Dave located a nice bog wherein to nest the weird enclave of "Blackmoor," a spot between the "Giant Kingdom" and the fearsome "Egg of Coot."

     Dr. Holmes, the editor of the Basic Set, was wise to include this section as it is a marvel of evocative campaign names: Castle & Crusade Society, Great Kingdom, Blackmoor, the Egg of Coot. It made me immediately want to learn more about these locations, see that map of the "land", and of course play a game where I could visit those places.

[Jan 2014 update: The Holmes manuscript doesn't include this Foreword, so its inclusion was most likely due to Gygax/TSR]

     Now, many years later, I can finally see the original Great Kingdom map, thanks to Playing at the World by Jon Peterson, a fantastic new book that traces the origins of D&D. This book includes a reprint of the original map, drawn by Gary Gygax and published in an article in Domesday Book #9 (late 1970 or early 1971):

Great Kingdom map by Gary Gygax, Domesday Book #9 (1970/1), reprinted in Playing at the World (2012).
     
     This map bears some striking similarities to the later World of Greyhawk map (1980), particularly the Sea of Dust in the lower left corner, surrounded by mountain ranges and the Dry Steppes directly to the north, and the centrally located Lake of Unknown Depths (Nir Dyv). Unfortunately, the map does not show the location of Greyhawk, Blackmoor or any of the names from the Foreword - these locations were added later by Gygax and Arneson. However, in First Fantasy Campaign (Judges Guild, 1977), Dave Arneson provides an hand-drawn map of Blackmoor that may provide some clues:

     
     In First Fantasy Campaign, Arneson writes, "In starting my campaign, I reserved a small area out of the center of the Great Kingdom map of the IFW's Castle & Crusade Society (a now extinct Medievals group" (pg 11). Assuming that his map of the enclave of Blackmoor is an inset near the center of the Great Kingdom map, we can fit the two together. If the "Great Ocean" of the Blackmoor map is the western edge of the "Great Bay" of the Great Kingdom map, the other details of the Blackmoor map could be placed as follows:

Annotated map showing speculative locations of Blackmoor and Greyhawk
     I've also tentatively placed Greyhawk in a position similar to that of the World of Greyhawk map: just south of a peninsula stretching into the Lake (see the picture below). This annotated map might work well for a OD&D campaign set in Greyhawk or Blackmoor. See this OD&D Discussion thread for more ideas for such a campaign.


     And finally here's some info on the original Greyhawk Campaign map from Gygax's letter A&E#15 (Oct 76). Note that the map referred to here is not necessarily the Great Kingdom one from 1970/71 printed above; Gygax may have made another version(s) before 1976.

"The game world is a parallel earth, but the continents are somewhat different. Most of our campaign activity takes place on what corresponds to North America, on the eastern half of the continent. The "Blackmoor" lands lie far up on the northeast coast. "Greyhawk" is in the central portion. There are a few other independently run campaigns located on this map. There are also some other dungeons related to the "Greyhawk" campaign located at some distance from the free city of Greyhawk. Players in our campaign may freely play in "Blackmoor", but to get there they must adventure cross country. With one or two other campaigns, we do not allow any cross-campaign play other than this, for these is too great a disparity of DMing. The territory within 500 or so miles of our main dungeon is mapped out at 5 miles to the hex. Territory within 50 miles of Greyhawk city is mapped more closely, and monster locations are indicated. The entire world is mapped out in rough form, with notes regarding typical encounters in given areas as well as particular special places, for hardy souls who wish to go forth to seek their fortunes."


See also the follow-up to this post: The Land of the Great Kingdom and Environs

13 comments:

  1. Fascinating stuff! And a great setting for a Holmes campaign - you've got northern barbarians to menace a locale for B1 north of Blackmoor, and the "Realm" of the Great Kingdom seems beset on all sides by the forces of chaos...just plant B2 somewhere to the east of Greyhawk.

    Lately, I've been musing on the use of North America as a basis for this primordial campaign setting, with Greyhawk roughly corresponding to Chicago, etc. Could not Portown be based on San Francisco, in Holmes' California? (The comment of the "sea cliffs west of town" always seemed to me a nod to the Sea Cliff neighborhood in San Francisco).

    That little bay in the northwest corner of the map would fit the bill for a spot for Portown - one can easily imagine pirates roving the Far Ocean/northern sea with caravan routes to the Dry Steppes and Blackmoor...

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    1. Works for me! I visited San Francisco once, and went to an area I believe is near Sea Cliff - the ruins of the Sutro Baths on the ocean.

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  2. Very interesting! Any idea what this may refer to: "There are a few other independently run campaigns located on this map."?

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    1. Not specifically, but this could refer to friends of Gary's who started their own campaigns with their own players. Like Len Lakofka's Lendore Isles campaign, but I'm not sure when that particular one started.

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  3. I wish Gary had kept Greyhawk as small area inside a larger undefined game world. As beautiful as it was, Darlene's Greyhawk map really did a major disservice to fledgling DMs such as myself. Instead of a map with 5 miles hexes with locations of monsters and strange locals, we get a huge continental map devoid of anything interesting. The closest thing to the city of Greyhawk itself is four hexes away. That's 120 mile radius of nothing surrounding what should be the most detailed part of the game world. From that point on, game settings have all been set in their own worlds complete with continents and vast oceans and little reason for PCs to bother going from one empty space to another. Nothing unknown, nothing to explore.

    I can only imagine what D&D would be like if Gary and Dave had kept their respective settings as part of the same great communal world of adventure.

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    1. That's a good point, I think I agree.

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  4. Great post Zenopus! This seems spot on. The Desert of Arneson's world corresponds well with the Dry Steppes. Comparing the C&C map to the Darlene Map, it seems like Blackmoor wasnt moved at all. Rather the continent was expanded westwards?

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  5. Nice job Zenopus. I think you got it right. The only hitch, and I puzzled over this before, is Gary's comment about Blackmoor being in the far "Northeast". I think he was simply mistaken, but he could have had that northeast peninsula in mind. Have to quibble with Havard a little in that I'd see the dry steppes as corresponding best with the Hak/lands of the Peshwah, which is admittedly adjacent to the valley of the Ancients desert.

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    1. Just re-reading this great post, and maybe Gary wasn't mistaken about Blackmoor being on the northeast coast. In an article on the origins of D&D on page 7 of The Dragon #7 (June, 1977), Gary states:

      "When the International Federation of Wargaming was at its peak, it contained many special interest groups. I founded one of these, the “Castle & Crusade Society”. All members of this sub-group were interested in things medieval and I began publishing a magazine for them entitled Domesday Book. In an early issue, I drew up a map of the “Great Kingdom”. Members of the society could then establish their holdings on the map, and we planned to sponsor campaign-type gaming at some point. Dave Arneson was a member of the C&C Society, and he established a barony, Blackmoor, to the northeast of the map, just above the Great Kingdom. He began a local medieval campaign for the Twin Cities gamers and used this area."

      Perhaps that little asterisk near the small lake at the confluence of those two big rivers represents the capital of The Great Kingdom, and Blackmoor was situated to the north, on the northeast coast of the continent? I'm sure that some Arneson fans will eventually pinpoint the exact location...

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    2. Interesting thoughts Paleo! I posted some more comments on this here.

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  6. You may be right about the Peshwah thing Dan (DHBoggs). I always found the Hak/Lands of Peshwah/Valley of the Ancients confusing because they were changed between the different Arneson maps. I used to think that they were one and the same in the earliest versions, but the C&C map shows that they were always two separate regions.

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  7. BTW, gave this article a nod at: http://blackmoormystara.blogspot.no/2012/08/arneson-turns-c-map-into-rpg-world.html

    -Havard

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  8. Just found this but this post is amazing!

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