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Dave Arneson
D&D Alumni
Bart Carroll & Steve Winter

Dave Arneson . . . Is there really such a creature? Yes, Gentle Readers, there is, and shudder when the name is spoken. Although he is a man of many talents who has authored many historic rules sets and games…Dave is also the innovator of the "dungeon adventure" concept, creator of ghastly monsters, and inscrutable dungeonmaster par excellence. He devises complex combat systems, inexplicable dungeon and wilderness areas, and traps of the most subtle fiendishness.

E. Gary Gygax
D&D Supplement II: Blackmoor

We here at Wizards of the Coast were extremely saddened to learn of Dave Arneson's passing. As co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, Dave affected all of our lives, and this month we wanted to make the small gesture of looking back on some of his contributions to the game we care so much about.


Welcome to Blackmoor

In 1975, TSR published Dave Arneson's Blackmoor. As stated in the supplement's forward by Gary Gygax:

Caution! This is the second supplement to the highly addictive game DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. Handle it at your own risk. Even a brief perusal can infect the reader with the desire to do heroic deeds, cast mighty magical spells, and seek to wrest treasure from hideous monsters.

Herein you will get a taste of these, but he never reveals all. This writer always looks forward with great anticipation to an adventure in the "BLACKMOOR" campaign, for despite the fact that I co-authored the original work with Dave, and have spent hundreds of hours creating and playing DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, it is always a fresh challenge to enter his "world". I can not recommend him more highly than simply saying that I would rather play in his campaign than any other - that other dungeonmasters who emulate Dave Arneson will indeed improve their games. While eagerly anticipating yet more material from dread "Blackmoor Castle", the following pages should satisfy your immediate craving for new ideas.

While the name "Blackmoor" referred variously to both Dave's personal campaign setting and his variant rules for the game, the supplement itself largely presented a wild miscellany of new options for the game.

These included a hit location system for combat (differentiating a creature's possible locations depending on whether it were humanoid, avian, insectoid, reptile, fish or snake). Depleting an opponent's hit points in their arms or legs effectively crippled them, while destruction of the head or chest resulted in a fatal wound. Further options factored in the attacker's vs. defender's heights (and weapon lengths) to better determine hit location (a 6 ft. tall defender, for example, had no chance to hit a 20 ft. tall giant anywhere except in the arms and legs).

For DMs looking to use aquatic environs, Blackmoor detailed underwater adventures with information on swimming, terrain, and creatures—many of which would later appear in the 1E Monster Manual, such as the sahuagin, whose legend stated:

The exact origin of the sahuagin is unknown. It is suggested that they were created from a nation of particularly evil humans by the most powerful of lawful evil gods in order to preserve them when the deluge came upon the earth. The tritons, however, are purported to have stated that sahuagin are distantly related to the sea elves, claiming that the drow spawned the sahuagin.

Yet in Blackmoor, a fuller account was provided of these "devil men of the deep":

In the eons past there was a great flooding of the land (although history does not agree when this occurred and it may have happened twice) when the ice caps were melted during a great struggle of the gods to control the planet. When the water rose some of these gods took care that representative portions of all life were preserved and returned when the waters fell and the land became fruitful again. Others sought to change the nature of life so it could adapt to the new face of the world and at the same time preserve its intelligence. On the one hand it is said that the sea elves and the mermen were created by the Great Gods of Neutrality and Law while the Gods of Chaos bent their will to create the Sahuagin. In every aspect the Evil ones sought to make the Sahuagin into the most evil of the evil and many agree that they succeeded in making a race that fit that bill. Many individual horrors both on the land and sea may be in themselves worse than the Sahuagin but no where will there be found a comparable race that as a whole retains the worst possible qualities.

Much about the Sahuagin is probably myth but even if half of what is said about them is true then they are, indeed, a terrible threat.

Other details included extensive descriptions and fatality chances of diseases, as well as the chance a hired sage might be able to answer a question—and the curses such sages could employ against anyone daring attack them: "The power of the curse depends upon the knowledgability of the Sage. A very low-level one might curse a person so that all of his teeth fall out, while a very high-level one could curse you so as to never be able to make a saving throw again!"

The Monk and the Assassin

Not the name for the best odd partner movie ever, these two classes were also introduced in Blackmoor:

  • Monks (Order of Monastic Martial Arts), a sub-class of Clerics which also combined the general attributes of Thief and Fighting Man.
  • Assassins, a sub-class of Thieves.

"Under special circumstances and in large campaigns it is possible to allow the character of the assassin." When it came to introducing this killer class, Blackmoor's description proved quite lethal—yet this original version required assassins to be human in race and oddly neutral in alignment. Otherwise, these assassins boasted the same deadly skills as the 1E Player's Handbook version, able to don disguises (generally 95% foolproof, or 90% if posing as the opposite sex), use poison, learn new languages—and, of course, in their mercenary collection of fees.

"Members of the Order seek both physical and mental superiority in a religious atmosphere." Blackmoor's monks also resembled the version appearing in the Player's Handbook, boasting a formidably array of powers, including that of speaking with animals and plants, advanced mental acuity and physical well-being, and of course deadly skills in combat. Despite wearing no armor, monks naturally improved their armor class. They could parry projectiles, even (originally) magic missiles. They dealt additional damage when using weapons, but were even more powerful with their open hands; if they hit an opponent at +5 on the die over the minimum required, they had a chance to stun (75% for 3-12 turns) or outright kill (25%) an opponent. Add in the monk's Quivering Palm—able to kill an opponent of equal hit dice 1/week—and it's little wonder monks were later described as "the most unusual of all characters, the hardest to qualify for, and perhaps, the most deadly."

Temple of the Frog

"BLACKMOOR" also contains some interesting and amusing information regarding the actual campaign of that name. It is the oldest and longest running DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game, and readers should find such material quite helpful in assuring the longevity of their own campaigns.

That said, the supplement did not flesh out the setting beyond its included adventure, "Temple of the Frog":

Deep in the primaeval swamps of Lake Gloomey, shrouded in perpetual mist, lies the city of The Brothers of the Swamp. For years past this “religious” order has delved into the forbidden areas of study and determined that animals have more potential to populate the world than man, who was, after all, a biological abomination which would ultimately threaten the existence of all life. Therefore the good Brothers began developing a strain of amphibian that would combine the worst ferocity and killer instincts of larger mammals with the ability to move through swamps with great swiftness to strike and avoid retaliation.

There came one day, to the town, a strange individual called only Stephen the Rock, who came with three followers. Stephen possessed some very unusual powers and was looking for a place to establish himself. Quickly he became a part of the Temple and was appointed to the council upon the assurance that he and his followers would revive the purpose of the Temple and bring about the completion of its mission within the near future.

Those progressing through the temple could run into enemies ranging from more than 150 soldiers with 1-6 hps, to ghouls and giant lizards, to medusas (who were inclined to ally with PCs who promised to set them free), to 1,000 or more giant frogs swimming through massive breeding ponds. There were also priests linked by their magical rings of animal and giant frog control—and ultimately the temple usurper, high priest St. Stephen (a 9th-level magic-user) backed up by six 5th-level thaumaturges. The truth behind St. Stephen added in a sci-fi element more commonly recognized from Expedition to the Barrier Peaks:

This fellow is not from the world of Blackmoor at all, but rather he is an intelligent humanoid from another world/dimension.

Should anyone survive their exploration of the temple, they'd find powerful riches (including a rod of lordly might, ring of three wishes, and crystal ball), as well as several of St. Stephen's more technological items brought with him; if adventurers ever lusted after the power armor in the Barrier Peaks, St. Stephen possessed an even greater suit:

Battle Armour: An ordinary appearing suit of mail endows the wearer with +3 on defense and saving throws. It enables the wearer also to move at 12” per turn and there is no fatigue factor. Also, upon donning this armor the wearer receives an 18 (00) strength and an 18 dexterity. It provides complete protection against all energy type weapons including fireballs, lightning, cold, etc., and against charming, hypnosis, draining life levels, and any spells which act upon the wearer physically (polymorph, decay, etc.). This armor puts the bearer in instant communication with all of the other ring wearers. It also allows the user to fly and to walk underneath water.

In later years, Blackmoor would return to D&D as a portion of the Known World setting that achieved notoriety in the distant past but was now remembered only in legend. To reach Blackmoor, characters had to travel through time -- something that wasn't out of the question in the D&D Basic/Expert/Companion rules. Much more of the actual Blackmoor campaign setting would be revealed in the DA series of adventures: DA1: Adventures in Blackmoor, DA2: Temple of the Frog (expanded upon from the supplement), and DA3: City of the Gods. Those who managed the journey could once again tackle the deadly, time-bending, and rewarding Temple of the Frog. From DA2, we end this simple description of Blackmoor—but as a short testament to the importance of the setting and Dave Arneson's foundational work with Dungeons & Dragons:

Blackmoor was the first campaign setting ever created for use in a fantasy role-playing game.


About the Authors

Bart Carroll inhabits only dark subterranean places. He roams such places in search of his food -- metals of all sorts, but principally ferrous based metals such as iron, steel, and steel alloys. If the author touches the metal with his two antennae, it rusts or corrodes the metal. Metal affected rusts or corrodes and immediately falls to pieces (which are easily eaten and digested by the author). Weapons striking the author are affected just as if the author’s antennae had touched them. Bart can smell metal at 9" distance. He will stop for a melee round to devour such items as a handful of iron spikes or a mace if a fleeing editor throws them away, but he will go after ferrous metal in preference to copper, silver, etc.

Steve Winter is a writer, game designer, and web producer living in the Seattle area. He's been involved with publishing D&D in one form or another since 1981. Tiny people and monsters made of plastic and lead are among his favorite obsessions.