The True History of Dungeons and Dragons

Secrets of Blackmoor Vol - I
Secrets of Blackmoor Vol I – The True History of Dungeons & Dragons – Kickstarter Special Edition

Secrets of Blackmoor
Volume -1 The Evolution of Fantasy Roleplaying

Showed up in my mailbox on Thursday, March 5th. Thank you Griff, Chris! Good to see this finally finished! The two disk DvD set contains Interviews with the first players and dungeon masters of Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor campaign and contains a highly accurate and detailed road map of the evolution of roleplaying from it’s humble beginnings in the modified wargames that were being played and run by David Wesely, and Ross Maker, and Company, out in Minneapolis during the late 1960’s. Most notable of these experimental games David Weselys’ Braunstein roleplaying wargames which featured politics, and players teams working interactively, and in real time, for and against each other.

Of particular interest to our viewers and RPG players alike is the role adopted by Dave Arneson as the first game referee of the Blackmoor Fantasy Campaign, and how, with Dave’s leadership and guidance Blackmoor changed from a modified wargame with fantasy elements and some politics into a fully interactive fantasy role-playing game where the players utilizing their characters, and working as teams, could freely define the goals, duration, and the victory conditions for the game as the game was being played.

To say that this new style of play that evolved was a game changer is an understatement, as an entirely new game evolved out of the amalgamation of rules and play practices that defined the original Blackmoor campaign. After members of the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association including Gary and Ernie Gygax and Rob And Terry Kuntz was invited to play in the Blackmoor Campaign in November of 1972 with Dave Arneson and David Megarry. That was the day that the idea of Dungeons and Dragons fantasy roleplaying game in the style some everyone is familiar with today was conceived by Gary Gygax. Working together Gary and Dave put together the original edition of Dungeons and Dragons RPG, which wasn’t  even called an RPG, which was published just slightly over a year later in early 1974 by a completely new game company that had been put together by Gary Gygax, Don Kaye, and the Blume brothers, TSR.

The original company, just like the Fellowship of the Ring was soon divided though, and before 1976 was finished Dave Arneson, David Megarry, and Terry and Rob Kuntz no longer worked at TSR, all four having tendered their resignation due to a disagreement that made itself apparent in the TSRs’ stockholder meeting held shortly after GenCon IX. That’s all just the history of early D&D though, and water under the bridge. It is the past, unmutable, unchangeable, and still a place that is a hotbed of chaos and dispute. Just as the ringbearer and company argued over the fate of the ring, so too, the founders of TSR argued over the direction and goals for the publication of subsequent printings and editions of Dungeons and Dragons.

The True Secret of Blackmoor though, and among the collection of ideas that is most important for all gamers to grasp, is that the original Dungeons and Dragons game as conceived by Dave Arneson and originally adopted by Gary Gygax was an open game system. The game itself was designed to be defined and refined by the Referees, Game Masters, and Players alike, while the game was in progress. The original game of both Blackmoor and Dungeons and Dragons was not highly standardized, featured an open rules structure that could easily be modified by any group, or individual, and allowed for a near infinite style  of organization, presentation, and play. One other important element of the early Blackmoor/D&D games was that there was no rule that all the players had to, or were guaranteed to know everything that was going on or happening in the game. For example, they only had a 1 in 6 chance of finding a secret, or a 2 in 6 chance if an elf was in the party for example. There were areas of play that were built-in by  both game masters and referees, that the players were never guaranteed to learn, discover, or reach. They might find the secret level or portal to another realm, but there was no guarantee that they would. Each group, each player, each character was supposed to have a unique path in the game, a unique role to play, as well as a unique experience during play. It was this that created much of the wonder, magic, and awe that new players experienced.  Newer games including the more modern editions of Dungeons and Dragons no longer have this, although almost universally players will find that the games they enjoy the most are the ones where the GM fully adopts this earlier open style of play.

I’m very thankful at last, that many of the original players, referees, and GameMasters that were in the original Blackmoor group based out of Minneapolis, as well as from Lake Geneva, had the opportunity to speak about the games they originally played and the parts they enjoyed the most. I’m really looking forward to the second episode of Secrets of Blackmoor, Volume 2 – Creating Dungeons & Dragons.

2 thoughts on “The True History of Dungeons and Dragons

  1. Another of the fathers of RPGs, who is almost totally forgotten, was Duane Jenkins. He was part of our “Twin Cities” group of wargamers, who played in my original Braunstein RPGs, and who introduced a “Wild West Braunstein” called “Brownstone, Texas” in late 1970. It made one of the fundamental elements of succeeding RPGs: While my Braunstein games would provide complex backstories and individual objectives for characters that could be run by the players (what we would now call “Player Characters”) or run by the referee (modern NPCs) the players did not create their own characters (though I would let them push their limits a long way. If a player decided to try to make his character, the Banker, run away with all the money in the Bank, instead of trying to protect it while finding a husband for his daughter, I would let him try…). But the players had canned roles for each game – and each time we played one of the Braunstein scenarios again, it had the same cast and started on the same day (think of the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day”). Mind you, I also provided more roles that there were players, so some became NPCs each time we played. Different people would play each role, and do what they could to outperform the player in the previous stagings. Thus, my Braunsteins were rather like interactive plays, Richard III starts the same every time it is played, but Ian McKellen plays him differently from Laurence Olivier, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Spacey or ‎Richard Dreyfuss, to name a few. What Duane introduced was the current standard approach, that time marches on from session to session, and – unless he gets killed off – a player keeps playing the same character in each session. Thus the first time the Mexican bandito El Pauncho (played by Dave Arneson) rode into town, no one paid him much mind. But after he blew up the bank while trying to rob it, and was chased out of town by the sheriff and a posse, he became rather well known! So the next time he and his men rode into town, he had a limp (from the dead-eyed school mar’ms Derringer), his picture was on wanted posters on every corner, the bank was just a hole in the ground, and everyone was reaching for their guns! These important modifications were then included in Blackmoor, which started in May 1971 (according to a notice in Dave Arneson’s club newsletter Corner of the Table announcing that he is starting a new “fantasy Braunstein set in the Black Moors”). In short, Duane deserves more credit than he usually gets.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really like how you said this:

    “The original game of both Blackmoor and Dungeons and Dragons was not highly standardized, featured an open rules structure that could easily be modified by any group, or individual, and allowed for a near infinite style of organization, presentation, and play.”

    I may have to steal the words right out of your mouth for the next film. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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