Hey gamers! I am sitting here in my “Free Angela!” T-Shirt, listening to “All Things Must Pass”. It’s 1971, and boy is it a rough year. USA and USSR agree not to detonate nukes on the ocean floor (your house is still a valid target); Lt. Calley is sentenced to spend the rest of his life in jail (he doesn’t); Manson is sentenced to die (he still hasn’t); Allman, Morrison and Armstrong die. We get ELO but Kid Rock is born. Not much good here except Pam Grier is still making prison movies, unless you have access to Dave Arneson’s basement that is!
If you did have access to Arneson’s basement you would be one of the first people exploring Blackmoor, in fact you would be one of the first people playing the game that would become Dungeons and Dragons. If you did not have a key to Dave’s basement you can still get a taste of what that gaming was like.
D.H. Boggs has written “Dragons at Dawn”, an attempt to make a game as close to what Dave was running in the early ’70s as possible. The 59 page book is actually two games in one; there is a basic game that simulates the ’71 game and an advanced game that is me like Dave’s game in ’72-’73.
Both are less like OD&D than you might think. Dragons at Dawn is a dangerous game, you will want to think about entering combat twice. Magic is risky, and seems to be rarer than the D&D norm. The basic game has only two classes to choose from, Warrior and Wizard. The advanced game expands this with Elf Mage, Merchant, Priest/Monk, Sage and Thief Assassin. The advanced game also adds the races of Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling. Both games are simple and easy to understand.
So, what kinds of things you consider if you want to run a game in the style of the games Dragons at Dawn is based on? A quick look though the rules gives us some hints. There are not a lot of rules for doing things other than fighting. Boggs even points out that Dave was fond of setting up percentile rolls to accomplish actions. This means that as the GM you should be willing to make some fast and loose approximations and just go for it with the d100. You’ll have to think on your feet. Like OD&D most experience is given for hauling loot out of the dungeon, this means that getting away with the gold should be the focus of the game, not just killing stuff. Wizards level by making spells, this adds a twist to their goals.
The game includes rules for competitive play, this is rarely seen now. We know from stories that Dave often had players playing characters that were at odds with each other. We also know that players often played more than one character and would switch them out from time to time. The game includes rules for henchmen, so hireling management should be part of the adventure.
There are no long lists of magic items in the rules, and many of the ones listed seem powerful. Magic might be rarer but have a big effect on the game when it is gained. The inclusion of classes like the Merchant indicates that there were dimensions to the game other than just dungeon delving. It hints at the kind of end game that would be found in OD&D as well. After a while characters become powerful enough to run large businesses, guilds, and cities.
There are larger scale combat rules included and this also fits in with what we know about Dave’s games. Blackmoor was played out on the scale of armies too.
There is no definitive map of Castle Blackmoor available to replicate that part of the game. There are maps, drawn by Dave himself, in The First Fantasy Campaign. The book is interesting, but a bit on the opaque side. The are other versions of the castle and the campaign world floating around out there for various versions of D&D.
If you are interested in Dragons at Dawn, you can get it at Lulu.
Well, that is all for this week. I have a big weekend ahead me. I will be running two Basic Dungeons and Dragons (Labyrinth Lord) games at DexCon in NJ on Saturday, then I’ll be running my ongoing 1st Edition AD&D game on Sunday.