Friday, July 10, 2020

Recaps & Roundups 69: JG37 The First Fantasy Campaign part 1

Released around September if 1977, First Fantasy Campaign was a separate product from Judges Guild's usual bi-monthly subscription service.  It's written by Dave Arneson, and details the development and play of his Blackmoor campaign, literally the "first fantasy campaign of the title.  Since the booklet is 63 pages of very small type, I'll probably tackle this one in multiple installments.

I'll begin with the maps, of which there are two: a black & white judges' map that details the lands of Blackmoor, and a colour map for players that leaves a lot of the details blank.  I'll show the colour map below.

The book opens with a quick "Forward" (a misspelling that seems endemic to old-school RPG products), and move to an introduction by Arneson, where he gives some brief details about the campaign.  There's some interesting stuff in here, the first being that he wasn't the only DM; eventually, other players developed their own castles and dungeons, and there were half a dozen dungeons and upwards of 100 players at the campaign's height.  By that point Arneson was more of a coordinator than an actual DM, which is different from anything I've ever seen or read about in any D&D campaign.

He talks about placing Blackmoor between the Great Kingdom and the evil "Egg of Coot", and using conflicts with those two forces to drive action in the campaign.  The dungeons beneath Castle Blackmoor were originally six levels deep (for ease of generating random locations back before funny shaped dice were available), and used only those monsters available in Chainmail.  Gradually Arneson added more, name-checking gargoyles and giant beetles.

The notion is brought up that in his campaign, players only get XP for spending their treasure, which was a springboard to other adventures: often the items bought would have to be shipped into Blackmoor, and the PCs would accompany the shipment to see that it arrived safely, because they'd lose that XP if the goods were lost.

Combat is described, along with Arneson's use of hit location tables.  It sounds like the complexity of Arneson's system very much depended on the types and number of combatants involved, and that he'd change it up depending on the circumstances.

The intro ends with a somewhat sad note that after only four years Arneson's involvement in Blackmoor is very much reduced.  He says that there are still 20-30 people meeting monthly to play, but that the campaign pretty much runs itself without him.

Blackmoor, the Campaign

This segment begins with a quick description of the Great War between the good guys and bad guys that took up the majority of the third year of the campaign.  (I'm not sure here if Arneson is talking about a real-world year or a game year).  The forces on the evil side include the Egg of Coot, the Duchy of Ten, the Nomads of Ten, the Men of Maus, and the Monk's Vikings.  On the good side are the Earl of Vestfold, the Northern Lords (described as seamen), the Horsemen of Peshwah (from somewhere off the map), Bramwald (dwarves), Glendower, Boggy Bottom, the Wizard of the Wood, the Monks of the Swamp (from Supplement II's "Temple of the Frog" adventure), and the Great Kingdom (off the map to the southeast).  There are also neutral forces, which include Loch Gloomen, the Sage's Tower, the Tower of Booh (hobbits), Blackmoor, the Wizard of Mi-Karr, and the Regent of the Mines (dwarves).  Very few of these names mean anything to me, but I'm hoping that reading this product will give me a better grounding in Arneson's campaign.

It appears that the evil forces were on the offensive early on, taking Blackmoor and other fortifications while the good forces built up their armies.  Good took a pounding over summer, and started whittling down the evil forces in autumn.  By spring of the next year, the good forces were forcing evil into retreat, with more reinforcements on the way.  (It sounds as though Arneson was using some sort of card system to determine the number of points the sides could spend on troops each season, but he doesn't go into detail.)

From there it gets into the resources that each side had available to them, including incomes and the price of different troop types, and this takes up multiple pages.  I thought perhaps I could glean something from the different fantastical troop types available to each nation, but they pretty much just break down by alignment, without a lot of differentiation otherwise.

The next few pages deal with investments that PCs (presumably those at the point where they can build their own strongholds) can make: roads, bridges, canals, hunting, armories, animal breeding, religion, exploration, ship building, farming, fishing, trapping, tourism, land and sea trade, etc.  The time and gold required for all of these ventures is discussed in detail, and it's all pretty handy information to have.  (Apparently it takes over a year to make a longbow, which I had no idea about.)  Some if this gets into levels of minutiae that feel a little too much, though; do we really need to be tracking new arrivals of people down to the individual?  It's a little too granular for my tastes.

Campaign Map Notes

Arneson talks a bit about the development of the campaign map, and the Great Kingdom map also.  Apparently the map of the Great Kingdom was drawn from some old Dutch maps.  He talks about their being a phase of the campaign where the Outdoor Survival map was used, after a "bad scene at Lake Gloomy".  The way this booklet is written seems to assume that the reader is familiar with this material already.  Nothing is introduced, Arneson just mentions players and events with no context.  These things happened, but don't ask me what any of them mean or who the people involved were:

  • The area ruled by John Snider was covered in deadly yellow mist, and nobody knows what's going on in there.
  • A nomad attack from the Duchy of Ten was wiped out by Svenson and the Sniders
  • There was a great peasant revolt that wiped out Monson, badly hurt Nelson, and was then put down by the other players
  • An expedition to the City of the Gods, located in a desert south of Monson's area, cost the lives of Nelson and Gaylord.
  • Both Sniders were killed in an expedition to the home of Father Dragon, and an offspring took over Richard's holdings.  (I guess Richard is one of the Sniders?)

That's it for this week.  I'm only a dozen pages in, but I don't want to gloss over this stuff, especially where it comes to campaign details.  I've far more familiarity with Greyhawk lore than Blackmoor, and it's something I'd like to rectify.  The way Arneson writes makes it pretty difficult to piece together, unfortunately.

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