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Using Blackmoor in Your Mystara Campaignby Håvard from Threshold Magazine issue 13
Using Blackmoor in Your Mystara Campaign
Most Mystara fans will know of the ancient land of Blackmoor. From the early D&D Gazetteers, it appeared in the timelines and histories of the setting not just as a mysterious place, but an entire ancient era, laying the foundations for the modern world. The exact nature of Blackmoor, what it was and what happened to it is something that most sourcebooks kept vague. Many gamers will also know that Blackmoor was the name of Dave Arneson’s Campaign that he ran in the early 1970s before designing Dungeons & Dragons with Gary Gygax. But how much does the campaign Dave Arneson ran in his father’s Minnesota basement have to do with Mystara’s past? In this article, we will look more closely into that as well as what Blackmoor is, what material is available for Mystara’s Blackmoor and explore how Blackmoor can be used in many different types of Mystara campaigns.
How did Blackmoor End up in Mystara (And Greyhawk)?
How did Blackmoor end up as part of Mystara anyway? And why is there also a place in Greyhawk with the same name? As mentioned Blackmoor was originally the name of Dave Arneson’s fantasy campaign that he ran for his friends in Minnesota in the 1970s in a game that had not yet developed into what we know as D&D. During the first decade following Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax creating D&D in 1974, two products were published; Supplement II: Blackmoor (TSR, 1975) and The First Fantasy Campaign (JG 1976). While Mystara fans can find these products useful, they do not reference a specific game world outside the Kingdom of Blackmoor and its closest neighbouring realms.
Gary Gygax wished to pay homage to this campaign that was so important in shaping the world’s first roleplaying game so when they were getting ready to turn Greyhawk into a published campaign setting, he decided to name one of the baronies Blackmoor, but TSR did not go out of its way to accommodate the lore of Blackmoor within the Greyhawk setting. Greyhawk fans have later tried to incorporate more of Dave Arneson’s material into Greyhawk, but for future published material, it would be another setting that would become home of Blackmoor.
So how did Dave Arneson’s fantasy kingdom end up in Mystara? With the publication of AD&D 1st Edition between 1977 and 1979, the D&D line became split into two. The advanced D&D product line and the line that was simply called D&D (or later sometimes referred to as Classic D&D). It is a well known fact that there were several disputes between Dave Arneson and TSR over the rights to D&D. This is too complex an issue to get into in this article, but it is possible that these legal disputes were part of the reason why TSR wanted to keep Blackmoor away from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons product line as much as possible. Since Greyhawk was published as an AD&D setting this meant the Blackmoor found in Greyhawk would not see much further development while TSR instead looked at another home for Dave Arneson’s fantasy world.
In 1981, the module X1 the Isle of Dread was published for the “Classic” D&D line. Within that module was a map and detail of countries simply referred to as “the Continent”. This was the birth of the Mystara setting. From then on, anything published for the D&D product line was to be placed in this world. Now many people believe that Bruce Heard was the one responsible for connecting Blackmoor and Mystara, but although Bruce Heard is probably the designer that had the most influence over how this setting came to be developed, the decisions regarding Blackmoor predate his position as product manager of the D&D product line. Instead it was Harold Johnson who contacted Dave Arneson and David J Ritchie to produce a series of modules for Blackmoor and it was on Johnson’s watch that it was decided that these modules would not be placed on the map of “the D&D Game World” as Mystara was known back then, but rather placed in the setting’s past, accessible only by time travel.1 The result was four modules labelled the DA Series. From then on references in Blackmoor were included in various D&D books, most notably in the Gazetteer Series whose timelines for the world’s history often began with the Great Rain of Fire and the destruction of Blackmoor.
How to use Blackmoor in Mystara
Placing the DA modules thousands of years into Mystara’s past had the advantage of adding depth and mystery to the history of the setting. It also allowed for some really interesting concepts such as adventurers travelling through time to save the world. On the other hand, since most campaigns would be set in the year AC1000 it also meant that the lands of Blackmoor would not be so easily accessible for adventuring. Not every DM wanted to make use of time travel and certainly not all the time. A campaign starting in Karameikos could often see the adventurers continuing their travels to Darokin, Glantri or even Norwold, but much less often to Blackmoor. Still there are many ways to make use of Blackmoor for a DM, some of which have been explored in the Gazetteers and modules. Let’s look at some possibilities here.
Remnants of the Past
Although Blackmoor was destroyed four thousand years before most Mystara campaigns, that doesn’t mean it is completely gone. Blackmoor continues to shape Mystara’s present as is evident in many of the Mystara Sourcebooks. The most extreme example of this is probably the Wrath of the Immortals Campaign: Immortal’s Fury. The premise for this controversial and epic campaign is that an artefact from the Blackmoor era is so powerful that it becomes the reason for a world shattering conflict between the Immortals themselves.
Even without using that campaign, the nation of Glantri, is an example of a country whose history is strongly connected to the fate of Blackmoor. The same goes for the lands of the Shadow Elves which is tied to the very same legacy that Glantri is. Many different items and remnants from Blackmoor keep showing up in modern day Mystara. Historically, the discovery of some unstable artifacts lead to the minor cataclysms of BC 1700 when elves tried to activate the devices.
Gnomes discovering Blackmoor technology has lead to the creation of the Flying City of Serraine (PC2) and the restoration of ancient metallic giants known as earthshakers (CM4). There are even examples of fortresses and cities that are left more or less intact hailing back to the Blackmoor era. One lost city that may be of Blackmoor origins is found in Darokin’s Fenhold region described in CM8: Legacy of Blood. The Dragonlord Trilogy novels by Thorarinn Gunnarson feature two big Blackmoor locations. One is Dragonwatch Keep found near the Sylvan Realm on Brun’s West Coast. There is also the Dwarven City of Darmouk in the Northern Reaches. Finally of course, there is the Inn Between the Worlds found in the Brokenlands detailed in the DA Modules.
Going beyond what is found in published material, it would be easy for DMs to come up with other examples for their own campaigns. This could include vast underground complexes, perhaps in the style of the Dwemer Ruins from the Elder Scrolls Games where mechanical doors and traps are still operational. Also, items ranging from powerful artifacts to magical weapons or tomes of lore are things that could add mystery to any campaign. If Glantri’s Prince Jaggar has an “L” shaped Blackmoor era artefact shooting lightning bolts, there is no reason why technological weapons in the style described in DA3 City of Blackmoor or magical swords belonging to some of Blackmoor’s more legendary NPCs could not end up in the hands of PCs or NPCs from your campaigns?
If players and DM’s become particularly fascinated with the legacies left by Blackmoor on modern Mystara, they could even launch an expedition to Skothar and search for the remnants of the heart of Blackmoor itself.
Since it has already been explored in the published game books, the most obvious option for making use of Blackmoor might be to use Time Travel. The DA modules use the Inn Between the Worlds (or the Comeback Inn) as a Time Machine allowing PCs to travel from modern day Mystara back to Blackmoor at the time of King Uther.
Roger Moore wrote about the possibility of travelling to Blackmoor in his treatise of Chronomancy:
“Despite the dangers associated with visiting Blackmoor, some adventurers have reported actually visiting a place called the Kingdom of Blackmoor, meeting personages known to current historians to have lived at that ancient time. Such voyages were accomplished by accident; the adventurers said they were trapped in the basement of a ruined building in the Broken Lands, and were then transported to Blackmoor of 3,000 years past by a magical time gate that was possibly controlled by the rulers of Blackmoor. This ruin is of obvious interest to chronomancers; if it exists, it likely opens into a long-duration vortex in Temporal Prime. (For more information, see the D&D(R) modules DA1 Adventures in Blackmoor, DA2 The Temple of the Frog, DA3 City of the Gods, and DA4 The Duchy of Ten.)”
According to that article, time travelling magic is known to Alphatians, though the Immortals of Time do police this type of travel. Other forms of Time Travel could also be used. This is also explored in other articles in Issue 12 of Threshold Magazine2. Other means would be left to the DM to invent. This could involve Time Machines, magical portals or even time travelling races like the Oards.3
Gaz3 the Principalities of Glantri includes an adventure seed which discusses the possibility of going back to the Blackmoor Era to make such changes that it actually changes the face of the modern day Known World. The DM would have to think about whether he would be interested in allowing such dramatic world altering events. Since Blackmoor and Mystara are separated by millennia though, it seems likely that most things the PCs do in the past will not really have much impact on the future. Perhaps it is the same in this setting as in the TV show Legends of Tomorrow that “the Timeline wants to happen.”
For those of you who have read Bruce Heard’s fascinating Mystara Reference Guide4, you will know that Heard had planned a product line in which Blackmoor was restored and returned to modern day Mystara somewhere on the planet’s surface. Though details of what form this would take have never been revealed, the returned Blackmoor would be detailed in a boxed set and at least two adventure modules featuring the dreaded Egg of Coot.
Although we never got to see these supplements published, there is no reason why individual DM’s cannot explore this further. It does seem clear though that having Blackmoor reappear on Mystara’s surface would have dramatic consequences for the setting, but that could still be a lot of fun. Another option that has been discussed by fans is to have a version of Blackmoor exist within the Hollow World. That might be less dramatic since the Hollow World has its own ways of keeping technology and other cultural advances in check, though it would be less useful for DM’s preferring to keep their campaigns on the Outer World.
Khoronus did apparently create a copy of Blackmoor5 somewhere so that could be one way to explain how Blackmoor could reappear in the Hollow World, the Outer World, or even as part of Greyhawk or some other setting.
Running a Pure Blackmoor Campaign
The last option would simply be to run a Blackmoor campaign where the PCs are native to Blackmoor. Mystara fans could still make use of Mystara to flesh out more of the details beyond what is described in the Blackmoor sourcebooks. It might even be possible to have PCs native to Blackmoor travel forward in time if you wanted to connect Blackmoor and Mystara that way. For a Blackmoor campaign with PCs being native to that era, you could still make use of the DA modules. While the first module might require some tweaking and the section on time travel in each module would have to be ignored, the majority of those books could still be very useful to someone wanting to run a more traditional Blackmoor campaign .
Versions of Blackmoor
Let us now take a look at the published Blackmoor material and the different versions of Blackmoor found within them. How much of this would be useful for a Mystara fan and how much would need to be modified?
The DA modules
Let us start with the DA modules. Written by Dave Arneson and David J Ritchie, these are the modules most suited to use for a DM wanting to run a Blackmoor campaign in the Mystara continuity. Each module involves the PCs travelling back in time from AC 1000 Mystara to the classic era of King Uther’s Blackmoor. It should be noted that this is long before Blackmoor develops into the techno magical empire that destroys itself in the Great Rain of Fire that is so often referenced in the Gazetteers. DA1 Adventures in Blackmoor is a great introduction to the world of Blackmoor and details an adventure in which the Wizards’ Cabal kidnap King Uther, requiring investigators from the future to solve the situation. DA2 Temple of the Frog explores one of the most iconic locations of the Blackmoor setting and involves Frog Men, mysterious monks and also gives the PCs the first hints of high technological beings being present on the world of Blackmoor. DA3 City of the Gods continues what was begun in DA2 revealing the main source of high technology in this setting and also contains the rules DM’s who want to run a campaign with both magical swords and laser rifles would need. DA4 the Duchy of Ten details one of Blackmoor’s neighbouring realms and reveals the threat of invasion from a barbaric and evil race known as the Afridhi.
The D20 Series and the D&D 4th Edition Blackmoor Sourcebook
In 2003, Dave Arneson had regained the licence to publish his own Blackmoor material in a settlement with Wizards of the Coast that once and for all ended the disagreements Dave Arneson had had with TSR. Using the d20 rules, Zeitgeist Games, the company co-founded by Dave Arneson and his partner Dustin Clingman, revisited the setting and updated it for that ruleset. Some changes were made for the d20 version of Blackmoor from what had appeared in previous publications. One reason for this was that Zeitgeist Games felt it was necessary for the setting to accommodate the new ruleset as much as possible. Some critics felt that this was taken too far as it lead to some important changes such as introducing a conflict between Wizards and Sorcerers that had never existed in older versions of the setting. Another reason for changing things from the DA modules was the fact that Zeitgeist Games never had the rights to publish Mystara material. This meant that some references had to be removed, even though other more surprising elements were kept such as the inclusion of deities from the Wrath of the Immortals Ruleset that were not necessarily part of Blackmoor. In spite of changes, fans familiar with the DA modules will find that a lot of material from those modules was used more or less unchanged in the d20 version. This means that it would be easy to use much of the D20 material in a Mystara campaigns, removing some of the new additions from the d20 books or even keeping the ones DM’s might like. The same is true for the single black cover sourcebook for Blackmoor for D&D 4th Edition that was published shortly after Dave Arneson’s passing.
Blackmoor the MMRPG was another project from Zeitgeist Games. Although the name lead some to think this was some sort of online computer game, this was simply a long series of modules written for convention and tournament play. Although they were published during the d20 era, the majority of the modules are fairly rules light and can easily be adapted to other editions and run in home games as well as convention play even today. The MMRPG modules were not officially part of the d20 line continuity though they are based on the setting as described in those sourcebooks. This means some changes might be required for running them in Mystara’s Blackmoor, but many can be run as is. The modules were written by a combination of professional game designers and fans and are available as free downloads from the fan owned Comeback Inn Website6.
The Age of the Wolf
The Age of the Wolf was a planned setting that was to be published by Zeitgeist Games.
The Original Campaign
How much of Dave Arneson’s campaign actually made it into published form and how different was that campaign from what we know as Blackmoor today? That is hard to say. The two published books closest to the original campaign are probably Supplement II Blackmoor and the First Fantasy Campaign. Both can be confusing to modern readers who are not familiar with Blackmoor, but to hard core Blackmoor fans these two are considered pure gold. Additionally various interviews with Dave Arneson and forum discussions with his players have revealed much more information about what this campaign was like. Sources like these are great if you are interested in bringing some of that original magic back to the Blackmoor setting and can be included while still running the setting as part of Mystara’s past for those who wish to do so.
Beyond the Published Era
The majority of published material take place in the years 1025-1030 of Blackmoor’s Calendar, corresponding roughly to BC4000 in Mystara’s Calendar. Dave Arneson’s campaign took place about three decades earlier. But what about other eras in Blackmoor’s history? Could they be interesting to explore in games? In addition to my own work, some of the most comprehensive work detailing other eras for Blackmoor gaming include James Mishler’s Blackmoor Epic which gives a detailed fan exploration of the history of Blackmoor from the rise of the kingdom to its cataclysmic destruction in the Great Rain of Fire. Placing your campaign in one of the less explored eras of Blackmoor’s (and Mystara’s) history could provide the DM with a lot of creative freedom. Fans have run online campaigns in various eras of Blackmoor’s history over at the Comeback Inn Website.7 Some of those are still going on today and may be used as inspiration for those who are interested. One such example is the Throne of Stars campaign8 that is set in the months (or years?) just before the Great Rain of Fire.
Where would you like to set your campaign? And in what way would you like to use Blackmoor in your Mystara campaign? Whether it is a campaign set in one of the eras where Blackmoor was a living realm, or whether you want to use time travel scenarios or simply have Blackmoor be a mysterious part of your campaigns historical background, there are many ways to have this realm add to your own games.
1Unpublished interview with Harold Johnson in 2016 by Havard.
2See in particular “Time Travelling in Mystara” by J. Calvin in Threshold #12.
3See AC9 Creature Catalog for more details on the Oards.
5See Wrath of the Immortals