On every side the storm clouds gather. To south and east, the Great Empire of Thonia plots to end Blackmoor's independence and reclaim its lost province. To the west, the implacable Afridhi are on the move. To the north, the evil Egg of Coot prepares to cross the thundering sea and once again bring fire and sword into the heart of the small kingdom. Beyond the realm of the Egg, the hated Skandaharian Raiders are building longships and preparing to fall upon Blackmoor's unprotected coast while its tiny army turns to meet these other threats.
Into this time of black despair, there steps a band of adventurers who clutch strange swords and wear the most curious armor?and who claim that Blackmoor sank beneath the ice 3,000 years ago!
An adventure for character levels 10-14.
DA1: "Adventures in Blackmoor" (1986), by Dave Arneson & David J. Ritchie, is the first of the four Blackmoor adventure. It was published in October 1986.
About the Cover. What's that wacky machine on the cover!? A decade later, Encyclopedia Magica Volume One (1994) would reveal it to be an "Apparatus of Dreadful Construction". It destroys everything in its path to create a road to nowhere, and it might be a relic of Blackmoor.
Origins (I): The Return of Arneson. Dave Arneson left TSR in late 1976 and for several years after that his main interaction with TSR was through lawsuits related to royalties for Dungeons & Dragons. Meanwhile TSR's management was very unsupportive of Arneson; according to some reports, the Blumes fired a few TSR staffers during the Great Purge of 1981 because they were too supportive of Arneson!
However, by the middle of the '80s, things were starting to settle down. Most notably, the second of Arneson's lawsuits against TSR ended in 1985, when Arneson was granted royalties for the Monster Manual II (1985).
As for the Blumes … their status at TSR was about to change too.
Origins (II): The Revival of Gygax. In 1984, Gary Gygax was in California, supporting the D&D cartoon (1983-1985) and trying to make a D&D movie happen. But he rushed back to Wisconsin late in the year when he heard that TSR was in financial trouble. He convinced TSR's board of directors to oust Kevin Blume as President in November 1984, then took over himself in March 1985.
Gygax's second stint as President of TSR would turn out to be short-lived: he'd leave the company entirely by the end of the year. However in the meantime he headlined famous projects such as Unearthed Arcana (1985) and T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil (1985). He also mended fences with Dave Arneson, which allowed TSR to publish a series of adventures co-authored by Arneson and set in the industry's first fantasy world, Blackmoor.
Origins (III): Many Blackmoors. By the mid '80s, Blackmoor had already made three major appearances in the roleplaying field.
The first appearance was in OD&D Supplement II: Blackmoor (1975). Though the supplement didn't detail the setting, it did present "The Temple of the Frog" — an adventure set in Blackmoor that also give some hints about its Lake Gloomey region.
After Arneson left TSR, he wrote The First Fantasy Campaign (1977) for Judges Guild, which was the first-ever in-depth look at Arneson's fantasy world. Oddly, it wasn't presented as a standalone setting; instead Blackmoor was placed adjacent to Judges Guild's Wilderlands.
Meanwhile, Gary Gygax decided to place Blackmoor as a kingdom of Oerth in The World of Greyhawk Fantasy World Setting (1980). Though Gygax later said that it was "certainly not the same as Dave Arneson's campaign setting", the description suggests otherwise; it even mentions Arneson's "City of the Gods".
So which Blackmoor would TSR detail? As it turns out, none of them. Instead TSR decided to attach Blackmoor to Basic D&D's Known World setting. One ex-TSR staffer suggests that this might have been due to Blackmoor's links to the OD&D game, which made it more appropriate for Basic D&D than AD&D — which precluded the use of the existing Blackmoor in the Greyhawk setting. However, there were doubtless other reasons — political or legal — for the decision.
Origins (IV): The Apotheosis of Heard. Connecting Blackmoor to the Known World meant that it came under the purview of Bruce Heard. A former French translator for TSR projects, Heard had been rehired in 1985 as the company's acquisitions editor. At the time, TSR was beginning to offer more projects to freelance writers, and this was particularly true for the Basic D&D line, which wasn't that popular among TSR's staff. By means of his role as acquisitions editor, Heard thus became the de facto line editor for Basic D&D.
Heard would later describe the introduction of Blackmoor to the Known World as something that he was "obligated to do". Nonetheless, it may have created a real opportunity, as it helped to create a backstory for the lightly-sketched Known World, and also provided Heard with a hook that he could use to attract management and readers alike to a more exhaustive set of Known World references: the Gazetteers, which would debut just six months later.
Origins (V): The Appearance of Ritchie. One other person was notable in the creation of the new Blackmoor adventures: David J. Ritchie. He was a wargame designer originally from SPI, where he produced several games including the WWII Cobra (1977). Ritchie joined TSR in 1982 following TSR's acquisition of SPI; when SPI's design department rapidly collapsed afterward, Ritchie was the last designer standing … until he left for Coleco in 1983. Now he was back, after the fall of Coleco's own gaming department.
Even before coming to TSR, Ritchie had worked on one of SPI's RPGs, DragonQuest (1980). His most important RPG work at TSR was probably his contribution to Gamma World 2e (1983) … and now he got to work on the industry's first fantasy world.
Arneson later claimed that Ritchie was just "an editor". Arneson also complained that "there were changes made that [he] did not like", suggesting that Ritchie's contributions to the modules weren't welcome. However "Adventures in Blackmoor" clearly credits David Ritchie as an equal coauthor (and his wife Deborah Ritchie as the editor).
Adventure Tropes. "Adventures in Blackmoor" begins with a classic plot hook: players must travel to a magically faraway land to aid its rulers. It's the same hook used in any number of children's fantasy books, such as The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956), but it's a rarity in FRPGs. The next few adventures would continue with this trope.
The adventure itself is also pretty unusual. You could call it an "inn crawl", because it's entirely set in three incarnations of the Comeback Inn, at different points in the history of the Known World. However it's fundamentally an adventure of investigation and deduction: players must first learn about the history of Blackmoor, then figure out what's happened to the land's king.
Exploring the Known World. Rather than just dropping Blackmoor into the Known World, Bruce Heard did something rather surprising: he dropped it into the history of the Known World, 4,000 years back. The Comeback Inn that transports players to Blackmoor is actually a time travel device!
Though we know its chronologic location, the geographic location of Blackmoor in the Known World has long been argued. After reading "Adventures in Blackmoor", many players thought that the Broken Lands of the Known World corresponded to the ruins of Blackmoor. This fit with the fact that Blackmoor was destroyed in a cataclysm, and it also matched the location of the Comeback Inn.
However years later, the Hollow World Campaign Set (1990) officially placed Blackmoor on the map of the Known World, and it located it on the continent of Skothar, on the other side of the Alphatian Sea. That seems to be the final and definitive answer for Blackmoor's physical location in the world.
Exploring Blackmoor. "Adventures in Blackmoor" is the first official look at the setting of Blackmoor following the limited details of "Supplement II: Blackmoor". However it also turns out to be pretty limited because of its focus on the Comeback Inn (in three different time periods). Nonetheless, the supplement include details on the history of Blackmoor, a map of the kingdom, and stats for a number of important NPCs.
One of the most interesting things about the map of Blackmoor is that it more than doubles the previous size of the kingdom. The original Blackmoor map from The First Fantasy Campaign laid out the world in 10-mile hexes, as was common for Judge Guild products. Though the hexes of the map in "Adventures in Blackmoor" generally correspond to the hexes in The First Fantasy Campaign, they're now 24 miles across, matching the scale of the Known World maps in X1: "The Isle of Dread" (1981). TSR would revert to nearly the original scale when the map in DA4: "The Duchy of Ten" (1987) quietly reset the scale to 12 miles per hex.
About the Creators. Arneson is of course the co-creator of D&D. His foundational work in Blackmoor predates other early settings like Greyhawk and Kalibruhn. Ritchie is an SPI expatriate who also did RPG work for both SPI and TSR.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.