|Branzoll Castle in N. Italy; the ‘real life’ Castle Blackmoor|
Apparently, Arneson was a bit burned out on the whole Napoleonics/historical battles thing. He wrote that he spent a few days reading Conan novels, eating popcorn and watching monster movies and came up with the idea of a fantasy campaign with wizards, fighters, etc., where everyone controlled just one guy rather than an army. This was apparently inspired by David Wesley’s famous ‘Braunstein’ game. I think they used Gygax & Keogh’s “Chainmail” rules as the basics and expanded from there.
|One of Arneson’s original maps from the First Fantasy Campaign book.|
Arneson and his friends also ran ‘fantasy’ game versions of the battles they had played in Napoleonics, substituting orcs, elves, dragons and wizards for artillery, cavalry and grenadiers. In this domain level game, the rules were expanded to include allowing players who raise armies and attack the castles of other players. In order to build castles and hire armies, the players needed money. One way of getting money was to ‘improve’ your kingdom. Arneson had guidelines that a road cost x number of gold per mile, and inn cost y, etc. If you built roads and inns and canals and towns, you could attract traders and craftsmen and villagers who could be taxed and allow you (the player) to gather taxes and raise an army, build castles, etc. It was like a computer game like ‘Stronghold,’ but played exclusively with pencil, paper, maps, words, dice and minis rather than the computer. The in-game accumulation of gold, then, was a means of allowing players to move from being adventurers scrapping around in dungeons to being generals and conquerors (which may have led to the idea that ‘gold’ should equate experience points — in the FFC, Arneson says he gave XP for gold spent in various fashions rather than just accumulated; players could trade XP for gold by spending it on “wine, women and song,” or on expensive hobbies like collecting art or exotic animals).
I’ve always had this fantasy of running a D&D campaign (or Labyrinth Lord or whatever) with player characters having their own little dramas AND a continental level wargame with country A, B and C going to war with each other, being invaded, plagues wiping out half the population and other mishaps. To the players on the player level game, these incidents might or might not have an effect on the player’s lives (much like news and current events in the real world), but, unlike the relatively static fantasy world that most RPGs take place in (or the world where all world events are orchestrated by the DM), there would always be something going on in the wider world… and even the DM (or referee) might not necessarily know what the map would like like later in the campaign. When/if player characters manage to take control of armies or perform deeds of derring do that grab national or international attention, the players may become ‘active forces’ in the world game rather than just players on an individual level. So what happens on a ‘national’ level isn’t just decided by GM fiat — it could be played out as a wargame.
Part of the inspiration for this idea comes from the original ‘Chainmail’ by Gary Gygax and Tom Keogh. (NOTE: If you are reading this blog, it is 90% likely you can skip the rest of this paragraph…) ‘Chainmail’ is probably pretty familiar to blog readers; it’s a book of rules for ‘miniature war games’ published by Gary Gygax back in the 1970s. Gygax and Tom Keogh were original ‘sand table’ gamers who would set up miniature armies of Crusaders & Saracens or refighting the battle of Agincourt or similar medieval period conflicts and ‘Chainmail’ was their rule set for deciding who won the battle. Later editions of ‘Chainmail’ included a ‘Fantasy Supplement’ that included rules for goblins, dragons, etc. According to grognard lore, Arneson was inspired by ‘Chainmail’ and some other games being run and talked about in the wargamer circles at the time (check out “Braunstein“) to run some games where each player controlled a single guy instead of an army. From these ideas, so the story goes, Dungeons & Dragons was born.
(NOTE: If you are a ‘grognard’ who is not an actual veteran of the wars of Napoleon, it is 75% likely that you can skip this next paragraph) “The First Fantasy Campaign” was published in the 1970s by Judge’s Guild. It’s a collection of Dave Arneson’s notes and some maps, incomplete in many areas and full of typos. The rough presentation, however, does not stop me from considering it a very interesting booklet. In it, Arneson describes the ‘Blackmoor’ campaign that he ran for years when he was living in Minnesota and it was this book that made me want to consider the idea of a micro/macro campaign where play might switch back and forth between ‘campaign level’ play (where armies clash on the battlefield and borders get re-drawn) and ‘player level play’ (where each player might control just one character). Back in Armeson’s day, if I am understanding the book correctly, the players often took control of the different forces and battled it out. Blackmoor Castle itself apparently changed hands sveral times. The First Fantasy Campaign also had very vaguely stated rules for allowing players to build roads in their kingdoms, build inns and canals, etc. Plus it has one of the most kick-ass maps of a fantasy campaign that I think has ever been published.
|My Campaign Map, circa 1980 something|
Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, I’ve never gotten the critical mass of interested players involved… and the huge time issue to carry out such a campaign probably makes it a pipe-dream in any case. I’ve played a few ‘skirmishes’ on the tabletop, but not every player enjoys the miniature-war-game-combat aspect and then there is the fact that my regualr gaming group suffers from what I think could politely be called ‘Attention Deficit Disorder.’ Everyone is always thinking the grass would be greener if only we were playing a slightly different (or much different) game — getting them to commit to such an endeavor would be like trying to herd 100 cats through a thunderstorm. Never gonna happen.
One of my art teachers used to like to say, “The essence of originality is a return to origins.” At the time, I think he was trying to tell us something like, “All ideas come from somewhere, so if you like the way a given artist uses leaf shapes or animal shapes, etc., then, instead of imitating that artist, go look at leaves or animals.”
It is in this spirit that I have dug out my old copy of the medieval miniatures game, “Chainmail” and my copy of Dave Arneson’s “First Fantasy Campaign.” I’ve been thinking about running a continuing campaign with fantasy armies battling for supremacy in a fantasy continent reminiscent of Tony Bath’s “Hyboria” campaign for a long time. A few years ago I tried to jump start interest in a D&D campaign that switched back and forth between players RPGing adventurers going on adventures and generals running armies with mixed success by surprising the players with a war game one night. I don’t think the players liked it that much.
Instead of trying to sell others on the idea, I have begun to think about just doing a ‘minis’ campaign for my own amusement, and fighting pitched battles where I can play the part of both generals and allow fate (or the dice) to decide the course of empire.
I already have a fairly substantial collection of minis, including lots of orcs, goblins, humans, etc. I have some scenery (including scratch built buildings) although the terrain in my photos (link above) is long gone. I originally wanted to do this with my own fantasy maps, but recently I came across my copy of “The First Fantasy Campaign” and think I will just use that.
The rules will be Chainmail, with certain modifications (I think Chainmail’s morale system is impossibly complex and want something simpler).
My basic idea is to set up the fantasy kingdom as it is described in “The First Fantasy Campaign” at the start and establish each kingdom (Blackmoor, Egg of Coot, Duchy of Tehn, etc.) with a baseline of resources, including armies, monsters, etc. Then I would like to write the general motivations for each kingdom/power. The Egg of Coot, for example, wants to conquer all others on the map and convert them to his/her/it’s territories. Then I need to come up with random event cards (there are about 50-60 already in the First Fantasy Campaign) which randomly indicate viking attacks, diesease or plagues, storms, invading orcs, etc.
Hopefully, when I am done, like a ‘low tech’ game of the “Civilization” computer game. I can set events in motion and see how they develop. If Egg of Coot conquers or destroys one of Blackmoor’s villages, then Blackmoor is less able to regenerate/replace troops or supplies.
Although given everything else on my plate, I need another project like a hole in my head… but I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and have always delayed because “the time was not right” or I couldn’t find others interested. Enough. I’ll try to keep the general public informed and maybe even set up a blog/site with battle reports once I get going.