Interview: Secrets of Blackmoor

What a treat today!

I had the privilege of interviewing the maker of an upcoming documentary film on the early history of our hobby, focusing on Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor, but naturally ranging far beyond that. There have been a few efforts along these lines (I backed a few on Kickstarter…), but this one looks like it’s well on the way to completion.

If you’d like to keep up with developments on the film, head on over to their Facebook page and “like” it.

And here’s a trailer!

And now, on with the (lengthy) interview.

GG: How would you describe your film?


Oh man.

It really is a lot like the cool mossy foot prints of an Accordion Sloth’s tap dance.


It’s several things rolled into one movie.

It is the history of role playing games as told through the collective memory of Dave Arneson’s gaming group.

At the same time, it is also a lesson in role playing and how it evolves.

Most of this revolves around trying to answer the oldest and hardest question that exists: What is a Role Playing Game?

Ask your friends this question. It’s a real brain teaser like something Buddha may have asked of his disciples.

We propose our interpretation for how to define these games and we apply it to the known history of gaming in the Twin Cities that is coming from the people who were actually there.

The whole movie is sort of a RPG 101 Class. We expect that it will inspire a lot of people to feel great rage and argue all over the internet over all things RPG — we’ve got popcorn and comfy chairs ready in our secret hideout.

GG: What got you interested in doing a documentary about Dave Arneson?


It was just an accident. We had no idea we’d be doing this.

a. We got into arguments with strangers about who invented D&D while on the internet.

b. We met some guy on the internet.

c. It turned out the guy was Dave Arneson’s web master, Kevin McColl. If you hate our film, email us, we’ll give you Kevin’s address, It’s all his fault.

d. It also had to do with being compelled by a mystery. If you compare Gary Gygax, where you have all these books and even a graphic novel about him, to Dave Arneson, who is really fairly invisible and nearly impossible to get info on, then the logical thing is – long pause – is to do the easy story, Right?

Now, if you are a complete dork who always seem to do everything the hardest way possible in life, you end up trying to find out more about Arneson.

So we’re pretty sure it’s all out of sheer idiocy.

GG: There are several other fan documentaries about the early days of Dungeons & Dragons in the works. What makes your film stand out?


Are you comparing our film to the kinds of videos you find on YouTube? Are you talking about Dungeons & Dragons: The Documentary?

If you look at the YouTube videos, there are some good ones out there. Their limitations are that they are relying on each other’s sources. So there is no first person narrative coming out of those. You don’t get a Blackmoor player talking about the first time he, or she, ever played an RPG with Dave Arneson, but there is some good stuff out there.

As to the other feature films, again, there are several big films: Dragons in the Basement; D&D: The Documentary; and others. We know of 4 that are in production. We do not see any of them as being in competition with us because all our films will be different. We want to see those films too.

We actually talk to some of the other directors. Anthony Savini the director of: D&D the Documentary, is a wonderful guy. We just chatted with him the other day.

Our film is in its 5th year of production and we may actually get a film done. We’re sharing lots of cool stuff on our FaceBook page and posting the occasional video as well.

But getting back to what makes us stand out: we chose to do something really odd, instead of going for a movie about people who were already famous like Gary Gygax and his group, we chose to talk to people that nobody knows about. If we say, who was the Wandering Elf? You have no idea what we are talking about, but he’s in the movie.

We have a lot of people who never played D&D in the film, yet they helped nudge this crazy idea forward RPG’s are something that didn’t just spring out of nowhere, they have a long history and a lot of that history resides in the Twin Cities.

Our trailer gives a strong idea of what our film is. You see people telling their stories. It will be a bit slower and less bombastic, but it’s going to be a lot like that. And we’ll also show images of a lot of old documents that we have found.

GG: Did the publication of Dungeons & Dragons change the way Arneson ran his own campaign?


Arneson already had a game before Gary saw it, just as Megarry had a game before that very same evening when they both demonstrated their game ideas in Lake Geneva. These were not incomplete games, they were prototypes.

If you talk to the Blackmoor players, they will tell you the same thing over and over — Blackmoor was a verbal exchange between Dave and his players, they did not use miniatures, it was a full on RPG already. If you talk to Rob Kuntz, he says the same thing as them, and he was there at the demo in Gary’s dining room.

We were just speaking to David Megarry and his game got accepted for publication by Guidon Games before anything happened with Arneson’s Blackmoor to make it into D&D. He mailed them his prototype, they played it, they liked it. Sadly the multi color map led them to reverse their plans.

So no D&D didn’t change how the game was played, the only thing that changed were the mechanics of the game.

But you have to understand that Dave Arneson is already a very skilled referee by the time he begins Blackmoor. It is a moving target. It goes from being more like David Wesely’s game, to being maybe more like Duane Jenkin’s wild west game, and then it becomes what one see’s in D&D. You also have to understand that Arneson was running these massive RPG military campaigns in parallel to Blackmoor. His vision for an RPG is much greater than what most people play today, so what he thought the game should be is different from what it became in terms of scope.

Gamers today are only playing about a third of the game as Arneson had envisioned it. If you read the Blackmoor supplement within the context of how he ran his campaigns, then you realize it’s a very useful book, most people aren’t aware of this. No one is going into the dungeon to fight monsters and then coming up and being ruler of a castle, so they have no need to hire spies and assassins; in Blackmoor they did.

GG: Can you go into a little more specifics on this? The Blackmoor supplement is usually treated like a simple addition of some rules (especially underwater rules, which I understand were a non-Arneson addition). What parts of the Blackmoor supplement do you think aren’t properly understood today?


Do you want a short answer? (laughing) Let’s talk more about Accordion Sloths.

Well, for example: The Temple of the Frog Is the first D&D module. It’s just that it doesn’t look like what people have come to assume one should look like. It is essentially Arneson’s play notes for a dungeon he knew by heart because he designed it. It also does not follow how most people play the game. Arneson’s group was often on a mission. They played their games like military commando raids sometimes. Temple of the Frog is a good example of this. You can’t walk right up to it. You have to sneak into it and try not to get found out. You may actually be avoiding combat the whole time, but that goes against rule numero uno in most games; where players are trying to soak up points to gain levels.

We actually just wrote a lot about play style in our latest Facebook post.

One also needs to consider that Arneson was used to collaborating with Gary. It seems like they had established a type of work-flow between them when they wrote D&D, that worked very well. His expectation was that he would have an editor who would work with him. Kask never liked Arneson and he was chosen to edit the Blackmoor supplement. Arneson probably wasn’t too keen on Kask either. So that team was just not going to work out — it was a train wreck from the very beginning.

The two had very little dialogue and it shows in how the volume ended up as a published product. The only parts that seem like something Arneson was doing are the Temple Module and the section on hiring specialists. Arneson was also a complete naval history scholar, so the sea creatures make sense within that context, but who knows? If you’ve seen maps of Blackmoor, it seems that Arneson wanted to make sure to have lots of sea ways so they could have lots of naval battles with minis.

I’d say the one thing they did get right on the Blackmoor supplement is the cover art. In its day it was the most enigmatic and evocative image of all the D&D covers. For many people, it still is.

To understand how much is being played today, you need to have an understanding of what Arneson was doing simultaneously to the creation of Blackmoor. He was running a massive hybrid Napoleonic military campaign with roleplaying.  All of this is documented in his Corner of the Tabletop fanzine, yet most people have never seen these. (We would like to see the whole set get published at some point.) If you could see those, and the massive volumes of paperwork that were produced in the game and still exist, you’d see Arneson in a different light.

So what is going on in this mega campaign, or the Nappy Campaign as Arneson always called it — almost too much to describe in this interview. In the film we dedicate about 25 minutes to talking about these nappy games. Even there, all we can do is address it as an abstract concept. We try to use some first-hand accounts of events, but those can get really long and half the people who played in it have passed away.

And when we say lots of players, we’re not kidding. A list of players from 1976 takes up a whole sheet of paper. The game is being played in at least three different cities. Arneson is the lead ref, Mike Carr is in charge of the personalities, there are land battle refs and sea battle refs. There is even a rules committee that approves proposed rule changes. This is all being done by hand with paper and pencils and dice.

And when we say personalities, we mean characters. We’ve found a sheet with a matrix of people from a royal household. These personalities actually have attributes. Maybe on a certain turn Arneson rolls some dice and determines that the king is ill, well now another persona has to take over as head of state. These events are documented in Corner of the Tabletop as well.

This mega campaign is operating on multiple levels of scale. Each turn the players who are acting as the leaders of nations are making out expense budgets and planning large scale troop and ship deployments and moves. This can also be compared to the game called Civilization; yes, there were even rules for inventing new technology in the Nappy game.  This is Dave Arneson and his group, from 1967 onward doing these kinds of things.

The leaders are also writing letters to each other. They are negotiating treaties. Pete Gaylord offers up the queen’s hand in marriage to another player in order to solidify one of these alliances. If you read these letters you begin to wonder if Role Playing isn’t already going strong in this game before Blackmoor. Lets say this is 33% of the game.

So now we go a bit smaller. As these armies and navies maneuver around maps of the world, they may come up against each other. When this happens, everyone goes to Arneson’s basement and a battle is set up on his ping pong table with lead minis. In some cases we’re talking thousands of lead soldiers in one battle. Now everyone is a general in charge of a wing of one of these armies. During a Strategos battle, that being the house land combat system, players can do things that aren’t standard war game stuff. Lets say you move your troops into the town; you can interrogate the townspeople about enemy positions. Or, the river is too fast to get your canon across it, yet you can ask the referee if there is a barn you can take apart to build a bridge. So this is another 33% of the game.

And then there are the individual events. What most people think of as role playing today. You’ve besieged the castle, but they seem to be doing fine in there. What if you sneak some guys up with ladders in the middle of the night and then they get in and open the gate for you? Ok, says the ref, lets see what happens. This can instigate a RPG game type situation.

Overlapping all of this are numerous Bruanstein games that are part of this campaign.

Ok, so the individual stuff is the last 33%.

Arneson expected people to want to play in full-fledged socio-political simulations. That is how Blackmoor begins. Blackmoor isn’t just a dead static thing that only reacts when players do something. Blackmoor is a living world, the Egg of Coot’s minions are on the move, and you have to find out what they’re planning and stop them. But your army isn’t very big. Maybe you need to send emissaries to the next barony and ask for help. Bob Meyer says he loaned his army to the other guys because they needed help in a battle.

If you see the result of his notes he provided from his own campaign as they appear in Blackmoor supplement, they talk about hiring specialists of all types and how much it will cost you. Knowing about the Mega campaign, what do you think of all of this? Is it making connections for you? Do you see how Arneson was seeing a bigger picture?

Backmoor operated on multiple levels: a grand strategic military campaign game where they played rulers, a tactical war game where they played generals, and a D&D style adventure game.

For Arneson, a dungeon adventure makes no sense, unless it is part of an over-arching world conflict. People try to say that there are a lot of different literary influences, yet that kind of world level and personal level activity is clearly an analogy for The Lord of the Rings.

To get back to dungeoning –

One of the researchers we work closely with, Daniel Boggs, has discovered a manuscript of early rules. This manuscript contains many of the mechanics you find in D&D. Few of these mechanics are coming from Chain Mail. So what do you see in these rules?

-Hit points
-Armor classes
-Magic spell points
-Equipment lists
-Character attributes and skills

It’s all there, and more is implied since they are incomplete.

Perhaps the most telling mechanic of all is the door opening rule. D&D has a simple mechanic for opening doors. Interestingly the board game: Dungeon!, it too has a door opening mechanic. And again we find this in these old rules from around 1972. Gary Gygax had never played this kind of game until november of 1972.

What does this tell you about what Arneson was doing in 1971 and after?

Is it possible that D&D is derived from Blackmoor to a greater extent than most people realize?

We should add that if these kinds of questions about where D&D begins make you nervous, you may not want to go see Secrets of Blackmoor. We propose a lot of questions like this and we reveal things that may lead you to challenge what you already believe is true.

GG: Obviously a film like this takes a lot of research, as you mentioned with Daniel. Have you reached out to Jon Peterson, author of “Playing at the World”? He’s also a collector and analyst of early versions of the rules.


We talk with Jon. We also argue a lot with Jon.  😉 One thing you have to understand is that the community of people who know a lot about these things is very small. So you end up finding each other and arguing different ideas.

GG: How would you describe the Blackmoor players you interviewed for your film? Were they aware of the significance of what they were doing at the time, or afterwards?


We had a blast talking to everyone. They are all awesome people. Very thoughtful and kind. The best part is getting to game with the original players, that’s both humbling and at times hilarious. You’re with a group of guys who have been playing war games for half a century and they all just know each other so well. And to top it off, you’re either playing with Wesely and Arneson’s Napoleonic minis, or you’re playing with Dave’s civil war Airfix minis. How cool is that right?

We still talk to many of them often and it’s not about movie things, we just like to check in and see how everyone is doing. We’ve also become good friends. When both Pete Gaylord and Duane Jenkins passed away, we knew right away, and called everyone. It was a really sad time for us.

It is one of those things you may not expect if you have not done a documentary, you become close to people and they affect you deeply.

The funniest thing about it, is that although they helped to invent D&D; as Ross Maker says, they are the development team for the game. Most of them do not know how to explain what they did. When we interviewed them, they would use this gamer babble all the time. In the trailer we ended up using Gail Gaylord’s comments to explain the game because she was the only who could capture the core of it by saying it was make believe. In the movie we have to explain it for them, and we use language that is as simple as Gail’s. If we can’t say it with just a few words, then maybe it’s not going to work in the movie at all.

GG: How would you describe Arneson’s contributions to Dungeons & Dragons, specifically compared to Gygax’s?


To be honest we don’t understand why people want to say one or the other is more or less.

We live in a time where people like to take supreme vengeance on strangers via the internet. We just don’t want to do that in any way. The film is about Dave Arneson and his group of gamers. A lot of people are going to assume that the only way we can say nice things about Arneson is by saying crappy things about Gary Gygax.

We aren’t doing that. We begin in 1963. Arneson and Gygax don’t meet until 1969. Yet we are going to debunk a lot of un-informed garbage that people tell each other about Dave Arneson.

You’ve probably heard this kind of junk yourself: Dave couldn’t type, Dave was lazy, Dave didn’t write any of the rules, blah blah blah.

Dave couldn’t spell and had abysmal grammar – clearly since millions of people play Arneson style RPG’s all over the world, his ideas are sheer genius, does it even matter if he can spell? And he did get better at spelling as he got older.

Dave created a body of work that is absolutely massive. There are boxes all over the United States with his war games rules and game notes piled in them. There is a second installment for Don’t Give Up the Ship, called Ships of the Line. It was never published. Yup, totally lazy dude.

Dave created drafts of D&D that he sent to Gary. They also made phone calls. The real issue for Gygax, was more one of quantity and how to edit it down to include it in D&D, because Arneson could produce massive quantities of material. At one point Gygax asked Arneson to make some rules for aerial combat. Within a couple weeks Arneson mailed back an entire game for aerial combat that was too big to put into D&D.

It would be really easy as film makers to turn our film into a Hard Copy type of propaganda film. We could work it so that Dave Arneson is this helpless victim and Gary Gygax stole everything from him and ruined his life.

Well, the real story isn’t like that at all. It’s more nuanced. Since we are letting the Twin Cities gamers tell their story, what they want is for everyone to stop arguing about who did what and just acknowledge that they did it together.

As David Megarry, author of the Dungeon! board game, eloquently stated: “We’re tired of the arguments… These two men got together and made this fantastic thing.”

Gary and Dave did it together and the reason D&D is so great is because it had some of both of them in the game and the result is this amazing synergy.

GG: That’s always been a question for me. Before you said that the publication of D&D didn’t change the way the game was run, only the mechanics. How does changing the mechanics not change the way the game is run? Especially with Gygax’s input, it seems like the experience at the table would have to change, even a bit. How does that synergy you mention factor in?


From what we know neither Dave nor Gary used minis in their games. Rob kuntz told us he DM’ed Jim Ward through Greyhawk with no maps or dice or anything, over a pizza. Greg Svenson says it was the same for them, before D&D, and after.

If you read any of the rules for D&d, they all have these mechanics. The only thing about roleplaying is in the examples of play. If we assume Gary ran his games like the example of play in D&D, then he only allowed one person to represent the players; in OD&D there is a DM and a Caller. Our personal experience with D&D is that players all are interacting with the DM, we didn’t have Dave, or Gary, there with us to teach us how to do it. David Megarry describes the same type of game we played as kids. We’ve sat in with the Blackmoor Bunch as they played, it was the same thing, yet they were not using D&D rules, it was more like Blackmoor where most of the mechanics are hidden from the players. the only kinds of feed back might be, you are lightly wounded, or severely wounded.

Lets say your character stats are only rolled on 2 six siders, how is this going to alter play if the core mechanic you are using is role playing? What Gary did was to simplify the mechanics because Gary didn’t have access to the same caliber of minds that were in Arneson’s group. And To clarify that, we’re talking about mass market here. Gary was aiming for the average consumer, that is part of his genius The Twin Cities group was made up of a lot of college students, some where in physics, computing, and mathematics. So where the Twin Cities gamers were fine with equations and complex rules for creating probabilities, Gary just cuts corners. Gary’s design paradigm is more like something from the previous decade such as what you see in Avalon Hill games. Gary was fond of charts. Arneson was more fluid in design style. He wanted interlocking mechanics that are more like algebraic equations, as you find in games like Pathfinder. You can see it in the spanish royals character matrix; the stats you see there aren’t just for show, they are used in order to test outcomes or he would not have bothered to generate them.

Arneson always claimed to have been the creator of the combat system in D&D. Well, years later someone came up with THAC0. Do you think THAC0 could have been derived from it if Arneson hadn’t already been thinking in terms of mathematical equations?

So these two guys with different approaches to game design made this game and whatever each put in helped to create something that worked as a product –You have to remember that this is a product.

What you see in D&D, is Dave Arneson as visionary game inventor, filtered through Gary Gygax as co author and genius in his own way. So where do you decide either is less, or more important? And you also have the players in both groups adding to this mix. They are just different styles. You can’t do it. Even the courts couldn’t do it.

Why try to slice it all up when you can just sit back and observe and see the result?

We will say this, there are a lot of people still denigrating Arneson’s ability and his life’s work, yet these people are putting food on the table as game makers — because of Arneson’s ability and his life’s work. These people should be ashamed of themselves.

…And while gamers sit around and argue over who invented D&D they’re doing the typical useless behavior you see over and over that accomplishes nothing. What they should be doing is writing letters to Wizards of the Coast and complaining that neither Gary or Dave’s name is on the cover of the new edition. And what mechanic have they derived for the combat system in the new edition? It’s basically THAC0, which comes from Gary and Dave’s Game.

GG: How would you say modern Dungeons & Dragons has diverged from its roots in miniatures and hex-and-counter wargaming?


Well, we play the old rules; as in the white box with the three little brown books. We’ve played a lot of other systems, but strangely, with the exception of white box and perhaps Tunnels and Trolls, and or Empire of the Petal Throne, everything that comes later gets lost in rules. Mind you, Holmes Basic set is wonderful. AD&D seemed ok, but our experience was that now all the players would do the rules lawyering on the DM at every chance, “Says here on page XX that Y — and you’re wrong!”

I personally had all the AD&D books. I ran maybe 2 sessions and never played it again, the players were jerks. 😉 I also found D&D mechanics and generic world styles so clunky, that by then my group was onto new things. Actually, we merged Melee and Wizard with Empire of the Petal Throne, and played that until ITL came out — that was really fun. I still have a players handbook from that campaign.

I just bought a starter set for the new edition of D&D. I get the impression it is going back to an older style of play. I played a bit of pathfinder with a group for a while. I found that to be like fantasy wargaming. I would rather just play with historical minis, or play a big huge fantasy minis battle.

I think what you are talking about is the role playing itself. Ultimately the game is just story telling. David Wesely, who we think invented the RPG, likes to call what he’s done:

Collaborative Story Telling.

I guess everyone is a CST’er then. (ha ha ha)

Once you start using all kinds of play aids like minis and a playing surface, you’ve gone away from playing an RPG. In fact, what you are doing is reverse engineering the RPG back to the role playing war game like they were doing around 1965 in the Twin Cities.

The only way to explain the difference between Old School and New School is via an example.

One of our new players, Michael Catlin, is an actor. Not having played the game we just helped him make up some characters and got right into it. Mind you, I make people run at least two characters in my games. If you know the original game mechanics, you also know how lethal the game is, one sword hit at first level and your done for the night.

Anyway, he was running a cleric, and as an actor he got into his character. He was praying over everything, forgiving the dead monsters, asking for divine guidance, he just worked that cleric character to the hilt. It was awesome!

At the end of the night I tried to explain the limitations of his character based on the rules. I even said, praying doesn’t really do anything. The look of complete disappointment that I saw on his face made me realize that I was failing as a DM. I went home and thought long and hard about things and realized I was doing what I hated most.

My player was asking for something because that was his fantasy game expectation and I wasn’t delivering. What’s more, I was playing it by the rules and it wasn’t role playing anymore.

The next session began with the party in the common room in an old Inn. It’s dark and only candle lit. Suddenly a brilliant light appears and grows until it takes the form of a beautiful maiden. I explain that she is barely clothed, but she doesn’t inspire romantic feelings, instead what the cleric feels is an emanation of intense wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. That what he is experiencing is a form of true knowledge about universal love.

So they have this verbal exchange. She expresses her appreciation for his piety and gives him two magic items. One of them is a snake that he can order into battle. The other is a flaming heart like bauble that he can use when he is in the direst of need – he has no idea what it does.

All of this takes place where all the other players can watch our interaction, but I then explain that their characters do not see or experience anything out of the ordinary and they can’t see his magic items either. Interestingly a lot of our gaming seems to happen in these kinds of player and NPC interactions and it takes up about half of our game sessions, but everyone seems to like it a lot.

So getting back to your original question the answer is now simple. In Role Playing, as it was envisioned by the original creators, the most important things happen without any rules at all. The DM is paying attention to what the players say they do and the players are paying attention to the story reality that is being created by the DM — It’s a recursion that feeds on itself.

The newer games have come to rely on rules instead of this collective story telling and ad-libbing by everyone involved.

Jeff Berry joked about this in his interview, “These days when my character eats caviar for the first time, I have to find a chart to roll on that tells me if he likes it or not.”

GG: At one point, Arneson seems defensive and almost bitter about having invented role- playing in 1971. From your work on the film, how would you describe his feelings about how his legacy has been portrayed in the RPG community?


You must be talking about the clip we have in the film where he says, “Role Playing began in 1971, don’t ask me how I know this, because I’m the one who did it, thank you very much…”

That’s Dave saying it how it is, and challenging the world to even try to contradict him.

We love that clip so much. The minute we saw it, we said, “ok, we know how the movie starts.”
I don’t think Dave is being defensive, I think he’s being assertive.

You’ve got to understand, in 1976 Dave was demoted to being the mailing room clerk for TSR. His original title was something along the lines of new games acquisitions and designer liaison. By the end of his time at TSR he’d gotten bumped down to being nearly nothing. This is the inventor of Fantasy Role Playing. The co-author of D&D.

That’s the other one I love, Dave being lazy because he isn’t designing games. Well gee, you try working in a mail room packing copies of D&D that people have ordered, for 8 hours a day, and then see how productive a game designer you are.

We’re told they were even opening his personal mail. I would say that Arneson was deeply humiliated at this point in his life.

And then after he is no longer at TSR all the lies begin via editorials in The Dragon, so now Dave is being publicly humiliated.

Something every Arneson detractor neglects to do is to compare how Gary writes about Dave before they have their falling out, and then afterward.

Read the forward to the Blackmoor Supplement where Gygax clearly states that Blackmoor is the first D&D campaign before Greyhawk.

Now read his editorial in the Dragon magazine where he begins to downplay Arneson.

He changes his whole story and says D&D is based on Chain Mail and that Greyhawk is the first D&D campaign, that all Dave did was show Gary 18 pages of notes.

Because modern historians now know that Gary’s assertions in that Dragon magazine editorial cannot be supported and are deeply flawed, there is a lot of revisionism being done to protect Gary Gygax. I suppose that is part of what inspired the film as well, our bullshit detectors went off and we wanted to get to the bottom of it all.

It’s easy to get pulled into the injustice of it all, but one should remain objective.

After all the lawsuits and stupid stuff happened, Gary and Dave would write letters to each other. I’ve been told there are letters where Dave is asking Gary to play in one of his many military campaigns. Gamers need to know that Gary and Dave had forgiven each other to a great extent, and still kept in touch. Rob Kuntz says it was Gary who asked Dave to come do his Blackmoor D&D modules; people should think about that too. If Gary hates Dave so much, why is Dave making modules for D&D?

Again, why are people arguing when the two people who should be angry with each other seem to have worked it out?

And in the end, what you see are two different stories. Gary’s supposed friends betray him and sell him out. It’s like a tragedy out of a Shakespeare drama. On the other hand, Arneson’s friends are loyal and they stick by him through his whole life. Gary basically blew it when he decided to side with the upstairs crowd instead of the downstairs crowd, at TSR, and he paid dearly for it.

But we aren’t interested in that story, our film is about role playing.

We’ve gathered a lot of material about Arneson’s feelings after he left TSR. In his later life Arneson seems very thoughtful about his whole experience.

At the same time, Dave is a gamer. A dyed in the wool war gamer too. For most RPG’ers, one would think D&D is the most important thing. But Arneson was a fanatic over military history. He loved to war game and was always sneaking off to do so, up until his very last days. And even then, Ross Maker and David Wesely would go over to play boardgames with him. I was told two of his favorite board games are Nuclear War and Settlers of Catan.

From what people close to him say, it bothered him that if you ask someone who invented D&D, the most common answer is Gary Gygax. When asked about it, he always said “I am the co-author of D&D”.

He was also amused by his life experiences. He found humor in it all and was not poisoned by it. The things that mattered most to him where the people in his life. He was in touch with a lot of the original group when they had time to make a call, or write a letter. He and Greg Svenson both lived in Florida, so they spent holidays together like family. He still had his father too. It goes without saying that the greatest joy of his life was his daughter Malia, and he also had grandchildren he adored.

Actually there is one hand held shot in the film where his grandson is running the camera, we’re gonna use that shot because we know it will make Dave get a big smile wherever he is.

GG: If there is one thing you would like viewers of your film to come away with, what would it be?


Oh my, good question!

There are many approaches to film making. The hollywood model is very precisely controlled in order to control the viewer and garner a heck of a lot of cash. It is all entertainment brand name product like toothpaste, thus even Star Wars is akin to “Nine out of ten dentists prefer Crest”. I’m not dissin’ on those movies, but it’s a lot different when you know one type of film is being made by a machine and another is made by a couple of people in their living room on home computers.

We aren’t constrained by financial pressures. We have a limited time on this planet and we try to do cool things. So if you see this film, maybe you will get inspired to do something you think is cool too.

If you are trying to make art, then there are other avenues of understanding. It isn’t that you impose what you want onto the artwork. You are actually listening to it. Over time, it tells you what to do. It will become what it wants to be.

Michelangelo is quoted as saying that the statue already resides within the piece of marble and that it only takes the sculptor to come and remove the excess stone to reveal the form that lies within.

We struggled with the edits for a long time. We made about three different drafts for the beginning of the film. The last one was the one that seemed to be the most natural form that was waiting for us reveal it. You’ve seen it yourself, so maybe you can say if it is effective or not.

Maybe you will see these things in this film and it will affect how you approach life and art. And maybe you can just learn to sit and listen and let things change you, so that you can then change things around you.

And thar she blows! Remember, do like their Facebook page to keep up with the latest on this fascinating project!

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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

7 thoughts on “Interview: Secrets of Blackmoor

  1. I really like the tone in this interview: Not an attack on one author of D&D or the other, but an exposition of the complexity of the subject. After six years of being interviewed for four different movies on this subject,(and I was interviewed for Dragons in the Basement even earlier: about 30 years ago) I am really looking forward to seeing Secrets of Blackmoor become the first one to be shown to the public (at Gary Con). I and many of the other "Legends of Wargaming" will be in the audience.

  2. There is a forward in Starprobe by E. GARY GYGAX with this: John Snider is a resident of the twin cities and a member of a large and active group of wargamers there. This group, the Midwest Military Simulation Association, did much in the testing and refinement of the author's work. As of this writing they are still engaged in a campaign, currently in a stage of imperial expansion, with one lost vessel from an avian race, having had the misfortune of somehow arriving at the world of "Blackmoor" (and promptly loosing all to an angry wizard whom they foolishly disturbed)!

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