Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Way Back Machine - Blackmoor (Supplement II) - Part 1

This is the second part of a series (The Way Back Machine) to discuss the four OD&D supplements (Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, and Gods, Demigods & Heroes).  I started by discussing Greyhawk and up now for discussion is Blackmoor - Supplement II.

Blackmoor is probably best known for introducing the readers to Dave Arneson's world of Blackmoor with the amazing, old-school adventure "Temple of the Frog."  This 20-page adventure gave early DM's a real idea of what an adventure "module" should look like - but it's not without its flaws!  Additionally, Blackmoor gives us new classes (Monks, Assassins), new monsters, and some cool new rules (underwater adventures, disease, sages, etc).

Overall, though, I'd say Blackmoor didn't contribute nearly as much to D&D as Greyhawk did.  The new classes it introduced were problematic at best and the proposed new "Hit Location During Melee" was a fiasco.  But at least we got "Temple" and some waterborne rules.

The Cover, Layout & Art

Blackmoor has a very evocative, almost spooky cover.  It depicts a sinister castle sitting atop a treacherous, rocky crag.  Swirling mists and a full moon are in the background.  I think this cover really creates a mood of adventure, mystery and possibly horror.  I like it.

The book is 60 pages, digest sized, and has a great deal of content.  There are 13 illustrations in the entire book plus a number of maps for Temple of the Frog.  And guess what?  Some of the art is pretty dang good because David Sutherland has joined the team!  In fact, a number of the illustrations from Blackmoor are used in the Monster Manual.  This includes some classic MM pics like the Umber Hulk, the Sahuagin, the Chimera, and the Dwarf.  Also of note: Greg Bell, in my opinion, produced substantially better art in Blackmoor than he had in the previous books; he seemed to have grown as an artist.

This supplement (as with the others) is organized in three sections - Men & Magic, then Monsters & Treasure, then finally Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. 

Section 1 - Men & Magic

New Classes: Blackmoor introduced the Monk and the Assassin to D&D.  The Monk is a subset of Cleric.  This class is extremely difficult to roll up if using the "3d6 in order" technique of attribute generation, as it needs a WIS of 15, DEX of 15, and STR of 12.  Monks are limited strictly to humans and may be of any alignment.  In Blackmoor, Monks can use no armor but ANY weapon.  And they receive level-based damage bonuses when using weapons.

In non-weapon (hand-to-hand) fighting, Monks either stun or kill their opponent if they roll 5 points above the required to hit roll.  Monks have some abilities which are similar to Thieves, such as opening locks, removing traps, being rarely surprised, listening, climbing, moving silently, and hiding in shadows.  Monks also get to speak with animals and plants, heal themselves, simulate death, and receive immunity to many mind-altering affects.

Assassins are a subset of Thieves.  The DM is advised to only allow them "under special circumstances and in large campaigns."  Oddly, Assassins can only be neutral.  They must be human.  To be an Assassin you must have a 12 or better in DEX, STR and INT (again, not all that easy with 3d6 in order).  Assassins get all the abilities of Thieves, but at 2 levels lower than their actual level (so a 5th level Assassin functions like a 3rd level Thief).  They may wear leather armor, shield and any weapon.

Assassins are masters at Disguise, Languages and Poison.  Interestingly, any opponent in melee has a 50% chance of "noticing" the poisoned weapon.  If the poison is noticed, the opponent flies into a fury, attacking the Assassin with +4 to hit and +4 damage!  Sheesh.  :)  Assassins have the "Assassination Table" to determine their success in assassinating a victim.

Hit Location During Melee: Talk about a hot mess!  Pages 7-12 of Blackmoor introduce us to Hit Location During Melee.  It's basically six pages of charts and graphs detailing what body part you will strike in melee, how many hit points each part has, and how the height of the attacker modifies this.  I've never known anyone to use these rules.  Have you?  And these charts are by type of monster, like "humanoid," "insectoid," etc.  And they are based on where you are vs. the opponent.  For example, if you are facing an "Avian" from "The Side," you will strike its wings on a 51-80.  Nice to know!  And the rules then go on to explain which areas cause mortal wounds, which ones cause movement impairment, what happens with amputations, etc.  No thanks.

Next installment will discuss the new Monsters & Treasure of Blackmoor - which you'll find to have a very nautical theme.


  1. Blackmoor is sort of a proto-Dragon magazine: new classes, monsters, alternate rules and a module.

  2. I loved the look and feel of the little booklets. I picked up the Holmes basic first but my local KB Toy & Hobby had the booklets, like Blackmoor, on the spinner rack and I grabbed them up as soon as I could afford them.

  3. Zenopus - nice observation!

    Jason - yeah, they feel great in your hands. It's funny how large a role that appearance and feel play in purchasing decisions.

  4. RuneQuest managed to use hit locations to good effect. A very different game, though, in feel.

  5. It's funny how large a role that appearance and feel play in purchasing decisions.
    Genting Crown