The First Fantasy Campaign

This is as Old School as it gets. the First Fantasy Campaign by Dave Arneson. This is pre Dungeons & Dragons, no ampersand. The original Blackmoor campaign from which the D&D rules arose. I ran across this while cataloging my files, and figured it belongs.

I find it telling that this was published by Judges Guild, not TSR. I think that even at this early date Arneson and Gygax were at odds with each other. Sadly it suffers from being a Judges Guild product in being cheaply produced. The old JG books have that “dusty” feel of deteriorating paper. I think for preservation’s sake I need to break out the magazine bags and backers. Get the scanner working and scan the lot as well. (Unless you know of someone having done this. Scanning books is a hellish chore, I don’t want to duplicate effort. No the author is gone, the original company likewise. Screw the copyright. Preservation trumps IP.)

Sadly I cannot give you a primrose walk down memory lane. It has been four decades since I read this. I also read it as casual literature, not something to run. Yes, I did glean ideas from same. I do that with the news. I consider this a fascinating glimpse at what role-playing was before anyone knew it was role-playing.

And yes if I can find a PDF of this I’ll discuss with @Farcaster if he wants to host it.


Why not contact the Arneson estate and see if you can get permission?

Not unreasonable, but where to start?

Probably by tracking down his wife, Frankie Anne Morneau… or you might have better luck with the daughter, Malia Weinhagen, as she has made statements and interviews thus proving herself more open to communication. His old Gaming group still meets, so I guess they might be a possible route as well.

And instead of scanning, use a modern phone if you have access to one? The built in cameras can be set to pretty high resolution and it is easier on a book to simply take pictures of the pages. Might want a second person for the extra pair of hands. Transfer the pics from phone to computer and use a free tool like PDFILL to combine the images into a pdf.

Only if I have to. Taking pictures of the pages still requires some manner of rig to flatten them and make sure you take each from the same height. Still a bother. I need the scanner anyway. These two pictures were taken by my wife’s phone. Not even close to the 1200 DPI the scanner can do. It’s an old scanner. (Might have to replace it.)

Hmm, yeah not all phones will go that high, one would have to dig through the settings and specs to check.

These maps are scanned at 300 DPI, it works for the maps. They are twice the size of a standard book page, the original paper. I’m not sure of farcaster’s graphic size limits, but I’ imagine they are too large to load.

With text the higher the DPI the better. You code, I do graphics and DTP. I would want a minimum of 600 DPI. for an 8x10 book that would be 4800x6600. By the time you pack that into a PDF you get a Hell of a lot of compression. But you never get better resolution than what you start with. The ODF files for such things are monsters.

That said, no matter how you do it, scanning a book is a Hellish chore. I’ve done small ones. If the work has been done, I do not want to do it again.

PS: Issue solved. A quick google and the work was done. had the book. I did not see the map.

I got this when it came out. I’ve still got it, and I’ve used it in a bunch of different ways. It would be a mistake to view it as solely some historical curiosity. It’s not a bad campaign guide, even today.

He did actually update some of his original stuff a bit for this Judges Guild publication, and it’s a merged look at the campaign over different points in time, rather than some accurate snapshot of a specific moment. The maps were cleaned up and expanded. Supposedly, the main campaign maps can even be linked to the JG City State, though I’ve never looked to see how well that would work.

I’ve actually been thinking recently about using this again for a 10mm fantasy wargame campaign I’ve wanted to run. For those who have never seen or played it, this is part wargame campaign, part setting book, and part RPG dungeon crawl.

The wargame campaign material outlines the economies, troop limitations, and potential unit/weapon improvements of the various factions, along with the seasonal flow of the original campaign. It includes some narrative details of how things worked out when he first ran it, but it’s prettty simplistic in terms of lore; mostly just good guys and bad guys slugging it out.

The campaign map is really good, but super challenging. There were actually two copies included, one for the DM and one with less info on it for the players. I feel that with a little tweaking of the numbers, this land could still make for an interesting wargame campaign with a lot of castle sieges and battles in difficult terrain. It is a lot of swamps, cut through by a maze of waterways. The economy numbers are a little crazy, and the whole thing is a bit too huge to easily manage without a large, invested player pool. Could be a lot of fun online though, if somebody wanted to put the work into it.

The second half of the book focuses on Castle Blackmoor, other locales and the dungeon. There is a lot of fun background on the campaign’s significant villains; maps and descriptions of town; specific locales, etc. If you wanted to run this as an OD&D campaign, it’s doable, though there is not a lot of detailed plot narrative adventure here. He did develop random table for generating outdoor map sections, terrain and town/castle features for encounters on the road. I wove a lot of this into a campaign I ran in the early '80s.

The dungeon itself is probably the most dated aspect of the whole thing. I think today’s players would struggle with it. There are 10 levels of a lot of frustrating, crazy mazes, made up mostly of hallways jutting off in random directions and dead ends. Most of the described spaces are just combatants and treasure listed.
I used some of this as well. Players hated the mapping at first, but I found they fixated on wondering why the place was the way it was. Were the dead ends just unfinished? What was the original goal of the design? The more we got into it, the more the players were eager to take over the whole place and bring it to fruition in the pursuit of some untapped great power that it must have held!

If you like playing OD&D/Chainmail either at a mass battle level or as a RPG, this is still worth checking out as a usable game resource. But if you’re inclined to more modern games, with extensive story arcs and built-in narratives, this probably isn’t more than a peak at the past for you.

Thanks for the overview. I haven’t touched it for years. It was lost in the house for a good long time. Yes, I have both maps. The PDF of the book can be gotten at the link above.

The book is actually in better shape than a lot of the old JD stuff that has the dusty feel of deteriorating paper. All my JD books, good or bad are going in acid free bags to keep them around a bit longer.

I have a lot of games and gaming stuff accumulated over the last 45 years, but I’m very much a gamer, not a game collector. If I own it, it’s 'cause I still want to play it.

Stuff accumulates. I’m in the middle of cataloging everything, rather making sure it is cataloged. I also do not collect to collect. I’m looking at the embarrassment of riches in terms of AD&D 1&2 ed gear and thinking I need to pass some down the pike. I bought that pile of books and got some or this pile of books, I inherited a good deal of stuff from a late friend. I’m like a shoal that sand accumulates on at the sea shore. Running the database is proving this.

Here’s a version with the map, color and black & white. It doesn’t have the (blank) back page and cover from the pdfcoffee file.

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Got same. Someone colored it. It did not come that way. JD maps are a four fold sepia tone. No color. I added color to mine as well.