1.19.2005

Hey You! Hands Off My World!
For the moment I'm going to ignore the fact that writing for "shared worlds" doesn't even carry the prestige of "real" fantasy writing, and is ---to many folks--- no different from fan fiction. The measure of quality rests in the article itself, not whatever packaging/baggage is attached to it.

But that's an argument for another day. Right now I'm just excited to get paid to fumble around blindly in Blackmoor, one of the oldest fantasy campaign settings around.

The story goes something like this:

Sometime during the early 70’s, Dave Arneson is killing time on a weekend. Saturated with Napoleonic war games and fantasy novels, he mixes the two into a frothy soup. Simmer for 1 month and serve.

Add rules by Gary Gygax and you have the origins of D&D.

(Please don’t mistake this as the origins of fantasy role-playing. D&D came out of a role-playing primordial soup of many codified and un-codified systems, and just happened to be the one that came to dominate the land.)

At some point, something goes awry and Arneson drops off the radar. All we know about Blackmoor is what’s cobbled on to the World of Greyhawk setting, a handful of modules, and then Mystara. Some devoted fans keep the faith alive, but it's mostly silence.

Thirty years pass. Open-source style licensing makes it possible for anyone to write and sell d20 material. All of a sudden Arneson is back and the rumor-shrouded northlands that have hovered on the horizon for so long come in to focus.

I did a little poking around, and technically the Realms seems to hold the honor of “Longest Running Fantasy World to Gaming Setting Award,” as the Esteemed Doctor Greenwood was writing short stories in a mapped and documented world as far back as 1967. But between now and then a lot has happened to Greenwood’s Vision. Some fantastic writers have had a chance to enrich the world, and some strange brand-managing decisions have diluted it. As the signature world of TSR/WotC, the Forgotten Realms had to carry all the good and evil that came from 2nd Edition AD&D and all its variants.

In contrast, Blackmoor has simply been Blackmoor. This isn’t to say that it is necessarily better for the isolation, but visiting Blackmoor is like finding a mythical city that has been cut off from civilization for the last six centuries.

I had a chance to talk with Dustin Clingman, editor and co-author of the Blackmoor Campaign Setting, and it turns out that Arneson has been actively running Blackmoor games for the last 30 years. That's pretty cool. It's also pretty daunting.

Imagine if Greenwood had never opened the Realms to other authors. Now imagine trying to write stories for that setting. Simply as one author respecting another author’s creation, you should be absolutely terrified of screwing up.

Enter Harley Stroh, stage right. No source material available other than the setting book, just an invitation to write some stories.

What do you do?

Suck it up and go in blind. Be respectful. Read every scrap of Blackmoor-related material you can find on the net. Try to make the story rich in detail, but know that any of it might have to be taken out for consistency. Trust in your skills, the Cool Theory of fantasy literature, and hope for the best.

Today, the first of a three-part serial is made available to Blackmoor readers. For better or worse, it is the first fiction set in “Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor.”

Here’s hoping the folks that have been following Blackmoor for the last 30 years enjoy it.

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