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Dave Arneson's Blackmoor: The First Campaign

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Average Rating:3.7 / 5
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Dave Arneson\'s Blackmoor: The First Campaign
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Dave Arneson's Blackmoor: The First Campaign
Publisher: Zeitgeist Games
by Jason M. I. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/31/2010 21:25:38

I most definitely enjoyed reading through the Blackmoor campaign setting. It resonates with old school style -- harkening back to the heyday of D&D. The campaign setting is full of the little bits and pieces a DM is looking for to bring the campaign setting to life in their sessions. The organization is intuitive, well laid out and complete with an index.

For first time visitors to the setting, the essence of Blackmoor is a dispersed across the chapters on magic, places and NPCs, but is comprehensive enough to give the DM all the canon they require.

I haven’t played in the previous incarnations of Blackmoor. However, years ago my group romped about in the classic Mystara D&D setting for over a decade of adventures. At that time, TSR had slapped Blackmoor in as the long distant past of Mystara. Consequently, much of Blackmoor felt very familiar to me here. Especially the common pantheon of gods. I always gravitate to gods who actively meddle in the affairs of mortals rather than mere vague deities who serve as spell dispensers. These gods, while briefer than they appeared in the “Wraith of the Immortals” D&D boxed set, are complete enough with physical manifestation descriptions just raring to step into game play.

The chapter detailing the geography and locales doesn’t disappoint. Less crunchy bits than some settings, but it has a wealth of descriptive text giving great detail on the purpose, function and characteristics of the various places. Although, its attention to NPCs is fairly light (i.e. the DM will be stocking his own NPCs accordingly to bring the places to life). For the NPCs they do mention (within the places or NPC section), I would have liked a lot more stat blocks -- even abbreviated ones. They seemed to arbitrary in detailing some NPCs while skipping others.

I definitely felt I could run adventures through the Blackmoor lands with the material available. Unfortunately, key to any setting would be the map. And this is where it falls down immensely. The black and white map reminds me of my maps. Meaning, cluttered, messy and amateurish. Certainly a vary nostalgic map style, no doubt!

While the map might appeal to some, there is a problem with it that will annoy people similar to me. At the very least, a campaign setting map should include the locales that have been described in detail in the setting’s text. Unfortunately, the map is missing quite a number of places. For example, Boggy Bottom, South Pim, Kenville, and Wizard's Watch are missing. And a bit sloppy, Archlis is labeled Archus.

Hoping this might have been corrected, I poked around the publisher and distributor websites, but garnered nothing useful. However, the edition of Blackmoor available on here for third edition D&D (at least as of this writing) has a free PDF preview you can download. It includes a full colour map with all the major sites labeled! So, I found that map essential to figuring out the setting and suggest downloading it for anyone who doesn’t own the previous Blackmoor edition.

Which brings to mind art. Certainly quality artwork isn’t essential for a RPG book. Although, this tends to be a mark of a high quality publication. The solid black cover is a giveaway to what you will find inside. The chapter lead-in murals are decent, but overall this is not a book you will ever flip through and show off any artwork at the gaming table. (Although, on the upside it is printer friendly.)

The integration into fourth edition D&D feels functional, but incomplete. In the character class chapter, they introduce new 4e races into Blackmoor (Dragonborn, Eladrin, Tieflings). But they are never mentioned anywhere else in the setting. In fact, each traditional race has a “Lands” section in their write-ups -- glaringly missing from the new 4e races.

On the reverse angle, notably missing are gnomes. They didn’t exist as of 4e Player’s Handbook 1. So, I see the writers just tossed gnomes out completely from their prior Blackmoor edition. Bad foresight -- since gnomes were later introduced as player characters in 4e.

I skipped over the new Blackmoor character classes, though, since 4e Player’s Handbooks 1 through 3 have enough classes and races for my players. As a DM, I don’t need any more classes to keep a wrangler on. So, I can’t speak on this section.

The monster section is neither here nor there for “must have” additions, but it does include the setting’s antagonists -- the Afridhi. However, I would have liked more overall governing information on utilizing them as adversaries. Such as information on their named ruler Toska Rosa, their motivations, tactics, plans. Something to be able to slip them in quite easily.

Only recently did I upgrade to 4e and I was looking for a setting to change things up and have some fun. While not a radical departure in creatively, this setting immediately felt like home and compatibility with 4e sold it for me.

Time for some adventures in Blackmoor!

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dave Arneson's Blackmoor: The First Campaign
Publisher: Zeitgeist Games
by Brett G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/03/2009 18:05:49

From the moment I became familiar with the D&D 4E ruleset, I considered Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor to be the perfect setting. I was frankly aggravated that it took so long to release an updated campaign book. Whether it was worth the wait or the expense will depend on your expectation.

In many ways, the 4E Blackmoor campaign is just a rehashed version of the 3.5E release with updated character generation rules consistent with 4E including one non-standard race (the Docrae) and six new professions with paragon paths. New skills and powers are included. Some, like the Arcane Warrior, are a lot like Sword Mages from the Forgotten realms and others may see similar WotC releases in future Player Handbooks. Still, the Elderkin and Idolater look fresh and having a Noble class PC in a party could make for some interesting situations! As to the new races of the 4E, Blackmoor does a very credible job of integrating them into the setting. The back story for Tieflings could be the underlying quest of an entire campaign itself regardless as to whether anyone played such a race.

Also included are a handful of magic items, artifacts and rituals that add detail and character to a Blackmoor campaign. I was especially impressed with the artifact selection.

The gazetteer of locations is very much like that found in the 3.5E release with little additional information and some information from the previous edition missing. Information is included as to racial physical appearances, how hair is worn, types of clothes worn, common naming conventions, etc. Deities are reasonably well fleshed out and attention is paid to things like calendars, festivals, and the politics of the North. A time line is also provided that adds welcome detail as to how the north got where it is today.

One area where the gazetteer adds considerable information above the prior edition is in the area of organizations. Several magic oriented organizations with conflicting interests are outlined setting the stage for friction and mysterious plotlines.

Several NPCs are provided as well new monsters to battle in the wilds of the North.

Those comfortable with adapting 3.5 professions and races themselves may not find the value they are seeking if they already own the excellent 3.5E of Blackmoor. There is new stuff to be had but 110 pages out of 260 are devoted to character development and another roughly 50 pages are spent on NPCs and monsters. A few pages are used for fiction to aid DMs in understanding the ambiance of Blackmoor.

Roleplayers new to Blackmoor or who would rather have professionals handle the retooling for the 4E will find a great deal to like. The classes appear to be well balanced although it will take more than a few sessions to really make determinations on that score. As a Point of Light setting, few will be able to match Blackmoor’s potential and I doubt any will exceed it. It has a wealth of detail but manages to avoid being overwhelming. Of course, the number one concern is whether the setting is sustainably playable and the answer is a resounding “yes!”

There are a handful of shortcomings that future updates will hopefully address. 1) The 4E campaign guide inexplicably lacks population information for the various settlements. Of course, no DM is bound by such guidance but it is usually helpful in conveying a sense of the settlement’s provincialism or lack thereof. If the campaign guide is updated, I hope CMP will add that information back in. 2) While I appreciate the digital version being created in a printer-friendly fashion, the lack of a color map is a major (and inexcusable) oversight. Purchasers of the digital Blackmoor 4E campaign guide should be allowed an additional color download of the regional map as a separate file. Correcting these two issues, especially the lack of a color map would increase my rating by a star.

If D&D 4E is your game and you are in the market for a setting in which to host a campaign, you need look no further than Blackmoor: the First Campaign.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
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