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Blackmoor Core Concepts

Posted: Wed Jul 09, 2008 6:59 pm
by Havard
I've been thinking about some of the concepts that appeal to me in the Blackmoor setting. I should be careful when I use a term like "Core Concepts", since it has a ring of objectivity to it, while actually I will be talking about my subjective understanding of the setting.

Hope and Despair
Blackmoor is surrounded by enemies. These all seek to destroy the young kingdom, hating all its values. Together they could easily crush Blackmoor. However, the enemies of Blackmoor are not allies among themselves. This is what gives Blackmoor a fighting chance. It is important then, that Blackmoor is something worth fighting for. A realm of justice, honor and valour, in a world of corruption, greed and deceit. And there is hope, that perhaps Blackmoor could defeat its enemies, one at a time, and thus make the world a better place.

Blackmoor is known for its legendary characters. The North is a place where young men and women come to prove their worth and seek out fortune and glory. One day some of them may even be counted among the King's Companions.

Sword & Sorcery
Unlike the later TSR settings which sort of grew into a genre of its own, Blackmoor is closer to the Sword & Sorcery genre started by authors like RE Howards and which was still widespread in the 1970s. I will get back what some of that means further down.

Importance of Humans
Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, Docrae and other races exist in Blackmoor, but humans play a dominant role in this setting. The demihumans only have minor realms in the area, while there are many human kingdoms. Some of Blackmoor's most dangerous enemies such as the Thonians, Skandaharians and the Afridhi are also human.

Chaos vs. Order – Cities vs. Wilderness
Whereas Good vs Evil a central theme in Tolkien's Middle Earth an many of the worlds inspired by it, Sword & Sorcery settings often focus on other concepts such as Chaos vs. Order. In the world of Conan, Cities represent decay and corruption, lies and deceit. It is the wild and barbaric where one finds the truly noble qualities. Blackmoor also represents order, while surrounded by The decandent Great Kingdom of Thonia to the south, the fanatic Afridhi to the west and the bloodthirsty Skandahar to the North. You also have the extreme form of decadence with the Duchy of the Peaks and Chaos made manifest in the Egg of Coot. Similarly you have idealized barbarians in the form of the Peshwa as well as Marfeldt the Barbarian who is a friend of Blackmoor.

Cthulhu Mythos – R.E. Howard style
While this isn't clearly expressed in Blackmoor, there are hints of darkness remaining from an older age, just like in REH's Conan writings. Dark Gods and sinister cults may be found in the deep corners of the world. The Egg of Coot is a prime example of this. The cult of the Frog is an example of the many evil cults that may be encountered. In Lovecraft's visions, the horrors drive men insane. In REH's works, they exist mainly to be defeated. Chaos and Evil can destroy the weak, but the strong and noble can defeat these forces. This is ofcourse at the center of Blackmoor.

Ancient World
Another trait shared with Conan, Blackmoor is appears more as an ancient world than a medieval one. Thonia seems similar to Rome or the early Byzantine empire. The Afridhi also have traits borrowed from the ancient Persians. Creatures of the Lost World may still be encountered here, such as great lizards or creatures from the Ice Age.

The North
The region of Blackmoor is known as the North. This should have significance. In my campaign, I made the climate more like that of northern Europe, and did the same with the fauna. Since Blackmoor also has an Ancient World feel, Wooly Mammoths, Wooly Rhinos, Saber-Toothed Tigers and Great Eagles are some of the creatures that may be encountered in this setting. This works even better if you use the assumption that Blackmoor is set in Mystara's past.

Technology is another feature of Blackmoor that is not so often seen in traditional fantasy settings. It is mostly linked to wizards. They create Golem-like warriors and clockwork body parts. Other such wonders stem from the Valley of the Ancients. The Egg of Coot may be a source of technology as well. Its technology is a dark one though, combining technomancy with necromancy, thus enhancing its undead servants.

Did I forget any? :)


Re: Blackmoor Core Concepts

Posted: Fri Jul 11, 2008 5:50 pm
by Andaire
Thanks for sharing these reflections on the setting, Havard. We have often had discussions about what makes Mystara unique, but Blackmoor, even as part of Mystara's past, definitely has its own atmosphere.

Re: Blackmoor Core Concepts

Posted: Fri Jul 11, 2008 9:22 pm
by Plaag
Questions: We know the map got changed so that it could connect to the Wilderlands, was anything else changed from the original concept in that? And then again, when it was made apart of Mystara was anything changed in Blackmoor? Lastly for the 3.x releases?
I'm basically curious, was Blackmoor revised for each setting with the core intact or somewhere along the way did the core get redefined?


Re: Blackmoor Core Concepts

Posted: Fri Jul 11, 2008 11:33 pm
by Havard
Ah, feedback! Thanks guys!
Plaag wrote:Questions: We know the map got changed so that it could connect to the Wilderlands, was anything else changed from the original concept in that? And then again, when it was made apart of Mystara was anything changed in Blackmoor? Lastly for the 3.x releases?
I'm basically curious, was Blackmoor revised for each setting with the core intact or somewhere along the way did the core get redefined?
I don't think the Wildelands connection was much more than the adding of the Valley of the Ancients. The adaptation to Mystara added quite a bit, depending on how you look at it. As I see it Mystara compliments Blackmoor quite well, adding a world around the setting and a cosmology which could shed some light on more local matters like the nature of Zugzul and the Egg. Furthermore, the DA series were written by David Ritchie and although he based them quite strongly on Dave's previous work, he did have to make a few changes to make the adventures work with Mystara. IIRC naming the Great Kingdom Thonia is one example of Rithcie's influence. I am also wondering how much of the Afridhi is Ritchie's addition.

In the 3E version, more was changed. The Wizard's Cabal is a little different from the way it was described in the DA version. More attention was paid to the elves. The tech aspect seems to have been a little redefined, from being just random sci fi gadgets that Dave dropped onto his players to including theories about steamtech and clockwork technology.

I don't think any of these changes affect the concepts I listed in my original post though. Note that what I wrote in the first post is my subjective understanding of the setting. I see it as something that I can use and emphasize in order to make the setting stand out from the others. My players are familiar to a wide range of fantasy settings, so with each campaign I try to put focus on what makes that setting different from the others. Hopefully it adds to their enjoyment and mine :)

I think I answered both Andaire and Shane's questions above, feel free to ask more or make other comments if you want. :)


Re: Blackmoor Core Concepts

Posted: Mon Dec 04, 2017 11:03 pm
by Yaztromo
One thing that I find quite peculiar is that Blackmoor City (or Town...), while it is the eponimous city of the Kingdom of Blackmoor, it is not its most important settlement: other cities are bigger for their size, or their businesses, or cultural / magic communities, political importance, etc.
The King himself doesn't seem to pass that much time in Blackmoor City.

Re: Blackmoor Core Concepts

Posted: Wed Dec 06, 2017 8:24 pm
by vestcoat
Technology -- I would put this at the top of the list and put a finer edge on it. The premier TSR module was a Blackmoor module and it featured extraterrestrial technology. Technology was the crux of Blackmoor's branding when TSR launched the DA series (look at the cover art). In D20 products, steam works are attributed to dwarves. Technology is arguably Blackmoor's key branding and it doesn't just come from wizards.

Focus on players
-- Blackmoor is a freewheeling sandbox that doesn't get bogged down in details. It is not an ant farm to walk PC's through super modules, campaign arcs, adventure paths, and 1st-20th-level fantasies imagined by the DM. The FFC conveys a strong sense that Blackmoor is a world where players choose their path and leave their mark. It's populated by former PC's, not NPC's. Players build castles, hire retainers, guide armies, and retire. If the PC's want gunpowder, lasers, and wholly mammoth mounts, the DM should run with it. The players are the storytellers, the DM is the referee.

Wargaming, castle keeping, and resource management -- all prominent elements in the FFC and early D&D in general (i.e. "The Great Kingdom" proto-Greyhawk/Blackmoor wargaming).

Humor -- there's way more humor in Blackmoor than Cthulhu. The Froggies, the Egg of Coot, the Comeback Inn, a boss named Stephen, the turnstile at the dungeon entrance... the setting is dripping in lightheartedness. Like all fantasy, Blackmoor has its monsters, mysteries, and ancient places, but they don't inspire horror. Overly serious players that require grim proper nouns won't like Blackmoor and should look elsewhere.

Re: Blackmoor Core Concepts

Posted: Wed Dec 06, 2017 10:13 pm
by Zeromaru X
I guess that the Chaos vs. Order (Wilderness vs Civilization) is the "corest" concept of Blackmoor. You can strip it of its technology (it happened, with the D20/4e Blackmoor being less sci-fy and more steampunk), or the importance of humans, and it would still fell Blackmoor. But, without the struggle between chaos and order, hope vs despair, the setting would become Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk.