Kickstarter backers of Secrets of Blackmoor have gotten the streaming version of the the film delivered. It is a documentary about how Dave Arneson, in collaboration with his war gaming group, invented the modern table top role playing game. I watched it last night and I enjoyed it. Having read Jon Peterson’s massive tome on the subject, there weren’t many surprises. It’s a good overview of how it happened if you’d rather watch a two hour film than read a detailed 600 page history.
Just a few take aways I want to get out while they are fresh in my mind.
The gamers involved in Arneson’s group said again and again in their interviews how important it was to have a good referee. They learned this because of the trouble they had with their wargames when there were disagreements. It was also apparent that if you wanted to play a game that allowed for creative play, whether that was in a war game or a role playing game, you had to have a referee who could make good rulings, on the fly. There have been some theorists who claim that games without game masters or games where the game master is superseded by the rules as much as possible is better than game master fiat. The Blackmoor Bunch contradicts that.
It was assumed that part of the war game hobby was making up your own rules. Each referee or club would have their own variations of rules that had been found to work well by lots of different groups but modding was part of the war game hobby. The hobby was game design as much as it was game play. That culture of game design led to, I think, the progression of games that became table top RPG’s.
I will have more to say about the film. You can pre order your own copy here.