Mike Carr is a game designer perhaps best known for his game Fight in the Skies (1968, later renamed Dawn Patrol) and for writing the legendary adventure B1 In Search of the Unknown (1978). He also worked as an editor for TSR in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
As most Blackmoor fans will know, Mike Carr was one of the original players in Dave Arneson's original Campaign, playing the role of Bishop Carr, one of the characters who were immortalized in Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign published by Judges Guild.
Earlier this year, I contacted Mike Carr asking him about his memories from those early days of gaming with Dave Arneson, which he kindly agreed to answer and share with the fans of the Comeback Inn Forum. Thanks to Dan H. Boggs for assisting me in this process. Below is the response from Mr Carr, which I hope you will find as interesting as I did:
Being a long time gamer (since my junior high school days in the mid-1960s), I would very much like to help you out. As a native of Saint Paul, I was very fortunate to have been a gaming friend of Dave Arneson's for a number of years and to have participated in a some of his games and campaigns. It's true that I did take part in the original Blackmoor campaign and did play the role of a priest, participating in a few dungeon or overland expeditions. One of my recollections is one rather disastrous encounter with a balrog where our party had to beat a hasty retreat because we couldn't defeat that particular monster. I also recall having the ability to cast one or two spells and having the ability to help heal minor wounds, but in retrospect it's obvious my character was low level and not particularly impressive.
Since my primary interest was in historical games rather than fantasy games (which is still the case), I didn't play too often and didn't make any progress with that character. It's ironic that I knew both Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax fairly well and enjoyed their company from time to time, but never played much D & D with either of them. I did collaborate with them on the published version of DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP! (where I did editing, playtesting and researched all the historical single ship actions for players to refight using the game rules). Later on, while at TSR I worked closely with Gary as the editor for the AD&D Monster Manual, Dungeon Masters Guide and Players Handbook. Because I was not an avid player of the game and not intimately familiar with all its many details, I believe that I was able to be a better editor, since I was able to look at rules and explanations in a different way -- as if I was someone new to the game. That allowed me to address particular rules or concepts that I felt needed additional clarification or explanation, resulting in more completeness and clarity. Working with Gary's voluminous manuscripts and editing those hardbound books was a massive undertaking that was challenging but also enjoyable in many respects.
Even though I did play in the world of Blackmoor during the nascent days of D & D, my participation was limited and my recollections are fragmentary and foggy. Had I known that we were playing a game with more significance than all the various others we were trying out and experimenting with at that time, I would have taken more notes and kept them!
I know that others might be eager to hear what I remember from those days in hopes it might shed light on particular rules or how Dave handled things as a judge, but I cannot speak with confidence or authority because of how little I recall. Since I don't want to create any confusion or muddy the waters, I've decided I should refrain from offering any specific comments. To my regret, I just don't think I could add much of value to the discussion.
I will say this about Dave Arneson. Although his writing and typing skills left much to be desired, he was a very imaginative designer and a game master par excellence. For quite a number of years, he ran Napoleonic era campaigns on a grand scale, overseeing the participation of dozens of players in the Twin Cities area. Individuals or teams of several players each commanded the land and sea forces of individual countries in a campaign that combined Diplomacy-like movements of fleets and armies with operational strategic movements on maps, followed by tactical battles which were fought out on tabletop using DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP! (for naval encounters) and a variation of STRATEGOS rules (for miniature armies of painted 25 mm figures).
Before the age of computers, Dave Arneson was managing massive campaigns with countless details, providing us players with a fascinating and challenging game milieu that I recall very fondly. He was taking in the national budgets we submitted, processing and tracking all the details (training and equipping regiments, buying cannons, building ships, moving fleets and armies, etc.) and conducting it all like a maestro. His efforts -- which no doubt consumed endless hours of his time -- resulted in years of gaming enjoyment for all of us who had the pleasure of participating (I was Carr Pasha, potentate of the Barbary Coast, as well as naval commander for the Emperor of France). Dave ran this Napoleonic campaign twice and it was a remarkable and very enjoyable undertaking both times. Although it was based in the Twin Cities, Dave had Gary Gygax play the distant Americans, which well simulated the fact that they were outside of Europe yet an occasional part of the action when their fledgling navy would show up in European or Caribbean waters.
Dave also ran a couple of all-day events that brought together about a dozen players for an interactive, role playing challenge of a similar nature. One was BROWNSTEIN, where the setting was a third world capital in the midst of a coup d'etat, with players taking the roles of various participants, trying to take advantage of the chaos. Years later, the game JUNTA echoed the same situation. The other was BROWNSTONE, a similar interactive role playing event set in an Old West town. These were both very imaginative and totally enjoyable days of gaming that were dreamed up by Dave and run by him as game master.
I realize that I've not answered your numerous questions about early Blackmoor and have rambled considerably off topic, but this is as good a place as any to express my appreciation and admiration of Dave Arneson as a gaming friend and a game master. My feelings about Gary Gygax are much the same, and I was honored to know and work with both of them.
Since I was a few years younger than both gentlemen, they were very encouraging to me as a gamer and game designer -- and it was Gary who suggested that I continue developing the FIGHT IN THE SKIES game, then helped publish it in subsequent years. That game -- later renamed DAWN PATROL in its 7th Edition -- is the only one that's been played at every GEN CON game convention, from the inaugural event to this year once again, something rather remarkable indeed. Gary also encouraged me to come to Lake Geneva for the first GEN CON game convention on August 24th, 1968 -- and I haven't missed a single one since!
May the dice be with you!
Currently Running: The Blackmoor Vales Saga