This is another installment in my irregular series of the Best & Worst bits that I have had the luck (or misfortune) to read in RPG products. Normal service will resume shortly...
OD&D is both brilliant and flawed. For example Greyhawk is full of many brilliant ideas but has others which are (at best) a tad iffy (does anyone have much love for percentile strength?).
Blackmoor though completely stumped me - there is almost nothing inspired or even of any use in the whole first half of the book (and the second half is only saved by being mostly a very strange module).
Firstly there are the new character classes. Monks are just plain weird. Described as a Cleric / Fighter / Thief. Any hit by 5 or more has a 25% chance of killing outright... Hands are a deadly weapon, but they only get d4 hit points. They are dead easy to hit, until at high levels were they do ridiculous amounts of damage. Does this class work in practice? I never allowed one in AD&D but no-one ever asked to play one either!
In the middle of the Monk we get a picture of a Lammasu. No, it's not a monster described in the book. Throughout the rest of the supplement we get pictures of Hell Hounds, Umber Hulks, Harpies, Mind Flayers, Ropers, and a Chimera - none of which are monsters out of this book...
The second new class is equally strange - Assassin. Must be Neutral? Can use poison, but if someone spots you are they get angry and can attack you at +4 to hit, +4 damage?? The % chance of assassination table is just plain strange. What happens if you fail in the attempt?
Did anyone ever use this? Did the author ever use it? Is it just a brain dump of random thoughts?
Giant Crab. Giant Octopus. Giant Squid. Giant Crocodile. Giant Toad. Giant Frog. Giant Leech. Giant Beaver. Giant Otter. Giant Wasp. Giant Beetle. Giant Shark. Giant Eagle. Giant Sea Spider. Giant Wasteoftime. (To be fair it does have Sahuagin - and an illustration of one!).
The Second Half
At this point the supplement changes tack entirely. There's half a page of brief descriptions of Magic Items with an underwater theme which are OK.
The Temple Of The Frog forms the bulk of the second half of the supplement (21 pages). I'm unsure of how you were expected to run this adventure, and I don't know whether Dave had ever run it or just wrote it for the supplement. It is certainly very different from other early adventures, and if nothing else it's an interesting curiosity.
Then we have seven pages of Underwater Adventures, Sages, and Diseases, which all manage to read as fairly sensible and potentially of use.
Who Wrote What?
As is fairly well known, Blackmoor had a difficult gestation. It was the work of several authors, Tim Kask given the unenviable task of combining them together. Steve Marsh wrote the Underwater Monsters, (probably) the Magic Items and the Underwater Adventures section, which are some of the best sections. The Temple Of The Frog is Arneson. The rest appears to be by various authors with Tim Kask attempting to work them into something usable, and unsurprisingly not really succeeding.
I've found a thread over at Dragonsfoot which discusses who may or may not have written what.
This supplement would have worked much better simply as a bunch of articles in The Strategic Review. As such they would not be viewed so critically now - as the follow up act to Greyhawk they invite derision. The best that can be said is that it encourages the reader to think "I can do better", and readers frequently have. As a view into Dave Arneson's game it isn't very illuminating. For that you're better looking at The First Fantasy Campaign (I'm still on the look out for a reasonably priced copy).