Beyond This Point …
See more illustrations here.
There’s been a lot of talk online among the OSR community – this year – about a mysterious early D&D document. Evidently discovered in a box of the late M.A.R. Barker’s papers, it’s referred to as either “Beyond This Point Be Dragons” or, even more intriguingly, as the “The Dalluh Manuscript” after its “discoverer.”
Some enthusiasts insist that this is an early version of D&D’s rules assembled by none other than Dave Arneson himself. Others dispute this interpretation, but those who have investigated the original manuscript itself insist that it predates the publication of OD&D. Was it a version of the rules created by early play testers? Did someone, perhaps, playing in one of Arneson’s early campaigns put it together? No one, at this point, knows for sure. The manuscript itself remains unpublished and only a small number of illustrations and tables from it have emerged online for people to look at.
Why is this thing so damn exciting to some of us? This could be one of the very earliest versions of the game we will ever access to. Potentially, this could be “the OD&D of OD&D” – something similar to an earlier version of the Gospels, or what some Biblical researchers refer to as “Q.”
Upon simple inspection, some might conclude that this is just another post-D&D variant. Iin other words, someone played the first edition of OD&D and then went out and came up with this as their own version – perhaps with the intent to sell it. I have concluded that the analysis on the text that has been done so far leads one to dismiss this supposition. If anything, it’s obvious that whoever created the document did so before OD&D came out.
I, personally, have no firm theories as to who put this thing together. I am not at all convinced that Dave Arneson wrote it himself… but does it have a “Blackmoor” kind of feel? Comparing it to the very first edition of Arneson’s First Fantasy Campaign might help. Later editions of this very important, if not absolutely essential work from the Judges Guild, got rid of some of the goofier artwork and, in my estimation, substantially changed the “feel” of the presentation. There is a kind of “playfulness” to this newly discovered and mysterious document that is not redolent of, say, Gygax at all. I can readily understand why it looks more like a “Dave production” than a “Gary” one.
But beyond these questions, I have to point out that the real joy of this piece lies in the idea of playing an even earlier version of the game than OD&D. If there are great possibilities in getting back to the basics with just OD&D, then what might happen when you play an even earlier version? There’s “old school”… and now there’s really “old school.”
Will the manuscript ever see publication? Let’s hope so. Someday, I want to sit down with friends and play it as it was written. Until then I look forward to more debate and discussion.