In Search Of Mike Carr
  • In Search Of Mike Carr


    Mike Carr played the first cleric in the history of fantasy tabletop role playing games. Like, the very first. Ever. In the decades since, the character class has earned a spot at the core of the hobby, so when Carr casually mentioned in an email that he played the first one in a now-legendary campaign, it seemed like a follow-up question was necessary. But for Carr, it's just another interesting footnote in a life in gaming.


    In a previous article, I focused on the creation of the Cavern of Quasqueton, a dungeon designed by Carr for the iconic and influential B1 In Search of the Unknown module for Dungeons and Dragons, first published in 1979. Mr. Carr generously provided me with answers to additional questions on his career in gaming, and his responses provide a fascinating tour through some of the most important years in the hobby's development.

    Carr grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a region with an innovative tabletop scene during the 1960s and 1970s. "I really came of age in the right place at the right time, just as the Twin Cities were emerging and thriving as a hotbed of gaming activity, which included Dave Arneson's legendary Napoleonic campaign, Dave Wesely's Braunstein games and, of course, the genesis of Blackmoor and early Dungeons & Dragons," Carr wrote to me in an email.

    Carr played in Arneson's Blackmoor campaign, a stepping stone on the path that eventually led to the development of Dungeons & Dragons. It was during that campaign that Arneson asked Carr to play the original cleric. Carr said he doesn't remember many specifics about the character beyond a disastrous encounter with a balrog.

    "When the Blackmoor campaign was getting underway, Dave Arneson assigned me the role of village cleric, so I can proudly claim to be first one of that character class, which is a pretty cool distinction," Carr said. "I had a small church but not much else – my cleric wielded a mace, since he was unable to use any edged weapons. As a low-level adventurer, my fighting ability was unremarkable, but I did have the ability to heal wounds on a limited scale, which proved to be somewhat useful to our party."

    Carr later moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he worked for the Ground Round restaurant chain in 1974 and 1975. But an invitation from Gary Gygax to work for TSR drew Carr back into the gaming the world, although he had took a pay cut to do it. Carr earned $205 a week at the Ground Round, and Gygax offered him $110 a week along with some stock in the company.

    Carr moved to Lake Geneva in March 1976 and has lived in Wisconsin ever since. During his tenure at TSR, he wrote In Search of the Unknown and edited many more D&D products. Carr would go on to edit a number of books and adventures for TSR, including the core rule books for the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and seminal adventures like The Village of Hommlet, The Keep On The Borderlands and Against the Giants. He also collaborated on adventure modules for Top Secret, an espionage role-playing game published by TSR.

    But, perhaps surprisingly, B1 stands alone as the only Dungeons & Dragons adventure that Carr wrote for TSR, despite its status as a landmark of the genre. Carr explained that, despite his long history in gaming, he wasn't an avid D&D player at the time. That made him a suitable writer for an introductory module designed to inspire beginning DMs, but less so for more advanced adventures, he said. Imagine designing only one adventure for Dungeons & Dragons, and it becoming one of the seminal adventures in the history of fantasy role-playing games.

    contributed by Fred Love
    Comments 15 Comments
    1. Polyhedral Columbia's Avatar
      Polyhedral Columbia -
      Fred thanks for this!
    1. KenNYC's Avatar
      KenNYC -
      B1 deserves all the praise it gets because it really teaches you how to DM, something adventures now just assume you know how to do. The picking of monsters, the assigning of treasure, mapping, choosing of characters and the concept of NPC...I remember it all being in there explained clearly. I don't recall there being much of a plot or huge chances for roleplaying, but that is a more advanced skill the DM can learn later.

      I also think it is kind of neat that everyone everywhere played the same adventure starting out, either this or B2. Shared experiences and memories are important to a culture, even geek culture.

      As for the first cleric ever, this didn't go into detail about who actually came up with the tropes and ideas. It sounds like he was just handed a character sheet and played a character DA designed. Who had the idea clerics could not use bladed weapons? Friar Tuck did, so why not clerics?
    1. werecorpse's Avatar
      werecorpse -
      Does anyone know the clerics name?
    1. Deuce Traveler -
      Quote Originally Posted by werecorpse View Post
      Does anyone know the clerics name?
      No idea, but it would be funny and keeping with the times if it was something like Kime Rarc.
    1. SerHogan's Avatar
      SerHogan -
      The cleric. Never been the same since bards (bards?!) could cast cure wounds.
    1. Caliburn101's Avatar
      Caliburn101 -
      That's cool. My first ever character in 1978 was a Cleric, but this guy beat me by some margin!
    1. Koloth's Avatar
      Koloth -
      This is a cool bit of RPG history. Wonder how many of the other classes can have a similar first run identified?

      I always found the 'no edged weapons for clerics' a bit artificial. It would be interesting if the reasoning for that could be rediscovered. Smashing something's head with a mace isn't really bloodless.

      As for bards casting healing, it is weird but if your main class feature is playing a banjo in combat to assist other characters, you would want some other ability.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by KenNYC View Post
      B1 deserves all the praise it gets because it really teaches you how to DM, something adventures now just assume you know how to do. The picking of monsters, the assigning of treasure, mapping, choosing of characters and the concept of NPC...I remember it all being in there explained clearly. I don't recall there being much of a plot or huge chances for roleplaying, but that is a more advanced skill the DM can learn later.

      I also think it is kind of neat that everyone everywhere played the same adventure starting out, either this or B2. Shared experiences and memories are important to a culture, even geek culture.

      As for the first cleric ever, this didn't go into detail about who actually came up with the tropes and ideas. It sounds like he was just handed a character sheet and played a character DA designed. Who had the idea clerics could not use bladed weapons? Friar Tuck did, so why not clerics?
      The concept of the Cleric not using bladed weapons traces back to a historical figure. A Norman Bishop, Odo of Bayeux (brother of William the Conqueror), who used a mace to avoid the papal prohibition on priests shedding blood. The historical reality of it is more complex and questionable, but that's why D&Ds Clerics could not use edged weapons and were restricted to blunt ones.

      *edit* This was discussed at length back in the day, including in articles in The Dragon iirc (or The Strategic Review?). Not sure on the specifics and yes, whacking some guy upside the head with a mace or club is likely to result in blood flow from various spots. Odo was well known as a warrior and statesman, it's entirely possible Odo on the Bayeux Tapestry waving a club / mace was an attempt to sanitize his rather unclerical activity.

      One thing about the original games Clerics that most probably don't know; they could only use magical armor and blunt weapons. No mundane gear for the early Clerics! The Magic User could at least pull out his (mundane) dagger
    1. AriochQ's Avatar
      AriochQ -
      Don't forget he is the creator of Fight in the Skies (aka Dawn Patrol), which has been run every year since Gen Con 1! Super nice guy as well!
    1. Celebrim's Avatar
      Celebrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by Koloth View Post
      This is a cool bit of RPG history. Wonder how many of the other classes can have a similar first run identified?
      Most of it is documented in Jon Peterson's 'Playing at the World', who has done invaluable service to gaming to preserve it's early history in an academic form.

      I always found the 'no edged weapons for clerics' a bit artificial. It would be interesting if the reasoning for that could be rediscovered. Smashing something's head with a mace isn't really bloodless.
      It seems really artificial now, but it wasn't at all really artificial at the time. R_Chance has already explained the core idea, but to put a bit more context on it, the original Gygax campaign was set on what was essentially an alternate Medieval Earth. The clerics of that world were assumed to be basically Catholic priests, and as such the notion of 'deity' as D&D now uses it wasn't really a part of the cleric's first inspiration. Rather, the clerics first inspiration were the crusader/warrior priests that straddled the line between feudal nobility and man of the cloth, usually with the line decidedly on the side of feudal nobility. Remember, many of these figures were second sons of feudal nobles in their own right. So for a group that was transitioning from a historical simulation to a true high fantasy setting, it's not at all surprising that they'd reach for this myth as a means of balancing the cleric against the fighting man via choice of weapons.
    1. Pauper's Avatar
      Pauper -
      I feel the author missed an opportunity by not naming this article, "Dude, where's Mike Carr?"

      --
      Pauper
    1. fredlove's Avatar
      fredlove -
      Quote Originally Posted by Pauper View Post
      I feel the author missed an opportunity by not naming this article, "Dude, where's Mike Carr?"

      --
      Pauper
      OMG. You're so right. Can't believe I didn't think of that.
    1. TheBlueMax's Avatar
      TheBlueMax -
      Quote Originally Posted by Deuce Traveler View Post
      No idea, but it would be funny and keeping with the times if it was something like Kime Rarc.
      I see Mike on a regular basis and will see if I can get that information!
    1. sstacks's Avatar
      sstacks -
      Quote Originally Posted by Koloth View Post
      I always found the 'no edged weapons for clerics' a bit artificial. It would be interesting if the reasoning for that could be rediscovered. Smashing something's head with a mace isn't really bloodless.
      Pretty sure it was just for game balance and to help each class be unique. Clerics could melee, if you gave them a sword it would steal some of the fighter's thunder etc.

      Let's design it, then come up with a lore reason later. Etc. Remember they were flying by the seat of their pants, this concept of RPGs as some exalted activity / craft / art wasn't really part of it at the time.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by sstacks View Post
      Pretty sure it was just for game balance and to help each class be unique. Clerics could melee, if you gave them a sword it would steal some of the fighter's thunder etc.

      Let's design it, then come up with a lore reason later. Etc. Remember they were flying by the seat of their pants, this concept of RPGs as some exalted activity / craft / art wasn't really part of it at the time.
      In original D&D Clerics really didn't fight. At least until they were higher level. The armor and (blunt) weapons they could use had to be magical. Not mundane. Magic armor was rare and blunt magical weapons even rarer. The use of non magical armor and (blunt) weapons came with the 1E Players Handbook in 1978. So, really the idea of limiting Clerics to keep Fighting Men (as they were called) as superior in combat didn't even rear it's head until 1978. When the party first ran across a set of magic armor you can bet the Fighting Man claimed it. Unless you count house rules. We had picked up Empire of the Petal Throne in 1975 and Priests in it could use mundane armor and (still blunt) weapons. We pretty much adopted that rule for our games then.

      As seat of the pants as it may seem, Gygax and company had been writing (mostly historical) miniature rules for years (professionally since 1970). They knew what they wanted in a game but what they liked is probably not what would be popular now. Clerics were conceived as a cross between Fighting Men and Magic Users with some of the benefits of each and many of the drawbacks. They are described this way in Men and Magic (Book 1 of the three little brown books of original D&D).

      It was a rough sell getting people to play Clerics early on. The one thing they had going for them was Turning the Undead. Dungeons were over run with the undead. Clerics did not even get a spell until 2nd level. 1E gave them spells at 1st level too, as I recall. 1978 was a good year for Clerics

      *edit* For clarity. I think I'm rambling a bit
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