The next day, Garth’s neighbor came over. Jarrod was a tall, skinny kid. He wore glasses with a cloudy film that made it difficult to see his eyes. When he talked, it sounded like he was chewing a mouthful of rocks.
After our introduction, Jarrod pulled a folded sheet of ruled notebook paper from his back pocket. “This is my character,” he said around the rocks. He unfolded the paper and handed it to me. “He’s a sixth-level magic-user.”
At the top of the page, I saw “KAYTAR” written in block letters. There were penciled columns of words and numbers, which I didn’t understand, but “magic-user” was ringing in my ears. What a character is and what kind of magic one might use I did not know, but I would soon discover both.
We sat on the floor in Garth’s room. The pale blue book lay next to the denim bag, from which spilled dice on a tight-knit polyester carpet, the color of fern.
Garth had a two-pocket folder, like the ones we used in school. It was blue, and he peeked inside it during the game, keeping the contents hidden from view. He said, “This is my dungeon folder. I’m the dungeon master, and I describe the dungeon to you as you explore it. You’ll see how it works. Just watch.”
After some discussion, Garth and Jarrod picked up where they left off the previous game. I gleaned that Kaytar was in a dungeon, which was dark and dangerous. He explored corridors with vaulted ceilings, navigated intersections, passed under archways, and opened doors.
As Kaytar went, Garth described what he saw, and Jarrod said what Kaytar would do. Jarrod talked about his character in the third person: “Kaytar lights a torch,” “Kaytar goes right,” “Kaytar opens the door.”
Behind the doors were rooms that might have rotting leather sacks full of coins or gems hidden in them, or they might have a monster, like a minotaur or a gargoyle. Kaytar might, by searching the room, find the coins or gems, or he might be viscerated by the gargoyle.
There were also traps and pitfalls. When the ceiling didn’t fall on him or a poison dart come flying from a hole in the wall, Kaytar might fall through a trapdoor in the floor. Kaytar avoided the flying dart, but he didn’t notice the trapdoor and, so, was deposited in a lower level of the dungeon.
“You enter a high chamber,” said Garth. “Stairs go up on one side to a balcony that overlooks the room. There’s a man standing there, wearing long dark robes. He’s surprised. What do you do?”
Jarrod looked through cloudy glasses at Kaytar’s sheet. “Hey, can Kaytar use that scroll he found?”
“Yes. It’s a sixth-level spell.”
“Kaytar unrolls the scroll and casts disintegrate.”
“Okay, the wizard gets a saving throw.”
Jarrod bit his lip. Garth threw a dice on the dungeon folder. The three of us watched it roll to a stop.
“A five!” Garth said. “The robed man crumbles into a thousand tiny pieces. He was a thirteenth-level wizard!”
Jarrod beamed. Chewing rocks, he said, “That should give Kaytar enough experience points for seventh level.”
In preparation for the next age in the Wyrm Dawn campaign, I made monster group cards for the primordial wyrm, each wyrmling, and living statues. I also made a cosmetic change to the Kobolds card and added new actions, used by the new monsters.
Guard A guarded treasure or epic treasure cannot be stolen or otherwise removed from its place.
Wake Roll 1d6. On a 6, the active group explores. Otherwise, it stays asleep and prepares.
Touch Handle touch as steal. In addition, no matter the results of the conflict, the target group (in our case, the Dragon) adds the following instructions to the bottom of its card.
Wyrm-touched: The Dragon has the same bonus to dice rolls as the Wyrmling who touched it. A wyrm-touched Dragon cannot be so touched again.1
New and Modified Monster Groups
Population: ● Treasure: ❍ Epic treasure: ⛭ Special bonus: ★
Remove the draconic tag from the Kobolds card.2
In addition to the three initial monster group cards, the Living Statue card begins the Age of Monsters in play. By default, its type is Magma, but you may decide otherwise or roll for it. Place its counters with 1 ⛭ in the Hall of Living Statues.
The Living Statue guards an enormous stone tablet. This epic treasure is called “The Stone of Living Statues.” Made by the Throrgrmir dwarves in their renaissance, the tablet describes how to create a living statue. It is immovable and, so, cannot be stolen or otherwise removed from the Hall.
If the Wizard or the Blue Wizard finds the tablet unguarded, add the following action to the wizard’s card:
❏ Build Living Statue (req cyrstal, iron, or magma).3
On its turn, the builder—and only the builder—may deactivate a Living Statue. Deactivation is not a separate action. When deactivated, the Living Statue card is removed from play. Given the required materials, a wizard may build multiple Living Statues, but only one at a time may be in play.
Crystal●●● Iron●●●● Magma●●●●● Treasure varies
Construct, Mindless, Magical
Constructed by the Throrgrmir dwarves or a powerful wizard, a living statue is a formidable guard.
AlwaysGuard. IF it has not interacted with any monster group in the last turn, the Living Statue prepares and takes no additional actions.
A Living Statue’s type is determined by the resource of which it is made. It takes its turn immediately after the wizard who created it.
The Primordial Wyrm begins the Age of Monsters in her lair, which is the ancient city of Throrgardr, now in ruins. Place 6 ●, 6 ❍, and 2 ⛭ in Throrgardr.4
The epic treasures in the hoard are Lyngheid’s Prize and the Seventh. When yielding treasure, whether through theft or otherwise, the Primordial Wyrm gives up normal treasures first. Only when she has no treasures remaining does she sacrifice Lyngheid’s Prize. The Seventh, being her last unhatched egg, cannot be removed from the hoard while the Primordial Wyrm is in play.5
Unique, Primordial, Aquatic, Draconic, Hoarder
The primordial wyrm sleeps in her lair unless disturbed…
AlwaysFight any group that has made me the target of any action. IF I have not interacted with any group in the last turn, prepare and take no additional actions.
Healing: If the Primordial Wyrm has fewer than 6 ●, roll 1d6 when she prepares. On a 1, add 1 ● to the Primordial Wyrm.
Apathetic: No matter how many ● or ❍ she gains, the Primordial Wyrm never rises to villainy.
Die for the Seventh: The Seventh, being her last unhatched egg, cannot be removed from the hoard while the Primordial Wyrm is in play.
There are six unique Wyrmling cards. Wyrmlings are named by order of birth. Fighting over treasure during the Age of Civilization, they now abide by an established hierarchy. Stronger Wyrmling cards, higher in the order, have a bonus to all dice rolls.
Unique, Aquatic, Draconic, Wandering
A wyrmling seeks treasure. She does not know nor care that her touch effects dragons. She just wants the treasure.
IF I am asleep, wake. IF I am near a Dragon and it has treasure, touch it. Otherwise, alwaysexplore.
Hoard bound: When she acquires a treasure, a Wrymling returns immediately to the lair, adds the treasure to the primordial wyrm’s hoard, and sleeps.
Wounded: A sleeping Wyrmling with fewer than 2 ● cannot wake. Instead she prepares, adding 1 ● instead of a ★.
Protected: In the lair, a Wyrmling cannot be the target of any action while the Primordial Wyrm is in play.
Bonus to Dice Rolls
1 The touch action and the Touched instructions might also be used in a demon-centered campaign—renamed as taint and Tainted.
2Wyrmwyrd, the follow-on campaign, uses the B/X “rules as written.” Though compelling, the kobold association with dragons was introduced in a later edition.
3 Crystal may be exploited from the Crystal Caverns, iron from the dwarven Smelter, Foundry, or Power Plant (considered as biomes), and magma (also a biome) from the magma chamber.
4 During the Age of Civilization, the primordial wyrm acquired (through her treasure-seeking offspring) nine dwarven treasures. Using the average treasure type values, I converted nine dwarven treasures to four dragon treasures. These are in addition to the two treasures the primordial wyrm previously possessed.
5 I don’t see in the rules that the (optional) epic treasures can be stolen at all. I’m making up the “yield normal treasures first” rule.
“These are the rules,” said Garth. “You don’t have to know them, but this’ll give you an idea about the game.”
I had to study the monochrome cover to make out the image. A dragon—fangs bared, wings spread—narrowed its serpentine eyes at an armored bowman and a bearded man in a pointy hat. The man wore a robe with stars, comets, and crescent moons all over it, like the hat. He pointed a magic wand at the dragon. I could tell it was a magic wand, because magic—in the form of glowing blue flame and tiny stars—was shooting out of it. The bowman, who wore a shield slung over a shoulder, aimed an arrow at the dragon. The dragon sat on a mound of coins and jewelry, chests and vases, and swords that stuck out at angles.
Inside the book, the text was small, the pages yellowed, which gave the impression of age. Black and white drawings depicted medieval characters, who were armed and fighting mythic creatures or hordes of grotesque humanoid monsters.
Thumbing through its leaves, I read long headings in block capitals: TIME AND MOVEMENT IN THE DUNGEONS and TRAPS, SECRET DOORS, SURPRISES, WANDERING MONSTERS and EXPERIENCE POINTS AND EXPERIENCE LEVELS. There were rules for COMBAT MELEE, MISSILE FIRE, and MAGIC WEAPONS, plus page after page of descriptions of MAGIC SPELLS and MONSTERS.
My thumb stopped. One whole page was delineated in rows and columns—the heading: TREASURE TABLE. Percentages showed the chances for coins of precious metals, including platinum, which I’d heard of, and electrum, which I hadn’t. The coins came by the thousands and were accompanied by gems, jewelry, maps, and magic.
I flipped back to the front to have a closer look. In the FOREWORD FROM THE ORIGINAL EDITION, I read a mysterious fairy tale. It began with “ONCE UPON A TIME, long, long ago…” and turned quickly esoteric. There were castles, crusades, and societies. There was a character named Dave Arneson and a map of a “Great Kingdom” and its “environs.” There was a bog and, in it, a “weird enclave” called “Blackmoor” in “a spot between the ‘Giant Kingdom’ and the fearsome ‘Egg of Coot.’” There were medieval fantasy “campaigns,” which were more than just a game. “Blackmoor” was one, another was “Greyhawk.”
The place names were unfamiliar, as were many of the words. They all came together in my mind like pieces of an insolvable jigsaw puzzle. But each piece glowed in blue flame and tiny stars.
I closed the book and looked again at the cover. “When do we play?”
In the years since, I learned all the place names from the mysterious fairy tale and all the words too. I learned about the Castle & Crusade Society and their CHAINMAIL fantasy rules. I learned that Dave Arneson and the FOREWORD’s author Gary Gygax invented the game, of which the “original edition” was published in the previous decade—not so long, long ago. I have adventured in Greyhawk and Blackmoor and set scenarios for my own medieval fantasy campaigns in those worlds. And although now I know its origin and character, in my mind, the “Egg of Coot” remains fearsome.
In time the Throrgrmir dwarves recovered from the civil war. They built a power plant, which drove production higher, and they made a highway, which reached subterranean neighbors to the east and west. Increased communication fostered the exchange of goods, services, and skills and, so, ushered in a rebirth of the Throrgrmir civilization.
Meanwhile, in the Deepmost Caverns, trouble—in the form of wyrmlings1—hatched from eggs. The first attacks on Throrgardr’s gate were repulsed, but the wyrmlings persisted and they grew in number.
Eventually, the wyrmlings sneaked around the gate, swimming up the river, and defeated the dwarven defenders in frontal assaults. They prowled corridors, seeking treasure and decimating dwarven populations.
Despite this constant threat, the dwarves continued their mining operations and construction projects. Beside the highway, they built an assembly line. Progressing along the road, visitors entering the realm followed products as they were assembled on this magnificent testament to dwarven ingenuity.
The dwarves also continued Eitri’s work from the previous age, building the aqueduct that carried water from the screw as well as a drain. A valve directed water into an unused cavern or back into the river to recycle water in time of upstream drought.
They also added a sewer beneath the city’s graffhellar.2 The system extended beyond the city, servicing inhabited areas throughout the realm.
As their crowning achievement, the Throrgrmir dwarves constructed an impossible machine. It was an engine that produced more energy than it consumed. By feeding its output back into the machine, it ran by itself at the pull of a lever.
With this energy source, they built an entire hall adorned with statues of granite, crystal, gems, and iron (which they invented on a day off). Not simple carved figures, these statues were animated with a life force.
But the dwarves suffered from the wyrmling attacks. The crystal and gem mines were played out. Facing a bleak future, clans began to emigrate, and their numbers dwindled.
Finally, three wyrmlings attacked the gate and traversed Throrgardr. On the city’s outskirts, they ravaged a graffhellir. The dwarves successfully fought off the attackers, driving the wyrmlings back to their lair. But it was to be their last victory. The wyrmlings returned in a relentless onslaught, destroying clans and stealing treasure.
So, in a mass exodus the remaining clans departed, taking all the wealth they could carry.3 The primordial wyrm crept into the abandoned city, gathering wyrmlings to her, and the Throrgrmir civilization came to an end.
1 By now, the dwarves named the wyrm “Ormr” (serpent), and its offspring they called frekormr, (greedy snake) or frekr for short, and more derogatory, thjofrormr (thief snake).
2Graffhellar (canal + caverns): Throrgardr’s administrative areas akin to city quarters. Also used for areas outside the city. Singular graffhellir.
3 Had the wyrmlings not so depleted the population, the civilization would have ended in an industrial accident. The impossible engine, producing evermore energy, would eventually explode. The departing dwarves, with a pull of the lever, switched off the machine. Should the lever ever be pulled again…
Meanwhile, the wyrm laid eggs. During Throrgrmir’s final era, the eggs hatch. While the dwarves struggle in the war’s aftermath, they must defend themselves against treasure-seeking wyrmlings.
Tinker & Tack
What’s fun about tinkering with rules in your own instance of a game is that they don’t have to work in every case. They only have to fulfill your present purpose. I tacked these additions on to the Age of Civilization. I present them here as an example of what you might do with your own game of How to Host a Dungeon.
When expanding and exploiting, dwarves prefer to move into dormitories and store treasures in vaults as far as possible from any active wyrmlings. They build, however, where they find space.
I name wyrmlings after the order in which they hatch, using the greek alphabet. From seven eggs, the wyrmlings are called Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, and Eta.
Following the dwarves’ building phase, the wyrmlings—all together—take their turn in phases as follows.
Roll a d6 for each unhatched egg. For each 1 or 2, one egg hatches. Emerging wyrmlings immediately search for treasure.
Once hatched, a wyrmling may wake or search. Each of these actions may lead to subsequent actions, which are handled in the appropriate phase.
Roll a d6 for each sleeping wyrmling. The wyrmling wakes on a result of 1 to 4. Upon waking, it immediately searches for treasure.
Wyrmlings seek gold and gems. As the offspring of primordial and cosmic parents, they have no affinity for epic treasures.
The wyrmling moves one finger toward the nearest dwarven treasure, excluding epic treasures. A wyrmling may move along waterways as well as tunnels.
If the wyrmling encounters a dwarven population, the conflict is resolved in the CONFLICT phase.
If the wyrmling encounters treasure, it returns immediately to the lair with the treasure, and its turn ends.
When a wyrmling encounters a dwarven population, the conflict is resolved according to the rules for CONFLICTS AND ATTACKS in the Age of Monsters section, How to Host a Dungeon.
If multiple wyrmlings are in conflict with a population, they join forces and get a +1 bonus per additional wyrmling on the conflict roll.
The wyrmlings are young and, when outmatched, retreat back to the lair. Therefore, dwarves win all ties.
If the wyrmling wins the conflict, remove the dwarven population. The wyrmling’s turn ends.
If the dwarves win, the wyrmling retreats immediately back to the lair and sleeps.
The Wyrmling “She”
I don’t know yet if the offspring of the primordial wyrm and the World Dragon have a gender. Until we discover otherwise, I use feminine pronouns for the wyrmlings.
At the Gate
The dwarf gate blocks the tunnel from the Deepmost Caverns to the city of Throrgardr. Although no dwarven population is present, the dwarf gate is considered to be defended, unless occupied by wyrmlings. Defenders get the appropriate fortification bonus against attacks. From the gate, the dwarves also observe the waterway entrance.
A wyrmling at the gate may either attack the gate or sneak by it, swimming up the waterway. If more than one wyrmlings are present, they split into two even groups: some attack, others sneak. An odd wyrmling joins the attackers.
Multiple wyrmlings at the gate gain a +1 bonus for each additional wyrmling to the conflict roll if attacking, or if sneaking, gain a -1 bonus for each additional wyrmling at the gate. The bonuses apply to all wyrmlings, no matter in which activity they are engaged. One roll is made for each activity (attacking or sneaking) no matter how many wyrmlings are present. An example follows.
While a victorious wyrmling is at the gate, it is not defended. Dwarven defenders reinvest the gate at the beginning of their turn in which a wyrmling does not occupy the gate.
Attacking the gate is handled as a conflict, see CONFLICT above.
Wyrmlings may attempt to get past the gate by swimming up the river. A 1 or 2 on a d6 indicates the dwarves do not detect the wyrmling. She immediately continues movement up the river. If the dwarves detect the wyrmling, she is repulsed and returns to the lair.
Three wyrmlings are at the gate. Two attack, while the third attempts to sneak by. The two attackers get a roll with a +2 bonus, while the sneaker gets a roll with a -2 bonus.
The dwarves roll a 3. A +1 for fortification gives them 4 against the wyrmling attackers roll of 2, +2 for numbers, which is a 4. Dwarves win the tie. The defeated wyrmlings return to the lair and sleep.
The sneaker rolled a 3, which, with a -2 for numbers, is a 1—a success. The wyrmling continues her movement, following the river.
When more than one wyrmlings find a treasure, they fight over it. Roll a d6 for each wyrmling. If the optional Wyrmling Hierarchy rule (below) is used, add a bonus according to the wrymling’s rank, if any. The elder (or ranking) wyrmling wins ties. Winner takes the treasure back to the lair. Loosers remain; their turn ends.
Wyrmling Hierarchy (optional)
I have the idea that it will be important to know the wyrmlings’ hierarchy in later ages of the How to Host a Dungeon campaign. I found it not too onerous to keep track of wins and loses between the wyrmlings in the manner described below.
It does, however, prove difficult to detail how it works. Feel free to fill in holes or come up with your own system. If you don’t use the wyrmling hierarchy, assume the wyrmlings are ranked in order from eldest to youngest, i.e., as they hatch.
When any number of wyrmlings fight, the winner, if she doesn’t have one already, earns a ranking. If she is lower ranked than an opponent, she may move up in the ranking.
In all cases, a loss is recorded for each looser.
No rank: If the winner has no rank and she has an equal or fewer number of loses than her highest ranking opponent, she assumes the rank of that opponent.
Higher rank: If the winner is ranked higher than her opponents, she maintains her current rank.
Lower rank: If the winner is ranked lower than her highest ranking opponent and she has fewer loses than that opponent, she assumes that rank. Otherwise, she climbs in rank until she has fewer loses than the wyrmling whose rank she assumes.
Slipping rank: When a wyrmling’s rank is assumed by another, she slips down in the ranking. Compare the loses with the next lower ranked wyrmling. The wyrmling with fewer loses gets the higher ranking.
If all the eggs hatch during this age, the primordial wyrm sleeps. Beginning on the next turn, she might wake up. In the WAKE phase, roll a d6. She wakes on a 1, and attacks the dwarf gate (with any wyrmlings present) in the CONFLICT phase, adding 1 to the conflict roll for each of her populations. She begins with 3 populations.
If the attack is unsuccessful, any wyrmlings return to the lair, and the primordial wyrm loses 1 population (return 1 token to the Deepmost Caverns). The primordial wyrm remains to press the attack in the next turn.
She continues the attack until she is successful or all her population tokens are returned to the Deepmost Caverns, at which time, she returns to the lair and sleeps. Check each turn for waking.
If the attack is successful, she occupies the gate, and her turn ends. The next turn, she moves into the city and makes a new lair there. While the primordial wyrm lairs in the city, dwarves may not reinvest the gate.
The wyrm sleeps and does not wake unless disturbed. Returning wyrmlings deposit their treasures and sleep in this new lair.
At the end of the Throrgrmir civilization, any unhatched eggs become epic treasures. In a later age, or in the later campaign, a wyrmling might be coaxed from an egg through an arcane ritual.
If civilization ends by industrial accident or other catastrophe, roll a d6 for any wyrmling above the dwarf gate and not in the lair—the primordial wyrm is impervious to the damage, and she protects her young. On a 1 the wyrmling does not survive the catastrophe.
If the dwarven population is reduced to five or fewer populations, the remaining dwarves depart, taking treasure (but not epic treasure) with them, and the Throrgrmir civilization ends. If she isn’t there already, the primordial wyrm moves, with her hoard and any unhatched eggs, into the city.
Active wyrmlings return to the current lair and sleep. Otherwise, follow the rules for the dwarven End of Civilization, How to Host a Dungeon.
While the dwarves toiled to rebuild their civilization above, the primordial wyrm lurked below. In deep recesses of her cavern lair, she crept into crevasses and twisting tunnels, which led ever deeper below the sunlit surface.
At length she emerged into the world’s underside, where lived the World Dragon. In the dimness there, with the World Dragon she mated and, thereby, fertilized the eggs that grew in her belly.
Withdrawing, she returned to her lair in the Deepmost Caverns, and laid her eggs one by one. Seven eggs in all she brooded in the nether dark.
Tomb built, fallen heroes enshrined, the Throrgrmir dwarves recovered, though their population much reduced by the wyrm’s incursion. They continued their work and became rich beyond imagination. They built a smelter and improved the quality of their bronze tools. With a foundry, they increased metalwork production. To protect Throrgardr against further invasion from the nether reaches, they built a great gate at the city’s entrance above the Deepmost Caverns.
Meanwhile, gold mining continued until the primary vein was exhausted, at which time they turned their efforts to crystal and gem deposits.
They also embarked upon an ambitious project. Desiring to bring water to the upper levels, they planned to construct a canal along the empty vein. They built a simple yet enormous device to bring water up from the subterranean river. They named it “Eitri’s Screw,” after its audacious inventor.1
Applying knowledge of metallurgy and crystallography, they made a weapon. The purpose and use of which would be lost with the civilization that conceived it.2
As wealth increased, society grew self-indulgent. Successive emperors became less attentive to dwarfolk needs. Tension rose between laborers and bureaucrats. Protests turned to revolt. Revolt turned to civil war. Throrgardr burned.
1 In our world, its invention is attributed to Archimedes. The water screw is tilted at a 45-degree angle to hold the load as it screws up. Though it appears vertical on the campaign map, Eitri’s exemplar is tilted north, in our viewing direction.
2 Having no idea what sort of “doom weapon” dwarves might invent, I drew the sort with which my 1980s upbringing is familiar.
3 In the later Wyrmwyrd campaign, dwarves may be from remaining Throrgrmir clans or from clans of this diaspora.
The dwarf-wyrm encounter I envisioned became an adventure, both in-game and in its setting up. More than two weeks later, I’ve played the scenario several times in the dwarven city arranged in beach stones on two tables in my small apartment.
I’m tempted to recount the event in dramatic detail, but I’m more eager to get back to the history’s main thread. So I will, instead, summarize here only details pertinent to the current campaign and to that which is to come.
The dwarven lords pushed the primordial wyrm back to her lair in the Deepmost Caverns. Four dwarven lords of ten survived. They rescued two dwarfolk groups but not the third, which the wyrm ate.
Six dwarven lords and a dwarfolk group, in total the Throrgrmir dwarves lose seven populations, and the primordial wyrm can lay as many eggs.
One of the surviving dwarfolk was a pre-adolescent female named Lyngheid. The dwarven lords discovered the dwarfkin, wearing an overlarge mail shirt and armed with wooden sword, marching toward the source of recent screams, quickly-squelched, and escorted her to the nearest exit. Unknown to them, as soon as they were out of sight, Lyngheid sneaked back in.
The dwarfkin reappeared just in time to charge into the wyrm battle, stopping to pick up a sword, which lay next to the charred remains of its previous owner.
Lyngheid then squeezed into the melee and planted the sword in the wyrm’s nose. The wyrm fled with a sword +1, +3 vs. dragons stuck in her snout.
For her bravery and heroic deed, Lyngheid was made a hero and given honorary possession of the weapon.
“Lyngheid’s Prize” now lies in the wyrm’s treasure horde at the bottom of the Deepmost Caverns, where it gains intelligence and a distinct hatred for dragon kind.