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April 2021

Dagrun Stardark

The following text describes events in Wyrm Dawn’s First Age of Monsters. In this age, “A Wizard” (How to Host a Dungeon, Dowler, 2019) rose so quickly to “villainy” that I have determined to run a second Age of Monsters following the empire’s demise.

Throrgrmir Legacy

A long, dark silence followed the dwarves’ departure. No more was heard the din of the miner’s pick nor the clank of the smith’s hammer. In workshops, tools were carefully arranged, ready to be taken up again to finish abandoned work. Furnaces and smelteries were dead cold. Drinking halls were still. Walls of fine-hewn granite blocks no longer held the memory of the last echoes of raucous folk ballads nor of solemn dirges. The slow drip of water from cavern ceilings kept time on quiet dwarf-carved stones.

The subterranean river continued its winding way through smooth-worn channels. It flowed by the now dry aqueduct, under the crumbling bridge, through empty dormitories and treasure vaults, past life-like statues of rock, iron, and crystal—indeed living yet unmoving, and rippled between the feet of the Throrgardr Colossus, which still stood, keeping watch over the forsaken realm. The river’s dark water twisted around former graffhellar into the great cavern that once housed a thriving city of proud dwarves.

Now there slept the primordial wyrm atop a pile of treasures collected by her offspring. Between crystal urns and bronze chests, spilling coins and jewels, wyrmlings nestled. In turns, the serpent sisters yawned and tasted the air with darting tongues between long bouts of fitful slumber.

And so, the Throrgrmir Civilization passed into legend, its history and culture preserved on engraved friezes and monuments hidden in gloomy depths and in fables and epic tales. The tales told of fabulous treasures: hoards of gold, precious gems, and objects of dwarven craft, and of the Great Wyrm Ormr and her treasure-seeking spawn.

Ixmundyr

When dragons heard these tales, they were reminded of the Wyrm Prophecy, according to which at such place an Age of Dragons would dawn. Thus did Ixmundyr follow the tales to the broad river valley below the western mountains, to the crumbling citadel of the masked boar, and down into the old dwarven mine tunnels. In the magma chamber at the dungeon’s bottom, the red dragon made its lair.

Legendary Throrgardr

Subterranean denizens from neighboring realms came after treasures. In the old Throne Room, they found the Throrgrmir Scepter. Thinking to have discovered the legendary city, they settled there and in old graffhellar across the bridge. They called the settlement Legendary Throrgardr and, for a time, prospered.

In a treasure vault, Throrgardr denizens built a wizard’s quarter. Not having the dwarves’ skill in construction, their arches and doorways were not hexagonal but triangular. They also built a stepwell, used to capture river water, and when a shadow hulk hunted them from a nearby lair, they built tombs in abandoned gem mines. Exploring deeper, they discovered an incomprehensible thing. It was the dwarves’ Doom Weapon, and they found the Inordinate, its fetish.

Dagrun, a Wizard

Also in those days, an ambitious wizard named Dagrun installed herself in the former drinking hall. From dwarven inscriptions, she learned the place was called Sixth Cairn. Above it, she built a loft, where she set up a laboratory, and so, attracted apprentices. In the neighboring tomb, she learned of Lyngheid’s Prize and the monument called Sigrenormr, which recounted the Battle of Throrgardr between the dwarves and the Great Wyrm Ormr.

Wyrmlings Wake

Even as Dagrun learned of its existence, the golden monument was being defaced. For with activity renewed in the dungeon, the serpent sisters, waking, tasted treasure on the air and began to stir. The wyrmlings could not remove Sigrenormr intact, so they broke what parts of golden limbs as they could carry.

Ixmundyr Touched

Exploring the dungeon, the wyrmlings brought treasure back to their mother’s lair. Among which was the Throrgrmir Scepter, stolen from Legendary Throrgardr. They found also the lair of Ixmundyr, who was not spared their touch.1

The Star of Darkness

Meanwhile, the wizard Dagrun explored the Dead Caverns and the dwarven barracks and treasure rooms. She opened tunnels to the old gold vein and exploited its ore. With the spoils, she made a cyst, with which she captured malign energy. Then she made a diadem.2 It shone by its own bright light. The wizard called it Stjornumyrkur, the Star of Darkness, and with it, she crowned herself Dagrun Stardark, Empress of All Old Throrgrmir.3

Upon a stele commemorating the coronation are inscribed the words of Empress Dagrun Stardark: “We shall rebuild the Throrgrmir Empire for the good of all law-abiding citizens.”


Notes

1 Ixmundyr, touched by Wyrmling Gamma, adds 1 to all dice rolls.

2 The diadem serves the same purpose as the wizard’s phylactery (How to Host a Dungeon).

3 Texts of the era preserve the domain’s name as “Ganz Elt Throrgrim.” In the heroic age in which the Wyrmwyrd campaign takes place, scholars refer to Dagrun’s reign and domain as “Throrgrmir Eld.”


A Neutral Human Fighter

“Roll these dice six times.”

Garth pushed three Yahtzee dice across the blue notebook that lay flat between us. We were sitting on the floor in his room. He leaned against the bed.

Having watched Kaytar explore the dungeon and defeat the wizard, I was ready, by Garth’s decree, to play this new kind of game he called “medieval fantasy adventure role-playing.”

I sat cross-legged. I had a pencil and an old copy of Better Homes and Gardens, which supported a blank sheet of ruled paper.

“When can I roll that one?” I eyed the dice that looked like a ball it had so many sides. The color was light blue like a summer sky. Each side was a small triangle, just big enough to fit a number. The edges were worn and rounded.

“That’s for attacking monsters and making saves. We’ll get to that later. First, you have to make a character.”

I cupped the dice in two hands and dropped them on the notebook.

“Thirteen. Good,” he said. “Write down ‘strength’ with thirteen next to it. That means you’re pretty strong. You can be a fighter.”

“Can I cast magic spells like Kaytar?”

Garth pursed his thin lips into a flat pucker. He did that when he was doubtful about something. “Playing a magic-user is more complicated. It’s easier to start with a fighter.”

I rolled the dice five more times and recorded the numbers on the sheet next to “intelligence,” “wisdom,” “constitution,” “dexterity,” and “charisma.”

Garth explained what each score meant, adding, “Anything higher than ten is above average.”

Other than the strength and a dexterity score that gave the character a bonus to “missile fire,” my fighter was mediocre.

I rolled another dice for “hit points,” which, the way Garth explained them, were more like life points. Then Garth told me to roll the three dice again.

Reading the results, he said, “You have one-hundred fifty gold pieces.”

“What are gold pieces?”

“Pieces are coins. There are other kinds too, like copper, silver, and platinum. Platinum is the most valuable.”

This brought to mind a pirate’s chest buried in a dune. “So, is it a treasure?”

“Not really, it’s just money you have to start with. You use it to buy equipment to go down into the dungeon. That’s where you’ll find the real treasure.”

He gave me the pale blue book open to a page with lists of items and their costs. “You’ve got plenty to get everything you’ll need for the adventure.”

I scanned the lists and asked a bunch of questions, mostly of the sort “What’s that and what’s it for?”

I understood most of Garth’s answers, though my imagination ran a bit far with “morning star,” and I was flummoxed by the concept of a “pole arm.”

In addition to newfound knowledge in medieval weaponry, from the list I learned about some other terrifying monsters I might encounter and how to combat them. There was a mirror for use in fighting medusas, holy water to throw on undead—which weren’t living either, wolfsbane against not just werewolves but a whole family of were-creatures, garlic to repel a vampire, and stakes to drive through its heart.

I wanted to buy one each of those with my gold pieces, but Garth assured me I wouldn’t need them this time.

“What’s the difference between a ‘draft horse,’ a ‘light horse,’ and a ‘warhorse’?”

“You don’t need a horse. You’re going into a dungeon.” Garth pursed his lips again. “Look, all you need is armor, a missile weapon, and a melee weapon.”

“What’s a may-lay weapon?”

“It’s for hand-to-hand combat, like a sword.”

After more questions and not a little time, in which Garth’s impatience grew, I decided on plate mail armor and shield, which Garth said gave me a good “armor class,” a sword, bow and arrows, and rope, water skin, torches, tinder box, and a back pack to carry it all in.

I wrote these in a list on the sheet and subtracted the cost from one-fifty. With remaining funds, I added a lance to my armament.

“If I don’t get a helmet, I have enough money for a draft horse. I could be a knight on a horse with my lance.”

“A draft horse is for plowing fields and pulling carts.”

I could not be deterred. Garth relented. “Okay, spend your money on a horse, but you can’t take it into the dungeon—or a lance either!”

That settled, Garth explained a concept he called “alignment.” I understood there were good guys and bad guys, like when we used to play cops and robbers. I wanted to be a good guy, but Garth advised me to play a neutral character to start, and I didn’t argue.

“Okay,” Garth said, “you can think of a name later. You’re in a tavern…”

A Neutral Human Fighter
A Neutral Human Fighter.
Recreation of My First D&D Character.

Opening The Deep Halls

The initial impetus, to run an impromptu pick-up game or a solo game in The Deep Halls, prompted me to make two conceits: One, we use random methods to stock the dungeon, thereby avoiding any preparation. Two, it is a “closed” dungeon campaign. That is, one in which we haven’t need to explore outside the dungeon, as all the experience points necessary to gain levels and meet the dungeon’s challenges can be found within it.

If awarding four times the treasure or experience points—or a combination thereof, turns your grognard stomach, you may of course abandon the second conceit and open the campaign.

In an open dungeon campaign, we are not obliged to chock The Deep Halls so full of treasure. We can use the default treasure sequence from the Flying Dungeon Stocking Table without fear of falling. Characters lacking XP for the next deeper level can find them in neighboring dungeons or in the surrounding wilderness.

In keeping with the campaign’s first conceit (random generation, minimum preparation), we assemble geomorphs as the party explores these other dungeons, and for the wilderness in which they are set, we use the original map board suggested for “off-hand adventures in the wilderness” (OD&D Vol. 3, 15).

Reading Map

Focus on The Deep Halls

While rumors and legends lead to other dungeons in the wilderness environment, the dreaming priests and their machinations in The Deep Halls remain central to the campaign. To accomplish that, we might adhere, however loosely, to the following guidelines:

  • Secondary adventure sites are small. Outside The Deep Halls, the party explores one-, two-, or rarely three-level dungeons. They follow up on the rumor or retrieve the MacGuffin and get back into the primary venue.
  • Most secondary adventures are tied to the campaign thread. The party might indulge in occasional adventures outside the focus for any number of reasons, to break the monotony not the least. Most often though, the adventurers achieve some goal related to Amon-Gorloth or fail in the endeavor.
  • The surrounding wilderness is not vast. By limiting the area, we keep the party within a few days’ travel back to the primary adventure site.
  • There are consequences to neglect. The dreaming priests are relentless in pursuit of their goal. If the player characters ignore them, the priests succeed.

One Deep Dungeon

What attracts me about opening The Halls is that we can stretch them back out to the seven levels as the cartographer conceived. We are, furthermore, not bound to Levels 1 to 7. Depending on party advancement as the campaign unfolds, we might skip levels. Monster & Treasure Assortments provide tables down to Level 9.

Geomorphs

Dungeon Geomorphs

The original “geomorphic dungeon levels,” Holmes notes, “contain many suggestions and will prove very useful” (39). Dungeon Geomorphs Sets One, Two, and Three (TSR Hobbies, 1976-77) provide tiles for Basic and Lower Dungeons as well as Caves & Caverns. Room density and lack of embellishment render the tiles unattractive to my eye. Yet these geomorphs have a particular feel to them1 unlike anything I myself would come up with and much different from The Deep Halls.

By my rough count of a few tiles, I get the following average numbers of rooms by set.

Set Subtitle Rooms per Tile
One Basic Dungeon 40
Two Caves & Caverns 10
Three Lower Dungeons 20

Using the Flying Table made for Holmes (33% of rooms contain monsters) and the Strict (per the sources) treasure sequence: 2-1-0 (where there is no chance for treasure in an empty room) on a dungeon level of 80 rooms (two Basic Dungeon tiles), the Deadly Dungeon Ratio is exactly 1:1. By “exactly,” I mean only 10 XP more than a 1st-level party of three needs to gain 2nd-level.

In the case where one purpose of a secondary dungeon is to earn experience, we may adjust the number of tiles, keeping in mind 80 rooms per character level.

Other Dungeon Generation Options

Walled City Geomorphs: For town and city adventures, consider also Outdoor Geomorphs Set One: Walled City (TSR Hobbies, 1977).

Dyson’s Geomorphs: The map god himself did a monstrous set of dungeon geomorphs. Available from Dyson’s blog, the PDF contains 102 ten-by-ten-square geomorphs. The size accommodates the smaller secondary dungeons, and the hand-drawn tiles have a delightful old-school feel.

Dave’s Mapper: Other interesting links on Dyson’s page above include Dave Millar’s Morph Mapper. Dungeons, caverns, dungeons and caverns, villages, cities, everything—Dave’s Mapper draws from a selectable database of geomorphs from a diverse array of map artists, including Dyson Logos, to create a whole dungeon level in a couple clicks.

AD&D DMG Appendix A: First published under the title “Solo Dungeon Adventures” in The Strategic Review, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 1975), these tables (contemporary with our sources) provide the solo explorer a means to generate a map on the fly. The system involves quite a lot of dice rolling, however—not advised when running a group.

Draw As You Go: This solo explorer has had much success making it up as he goes along. Draw the entrance and the first room, add doors and pose the question: “What do you do?”

Outdoor Survival Map Board

La pièce de résistance—Having a chance to use this old-school icon, one does not hesitate. Outdoor Survival, designed by Jim Dunnigan and published by Avalon Hill for Stockpole Books (1972) included a six-panel board depicting a map of a wilderness area with a hexagon-grid overlay.

In his “Campaign Map Notes,” D&D co-creator Dave Arneson writes that, after the “old bunch” was exiled from Blackmoor, “the game moved south and we then used the Outdoor Survival map for this phase of the campaign…” (First Fantasy Campaign, Judges Guild, 1977). The game’s usefulness warranted its mention under the heading RECOMMENDED EQUIPMENT in D&D’s original edition (Vol. 1, 5).

Legend

As per the co-creators’ suggestions, “catch basins are castles, buildings [bases] are towns, and the balance of the terrain is as indicated” (OD&D Vol. 3, 15). I would add that food hexes (animal symbols) are monster lairs.

Scale

While Outdoor Survival’s five basic scenarios specify a scale of five kilometers or three miles, OD&D suggests five miles to the hex. At this scale, which matches OD&D movement rates, bases might be small towns. We have license to play with the scale. An obvious adjustment is to make hexes six miles across if you’re using movement rates in multiples of six, as in B/X.

If you’d like larger towns and a city or two, you might up the scale to 12 miles per hex. Careful that the area doesn’t lose its “wilderness” feel.

At 24 miles per hex the area covered approaches that of the corner of the continent presented in Dungeon Module X1 The Isle of Dread. The bases may well be capital cities. This scale is appropriate if you imagine The Deep Halls as only the beginning of a series of campaigns in the same setting.

At any scale, especially those above six miles, trails (through woods, mountains, and swamps) might be roads, and fords become bridges in various states of repair. We might assume other tracks through clear terrain to connect settlements via the depicted mountain passes, swampland causeways, forest trails, and fords. Note, not all settlements need be connected by a single road network. Further, I see Base No. 5 (center), surrounded by woods, is not accessible by any thoroughfare and, therefore, must be long abandoned…

Portown

Using Holmes Basic, we might imagine the Northern Sea off the board’s upper side and assign Base No. 8 as the “busy city linking the caravan routes from the south…” (41). In that case, the campaign might begin beneath the ruins of Zenopus’s tower. A scale of 12 miles per hex is suggested unless you scale down the settlement to town-size.

The Curious Array of Settlements

It might bother some of us that the towns are arrayed in symmetrical fashion around the map’s center. If so, generate your own version of the map or, more simply, ignore it and assume the settlements are positioned on the map in a schematic relationship to each other. Alternatively, you might create some reason why the settlements are so aligned—best if the reason has to do with Amon-Gorloth.

Place the Dungeon and the Base Town

Between the two options for “the convoluted mausoleums,” I would chose the middle desert for the location where “Amon-Gorloth sleeps and dreams.” Placing The Deep Halls in any hex at the southern edge of the northern mountains puts it within a couple hours walk from Base No. 2, which becomes Base Town.


Notes

1 Compare a couple tiles from the cover of Set One: Basic Dungeon to a level of Gary Gygax’s Castle Greyhawk.

A 1st- to 9th-Level Campaign
A 1st- to 9th-Level Campaign Using Holmes Basic, Monster & Treasure Assortments, Dungeon Geomorphs, the Outdoor Survival Map Board, and The Deep Halls.