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June 2021

Valormr and Environs

In preliminary form, this pencil sketch serves as the local area map for initial adventures in the Wyrmwyrd campaign. At lower character levels, most of our adventures will be in the dungeons. I save feature names, color, and maybe ink for future work.

As the campaign progresses, I will further elaborate the following text. I expect to borrow from Viggo Eskilsson, who must be writing a geography to accompany his Histories.1 For now I note only key points necessary to get the campaign started.

Valormr and Environs
Valormr and Environs.
At 10 by 16 inches, the map may be printed on Tabloid size or A3 paper.

The scale being one mile to the hex, I use the large icons for map terrain (X62). The pencil’s lightness and my drawing skill render some icons difficult to differentiate. As a guide, the only city is Valormr, the only towns Troelsvollr and Odenwoad. Villages I mark with two dots in the hex. Smaller hamlets and thorps, only one. Castles and ruins are more heavily outlined.

The Valormr-Odenwoad road is shown, as is the road to the Citadel and Mine Head, which is in disrepair. Not shown are cart tracks between villages.

Dungeon Below

Right-angle markers (right and below center) frame a rectangle corresponding to the area above the Throrgrmir dungeon. See the Level 1: Surface map in “Dungeon Overhead by Strata”.

Valormr, Free City

  • Population 12,000.
  • Governed by a council of Lords, which elects each year one of their number to serve as Lord Mayor.
  • Principle holdings include Odenwoad (west) and Fyrir (north).
  • The domain of Valormr serves as a borderland between the Grand Duchy (off map) to the east and the fearsome lands of Darkmeer beyond the Western Mountains.
  • The city trades up and down the river and with the Grand Duchy.

Abrandyr River

  • Navigable south to Arvohne (city, off map).
  • Empties into the Great North Sea at Skullhaven (former pirate hold, off map).

River Travel

From Valormr, riverboats travel upstream to Arvohne in three days and downstream to Skullhaven at the river’s mouth in two days. From Skullhaven east along the coast and up another river to the capital and major trade port of the Grand Duchy, four more days are required. Aboard a mercantile vessel, the journey takes from two to three times longer, allowing for stops at trading ports.

Troelsvollr

  • Small town, population 1,500.
  • Mostly in ruins since Stardark’s End.
  • Hosts the Old City Bazaar.

Old City Bazaar

A frequent trading stop—often a destination—for law-abiding merchants and for those who can temporarily abide the law. Since the Red Ogre opened a tunnel from the dungeon below, monstrous races frequent the bazaar. A special detachment of the Valormr Guard patrols the stands, booths, and tents in force.

Odenwoad

  • Small town, population 4,000.
  • The High Castle of Odenwoad overlooks the town and river.
  • From the High Castle, the Lord of Odenwoad governs the town and surrounding villages.
  • Patrols range from the Shire Hollows to the Western Mountains,2 from Elding Wood to Upper Vale.2

Fyrir

  • This fortress guards the domain against pirates.
  • Also patrols north of the Shire Hollows and, across the river, north of Ellriendi.

Shire Hollows

  • Total population two thousand halflings.3
  • Numerous streams flow from rolling hills, through farms and woodlands.
  • Divided into three shires: Arbenshire (also called North Shire), Black Pine Shire (east), and Gold Hollow (or South Shire).

PC Origins

As the campaign begins in the remote area northwest of Odenwoad, player characters of human classes hail from villages in that region. Demihumans come from one of their respective communities: halflings from the Shire Hollows, dwarves from Nyr Golthur or Forn Fjallaheim, and elves from Ellriendi.

Ellriendi Groennendr

  • Elven population unknown.
  • The elves defend the forest at all costs.
  • Orcs from the mountains are a frequent threat.
  • Only elves and elf friends are allowed to enter their territory.
  • The forest today is a fraction of its size in ancient days.
  • Deep within the forest, the elves guard a secret.

Players, Characters, and the Secret of Ellriendi

While an elven character may know Ellriendi’s secret, the player does not. Bound to silence, the character will not talk about it or answer any questions concerning the secret. The player, though ignorant, may run the elf as evasive, aloof, and enigmatic as desired.

Forn Fjallaheim

  • During Throrgrmir’s decline, four dwarven clans migrated from the dungeon, each on separate occasions.
  • Two clans returned to Fjallaheim, their mountain home.
  • A third clan resettled elsewhere to an as-yet-undetermined location on the map.4
  • From the fourth clan, we have no word since their departure southward.

Nyr Golthur

  • At the fall of the Throrgrmir civilization, the five remaining clans emigrated to the mountains up the Abrandyr.
  • They mine silver and dispute the river valley with giants.
  • Refer to themselves still as Throrgrmir dwarves.

Pale Moor

  • Between the Western Mountains and the Great North Sea, these lowlands are shrouded in mist and legend.
  • Wise folk don’t go there. The foolhardy don’t return.

Notes

1 A geography in the style of Strabo’s Geographica but constrained to the local area.

2 The Western Mountains and Upper Vale are parenthetical names. That is, they are often referred to as such, but they also have proper names I haven’t learned yet.

3 I calculate 2 to 5 villages per shire (average 3.5) times three shires, which makes 10.5 villages. Per village, populations range from 30 to 300 (average 165). I round up from 1,732 (10.5 x 165) to 2,000.

4 We allow campaign events to determine the third dwarven clan’s present location.


The Valormr Campaign

Who says B/X’s 40th anniversary says Chainmail’s 50th. Before there was “the game that started it all,” there was the game that started that. Initiated by wargamer Jeff Perren and further elaborated by Gary Gygax, iterations of the rules for medieval miniatures wargames were published in zines as early as 1970.

Just prior to its 1971 publication by Guidon Games, Gygax added 14 pages of rules inspired by fantasy fiction. The “Fantasy Supplement” opened the gates on tabletop battles with wizards and heroes, elves, trolls, giants, and other fantastic and mythical creatures, including dragons. Chainmail was the steel with which Dave Arneson struck Wesely’s Braunstein flint. The spark was Blackmoor, and it ignited the flame that became DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.

“Valormr: val (war or slain) + ormr (wyrm), pronounced Val-ORM-r. During the Throrgrmir Renaissance, when the new-hatched wyrmlings prowled the dungeon, already dragons came to hasten the prophesied Age of Dragons. The dwarves called to their neighbors, who responded in force. Dragons recruited forces of Chaos to oppose them.”

—from “Empire of the Undersun

The Valormr Campaign using Chainmail
The Valormr Campaign plays out events leading to the battle and the battle itself, using Chainmail: rules for medieval miniatures by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren (3rd Edition, Lake Geneva, WI: Tactical Studies Rules, 1975).

Notes

For the history of D&D, see Playing at the World (Jon Peterson, San Diego: Unreason, 2012) and Designers & Dragons: The ’70s (Shannon Appelcline, Silver Springs, MD: Evil Hat, 2013).


Dungeon Sense

Continued from “Lava Caves, Clacking Mandibles, and Red Glowing Glands,” the story of my first adventure begins in “Scroll of the Dead” in the category Anecdotes and Old Games.

It turned out that, whereas the torch cast light out to a 30-foot radius, the red glow of the fire beetle’s glands only went to ten feet. I wiped the goo from the sword and proceeded farther into the lava caves.

For a while I wandered down tunnels, turning this way and that at intersections. Garth pointed out that I had entered the cave headed north, which was the direction of the volcano. From that, I guessed I should go north at every opportunity.

That’s when I realized that this game was a lot like real life. I didn’t know all the rules that filled the pages of the pale blue book. But I knew that most of what I needed to know, I could learn from the real world. And that much of what I learned in the game, like striking flint on steel to make a spark, would apply to the real world as well.

Finally, I came into a large chamber.

“The air is warmer here,” said Garth. “There are a few large rocks in the chamber. Beyond one rock, you see an opening with an orange light from the chamber beyond.”

“I go toward the light.”

“As you pass a rock, an arrow whizzes by your ear.”

“I duck back behind the rock. Can I see where the arrow came from?”

“About forty feet away, a dark figure is silhouetted by the orange light, crouching on a rock. It’s a troll with a bow.”

“I take out my bow and I shoot it.”

I rolled the dice.

“With your bonus to missile fire, that’s a fourteen. You hit! Make a tick mark beside your arrows to keep track of how many you have left.”

I made the mark, while Garth rolled the dice. “Another arrow bounces off your shield.”

“Where does it land?”

“At your feet.”

“I pick up the arrow and fire it back,” I said, rolling the dice.

“You hit it again.”

While the troll and I exchanged volleys, Garth informed me that a troll is a vicious monster. “It regenerates hit points,” he said, “which means it can heal its wounds. To kill it for good, you have to chop it up and throw it in a fire.”

I retrieved another arrow from the floor and shot it back at the troll. Then I got hit.

“An arrow is stuck in the crook of your arm. Subtract three from your hit points.”

“I only have one left.” Now I understood why they were called hit points. “Can I still fire a bow?”

“Yeah, the description of damage is just for flair.”

I pulled the arrow out of my arm and sent it back at the troll. I wondered if the troll might be doing the same thing and it was the same arrow we shot back and forth.

Garth said, “You hit the troll in the chest. It drops its bow and runs away.” A wide grin spread across his face. “Man, I never heard of anybody picking up shot arrows before. You’ve got good dungeon sense.”

In the next chamber, I found the lava pit. It was a lake of bubbling magma. I read the Scroll of the Dead and threw it into the pit.

Garth said, “As the scroll bursts into flame, the magma stops bubbling. The town is safe, and you’re a hero.”

In the summer of 1982, I was 13 years old. That was my first D&D adventure, and I remember saying, “This is the game I’ve been waiting for all my life!”


Download Flying Tables

Preparing to use them at the table, I compiled the three Flying Tables into a PDF. Each table—by the Bluebook, for Basic and Lower Dungeons, and for Caves and Caverns—fits on its own 5½″ × 8½″ page.

For hard copy, print two pages per sheet on both sides. Then fold the page with the desired tables on the outside. A footer contains links to the Contents and to each Flying Table for quick on-screen navigation. I also made a smaller version at 2¼″ × 4″ for the small screen.

Download

Also available on the Downloads page.

Flying Dungeon Stocking Tables for Phone Flying Dungeon Stocking Tables for Print
Flying Dungeon Stocking Tables for Phone and Print.

Flying Table by Dungeon Geomorphs Sets

“Brief instructions below the ENCOUNTER KEY EXAMPLE in Set One: Basic Dungeons gives ‘Approximately 25%’ as the monster probability… While the instructions in Set Three: Lower Dungeons are the same, those in Set Two differ in one respect: In Caves and Caverns, we encounter a monster in half the rooms.”—from “Flying Dungeon Stocking Table by the Bluebook

While sussing the Flying Table, I mentioned my surprise at the discovery that there are more monsters in caves than in dungeons. We know from the Map God’s description that the Deep Halls were “constructed and adapted from existing caverns following their dreams channeled from Amon-Gorloth itself.”

I am, therefore, determined to make the distinction between the Halls’ built dungeons and its existing caves. Below are two tables, one to match instructions from Sets One and Three and another for Set Two.

Download the Flying Dungeon Stocking Tables for Print or Phone from the Downloads page.

Compared to the Flying Table by the Bluebook

Holmes gives 33% as the chance a room contains a monster (40). The difference from the Bluebook is made up by reducing the chance for an “interesting variation” to only 3% in caves and increasing the number of empty rooms from 22% to 30% in dungeons. In both cases, the proportion of monsters with versus without treasures is the same, as is the chance for traps, which remains 20%.

For details on how and whence the tables are derived, see “Flying Dungeon Stocking Table by the Bluebook.”

Flying Dungeon Stocking Table for Basic and Lower Dungeons

d100 Result
1-4 Monsters, double treasures (special)
5-8 Monsters, double treasures (selected)
9-14 Monsters, single treasure (selected)
15-20 Monsters, single treasure (random)
21-25 Monsters, no treasure
26-30 Treasure (hidden, trapped; room appears empty)
31 Trap: transports to deeper level
32-35 Trap: scything melee weapon
36-37 Trap: falling block
38-41 Trap: spring-loaded missile
42-46 Trap: trapdoor in floor, pit “relatively shallow”
47-49 Trap: trapdoor in floor, pit 10’ deep
50 Trap: trapdoor in floor, pit 20’ deep
51-70 Interesting variation
71-100 Appears to be empty…

Flying Dungeon Stocking Table for Caves and Caverns

d100 Result
1-8 Monsters, double treasures (special)
9-16 Monsters, double treasures (selected)
17-24 Monsters, single treasure (selected)
25-40 Monsters, single treasure (random)
41-50 Monsters, no treasure
51-55 Treasure (hidden, trapped; room appears empty)
56 Trap: transports to deeper level
57-60 Trap: scything melee weapon
61-62 Trap: falling block
63-66 Trap: spring-loaded missile
67-71 Trap: trapdoor in floor, pit “relatively shallow”
72-74 Trap: trapdoor in floor, pit 10’ deep
75 Trap: trapdoor in floor, pit 20’ deep
76-78 Interesting variation
79-100 Appears to be empty…

 


Dungeon Overhead by Strata

“Though not more than a thousand feet deep, Throrgrmir is a vast underground realm. Its eight major levels split into numerous sub-levels and spread across an area of at least five hundred square miles.1 Civilizations have dawned and died within its depths; empires built and crumbled over the long ages of its existence.”

Viggo’s Histories

Throrgrmir by Level

Transitioning from How to Host a Dungeon to D&D, strata become dungeon levels and rooms become areas, which are collections of natural caves or dungeon chambers. I placed each area on separate overhead maps by level. The rectangles show the general location of each area, color coded as per the cross-section maps.

Overhead 1 Surface
Level 1:
Surface.
Overhead 2 Dead Caves
Level 2:
Dead Caves.
Overhead 3 Gold Vein
Level 3:
Gold Vein.
Overhead 4 Crystal Caverns
Level 4:
Crystal Caverns.
Overhead 5 Subterranean River
Level 5:
Subterranean River.
Overhead 6 Gem Deposits
Level 6:
Gem Deposits.
Overhead 7 Magma Chamber
Level 7:
Magma Chamber.
Overhead 8 Deepmost Cavern
Level 8:
Deepmost Cavern.

Connecting Corridors

At two miles per inch, each level map covers an area 15 by 23 miles. Even areas in close proximity to each other are separated by a third of a mile or nearly 600 yards. If we allow travel along connecting corridors at the wilderness rate (where movement is measured in yards), metal-armored adventurers traverse the distance in ten turns, which, with rests, is two hours.

Not rare, though, are areas separated by a mile or four. No mere jaunt, a delve into the Throrgrmir dungeon is an expedition.

I’ve never been much for dungeon adventures lasting more than a single day. That adventurers might hunker down in a cold, damp, dangerous place—no matter how empty the room—and get several hours’ sleep to regain spells strains plausibility. That they might “do nothing but rest” (B19) for 24 hours straight to restore hit points even more so.

On the other hand, “Throrgrmir is a vast underground realm,” as Eskilsson writes. Civilizations and empires have spent countless cozy nights within its confines. With a little thought, we ought to be able to accommodate explorers on long underground forays. Furthermore, the constraint may serve to further develop the setting. Following are a few considerations.

Wandering Monsters

The long corridors may be patrolled by local denizens or imperial troops. But, as a general rule, fewer monsters wander in the connecting corridors. We might check for wandering monsters once per hour.2

Movement

Mentioned above, a party may move along connecting corridors at the wilderness rate. Generally straight passages, with few turns and hardly an intersection, give little reason to tarry. Apart from lurkers and well-hidden predators, most encounters will be met from the rear, if some creature overtakes the party, or, more likely, from the front.

Again, infrequent wanderers is a general rule. Particular corridors may break it. A party may chose to move at dungeon or wilderness speed, switching between as deemed necessary.

Dungeon Marks

The dwarf builders carved distance3 and destination in corner stones at the entrances to connecting corridors. Some of these stone blocks have been defaced. Other builders, denizens, and explorers left similar information, sometimes carved in blocks, sometimes with less durable means. Faded chalk marks are not uncommon. Whatever the media, these signs are called “dungeon marks.” Sometimes the information is correct.

Burden of Treasure

If spells and hit points are husbanded, a party may well become loaded with treasure within a score of turns.

“If the DM permits it, mules may be taken into dungeons” (B39).

A pack animal permits the acquisition of 4000 additional coins.

Trading Outposts

Traders (B43) often set up outposts near first level entrances to the lower levels. Treat an outpost as a trader lair. Traders may be accompanied by mules in the dungeon as in the wilderness. In addition to goods needed by dungeon denizens, traders deal in weapons, armor, and adventuring equipment. Outposts are established on high-traffic routes in defensible positions and are appropriately guarded.

Overnight in the Dungeon

Way Stations

Dwarf-built stretches of the connecting corridors are often punctuated with bypasses, alcoves, or the odd room or two. In some of these, the Sadhakarani nomads established way stations. Since the nomads’ recent eradication by the Red Ogre, it remains to be seen whether the stations will be maintained.

“Wandering Monsters… should not be frequent if the party spends a long time in one out-of-the-way place (if they stop in a room for the night, for example)” (B53).

Let’s say, one check per night or three checks per day (one every eight hours) while so resting at a way station or other such place, including in a remote room of a dungeon area.

Throrgrmir Enclave

Dwarves maintain an enclave in an old dormitory on the second level. From this base, they explore the dungeon, searching for Throrgrmir relics. Law-abiding persons are welcome to stay, for a price, in a boarding house, provided they make no trouble and stay out of the dwarves’ way and their business. Here, a party may rest to regain spells and recover hit points with little chance for interruption.

Sixth Cairn Protectorate

The Red Ogre recently established a “protectorate” in the former drinking hall below Troelsvollr. Governed by a Lord Protector and guarded by imperial troops, it aspires to become a city.


Notes

1 Eskilsson overestimates. The dungeon’s footprint covers 345 square miles. On the other hand, if we multiply by eight levels and assume one-fifth of the area is explorable dungeon (as opposed to solid rock), we arrive at a figure not far from the historian’s mark.

2 Within dungeon areas, normal chances for wandering monsters apply.

3 Throrgrmir dwarves measure distance in the length of their standard stone block. A dwarven “standard” is roughly equal to five feet.


Throrgrmir Dungeon Cross-Section

The Wyrm Dawn campaign produced a base map in the Primordial Age plus six transparent overlays in subsequent Ages. I compiled these chronological maps into a composite. In order to clear the clutter, I divided the final cross-section into middle, fore-, and background maps.

Cross-section Middle Ground
Throrgrmir Middle Ground.
Cross-section Foreground
Throrgrmir Foreground.
Cross-section Background
Throrgrmir Background.

Color Code

Each room is colored to indicate its builder or initial occupant and any group which may have modified it as well as its current occupant. Following are the groups having significant impact on the dungeon’s history.

Blue WizardBlue Wizard

FaerunduineFaerunduine

GullhringrGullhringr

KoboldsKobolds

Legendary ThrorgardrLegendary Throrgardr

MagnateMagnate

MurtaxMurtax

Red OgreRed Ogre

StardarkStardark

Stone GiantsStone Giants

Throrgrmir DwarvesThrorgrmir Dwarves

The territory claimed by the Red Ogre is outlined in red. Imperial troops patrol these areas.

A Conundrum of Scale

When thinking of a dungeon—even a “mega-dungeon” in new school parlance—we generally consider a sheet or two of graph paper per level. At 10 or 20 feet per square, the widest dungeon level might be a couple thousand feet in width. Although the levels may be staggered—not stacked one atop another, the entire footprint fits under a surface ruin or a city.

In How to Host a Dungeon, though, you might have one or two cities among many other surface features stretched above the dungeon’s width. Looking at Wyrm Dawn’s middle ground cross-section, for example, we have two cities, Valormr and Troelsvollr, in addition to a tower and stronghold, mausoleum, shrine, the School of Mines, and the Cynosure, which was the Magnate’s capital, with a river running through it all. In my mind’s eye, the surface map spans at least a couple dozen miles. Such a scale makes the dungeon below likewise lengthy and its lowest level sixteen miles deep.

One might solve the conundrum in a number of ways. I choose to keep the horizontal scale and reduce the vertical. Keep in mind that the rooms shown on the cross-section maps serve as icons to mark a general location.

Horizontal Scale

At two miles to the inch, it’s four miles from Valormr to the ruins of Troelsvollr, in which the Old City Bazaar is set up. The nearest known entrance to the dungeon is also in Troelsvollr. Four miles is a fair morning’s travel for merchants by horse-drawn wagon as well as for adventurers on foot.

Vertical Scale

Scaling the East Tower to the cross-section of the Haunted Keep (B58), we find a scale of 100 feet to the inch in Moldvay’s dungeon example. The first dungeon level is 65 feet, the second 120, and the third 280 feet deep.

In the D&D campaign, Wyrm Dawn’s strata become dungeon levels, of which there are eight. This corresponds to the B/X Wandering Monster tables. Surface level ruins, cellars, and basements are considered as the first dungeon level.

Applying 100 feet per inch, our dungeon levels are separated by an average of 100 feet. Though longer flights often separate levels, there may be short flights of stairs up and stairs down within a given dungeon level. So, stairs down don’t always mean tougher monsters. Clever adventurers keep track of their depth to know what level they are on. When in doubt, they might also note, in natural caverns or wherever the geology is exposed, the type and color of the rock. Comparing this information to known strata indicates depth.

Cross-section Strata
Throrgrmir Strata.

Lava Caves, Clacking Mandibles, and Red Glowing Glands

The old man, sprawled across the table with a dagger in his back, grabbed my attention. I forgot all about the Scroll of the Dead and the town’s imminent destruction by volcanic eruption. I wanted to solve the mystery of the old man’s murder.

After Garth convinced me the adventure lay rather in the old man’s quest, I added “Scroll of the Dead” to the list of equipment I carried.

In shining armor, a pack on my back, bow strapped to it, lance and shield in hand, and sword at my side, I mounted the draft horse and rode into the hills below the smoking volcano. This neutral human fighter may have trailed behind the horse with a plow in his hands the day before, but today he was going on an adventure. He would save the town from destruction and win his fortune. Then he would buy a helmet and become a real knight.

“You come to the mouth of a cave…,” said Garth.

I dismounted, tied the reins to a shrub, and secured the lance on the saddle.

“What’s in the cave?” I said.

“It’s dark inside. You can’t see anything.”

I looked at the equipment list on my sheet. “I have torches. I take one out of my pack and look into the cave.”

“You have to light the torch first.”

“Do I have matches or something?”

“That’s what the tinder box is for. It has flint and a piece of steel you can strike together to make a spark.”

Now I was learning outdoor survival. Flint and steel seemed more promising than rubbing two sticks together, which Garth and I tried many times, to no effect, when we were kids.

I lit the torch and peered inside the cave.

“It’s a natural tunnel. It’s ten feet wide and goes north about twenty feet until it opens into another space, but you can’t see what’s there. What do you do?”

“I go in the tunnel.”

The tunnel opened into a small chamber. Garth explained that the caves were made by hot lava running through them. I didn’t understand how that worked, but the more important detail was that, in addition to the way I came in, there were two ways out.

“The tunnel to the east is quiet. Down the west tunnel, you can hear a clacking noise. Which way do you go?”

“I go toward the noise.”

“It might be a monster.”

“I draw my sword.”

Sword in one hand, torch and shield in the other, I crept down the tunnel. I have since learned that carrying a torch in the shield hand is a good way to set one’s face on fire. Garth didn’t seem to be concerned.

The clacking noise was made by the mandibles of a giant beetle.

“It has spots above its eyes that glow red like fire, and it runs toward you.” Garth made clacking noises with his tongue. “What do you do?”

“I use my sword to defend myself.”

“Roll a twenty-sided die to see if you hit it.”

“Which one is that?”

“That one.” Garth pointed at the rounded dice with the small triangles.

I held it between thumb and forefinger. It was light, as if it lacked consequence. I let it fall to my palm. It bounced around on smooth edges in my cupped hand.

“You want to roll high,” said Garth.

I put all my will into the dice and launched it like a marble across the notebook.

“Eleven.” I read the number off the top triangle.

“Not high enough,” said Garth. “You miss. Now it’s the monster’s turn.”

Garth picked up the dice. “It’s called a fire beetle. If it bites you it takes away some hit points.”

I understood that hit points were life points, so I was relieved when Garth announced I avoided the beetle’s bite.

“It’s your turn. You need a fifteen to hit it.”

I rolled. “Seventeen!”

Garth gave me another dice. “You do one to eight points of damage with your sword.”

I rolled the dice, and the beetle gushed goo from its abdomen and stopped clacking its mandibles. The spots above its eyes still glowed red.

“Why do the spots glow?”

“They’re glands. They glow for up to six days after the beetle is dead. You can cut them out and use them for light.”

“Cool. I want to do that.”

“You don’t need more light. You already have a torch.”

“Yeah, but it would be neat to carry a red glowing gland!”


Repairing B/X Rulebooks

The cover fell off last year. Forty years old in January, the rusty staples slipped through the worn crease. The problem is not uncommon.

Repair for 40th Anniversary Game
To Repair for 40th Anniversary Game.

I thought to just lay the detached cover flat face down, stretch a strip of Scotch tape along the spine, and re-staple it to the interior pages. Some advice from fellow B/X D&D fans warned me about a couple pitfalls.

First, use acid-free book tape. This advice came from a librarian, and I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t though of it myself. The usual invisible tape won’t last long. It will dry, crack, and fall apart. It also contains acid, which eats the cover over time, turning it yellow to start.

Second, wrap the strip of tape around the spine with the cover closed on the book. Applied flat, the tape won’t stretch around the book when it’s closed. It will rather tend to flip open.

3M also makes a Scotch brand book tape. I couldn’t find it at any of the few local stores that were open. I had to order it from the States. It arrived four months later.

Use Acid-Free Book Tape
Use Acid-Free Book Tape.

I applied the tape, half on the front cover, while the back cover was folded in the closed position, then wrapped the other half around.

Fold Tape Around Closed Cover
Fold Tape Around Closed Cover.

Tricky enough. But then I realized that, because the sticky side was exposed through the punched holes and the torn crease, I would have to cover it with another strip of tape on the inside.

Furthermore, it became obvious that any staples would need reinforcement, or they would tear right through the two layers of tape.

For this, I cut two rectangles from an index card. I may have shortened the life of the repair with the card as it was not acid-free.

Reinforce Staple Location
Reinforce Staple Location.

I cut a length of tape and laid it sticky-side up on a table, holding the ends with stones from a dismantled dwarven city terrain model. To align the rectangles to the staple locations, I laid the interior booklet next to the strip and stuck on each pre-folded rectangle. Then it was just a matter of applying the tape to the inside cover and clipping the tape ends flush to the cover with a blade.

Now to staple the cover. I was happy to discover a local print shop which had a saddle stapler. They didn’t have one the width of the original staples, which wasn’t a problem. But the staples weren’t as long either. Through the interior pages, they bent over the inside only about one millimeter.

This wouldn’t have been such a problem if, rather than two staples at the original locations, I had thought to leave the original staples in place, and use three staples, one at each end and in the middle.

Leave the Original Staples
Leave the Original Staples.

After only two weeks of use, the first folio already slipped out. I’m on a quest for long staples.

Repair Tips

Should you encounter a similar problem:

  1. Use book tape (acid-free).
  2. Tape the cover folded around the interior pages.
  3. Reinforce the staple area (also acid-free).
  4. Leave the original staples if serviceable.

Thanks to Jamie Blackman, Jerry Eblin, and other members of the Dungeons & Dragons B/X Facebook group for their advice.

Ready to Play Wyrmwyrd
Ready to Play Wyrmwyrd.