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October 2021

Vertical Scale: How Deep the Deep Halls?

Grand Entry Hall - Front Elevation
Grand Entry Hall — Front Elevation.

In “Channeling Amon-Gorloth,” we defined a “hall” as “any space two or more squares wide and at least twice as long.” Now, we consider the three-dimensional space, notably, ceiling heights, the incline of stairways, and how to handle intruding upper levels.

The following discussion considers only the built dungeon areas. The priests may or may not have given similar treatment to the natural caverns. We assume the horizontal scale is ten feet to the square.

The Deep Halls of Amon-Gorloth - Dyson Logos
“The Deep Halls of Amon-Gorloth” by Dyson Logos.

How High the Ceilings?

General rules are easy to remember and give us varying heights by how we define the space as well as its width. A particular space may vary from the rules.


For the purpose of determining ceiling heights, we define the following spaces:

Hall: Any area at least 20 feet wide and at least twice as long as its width.
Chamber: Any area at least 20 feet wide and less than twice as long as its width.
Corridor: Any area less than 20 feet wide.

Using the entry way as an example (map above): From the outside, a corridor, part caved in, leads 30 feet into a hall. Through the door on the right, another corridor leads to a few chambers.

Halls and Chambers

As these halls are “used by the priests to some devotional purpose, including entombment” (“Channeling Amon-Gorloth”), I imagine impressive ceiling heights.

Halls and rectangular chambers are barrel vaulted, peaking at five feet higher than their width. Square chambers are groin vaulted, also five feet higher than wide.

Chamber - Groin Vault
Chamber — Groin Vault.


Corridors are barrel vaulted at only ten feet high. This makes for a cramped space—a contrast to the halls and chambers.

Halls  Chambers  Corridors
Halls, Chambers, Corridors.

How Steep the Stairs?

Ever since I’ve had the imagination for such things, I assumed dungeon stairs go up and down at a 45° angle. Ten horizontal feet on the dungeon map means ten vertical feet. This makes imagining the dungeon in three dimensions simpler.

We see though, in our explorations, that these halls are not simple but “twisted and nightmarish.” The dreaming priests, in their oneiric interpretations, were forced to devise other solutions.

Typical stairs in our residential world step up at a 37° angle, rising 7.75 feet for every ten horizontal feet. According to the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, standard stairs incline from 30° to 50° from horizontal.1 Up to 70° is considered steep. More steep is a ladder. Less than 30° is a slope.2

Slopes  Stairs  and Ladders
Slopes, Stairs, and Ladders.
Angles for vertical rises of 5-30 feet over ten horizontal feet.

Reaching into our backpack, we pull out a slide rule or a Pythagorean theorem calculator.3 In the table below, a is a stair’s vertical rise over a ten-foot horizontal distance (b), c is the distance traveled up or down, and α is the incline from the horizontal plane.

Table of Slopes, Stairs, and Ladders
a c α Term
35′ 36′ 74° Ladder
30′ 32′ 72°
25′ 27′ 68° Steep Stairs
20′ 22′ 63°
15′ 18′ 56°
10′ 14′ 45° Standard Stairs
5′ 11′ 26° Ramp or Slope

In our cartographic interpretations, we have considerable leeway between 30 and 70 degrees. The immediate impact of the incline is the height limitation on any space directly below another space, i.e., the distance between levels. For in the “convoluted mausoleums,” the halls and corridors of one level pass over and under those of other levels.

We find a good example in the entry hall, where we pass beneath a corner of an upper chamber.

Ten Feet, 45 Degrees: At 45 degrees, the stairs to Level 1, which occupy a ten-foot square, go up only ten feet. The lower the angle, the lower a level’s height. I would put 45 at the minimum angle. No matter the stair height, the upper level intrudes the entry. We could make it work at ten feet high, but deeper seems more appropriate in The Deep Halls.

Stairs and Steep Stairs
Stairs and Steep Stairs.

Twenty Feet, 63 Degrees: Rising 20 feet over ten horizontal, the incline is 63 degrees, approaching but not quite ladder steep. The precarious angle may well impact movement and melee (see “Optional Rules for Steep Stairs”) and might give explorers a moment of vertigo.

Upper Level Intrusions

Now that we have the ceiling height and the upper room’s position above the entryway floor, we can look at how to handle the inevitable intrusion. Here, we deal with the entryway. Other instances, encountered further on, might be handled in similar fashion.

The challenge is to respect the map. That is, we cannot add columns, walls, or other features. The best way I’ve come up with is modified groin vaulted ceilings of differing heights, side by side.

Entry Detail
Entry Detail, Showing Side-by-Side Groin Vaults Between the Second and Third Columns of the Grand Entry Hall.

I am not certain this structure would stand. A groin vault is normally square. The cartographer’s column placement imposes a length longer than the width. To accommodate the rectangular space, I dropped the long arch’s base a few feet below that of the shorter arch.

The right vault rises to 35 feet above the floor. The left peaks at 20 feet. The upper room is supported by the vault below it.


1 1926.1052 - Stairways, Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
2 Standard Stair Angle: Typical Pitch Of A Staircase Slope By Use Case, Lapeyre Stair Blog.
3 Pythagorean Theorem Calculator, 

Spells End

Sometimes I just want to play D&D. Explore dark places, fight monsters, take their treasure. No complicated plot, no detailed record-keeping, no play report. Just a pick-up game, rolling dice, and enjoying the story as it emerges from the interaction of setting, character, and probability statistics.

Last winter I started “Spells End,” a pick-up game using Holmes Bluebook and Sets One of Dungeon Geomorphs and Monster & Treasure Assortment. The first character, whose name was Pengodain, came from “elf-land,” seeking knowledge and magic. He met with some success, learning of the doomed wizard Zenopus and recovering a magic sword from the dungeon below his old tower. But the elf’s career was cut short through party treachery due to a quirky alignment-determination system for hirelings.

The second character is Eydis. A former hireling, now with Pengodain’s map and magic sword, the lawful evil fighting woman led her own group into the dungeon. In one of the few remaining rooms yet to be explored, Celebrian, the party elf, charmed the thaumaturgist.

Friendly discussion ensued. All agreed that the party would assist the thaumaturgist in his endeavor to take over the level.

I added the thaumaturgist and his charmed fighter to the order of march as they proceeded north to dig out the dirt tunnel that leads beneath the cemetery. Celebrian knows his spell could wear off in a day.

Beneath the Cemetery and City Catacombs
Geomorphs squares are twice the size of the Sample Floor Plan. Beneath the cemetery, G-II, ghoul-dug tunnels lead from grave to grave, tomb to tomb. To the northwest, more undead roam the city’s catacombs, K-IV.

Settled in after a recent move, I’m ready to renew exploration of The Deep Halls.

Attack and Defense on the Fantasy Combat Table

“The possibilities for employing such creatures are almost endless, and the abilities and weaknesses of each should be decided upon prior to the game they are to be used in. For example, a giant spider might be unkillable by normal men, but will kill them unless they roll a save of 8 or better, and it would combat fantastic opponents as if it were a Lycanthrope” (Chainmail, 36, entry Giant Spiders and Insects).

In the last few monster descriptions (36-7), Gygax and Perren give examples of adding new creatures to the Chainmail system using the framework of the rules. Chimerea and other such mythical flyers, for instance, are treated “as the most nearly corresponding type of creature covered herein.” Giant Wolves attack as Light Horse and move as Medium Horse. Versus fantasy creatures, they get two attacks “as men” (which I read as two Light Horse), and they defend as a Wight. In the example cited above, a spider’s poison is modeled by a saving roll.

To assign attacks and defenses as an existing creature on the Fantasy Combat Table, some analysis is required. Scrutinizing the table, we see that each creature attacks with varying success against the others, and the creature’s defense is subsumed into the opponent’s attack. So, a dragon hits a wizard with a two-dice roll of 10, while the wizard hits the dragon with a 9. There is no separate defense roll.

Totaling all a creature’s attack target scores, we get a clearer, though simplified, view. Likewise, for defense.

The score required for each attacker-defender pair makes sense—or at least can be justified. Figuring out whether one creature is more or less powerful than another, however, is difficult. Totaling all a creature’s attack target scores, we get a clearer, though simplified, view. Likewise, for defense.

Fantastic Opponents by Attacks and Defenses

In the two tables below, creatures are ranked by best attacks and best defenses, respectively. The stronger attacker has a lower total. The stronger defender, a higher.

Order of Best Attacker
Rank Creature Attacker Defender
1 Dragon 82 130
2 Elemental 86 121
3 Super Hero 91 110
4 Giant 92 118
5 Treant 95 115
6 Wizard 99 121
7 Roc 101 109
8 Hero 117 76
9 Lycanthrope 118 78
10 Troll, Ogre 118 86
11 Wraith 119 108
12 Wight, Ghoul 121 67
Order of Best Defender
Rank Creature Attacker Defender
1 Dragon 82 130
2 Elemental 86 121
3 Wizard 99 121
4 Giant 92 118
5 Treant 95 115
6 Super Hero 91 110
7 Roc 101 109
8 Wraith 119 108
9 Troll, Ogre 118 86
10 Lycanthrope 118 78
11 Hero 117 76
12 Wight, Ghoul 121 67

Using these tables, we can more easily find the general power of a new creature. Once narrowed to a range of two or three existing creatures, we decide on an equivocal creature by a brief examination of those creature’s attacks and defenses, perhaps choosing one creature for attacks and another for defenses. One step further, if a couple scores vary widely from our vision of the new creature, we might assign different scores, taking the example of some opponents versus True Trolls (table, 34).

Comparing Creatures by Rank

Further analysis reveals the order of attackers mostly corresponds to that of defenders. Dragons and elementals, for example, are ranked first and second in both orders. Wights are last.

Rank Attacker Defender
1 Dragon Dragon
2 Elemental Elemental
3 Super Hero Wizard
4 Giant Giant
5 Treant Treant
6 Wizard Super Hero
7 Roc Roc
8 Hero Wraith
9 Lycanthrope Troll, Ogre
10 Troll, Ogre Lycanthrope
11 Wraith Hero
12 Wight, Ghoul Wight, Ghoul

In this table, we see that some types are ranked differently for attacks and defenses and that these are paired (italicized). Super-heroes are ranked third as attackers, sixth as defenders, while wizards are the reverse: third as defenders, sixth as attackers. The same with the pairs hero-wraith and lycanthrope-ogre.

Wizards, Power Levels, Complexity, and Choosing Spells

Chainmail doesn’t say how to determine which spells a Wizard may cast. Perhaps it is implied that the referee choses the spells according to the scenario. Or we might assume a Wizard may cast any spell.

Lanze Wizard Casts Cloudkill
At the Battle of Throrgrmir, a Wizard Casts Cloudkill.

If we want to determine a particular spell list for a Wizard, we could use a random method, either by drawing cards from a deck or by rolling dice. One way to get a number from 1 to 16 on dice is to roll a d8 and d6. The d8 determines a pair of numbers: 1 is 1-2, 2 3-4, and so on. Between the two numbers, choose odd or even based on the result of the d6.

I use the general term magic-user hereafter to refer to a Wizard of any power level, reserving the specific term for the more powerful of the class.

In the Valormr Campaign, Zosimos and the Elf King and Queen are seven-spell Wizards. All other magic-users have a point value of 80 (close to average by number of spells), and I dice for the power level. Spells are determined by drawing from a deck.


In addition to this randomosity, I added Chainmail’s optional Spell Complexity (33). Because the complexity was often higher than the user’s level, spells rarely took effect. A fireball, certain of effect, was more worthwhile than a spell with little chance of success. Magic-users became 80-point missile throwers.

After a brief trial, I did away with it. Spell Complexity is better used when the spell list is determined with some judgment.

Player Choice

To preserve some power in spell-use while incorporating Complexity, we might allow the player to choose spells of any complexity, either before play or in game. In both cases, the player judges the risk of failure.

Restricted by Complexity

To lean in the direction of later adventure games, we might throw out the chance of spell failure and restrict a magic-user to complexity levels at or below his or her power level, based on number of spells. A Seer has access to only Complexity 1 spells, for example; a Warlock, Complexity 4 and below.

Choose From a Subset or the Entire Spell List?

While the adventure game that grew out of Chainmail restricts arcane magic-users to a subset of spells—usually acquired over time and collected in a spell book, we might allow access to the entire spell list, possibly restricted by complexity as above. This carries the potential to slow play, as the player must consider more options. On the other hand, it makes magic-users a little more powerful and makes them appear more prescient, as they are more likely to have just the right spell for the situation.

Valormr Concludes on Three Tables

A year ago, due to the current world situation, I had the opportunity to rent a small apartment on the beach at a monthly rate that fit a nomad’s budget. It’s equipped with all the necessities in two rooms with a view on the sea, a constant breeze, and three tables of various sizes. With an eye on the tables and knowing that human contact should be limited for the coming months, I rekindled the decade-old idea to play a solo wargames campaign.

Valormr, like Wyrm Dawn from which it spawned, informs the upcoming B/X campaign.

The strategic movement map is laid out on the first table. When opposing forces meet, battles are fought on the second. The third table is reserved for the Throrgrmir Citadel, where take place the opening and closing engagements: the dragon’s assault on the Citadel and its storming by the Forces of Law.

No table for dinning remains to me, but who needs to eat when you can play wargames?

Forces of Law Execute a Plan
Forces of Law Execute a Plan.

Moving overland, the Aeskrvald and Lanze armies are escorted by elves through the Ellriendi Forest to take up positions northeast of the Citadel, while Noerdenheim and Grallune move by sea to capture Port-of-Sands then the Keep on the Pale Moor, thereby cutting the Chaos Armies’ supply lines.

Battle of Throrgrmir
Battle of Throrgrmir.

The Chaos Armies routed from the field, Anax Archontas hops from his perch atop the Throrgrmir Citadel to deliver a tongue of fire into a formation of Grallune troops.

Meanwhile, an adventuring party gains the base of the Citadel, where they enter a secret tunnel. The adventurers must find their way through a dungeon, overcoming any obstacles, to enter the Citadel’s upperworks.

Ostanner ninjas move through woods to the base of the Citadel’s plateau. They are to scale the cliff and the ramparts to create a diversion as the adventuring party enters the Citadel to open the gates.

Zosimos Wields the Wyrmwyrd
Zosimos Wields the Wyrmwyrd.

A moment later, a strange wizard from south of the World Dragon Mountains confronts the dragon. With a device fashioned by the Throrgrmir dwarves, Zosimos banishes the would-be usurper from the Throrgrmir Valley. Anax Archontas’s bid to become the first emperor of the Age of Dragons ends with a few spoken words bolstered by the power of the Fates. The device ever after is called the Wyrmwyrd.

Hadewych Pretends to an Empire
Hadewych Pretends to an Empire.

The dragon is gone and with it the Chaos Armies’ raison d’être. But the dwarves below are starving, and the Forces of Law are diminished and weakened, while armies of kobolds, orcs, and gnolls arrive from the south, and the Wraithwright marches at the head of an undead legion from the north. Hadewych the Arbiter, with two regiments, a host of heroes, and the Citadel’s upperworks under her control, finds herself atop an empire ready for the taking.

Storming of the Citadel
Storming of the Citadel.

But the Forces of Law set up a catapult on the hill due south. It pelts the ramparts before Grallune forces march up the slope. As fighting erupts on the Stonesward, the adventuring party fights its way from the Greensward toward the gate, and, bursting through the door from below, dwarves cry vengeance and death to Throrgrmir’s enemies.

This is the Throrgrmir Empire, rich with gold and gems and treasures beyond imagining. If she wants it, Hadewych must fight for it.

Storming of the Citadel (Overhead)
Storming of the Citadel (Overhead).


The year on the beach draws to a close, as does the wargames campaign. I’ve kept a detailed record of events of Valormr, which, like Wyrm Dawn from which it spawned, informs the upcoming B/X campaign.