To celebrate the 40th anniversary of my favorite DUNGEONS & DRAGONS edition, I’m starting a new B/X campaign. Wyrmwyrd is a solo campaign, and I’m using Tony Dowler’s How to Host a Dungeon to create some back story. I think of it as a prequel campaign—working title: Wyrm Dawn. I just finished the primordial age. The mother of dragons spawned in the deepest caverns.
Wyrm Dawn Campaign Map with B/X D&D and Host to Host a Dungeon.
These are fundamental beliefs widely held among all peoples throughout the known world.
The world ends; the world begins anew. Time is cyclical. The most recent end of the world was the Rending. Before that, there was Ragnarok, a battle between the giants and the gods. Before that, the Great Deluge, the Ever Winter, and the Time of Fire. The present world will be destroyed following a battle between Law and Chaos. Chaos wins.
Fates and Destiny
In the north, they are the Norns. In the south, the Moirai personify destiny. To the east, one’s destiny is determined by the stars. In all cases, the common term is “the Fates.” The gods obey the Fates. It is part of divine responsibility. Mortal creatures may choose to obey or to resist them. Diverse myths portray a hero’s struggle against the Fates and his or her success or failure.
Most folk, particularly those north of the World Dragon Mountains,2 are adherents to the Pantheon of gods. Followers revere all the gods, the Allfather chief among them.
The holy symbol is the Ouroboros, a serpent biting its tail. The symbol is presented with the “bite” at the circle’s top. The inverse presentation, considered heresy, signifies rebellion against the Pantheon.3
Rituals, ceremonies, and festivals follow the Ring Cycle, which comprises eight annual cycles of birth, death, and rebirth, and an overall cycle of worldly renewal. The faithful make rituals daily as well as monthly and seasonally.
As such, churches and cathedrals are dedicated to the Pantheon as a whole, yielding a central place to the Allfather. At the same time, temples, dedicated to a particular god, are not rare, while shrines may be either to a single god or to the Pantheon. In no case is devotion to the Allfather ignored.4
A religious edifice of a community is staffed by clerics, who attend to the religious, if not spiritual, needs of the faithful. These clerics may be of the adventuring class or minister clerics. Minister clerics may rise, though slowly, within the church hierarchy to hold upper offices.
Church (rarely temple)
Large Town (or City)
Church or Cathedral
Each office is appointed by the next higher, usually influenced by its own superiors. For examples, the bishop of Valormr is appointed by the patriarch in the Grand Duchy’s capital city.5 The bishop appoints the curate of Odenwoad as well as that of Fyrir, and each curate appoints priests to surrounding villages.
In developing the DONJON LANDS setting, I strive to create only what is necessary for game play. Though I indulge to some degree when an opportunity to explore the world presents itself. In so doing, I follow two guidelines. Here I describe how they relate to the setting’s religions.
To save myself a tremendous amount of work, I use as models ancient religions of our own world. The religion followed north of the World Dragon Mountains draws from Germanic and Norse mythology. While, south of the range, the inspiration is from Greek mythology, and east of the (unnamed) central sea, Mesopotamian and Ancient Egyptian. Models not copies.
B/X Implied Setting
A goal of the Wyrmwyrd campaign is to develop a setting that corresponds to the rules as written. In B/X, clerics “have dedicated themselves to the service of a god or goddess” (B9). No gods are described. A DM, who so desires, might elaborate on the Pantheon to define a much more detailed and complex religion, while another might use only “the Allfather”6 as a generic god.
2 The World Dragon Mountains are far south of the Throrgrmir Valley.
3 A sect or cult of Chaos might use the Ouroboros inverted among its membership—never openly in civilized communities. We may encounter the symbol more frequently in the dungeons.
4 One might imagine the predominant religion as pantheistic merging toward monotheism, as the Church of the Allfather consolidates its power.
5 As folk in Valormr prize their independence, there is some tension between the Lords of Valormr and the Church of the Allfather. The best they can arrange is for the Valormr bishop to be a local native, who then, so hope the Lords, keeps local interests in mind. That is not the situation at present.
6 Of course, one might want to replace the Allfather with the Allmother. I suspect a matriarchal religion—that is, one whose primary god is female—would look much different though, not just a change in gender. Further, it would be interesting to follow the evolution of a religion whose chief god is non-gender or non-binary or simultaneously male and female. I intend to experiment with these in future campaigns. Meanwhile, I would love to see your examples.
From among local aristocracy, the Lords of Valormr appoint several heralds. They are charged with the duty to disseminate information throughout the domain. These tabarded riders can bring the news from the Free City to the domain’s farthest reaches within a day.1
Spring in the Eighth Year of Valormr2
Latest news from the dungeon, the following information is commonly known throughout the Throrgrmir Valley.
The Red Ogre, Emperor of the Undersun, has completed construction of a “great wall” within the dungeon. Imperial troops now man fortifications to block key passages in a wide perimeter, which encloses the subterranean empire.
The Red Ogre also built a library. Overlooking the Throrgrmir Bridge, the library is filled with ancient and modern texts from eastern lands.
The Red Ogre has come to an agreement with Pegasus Manes. The adventurers pay the Emperor’s “tax,” and his troops leave them alone in the dungeon—as long as the adventurers show no signs of aggression.
Griffon’s Claws continue to extort Valormr. With monies thus gained, they recently added a stronghold to Isolde’s Tower, which is now a formidable fortress.
Formidable though it is, the fortress does not hinder the blink dogs, who harass Griffon’s Claws within it.
Pegasus Manes has allied with the blink dogs and recruits a force to fight Griffon’s Claws.
While Faerunduine, Wyrm-Touched, sleeps and grows stronger, a previously unknown cult has erected a temple at the old Throrgardr Gate. The cultists built an altar from the petrified bones of the last wyrmling. The object of their adoration is the wyrm-touched dragon herself.
To house the tomb of their lost comrade, members of the Ghouling Gauntlet are constructing a shrine. Meanwhile, they look for signs of the vampire’s whereabouts since their first encounter.
The Red Ogre propositions Valormr to join the Undersun Empire. The Emperor and the city have made a temporary non-aggression pact. The Emperor now sends an ambassador with full honorary accompaniment—which is to say, an army…
This, I think, is the final installment of the Wyrm Dawn campaign. Play of How to Host a Dungeon created a complex underground environment, a robust history, and details this Dungeon Master would not have discovered without it. Tony Dowler created a truly unique game that deserves more attention and more exploitation. I look forward to using it to create more, bigger, more diverse dungeons as we further explore DONJON LANDS. Now on to Wyrmwyrd.
1 Departing in the morning, first to Fyrir and crossing the Abrandyr and a tributary at ferry points, a rider gains the village north of Ellriendi by nightfall.
2 While familiar with the calendar used in the Grand Duchy—as it is the primary trading partner, the fierce folk in the Throrgrmir Valley, favoring their independence, have long preferred to reckon years according to their own system. Thus, the local calendar begins from the Free City’s recent founding.
Another preliminary map. At such an early stage—that is, before the first door is forced open—it is premature to consider the wilderness outside our immediate adventure area. My purpose, with regards to Wyrmwyrd, is to show the greater area, however generally, in which events play out. Furthermore, the base, modified, serves as the strategic-level map for the Valormr Campaign, which takes place a few thousand years prior to Wyrmwyrd.
In my childhood experience with wilderness maps, I first loved to make mountains. Later, I loved to do forests, then hills. Now I love to make rivers!
The north-south river right of center is in fact a canal, built by the Greater Race, repaired several times since the Rending.
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.
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.
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
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.
Navigable south to Arvohne (city, off map).
Empties into the Great North Sea at Skullhaven (former pirate hold, off map).
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.
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.
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
This fortress guards the domain against pirates.
Also patrols north of the Shire Hollows and, across the river, north of Ellriendi.
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).
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.
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.
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.
They mine silver and dispute the river valley with giants.
Refer to themselves still as Throrgrmir dwarves.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Viggo Eskilsson, sage of Valormr, does here record the many histories of the underground realm known as Throrgrmir from its primordial origin to its age of dragons so prophesied.”
Eskilsson came from the wild northern peninsula, tracking down legends of Throrgrmir’s wyrms and the Wyrm Prophecy. His previous works include Merfolk of the Cimbrian Sea, The Origin of Prophecy, and the four-volume Treatise On The Fabrication and Use of Metallic Alloys Natural and Artificial.
Now supported by the Lords of Valormr, Eskilsson resides in comfortable quarters within the city walls, where he researches his latest work. He gives the title as Histories of Throrgrmir From Great Wyrm to Age of Dragons. Locals call it “Viggo’s Histories.”
The historian divides Throrgrmir’s history to the present into nine ages, I to IX. He speculates that the next will be the prophesied Age of Dragons.
“If you’re going to use your dungeon for role-playing, I recommend you play right up until the start of the Age of Villainy, or possibly 1-2 turns into the Age of Villainy.”
—Tony Dowler, How to Host a Dungeon (2008).
A standard game of How to Host a Dungeon consists of one age each Primordial, Civilization, Monsters, and Villainy. After Wyrm Dawn’s Primordial Age, I drew out the dwarven Civilization across three Ages, played through two full cycles of the Ages of Monsters and Villainy, and when the Second Age of Villainy ended abruptly, a third villain rose to power.
Now, a few turns into the Third Age of Villainy, I pause the game. Events in Wyrm Dawn are prelude to the B/X D&D campaign Wyrmwyrd.