This article offers some insight to how and why this adventure was developed and created.
By R. Nelson Bailey
I like dragons. Red ones, blue ones, exotic ones that live in the clouds, or tiny faerie dragon ones. Everyone that plays Dungeons & Dragons loves dragons. They cause a great excitement around the gaming table when one (or two) appears in an adventure. Players snap to attention with a mix of shock and excitement. Hopeful players anticipate an epic battle, and, if they are lucky, looting the dragon's treasure hoard. Despondent players envision a horrible death for their character.
The genesis of DUNGEON DELVE #2 Dungeons of the Dread Wyrm was the desire to create a dragon adversary that would be challenging and memorable for my gaming group. One reason why this had been difficult is due to a shortcoming endemic with earlier editions of the game: dragons are underpowered, especial when pitted against high-level characters. A typical encounter with a dragon foe rarely lasts more than a few rounds versus a party of skilled adventurers. Additionally, when 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons modules featured dragons, they were usually relegated to minion status to a more powerful villain. The black dragon, Aulicus, in the I2 Tomb of the Lizard King, and the red dragon, Brazzemal, in G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King, are two examples that come to mind. In playing both of these modules a number of times, these two dragons always died quickly and anticlimactically at the hands and spells of the player characters. They might get a blast of their breath weapon on a few characters and maybe wound them badly, but they typically would die in the third or fourth round. The sad fact is that dragons in these editions are not the feared monsters of legend whose name appears in the very name of the game we all love and play.
Furthermore, these modules often portrayed dragons sitting idly in their unprotected lair until the group of adventurers simply walk in, beat them down, and make off with their hard-earned treasure. As intelligent creatures, one would think that dragons would be aware that they are ripe targets for bold treasure seekers. That at some point a group of adventurers too powerful for them to handle will appear and do them in. Being long-lived creatures, surely any hallway intelligent dragon would spend time and effort to defend against such incursions. They would try to make it as hard as possible for potential plunderers to kill them and take their loot.
This module is an attempt to rectify that problem. Make a powerful dragon as the central villain of an adventure, one that has spent years building and refining the perfect deathtrap lair for greedy adventurers. Believe me, the original players of this module had their hands full dealing with Felmurnuzza’s devious traps. By the end of the adventure, they didn’t think that this dragon was a chump who died an anticlimactically death.
As originally conceived, Dungeons of the Dread Wyrm, or as was titled at that time “Dragon Hunt”, was to be a multi-part adventure. Sort of a mini-campaign. The central idea of a dragon’s lair that was cunningly hidden and heavily guarded was present from the beginning. The area surrounding the lair would have been populated by folk that have no interest in adventurers showing up and stirring up the dragon. They would give false information that leads to a couple false lairs the dragon keeps, and be generally unhelpful to the party. The player characters would have to find bits of information that leads them to the real dragon’s lair. One of the first mini-adventures would have been a dungeon below a ruined keep where the dragon’s degenerate human minions would seal them in. They would have to explore to locate the hidden exit, all the while battling monsters. This would have been followed by a crypt full of undead, then a section featuring some caverns that contain a derro town, à la Robert E. Howard’s “The Lost Race” story. After players followed the clues and survived, they would have found the dragon’s sealed caverns that could only be accessed via teleportation. In the end, I never found a good opportunity to run this adventure as a part of an on-going campaign with my regular gaming group. As it turned out, I was in need of an adventure to run for a weekend D&D tournament I host every year. I decided to streamline the basic ideas of the dragon hunt into a high-level tournament scenario. What was run that weekend is pretty much what made it into the published version of Dungeons of the Dread Wyrm with only a few minor changes.