Gaming Stories: I put the Dragon in a Sack

An old school white dragonIn the boxed set that introduced me to role-playing, Zanzer’s Dungeon was followed up with Stonefast. Unlike the first adventure, Stonefast came with a map and only a few room descriptions, leaving the rest to be stocked by the DM. Among the few stocked rooms included an encounter with a white dragon named Kamro, which was basically Baby’s First Dragon Fight.

In later years I got lazy about dungeon design, outlining a few key rooms and winging it. Back when I got started in RPGs, though, I took this stuff seriously. I dutifully pounded out descriptions for each room on my manual typewriter. I rolled on the room contents tables as suggested and generated treasure ahead of time. In game, I even recorded how long torches stayed burning and when I needed to roll for random encounters.

Some of my planned encounters were winners, such as a group of dwarves who hoped to slay the dragon and recover their ancient family treasure. Others were atrocious. I put in a werewolf at one point with the description of, “This room contains a white wolf. But he’s much bigger than a normal wolf. He must be a werewolf.” Back then, I had more enthusiasm than skill.

The group that entered the room consisted of my mother playing a thief and my two brothers playing a fighter and a wizard. They had been joined by a cleric in Zanzer’s dungeon, but that cleric chose to remain at his church after the escape. Re-entering the adventuring business was my halfling that had escaped from Zanzer’s dungeon in the solo adventure. Presumably, he was happy to hear about Zanzer’s death and sought out these adventurers to brave the dangers of Stonefast.

Kamro was the big awesome encounter of the dungeon, and there was a lot of buildup to his introduction. The group knew they were in for something big when the corridors all widened and led to a series of double doors. Finally, the group came face to face with Kamro himself. The dwarves, affected by the dragon’s fear aura, ran away immediately. So much for honor to their ancestors.

As a young white dragon, Kamro couldn’t speak, but he did understand some words. My mother, the veteran D&D player in the group, knew that it was always better to attempt diplomacy with a dragon if possible. Her character bowed reverently and offered up a gemstone to the dragon. Kamro liked this and showed mercy, allowing the group to live as long as they offered up a treasure. Unfortunately, he didn’t know enough to identify magic potions before he used them.

My halfling NPC, who was sort of the potions cabinet for the group, had in his collection a potion of diminution, which reduced anybody who drank it to six inches tall. He offered that up to the dragon, who downed it immediately. As Kamro shrunk down, the rest of the group leapt into action, tossing the tiny dragon in a sack and lighting it on fire. They threw the sack in the corner of the room and let the very surprised dragon burn to death. Then they collected the treasure hoard – or what could be carried of it, anyway. I used the encumbrance rules back then, which kept adventurers from taking a dragon’s entire hoard.

One cool part of the old D&D rules that I never got to see in action were the dragon subdual rules. If somebody dealt only nonlethal damage to a dragon and defeated it, that dragon would then be bound to serve the individual. In modern versions of the game, this is impractical, since dragons are far too powerful to be subdued by most characters. Back then, Kamro was a good opponent for 2nd-level characters but not invincible. He only had 29 hit points, I think, and it would have been interesting to see somebody subdue him and turn him into a companion for future adventures. But I guess putting him in a sack and lighting him on fire is the next best thing.

One other note I remember about Stonefast is that it had one of the most annoying rooms of all time in it. Behind several secret doors was a room with 100 treasure chests. Each chest was trapped – and with a 2nd-level thief having less than a 20% chance to find traps, that meant that the traps were likely to go off. The traps unleashed poisonous gas. The ultimate reward for bypassing all of those traps and dealing with the dangers? One copper piece in ever chest. Old school games seemed to have a habit of putting in an annoyance room once in a while that was designed just to screw with players. In In Search of the Unknown, there was a room full of over a dozen doors that all led to nowhere. When I ran that recently, the players got ticked off to the point where they burned each and every door. If I put those same players through the traps and poisonous gas in that room in Stonefast, I’d probably have to run and hide afterward.

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