The First Dungeon Adventure
By Greg Svenson
I have the unique experience of being the sole survivor of the first dungeon
adventure in the history of "Dungeons & Dragons", indeed in the
history of role-playing in general. This is the story of that first dungeon
During the Christmas break of 1970-71; our gaming group was meeting in Dave
Arneson's basement in St. Paul,
Minnesota. We had been playing a
big Napoleonics miniatures campaign, which was getting bogged down in long
drawn out miniatures battles. So, as a diversion for the group, one weekend
Dave set up Blackmoor instead of Napoleonics on his ping pong table. The rules
we used were based on "Chainmail", which is a set of medieval
miniature rules with a fantasy supplement allowing for magic and various beings
found in the "Lord of the Rings". I had never played any games like
it before, although I had read "Lord of the Rings". Other members of
the group had played the game before, but always doing adventures in and around
the town of Blackmoor.
By the end of the weekend I had fallen in love with the game.
On this particular weekend, Dave tried a new wrinkle for the game. He had
been working all week to prepare a map of tunnels and catacombs under the town
and especially under the castle.
To begin the adventure an evil wizard, played by Jim Abler, and his pet
balrog, played by John Soukup, did something to Baron Fant (Dave Fant), the
Lord of Blackmoor at the time. I don't know exactly what they did, as I was
playing one of the castle's guards, simply a man-at-arms in chainmail with a
shield and a sword. After doing his evil deed, the wizard fled into the dungeon
under the castle, which had apparently been abandoned for many years by the
normal denizens of the castle. So, the Baron picked 30 of his men-at-arms and
sent us to hunt down the wizard. Among the 30 men-at-arms there were six
players, myself, Bill Heaton, Mel Johnson, Kurt Krey, Stephen Rocheford and Jim
Barber. I want to thank Stephen Rocheford for reminding me that Jim Barber was
the sixth member or our party. All of
us were level 1 fighters in modern terms, although at
the time you were either a flunky (like all of us at the start of the
adventure), a hero or a superhero.
We started by marching down a huge staircase from the main hall into the
castle's basement, a huge irregularly shaped room with seven pillars supporting
the ceiling and a large number of doors leading into the dungeon. This was the
only area of the dungeon that was secure for us "good" guys. We had
no idea which way the wizard went, so we picked a door leading northwest, later
dubbed the "Northwest Passage". We
were carrying torches for light. We meandered about for a while until we found
a staircase going down. We took the stairs and continued wandering the
At this point Dave took us into the laundry area of the basement, telling us
he wanted to see what we would do. He had us line up in our marching order.
Then he turned off the lights saying a sudden wind had blown out our torches.
Then we heard some screaming. We generally scattered as best we could. He
turned on the lights looked at what we had done and then went back to the other
room, telling us that a black blob (like the thing in the classic Japanese
horror movie "The Blob" from the 1950’s) had killed one of the
NPCs who ran into it. We soon found that our weapons dissolving when we struck
it. Then we got some torches relit and found that we could fight it with fire.
Eventually we killed it losing a couple more men in the process.
After wandering more corridors we entered a room where we were attacked by
giant spiders. Another fierce battle ensued and we overcame them, losing a
couple of men in the process. We found some copper coins and broken weapons in
the room along with a bunch of bones, including human bones.
Then we found another staircase going down, so down we went. We wandered for
a while on this level. Then we came to a room with the fallen statue of
Poseidon with trident in his hand. From the room there was a staircase going
down. At the bottom of the stairs we entered a triangular room with a smoking
pot in the center of it. It shot balls of fire at us. It took us a while to
figure out how to get safely past it.
We found a magic sword on the ground. I am not sure which room we were in
when we found it. Probably, either where the statue was or where the smoking
pot was. Anyway, one of the players tried to pick it up. He received a shock
and was thrown across the room. The same thing happened to the second player to
try. When Bill tried to pick it up he was successful. We were all impressed and
Dave, declared Bill our leader and elevated him to
We found another staircase going down, now to the 4th level. Here we found a
fountain with a small statue of a devil in it. There was also an ominous red
glow here. We realized that we had no time reference, but that we were all
getting tired, so we stopped and set up camp in a large room and bedded down
for the "night", carefully placing guards at the doors.
During the night a beautiful woman came to our camp. She successfully seduced
Bill. While they were embracing she turned into a serpent and killed him. We
fought and eventually killed it, but Bill's loss was a major set back for the
party. Several of us were injured trying to pick up the magic sword. One of the
guys was eventually successful in picking it up, though. We collectively
decided that we were in way over our heads and to return to the castle. Soon we
realized that we had made some errors in making our maps, too, as we were quite
lost. We eventually got back to the second level and decided that it was time
to make camp again.
While we were resting, the evil wizard and the balrog decided that we were
getting to close to getting out, so they decided to finish us off. The balrog
became invisible and entered the room where we had our camp and first attacked
the man with the magic sword. After he killed him we were all awakened and set
upon him. The balrog's body became a flaming torch as he tore into us. But 20
men-at-arms were no match for the balrog without our hero. We fought valiantly;
after all, there was no safe place for us to run. After a while I realized that
I was the last man standing. The balrog realized it, too. He stopped attacking,
turned off his flames and said to me "Go in fear and tell the Baron what
we have done to his men!" Then he disappeared.
As I looked about one of the corridors became illuminated. A voice spoke
(the evil wizard) telling me that the illuminated corridor would lead me back
to the castle. After determining that everyone else was dead, I picked up some
leather and carefully wrapped the magic sword with it and walked down the
illuminated corridor. This corridor led me to a staircase going up. At the top
another corridor was illuminated leading me to a door. On the other side was
the large room where we had started.
I reported to the Baron what had happened. He looked at the sword and
offered me the unimaginable sum of 100 gold pieces for it. I realized that it
must be vary valuable and bargained hard with him, eventually agreeing on 150
gold pieces for it. That was more money than I, a mere farmer’s son,
drafted into the Baron's guard, could imagine (of course, eventually I figured
out that such swords were vastly more valuable than that, but by then it was
far to late to do anything about it...).
Over time I went on to be one of the heroes of the "First Fantasy
Campaign", picking up the nickname "the Great Svenny" from my
comrades. At one point, I had much of the dungeon memorized; I had done so many
adventures there. That proved to be almost fatal to our group, but that is
The Great Svenny is still alive, 33 years later. We still do adventures,
occasionally. The Great Svenny is currently serving as the "Lord
Regent" of the Regency Council of Blackmoor. Svenny lives in his tower, Zvensen's
Freehold, several miles east of the town of Blackmoor City,
near the Elven village and Wolf's Head Pass.