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The Great Svenny
By Greg Svenson
(Posted on the Blackmoor mailinglist by Gregg Scott.)

The First Dungeon Adventure

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 adventure.

During the winter of 1970-71, our gaming group was meeting in Dave Arneson's basement in St. Paul, Minnesota. We had been playing a big Napoleonics 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 winkle 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 and two more whom I can't remember as I write this 30 years later. I am sorry, if you are one of those two I can't remember, please accept my apologies for forgetting. 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 stair case 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 corridors.

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 the other room, telling us that a black blob (like the thing in the movie "The Blob") had killed one of the NPCs who ran into it. We soon found that our weapons dissolved 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 over came 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.

[room with the fallen statue of Poseidon with trident]

[encounter with the fire elemental]

We found a magic sword on the ground. 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 "hero" status.

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, 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 another story.

The Great Svenny is still alive, 30 years later. We still do adventures, occasionally. The Great Svenny is currently serving as the "Lord Regent" of the Regency Council of Blackmoor. I live in my tower, Svenson's Freehold, several miles east of the town of Blackmoor, near the Elven village and Wolf's Head Pass.

Editor: Greg Svenson, recently contacted me and told me that a more complete version of this article, and more information about his old character, the Great Svenny on his webstite. Check it out!