The rediscovery of an artifact forged at the dawn of time signals an age of strife and opportunity!
The dwarven clans are in chaos, and a powerful host of goblins stands poised to sweep over the land in a wave of death and terror. Only the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords?one of the most powerful weapons ever created by the dwarven race?holds the key to ultimate victory against the massing humanoids. Can the PCs brave the labyrinth of an abandoned dwarven stronghold to find the Axe?
It's up to your characters to write a new chapter in the saga of the Axe.
This book contains the full story of the Axe's creation, loss, and reappearance.
For five to seven characters of levels 13-15.
Axe of the Dwarvish Lords (1999), by Skip Williams, is the final Tomes adventure for AD&D 2e. It was published in April 1999.
About the Cover. The previous Tomes adventures each featured a rather elegant Tomes logo, but Axe of the Dwarvish Lords (1999) switches to new branding that matches the other generic AD&D 2e adventures — including a black border and a red logo. The "Tomes" branding is now just a huge word under the AD&D logo. This was probably part of Wizards of the Coast's general consolidation of product lines, reducing the proliferation that was one of TSR's problems in its final days.
Origins (I): More Tomes. The Tomes line had two previous entries: The Rod of Seven Parts (1996) and Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998). Like the previous two adventures, Axe of Dwarvish Lords is a very classic sort of adventure that was generally out of style in the '90s; and like Rod of Seven Parts, it focused on an artifact. The only big change with this Tomes adventure was that it was produced on a smaller scale: as a book rather than as a box.
Axe of the Dwarvish Lords would be the final Tomes adventure, but if anything the publication of nostalgic adventures increased in the next year, as Wizards revisited numerous classic adventures, either with "anniversary editions" or "returns".
Origins (II): The History of the Axe. The Axe of the Dwarvish Lords is one of D&D's legendary artifacts, first appearing in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (1976) by Gary Gygax and Brian Blume. There's no record of the artifact's author or his intention. At the time it was simply described as an "axe … forged from the heart of a volcano by a dwarvish king long forgotten."
As with most of D&D's classic artifacts, the Axe reappeared first in the Dungeon Masters Guide (1979), then in the Book of Artifacts (1993). However, the descriptions in these references wasn't particularly consistent. The first said the Axe was lost in the "Invoked Devastation", an early event in the World of Greyhawk. The second instead said it was lost in the civil war that followed when "Brassbeard slew his uncle, King Irontooth of Moradinson". Axe of the Dwarvish Lords uses the latter history (and expands upon it), removing the Axe from the world of Greyhawk … but unlike some of D&D's other primordial artifacts, its links were never that strong.
Both Book of Artifacts and Axe of the Dwarvish Lords claim that the Axe is one of five artifacts. The others are "the Brutal Pick, the Earthheart Forge, the Anvil of Songs, and the Shaping Hammer", while the Axe is actually known as "the Fierce Axe".
Adventure Tropes. Though Axe has some introductory events, such as a wedding and an ambush, the heart of the adventure is a huge dungeon crawl through the abandoned dwarven ruins of Radruundar.
Dwarves never seem to hold on to their ancestral homelands.
Expanding D&D. Axe focuses on low-level monsters opposing high-level adventurers. This required one major change to the D&D rules: volleyed missile fire. This new rule allows creatures to do automatic damage with missile weapons if they act in concert and carpet an area with their arrows. However, the mechanic is far enough from the AD&D norm that it was poorly accepted.
(It was never used elsewhere.)
Exploring the Realms. Axe of the Dwarvish Lords is a totally generic adventure, but guidelines are included for integrating it into TSR's many campaign worlds. It looks like the most thought was put into the Forgotten Realms correspondence, with the major city of the adventure being "modeled on Mirabar" (in the North). The newest Dwarven Moria then becomes the Realms' Gharraghaur, a lost kingdom mentioned in various Realmslore.
Monsters of Note. The major villains of Axe are goblins, which is a bit surprising for an adventure for characters levels 13-15. So how do you make AD&D-style 1 HD goblins a challenge for high-level parties? The volleyed missile fire rules help, but Axe's many methodology is to invoke "Tucker's Kobolds".
"Tucker's Kobolds" is a famous editorial written by Roger E. Moore for Dragon #127 (November 1987). There he talked about making kobolds into a major and fearsome force in dungeons by playing them as intelligent tool-users and trap-builders. The main result of the article was that kobolds were suddenly cool, but it also showed how to make low-level monsters dangerous, and that's pretty much how the goblins work in Axe too.
Future History. In the late '90s Wizards produced many short Adventurer's Guild scenarios linked to their published products. For Axe of the Dwarvish Lords, Skip Williams wrote a short adventure called "A Simple Errand" (1999).
About the Creators. Williams began working as a designer at TSR in 1989. By the mid '90s, he was working on some of the company's most important products, such as Dungeon Master Option and Player's Option books for AD&D 2.5. The Rod of Seven Parts and Axe of the Dwarvish Lords, two of the Tomes releases, continued that trend.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.