Wyrms of the North Nymmurh, "The Wyrm Who Watches"
Dragon Magazine #250
By Ed Greenwood with supplementary material provided by Sean K Reynolds
The Wyrm Who Watches is known to only a few folk of the North. Almost all of them, outside of a particular Waterdhavian noble family, think he's just a fanciful character in an old fairy tale that purports to explain why some noble families of Waterdeep are so wealthy. Volo learned rather more in a tenday dalliance with the young Lady Ravithara Silmerhelve -- but as Elminster commented, "If Lord Laerlos Silmerhelve ever reads this, there won't be a fortress strong enough or distant enough in all Toril to save the skin of Volothamp Geddarm from the vengeance of the Silmerhelves. I hear Ravithara wants the father of her baby to return to her side, too."
It should be noted before we continue that the child, Emmeros Silmerhelve, is a strong baby boy who'd have to see more than a dozen of his kin die before he ever became head of the house; he'd not be in the direct line of succession even if his father were an honored noble openly married to Ravithara (a fourth cousin to Lord Laerlos). He is, according to Elminster, blessed with Volo's unmistakable, er, "good looks."
Nymmurh is a figure almost as elusive as the father of Emmeros. This ancient bronze he-dragon has crafted several magic mirrors and portraits in the Silmerhelve family mansion in Waterdeep and in several outbuildings of their country estate, Helvenblade House, northwest of Westbridge. These looking-glasses and pictures now serve Nymmurh as constantly operating scrying "portholes." He can see, hear, and speak through them at will, though the mirrors and pictures show no sign of his presence beyond a strong but invisible magical aura.
When Nymmurh desires to show himself to observers "on the other side," he need only perform a simple (and almost instantaneous) manipulation of the permanent scrying magic. The mirror or portrait shimmers for an instant, then reveals the head of the kindly dragon "beyond" the wall.
The portholes provide Nymmurh with a constant source of entertainment, as the Silmerhelves live their lives under his watchful gaze. He reveals himself to at least one family member of each generation, so he can guide the Silmerhelves with timely advice and learn news from them. (Family members in the know often position themselves within view of a known porthole for gossip and important family conferences or confrontations.) Nymmurh's habit of keeping himself secret from most Silmerhelves means that he can surprise treacherous or foolish family members when he acts against them, and he keeps general knowledge of his own existence in the "family legend" category rather than "known family weapon" that outsiders can anticipate. Through the generations Nymmurh has aided many Silmerhelves, usually younger sons who go adventuring, but on many occasions the same individuals when they're in their gray years. Nymmurh has taken more than one family patriarch or matriarch on a magnificent "last ride," flying them on his back through vicious storms over the Sea of Swords until lightning slays them. In return, the Silmerhelves have come to Nymmurh's aid when his lair is threatened or when a marauding dragon has wounded him in battle.
One of the greatest treasures of the Silmerhelves, an elven stormsword (described in Dragon Magazine Annual #1), is a gift from Nymmurh. Tales of Silmerhelves coming back from the dead to defend loved ones or to protect them during perilous trips are the work of the bronze dragon who is using his magic to take on human form. He is also not above covertly arranging matches for young Silmerhelve daughters.
Nymmurh can scry all of the Silmerhelve portals constantly; according to Elminster, their "other ends" ring the main cavern of his lair like so many floating crystal balls. He has portals at all gates to Silmerhelve properties, in at least one cellar of each home, and wherever there are ovens, large cooking hearths, or heating-fires (so he can cry alarm if fire, theft, or imminent attack threaten). Sound travels freely through Nymmurh's portals, so he can bellow and be heard in the Silmerhelve abode. Often he mischievously speaks in ghostly whispers or imitates someone who's elsewhere, to alarm visitors who are nosing about where they shouldn't be. Sometimes he'll make them think someone is coming or even trick individuals into thinking certain persons are in love with them; he knows reams of love poems and will quote them using the voice of a particular Silmerhelve, addressing them to someone he knows can hear.
The Wyrm Who Watches can also allow things to pass through a portal by calling on its magic to shape a temporary portal. This allows him, another creature, or an object or collection of items smaller in total volume than Nymmurh to travel through the mirror or portrait in either direction. Travel is accomplished merely by touching the mirror or portrait; travelers need not pass (or be able to fit) through its frame. If Nymmurh hasn't activated this ability, nothing happens beyond normal contact with a solid object, when any part of the portal mirror or portrait is touched.
Such portal travel is always safe but has the side effect of "turning off" any active magic on or surrounding something that passes through a portal. Prepared spells, quiescent magical powers, and magical effects that are present but inactive aren't affected, and if active magic can be made quiescent without ending or destroying them, the portal does so. Nymmurh has used this property to whisk beings safely to his lair, send items to a Silmerhelve, and even to enter Silmerhelve homes himself.
If no urgent need exists, the bronze dragon uses other means of transport; making a "portal trip" ruins the magical link between the mirror or portrait and its scrying-globe in his lair, causing the latter to collapse. The spells that create a new one and link it to the portal once more can be done entirely from Nymmurh's lair, but they are long, exacting, and expensive (in terms of rare, hard-to-obtain ingredients that usually involve hired adventurers -- all of whom Nymmurh deals with while in human form, and some of whom are sent after unnecessary ingredients, to keep the list of crucial ones secret).
As a hatchling, Nymmurh was whimsical, good-natured, and curious, especially about humans. He stumbled on the portal magic -- about which Volo could learn almost nothing, and about which Elminster could add scarcely more -- in the lair of an already-dead dragon. Who that dragon was, and where that lair lies, are secrets Nymmurh has never revealed.
The bronze dragon promptly used the portals to learn all he could about humans by observation. First mentioned in Silmerhelve family diary entries written in the first year of Northreckoning, The Wyrm Who Watches apparently chose the Waterdhavian family purely at random. Down the years, Nymmurh has from time to time covertly opened other portals in other places. Fear of discovery, being traced back to his lair, and the necessity to visit the "other" side of the portal to create the link has kept non-Silmerhelve portals rare and caused Nymmurh to destroy or close those he doesn't deem necessary. The bronze dragon desired to learn about humans because he saw them as the "great shaping force" that would rule over or influence all of Faerûn during his lifetime and he wanted to know how humans think and act.
Now a great wyrm of age-paling scales and increasing lassitude (he naps often, sometimes for long periods), Nymmurh is an expert in human nature, including changing fashions and thought among Waterdhavian upper-class humans over a span of more than a thousand years. He knows thousands of human jokes, songs, and rhymes, and has even advised the human sage (and authority-on-dragons) Velsaert of Baldur's Gate about the nature of dragons and recent Sword Coast draconic doings.
According to Velsaert, Nymmurh views other dragons much as he views humans: as potentially dangerous sources of entertainment it's prudent to learn all he can about. Nymmurh tries to hide his existence from other dragons as much as possible, swooping down on his larder-isle to feed by night, and otherwise almost never venturing out of his lair in dragon form. He employs a variety of "favorite" human forms that he sometimes uses when speaking through a portal to conceal his draconic nature. If he wants to conceal his true form from someone, he usually takes the shape of a Silmerhelve ancestor and does what he calls "the haunted portrait trick," acting as the long-dead Silmerhelve whose portrait he's staring out of, while wearing his or her face. If he wants personally to visit a Silmerhelve house, he usually takes the form of the mumbling-mad Lady Saerista Silmerhelve (of whom more is said below).
The key to Nymmurh's character could be his constant need to learn more about Toril around him, and its human inhabitants in particular. Even after an age of watching and observing, the bronze dragon is still fascinated by what humans get up to, and why and how predictable and unpredictable they can be. He loves to experiment (in a kindly, ready-to-correct-his-own-mistakes manner) with manipulating the Silmerhelves, to see if he can affect human fortunes and make humans more as he'd like them to be: kinder, gentler, wiser, and slower to act before consequences are considered -- and far friendlier to bronze dragons. He also likes to try to guess what lies ahead in the broader sweep of realms rising and falling, advances in trade and technology, and so on, finding it all very entertaining. He has no need to rule or dominate, and he finds no joy in outwitting or trapping others; Nymmurh loves to watch from the background, unnoticed and unmolested by his own kind and other passing predators.
He's known to be an accomplished mimic and a persuasive speaker, able to "convince folk right out of their stockings" (as Elminster put it) and to successfully impersonate folk more or less at will: that is, to make people believe he's a merchant of Amn or an escaped slave from Thay, not the wizard Elminster or Bloskrin Thuulbrin, Fine Fur-Dealer Extraordinaire from Westgate.
The bronze dragon's lair is located high among the most inaccessible peaks of Alaron. From there he raids the High Moor and one of the islands in the Korinn Archipelago (which he long ago stocked with hardy goats) for food. The bronze dragon affectionately refers to his cluttered labyrinth-of-caverns home as "the Pit." This has caused some adventurers over the years, a-hunting dragon treasure, to mistakenly seek deeper delvings. (Usually they find meenlock-haunted mines in the vicinity and come to grief if they're not smart enough to flee before being surrounded and overwhelmed in the lightless passages.)
The Pit is a large and intricate network of caverns, a dozen of which are large enough for Nymmurh to laze or glide around in, in his own form. They can be reached by a shaft that leads straight up through the heart of a lofty peak, but which the bronze dragon guards with a large grating of sharp, 40-ft.-long spikes that menace anyone falling or flying down the shaft. The grate can swing downward and into a side-alcove, out of the way, but it is almost always locked in place, a forest of deadly blades that prevents dragons from dropping in uninvited. Made by titans long ago for a now-destroyed fortress of their own, the grate consists of many smaller spears and swords fixed upright between the huge blades, so as to endanger creatures of all sizes larger than a fox or hawk. It is smeared with pitch so as to retain a cloak of powder (a mixture of natural substances that neutralize acids), and it bears a permanent globe of invulnerability spell.
The side-passages and caverns of the Pit are smaller -- too small for a full-grown bronze dragon. One of these tangled networks of ways leads some miles away, to a connection with the surface: a small cave-entrance under the waters of a cold, swiftly-flowing mountain river. This cave is inhabited, and guarded for Nymmurh in return for gifts of food, by Annaclathaer, a marl (a snakelike aquatic multilimbed sentient creature). Their long-standing agreement has become a firm friendship, and if the marl breaks a magic glass "signal chime" Nymmurh gave him, and the bronze dragon is at home to hear it, the great wyrm speeds to Annaclathaer's aid, ready to fight any foe.
The smaller caverns of the Pit are crammed with odd, old items of all kinds; Nymmurh is an incurable collector of souvenirs. When he attends a revel, he'll bring back his empty glass or a lace doily; after matchmaking a pair of Silmerhelves into their first kiss, he's quite likely to tear up and take away the stone cemetery bench in the City of the Dead that they met upon. Fragments of boats that were wrecked on the rocky coasts near his home (or upon the isle where he keeps larder) are here, some spilling out their ballast-stones or long-perished cargoes.
Although magic items and true treasure are both rare among all the clutter, they do exist, hidden away in side caverns reached only by dint of a lot of heaving aside items and clambering over others. Nymmurh once helped a foolish young Silmerhelve pay off a debt by showing up with thousands of gold pieces (which he dumped around the creditor in an imprisoning ring while in dragon form, just to impress everyone involved) and has on several occasions gifted Silmerhelve couples, at their nuptials, with small but useful magic items. Two stone golems (salvaged from ruins) stand hidden among all the heaped items, ready to attack intruders at the dragon's command.
Nymmurh's Pit has one other resident: the mumbling-mad Lady Saerista Silmerhelve, rescued by the Wyrm Who Watches from the cooking-spit of the orc patrol who captured her. Saerista can be unnerving, but she's harmless, not a suddenly-murderous maniac. When not in one of her rare lucid moments, she shuffles about whispering to herself, her gown in revealing rags and her hair an unkempt, dusty forest. Saerista has seen some sixty winters and is quite content to remain in the Pit, eating what Nymmurh brings her, reading books from among all the heaped belongings, and exploring those belongings in an endless excavation of wonders. She knows who and what Nymmurh is, and that he's "the Guardian of the Silmerhelves" -- and privately considers him a disguised god who rescued her out of kindness. If she can ever find some way to repay him, she will. Her treatment by the orcs drove her from befuddlement to outright madness, and she's often completely unaware of the world around her. At such times, she's quite likely to speak in many strange voices, as if a dozen different folk were sharing her skull. Anyone who threatens or attacks Nymmurh when she's around, however, might disagree with that judgment.
Nymmurh ignores the concept of domains, cheerfully roaming the North (the Sword Coast and its near-offshore isles in particular) regardless of what other dragons may dwell nearby or claim the territories he traverses. The only areas he'll defend against intruding dragons or other creatures are his own lair and his larder island. He regards the Silmerhelves as under his protection, but he won't diligently watch over young wayward family members out seeking their fortunes; he looks after those who aren't engaged in "discovering themselves" and doesn't regard himself responsible for the survival and successes of each individual Silmerhelve. If the family is ever threatened with sudden extinction, he plans to swoop in and kidnap a few family members to hide them far away so they can continue the family line while he makes things safe in Waterdeep for their eventual return.
The Deeds of Nymmurh
Like most of his kind, Nymmurh favors shark meat above other fare, but this only leads him into occasional plunges down to join a "feeding frenzy" shark gathering he observes when flying over. Largely disinterested in food, Nymmurh is content to dine on the goats of his larder isle, though he takes a keen interest in procuring a varied and interesting diet for his "guest" Saerista, so he is constantly trading coins he comes by for bottled sauces and pickled oddities to bring home to the Pit for her. Nymmurh spends more time observing Faerûn through his Silmerhelve portholes than anything else, but he does go on forays every tenday or so, to "gather things" and "get out and breath air as humans do." This air often seems to be the smoky, over-perfumed sort that prevails at revels; Nymmurh loves human parties for all the chatter and how folk behave when they're tipsy or trying to impress or being deliberately catty or outrageous.
So far as is known, Nymmurh has never taken a mate or shown any interest in having offspring or even acquiring alliances with other dragons. Acquiring things is a hunger in him, but not necessarily keeping them -- and the things need not be "treasure" as most creatures regard it. An interesting whittled tankard-coaster would catch his eye over a pile of gold pieces.
Nymmurh: Male ancient bronze dragon; CR 22; Gargantuan dragon (water); HD 33d12+231; hp 445; Init +4; Spd 40 ft., swim 60 ft., fly 200 ft. (clumsy); AC 38, touch 6, flat-footed 38; Base Atk +33; Grp +56; Atk +40 melee (4d6+11, bite); Full Atk +40 melee (4d6+11, bite) and +35 melee (2d8+5/19-20, 2 claws) and +35 melee (2d6+5, 2 wings) and +35 melee (2d8+16, tail slap); Space/Reach 20 ft./15 ft. (20 ft. with bite); SA breath weapon (120-ft. line of lightning), crush 4d6+16, frightful presence, spell-like abilities, spells, tail sweep 2d6+16; SQ alternate form, blindsight 60 ft., damage reduction 15/magic, darkvision 120 ft., immunities (electricity, paralysis, sleep), keen senses, spell resistance 28, water breathing; AL LG; SV Fort +25, Ref +18, Will +25; Str 33, Dex 10, Con 25, Int 26, Wis 25, Cha 24.
Skills and Feats: Bluff +16, Concentration +43, Diplomacy +51, Escape Artist +26, Gather Information +20, Hide -12, Intimidate +39, Knowledge (arcana) +38, Knowledge (geography) +33, Knowledge (history -- Waterdeep) +38, Knowledge (local -- Waterdeep) +38, Knowledge (nature) +30, Knowledge (nobility and royalty -- Waterdeep) +38, Listen +43, Search +28, Sense Motive +43, Spellcraft +25, Spot +37, Survival+14, Swim +19, Use Magic Device +21; Arcane Preparation (FRCS), Cleave, Combat Casting, Craft Wondrous Item, Create Portal, Empower Spell, Hover, Improved Critical (claw), Improved Initiative, Power Attack, Snatch, Wingover.
Breath Weapon (Su): Once every 1d4 rounds, Nymmurh can breathe a 120-foot line of lightning. Each creature in the path of the lightning takes 20d6 points of electricity damage (Reflex DC half).
Crush (Ex): When flying or jumping, Nymmurh can land on Medium or smaller opponents as a standard action, using his whole body to crush them. His crush attack affects a 20-foot-by-20-foot area. Each creature in the affected area must succeed on a Reflex save (DC 33) or be pinned, automatically taking 4d6+16 points of bludgeoning damage each round that it remains pinned.
Frightful Presence (Ex): Nymmurh can unsettle foes with his mere presence. This ability takes effect automatically whenever he attacks, charges, or flies overhead. Each creature within a 300-foot radius that has fewer than 33 HD is subject to the effect. A potentially affected creature that succeeds on a Will save (DC 33) remains immune to Nymmurh's frightful presence for 24 hours. On a failure, a creature with 4 or fewer HD becomes panicked for 4d6 rounds, and one with 5 or more HD becomes shaken for 4d6 rounds. A panicked creature takes a -2 morale penalty on saving throws and must flee. A shaken creature takes a -2 morale penalty on attack rolls, checks, and saving throws. Nymmurh ignores the frightful presence of other dragons.
Spell-Like Abilities: At will -- speak with animals; 3/day -- control water, create food and water, detect thoughts, fog cloud.
Spells: Nymmurh casts spells as a 15th-level sorcerer.
Tail Sweep (Ex): As a standard action, Nymmurh can sweep with his tail, affecting a half-circle with a radius of 30 feet extending from an intersection on the edge of his space in any direction. Each Small or smaller creature within the swept area takes 2d6+16 points of bludgeoning damage (Reflex DC 33 half).
Alternate Form (Su): Nymmurh can assume any animal or humanoid form of Medium size or smaller as a standard action three times per day. This ability functions as a polymorph spell (caster level 15th), except that the dragon does not regain hit points for changing form and can only assume the form of an animal or humanoid. He can remain in its animal or humanoid form until he chooses to assume a new one or return to his natural form.
Blindsense (Ex): Nymmurh can pinpoint creatures within a distance of 60 feet. Opponents he can't actually see still have total concealment against him.
Keen Senses (Ex): Nymmurh sees four times as well as a human in shadowy illumination and twice as well in normal light.
Water Breathing (Ex): Nymmurh can breathe underwater indefinitely and can freely use its breath weapon, spells, and other abilities while submerged.
Sorcerer Spells Known (6/8/8/8/7/7/7/5; save DC 17 + spell level): 0 -- dancing lights, detect magic, disrupt undead, ghost sound, mage hand, mending, open/close, prestidigitation, read magic; 1st -- disguise self, forcewave, know protections, mage armor, true strike; 2nd -- cat's grace, detect thoughts, invisibility, life bolt, magic mouth; 3rd -- analyze portal, dispel magic, fireball, hold person; 4th -- charm monster, greater invisibility, scrying, summon monster IV; 5th -- Grimwald's graymantle, jumpgout, Lutzaen's frequent jaunt , teleport; 6th -- acid fog, gate seal, greater dispel magic; 7th -- greater scrying, power word blind.
The Wyrm Who Watches keeps his interesting, useful, and powerful scrying-link spells secret indeed, but Volo learned something of his lesser magic (spells he passed on to various Silmerhelves, down the years), and one of these follows.
Nymmurh is likely to continue through the decades much as he is today, until a powerful and merciless dragon or mage (more probably, a cabal of mages, such as wizards of the Arcane Brotherhood or Cult of the Dragon) learn of his existence and launch a concerted attack. Nymmurh could well fall before he could muster defenses enough to stay alive.
He would also suffer acute distress, personal danger -- and at the least, an upheaval of his tidy lifestyle -- if a truly evil and ambitious Silmerhelve arose and kept his or her intentions hidden until a successful attack upon, or manipulation of, Nymmurh could be accomplished. No such Silmerhelve seems likely to develop in the current generation, and the bronze dragon has dealt with overly ambitious Silmerhelves in the past by manipulating their kin to unmask their true natures and to deal with them.
Nymmurh could also die of old age or fall in a chance encounter with a younger and more vigorous dragon. He also just might finally feel the urge to father heirs of his own and begin the dangerous hunt for a suitable bronze dragon mate.
Interestingly, Saerista has (completely on her own) begun to search for the whereabouts of other bronze dragons, employing old maps, lorebooks, and a magical mind-scrying crown (all found among the vast mounds of accumulated oddities in the Pit). Is she reading Nymmurh's mind or responding to wistful things he's said? Does her plot involve changing herself into a dragon? Conceiving the offspring would be impossible without magical aid, and probably deadly to her in any event, but she might not know that or perhaps chooses to deny it. Nymmurh can't have failed to notice her studies, but so far he's pretended not to notice. Volo, Elminster, and so of course we, too, can only wonder why.
About the Authors
Ed Greenwood is glad he has never seen some of the spells he has devised over the years for the D&D game work for real. He grants, however, that they might come in handy should one of his monsters appear in the garden.
Sean K Reynoldsleaves the gardening to his girlfriend, though he is sometimes tempted to use the flower boxes as the setting for Alien Plant World miniatures battles.