Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Classic Adventures Revisited: B1 In Search of the Unknown

I want to look back at some of my favorite classic adventures both from TSR and others.  I'll give a review, though most everyone knows what is in these adventures by now, I'll also talk about how I have used them in the past and I'll also talk about what other games I have used them with or would like too.  So there is a little bit of Plays Well With Others in this too.

Why do classic adventures? Easy, I love these adventures.  I have written hundreds of my own adventures, some I have even published, but these are the adventures that everyone knows and we all have a history with.

B1 In Search of the Unknown
In Search of the Unknown was not the first adventure ever created, it was not even the first TSR adventure ever created.  It was though one of the very first adventures I ever encountered and one of the first I ever ran.

This is my "go-to" adventure anytime I want to start up a new group or game.  It's a ritual for me, roll up characters and run them through the halls of the lost Castle of Quasqueton. I still have my copy that I bought all those years ago and it was also one of the first PDFs I purchased from WotC. I also have the DriveThruRPG Print on Demand copy and it is very nice.



It is one of those adventures I can run with zero prep time and each time I learn something new or remember something I forgot. This module is simple, easy to use and can be adapted to any campaign world and even any game. It is a perfect module for the Basic game.

The adventure is a great case of both teaching tool for learning DMs (we were all new to this once) and DIY Dungeon.  Some areas are detailed, but many are not, leaving room for the neophyte DM to record what monsters and treasure were in each room.  There are also a plethora of cliche spawning Dungeon tropes, that were just getting started here.  Magic mouths, one-way secret doors, a mysterious creator of the dungeon, or in this case, two, and strange magical artifacts.

This adventure was the perfect learning tool for me at the time since my own version of D&D was a mix of Holmes Basic and the AD&D Monster Manual.   This "Basic" introductory module was released before the Basic game, but it moves elegantly between Basic and Advanced that begs you to mix and match your rules systems.  Author Mike Carr even gives some guidelines on how to use this adventure with AD&D.


Note how the using this adventure with AD&D is absent from the later printings.


The module is pretty typical for the time. 32 pages of b/w art and text. Detached cover with blue maps printed on the inside of the cover. The first 6 pages are dedicated to running the adventure and how to run this one in particular.

I have used this adventure to start every new campaign I have ever run in D&D, regardless of the edition.  The dungeon crawl here is so primal that it calls out to you. A true In Search of the Unknown indeed.   The one thing I never did, however, was to investigate more about who Rogahn and Zelligar were and why they left their lair of Castle Quasquenton.

One thing that B1 did give me, in a roundabout way, was my very first witch NPC Marissia.  She is in the lower parts of Quasquenton and she is attempting to summon the spirit of her master Zelligar and her father Rogahn.




The adventure has stood the test of time and it is a great combination of flexible dungeon design.  Nearly anything can be put into this adventure to raise or lower the difficulty as needed.

DriveThruRPG and DMSGuild offer this as both a PDF and Print On Demand.






B1 Legacy of the Unknown
This adventure is billed as a "sequel" from Pacesetter Games & Simulations.  It furthers the mystery of Rogahn and Zelligar and what they were doing.  There is a druid in this adventure named "Melissia" which I thought was very fun and worked as some sort of relative (daughter may be) of my own "Marissia", a witch NPC I always included in my own runnings of B1 In Search of the Unknown.

You can get this adventure from DriveThruRPG (PDF only) or from Pacesetter's own store (Print and PDF). While overtly designed for AD&D1/OSRIC, it would be a great fit for Pacesetter's own BX RPG.  In fact, it might fit better.

Other Games / Plays Well With Others

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
The simplicity of B1 has made it an enduring adventure for over 40 years.  I have used it with every version of D&D I have ever played. But if you want everything at your fingertips for easy conversions I do recommend the Classic Modules Today conversion of B1 In Search of the Unknown.
Goodman Games also offers their Original Adventures Reincarnated, with B1 and it's various printings going into their Into the Borderlands Hardcover. It features the original printings of the original module as a complete 5th edition update.
There is also a set of maps that can be printed out or used with virtual tabletops.

B1 and Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea
Like many old-school adventures, one merely needs to turn up the horror aspect to give it a good run in Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  Though there is not much that needs to be done to change it.  There is a feeling that Rogahn and Zelligar were messing with the forces of chaos a little more than they should have been.  Make that Chaos now with a capital "C" and we are getting the adventure closer to what we might see in AS&SH.  The one thing that always struck me about Quasquenton is that it is all underground.  It's not a castle, not really, but a warren.  Eric Fabiaschi suggests that the complex had been built by one of the older Lovecraftian races and the adventurers Rogahn and Zelligar only found it later.  It seems to fit for me.
Also given that B1 is an odd admixture of proto-Basic D&D, OD&D, and AD&D, the feel is perfect for AS&SH.


B1 and Blue Rose
In this mix, the chaos elements run the other direction so to speak.  Here Rogahn and Zelligar stumble upon an element of Shadow while constructing their castle/lair.   Maybe it has something to do with what I call the "Chaos Stone", Room 45/XLV "Cavern of the Mystical Stone".  This is obviously some artifact of Shadow and it either drone Rogahn and Zelligar mad, killed them or caused them to kill each other, or destroyed them outright.  Maybe all the above.
When converting ANY D&D adventure to Blue Rose I take some points from Fantasy Age where I can. In particular the monsters.  Typically in Blue Rose, you would not see this concentration of monsters in one place, the Chaos Stone/Mystical Stone is drawing them near.   As Envoys of the Sovereign, it would the character's jobs to find out what is going on and how to stop it.   I would give more background to Rogahn and Zelligar and stat up Marrissia a little more.
While this is a good "first-level" adventure in D&D, the implication of Shadow here makes this a much more dangerous enterprise.

Step with care here Envoys. More than your life is at stake.


B1 and Army of Darkness
One of my favorite mixes, but not my top favorite (more on that one next time).  Army of Darkness allows for all sorts of crazy adventures.  For the same reasons that B1 works for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, it works for this.  So imagine this, you have a party of Primative Screwheads, they are out in the woods. It starts to rain.  They find an entrance to a cave and boom, suddenly it is horror movie shenanigans. Monsters chasing you, weird-ass artifacts and cultists who are somehow still alive from the Middle Ages.  Have at least one archeologist to talk about how insane this all is and then go monster hunting and maybe, just maybe stop the forces of Chaos from ruling the world.  Use Dungeons & Zombies as your guide to covert D&D to Cinematic Unisystem.



3 comments:

Tom said...

This is one of the few classic modules that I haven't played yet. My first modules were Keep on the Borderlands and Palace of the Silver Princess. I keep meaning to give B1 a shot.

pookie said...

A fascinating look at B1 In Search of the Unknown. I have written a whole series of reviews about this module and those that have been inspired by it.

http://rlyehreviews.blogspot.com/search/label/B1%20Series

James Mishler said...

B1 has a very special place in my heart. It is one of the few modules I can specifically remember buying when I was young, and it was the first module I ever bought.

I had gotten Moldvay Basic for Christmas in December 81, and was hooked by the end of the year (yeah, D&D snared me inside a week, but then, I'd been wanting to play it for years).

So while B2: Keep on the Borderlands was the first module I ran, I quickly searched for the next challenge as a fledgling DM and for my players.

Turns out my first D&D purchases were actually at a Hallmark shop in Marquette Mall in Michigan City, instead of in the game shop at Century Mall in Merrillville, where I had ogled the Holmes edition and other earlier D&D products for several years. I got out to Michigan City usually once a week, Merrillville maybe every other month (being all of 12 at the time, I did not have my own wheels yet).

So I searched the mall for a source for D&D, as I had not found one yet, and my Dad said why not check Hallmark, which at the time was also a bookstore. I had never thought to look there before, but sure enough, they had an area where they had several D&D products.

I goggled at the Dungeon Master's Guide for several turns before deciding I wasn't quite ready for that, and looked over the modules. It was the mushroom forest cover that really caught my eye, plus the "Special Instructional Module" blurb that sealed the deal, as I felt I still needed some help figuring things out -- after all, it wasn't until the fourth or fifth session that I realized that I needed to roll hit points for the monster's hit dice; I just ran them with that many hit points!

While Moldvay had a ton of good advice on building and running an adventure, it was In Search of the Unknown that really helped me put it all together. As an "adventure kit," it had just the mix of pre-made and add-your-own elements to bridge the gap from running everything prepared to learning how to create and run your own.

While I do not open every campaign with B1, I almost invariably use it at some point in a campaign, either in whole or just the map or something in between. It is just too good not to use.

I'll have to consider picking up the POD; mine is covered with decades of notes, soda stains, dog-ears, and the weight of the years. Definitely well loved.

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