Saturday, April 30, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! Z is for Zanzer's Dungeon

Z is for Zanzer's Dungeon.

Here we are once again at the end of the A to Z challenge.

Z, like some other letters here, does not signify a module code.  In this case there is an obvious choice.  Back in the early 90s the D&D brand was in transition.  There was the Dungeons & Dragons line, with rule-books named Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters, and Immortal (BECMI) and a single book Rules Cyclopedia that combined the first four.  Then there was the completely separate Advanced Dungeons & Dragons line which had rules-books named Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide and Monstrous Manual.  These books were in their 2nd Edition.
Confusing?  Yeah it was to us too.

In 1991 TSR, the then publisher of D&D released their newest, and what would be one of their last, in the "Basic" sets. The set was called "The New Easy-to-Master Dungeons & Dragons Game" but gamers often called it the "Black Box".  The adventure inside was a bit of preview of things to soon come.  Zanzer's Dungeon was laid out like a board game complete with little plastic minis for the characters and paper fold top minis for monsters.  This was compatible with the BECMI flavor of D&D and worked as a replacement for the Basic Set and an introduction to the Rules Cyclopedia.

While the game was highly praised for it ease of use and intuitiveness. I never bothered getting it at the time.  I picked up my copy (pictured here) many years later as a means to teach my kids how to play.  Turns out they learned like I did...just by playing.

The board-game like play area is welcoming to new players.  Now they can see what they are doing.
Persoanlly that annoyed me because for years my rule books would say that you don't need a board, only your imagination!  Though today I use tiles and maps just like this.

In fact Zanzer's Dungeon here is the same scale as the maps used in 3rd and 4th edition D&D (and 5th if you care to), so the minis we have been using will work here too.

This set would later be expanded with the Dragon's Den boxed set, which was also board game "shaped".

One day I'll use these as an intro game for something.  Better than them collecting dust on my shelves!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Werewolves For Basic Era Games

Tomorrow night is Walpurgis Night.  A night when witches, vampires, and werewolves are known to be out.
I have already given you Witches and Vampires so now I present Werewolves.

Werewolves: The Beast Within is a 10/20 level race-as-a-class class for your favorite Basic Era OSR game.

From the back cover:

The fear to loose control and become a hungry, blood lusted
beast has haunted our nightmares since we clutched together
in the dark. It has also been the secret desire of others.

Lycanthropes been a staple of role-playing villains, monsters, and
anti-heroes since the dawn of the role-playing hobby.

Now you can play these fearsome monsters of horror tales and
movies in your Basic-Era style games.

Presented here is a full 20 level class with all the classic
werewolf powers.

Fully compatible with the werewolf monsters you have been
using for nearly 40 years.

Also fully compatible with my books for Witches and Vampires.

This one is a buck, but that is really just to pay for the art.

So celebrate "Half-aween" (half way to Halloween) with some classic monsters.

A to Z of Adventure! Y is for YS

Y is for YS1 The Outpost of the Outer Ones.

There are no classic adventures that have a Y or a Y-related code.
Thankfully there is an adventure that does have a Y code, YS1, and it is set up very much like the classic adventures.  Created for OSRIC it can be played using AD&D 1st Edition.

YS1 The Outpost of the Outer Ones was written by Jeremy Reaban. I have featured some of his products here in the past.

Y in this case might stand for Yuggoth, which is the home-world of the Mi-Go, or at least one of their outposts.  This adventure, designed for characters 6th to 10th level for any old-school game, heavily features the Mi-Go.  While he describes it as a "Science fiction" "dungeon crawl" only a tiny bit of work is needed to make this one horror or a mystery.  Afterall, people are going missing, strangers are showing up in town and there is that whole eerie cave system.

Like most of the old-school adventures, this one is light on plot and heavy on the dungeon crawl atmosphere, and that is by design really.  The adventure is simple enough but there is so much more that can be done with it if you want.  Note: I should point out this is NOT a criticism of  the adventure, quite the opposite really.
So basically the Mi-Go are in town and they are doing what the Mi-Go do, removing brains from bodies and putting them into other bodies or their special cylinders.  The brains stay alive and are even immortal after a fashion.  They are also experimenting on the local fauna.  A couple of things in this adventure jumped out as me as hitting that 70's/80's nostalgia sweet spot. There is a Flumph the Mi-go can't figure out. A bionic Sasquatch! (I mean really, was this written just for me?) I biologic towel, a Valley Girl brain, and this whole "Escape to Witch Moutain" vibe about it.  There is a witch and Swanmay in it as well.

Personally I would take Jeremy's advice and expand the module a bit.  Have the party meet the old witch Gwen in her "old" form, but then encounter her again when she is in one of the brain jars and then again when she is in her new body.  Also, I'd make all the Mi-Go's human form all look roughly the same; perfect, blonde, blue eyes, devoid of any real personality.  Like something out of Village of the Damned.  Liked they learned how to be human by reading it in a book.
I'd also make their plans a little more nefarious. This is a scout group looking to colonize this planet.  Makes that bionic Bigfoot look a little more scary if you ask me!

Obviously, a good companion to this adventure would be Jeremy's own OSR Warlock. Make Gwen a warlock AND the one responsible for bringing the Mi-Go here.  I'd also play it under Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  Give it that "colder and darker" feel that AS&SH can provide.  Plus there are already a number of good Lovecraft Mythos beasties in that game.

My biggest issue with this adventure is where do I use it?  I have so many choices to be honest.  I could easily slot it in as a "Monster of the Week" story, but that would sell it's potential short. I could make it part of a larger campaign, but I would also want the Mi-Go to be more that just a one shot.

In any case I know this will be a fun one.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! X is for Expert.

X is for Expert.

This is not some attempt to grift the Challenge.  The Expert Set adventures were given the code X.
Of course, the most famous of these is X1, The Isle of Dread.

I got this adventure along with my Expert set back in the early 80s.  It is an obvious King Kong homage, but it is a great one.  It is another one of those adventures that people keep coming back to time and time again.
Maybe second only to B2 and B1 in terms of numbers of players, but The Isle of Dread is one of the best Basic-era adventures out there.  In today's frame of mind the adventure is equal parts Pirates of the Caribean, King Kong, and Jurassic Park.  It is a heady cauldron of tropes, ideas and just plain crazy fun.  It was included in the original Expert set and it still had expanded maps and more creatures.  I never understood why the creatures where not just in the main book, but it did make the module special.
What was so nice about X1 over B2 is you had the feel it was more integrated into the Expert rules; it felt like a logical extension.

This is also the first published adventure I ever ran for my son.  Up to this point I had ran ones I had made up for him.  He was young (6 or 7) and adventures like "Cave of the Stinky Goblin" or "Trouble in West Haven" were more appropriate for him.  But X1 had the great big dinosaur on it and he loved dinosaurs.

We had a blast. To me, 20 some odd years later, it felt like a very different adventure.  There is a lot of untapped potential here. Enough for several adventures really.
Later on I bought my son his own copy to run sometime.  It was also the first time that my kids began to recognize Tom Moldvay's name on the covers of adventures.

X2: Castle Amber
Another one of my "holy grail" items. I managed to score a copy when I moved to Chicago.
There is so much to love about this adventure, but I have detailed it all before in these pages.
Again, this is another Tom Moldvay adventure and we all loved it.

The other X modules came out a bit later and were more tied to the newer Frank Mentzer-edited Expert Set, as opposed to the Cook-Marsh-edited set I had owned. (I guess these modules should have really been called "E" for expert then). Of these I only later owned Quagmire.  I got it cheap at a used book store in Carbondale, IL.  I completely gutted the module and only kept the tower and swamp.

X3 Curse of Xanathon
X4 Master of the Desert Nomads
X5 Temple of Death
X6 Quagmire!
X7 The War Rafts of Kron
X8: Drums on Fire Mountain
X9: The Savage Coast
X10 Red Arrow, Black Shield
X11 Saga of the Shadow Lord
X12 Skarda's Mirror

In particular, I would like to get print copies of X4 and X5 for my Second Campaign game.  Saga of the Shadow Lord also sounds like a lot of fun!

This is my problem...too many great games/adventures and so little time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! W is for World of Greyhawk

W is for World of Greyhawk.

The WG or World of Greyhawk adventures take place, naturally, in the World of Greyhawk.  This was the default setting of most of the 1st Edition AD&D adventures, and explicitly so for T, A, G, D and Q.
The first named adventure was WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, which I covered briefly on "S" day.  But wait, if it is the first why is it numbered "WG4"?    Well according to the ole' Wikipedia "WG1 was earmarked for The Village of Hommlet (T1), and WG2 was earmarked for The Temple of Elemental Evil (T1-4). WG3 was to be Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (S4), a loosely tied prequel to WG4."  So they do make a series of sorts.

WG5 Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure is an interesting one and might just be one of the last adventures Gary wrote for AD&D1 and TSR.  It is a high-level dungeon crawl featuring a unique demon and lots and lots of hack n' slash action.  It does feel like one of the older modules (though it was out in 1984 so it is "old" as well).   I could fit in with the TAGDQ series somewhere I am sure.  It could even be another one of the alternate worlds in Q1.

I don't know much about WG6 Isle of the Ape, save that is was one of the first adventures for characters above 18th level.

I do know about WG7 Castle Greyhawk.  WG7 was supposed to be another Gygax penned adventure, but it didn't happen like that.  Instead, we got a "joke" module.  The idea was sound, the levels get harder and harder with all sorts of strange monsters.  But is was played a huge joke.  At the time (when I was 15) I thought it was funny, but even running it I knew it was bad.  In the history of D&D Castle Greyhawk was a significant part of Gary's original game. For years we were teased with Castle Greyhawk but never got one. Even today we don't have the real thing.  This makes WG7 all that much worse really.  It's too bad really. The authors of WG7 do read like a who's-who of mid 80s game designers.

Of the others, only WG12 Vale of the Mage interests me these days.  I think it is because I was looking for more information of Greyhawk and the Vale of the Mage (home of the Valley Elves. No, I am serious) was one of those places I wanted more detail on.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! V is for Vampire Adventures

V is for Vampire Adventures.

There is no "V" series of adventures.  Which is too bad really since the obvious choice is "Vampire".
While D&D has had some notable vampires show up over the years, Strahd and Drelzna in particular.  The very, very first D&D adventure ever sold was "Palace of the Vampire Queen".

Palace of the Vampire Queen was written by Pete and Judy Kerestan back in 1976.  I should also note that the very first published adventure was also co-written by woman; so yes women have always been a vital part of this hobby.  Interesting note. The adventure is called a "kit" and not a "module"; a name that would be later used.

This adventure was always something of a holy grail for me.  I knew about it, but had only seen bits and pieces of it online.  I didn't know much more than it was the first published adventure and it was really, really rare.  Sites like the Acaeum helped fill in the blanks in what I knew and I learned more from other blogs. Here is Grognardia's take and a bit from Jeff's Game Blog.

Original copies are still very rare, but I managed to score a couple of official reprints from Pacesetter.  As well as the sequels Crypts of the Living and Castle Blood.

I have run the original PotVQ before and it was great fun.   The adventure is so barebones by even the standards of the early 80s that it is easy to use anywhere.  The next two are more "story" driven.  I have run Castle Blood, but it didn't quite live up to the promise of the Vampire Queen.
Personally I would like to take all three and recraft them into something else.  Keep the Vampire Queen elements of course, but introduce some more background.

Hitting that nostalgia feeling hard is another adventure, The Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen.

This adventure, written by +Mark Taormino might be an homage to the first Palace of the Vampire Queen adventure, but it is more likely an homage to those meat-grinder, total-party kill, fun-house dungeons of the late 70s early 80s.  There is a basic plot here, enough to get you in the door and moving along, but really this adventure is about killing things and avoiding getting killed.  Example, in one of your first encounters you have to run a gauntlet and get past a bunch of fire giants. Eight of them. And their hell hound pets.  This is "room 1".  It is downhill from there.  It has demons and other vampires in the wander monster table. Liches, demons, succubi, greater devils, nearly 50 vampires in total, tons of other monsters and of course the Queen herself, Lady Neeblack.
This is not an adventure to challenge the resolve of hardy role-players. This is an adventure to survive and leave a trail of bodies behind you.  It is old-school, but old-school through the eyes of 40-somethings looking back on their times as teens.
The adventure itself has a great lead in to get you interested, but that is just the carrot on a stick, most people buying and playing this module are going to want to jump right in.  Another example (this is not a spoiler), you are captured by Lady Neeblack and told you have to run through her crypts for her amusement.  The conceit is the characters will feel coerced into doing this, so they slide down a passage to the previously mentioned Fire Giants.  In truth my players wanted to jump in like they were doing a dive at the pool.

Though to claim people will play this for nostalgia reasons is completely unfair.  Mark did a great job of this. The rooms are detailed and what detail!  There are interesting encounters and Lady Neeblack herself should really move up the ranks as one of the more memorable NPCs ever.  In fact I am hoping that she comes back for a sequel sometime soon.  Just like a good Hammer villain she should find ways to come back from the dead.  +Mark Taormino, this needs to happen.
The text of the book is big, easy to read and despite the "old school" claims still has boxed text to read (screw you Grognards! I still like boxed text even when I don't use it.)  Each room is unique and feels like it belongs.  Plus the "Hanging Coffins" themselves are the coolest idea in vampire graves since the Lost Boys.

The proof of any adventure is not in the reading, but in the playing.  So I played it. It rocked.
Now the game is designed for OSRIC, but can played with 1st or 2nd Ed AD&D.   I played it with 5th Edition D&D.  I just replaced the monsters and made a character sheet for Lady Neeblack.   I ran the same group of people that I had taken through the original Palace of the Vampire Queen and we all treated it as an unofficial sequel.  I worked out well enough.  We all had fun, but if this module reads as a deathtrap on paper it's a killer in the playing. So make of that what you like.
Personally I would love to run it again using AD&D1.

I have two perfect succubi from the recent Pathfinder demon sets that are perfect for  "Sin" and "Diabolica".   The Reaper Bones Female Vampire figure makes for a perfect Lady Neeblack.  The mini is listed as "Naomi" for the metal version. So the Vampire Queen must be Lady Naomi Neeblack!  Sure. Why not.

If I ever re-run this I will do it under AD&D1 as it was meant for.  I fear that D&D5 reduces the power levels of the characters a bit at the highest levels.  Though there is great flexibility in D&D 5.
For example in the adventure there are 8 Fire Giants waiting for you when you enter the pits.  They have 93 hp and do 5d6 damage per attack.  Their D&D 5 counterparts have 160 hp (iirc) and do a lot more damage.  Character can heal faster in D&D5 yes, but their starting hp is still not much better than their AD&D1 counterparts.  Rogues get a d8 vs Thieves d6.  So yeah. Meat Grinder.

I will say this.  If you enjoyed Tomb of Horrors then this will be right up your alley.
In any case this is one of those adventures that will have your players talking for a long time.

One I would like to take all these and combine them in a longer campaign, or part of a campaign.

I have also been seriously considering replacing the "vampire world" in Q1 with Hanging Coffins and make it my own Q2.  Queen of the Demonweb meet the Vampire Queen!

Monday, April 25, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! U is for UK Series (or Underwater)

U is for UK Series (or Underwater).

The U series is a fascinating one for me.  First the editor was Don Turnbull, whom I knew from White Dwarf and the Fiend Folio.  I also knew these all came from England, or the United Kingdom rather and to my mind in 80s England was the home of everything awesome. (Point of fact: I am eating English pub style fish and chips as I write this!)

Though originally I thought the U stood for "Underwater".  Then I was told it was for UK.  Turns out I was right the first time!

Regardless of why they were called this these adventures felt different to me. Much like the L series did.  For starters there was more thinking involved.  You could not get by with just hitting things and taking their stuff.  You had to investigate, figure things out.  There is an enemy to be discovered, but it will be mostly through negotiations that the characters will survive.

U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
U2 Danger at Dunwater
U3 The Final Enemy

For me these are perfect modules/adventures to get people into after they have played a campaign of D&D and now want to try something a little different.  For me, I consider these the first adventures of my so-called "Second Campaign".

Like the other adventures I have mentioned in the Second Campaign I want to run this using the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea rules rather than D&D.  Just something to give the monsters a more alien threat to them.
I might also swap out  Day of Al'Akbar for the Nameless City.

I have these three modules on my shelf. Unplayed. That's a freaking crime.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! T is for Temple of Elemental Evil

T is for Temple of Elemental Evil.

Confession time.  I have never run or played through The Temple of Elemental Evil.
I think I was in the Village of Hommlet (T1) once, but that was back in the early, early days of the game.

Since then there have been three more updates and expansions to the T series.
I have read all of these. Recently I also read the novelization of the Temple of Elemental Evil and played part of the old Atari PC Game.  T1-4 also made the top 30 D&D adventures of all time.

So I have to admit I really want to run it now.  Though I want to tie it into my current D&D5 game.

Trouble is that the characters are now already 8th level and near the very end of the Slave Lords.  I didn't want to start with T1 because for me it was more important to start with B1 and B2.

So I have the T1-4 supermodule on PDF, but there is a lot going on that I am not a fan of.  Not that it isn't good, it is, but not what I need or want.  Plus I am no fan linking Zuggtmoy to the temple.  Her powers are not elemental in nature.  Plus I always liked the idea that some remnant of Tharizdun especially in the guise of the Elder Elemental Eye.  Maybe this is an elemental themed patron for a warlock.  The idea is of course to play into the larger "Come Endless Darkness" plot line.  So yes this evil is related to the larger evil. Which might be Tharizdun. At least that is what I have always considered over the years.  Turns out that +Joseph Bloch agrees with me.  I already did S4 and WG4, so I guess I am going in reverse.

As usual I have an embarrassment of riches. Too much material actually.

I found some 5e Conversion notes that look really nice. And I have a lot of choices when it comes to plots, ideas and adventures.  Of course I will use T1 The Village of Hommlet and likely a good portion of T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil.  Given my particular desire to make an easy job far more difficult I am also going to look at versions for other editions.
I read through most of those last night.  T1 is easy, T2 will be a bit more work.  I think I am going to steal a lot of ideas from Return and Princes of the Apocalypse.

While doing some research, I discovered this blog post that talked about T2 The Temple of Elemental Evil as promised  back before T1-4 came out.  It is a very interesting read to be honest. That is where the image to the right came from.

Here are some other posts I consider "must read" on my goal to build this gigantic conspiracy of evil.
To me "Expert" level (as listed on the T2 cover) is 4 to 14.   When I first had this idea I was going to go with a parallel group, now I think I just want to up the threats and have it after the Queen of the Demon-web pits.   Make it 14th to 20th level.

So it is settled.  Zuggtmoy is out. Tharizdûn is in.  What is his plan?
Simple. He wants out.  He has convinced all these different evil factions to blot out the sun and deliver the essences of gods to him they think they are going to obtain godhood, but in truth they will be freeing him.  Maybe each has a Shard of the Elder Elemental Eye.  Lolth has Air, Orcus has Earth, Dagon/Hydra has Water and someone else has fire.  I kinda want it to be Asmodeus, but that is a whole other issue really.

But I am leaving out the mindflayers.  Why Air for Lolth when she is underground?  Air represents what she has lost. Plus I like tying her to the Queen of Air and Darkness.

I know there are places I can put the Elemental Shard of Air in Q1.  I am sure I can find places in the D series for the Elemental Shard of Water.  That leaves Earth and Fire.

That's what I love about all these old adventures.  So much you can do with them.

Friday, April 22, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! S is for Special Series.

S is for Special Series.

Ah! The "S" modules.  No series of modules have been as divisive, controversial or as fun (to me) as these.  Originally just four adventures, it has one "honorary" member in my mind and two more unnumbered members.  I have played in these and run them; some (like S4) many times over. These are some of my favorite adventures of all time.

Where to begin?

Well here are the modules/adventures I want to discuss.
These adventures have all been featured here many, many times.
Also, the first four have been collected into a single volume not once, but twice.  Many of the adventures have also been updated for other versions of D&D.

S1: Tomb of Horrors
Depending on who you ask, this is either one of the best adventures for D&D or the worst.  I enjoy this module, but it is not one I plan on running again. I ran it for my kids and they survived, but I think there are better adventures out there.  It is one of those adventures that everyone talks about; often about how horribly they or someone else died in it.   In the picture above, the book on the right with devil with his mouth open?  Yeah. More than one idiotcharacter put their hand in there only to loose said hand.  The big bad is that jeweled skull on the cover of the middle book.
Tomb of Horrors is often described as a meat grinder.  This is true, but it is also a fun challenge and if I can be so bold, a rite of passage of the D&D gamer.  You can't really call yourself a D&D gamer until you go through this.
Love it or hate it, it's place in history is solid and unmoving.

S2: White Plume Mountain
In many ways White Plume Mountain is one of my favorite adventures.  It's a crazy dungeon filled with traps, monsters a few legendary weapons of vast power, all dropped into a semi-active volcano.   I ran it for my kids a while back.  Back then I ran it under 3rd Edition, using a 1st Edition rule base, Basic Edition characters, and some 4th edition add-ons.  It was such a classic though that it all worked.  My kids loved it.

S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
This was one of the first adventures I ever bought for myself.  The characters (in a quasi-medieval Europe) find an ancient crashed star-ship and all the crazy alien life forms still trapped inside.  Based a bit on the game Metamorphosis Alpha.   I ran this for my kids a while back.  My youngest LOVED it, but my oldest didn't. Which is a bit odd I thought, because he began playing with the Star Wars d20 RPG.
Still though, I personally think this is a great module.

S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth 
The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and it's near sequel WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun are two of my favorite modules ever.  I bought S4 my freshman year in high school and read it cover to cover.  One of my favorite bits was the "sneak peak" at some of the monsters that would later appear in the Monster Manual II hardcover.  It was also a rather deadly adventure. The nearby Forgotten Temple of Tharizidun then opens up a new threat of the ancient imprisoned god Tharizdun.  This ties it in to the T1-4 Supermodule The Temple of Elemental Evil.  But I think what I liked about it was the information on Greyhawk.  We are introduced to the witch Iggwilv here. She would later become an important figure in the history of Greyhawk and D&D.
The boys loved this adventure.  Combining it with WG4 and some additional material from the web it took us about 6 months to complete.  Still, it was a great time.

Two other modules were later added to the "Special" Series but never had, to my knowledge, an "S" designation.

S5: The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga
Baba Yaga is one of those characters that we keep coming back to in D&D.  There are at least 3 or 4 versions of The Dancing Hut adventure out there now and even for the Pathfinder game (a game very much like D&D) has her as the main bad guy for a whole series of adventures.
I am going to feature her and this adventure in my own "War of the Witch Queens" campaign that I run next.

S6: Labyrinth of Madness
Of all the "S" modules, this is the only one I know nothing about.
From what I can tell it is sort of a tribute to the kinds of dungeons we saw in the S-series.  It looks like a lot of fun though.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! R is for RPGA Adventures.

R is for RPGA Adventures.

Growing up in the 80s I read about the RPGA, Role-Players Game Association, with great interest.  As a kid it was important to me then to be "Best at D&D" (whatever that meant) and the RPGA seemed like external validation of that.  I had heard there were some people in my small-ish town (22k at the time iifc) that were members, but I don't think I even knew for sure.  For me though being in the RPGA was like a badge of honor, like running a Call of Cthulhu game was.  Something only Real RoleplayersTM did.

Well today I am not going to get into the details of the RPGA, past or present, instead, I want to talk about the adventures.  Now normally with this challenge I want to present some material that my normal readers will like and that new readers will also find approachable.   The adventures from the RPGA are, as you might expect from reading the above, not very common or easily accessed.

Back in the early days of eBay I hit the internet hard looking for copies of these adventures.   One of the first ones I grabbed were the first four I knew of.

R1 To the Aid of Falx 
R2 The Investigation of Hydell  
R3 The Egg of the Phoenix  
R4 Doc's Island

These were written in 1982-83 by Frank Mentzer.  I focused on these since they were the ones I knew about and I had a chance to go through them in the late 80s myself, but never finished them.
Unknown to me at the time they were all collected into a larger adventure and sold as I12 Egg of the Phoenix which I talked about on I Day.

Re-reading these now I am very curious about Frank Mentzer's own campaign setting of Aquaria.   I found these links that gave me a bit of a better idea what it is all about:

I am going to need to find out more about it to be honest.

The next set of RPGA adventures that got me interested were the RPGA series.

RPGA1 Rahasia
RPGA2 Black Opal Eye
These were written by Tracy and Laura Hickman and then later combined into the module B7 Rahasia.  Reading these earlier treatments is actually very interesting. I pulled them out when I was thinking about this challenge and after I got the new Tracy and Laura Hickman inspired Ravenloft.   I talked quite a bit about Rahasia and The Black Opal Eye.

RPGA3 The Forgotten King 
RPGA4 The Elixir of Life
Both of these were written by Bob Blake in 1983.  I have them, but I have not really gotten into them.

There are others, mostly featured in Polyhedron Magazine.

As publications, they are an interesting piece of D&D history especially from the so-called "Silver age" of D&D; that early/mid-80s time when D&D was at its cultural peak, but the best adventures were for the most part already published and behind it.

As adventures, many are forgettable save for the ones I mention here.  This, in particular, came as something of a blow to me.  I had expected the RPGA modules to be the cream of the crop, but that was not the case.  Rahasia and the Egg of the Phoenix caught my attentions, but that is about it.
Many of the best would be later reprinted under other module codes (like Rahasia and Egg of Phoenix).

Still. There is something uniquely nostalgic about picking up these duotone books and flipping through thinking of an age when Walkmen, pastels, Trapper Keepers, and Rubic's Cubes ruled the land.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! Q is for Queen of the Demonweb Pits

Q is for Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

What else could it be?  Well...funny you should say that. There is also a few Vampire Queen adventures out there and there is the adventure path I am playing around with, War of the Witch Queens.  But I guess really there is only one queen and only one Q module.

Queen of the Demonweb Pits is the ultimate finale that began with the characters looking into some giant raids. Behind it all was the Drow and Lolth! wait. Wasn't supposed to be the Elder Elemental Eye? Tharizdun? I mean that is what is going on in T1 Village of Hommlet.

Well as it turns out Q1 was supposed to be different. It wasn't the vision that Gary wanted. Now the official story is that Gary was too busy to work on Q1 because he was working on T2 The Temple of Elemental Evil.  We can see bits of his thinking in T1, S4 and WG5.  So David Sutherland came in to finish it off.  At least that is story we have been told.  According to Shannon Appelcline this was the start of Gary's eventual ouster at TSR.

Regardless of how, what and why, Q1 is fondly remembered to this day 36 years later.  As part of the GDQ series it is considered to be one of the greatest adventures of all time.

I remember playing this back in the day and that confusing as hell map.  I remember talking to friends in the days WAY before the Internet and how we would speculate on Q2 and Q3.

Like T1 and the mythical stand-alone T2, a DIY Q2 would be great.

SO TO MY REGULAR READERS:  What would be in YOUR Q2?

Would you have the characters look into the Elder Elemental Eye connection?  Maybe there would be a civil war among the drow; those that support the EEE and those that support Lolth.

I suppose I could take a few pages from Expedition to the Demonweb Pits for 3.5 edition of D&D to.  I do know I need to work out this Lolth-Tharizdûn issue before my players get there!

3 Different Editions, 1 Basic idea

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Strange Brew: Warlocks

I am interrupting this A to Z Challenge to talk about my newest book. The first part of "Strange Brew" is now out.  This book features Warlocks for the Pathfinder game.

Strange Brew: Warlock


Sorcerers are born into it. Wizards spend their lives in rigorous study for it. Witches gain it through devotion to their patron. But some who seek power are unlucky enough to have been born mortal, with no access to or desire for arcane education; ordinary people who know little of witchcraft’s ancient traditions. Unlike witches, who are called by their patrons, warlocks seek out powerful beings to grant them the power they crave or desperately need.

That power can now be in your hands.

Included in these 30 pages is the new Warlock class for the Pathfinder RPG.

  • Also inside are new rules on Grimoires, the ancient and living texts of warlocks.
  • Details on new warlock pacts, including unique powers and spells.
  • Examples of several new warlock Patrons.
  • New feats
  • New hexes
  • New spells
  • And a new warlock NPC

All for your Pathfinder Role-Playing Game!

A to Z of Adventure! P is for Paragon

P is for Paragon.

I already talked about the Epic Level adventures for D&D4.  The Paragon adventures were the middle of the road ones, for characters level 11-20.  (The Heroic Tier was for adventurers of level 1 to 10).
The Paragon level represented heroes as the movers and shakers of the world. The heroes that the common folk knew by name or at least by reputation.  The threats are greater for these guys, but the rewards are also higher.
These adventures continued the fight to learn of Orcus' plans against the Raven Queen.

It also is the level that the stress of D&D4 became really apparent.  In other versions of D&D these are levels where the threats begin to change and then become cosmic. We see that here too, but really the combat system of D&D4 was just more of the same slog.

I liked these adventures in concept. I still do in fact.  Maybe someone out there has converted them all to 1st or 5th Edition.  I could see a nice conversion using the current 5th edition adventure series format.  1st to 20th level.  It also would not be too difficult; you could easily cut out a third of the material above to create something that would work better for 5th edition.  The monsters would have to be cut down in number as well.  I would also cut some encounters out all together.  Work in the errata and tighten up the Orcus plot a bit more. It could work.

I guess I just really want to get some use out of my 4e materials.

Monday, April 18, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! O is for Outer Planes

O is for Outer Planes.

There are other "O" series out there, but the only one I owned was OP1, Tales of the Outer Planes.  It was designed to support the Manual of the Planes, one of my favorite D&D books.  The Outer Planes are home to gods, demons, devils and weirder things like modrons, gith and slaad.  All the myths of the world can be found in the planes...somewhere.  The outer planes are very much part of many of the adventures I have, or will, talk about here. H4, Q1, these all take place in the outer planes.

OP1 Tales of the Outer Planes has 11 adventures on various outer planes and 17 lairs.  The adventures are all small and the lairs are just that, a lair.  I got this book because I was so enamored with the Manual of Planes.  Sadly, or fortunately depending on your point of view,  2nd edition came along and got rid of the demons and devils (at least for a while) and made most of this book obsolete.
I also remember hearing back in the day that a lot of people also just didn't like it.  I felt it did not live up to the hype to be sure, but I never thought it was bad.  I rather enjoyed the "Castle at the End of Time" and "An Element of Chaos".

When I run H4 Throne of Bloodstone, this would be a good book to have next to me.  Just in case!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Zatannurday: Doctor Strange

The new Doctor Strange trailer came out this week.

Doctor Strange is easily my favorite Marvel character.
I liked the idea of this brilliant man of science and medicine thrown into a world he couldn't understand at first.

Plus all that 60's and 70's occult vibes to the early comics and art by Steven Dirko? Yeah that is right up my alley.

Now we have our first trailer out and I am excited as hell.

Looks like we are sticking pretty close to the classic Dr. Strange origin story here too.
Benedict Cumberbatch is opting for an American accent here, which tracks with Strange's character as being a New Yorker.   Tilda Swinton makes an interesting choice as The Ancient One, but a good choice in my mind. Plus we get Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Mordo no less!), and Rachel McAddams...that is some top-shelf acting talent.

This is going to rock.

I hope though they keep the horror and occult themes I loved about this comic.
Say what you like about the failed Peter Hooten movie, it was some scary shit for 1978 TV.

A to Z of Adventure! N is for Novice Series

N is for Novice Series.

Although I also thought these were called the N series because the first one was written by Douglas Niles.

The idea behind the N series was to provide yet another set of adventures for starting players. It makes sense really. You will have far more low-level characters than high-level ones.

N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God
N2 The Forest Oracle
N3 Destiny of Kings
N4 Treasure Hunt 
N5 Under Illefarn

Of these, it is N1 that interests me the most.   It is ranked as 19 of the top 30 greatest adventures of all time and Douglas Niles was an author I have grown to respect over the years; especially for his contributions to AD&D.   Plus for me this module was published in that "Golden Age" of adventure design in 1982 when so much great stuff was going on.

Against the Cult of the Reptile God is also the unofficial name I give to my "Second Campaign" adventure series. These adventures include:

N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God, levels 1-3 (novice)
U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, levels 1-3
U2 Danger at Dunwater, levels 1-4
U3 The Final Enemy, levels 3-5
I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City, levels 4-7
C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, levels 5-7
I2 Tomb of the Lizard King, levels 5-7
I3 Pharaoh, levels 5-7
I4 Oasis of the White Palm, levels 6-8
I5 Lost Tomb of Martek, levels 7-9
X4 Master of the Desert Nomads, levels 6-9
X5 Temple of Death, levels 6-10
I9 Day of Al'Akbar, level 8-10 (if I can find a copy)
Gary Gygax's Necropolis, levels 10+

Just so much good stuff out there.

Of the N series, N1 is the best known to me.  I have read through it many times and always wanted to do something with it.
I started playing N3 once, back in my college days, but I don't think we got very far.
N4 Treasure Hunt is an interesting one since it is the only AD&D adventure I know of that has the characters start at 0-level.  Very interesting choice if you ask me and maybe something I should try for my "Second Campaign".

For people reading this and have no experience in gaming, these are all great places to start. Well except for N2 and nobody likes that adventure!

Friday, April 15, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! M is for Masters Series

M is for Masters Series.

The Masters series of adventures were created for the BECMI version of D&D.  Typically around here I have BECMI as roughly synonymous with B/X D&D or "Basic D&D" well....the M or Master Series is around to remind me that this is not really the case.

So a bit history.
The first Basic Set was authored by John Eric Holmes in 1977.  Gamers often call this "Blue Book Basic".
The next Basic Set was written by Tom Moldvay and was followed by the Cook/Marsh Expert Set. These books are collectively known as B/X.
The next set would be the last "Basic D&D". It was written and edited by +Frank Mentzer and included the Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters and Immortal sets. Also known as BECMI.
Each set detailed more levels of the game; 1-3, 4-14, 15-25, 26-36, and Immortality, respectively.

The Masters set and M series of modules were designed for experienced players and characters of 26th level and higher.

Only five M series modules were made.

Code Title Levels Author(s) Published Notes
M1 Into the Maelstrom 25–30 Bruce Heard, Beatrice Heard 1985
M2 Vengeance of Alphaks 28–32 Skip Williams 1986
M3 Twilight Calling 30–35 Tom Moldvay 1986
M4 Five Coins for a Kingdom 28–32 Allen Varney 1987
M5 Talons of Night 20–25 Jannell Jaquays 1987

Of these I only own M1, M3 and M5.

The simple matter is few characters get to this high of a level and often when they do the DM usually has their own adventures for them.

M1 Into the Maelstrom is a cool adventure with flying ships which became some of a fasination for +Bruce Heard.  If I were to play this one I would naturally have to include material from Bruce's own Calidar, In Stranger Skies setting.  Or set it in Calidar...hmmm this gives me some ideas.

M3 Twilight Calling is from the creative mind of the late Tom Moldvay.  Tom is something of a celebertiy in my home games. Every adventure I have run of his my family likes.  Likes enough to ask who wrote it. After saying Tom Moldvay for the third time (Castle Amber, Isle of Dread, Lost City, Secret of the Slavers Stockade...).   It is my favorite M series module and has the players go on a plane-hopping adventure to finally get to the Plane of Nightmares.  I have often thought it would make for a perfect "Final Adventure" for any party.

M5 Talons of Night by Jannell Jaquays is also fun, and really deadly adventure.  I grabbed it becuase of the dragon on the cover.  If M3 is the finale for my "Come Endless Darkness" game then M5 should be the finale of my "Dragonslayers" game.
Plus, it always reminds me of this song.

I mentioned H4 with it's 18-100 level range, and it is deadly.  But that adventure is just really a scaled up 20th level adventure.  These adventures are qualitatively different.

I am just disappointed that they are not available yet on DriveThruRPG as PDFs, though I am glad I have mine.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! L is for Lendore Isles

L is for Lendore Isles (and Len Lakofka).

I was a fan of Len Lakofka way back in the day when I first discovered his work in Dragon Magazine.

I think it was his articles on the Gods and Goddesses of the Suel Empire that read first. Especially the one on Wee Jas.  Or it could have been his article on the Death Master NPC.

But in any case it was his L series, the Lendore Isles, that most people know his work.

Module L1, The Secret of Bone Hill, is a classic for a number of reasons. First it was Lakofka's first foray into module writing. There is was plenty of background detailed in this module as well, a lot for what amounts to an introductory module.

The typical hack-n-slash or kick in the door plot is given over to what really amounts to a mystery.   The adventure section itself is actually only a small part of the adventure.

I also think it was that Bill Willingham cover.  I made character based on that magic user.

I got the chance to run my kids through this at Gen Con 2014 and we had a great time with it.
I had planned to run L2 Assassin's Knot, which is a great follow-up to L1, but time did not allow it.  By the time I had calculated all the XP the characters were ready for something else anyway.  Which is too bad, there is a great murder mystery in L2 that my youngest would have loved.

L3 Deep Dwarven Delve was completed at the same time as the first two adventures, somewhere around 1979, however it would not see publication til 1999 for the D&D Silver Anniversay Edition set.  I have never actually owned or even read this one. A fact that was lost on me till I started working on this post!  In fact the game it was written and published for, 1st Edition AD&D, was no longer in print and 3rd edition was on the very near horizon. Even the company, TSR, was no more having been bought by Wizards of the Coast.
(eta I checked and I did buy it on PDF at some point)

You would think that 20 years is enough to keep a guy out of the gaming biz. Well Len then released the next installments of the Lendore Isles adventures on the old-school gaming forum Dragons's Foot.

The next adventures were L4 Devilspawn and L5 The Kroten Adventures.
Plus material to support these adventures.

I have ready through these other adventures and I can't help but feel that they might work great for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. They have the same feel to me and think they would compliment each other very nicely.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! K is for the Known World

K is for the Known World.

Long before the game world of the D&D BECMI sets was called "Mystara", it was simply "The Known World" of the D&D B/X sets.

I posted some history here, but for me the best and first Known World module was X1 Isle of Dread.  I am going to wait though and detail that one on X day.

Back in the early days of the 80s we didn't have a developed campaign world like Greyhawk if you played B/X D&D.  That is until the Expert set came out and teased us with the maps of the Known World.  We took these little tidbits of the world and we built our own.  That is one of the reasons why my Glantri is a Theological Oligarchy but the official one is a Magecracy of Principalities.

This was my home for much of the early 80s. Building worlds, trying to fit square pegs into round holes.  Buffing out the rough spots.

The world that grew out my experiments in the Known World was later something that the Internet had already named; Mystoerth.  Now my kids are exploring this world and there are still new things to be found.  In some ways I would have liked to have created a world whole cloth then I'd have something to publish today. But in truth I rather like my hodge-podge mix of various pieces of other worlds. I can relate to the Mystara folk and the Greyhawk folk. If need a new area figure out, I grab something from my shelf.

That is the best thing about these adventures. There are always more and more places to have them.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! J is for Jeff Dee Adventures

J is for Jeff Dee Adventures.

These adventures are not classics. In fact they are only a few years old. But they do have a solid pedigree.  They were both designed and illustrated by legendary TSR artist, and co-creator of the Villians and Vigilantes game, +Jeff Dee.

JD1 Cess-Pit of the Bog-Mother
This is a fun little adventure for characters level 1-3 for your favorite Old-School game.
At just under 10 pages it is perfect for a quick afternoon game. It would work great while traveling to another adventure or in-between towns. The map is repeated in b&w (blue and white) and full-color versions.

JD2 Darkland Moors
Another mini-adventure, this time for a little bit higher lever adventurers. The basic idea here is to investigate the moor and defeat a cyclops causing trouble.  There are three black and white maps.  Given this is about a cyclops I could work it into the Giants series pretty easily.

Both adventures are under $2.50 and you get an adventure you can run in an afternoon.  Perfect for slotting in between other adventures or even to break up the campaign a little.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! I is for Intermediate

I is for Intermediate.

The Intermediate adventures for experienced adventures but not quite what we call "name" level (9th and above).  This is also what many call the prime adventuring levels.  Also many of these were ranked in the 30 greatest adventures of all time.

While not linked in any particular way, they do sometimes have links to other I modules.  I3, 4 and 5 are a mini-campaign. I6 and I10 are sequels.

I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City was ranked as the 13th greatest adventure of all time.  Ravenloft I6 was ranked at #2.  I3, 4 and 5, aka the Desert of Desolation series were ranked collectively as the 6th greatest adventure.

Now I have spoken about Ravenloft so many times that I really don't think I need to do it again here.  The same goes for it's sequel I10 The House on Gryphon Hill.

I had started Egg of the Phoenix many years ago. In fact it was the last adventure my long time High School DM ever took me through.  After that I was in college and he was doing other things.  I would like to run that one too, just because of unfinished business.

A lot of these adventures make up what I am calling my "Second Campaign". Dwellers of the Forbidden City and the Desert of Desolation will make up a good bulk of that series for me.   I just really need to find a new copy of Day of Al'Ackbar.  I lost mine years ago.

Code Title Levels Author(s) Pub. Year
I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City 4–7 David Cook 1981
I2 Tomb of the Lizard King 5-7 Mark Acres 1982
I3 Pharaoh 5–7 Tracy & Laura Hickman 1982
I4 Oasis of the White Palm 6–8 Philip Meyers & Tracy Hickman 1983
I5 Lost Tomb of Martek 7–9 Tracy Hickman 1983
I6 Ravenloft 5–7 Tracy & Laura Hickman 1983
I7 Baltron's Beacon 4-8 Philip Meyers 1985
I8 Ravager of Time 8–10 Graeme Morris & Jim Bambra 1986
I9 Day of Al'Akbar 8–10 Allen Hammack 1986
I10 Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill 8–10 Tracy & Laura Hickman 1986
I11 Needle 8–10 Frank Mentzer 1987
I12 Egg of the Phoenix 5-9 Frank Mentzer and Jennel Jaquays 1987
I13 Adventure Pack I All Deborah Christian (ed.) 1987
I14 Swords of the Iron Legion 1–15+ Skip Williams (ed.) 1988

I am really considering running I10: Ravenloft II for my kids using the new 5th Edition Ravenloft/Curse of Strahd book.  I just need to figure out a good place to slot it in.  It would have to go before the GDQ series.

Ravager of Time is an interesting one really.  It was written in the UK, but is not part of the UK series of adventure modules.  Also the main antagonist, Nuala, is a witch in all but name.

So here is Nuala, converted to a Basic Era Witch.  This might be a good adventure to add to my War of the Witch Queens.

14th level Witch, Mara Tradition

Strength: 15
Dexterity: 16
Constitution: 16
Intelligence: 16
Wisdom: 9
Charisma: 17

Death Ray or Poison:  9
Magic wand or devices: 10
Paralysis, Polymorph or Turn to Stone: 9
Dragon Breath: 12
Rods, Staffs and Spells: 11

Hit Points: 55
Alignment: Neutral Evil (Chaotic)
AC: 0 (Scale Mail Armor +3)*
(thanks to the Life Bane she can wear armor and attack as if she had "Minor Fighting Prowess" cast on her at all times.)

Short Sword +3
Dagger of Venom

To hit AC 0: 13 (sword), 14 (dagger)

Occult Powers
Familiar:  Imp "Jarzizt"
Herb use
Lesser: Dream Invasion
Minor: Nightmare Shape

Cantrips: (6) Alarm Ward, Black Flame, Chill, Ghost Sounds, Inflict Minor Wounds, Object Reading
First: (5+2) Burning Hands, Chill Touch, Command, Ghostly Slashing, Protect Familiar, Shatter the Hourglass, Spirit Dart
Second: (4+2) Detect Thoughts, Invisibility, Spell Missile, Suggestion, Whispering Winds, Youthful
Third: (4+1) Dispel Magic (x2), Life Blood, Mirror Image, Witch Wail
Fourth:  (3+1) Analyze Magic, Magic Circle against Good 10', Moonlit Way, Phantom Lacerations
Fifth: (3) Animate Dead, Shriek, Steal Youth
Sixth: (2) Break the Spirit, Restore Youth (Healing)
Seventh: (2) Call the Restless Soul, Wave of Mutilation

Not too bad really.