Sunday, April 11, 2021

B2: The Borderlands

Module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands" includes a section for "Adventures Outside the Keep" together with a map of the surrounding area (cartography is uncredited, but was by David S. LaForce (aka DSL, or "Diesel", who was also responsible for the map of the Keep).

Wilderness Map from module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands".  Scale: one square = 100 yards.

A few observations regarding the wilderness map:

According to the module "The normal movement rate is 1 square per hour searching, 3 walking.  Walking in the fens is at the rate of 1 square per hour.  Walking is done in the forest at 2 squares per hour."  Since a "league" originally referred to the distance a person could walk in one hour, and an English league is 3 miles, one would expect a scale of one square = 1 mile.

However, since the scale on the map is given as one square = 100 yards, and there are 1760 yards in a mile, the movement rate should probably be increased to 18 squares per hour searching, 54 walking (for an unarmored, unencumbered man).  A fully armored man would be one-third slower, and a fully armored man, heavily loaded, two-thirds slower.*

*see movement outdoors, as given the AD&D 1e Players Handbook, page 102

The height of the contour lines is unclear.*  They indicate 25 foot increments on the map of the Caves of Chaos, which is drawn at a scale of one square = 10 feet.  However, since the scale for the wilderness map is drawn at a scale of one square = 100 yards, the lowest contour line on the wilderness map corresponds to the 100 foot contour line on the map of the Caves of Chaos.

*Random Wizard posted a 3D rendering of the wilderness map

Finally, (and because the question comes up), the river flows from left to right (west to east), as indicated by the smaller tributaries, joining the main flow.

Wilderness Map from module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands", divided into six sections (each containing at least one point of interest).

The last time I ran module B2, I divided the map into six sections and only handed my players the section containing the Keep.  I then asked them if they wanted to go north into the forest, east along the road, or south across the river.  I added the appropriate section, based on their choice, and continued adding sections from there.

For those of you desiring to approach the wilderness outside the Keep as a hexcrawl, Snorri posted a Borderlands hexmap over at his blog "A Wizard in a Bottle", back in 2010.*  (Also worth checking out are his posts regarding Borderlands cultural anthropology and geography and Borderlands agriculture).

*see also this version of the wilderness map, in Hexographer

The Mad Hermit:

Dyson Logos expanded this classic encounter, back in 2014.  He included a map of the hollow tree, as well as some new magic items.

Additional Encounters:

Dyson Logos also expanded the fens to the southeast of the Keep, back in 2018.  He included a map of the interior of the Mound of the Lizard Men, as well as some new areas.

The module makes no mention of wandering monsters, although a table can be drawn up, based on the inhabitants of the Caves of Chaos.


On a final note, including mention of the weather is a great way to add some realism to the wilderness.  There is a simple but serviceable table in Chainmail:

Table for determining the weather, from Chainmail (pg. 21-22).

For those desiring something more complex, see the article "Weather in the Wilderness" in The Dragon #15 (June, 1978).

Saturday, April 10, 2021

B2: The Keep

The iconic, unnamed keep in module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands" has been recreated in both Minecraft and Sketchup.  A 3D printable version is available at MyMiniFactory.  Some photographs of a scale model being constructed were also shared, here.

Map of the Keep, from module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands" (1980).  Scale: one square equals 10 feet

The Keep is overseen by the Castellan, (described as a "governor or warden of a castle or fort" in the module's glossary).  The AD&D 1e DMs Guide provides additional information concerning the role of a steward/castellan, in the "Hirelings" section, on page 34.

For those of you interested in the organizational breakdown of the garrison of the Keep, see this post from the "Project on the Borderlands" collaborative.

The Outer Bailey contains several, smaller buildings.  Frank Mentzer, storied editor of the famed BECMI boxed sets, shared his memories about contributing the chapel:

...the Keep contained multiple clerics but no chapel for their work. After considering the matter, especially the hectic schedule being kept by the Boss during this turbulent era, I took it upon myself to write up a suggested Chapel

EN World, March 30, 2005

Back in 2009, I posted links to my decades-old hand drawn maps for many of the buildings, over on Dragonsfoot.  Several years later, Al from "Mage of the Striped Tower" gave me the heads up that he'd digitized and colorized them.  The results are available, here.

Al did a phenomenal job, and went on to develop floor plans for the Common Stables and the Warehouse, as well.  As a grand finale, he digitized and colorized a three-level map of the Fortress (based on designs contributed by Drew Williams).

The Keep was revisited in AD&D 2e's "Return to the Keep on the Borderlands" (1999) by John Rateliff, in which it was named "Kendall Keep" and given a more detailed history.  An updated map of the Keep with some new features was included.

Also worth checking out, Snorri's blog "A Wizard in a Bottle" posted some interesting speculation about the Archaeology of the Keep, back in 2010.

Alternate Versions:

Alternate versions of the Keep on the Borderlands have appeared in various publications, starting with Kenzer and Company's "Little Keep on the Borderlands" (2002):

3D representation of "Frandor's Keep", from Knights of the Dinner Table #100 (February, 2005).  Reproduced as part II of the "Little Keep Web Extra", downloadable here.

Frandor's Keep was revisited in "Frandor’s Keep: An immersive setting for adventure" (2009) for the HackMaster RPG.

The next major revision of the Keep on the Borderlands was introduced in D&D 4e's "The Keep on the Chaos Scar" adventure, by Mike Mearls:

Illustration of "Restwell Keep", from "The Keep on the Chaos Scar" in Dungeon #176 (March, 2010)

Restwell Keep subsequently featured in D&D 4e's "Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents" (2010) by Chris Sims.

Finally, Dyson Logos posted his own version of the Keep, complete with some interesting tweaks, back in 2014.


Two years before "The Keep on the Chaos Scar" was published, Wizards of the Coast released its first introductory adventure for D&D 4e "The Keep on the Shadowfell" (2008), involving a different, ruined keep, more of a dungeon location.

"The Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands" (Raging Swan Press, 2012), by Creighton Broadhurst, designed for the Pathfinder RPG, draws greater inspiration from the Moathouse in module T1 "The Village of Hommlet", and is likewise a dungeon location.

The Dungeon:

In the section on "Designing Floor Plans" in module B2, Gygax suggests "you might wish to include a secret entrance to a long-forgotten dungeon (which, of course, you must design and stock with monsters and treasure)".

Kenzer and Company released beautifully rendered maps detailing a four level dungeon as a supplement to their "Little Keep on the Borderlands", downloadable as part of a free web extra in Beneath the Little Keep (2005).

(Although the layout of "Frandor's Keep" differs in some ways from that of the original Keep, access to the dungeon is through the Fortress in the Inner Bailey, and can be used with the original module).

Fifth Edition Fantasy #14 "Beneath the Keep" by Chris Doyle, released as part of Free RPG Day in 2018.

Goodman Games subsequently released the brief adventure "Beneath the Keep" (2018) as a tie-in to OAR#1 "Into The Borderlands", involving a smaller dungeon accessed through one of the buildings in the Outer Bailey.

Siege on the Borderlands:

With such a detailed map, several groups have played out sieges using the Keep on the Borderlands (we did).  Rules for conducting sieges may be found in Chainmail (pg 22-24), or the more extensive D&D Master's Set siege machine rules (pg. 23-32).

In Other Media:

On a fun note, a castle bearing a striking familiarity to the Keep on the Borderlands is briefly visible in Merrie Melodies "Daffy Duck the Wizard" (2011).

Sunday, April 4, 2021

B2: Cover Art and Artists

The cover to module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands" depicts a party of adventurers battling a group of hobgoblins, with the Caves of Chaos visible in the background (see this thread at Zenopus Archives for additional discussion):

Cover to original version of module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands" (1st printing, 1980).  Illustration by Jim Roslof, the original color study for which sold at auction for over $10,000 in 2017.

The distinctive purple border and cover illustration of the original version were re-used for Goodman Games' OAR #1 "Into the Borderlands" (2018).

When foreign editions of module B2 were released during the BECMI era, a different cover illustration by the late, great Jim Holloway was used, instead:

Cover to French version of module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands" (1st printing, 1982).  Illustration by Jim Holloway.

Holloway also provided a new frontispiece for the module, depicting a group of adventurers fighting the owlbear from Cave G.

As with module B1, there was a Dutch version of "The Keep on the Borderlands" using art by Jeff Easley for its cover:

Cover to Dutch version of module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands" (1988).  Illustration by Jeff Easley.

Easley's illustration could be depicting the ogre from Cave E, although was originally used for the cover to the Apple IIe "Dungeon!" computer game:

Apple IIe "Dungeon!" computer adventure game (1982).  Illustration by Jeff Easley.

The Apple IIe "Dungeon!" game was released in 1982, the same year Easley began working at TSR (see this review in Electronic Games vol. 2, no. 7 (September, 1983), which includes a reproduction of Easley's cover art).

Saturday, April 3, 2021

B2: The Keep on the Borderlands

B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands" by Gary Gygax replaced B1 "In Search of the Unknown" in the original Basic Set and was also sold separately.  A revised version was included in the 1981 Basic Set, edited by Tom Moldvay.

Illustration by Erol Otus from the back cover to module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands" (1980) depicting a group of adventurers on their way to the Keep, its ramparts lit by the rising sun.

There has been more discussion online concerning module B2 than for module B1 (see the Dragonsfoot index, here).  The classic adventure has been the basis of a novelization by Ru Emerson, a long-running webcomic, and a D&D Online video game.

Although various reasons for replacing module B1 have been proposed, the original motivation appears to have been financial.  When Mike Carr wouldn't accept a cut in the royalties he was due, Brian Blume asked Gygax to write a replacement module.*

*from an interview in Goodman Games "Into The Borderlands" (2018)

Gygax had just finished writing module T1 "The Village of Hommlet" and completed "The Keep on the Borderlands" in under three weeks.  The initial version was written specifically for Holmes Basic, and so included Dexterity scores for the monsters.

The version of module B2 in the 1981 Basic Set was the first module I ever ran.  A few years ago, I posted my experience running the earlier version for my son and his friends, (you can check out my campaign journal, complete with tactical illustrations, here). 

The Realm:

Much has been written suggesting the American frontier as the ideological framework behind D&D in general, and "The Keep on the Borderlands" in particular, (see comments for this post from Grognardia as far back as 2008, as well as this post from Blog of Holding in 2016).

While an important perspective, the similar, later module B5 "Horror on the Hill" (1983) makes a better case for this argument.  By comparison, the near apocalyptic setting described in the background for module B2 presents an endangered civilization under siege:

The Realm of mankind is narrow and constricted. Always the forces of Chaos press upon its borders, seeking to enslave its populace, rape its riches, and steal its treasures. If it were not for a stout few, many in the Realm would indeed fall prey to the evil which surrounds them. Yet, there are always certain exceptional and brave members of humanity, as well as similar individuals among its allies - dwarves, elves, and halflings - who rise above the common level and join battle to stave off the darkness which would otherwise overwhelm the land. Bold adventurers from the Realm set off for the Borderlands to seek their fortune. It is these adventurers who, provided they survive the challenge, carry the battle to the enemy. Such adventurers meet the forces of Chaos in a testing ground where only the fittest will return to relate the tale. Here, these individuals will become skilled in their profession, be it fighter or magic-user, cleric or thief. They will be tried in the fire of combat, those who return, hardened and more fit. True, some few who do survive the process will turn from Law and good and serve the masters of Chaos, but most will remain faithful and ready to fight chaos wherever it threatens to infect the Realm.

from B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands"

The conflict between Law and Chaos described above is an example of the influence of Poul Anderson's "Three Hearts and Three Lions" and Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibon√© series on the implicit cosmology of the original D&D game.

(The earlier Chainmail scenario The Battle of Brown Hills was likewise fought between the forces of Law and Chaos, and would serve as a great backstory and source of place names for those wishing to expand upon "The Realm" as a setting.)

Subsequent Settings:

When the 1983 Expert Set was released, locations for modules B1-4 and X1-5 were indicated on the map of "The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness".  Module B2 was placed in the northeastern part of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos.

Cover to GAZ 1 "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos" (1987), by Aaron Allston.  Illustration by Clyde Caldwell.

In GAZ 1 "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos", the Keep on the Borderlands is mentioned in the description for "Castellan Keep":

This lonely, cold fort lies in the Altan Tepes mountains, and the only way to reach the fort is by riverboat. The garrison (Fourth Division, Castellan Guard Battalion, "The Mountain Storm") is supposed to keep an eye on possible invasions from the north and east, and to watch the activities of the frost giants known to live in these wild lands. If you have adventure B2 (The Keep on the Borderland), you can set it here; eliminate the large town the adventure mentions for the area, and leave only the cold and stubborn garrison.

from GAZ 1 "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos"

A location in Greyhawk was described in "Return to the Keep on the Borderlands" (1999) by John Rateliff, who had intended the setting to be generic, (resulting in "a nasty shock when Powers That Be slapped a GREYHAWK logo on the back cover.")

Naming the NPCs:

One of the most common criticisms leveled against "The Keep on the Borderlands" is its lack of names for the various NPCs.  (I've never understood this, as my players usually refer to NPCs by their occupations as opposed to their names, anyway).

The frequent rebuttal is, of course, that DMs are thereby able to use names evoking their own campaign world, (for which module B2 was originally intended to serve as a starting point).  For those who don't want to go to the trouble, I've compiled a list for you.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Gary Con XIII

Gary Con XIII is being held this weekend.  Given the ongoing pandemic, the decision was made to hold a totally virtual ("ethereal") gathering.  There are nevertheless plenty of online events and several opportunities for old school gaming.

"Musri Warrior Battles Fire Elemental Lord" promotional art for Gary Con XIII (March 25-28, 2021).

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Chainmail rules, so it's fitting to see a number of virtual sessions on the schedule, including The Battle of Brown Hills and many others.  "Legends of Wargaming" has released a commemorative video, in honor of the event:

"Chainmail 50th Anniversary" video, by "Legends of Wargaming"

Last year, I signed up for a session of Tekumel: Fresh Off the Boat before the physical con was unfortunately canceled.  It's nice to see some Tekumel and EPT events on the schedule, including Bill Hoyt's "Quest: The Underworld of Tekumel" boardgame.

"Empire of the Petal Throne" (1975)

I decided to run two sessions of the final round of the Gen Con IX tournament originally held in 1976: Temple of Diklah and the Helm of Valasdum, designed by Bob Blake.  Although I've played online before, this is the first time I'm DMing virtually.

GenCon IX Dungeon Final Round (1976)

The first session was held on Thursday night, and it was a blast.  I had a great bunch of players, who worked really effectively as a team, and were able to defeat the lich and recover the crown!  I'm looking forward to Sunday's game.

Update (Mar 28, 2021): Was fortunate enough to catch a spot at the table for Bill Silvey's AD&D 1e Expedition to the Sunless Sea.  Our doughty party was just able to fend off an onslaught of mind flayers, together with none other than Tracy Lesch at our side.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

B1: Sequels to the Unknown

Module B1 "In Search of the Unknown" was intentionally vague about the fates of Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown, leaving open the possibilities for further adventures.  There have been two notable sequels, one co-authored by Mike Carr, himself.

B0.5 Secrets of the Unknown:

Cover to B0.5 "Secrets of the Unknown" (2015) by Bill Barsh.  Illustration by Matt Costanzo.

Intended as a supplement connecting module B1 "In Search of the Unknown" with Pacesetter's B1 "Legacy of the Unknown", this 8-page adventure was released a few years after Pacesetter's B1.  Both are OSRIC/AD&D 1e-compatible.

After completing exploration of the Caverns of Quasqueton, the PCs are approached by a veteran of the legendary battle in which Rogahn and Zelligar repelled the barbarians.  The old warrior remembers seeing a group of barbarians escaping behind a waterfall.

A short series of encounters leads to some clues regarding the fate and potential whereabouts of the infamous duo.  This adventure is not necessary to complete in order to proceed with B1 "Legacy of the Unknown", but is a nice complement to the latter.

B1 Legacy of the Unknown:

Cover to B1 "Legacy of the Unknown" (2011) by Bill Barsh.  Illustration by Chris Letzelter.

This ambitious 72-page adventure is designed for 4-8 characters of levels 2-4.  It provides answers to the mysteries encountered in B1 "In Search of the Unknown" together with background and the framework for an entire campaign setting.

From documents found in the Caverns of Quasqueton, the PCs have discovered the location of an ancient, ruined city, destination of the final, ill-fated expedition of Rogahn and Zelligar.  Some additional wilderness set piece encounters are included.

Originally intended as part of a series of related adventures, including C1 "The Circle of Fire" (2011), the other modules didn't ultimately see print, as far as I'm aware.  That's too bad, because the underlying concept involving a lost civilization was intriguing.

LR6 Discovery of the Unknown:

Cover to LR6 "Discovery of the Unknown" by Michael Carr and Paul J. Stormberg.  Illustration by Darlene.

"Discovery of the Unknown" was featured as the Legends Tournament at Gary Con XI in 2019.  I was fortunate enough to participate, along with my son.  Our DM was Allen Hammack, and our group didn't fare too badly (although didn't place).

Updated pregens from the back of module B1 were used (I played Dohram, Servant of Saint Carmichael, now a 5th level cleric).  As an extra treat, each of the preprinted character sheets included a character sketch, illustrated by Tom Wham.

The idea behind "Discovery of the Unknown" is that rumors have arisen concerning a fabulous cache of treasure hidden somewhere in the north.  The PCs possess a key, obtained from the Caverns of Quasqueton years earlier, which might provide a clue to its location.

The adventure is designed for 4-9 characters of levels 4-7, and is a lot of fun.  It's presently scheduled to be released by Legends of Roleplaying at some point in the near future.  You can be sure that I'll be reviewing it here, once it comes out.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

B1: Derivative Works

B1 "In Search of the Unknown" has inspired multiple homages and conversions to related game systems.  These provide a wealth of ideas for DMs running the classic module, or can be run on their own.

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of the two legendary inhabitants of the Caverns of Quasqueton has also resulted in two notable sequels to the original adventure, covered in greater depth, tomorrow.

B1 Quest for the Unknown:

Cover to B1 "Quest for the Unknown" (2002) by Brian Jelke, Steve Johansson, and David S. Kenzer.  Illustration by Stacy Drum.

Hackmaster "4e" (2001) was the original, tongue-in-cheek version of the HackMaster RPG, inspired by AD&D 1e/2e.  Several modules based on classic D&D/AD&D modules were released, including B1 "Quest for the Unknown".

In the Hackmaster version, Quasqueton has been transplanted to Garweeze Wurld, the Hackmaster analog to AD&D's World of Greyhawk.  Rogahn and Zelligar have only been absent for months, not years, and a new subplot is introduced.

While including an element of parody, the adventure is filled with several interesting twists and ideas based on the source material, (the spiral, dead-end corridor leads to the ruins of the lookout tower, for example, something I hadn't been aware of).

Although many sections are taken verbatim from the original module, the text is heavily paraphrased, and includes a fair amount of useful new material, (such as a whole page devoted to books that can be found in the library).

The Hidden Serpent:

Cover to "The Hidden Serpent" (2010) by Jeff "Bighara" Sparks.  Illustration by Joanna Barnum

Labyrinth Lord (2007) is a retroclone of the 1981 B/X rules.  "The Hidden Serpent" is an adventure inspired by B1 "In Search of the Unknown", although considerably more challenging than its predecessor.

Rogar and Zeglin are a pair of mercenary warlords.  Their underground fortress is named "Quazkyton", which is Draconic for "hidden serpent" in reference to their swift attacks from a hidden base of operations.

A rough map is included as a player handout, along with a few wilderness encounters before access to the stronghold can be gained.  Although inspired by the Caverns of Quasqueton, the layout has been reorganized.

Multiple factions and subplots are provided, which make for a dynamic and action-filled scenario.  "The Hidden Serpent" is a hidden gem, and can be plunked into any campaign with a minimum of changes.

DW1 Lair of the Unknown:

Cover to DW1 "Lair of the Unknown" (2013) by Johnstone Metzger.

Dungeon World (2012) is an RPG inspired by Powered by the Apocalypse.  DW1 "Lair of the Unknown" is intended as an introduction to the system, in the spirit of B1 "In Search of the Unknown".

Fearsome Forbus and the Unknown Wizard "two of the greatest dungeon raiders that ever lived" were slain by the evil wizard Zamzomarr while constructing their subterranean fortress of Xallevyrx, deep within the Haunted Forest.

Metzger has devised an evocative setting for his dungeon delve.  A 17-page preview of the 110-page book is downloadable here.

Zelligar's Evil:

Cover to "Zelligar's Evil" (2016) by Alzarian Crimson.

A 5e conversion of the classic adventure, transplanted to the Forgotten Realms, in central Chessenta south of Luthcheq, between the Maerthwatch and Methwood, in the Third Age.

In this version, Rogahn and Zelligar disappeared 32 years ago, after leading a mercenary army into the Maerthwatch mountains.  Zelligar is cast as an evil necromancer, and the adventure involves darker themes than in the original version.

"Zelligar's Evil" was originally developed for use with Fantasy Grounds and comes with digital maps as well as player handouts, including books from Zelligar's library.

Original Adventures Reincarnated #1:

Cover to "Into the Borderlands" (2018).  Illustration by Jim Roslof, from module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands"

A repackaging of the original versions of modules B1 and B2, together with introductory retrospectives, as well as detailed conversions to 5e.

The maps for both levels of the Caverns of Quaqueton include minor modifications, and there is also a map of the lookout tower, in addition to two new areas on the lower level (the hidden tomb of Rogahn, and a secret sanctuary for Zelligar).

As with previous updates and conversions, new subplots are introduced, one of which connects the adventure to module B2.  (You can read my review of OAR #1, here).

Sunday, March 14, 2021

B1: Expansion Ideas

One of the greatest aspects of module B1 "In Search of the Unknown" is how readily the Caverns of Quasqueton lend themselves to expansion.

Access to the lookout tower, a tesseract among the maze of doors, and random actions for the statue on the lower level were previously discussed in B1 expansion ideas on Dragonsfoot, back in 2013.  Here are some additional ideas:

Zelligar's Diary:

Among the stack of books in Zelligar's closet:

This volume appears unremarkable at first glance, seeming to be a notebook with many handwritten entries of undecipherable runes and markings. It is actually a diary kept by Zelligar, and it details one of his adventures from the distant past, written in his own hand. The writing is not discernible unless a read languages spell is used.

This journal kept by Zelligar is a remarkable find, and can be used as the lead-in to the next adventure.  Does it describe the whereabouts of the Tomb of Horrors?  Did Rogahn and Zelligar discover The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth?  Or does it recount an Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

Wizard's Workroom:

The larger jar is of clear glass and seemingly contains a black cat's body floating in a clear, colorless liquid. If the large cork lid is unstopped, the liquid will instantaneously evaporate, the cat will suddenly spring to life, jump out of the jar, meow loudly, and run for the door. If the door is open, the cat will dash through and disappear. If the door is not open, the cat will be seen to pass through the door and disappear. In neither case will the feline be seen again.

"Zelligar's cat" is a memorable feature of module B1.  My take on it was that the cat is a "phase cat" and also Zelligar's familiar.  Releasing it sets in motion a chain of events that ultimately results in Rogahn and Zelligar's return.

Another (more gruesome) explanation is described in Jon's D&D Vlog #19.  Jon pursues his idea to its logical conclusion, worth checking out.

Advisor's Chamber:

Accessible only through a secret door in the Room of Pools, the chamber of Marevak, advisor to Zelligar and Rogahn, contains various documents:

The desk in the room is mostly empty, except for several attached sheets with various notes written in elfin. The first sheet is headed with the title, "Suggestions for the Further Development of Quasqueton," and the notes relate to certain details of construction for the stronghold (although there is no information of a sort to assist the adventurers, and no maps). The document (discernible only by those who know the elfin language or by a read languages spell) is signed at the bottom of each page by Marevak.

OAR #1 "Into the Borderlands" details two new areas, both accessible through the lower caverns.  These include a hidden tomb for Rogahn, and a secret sanctuary for Zelligar.  Marevak's notes could provide clues to the existence of these locations.

Delving Deeper:

Just outside the Cavern of the Statue, in the corridor which leads eastward, is a large covered pit at the intersection of three corridors.

Many have contemplated a 3rd or even lower levels to the Caverns of Quasqueton.  Rather than a 10 foot deep pit trap, how about a shaft descending hundreds of feet into the Underdark, sealed by reinforced doors, and operated by a winch?

Access to a huge cavern, lit by phosphorescent lichen, and partially filled with a subterranean lake, would significantly expand the scope of the adventure.  There could even be prehistoric ruins with additional dungeon areas to explore.

Extraplanar Areas:

A final approach to expanding older megadungeons was through the use of extraplanar areas, such as those accessed through the "Glowing Grotto" in S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, or the deeper levels of Greyhawk Castle: Expanded Version.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

B1: The Barbarians

Many years passed, until one day a great barbarian invasion came from the lands to the north, threatening to engulf the entire land with the savage excesses of the unchecked alien horde.

Module B1 "In Search of the Unknown"

While the default setting for module B1 "In Search of the Unknown" is generic, advice is given for situating the Caverns of Quasqueton within the World of Greyhawk:

In the mythical WORLD OF GREYHAWK (available from TSR) the stronghold can be considered within any one of the following lands - the Barony of Ratik, the Duchy of Tenh, or the Theocracy of the Pale.

Potential locations for module B1 in the World of Greyhawk (1980).  The Thillonrian Peninsula to the north is home to a number of barbarian kingdoms, who "consider the Great Kingdom and the Sea Barons as their most natural source of easy loot and profit." 

The original World of Greyhawk folio describes the Flanaess, the northeastern part of the continent of Oerik, and includes a beautiful map by Darlene, based upon the map of the Great Kingdom of the Castle and Crusade Society:

The map of the Great Kingdom, from Domesday Book #9.  Note the northern peninsula, home to the "Northern Barbarians".

Dave Arneson situated the Barony of Blackmoor at the southwestern end of the Great Bay on the map of the Great Kingdom, and mentions in "The First Fantasy Campaign" that Blackmoor Castle was originally constructed as a defense against barbarian incursions:

Blackmoor Castle was built in the third year of the reign of Robert I, King of all Geneva, as a defense against the Barbarian hordes that periodically sweep through this area over a period of six years.  On the hill that dominated the small village of Blackmoor, there are the ruins of several previous structures that were destroyed by the Barbarians.

JG 37: The First Fantasy Campaign

Mike Carr was a player in Arneson's original Blackmoor campaign, and was no doubt familiar with the Blackmoor Castle's history.

Is that Blackmoor Castle in the distance?

Gary Gygax also mentions Blackmoor in his story "The Gnome Cache" serialized in The Dragon (#1-3, 5-7).  In the final installment to be published, the "border keep of Blackmoor" falls to an invading force of northerners, the united bands of Nehron.

Their headgear was more elaborate, consisting of a steel helmet with a heavy nasal and surmounted with a spine of metal spikes.  Horn plated brigandines protected them from wrist to waist, where a broad girdle bound a kilt of bearskin about their waists.  Studded gambades protected their lower extremities, a circular shield (like Dunstan's) or one of trapezoidal form (borne by the two from Kimbry) graced the left arm, and the forearm and hand on the right were protected by steel gauntlets.  Great capes of bearskin or like savage carnivora's served to both adorn and protect their backs.  Their arms were massive flails and battleaxes, suited well to their strength.  Brightly hued devices were painted upon their shields, but the northerners knew no heraldric laws, rather beasts or weird symbols were limned at the owner’s fancy.

excerpt from "The Gnome Cache", in The Dragon #6

I'm a big fan of "The Gnome Cache", and think that the world described would make a great setting for running "In Search of the Unknown".  There's even a narrow pass between two steep hills, as mentioned in the Players' Background to the adventure.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

B1: Cover Art and Artists

In considering the possibilities for a cover illustration to module B1 "In Search of the Unknown", author Mike Carr requested a depiction of the garden room:
Once the showplace of the entire stronghold, the garden has, over the passage of time, become a botanical nightmare. With no one to tend the gardens, the molds and fungi have grown out of control.

from module B1 "In Search of the Unknown"

The resulting scene, a rare collaboration between David Sutherland and Dave Trampier, is filled with mystery and menace (note the tight formation of the explorers) :

"Monochrome" cover to original version of module B1 "In Search of the Unknown" (1st to 3rd printings, 1978/79).  Illustration attributed to "D/S & DAT" (David Sutherland and David A. Trampier).

Trampier's original version of the illustration was later used in The Polyhedron, the official publication of the RPGA, (see Trampier version of B1 cover over at Dragonsfoot):

Original illustration of mushroom forest in garden room, by Dave Trampier, from The Polyhedron #5 (1982).  Click here for a comparison between the two.

Trampier likely drew inspiration for the giant mushrooms from this illustration by Stephen Fabian, used for the cover of a 1974 pulp fiction anthology:

Famous Fantastic Classics #1 (1974), edited by Robert E. Weinberg, downloadable here.  Illustration by Stephen Fabian.

When the new Basic Set edited by Tom Moldvay was released in 1981, module B1 was reissued with new front and back cover art by Darlene:

Cover to B/X version of module B1 "In Search of the Unknown" (4th to 6th printings, 1981).  Illustration by Darlene the Artist.  Click here for illustration on the back cover.

There was also a Dutch version of "In Search of the Unknown" using art by Jeff Easley for its cover:

Cover to Dutch version of module B1 "In Search of the Unknown" (1988) in BECMI trade dress.  Illustration by Jeff Easley.

Easley's illustration has only a tenuous connection to the module, having been recycled from the cover to Dragon #138:

Dragon #138 (October, 1988).  Cover illustration by Jeff Easley.  Note the image was flipped horizontally for the Dutch version of B1.

From Dragon #138:

Our Halloween Greetings cover is the first DRAGON® Magazine cover from Jeff Easley, whose work should be familiar to any longtime gamers. It is also the first cover acquisition made by Lori Svikel, our new art director. Jeff admits that he collects antique Halloween items; he certainly has a feel for the topic.

*Easley's illustration for the cover of Dragon #138 was also used for the "Eye of the Beholder" video game released in 1991.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

B1: In Search of the Unknown

B1 "In Search of the Unknown" by Mike Carr was TSR's eighth "Dungeon Module" (following close upon the heels of G1-3, D1-3, and S1, all published in 1978).  The introductory adventure replaced Dungeon Geomorphs in the Basic Set and was also sold separately.

Full-page advertisement for module B1 "In Search of the Unknown" appearing in The Dragon #22 (February, 1979) and #23 (March, 1979)

"In Search of the Unknown" has been discussed extensively on internet blogs and forums (see the Dragonsfoot index, here).  One fan constructed an impressive 28mm scale model of the first level.  The module has even inspired a rock ballad.

According to an interview with Mike Carr on the Save or Die podcast (December 4, 2010), the background wasn't based on any pre-existing adventure or campaign setting, but rather invented out of whole cloth, an exercise in rational dungeon design.*

*the construction of underground fortresses is a logical extension of a world in which magic actually works, as outlined by Lewis Pulsipher in his article "Castles in the Air: Why dungeons exist" published in White Dwarf #42 (June, 1983)

Despite having been written specifically for inclusion in the original Basic Set, I've previously argued that "In Search of the Unknown" might actually be considered an OD&D module, as reflected by the classes of its pregenerated characters:

Pregenerated characters from the "monochrome" version of module B1 "In Search of the Unknown".  Note elven fighting men and magic-users, as well as demi-human thieves, in keeping with OD&D as opposed to Holmes Basic.

The revised B/X "color" version of the module removed many (but not all) of these "OD&Disms" ("magic mouth" does not appear in the 1981 D&D Basic Rulebook edited by Tom Moldvay, but is listed as a spell in Table B on pg 29).

The Caverns of Quasqueton:

In designing the dungeon, Carr drew from ideas suggested in OD&D vol. 3 The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures as discussed in Deconstructing Quasqueton, back in 2013 on the OD&D Discussion boards.

The pair of magic mouth spells in the entrance alcoves are similar to another pair of magic mouth spells at the entrance to the mini-dungeon "F'Chelrak's Tomb" by Jennell Jacquays, published in The Dungeoneer #1 (June, 1976), which utter the warning:

"Go back Foolish one or meet thy doom.  Go back, go back, go back, go back..."

The use of caged fire beetles as a source of light in the library of Quasqueton was previously observed in the great cavern hall of the jarl in module G2 "The Glacial Rift of The Frost Giant Jarl" (1978) by Gary Gygax.

As is now recognized, Quasqueton is the name of an actual city in Iowa.  The name is derived from "Quasquetuk" (meaning "swift running water"), the name of an Indian settlement where several trails converged near a ford on the west side of the river.

(Carr worked as the assistant manager of a restaurant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 35 miles south of Quasqueton, prior to moving to Lake Geneva in March, 1976 to work at TSR.)

Keying the Dungeon:

A list of monsters and treasures are provided so that novice DMs can practice stocking the dungeon (my own version is downloadable, here) although there's no need to limit the choices to the ones provided.

"In Search of the Unknown" is perhaps the most versatile module ever published (best demonstrated by Mike Badolato whenever he runs the adventure at NTRPG con).  The Caverns of Quasqueton serve as a blank canvas, releasing the imagination of the DM.

(Most recently, I've been working on a version of the adventure in which the PCs travel back in time to when Rogahn and Zelligar still occupied their fortress, and are compelled to accompany the famed duo on their ill-fated foray to barbarian lands...)

The "In Search of the Unknown" Campaign Sourcebook (2009).  A collaborative effort by fans of module B1.

B1 Campaign Sourcebook:

It's been over a decade since a group of us compiled the B1 Campaign Sourcebook, (kindly reviewed here, back in 2019), which is greatly in need of a revised, updated version.  I'm currently working on a project I'm calling the "B1 Companion" (details forthcoming).

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Rational Dungeon Design

The Dragon #10 (October, 1977) contains an article entitled "Let There Be A Method To Your Madness" by Richard Gilbert, outlining the merits of a rational approach to dungeon design.  It was reprinted in Best of Dragon #1 (1980).

A room in the dungeon, as appearing many years ago (above) and to explorers today (below).  Illustration by David C. Sutherland III

Gilbert's article is significant in that it was published a few months after the Holmes Basic Set was released, which included Dungeon Geomorphs, and provides direction for creating more "realistic" megadungeons.

We begin with the following advice:
Before you do anything with a dungeon, you should have specified where it will be located, what the surface area looks like, and what, in capsule form, its history is.  The two chief items of the history are its age and who built it.  Age is important, especially time elapsed since it was last in regular use, because it determines the condition of any perishable items found within, and for some worlds, what sort of artifacts could be present.  The builder, that is, the being who caused the castle dungeon to be built, is the single most important factor to develop before actually working on the dungeons.

Gilbert goes on to describe the importance of determining what various rooms in the dungeon might have once been used for, as a guide to describing their contents and appearance after many years have passed.*

*This approach was used by Mike Carr in module B1 "In Search of the Unknown" and Jean Wells in the original version of module B3 "Palace of the Silver Princess", both "second generation" dungeons.

The following example is given:

About a thousand years ago, a local tribe erected crude stone fortifications here for their women and children.  The site was in use for a few centuries and then abandoned.  About four hundred years ago, a young, energetic wizard named Nappo claimed the site.  He brought in a few hundred orcs and built the present castle on the old foundations, expanding outward and downward.  The orcs were put to work creating a dungeon complex, which project continued off and on until Nappo’s death...

The builder, Nappo, was a wizard, so at least one level is needed for labs, libraries, and storage of related equipment...

The upper levels should have living space for several hundred orcs, with attendant storage, kitchens, perhaps temple space, and maybe even sewers or some system for waste removal...

Here also would be the main armory, with its own guardroom or other security precautions, plus fairly easy access to drinking water.

Below these levels would lie cells, torture chambers, and anything else intended mainly for the orcs use, such as possibly an arena for practice and entertainment.

Leading off in a separate series of levels would be Nappo’s part of the dungeons.  First, a number of levels devoted to guardrooms, mazes, and traps to snare intruders.  Then would come Nappo’s underground quarters, from which one would gain access to labs, animal or monster pens, and Nappo’s treasury.

Several additional ideas are provided:

Add guest rooms with corridors, plus secret passages for the builder to spy on them.

Was the builder a temporal ruler?  Add throne room, conference rooms, guard rooms, more secret passages, and perhaps a regalia room...

A gourmet requires extensive kitchens and pantries, along with a host of attendant small rooms.

In European history, ruling men created comfortable nests for their lovers, which were as lavish as the men pleased or could afford.

As a final thought, if you want a really well-fleshed dungeon, throw in the religious element.

Those of you familiar with module B1 "In Search of the Unknown" might recognize similarities between the wizard Nappo's dungeon, and the legendary underground fortress of co-adventurers Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown.

I'm not sure if Mike Carr was familiar with Gilbert's article, but certainly many of the design elements are congruent.  This is not intended to detract from Carr's masterpiece in any way, but rather indicates the emergence of megadungeon "realism".

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Forgotten Geomorphs

Following the release of Dungeon Geomorphs in 1976 and 1977, TSR announced the release of Outdoor Geomorphs Set One, Walled City at Gen Con X in 1977, the same Gen Con at which the new Basic Set edited by J. Eric Holmes was featured.

Just as Dungeon Geomorphs were characteristic of the maps for the megadungeon beneath Greyhawk Castle, Outdoor Geomorphs Set One, Walled City were likely modeled after the layout for the nearby City of Greyhawk in Gary Gygax's original campaign.

What is less commonly known, is that a number of additional Outdoor Geomorphs were planned, but never published.  Here's a snapshot from the back of the 1st printing of the AD&D 1e Dungeon Masters Guide, released at Gen Con XII in August, 1979:

Dungeons & Dragons Playing Aids, as listed in the 1st printing of the AD&D 1e Dungeon Masters Guide (1979)

From a historical perspective, it makes sense that the Geomorphs line was abandoned.  Megadungeons and city adventures, intended to be created by individual DMs (without any published examples) were being supplanted by adventure "modules".

Still, I can't help but wonder what Castle/Fortress or Ruins geomorphs might have looked like.  Ironically, they would have probably been more useful than the original Dungeon Geomorphs for assembling self-contained, set-piece adventures.

Incidentally, The Acaeum lists Set Four, Rooms, Chambers & Passages as part of the Dungeon Geomorphs series, rather than Outdoor Geomorphs (which makes sense, but isn't in keeping with what's indicated, above).

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Geomorphs of the Mad Archmage

The 1977 Basic Set included Dungeon Geomorphs Set One: Basic Dungeons (which appear to have originally been released separately, the previous year) as well as Monster & Treasure Assortment Set One: Levels One-Three, for stocking purposes.

A dungeon geomorph from Set One: Basic Dungeons (1976).  See also "Dungeon Construction Made Easy!" in The Dragon #6 (April, 1977)

My first exposure to these products was through the later compilations, Dungeon Geomorphs Set One to Three, and Monster & Treasure Assortment Sets One-Three: Levels One-Nine.  I tried using them to create a few dungeons, but was never entirely satisfied with the results.

I think the reason for this was that I didn't fully appreciate these products for what they truly were - components for a Gygaxian megadungeon, modeled after Greyhawk Castle itself, as discussed here and here on the Random Wizard blog, in 2013.

Dan Collins posted an excellent analysis of the first dungeon level beneath the ruins of Greyhawk Castle, about a year ago.  An example such as this back in the day would have provided welcome guidance for using Dungeon Geomorphs to create a megadungeon.

While a classic sample cross section of levels was depicted in OD&D vol. 3, a full megadungeon level never was.  Instead, the types of sample dungeons published were smaller, self-contained affairs (see this list of early sample dungeons for examples).

The individual Dungeon Geomorph sets, in addition to the later compilation set, each include some intriguing encounter key examples, which, as Allan Grohe notes, might have been drawn from Gary Gygax's home campaign.

Rob Kuntz's El Raja Key and the subsequent expanded version of Greyhawk Castle are the types of megadungeons that Dungeon Geomorphs were intended to construct.  (Zach Howard discusses a later, similar dungeon by Gygax in this post.)

It was left to Mike Carr to develop an introductory megadungeon, but in so doing, he incorporated more logical design elements.  This "second generation" megadungeon woiuld ultimately be published as module B1: "In Search of the Unknown".

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Holmes Expanded: Portown and Environs

J. Eric Holmes' Portown is an evocative setting, with great potential as a home base to build a campaign around.  There are several fan-made supplements and published modules that work well together, in this regard.

This classic illustration by Dave Trampier, from the AD&D 1e Players Handbook (1978) is what I think the inside of the Green Dragon Inn must look like, in Portown.

Back in 2010, I mocked up a map of Holmes' Portown, based upon the medieval city of Canea (modern-day Chania) on the island of Crete.  I visited Chania in 2000, and was inspired by its historic old quarter.

Since then, others have expanded upon my roughly sketched map and key, such as RC Pinnell (aka Thorkhammer)'s Holmes Supplement: Portown (2013) and Piazza member religion's Port Gorod (2016) in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, for the Mystara setting.

Most recently, Zach Howard provided a new map for Portown in The Ruined Tower of Zenopus and is working on The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave in the sea cliffs west of town.  Zach's Portown Adventuring Eras is also worth a look, as a timeline for the setting.

Isle of the Abbey:

"Isle of the Abbey" by Randy Maxwell was published in Dungeon #34 (Mar/Apr 1992) and originally conceived as a tribute to Holmes:

My introduction to the D&D game was the old, now legendary, blue book.  From that introduction, I still retain a nostalgic fondness for low-level D&D adventures.  The game has expanded immensely from those early, simple days, and my modules have expanded accordingly.  For this adventure, I wanted to get back to basics (no pun intended) and do a module that required only the rules, monsters, and magical items from the Basic Set (either the old red boxed set of the new black box - the ancient blue book is not required).

Randy Maxwell, from Dungeon #34

The clerics of an evil cult, based out of an abbey situated on a small, solitary isle, were recently attacked by local pirates.  The abbey was burned to the ground, although the pirates suffered heavy losses, and were ultimately wiped out by the mariners of Portown.

The PCs are hired to explore the isle, in order to insure that it's safe for the mariners to claim.  The adventure is designed for 4-6 characters of up to the 3rd level of experience (about 12 levels) with at least one cleric of 3rd level or two or more clerics of lower levels.

Of course, many of us prefer "the ancient blue book" and so I converted Maxwell's adventure for use with Holmes.  You can download my version, here.

Corsairs of Tallibar:

"Corsairs of Tallibar" (1982) by Mike Wilson is a Judges Guild adventure for characters of 1st to 3rd levels of experience.  The "Universal Fantasy Adventure" is system neutral and not associated with any particular setting.

The legendary corsairs were based out of a hidden island fortress, about 50 leagues south-by-southwest from the port city where the adventurers are located.  They haven't been seen or heard from in 75 years, but their island has recently been located.

There are clear parallels between "Corsairs of Tallibar" and module B1 "In Search of the Unknown", which only add to its charm.  A map of the island is provided, along with wandering monster tables for the different types of terrain.

I used the hidden island fortress as the secret base of operations for the pirates from the sample dungeon, members of the same group who attack the isle of the abbey, as opposed to a stronghold that's been deserted for 75 years, which worked out quite well.

Module B4: The Lost City:

Portown is described as "a small but busy city linking the caravan routes from the south to the merchant ships that dare the pirate-infested waters of the Northern Sea" and so I envisioned a desert to the south, the perfect spot for a lost civilization.

Module B4 "The Lost City" (1982) by Tom Moldvay included specific information for running the adventure only using the Holmes rulebook.  This is an absolutely classic module, and one for which I pulled together a multi-author campaign sourcebook.

Moldvay's work is steeped in pulp fiction tropes, and meshes extremely well with Holmes.  I can't think of a better follow-up adventure to the sample dungeon in the Basic Set rulebook, once the PCs are ready to leave Portown.