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 by Chris Doyle and Tim Wadzinski.

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).