OAR #4 "The Lost City" (Goodman Games, 2020)
This tome is an homage to the original dungeon crawl and sandbox setting first explored decades ago as B4: The Lost City. Herein, you will find high-quality scans of the original Basic edition adventure module, plus commentary by a variety of gaming luminaries. This includes an interview with Harold Johnson, the module's original developer, who also discusses his work on playtesting, Dragonlance, and other TSR titles. Also, herein is a full fifth edition conversion of the original adventure as well as brand new additional dungeons, such as the fully developed lower pyramid, additional details on the Lost City itself, and the dreaded Lower Catacombs. Although converted for the most recent edition, this material is presented in a distinct early 1980s style, tone, and presentation. This is the perfect setting for a fully playable fifth edition mini-campaign, starting at 1st level and reaching all the way up 7th level or beyond.
Module B4: "The Lost City" has always been one of my favorites. I ran my high-school group through the entire, expanded adventure over the course of a year, bringing their characters to name level, before they finally left the desert. A few years ago, I compiled "The Lost City: Campaign Sourcebook" (downloadable here on the Vaults of Pandius) in which my fellow contributors and I took a deep dive into the adventure. So, yes, I was pretty excited to see this product.
Original writer: Tom Moldvay
5E conversion design and writing: Chris Doyle
5E edition editing and additional support: Tim Wadzinski
Additional writing: Joseph Goodman, James Maliszewski, Mike Mearls
Special thanks: Harold Johnson
5E edition playtesters: Alec Doyle, Lisa Doyle, Devin McCullen
Additional research: Scott Fitzgerald Gray
Cover design: Lester B. Portly
Cover art: Jim Holloway
Interior layout: Matt Hildebrand
Interior art direction: Joseph Goodman
Interior art: Brad McDevitt, Chad Sergesketter, Chris Arneson, Cliff Kurowski, Fred Dailey, Jesse Galambos, WIlliam McAusland
Cartography: William McAusland
Scans and restoration: Steve Crompton
Publisher: Joseph Goodman
Clocking in at 320 pages, OAR #4 is easier to use at the table than the heftier, 384-page OAR #1. Binding is tight and paper is high-quality. It contains a reprinting of the original module, together with retrospectives and commentary. It also contains a 5E conversion of the adventure, together with a host of new illustrations, tons of expanded material and five appendices.
"Author's Introduction" by Chris Doyle
"The Lost City: An Overlooked Classic" by Mike Mearls
"An Appreciation of Tom Moldvay and his Work on The Lost City" by James Maliszewski
"Goodman Games Interviews Harold Johnson" by Tim Wadzinski
The interview with Harold Johnson is wide-ranging. He and Jon Pickens are listed as co-editors in the original version, although Moldvay and Pickens shared credit for development, and Pickens gets a shout-out "for his invaluable assistance".
Module B4: The Lost City - Original Publication
There's a brief discussion of the various printings - my own copy, purchased back in the day, has three holes punched along the left-hand margin. Map and typographical errors in the original are listed, which is helpful.
A scan of the front and back covers of the later "red banner" edition (with BECMI as opposed to B/X trade dress) is included. Copies of the front and back covers of the various foreign editions would have been neat, but they're no doubt hard to find.
Chapter 3 contains the DM's background to the adventure, incorporating some additional information from "Mystara: Return to the Lost City" by Michael Mearls, published in Dragon #315 (January, 2004), including the sidebar on "The Elixer of Fantasy". There is a section on the various factions of Cynidicea, and a detailed table for wandering encounters in the desert. The chapter concludes with a few adventure hooks, a suggested players' background, and a glossary (expanded from the original).
The next two chapters cover the upper pyramid, comprised of Tiers 1 & 2 (Dungeon Level 1), Tiers 3 & 4 (Dungeon Level 2), and Tier 5 (Dungeon Level 3). and the lower pyramid, comprised of Tiers 6 & 7 (Dungeon Level 4), Tiers 8 & 9 (Dungeon Level 5), and Tier 10 (Dungeon Level 6). The upper tier is a straight conversion of the original module, while the lower tier is a detailed expansion, based on the rough outline provided by Moldvay. Doyle has done an admirable job coming up with encounters based on the monsters and treasures listed by Moldvay.
Chapter 6 is a comprehensive treatment of the underground city, based on the isometric map from the original module. The connection to the Giant Ant Nest mentioned on Tier 5 was clever. The Island of Death is detailed, as well as the volcanic crater known as "The Eye of Zargon" (with a new, extraplanar area "The Verdant Prison"). I particularly liked the new dungeon areas beneath the strongholds of Gorm ("Gorm's Gauntlet"), Usamigaras (the "Test of Knowledge"), and Madarua (the "Test of Blades"). The section on further adventures is revised.
A whole chapter is devoted to the Goblin Caves. When I detailed these, back in the day, I came up with a rather basic map, directly inspired by the Caves of Chaos. Doyle's treatment is much more imaginative and compelling. We get a truly 3-dimensional dungeon environment, a module in it's own right (the chapter is 32 pages). I can see running this scenario as a one-shot, using Cynidicean PCs from the underground city. In fact, a whole campaign can be launched from this starting point, with PCs working their way up to the surface world, as opposed to vice versa.
Finally, Chapter 8 details the Lower Catacombs. Again, we have a fully worked out, interconnected dungeon environment - a sandbox within a sandbox, potentially serving as the basis for a whole series of adventures, based out of the underground city. While very different from what I had envisioned, Doyle has conceived of a specific theme relating to the Underdark, connecting "The Lost City" to other, classic adventures. PCs should be at least 6th level to take this on. As a DM, I get the itch to run it, just flipping through it.
Appendix A: New Magic Items & Spells
Includes 8 new magic items, and 10 new spells (including some B/X classics, like "Striking", along with scary new ones, suitable to the feel of this adventure).
Appendix B: New Monsters
Includes 54 entries, providing 5E stats for many classic B/X and/or BECMI creatures, as well as some really spine-chilling new monsters, eminently suited to this adventure.
Appendix C: Characters
Includes 12 pregenerated characters, as well as 20 NPCs (along with Moldvay's 12 sample Cynidicean encounters)
Appendix D: Handouts
9 handouts, comprised of useful illustrations for the players
Appendix E: Maps
Reproduces the maps presented earlier in the adventure, for ease of reference.
Doyle has included several Easter Eggs (see the link, below).
Module B4 "The Lost City" was a great choice to receive the OAR treatment. It raises awareness for old school, weird fiction-inspired gaming, and explores the full potential of Tom Moldvay's classic adventure. A high quality product, it's profusely illustrated, and contains enough material to keep a campaign going for months. It's also versatile, as many of the chapters can be pulled and repurposed with minimum effort into other campaign settings. There's a lot of bang for the buck.
As a lost city, the entire adventure - pyramid, underground city, goblin caves, lower catacombs - can be plunked into any desert region. However, I love the idea of rolling up Cynidicean PCs, starting them out in the underground city, and having them leave the desert as high-level characters (or continue their adventures in the Underdark). The role playing possibilities are new and exciting, and come at a good time in 5E's development, when many recent adherents may be tiring of more traditional settings.
While I did my own thing with "The Lost City" back when it was first published, and would take it in a totally different direction, nowadays (emphasizing the culture of Ptolemaic Egypt, with a race of Howardian serpent men as the main threat) I really love what Chris Doyle and Tim Wadzinski have done. I want to crack this out and start playing it. I most definitely will be running parts of it, at a future convention. Bottom line? A highly recommended addition to any gamer's library - new or old school.
from Goodman Games:
Announcing OAR #4: The Lost City posted by pandabrett on Aug 19, 2019
OAR #4: The Lost City Now Available For Pre-Order! posted by pandabrett on Mar 4, 2020
Designer's Diary: Inspiring The Lost City posted by pandabrett on Jun 22, 2020
Designer's Diary: Hunting for Easter Eggs posted by pandabrett on July 3, 2020