Thursday, March 14, 2019

Swords and Silver (Princesses)

Guy would probably do better
tossing the axe to a buddy.
B3: Palace of the Silver Princess was never an adventure module I owned or ran "back in the day." Certainly I remember it sitting on the toy shelf of the local Pay N' Save (back when you could buy D&D in such own copy of Basic D&D was purchased at a J.C. Penny), but truth be told I never had any interest in it. Yes, the Erol Otus cover art is fantastically fiendish, but the simple statement on the front ("Introductory Module For Character Levels 1-3") resulted in an immediate hard pass on my end. After all, the characters in our campaign were way past 3rd level, and there was only one way they were going, baby.

Up. Of course.

[yes, we still played with character death and level drain, but in a world or wishes and resurrection, such inconveniences were petty concerns. No need to sack the Keep on the Borderlands when the party fighter was already sporting a rod of lordly might and the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd]

So it wasn't until this last week that I ever, finally, had a chance to sit down and read the thing, spurred in large part by (once again) GusL's brainstorm on how to re-skin the adventure. As I've blogged before, I dig on old fashioned fairy tales; that stuff was my bread and butter long before I acquired the title of Dungeon Master (someone really should give you a hat or something that says "DM" the first time you run a game). *AHEM* Anyway, the idea of a fairy tale castle for exploration (right after a "fairy tale apocalypse") is a pretty cool thing. Pretty darn inspiring, in my book.

Unfortunately, GusL's ideas are (*sigh*) a LOT better than the module itself. It's just not very good, and it would need more than a simple "re-skin" to make it work. Yeah, he probably wrote words to that effect in his blog post and I probably glossed over them in my enthusiasm...that happens. But there's just so much LAME in this thing. Worst of all is probably the module's assumption about the players' motivations and morality: why would they destroy the giant-ass ruby when they could simply loot and fence it? What if they decide NOT to fight the evil cleric or stop him from summoning his demon overlord? The adventure offers no explanation of the doesn't hazard to entertain the possibility as a possibility.

The original Jean Wells (orange cover) copy of B3 is much more interesting and usable "out-o-the-box" if a little more standard: it's just a dungeon crawl through an ancient ruin. But there's a lot of other stuff going on (including a detailed wilderness outside the ruin) and no moralizing (the adventure module is explicit in the player characters option of joining with the evil cleric...should they so choose). It's still not great, and it leaves out the fairy tale aspect that was my impetus for checking out B3 in the first place, but it's a better adventure. Heck, it even provides the value of the ruby (10,000 g.p.) though this gem isn't linked to some imprisoned evil demigod; it's just loot.

There's actually a lot more loot in the original B3 adventure than in Moldvay's rewrite. The total amount of plunder one can take out of it is a bit more than 24,667 g.p. and probably more once the DM adds the suggested additions (there are a few "empty rooms" that DMs are expected to populate). This should be enough to get a party of eight PCs pretty close to 3rd level; quite a nice haul for a small, two level dungeon. By contrast, the green-covered re-issue version only yields a total of 9,776 g.p. which is pretty paltry for the recommended party size. However, if players are willing to fulfill the adventure's wishes of un-cursing the castle, each PC can expect to receive a 3,000 g.p. "bonus" as a reward from the Silver Princess herself...or 1,500 g.p. and a kick in the ass for those that chose to loot the Princess's belongings in the process. As I said, kind of lame...and disappointing.

Because, here's the thing I'm wondering: even if the treasure was good, even if the morality play wasn't there, even if the thing was an easy re-skin for a dark fairytale adventure, even if this were the case...

Would it matter? To the players? Really?

Same maps, more treasure.
To a DM, details matter. A coherent (or at least sensible) story/background matters because it helps the DM remember things (like how NPCs are motivated and how they interact and react). Evocative detail and memorable monsters matter because they provide inspiration for a DM's narration. Interesting treasure matters because it gives the DM things with which to poke and prod and goad the players.

But does this stuff matter to the players? Do the players look at a monster as anything more than a challenge with a particular set of special attacks, a certain number of hit points to be whittled down? Is treasure anything more than the way in which players keep score?

I suppose it does to a certain degree...players would get bored with boring same-old same-old after a while. If every encounter was a goblin, if every treasure was a chest of gold, if every magic item was just another +1 this or +2 that. But even so, even though it matters somewhat to players, these things don't matter so much as how they are presented by the DM. It doesn't matter nearly as much as how the DM runs the damn thing.

And, as a well-designed adventure can aid in a DM's running, I suppose me answer is that it matters quite a bit.

Neither version of B3 is particularly well-designed. I kind of like the ubues from the original (better than another clan of bugbears, for sure), but I dig the whole evil ruby/demon summoning thing from the later rewrite. I like the many new monsters and lack of moralizing in Wells's original, but I prefer the more original background of Moldvay's version (rather than yet another un-plundered ruin in need of exploration). I definitely lack the time to re-write either module in a way I'd find palatable...but then I also lack the time to come up with an original adventure of my own design. Certainly I'm not interested in working up a castle blueprint for a fairytale princess...but the maps in this module leave quite a bit to be desired. Maybe Strahd's castle would be a better re-skin for such an idea.

[sorry I didn't get to talking about swords. There's one noteworthy sword in B3: the lycanthrope chick's blade which is carved from a single gigantic ruby. Unfortunately, it has no attached value to it (even though it's potential least in the Moldvay re-write) so it might as well be, know what? Never mind]


  1. There's a community rewrite of the adventure too; I know because I contributed to it, but I'm not sure where to get it these days.

    1. Huh. I wouldn’t mind seeing it, though I’m generally of the “too many cooks, etc.” philosophy. See the Temple of Elemental Evil, Palace of the Silver Princess, the Q1 “capstone” to GDQ, etc. as exhibits.

  2. I get a bit of a giggle at you going through the books, JB, and painstakingly counting every coin.

    Ah, memories of my teen years. There is a deep, abiding reason I developed a contempt for game modules very early on. KotBLs had a certain style, an interesting verve ... and then everything else took on the attitude you describe here. "Oh, no, I'm sorry, we've already decided what you do here."

    In retrospect, I believe it arose out of arcade gaming.

    1. So much easier to tally such things with spreadsheets, and it allows for easy analysis and the discovery of interesting anomalies.

      Maybe I’m just bored. That’s at least part of it.
      ; )

  3. Yeah my attraction to B3 is largely because I ran it (green cover of course - I'm not that old)as a kid - it B1 and B2 were the only D&D books I had beyond the Moldvay Basic book for several years as a boy and it was really different from the other two modules.

    I'm running it reskinned in 5E currently for my home game - as a fey wedding gone terribly wrong just like the description in that old post. The party has finally reached the upper level (Somehow avoiding Tarvis the deranged elven martinet - and his really great suit of armor made from living leaves) and ran straight to the tower where Ash the Adult White Dragon is hanging out and locked in a battle with dwarven steampunk revolutionaries.

    It's a nightmare of factional politics with fey knight wedding guests (The knight of fog and moor is a dick, while the red cap prince of the neighboring fey kingdom of black briar are drunken murder machines trying to find thier spider mounts so they can ravage the countryside on thier way home). The dragon knight the princess was marrying is dead, but he was a bigamist (the only way you can get a dragon mount is marry it - duh), the princess trapped in a ruby, the dwarves who trapped her starting a communist/dwarven supremacist/industrial revolution, and the dragon wants to marry the princess herself to take over the fey kingdom and turn it into a land of white ash and ice.

    The PCs are starting to figure this all out, but mostly just looting the heck out of the furnishings (where all the treasure is)dungeon tweeker style...

    1. Taking a break from HMS Apollyon? Or are you just generally running 5E these days?

    2. BTW: “Dungeon Tweeker” should totally replace “murder hobo” in the D&D lexicon.
      : )

    3. I'm running a home game - not doing anything online these days, and after one session of HMS they were like "Nah we want D&D" So they get 5E played with dungeon crawl rules in Fearyland

  4. I have a fondness for the module, but it is decidedly a mixed bag. It was one of the first modules we ever played.

    On the plus side, the adventure does an excellent job with its mission as a teaching tool for a new DM. When we were brand new and had little idea what we were doing, B3's introductory section was helpful in guiding us through how to be a DM and a player.

    The background was fascinating to us too. How could the Knights of the White Drake be a good order if white dragons were evil? We didn't know, so we made up reasons. For a while our players were members of the Order. And the magic items and monsters were cool.

    But the module itself is, as you and many have pointed out, a mess. And the adventure's climax never worked for me. Decades before I had heard the term Quantum Ogre it bothered me that the final confrontation was just waiting for us to kick in the door. Back then we re-played modules and once you realized that nothing you did, or didn't, do would change the timing on the climax it lost all its sting. It never set well with me and it's something I've tried to avoid in my own adventures ever since.

    1. @ Tom:

      In B/X white dragons are neutral in alignment, as are blue dragons. Only red, green, and black are chaotic (and, I suppose, not necessarily “evil” anyway, just chaotic).

      I’d actually like to see more adventures take advantage of this tweak of alignment.
      : )

    2. Wow! That does put a different spin on things!