Monday, August 24, 2009

In Search of Module B1

In my earlier post about the Holmes Basic set, I mentioned that the adventure module B1: In Search of the Unknown had always intrigued me, mainly because 1) I was never able to locate a copy and 2) I couldn't figure out why my Basic set (the Moldvay version) came with B2 as the introductory module. Wouldn't it make more sense to include B1 as the introductory module to the Basic set? Of course, at the time I was unaware there had already been a Basic D&D set.

So now, I've had a chance to read and consider B1, taking into account prior experiences and adventures, as well as the differences between Holmes, Moldvay, etc. And having considered all that, despite not yet running/playing B1, I can safely say:

This is an excellent module.

Now, of course I can't bump it onto my top ten list (since one of the criteria is that I must have played it...either as a DM or grade it). But there's a distinct possibility it could land on the upper echelon if I ever DO have the chance to run it.

And here's the reason I give it such high marks. It's not because of its "re-play factor" with its semi-random monster/treasure coding; I've seen this kind of thing before with TSR introductory modules, specifically Top Secret's TS:0.

It's not because of its low gradient of challenge, excellent for 1st level characters (probably moreso than B2, even).

Rather, it's the adventure itself. The objective of B1 is not "unknown" at all; it is very specific: the mysterious stronghold of a pair high-level adventurers that have gone missing. The party finds a map to the adventurers' hidden lair and decide to ransack it while the "cat's away." Basically, the adventurers are in the business to do a bit of house-breaking and petty larceny. How punk rock is that?

Then the adventure itself: the stronghold "Q" that the PCs burgle is set up in all ways except the stocking of monsters and treasure. This is a dungeon that "makes sense;" the rooms are the bedrooms, labs, trophy chambers, and barracks of the high level adventurers, their henchmen, their mistresses. Store rooms and armories, as well as the occasional trap or magical experimentation room are all logically placed. I imagine that exploring Q is very much like going through the mansion of some rich, paranoid, eccentric. Each room is excellently detailed, including a few hard-to-move items of value that carry the consequence of allowing their owners to track any would-be thieves (should said owners ever return)...tons of actual role-playing consequences inherent in an introductory adventure!

The best part about something like this is that is eminently scalable. The owners of stronghold Q are never detailed. Since there are no set encounters, it is easy enough to add higher level challenges to the game (bugbears instead of orcs, purple worms instead of carrion crawlers, etc.). For mid-level adventurers, simply adding a "0" onto the end of treasures found would probably be enough to make the module worth their while. Maybe the owners of the stronghold are levels 9 and 10, maybe they're levels 20 and 21...the adventure background and room descriptions can be used "as is" and the monsters simply geared to match the PCs expectation. That's the real "re-play" value of B1.

Anyway, I dig it a lot. I may very well pull the adventurers in my B2 campaigns (my wife and nephews) to send them off "in search of the unknown." It would seem to be a fairly short delve, easily cleared out (assuming they don't get lost in one of the several magical traps that abound), and one that would give them a decent boost in XP and treasure prior to their return to the Caves of Chaos.

Very cool...I am glad I picked it up.


  1. You might have thought of this, but it isn't unheard of for Moldvay players to encounter B1 as their second module, put 2 and 2 together (where 2 = the unknown) and just designate "The Cave of the Unknown" as the "Caverns of Quasqueton".

    That way you can keep The Keep and its NPCs as your familiar base, tie in Roghan the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown to the B2 setting, throw a few more treasures on the hard-put explorers of the Chaotic outpost.

    All good :)

  2. I actually DID consider this already. However, I am really digging the idea of upping the monster/treasure of course adding the scrolls that will one day lead mid-level PCs to X1: The Isle of Dread.

    : )

  3. You might consider also having the players start new characters for some other adventure, get them to level 2 or so, run them through B2.

    Then have the veterans of B1 go through X1, explaining that they had been granted a castle in the wilderness but left some henchmen to oversee the reconstruction and outfitting. The B1/X1 veterans return from the long sea voyage to find that their stronghold has been looted!