Thursday, June 11, 2020

Building the Sandbox: The B-series modules

I'm on something of a roll when it comes to jumping ahead of my chronology to place D&D adventures in my Ultimate Sandbox campaign, so I'm going to keep going while I'm still enthusiastic about it.  Today I'm going to tackle the B series of modules designed for the various editions of Basic D&D, and figure out when and where I intend to use them.

B1 In Search of the Unknown (by Mike Carr, 1978)

This introductory module came with later printings of the Holmes-written D&D Basic Set.  It takes place in the dungeons and caves named Quasqueton below a tower once owned by a wizard and fighter pair named Rogahn and Zelligar.

Early printings of the module suggest three places that the dungeon can be placed in the World of Greyhawk: the Barony of Ratik, the Duchy of Tenh, or the Theocracy of the Pale. All of these regions are fairly northerly, not too far south from the lands of the Frost Barbarians.  These locations are only suggestions, however, and were later superseded by Return to the Keep on the Borderlands in 1999.  That module takes place in the south-westerly regions of the Yeomanry, which is itself towards the south-west of the Flanaess.  It features a blocked cave with a sign that says "Quasqueton", which is strong enough evidence for me to place it there.  It's not a great fit with B1's background (which suggests that it's north of civilised lands, with barbarian tribes even further north), but it's going to be difficult to accommodate every detail, especially when a module exists in multiple worlds.

Quasqueton also exists in Mystara, the Basic D&D world.  In the 1983 D&D Expert Set, it's placed in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, west of the town of Threshold.  It's in the mountains that border the north of Karameikos, which is a much better fit with the module's background.

There are two versions of this module, one with a monochrome cover and one with a colour cover.  I understand that there are some differences between the two.  Assuming that these differences are significant, I'll use the original for the World of Greyhawk, and the revised version for Mystara.

B2 The Keep on the Borderlands (by Gary Gygax, 1979)

Keep on the Borderlands was included with the Holmes version of the D&D Basic Set for a short time, replacing module B1, but it's much better known as the module included with the Moldvay Basic Set.  It's centred around a keep on the frontiers of civilisation, near a humanoid-infested cave system known as the Caves of Chaos.

For the World of Greyhawk, this module was placed in Return to the Keep on the Borderlands.  Like module B1 above, it's in the south-west of the Yeomanry.  The keep is named as Kendall Keep.

For Mystara, this module was given a location in the 1983 D&D Expert Set.  It's in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, in the mountains north-east of Threshold.

As with B1, there are two versions of this module, with the same covers but small internal differences.  I'll use the original Gygax version for the World of Greyhawk, and the version that was revised (I think by Tom Moldvay) for Mystara.

Return to the Keep on the Borderlands is explicitly set in the World of Greyhawk, in the Yeomanry, and adds quite a bit of background detail on the area.  It takes place 20 years after the original module, which is where I'll set it barring PC actions that make that impossible.  I also understand that there are Keep on the Borderlands-branded adventures for 4th edition, set in and around a place known as "The Chaos Scar", but I gather that this is more of a spiritual sequel rather than an adaptation of the module.  There's a 5th edition adaptation as well, which I guess will be the state of the caves once they're restocked following Return.

B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (by Jean Wells & Tom Moldvay, 1981)

In terms of modules that have two versions, this might be one of D&D's most infamous.  The original printing, with an orange cover, was very quickly recalled (a fact that's usually attributed to the supposedly sexual nature of some of Erol Otus's art) and became one of the more expensive D&D collectibles.  It was later re-released with a green cover, and this version was far more widely distributed.  Since the two versions are quite different, I'll place one in Mystara and the other in the World of Greyhawk.

The module is set in a once prosperous valley that was ruled by the Princess Argenta. The land fell into ruin almost overnight after a warrior riding a white dragon appeared in the skies, and now only ruins remains.

As with the previous two modules, this adventure was placed in the 1983 Expert Set.  It's in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, in the mountains east of Threshold.

As for Greyhawk, I've done some reading and decided on putting it somewhere near Highfolk.  The module has something of a fey/fairytale quality, and the nearby Vesve Forest is home to elves and gnomes, which seems fitting.  It's also a little bit northerly, which fits for the presence of a white dragon.

B4 The Lost City (by Tom Moldvay, 1982)

Module B4 is the the first in this series that doesn't have multiple versions.  It was also completely written for Basic D&D.  I'd have been happy enough to have it exist solely in Mystara, but the 3rd edition product Elder Evils also places it in the World of Greyhawk, Eberron, and the Forgotten Realms.  The adventure takes place in a lost city (of course) in the middle of a desert.

In Mystara, the titular lost city is found in the Emirate of Ylaruam, north-east of Karameikos.  I don't think this info was given in the original module, but it's there on the map from the 1983 Expert Set.  There's a sequel to this adventure in Dungeon #142, which is explicitly set in Mystara.

In the World of Greyhawk, the placement is left vague in Elder Evils.  The Cynidecian Empire that the lost city was a part of existed "many centuries ago" so I have some leeway in terms of Greyhawk history as to where I can place it.  The Bright Desert and the Sea of Dust seem like the most likely places.  The Sea of Dust was formerly the Suel Empire, though, and probably has too extensive a history to accommodate Cynidecia.  I can't see any reason it wouldn't fit into the Bright Desert.

In Eberron, the lost city is located in a place known as the Demon Wastes.  In the Forgotten Realms, the city was once in the Imaskar Empire, and is now at the edge of Raurin, the Dust Desert.

B5 Horror on the Hill (by Douglas Niles, 1983)

Horror on the Hill is set around a keep known as Guido's Fort, and the monster-infested hill nearby.  It wasn't given an explicit location in the module itself, and must have been released too late to be placed in the Expert Set.  It does get a location in module B1-9 In Search of Adventure, however.  It's in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, "some distance upriver" from the Barony of Kelvin.

B6 The Veiled Society (by Dave Cook, 1984)

The Veiled Society is a real departure for the B series: a city-based adventure that is event-based rather than location-based.  It's very specifically set in Mystara, taking place in the capital city of Karameikos, Specularum, and dealing with an assassination conspiracy.

B7 Rahasia (by Tracy and Laura Hickman, 1984)

This module is one of the most-reprinted of the 1980s.  It started as a self-published effort in 1980 from the authors, before being acquired by TSR.  The first TSR version was module RPGA1 Rahasia, in 1983, which was followed by a sequel, RPGA2 Black Opal Eye.  Both of these were later combined and adapted for the B series in 1984.  With two separate TSR versions, I'm inclined to place one in the World of Greyhawk and the other in Mystara.  The adventure takes place near an elven village, with a nearby temple.

Neither module is given an explicit location.  For Mystara, B1-9 In Search of Adventure places it in the forest not far from Selenica, to the north of Karameikos.  For this I'll use the B series version.

In Greyhawk, I'm inclined to put the module in the Vesve Forest, not too far away from B3 Palace of the Silver Princess.  This will be the placement for modules RPGA1 and RPGA2.

B8 Journey to the Rock (by Michael Malone, 1984)

This module is centred around the PCs on a wilderness trek to the Hall of the Rock to retrieve a magic amulet for a wizard.  The original module has several suggestions for placement in Mystara: the river northwest of Wereskalot, in Karameikos; the river northwest of Threshold, in Karameikos; and the mountains or hills north of Lake Amsorak in Darokin.  Module B1-9 puts it several hours travel to the north of Threshold, so I suppose the original module's first placement is the one to go with.

B9 Castle Caldwell & Beyond (by someone whose real name cannot possibly be Harry Nuckols, 1985)

Rather than a single adventure, this module features five mini-adventures, each of which I'll tackle in turn below.

"The Clearing of Castle Caldwell" and "Dungeons of Terror" both take place in the titular castle, which module B1-9 places about five miles west of Threshold in Karameikos.

"The Abduction of Princess Sylvia" centres around the kidnapping of a princess on the eve of her wedding. The adventure isn't in module B1-9, and doesn't itself have any placement suggestions.  The main requirement is that it needs to be set in a nation that has a monarchy.  It's tempting just to make Sylvia the daughter of the Duke of Karameikos, but that family's lineage is pretty well outlined in Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure.  The following nations in Mystara are defined specifically as kingdoms: Alfheim, Ierendi, Rockhome and Vestland.  Alfheim and Rockhome are home to elves and dwarves respectively, so they're out.  Ierendi's king and queen are figureheads decided on every year via tournament, so that's not ideal.  Vestland seems like the most likely spot to place it, although the name Sylvia isn't exactly a great fit for the Nordic culture.  It has a king whose family is not defined as far as I can tell, and that's perfect.  It's also not far from where I plan to place the "ruined tower of Zenopus" in Mystara, and it's always handy to have some potential adventures clustered together.

"The Great Escape" has the PCs imprisoned in an enemy fortress with no weapons and equipment.  Module B1-9 places it somewhere near the city of Luln in Karameikos, not far from the Black Eagle Barony.  Since it relies on a bit of rail-roading at the start, I'd be inclined not to run it unless I was running the whole B1-9 supermodule.

In "The Sanctuary of Elwyn the Ardent" , the PCs must recover a magical chime.  According to module B1-9, it's set in a fortress in a "distant part of the country" from Threshold.  The villain of this adventure has allied with the evil clerics from the Caves of Chaos, so it shouldn't be entirely too far away from the location of module B2.

B10 Night's Dark Terror (by Jim Bambra, Graeme Morris, and Phil Gallagher, 1986)

Designed in the UK, this module serves as a transition from the more dungeon-focused B series to the wilderness-focused X series.  It begins at a beleaguered farmstead in the Dymrak Forest near Kelvin, and spans a good chunk of eastern Karameikos.  It doesn't seem to have any particular timeline requirements, so I'd probably run it whenever the PCs hit level 3 or thereabouts.

B1-9 In Search of Adventure (edited by Jeff Grubb, 1987)

This module is a compilation of the supposed best bits of the first nine modules of the B series.  It starts the PCs in the town of Threshold, and guides them around Karameikos through the various modules using hints and adventures hooks.  The adventures are pretty loosely connected, but there are three distinct paths that all culminate in B6 The Veiled Society.  If I ever use Mystara as a setting to start a campaign, I'll probably kick things off with this module.

B11 King's Festival (by Carl Sargent, 1989)

This introductory module, which begins with the kidnapping of a cleric, is set in the north of Karameikos in a village called Stallanford.  Given how late in the line it comes, I'd be inclined not to use it until after I'd already played a decent chunk of the earlier B series.

B12 Queen's Harvest (by Carl Sargent, 1989)

This is a direct sequel to King's Harvest, and takes place in much the same area.  Obviously I'd run the two back-to-back.

Wow, that took a lot longer than I expected it would.  Thankfully the majority of TSR's module lines are shorter than the B series, so I'll be able to tackle them a bit quicker.  I was going to whip up a map showing the locations, but I've already spent way too much time on this already.  I'll drop the map of the Known World from the Expert Set below, so that you can at least use it for reference for the stuff I talked about earlier.

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