Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Building the Sandbox: The S-series modules

I tackled the B series last week, but I'm not in the mood for such a lengthy undertaking today, so I'm going to deal with something a bit shorter.  The S series consists of just four modules, all of them quite standalone.

S1 Tomb of Horrors

Gary Gygax's infamous killer dungeon was designed in early 1975, inspired by an adventure written by Alan Lucien.  (For more details, read this post.)  It made its debut to the public as a tournament adventure for Origins I, and had a small print run.  In 1978, the year that TSR started publishing adventure modules, Tomb of Horrors was one of the first to get the treatment.

The adventure is set in the trap-laden tomb of the lich Acererak.  The two versions of the adventure give various possible locations for it in the World of Greyhawk.  The tournament module suggests the following: the highest hill in the Egg of Coot; an island lying 100 miles east of Blackmoor; in the great desert west of the Wild Coast; on the border between the Paynim Kingdom and Perrunland; at the eastern edge of the Duchy of Geoff; in a swamp somewhere in the Wild Coast.  The published module has the following suggestions: the highest hill on the Plains of Iuz; an unmapped islandin the Nyr Dyv;in the Bright Desert; at the western border of the Duchy of Geoff; somewhere in the Vast Swamp south of Sundi; on an island beyond the realm of the Sea Barons.

In 1983, the World of Greyhawk boxed set said that the tomb was "most probably" located in the middle of the Vast Swamp.  That leaves some wiggle room for DMs who want to place it elsewhere, but it's stuck as the tomb's actual location in later products.  It doesn't fit with any of the suggestions from the tournament module, but it's perfectly in line with the published S1.  My inclination for those other locations is to place tombs there, of much lesser risk and reward than the Tomb of Horrors.  At the very least all of these places should have something there that would inspire the rumours.

There are two versions of the adventure, but both are set in the World of Greyhawk, and are similar enough that I don't see the need to use both.  Perhaps I'll use the tournament version for the first adventurers who stumble in, with the upgraded published adventure for those who come in later.  I'd definitely consider using both sets of illustrations where they don't overlap.

S2 White Plume Mountain

Published in 1978, White Plume Mountain was author Lawrence Schick's job application, consisting of all of his best ideas cobbled together into one adventure.  It has the distinction of being the first AD&D adventure not written by Gary Gygax.

White Plume Mountain takes place in the lair of the wizard Keraptis, and centres around the quest for three powerful weapons.  The module specifically places itself in the northeastern part of the Shield Lands, near the Bandit Kingdoms and the Great Rift.  The World of Greyhawk boxed set backs up that placement, although it calls the Great Rift the Riftcanyon.

S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was inspired by Jim Ward's work on the sci-fi game Metamorphosis Alpha, and written by Gary Gygax as the tournament module for Origins II.  The print run for this version of the adventure was very small, and I've not been able to locate a copy.  The version published by TSR was released early in 1980.  It's set in a crashed spaceship.

The TSR version is specifically placed in the mountains northwest of the city of Hornwood in the Grand Duchy of Geoff.  Again, the World of Greyhawk boxed set offers no contradictions here.

S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

This dungeon has something of a tangled history.  It began as a dungeon level designed by Rob Kuntz for Castle El Raja Key, the centrepiece of his Kalibruhn campaign.  In 1976, Gary Gygax used that map to design a tournament adventure for Wintercon V, which was called The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth and had a small print run.  Later, in 1982, the adventure was expanded and published by TSR as The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.

The adventure involves the search for the treasure of the Archmage Iggwilv.  It's set in the Yatil Mountains south of Perrenland, a location backed up in the World of Greyhawk.  The adventure as presented in the tournament version seems to be close enough, though I'm not familiar enough with both versions to recognise any minor differences.  The main difference between the two is that Iggwilv is presented as male in the tournament version, and female in the TSR version.  Iggwilv is female throughout her TSR history, so that's not in dispute, though I should note that sex-change magic is quite prevalent in old-school D&D.  I wouldn't rule out using it as a possible explanation for the discrepancy.

S1-4 Realms of Horror

Realms of Horror, published in 1987, is a compilation of the four previous modules.  I haven't read it closely, but it doesn't appear to add anything of significance to the adventures, or really string them together in any meaningful way.  As far as I can tell, I don't think I'll have to incorporate it.

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