As much as I absolutely love 4th Edition D&D and like the direction D&D Next is heading in of late, there’s part of me that’s still in love with 1st Edition. Not the rules, no. My heart swoons for the rules of 4E and is unlikely to waver. But I will always love 1st Edition D&D for the modules.
It’s clear that I’m not alone. If you look back at everything that’s been done for 4E, you’ll find plenty of re-treading for 1st Edition module ground. The D&D Encounters program has revisited many classic adventures, like the Ghost Tower of Inverness. Rewards for the DMs who run public games have included 4E re-workings of The Tomb of Horrors, the Village of Hommlet, and the hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. The Savage Tide adventure path paid a visit to the Isle of Dread, and adventures in Dungeon Magazine have included the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and the various modules that comprised the Against the Giants adventures.
I don’t think it’s a shock that adventures like these hold such fascination for us as players and Dungeon Masters. These adventures were some of our first experiences with D&D, and they gave us an idea of how far D&D could go. Tricks and traps in these stories taught us how devious we could be, and the foes showed us how to create wonderful and compelling villains.
As I’ve been re-acquiring some of the old modules of those golden days of classic gaming, I thought it might be fun to share a few of the modules that, over the years, I’ve found particularly inspiring and enjoyable. For some of you, this may be a chance to smile nostalgically along with me and remember your own experiences. For others, this may be a glimpse into the twisted minds of TSR back in those heady days where it felt like anything was possible.
A Town Without Pity…
One of the very first modules ever published was T1: The Village of Hommlet, and, in many ways, this module was a perfect introduction to D&D. The module was meant to serve as an introduction to the whole Temple of Elemental Evil series of adventures, but it stands on its own as a nice, tight run.
The module details the titular village, giving its various villagers a lot of coverage. We learn all about the local politics, including the tensions between those of the Druidic faith and those worship the gods. A detailed section on the town’s main center for visitors, the Inn of the Welcome Wench, gives us as fine a look at a fantasy tavern as one could ask for. A beginning DM could use Hommlet as a basis for a whole campaign, so fully fleshed out are its environs.
The second half of the module is a description of a nearby Moathouse that serves as an outpost of the Temple of Elemental Evil. It has a nice variety of monsters, from the giant frogs that teach the party not to laugh at any monster that can swallow them whole to a passel of bandits and undead, to Lareth the Beautiful, the bright hope of chaotic evil. The Moathouse is a great adventure for players to cut their teeth on, and I certainly used it as a basis for the first adventure of my current D&D campaign. All in all, Hommlet is a fine way to begin a story.
Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On…
I can’t tell you how revolutionary the adventure UK1: Beyond the Crystal Cave was when it first appeared. Adventures had generally been to seek out the generic mysterious place, kill the monsters, loot them, return to town, and repeat. Suddenly, here was an adventure clearly rooted in an author’s love for Shakespeare, faerie tales, and Celtic myth, where the object was to rescue a pair of lovers from a strange enchantment.
In short, a pair of star-crossed lovers, Orlando and Julia (or Romeo and Juliet, maybe?) have fled to the Cave of Echoes and ended up in a faerie-haunted dreamland (A Midsummer Night’s Dreamland, perhaps?) called Porpherio’s Garden (or is it Prospero’s Island? See what I mean about Shakespeare?) The players enter and must make their way past tricks, riddles, pixies, and more to find the pair. With details on a new deity called The Green Man, monsters that tend to be more mischievous than hostile, and a lot of clever riddles and poetry, this is an adventure which can just-about be resolved with no combat. Now how’s that for revolutionary in early D&D!
Special mention must be made of Timothy Truman’s artwork. After years of D&D having a particular style, Truman’s art really popped, reminding me in some ways of gold old Erol Otus (my favorite of the old D&D artists…just ‘cause his stuff was so distinct and different).
The Grasslands Are Endless and Summer Sings On…
It’s hard to understand now how amazing the whole concept of Dragonlance was when it first appeared. A series of novels, linked with a series of adventures, Dragonlance showed a whole new direction for D&D. Campaigns could suddenly be long, linked stories, rather than a series of unconnected episodes. Romance could be part of the story, as could music and poetry…and even recipes. Now, I’d already been thinking in these directions, but this made me want to make my world feel even more real, the way Krynn came to feel.
In some ways, the Dragonlance modules, which started with DL1: Dragons of Despair were the first mega-campaign. Certainly, no story of this scope had been planned before, as the series stretched to 15 modules, not all of which were adventures. But it all started with Dragons of Despair.
Something that stand outs in my mind about this module are the descriptions of the wilderness areas. The whole wilderness map was broken into “rooms”, and, when the PCs crossed into one of these “rooms”, encounters could happen. The encounters were not all combat oriented, and some of them were just very evocative descriptions of the countryside. It was a real shift in thinking.
Another thing that struck me was that the adventure included a song, with sheet music. It even suggested that whoever played the character of Goldmoon (which might very well be the DM) should sing the actual song. I can tell you this was incredibly revolutionary as a concept. Never did get anyone other than myself to do it at my tables, but, hey, we were in high school, and I was the only chorus member in our campaign.
This is only part 1.
I’m only halfway through the adventures I want to mention, and this article’s already a long one, so I’ll save the others for next week. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your own recollections of these adventures, if you’d played them, or of other old adventures that stand out in your minds. Any guesses as to which three I’ll mention next time? I’ll give you a hint – one of my choices has been produced in some way in all four numbered editions of D&D.
Until next time!