First published in 1974, Dungeons and Dragons was the first role-playing game to find life beyond the small circle of people that created it. It began as a medieval miniature war game (called Chainmail) and morphed into the first juggernaut of the tabletop gaming industry. In 2014, the fifth edition was released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the original game.
The game has many important things that make playing easy to begin. The rulebooks, the polyhedral dice (made popular by wargamers in the 1960s), miniatures that represent the player characters, and, of course, the adventures themselves. These adventures were called modules and originally were broken down between those for use in the Basic game and others intended for the Advanced game (called AD&D). There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of modules released either as stand alone modules, articles in Dragon or Dungeon magazines, or as a part of a series of modules that were interrelated.
Many of those series have become famous like the Temple of Elemental Evil or the Dragonlance series. This article will be a breakdown of five adventures that any good DM (Dungeon Master) should put their players through from the original run of the series.
Depending on which version a group is already playing these modules might need some updating but an experienced DM and interested players could realistically be playing these adventures fairly quickly.
Since D&D itself was broken down into different levels of experience, this article will cover modules compatible with the Basic rules that were made to help new adventurers first foray into RPGs in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The first module is B1: In Search of the Unknown.
This module was designed for a party of 3-6 1st thru 3rd level player characters. Designed as an instructional aid for the beginning DM it allows the beginning of play with a minimum amount of preparation.
Rogahn the Fearless (a fighter) and Zelligar the Unknown (a mage) created a hidden base of operations. Since both of them hated being bothered by “normal” people the complex was well hidden. Carved out of craggy hill, their mystical hideway was the stuff of legend. Known as the Caverns of Quasqueton, it was said to be filled with treasure from their many exploits. When word reached civilization of a great battle abroad where they met their doom, treasure seekers began the search for their hideaway.
The players have come into possession of a crude map that purports to show the way to the Caverns of Quasqueton…
Reasons to play this module:
This module set the standard that TSR would follow for many years, a dangerous labyrinth filled with monsters and treasure beckons the players to come try their hand at adventuring. It included 48 first level pre-generated characters for new players that wanted to get to the playing more than they wanted to create a personalized character.
As a DM there is a lot to learn from this module. Placement of creatures and treasure is up to the DM for the most part, so logic and planning can allow for a great deal of personalization. It introduces the use of “Wandering Monsters” charts, where the DM rolls regularly to determine if the adventuring party stumbles upon a random encounter with some strange creature.
For players, this module is filled with exciting combat as well as interesting traps/tricks that could keep them on their toes. There are one way secret doors, illusions, mysterious pools with magical properties, rooms that are not what they seem, and treasure that may be cursed.
This adventure is neither simple nor too difficult for new players.
The 2nd module is perhaps the most played module ever B2: Keep on the Borderlands
This module was designed for fledgling DMs and a party of 6-9 player characters who start at 1st level and work their way up to 3rd level.
It is ranked as the 7th greatest adventure of all time and spawned a sequel, 1999s Return to the Keep on the Borderlands.
Deep in the Atlan Tepe Mountain region of northern Karameikos sits The Keep on the Borderlands. The Keep serves as a base of operations for adventuring parties that can investigate the wilderness in the nearby hills. The Keep is well-organized and, in times of need, many civilians (NPCs) will be armed to help the militia man the walls.
If the social constraints of the Keep are too strict for the players, they have the option to camp outdoors in the wilderness. But they should beware of strange creatures and dangerous people that are in the wilderness as well.
Teeming with monsters, the Caves of Chaos, is somewhere in that wilderness. There is a mad hermit, lizardmen in a nearby swamp, and treachery withing the Keep itself.
Reasons to play this module:
While this module was originally designed to be the 1st module for players of the D&D Basic Set, it covers rules that were actually part of the Expert set. The rules for wilderness adventures outside of the standard dungeon crawl made this a different type of module from B1. Often the travel from one locale to another was covered by a simple, “your party finds the entrance to the caves after days of searching.” In this module, the players had to actually search for their adventure.
The Keep is basically a village with walls and was meant to serve as an example for DMs when they design strongholds themselves either for adventures or with their players to create a base of operations. There is a nice little subplot with treachery among the elite who run the Keep.
Where B1 was mostly about figuring out traps, fighting monsters, and learning to role-play your character within the party, B2 gives the players lots of chances to role-play actively with NPCs within the Keep and the surrounding wilderness. The ability of the players to find out information via the people they meet is an integral part of this adventure.
(It should be noted that semi-official updates of these 1st two modules have been done by Goodman Games.)
The 3rd module in the series is B3: Palace of the Silver Princess
This module was the 1st module from TSR that was designed by a woman. It is also the first to court controversy. The original (orange cover) version was recalled on the day of release and the revised (green cover) edition came out several months later. The reason for this recall was reportedly that the art in the original version was very sexual in nature and included images of S&M.
While all the original copies that were returned and those still in house were destroyed the legend lives on. You can read the full story here.
This section will focus on the revised edition.
The adventure (in both editions) is for a party of 6-10 player characters of 1st to 3rd level.
The denizens of Haven in the Thunder Mountains lived in peace. The Elves, Dwarves, Halflings and Humans lived together in Harmony until the Dwarves discovered a ruby the size of an apple while digging a new mine.
They gave the ruby to the ruler of Haven, Princess Argenta. She was so delighted with the gift that she planned a celebratory party to honor the Dwarves and show off her new jewel.
A stranger arrived dressed all in black and riding on a White Dragon the day of the party. The princess invited the stranger to stay at her palace and agreed to let him escort her to the celebration.
At midnight disaster struck as the crops withered, the cattle grew sick and an explosion ripped through the palace. To add to the misfortune, hordes of orcs and goblins began to terrorize the countryside.
Reasons to play this module:
The fact that the revised version is very different from the original does nothing to take away from the fact that it is a well crafted adventure that introduces several new monsters and tropes of the D&D world.
The 2nd part of the module is what TSR called a programmed adventure. This means that the DM has to simply read the information and present the choices and the players will decide what their characters do. In this case, it is very similar to the once popular “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. Everything is mapped out to make the learning of how to role play easier and give the DM and players a feel for how a game should run.
The rest of the module assumes that everyone understands their roles in the game and leaves the choices wide open for the players and finally allows the DM to take their traditional role as referee.
The 4th module is another that the DM can personalize. B4: The Lost City.
Ranked as the 28th greatest adventure of all time in 2004, this module is for a party of 6-10 player characters of 1st to 3rd level. It can be played as a stand alone adventure or it can be expanded via maps of the lower pyramid area and a hidden underground city into a full scale campaign.
Lost in the desert! The only hope for survival lies in a ruined city rising out of the sands.
A pyramid with five twenty foot high tiers rises from the sand. Atop it are three 30 foot tall statues. One is a bearded man holding a scale and a lightning bolt. Another is a beautiful woman holding a sheaf of wheat and a sword. Between them is a child with two snakes twined about its winged body holding a wand and a handful of coins.
Food, water, and wealth await heroic adventurers inside the ancient pyramid.
Reasons to play this module:
The first desert adventure module from TSR holds a lot of memorable encounters.
There are the masked beings that live and strive against a tribe of warrior women for control of the secrets of the pyramid. There is the tomb of a long dead queen. There are wererats and a new race of humans who have adapted to living under the sands.
But the real strength of this module is that it is easily expanded for the ambitious DM who wants to run a campaign instead of just a few nights of fun. The module details things up to a point and, then the rest is up to the DM to flesh it out and make it their own. They can have a final confrontation with an evil “God” or they can deal with the remnants of the strange, drug addled people that live beside a subterranean lake.
The depths (not the sky) are the limit.
The final adventure for today is B6: The Veiled Society.
For the first time in this article we are skipping a module in the series. While B5: Horror on the Hill is not a bad example of the Basic D&D system, it is fairly pedestrian in both its design and execution. There are several discrepancies between the maps and notations and it never felt like a completed work.
That is not true for The Veiled Society.
For the first time a module attempted to outline a city adventure. In this case, Specularum, the capital city of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos (in the World of Greyhawk setting).
For the first time political and more dramatic elements take center stage. There is a murder to solve and factions to play against one another.
Designed (like the others in the series) for player characters from 1st to 3rd level.
The Veiled Society is set in the city of Specularum, where the players must determine which of three rival factions is responsible for a murder. In the violent city of Specularum, the Veiled Society has spies everywhere. The adventure involves the party in a struggle between the city’s three major families the Vorloi, Radu, and Torenescu.
The party will have to make their way through the narrow, twisting and dark streets to solve the murder. Dealing with farmers, craftsmen, sailors, gangs, and the cities elite while learning all they can about the city itself makes this a new kind of adventure.
Reasons to play this module:
The one complaint over the years was how each adventure would devolve into just making detailed maps, killing via dice rolls and gathering the treasures found. This module is for people that truly want to learn to role play. It isn’t always about combat or filling a character’s coffers. Sometimes there needs to be mystery and some detective work.
The murder, that leads the characters deeper into the intrigue of the various families in the city, is a great stepping off point to allow both DMs and players to expand their skills at assuming a new persona. Role playing is not just about creating a stat sheet and picking the weapons/spells to be used in combat. It is about stepping outside of yourself and seeing how someone else lives.
The previously mentioned modules gave some chance for character building but this one brings in the drama of a Shakespearean play.
The city could also serve as a base of operations for a campaign of adventures. Over time the players could develop friendships with NPCs or even find themselves with ongoing antagonists who try to thwart their every move.
The other modules in the B series are worthy of a run through as well. These are simply the cream of the crop. There is also the well received B1-9 compilation module called In Search of Adventure that combines most of the B series into one long series of adventures.
What do you think? Are there modules you think are better from that original run of Basic D&D? Would you like to see further articles about other modules or series? Let us know in the comments below….