Monday, August 31, 2015

#Blaugust Day 31: Mystara Monday: Module B1 - In Search of the Unknown

Today for Mystara Monday, we'll have a look at the first of the B-series modules: In Search of the Unknown. Written by Mike Carr, it was first published in 1979 as an introductory module to be included in the first version of the Basic Rules. For reasons we'll see shortly it was replaced after about a year by Module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.

Here we see three adventures breaking one of the cardinal rules of dungeon-delving.

B1 is out of the ordinary in a number of ways. TSR had only just begun publishing adventure modules in 1978 and nearly all those released up to this point had been pre-existing tournament adventures. B1 was instead deliberately designed to be an introductory module both for the players and for the dungeon master. The first five pages consist almost entirely of advice for the new dungeon master regarding adventure preparation, the awarding of treasure and experience, and how to be an effective dungeon master.

In the back of the adventure a full 4 dozen pre-rolled characters are provided (although these consist simply of a name, class, and statline) including such luminaries as 'Eggo of the Holy Brotherhood', 'Trebbelos, Boy Magician', and 'Norrin the Barbarian'. Tables and rules for hiring retainers are included too; retainers were still an expected part of D&D at this point, although rather than poor nameless torchbearers and trap magnets B1 presents retainers as NPC adventurers who get a full share of treasure and experience and are mostly intended to fill out an under strength party if you have fewer than six players.

The art for B1 is mostly by David Sutherland, who provided a lot of art for D&D over the years. The copy I have is a later printing that uses a piece by DARLENE that reimagines the scene drawn by Sutherland for the original cover.  In both cases, I really think those adventurers are going to regret going around poking at strange fungus.

Seriously, it's probably a shrieker. Quit messing with it.

The adventure itself is a classic two-level dungeon crawl through the Caverns of Quasqueton, presented as the stronghold of Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown, a pair of now deceased adventurers of some renown. The dungeon itself is a sort of build your own adventure kit. Maps of the dungeon are provided along with keyed descriptions of each room but monsters and treasure are each presented in separate lists and must be placed within the dungeon by the dungeon master. It was later decided that this method was overly hard on the GM, which led to B1 being replaced by B2. As far as I'm aware no future modules ever used this method, although some provided additional maps to be used to continue an adventure beyond its published limits.

B1 is one of the few B-series modules that I've never run in a game. In the B1-9 anthology that I used early on, it's represented only by the dungeon maps without even the room descriptions included. It's very much in keeping with the feel of early D&D adventures with strange and possibly PC-damaging features like magic pools, a rock that can permanently raise or lower player attributes, and many fine furnishings and statuary for the PCs to try to lug out and try to sell.

In the end, In Search of the Unknown isn't a bad module, but there's just nothing particularly special about it. In particular the decision to separate the monsters and treasures from the rooms means there aren't any particularly memorable encounters within the adventure. Some of the rooms are interesting, but the monsters are nothing special with no unique or named foes at all.

Next week we'll take a look at arguably the most famous D&D module ever written, B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. Prepare yourselves for adventure in the Caves of Chaos, and remember: 'Bree-yark' is Goblin for 'we surrender'.


  1. I always found it amusing that B1 considers one way secret doors and teleportation tiles typical dungeon dressing. Screwing player maps that hard has always ended in tears with our groups.

    1. Yeah, it's definitely from the 'how can we screw with the party' era of D&D. It's interesting watching the shift away from that sort of thing over the years.

  2. Very interesting. I've always had a soft spot for D&D lore and stories.
    Grats on getting through Blaugust too.

    1. I love older D&D adventures so much, warts and all. They do seem to make for some of the best stories. And thanks! Glad I made it :)