Beyond the Dungeon: B-Series Modules Revisited Part 2
There are numerous adventures and supplements to wade through within the 40 years of development that Dungeons and Dragons has seen, each of which can provide some inspiration for the modern gamer. Last time, we visited the first part of one such series of modules: The B-Series for Basic Dungeons and Dragons, which has been known to create some of the more memorable adventures within the franchise. For many, this was a golden age of Dungeons and Dragons, and it is not hard to see why.
History of the B-Series Modules
Let’s recap from last time with a brief history of the B-Series of modules. The series was first published in 1979 with the release of B1: In Search of the Unknown. The series itself would consist of 12 different modules, with the last being B12: Queen’s Harvest, which was published in 1989. These modules would focus on introducing dungeon masters to the Basic Dungeons and Dragons rules system. Initially, the series would be generic, and feature the core Basic theme of dungeons, but later modules would play with this established formula, and start to be placed within the iconic Known World setting of D&D.
B4: The Lost City
Module B4: The Lost City (Tom Moldvay) was published in 1982. By this time, the Basic Dungeons and Dragons line had become a fully independent product line in the Dungeons and Dragons franchise, following the release of the Basic set in 1981. This is considered the last of Tom Moldvay’s “Pulp Fantasy Trilogy” – the other modules being X1: The Isle of Dread, and X2: Castle Amber.
B5: Horror on the Hill
Module B5: Horror on the Hill (Douglas Niles) was published in 1983, just as the Basic set for Dungeons and Dragons was being released once again, in what was to become known as the BECMI edition. With Module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands falling out of print, and having ties to the B/X edition of basic Dungeons and Dragons, this module does nicely to revisit the theme of the earlier module.
B6: The Veiled Society
Module B6: The Veiled Society (David Cook) was published in 1984. This adventure was innovative for two reasons:
- It was the first Basic set adventure to be explicitly set in the Known World (a similar link was suggested at in B4: The Lost City, but not integral to the adventure).
- This module was plot-driven and set in the city of Specularum, capital of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos.
After the Adventure
Module B4: The Lost City is extensive, featuring a half-buried pyramid in the middle of a desert. Although the module is touted as being for levels 1-3, like the rest of the B-series modules, this only covered the upper section of the pyramid itself, which was given in great detail, and introduced the factions of Cynidicea – The Brotherhood of Gorm, The Magi of Usamigaras, and The Warrior Maidens of Madarua. The first three of these factions could be potentially joined by the party, providing them with assistance when exploring the upper pyramid. A fourth faction, the Priests of Zargon, would serve as the antagonists of the adventure.
Although only the top five tiers and three dungeon levels of the pyramid were described, this was in no way the full extent of the module. Material was presented to expand the adventure. A further four tiers were loosely described, containing monsters, treasures, and traps that would lead to an encounter in the Lair of Zargon. In addition, the Underground City of Cynidicea, the Lost City of the title, was described, as well as some additional encounter areas, including the Lower Catacombs and the Goblin Caves. This material culminated is a series of adventure ideas that featured the ultimate aim of rebuilding the glory of Cynidicea and eventually escaping back to the civilization.
All this extra material turned the module from a simple adventure into a tool kit for GMs, featuring extensive ideas for adventuring beyond the simple exploration of a lost desert pyramid. It provided a way for the GM to turn a single adventure into a series of adventures with an overarching goal, and provided GMs with plenty of material to create a simple, yet memorable, Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
Considerations like this are great for GMs, since they allow the opportunity for memorable adventures to be expanded upon, allowing players the freedom to decide where the campaign actually goes. In most cases, the GM can guess the most likely questions to be asked by the players, and can consider the answers, which often provide enough seeds for further adventures.
There and Back Again
Module B5: Horror on the Hill is a fairly standard dungeon adventure, but with a twist. Although the dungeon itself is set in an abandoned monastery high atop a hill, the module actually describes the hill in extensive detail, allowing for a number of adventures and encounters in the wilderness on the way to the dungeon.
Once inside the dungeon, the party faces another twist. An insidious trap on the first level causes the party to fall down and become trapped on the second dungeon level. Thus begins a perilous journey through the darkness, looking for a way to escape, which involves finding the lair of young red dragon, and once again emerging out on the hilltop.
The wilderness is treated very much like a dungeon. It has several clearings connected by meandering trails, and gives a clear guide to the players on where to go, although they are not limited to these trails. This approach would become common, and present wilderness adventuring in a much different way than it would be presented in Expert D&D and X-series of modules.
Another aspect of the module is that the home base, Guido’s Fort, is on the opposite side of the vast River Shrill to the hilltop, and the party must secure some means of getting across the river to even begin the adventure. Likewise, if they are to return to Guido’s Fort, they must arrange a means to cross the river once again.
This consideration of how the party gets to and from a dungeon adds another unique twist to dungeon exploring. It creates opportunities to add complications to the adventure, as well as opportunities for side quests and exploration. These considerations can easily become the seeds for further encounters or adventures.
Some players like to have the freedom of choice to determine where a campaign goes. But for many, a campaign can be based on a series of experiences and encounters that cause the players to react in some way. Such incidents can occur both while travelling between adventures, and while travelling to or from a site within an adventure.
Home But Not Safe
Module B6: The Veiled Society takes a significant departure from the previous adventures in the B-series in that it features an investigative plot-driven adventure set within Specularum, the capital city of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. This would be the first adventure of the B-series explicitly stated as being set in the Known World of Dungeons and Dragons, although Module B4: The Lost City does state it could be set somewhere in the Alasiyan Desert. The module is fairly short, running at only 16 pages, but includes 8 pages of cut-outs which can be used to recreate the environs of Specularum.
The adventure contains details on adventuring within a city or urban environment, which helps reinforce the difference between dungeon and urban adventuring. Encounters in public are often subject to restrictions based on the laws of the society at hand, which can turn an easy encounter into a significant challenge. Bystanders might get in the way, and law enforcement agencies can be a constant nuisance. This gives the players plenty of opportunity to role play their characters’ alignment, but outright public violence should be discouraged. This means players should consider other solutions, or be prepared to deal with the consequences.
The module also features the political machinations of three different factions, each headed up by a prominent noble family in Specularum. They are the Radu, Torenescu, and Vorloi. Although not the first time in the series that factions have been featured in an adventure (the first was B4: The Lost City), it is the first time such an element has been so prominently the focus of an adventure.
Adventuring within such an urban environment is useful for one main purpose: it shows that the PCs are not safe just because they are in civilised society. Many encounters can take place within the PCs home base, and many of these can be used as plot hooks for later adventures, or to help provide hints for the players’ next actions.
Looking back, we can take the following key points of inspiration from the B-Series modules:
- After the Adventure – Don’t forget to consider what happens after an adventure, since this can be used to provide seeds for further adventures, or even become the basis of an entire campaign. This is the idea for allowing the players a degree of input into the direction of the game.
- There and Back Again – Travelling to and from adventure sites, and travelling between adventures, can provide plenty encounters and other complications for the players. The journey can be just as important as the destination.
- Home But Not Safe – The player’s home base is where they recover and resupply between adventures, but this doesn’t mean it has to be safe. This keeps the players on their toes and alert to the potential for adventure.
At first glance, it may seem like a pointless task to look back at the modules for earlier editions of Dungeons and Dragons and see what can be gleaned from them. However, the majority of the content is still relevant for today’s game.
With inspiration reminding us to make the most of the consequences of an adventure, that the journey is as important as the destination, and that the players are not necessarily safe within their home base, these modules show how adventures are more than what happens inside the adventuring site, and that there are plenty of opportunities that lie beyond the dungeon.
Remember, you might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can certainly teach a new dog some old ones!