Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Characters of B1

As everyone is no doubt aware, I hold Mike Carr's module B1 in very high esteem. It's the first module I ever owned (it was included in my 1979 printing of the Holmes-edited Basic Set) and, as the years drag on, I find that it keeps rising in my estimation. I'm not yet prepared to say that In Search of the Unknown is best beginner-level module ever written, but it is the module that's probably exerted the most influence over me as a referee. Perhaps it's for that reason that I frequently describe my upcoming Dwimmermount product as "B1 applied to the megadungeon."

But what's remarkable about Mike Carr's module is not just its signature dungeon, Quasqueton, but all the additional material included with it. I continued to use a lot of this support material for years after I'd stopped using B1's dungeon itself. A good case in point is the list of potential PCs/henchmen & hirelings found at the back of the module.

Literally for years did I use this list when I needed to quickly create a NPC on the fly or when a PC had died and his player wanted to jump right back into the game without much delay. Looking over it, more than three decades later, some names still jump out at me:
  • Alho Rengate: He was a hireling of a PC played by my sister (whom I tried unsuccessfully to convert to roleplaying) but she found his name hard to say and simply called him "Mr. A."
  • Evro: Though listed as a human in the list, the name was chosen by a friend of mine for an Elf character he played for many years. Evro was eventually slain by an arrow of slaying elves shot at him by a PC half-orc cleric/assassin and Evro's character record sheet, in testament to its long years of service, was given a Viking send-off in another friend's backyard.
  • Farned of the Great Church: Though this cleric survived only briefly, his epithet last much longer. "The Great Church" is how I describe the state religion of the defunct Thulian Empire in my Dwimmermount campaign.
  • Harg of the City Afar: Again, the character in question didn't last long, but his epithet was evocative and I've often included references to "The City Afar" in my games, though no one has ever visited the place (that'd sort of miss the point).
  • Mohag the Wanderer: He served as a Conan-like NPC who'd occasionally appear to save the PCs' bacon. Yes, I am mildly ashamed of this now, but only mildly, because Mohag was an obnoxious SOB who roundly mocked the PCs for their folly. I had a lot of fun with him.
  • Tassit, Servant of Saint Cuthbert: This cleric was a henchman of my paladin, Sir James, until he met his death at the hands of trolls.
In the end, I probably used most of those characters at some point over the first few years I played D&D. They were a great addition to a great module and proved useful in a wide variety of ways. It's a pity that later modules didn't include similar aids or that products like The Rogues Gallery lacked names for all its pregenerated characters. Coming up with good names is a difficult thing to do well and having a collection of already-named characters is an essential part of the referee's arsenal. That's why I keep a list of names handy when I run Dwimmermount, just in case I need to quickly identify a shopkeeper or sage or other personage with whom the PCs are interacting. It adds an illusion of depth to a campaign, allowing the referee to build a world a tiny bit at a time.

In Search of the Unknown is an amazing module. I still glean new insights from it even now. That's not something I can say about many packaged adventures (or gaming products more generally, to be honest).

12 comments:

  1. Yes, coming up with good names is difficult, but I'm not sure about some of Carr's. Alho Rengate or Mohag the Wanderer sound fine, but Drebb, Postue, and Sporragha strike me as clunky, and Eggo of the Holy Brotherhood and Kracky the Hooded One are just silly. I could make up better names than those on the fly.

    Side note: this list of characters did influence my early character naming practices, and is probably responsible for my naming a character Spungork.

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  2. B1 and Gary's D trilogy are my favorite four TSR modules.

    Rob Kuntz's Bottle City reminds me of a high-lever version of B1.

    'I frequently describe my upcoming Dwimmermount product as "B1 applied to the megadungeon."' That sounds awesome.

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  3. B1 was the first module I ever ran (actually, I carved it up, rearranged it, and made my own megadungeon. :) ), but it's not my favorite of the intro modules. That would have to be either "In Search of the Unknown" or "The Village of Hommlet," with Hommlet having the edge.

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  4. Anthony,

    B1 = In Search of the Unknown. I presume you meant something else?

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  5. Gah. That's what I get for typing while distracted. I wrote:

    That would have to be either "In Search of the Unknown"...

    Make that "Keep on the Borderlands."

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  6. Ah, the tragic tale of the Evro Arrow! Such a waste ;)

    Happy Canada Day, eh?

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  7. I want to run Lappoy the Unexpected as a Cugel the Clever styled scoundrel.

    "I can't believe you just did that!"

    "Am I called Lappoy the Unexpected for nothing!"

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  8. I, too, find it interesting that a handful of named characters go a long way towards making pre-gens (even the most rudimentary) more practically useful. It took me all of 10 minutes to roll up a score of various 1st level B/X D&D characters, and after naming them have used this "base list" to great success in games. It's funny how, even without detailed backgrounds, a few choice names and epithets can suggest personality, party role, and story hooks.

    I only wish B2 had followed suit with its pre-gen list.

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  9. I played "Eggo of the Holy Brotherhood" as recently as last year... he started as an NPC cleric when I was DMing... when I transferred DM duties to someone else he became my character. Last I heard, he was still alive, hanging out in a town on the coast named "Saltmarsh."
    Mohag The Wanderer, however, did not fare as well. In the same campaign, he got pasted by a half-troll's mace or skewered by hobgoblins or some similar fate in a near TPK. Only Eggo and another PC survived... and Eggo only by the skin of his teeth.
    Of course, Mohag must be a common name, because there was another "Mohag The Wanderer" in another of my campaigns, and, last I remember, he was still kicking as well.
    "Philgo" has also made a few apperarances... and for a while I played "Glom the Mighty."
    I remember years and years ago we would use the list as replacement characters in one of our high body count games and someone ended up with "Trebellos the Boy Magician (human)." For some reason, he wrote down, "Trebellos the Human Boy," on his character sheet and we endlessly made fun of that character's name.
    I love the B1 (N)PC list and have used them as NPCs, hangers on, mercenaries, etc.

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  10. B1 produced several of my group's first characters, and several campaigns I ran ventured into Quasqueton. I adore this module.

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  11. Ahhh...Laggamundo. My first character. Laggamundo, who used his stealth and dextrous fingers to assist his companions. Laggamundo, who lost his life trying to reclaim the riches surely left behind in the depths of Quasqueton.

    ::salutes::

    Good times, those.

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  12. I fondly remember this one too. I have a vague recollection of magic pools and mushrooms... Or was that some other element of my distant past? One thing I didn't like was the winding tunnels designed to 'give the players some mapping experience'.

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