I have a very complicated relationship with the A-series of AD&D modules, starting with the premier offering, Slave Pits of the Undercity by David Cook. Released in 1980, it kicks off what is probably, after the Giants/Drow adventures by Gary Gygax, the most well known series of Dungeons & Dragons modules released during the Golden Age. Once upon a time, I owned all four modules in the series and used them extensively as the basis for many adventures, inspired less by their actual content than by the ideas behind it all. Even now, a cabal of evil slave lords strikes me as great recurring antagonists in a D&D campaign, so it's no wonder these modules struck my fancy way back when.
Unfortunately, Slave Pits of the Undercity itself is not a particularly great module. Its premise is that the characters have been sent into the dilapidated city of Highport, now home to all manner of disreputable outlaws, where, beneath a ruined temple, a band of slavers have their headquarters. It's the characters' job to find that headquarters and strike a blow against the slavers in retaliation for their recent depredations in civilized lands. It's not a bad set-up for an adventure, but, as written, it's a lot less interesting -- or challenging -- than one might expect.
There are a number of memorable "set piece" encounters in Slave Pits, it's true, and the new creatures introduced in its pages, the ant-like aspis and the giant sundew, are a nice change of pace. Unfortunately, the bulk of the module fails to follow through on the promise suggested by either its premise or the atmosphere it evokes. The result is a fairly lackluster adventure made up primarily of combat encounters, with very little problem solving, exploration, or opportunities to roleplay.
This is probably because the A-series were originally created a modules for use in AD&D tournaments at GenCon. Indeed, a significant part of the adventure's page count is taken up with details pertaining to its use in tournaments, including pregenerated characters (like Eljayess, a half-elf cleric/fighter whose name is clearly a play on the initials of designer Lawrence J. Schick). Viewed in this light, the limited nature of Slave Pits becomes more understandable, if not necessarily more forgivable. Once again, I find myself reflecting unhappily on how often TSR repackaged material produced for tournaments to sell to gamers for use in their home campaigns. It's little wonder that the subsequent development of the game turned out as it did, given the impression so many of D&D's official modules gave about what constituted a "good" adventure.
And yet, as I said above, I still have fond feelings for Slave Pits of the Undercity. I don't believe I ever used the module as written, instead taking it as a springboard for my own ideas. I took the maps, the basic premise, and the new monsters, and then went off in my own directions with them. That says very little about the actual module itself, of course, but there's still a part of me that wants to impute some of my own youthful creativity to what David Cook presented in A1's pages. Without it, Morgan Just and his compatriots would never have embarked on some of their greatest adventures, adventures I still remember 30 years later. That's got to be worth something, right?