Monday, April 9, 2012

Classic Adventures

It occurred to me that some of you might be wondering why, other than nostalgia, I'm trying to get all the G and D-series modules, especially since I no longer play AD&D. That's a good question and one I asked myself as I grabbed each one. I didn't take long to come up with an answer, though, and it's this: because they're classics. Now, "classic" is such a vague term and can be applied to almost anything simply by virtue of its being old. A lot of mediocre stuff from twenty or thirty years ago gets labeled "classic" now in an effort to make it saleable in the 21st century. But that's not what I mean in this case, because there are plenty of TSR-era modules that I'd never call "classic."

No, I call them "classic" because they're very good adventures, some of the best ever published for the game, and the foundations on which so much later was built, perhaps most importantly the shared memories of an entire generation of D&D players. I mean, here we are, in 2012, and I need only say "Eclavdra" or "King Snurre" to my fellow gamers and I'll get not merely displays of recognition but stories about their own characters' adventures fighting the giants and drow. Heck, the very fact that the drow remain one of the most iconic elements of D&D to this very day is proof of how seminal these modules were to the history of the game.

This, of course, brings me to a fundamental paradox of D&D fandom, especially on the old school side of things. On the one hand, many old schoolers instinctively poo-poo the idea of adventure modules, seeing them as, at best, pointless ("I can make up my own adventures") and, at worst, cynical ploys to make -- oh no! -- money ("Shouldn't you give this away?"). On the other hand, so much of the collective experience of early gaming is tied up in the fact that we all bought and played the same modules. Our shared history belies the claim that modules are a waste of money and that anyone who buys them is an unimaginative clod. Rather, modules played a very important role in shaping and promoting the game.

That brought me to a final thought, or actually a question: did later editions have classic adventures? When I think of 2e, for example, I think of settings, not adventures. But maybe there were classic adventures from that era, ones that were widely played and inspirational and I just missed them since I was increasingly disengaged from the game at that time. Now, I did play a fair bit of 3e prior to 2007, but I honestly can't remember any adventures of note for the game, with the possible exception of Green Ronin's Death in Freeport. I certainly can't recall any official WotC 3e modules being very good, let alone memorable, but maybe my impressions are skewed.

46 comments:

  1. The thing about old school modules is they were more outlines than fully scripted adventures. So while they helped a DM get started, individual campaigns could vary greatly.

    I mostly missed the 2nd edition era as well, so I can't comment on those adventures. Actually, that's not true. Dead Gods for Planescape is incredible, I highly recommend it. Official 3rd edition modules tended to trade in on nostalgia factor, with Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk, and Expedition to Undermountain. I have heard good things of the Red Hand of Doom, but never played it. Most of the really good 3E adventures came from 3rd parties like Paizo or Monte Cook (Ptolus!)

    I haven't played any official 4E modules, although I've got some good ones from Open Design.

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  2. The GDQ series may be classics, but I don't think you answered the question "other than nostalgia, why are you trying to collect them?" You bring up the shared memory, recognition, and sharing of stories with fellow gamers, but that doesn't require actually owning copies of the modules and seems like nostalgia as I understand it..

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  3. The best 3rd edition modules were created by Necromancer Games - Rappan Athuk, The Crucible of Freya, The Tomb of Abysthor or the Vault of Larin Karr are very much classics of a kind. Fiery Dragon Publishing's line also had some well-regarded offerings; I am only familiar with NeMoren's Vault, a first-level dungeon crawl, but it was a good one. And of course, Freeport. But all in all, for a mixture of quantity, quality and being iconic, Necromancer Games is the publisher to consider.

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  4. Sure he did, he said that they were very, good adventures. Reason, enough in my book.

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  5. My favorite 2e modules were both from Ravenloft. 

    From the Shadows sticks with me just because you die within the first five minutes of the game, only to be brought back as heads in jars.  It only gets weirder from there.  Overall, the adventure itself wasn't all that great, alot of railroading, but at the same time, it was one hell of a shock to the system.

    Thoughts of Darkness, though.  That was an amazing module.  Some of the effectiveness definitely goes to the DM at the time, who made the most of it, using audio props to enhance the mood, but the source material (having read it after the fact) was top notch.  Illithids, vampires, vampire illithids, giant brains in vats, it had a VERY lovecraftian feel, with exhaustion and madness mechanics playing a big part in the progress through the game.

    Fond memories, years later.

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  6. Quite a few of those old adventures are so good because they were well-designed.  That is, well designed from an old-school perspective.

    In particular, D1-3, T1, S1, B1.

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  7. Personally, I don't see anything particularly wrong with collecting something for the sake of nostalgia.

    Hell, if I could afford it, I'd be collecting Major Matt Mason action figures and accessories for that reason alone!

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  8.  There are plentiful very good things in the world. Why acquire these particular ones? He implied he isn't planning on running them, at least not as written for 1e.  He might be planning on mining them for particular elements in his own. He might be reviewing them to try and identify what made them great so he can apply the lessons learned. He might just want to look at them and enjoy the memories (nostalgia). He might want something to show the young whippersnappers about how modules used to be, when you had to go uphill, both ways, while inking your own dice. I suppose another way of putting it is, "What is James going to do with them once he has completed his collection?"

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  9.  I'm with Melan, in 3rd edition, Necromancer Games was the place to go for great modules. I would rank Rappan Athuk, The Crucible of Freya, and The Tomb of Abysthor with the best from TSR's heyday.

    This GrayPumpkin BTW

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  10. I have played every edition of D&D since AD&D and bought modules/adventures for all of them. I don't think there's a single classic adventure from 2nd edition on, possibly aside from re-packagings or re-releases of the AD&D classics.

    Some 0f it's nostalgia. Some of it is that there was a greater cohesion of the hobby in those days and so the modules were a shared experience. But mainly I think it's that they were better.

    As Jesse says, they were usually outlines rather than scripted storylines. They had the background, the players, the locales, and the monsters within, but the DM had to do some work to make it work.  Even the modules designed for tournament play didn't over-explain things, so there was a lot more flexibility.

    I also think later edition modules were often trying to highlight rules or fill in campaign details, or otherwise fit in some other interest that usually was motivated not by the ostensible audience (DMs) but by the needs of the game company. Even the more detailed storytelling aspects fit into this, as the idea seems to be to create a path for characters of a certain level rather than to create a single idea that can be adapted for multiple uses depending upon how the campaign evolves naturally. There was also something about AD&D that seemed better able to accommodate a range of PC levels, which allowed for more flexible use of the same module.

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  11. On the other hand, so much of the collective experience of early gaming is tied up in the fact that we all bought and played the same modules. Our shared history belies the claim that modules are a waste of money and that anyone who buys them is an unimaginative clod. Rather, modules played a very important role in shaping and promoting the game.


    Thank you for saying that. Absolutely.

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  12. I played 2nd Edition for a few years after it came out.  I don't remember any memorable modules from that time, but I seem to remember that in general the number of modules dropped practically to zero after Dungeon Magazine was launched.  

    Now that I think about it, Dungeon Magazine was a primordial version of crowdsourcing!

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  13. Also, the first issue of Dungeon Magazine had two great adventures that I've run multiple times.  One was against a powerful red dragon in his lair and the other was against a vampire in a tower stronghold inside a vast cave.  These were both written for 1st Edition and the issue is well worth tracking down for those two adventures.

    Hmm... I think I have that issue on a shelf in my basement.  I must go look.

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  14. Peter V. Dell'OrtoApril 9, 2012 at 4:08 PM

     I agree. Well said.

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  15.  Yes, Dead Gods seems to be the one that always comes up when people ask about good AD&D2 scenarios.

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  16. For 3e, it depends on whether "classic" is defined as "of great quality" or "ones we all played". I mean, I think there is a lot of collective 3e nostalgia for Sunless Citadel, given how one can make jokes about Meepo and most players of that era get the joke. A lot of folks probably played Crucible of Freya as well.

    Otherwise, I would look to the adventures paths from Dungeon: Shackled City, Age of Worms, and whatever the pirate one was. :)

    Beyond that, Red Hand of Doom is what I always hear as being the best 3e adventure.

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  17. Gates of Firestorm Peak was the best 2E published adventure. It introduced the Far Realm into D&D and had a number clever uses of the new "Player's Options" rules that had just been released.

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  18. I think that one of the iconic 2nd edition AD&D adventures for is the full-blown boxed set campaign "Night Below".  There's a certain appeal for a mega-adventure that promises to take a 1st level character to the low to mid teens.

    Looking back, a lot of it was a linear trudge (particularly the second book in the box, "Perils of the Underdark".  That being said, there were some really enchanting elements to the story.  Pushing a Kuo-toan city to the point of societal collapse and laying siege to an island citadel of Aboleth were the two crowning moments of the campaign.   I took a Human Ranger from 1st level all the way to 14th level by the conclusion of the series (though we took a few detours to break the monotany).  That boxed set nurtured a fascination for aboleth and mind flayers -- as a kid, I found them completely terrifying to fight, even with my Ranger's impressive saving throws.

    Interestingly enough, we used 1st edition rules -- we didn't like the way the 2nd edition player's handbook and DM's guide were laid out, so we always borrowed my dad's old 1st edition books.  We did use the 2nd edition Monstrous Manual, which I will contend is one of the finest published AD&D books ever made.

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  19. For all that its a boxed set, I think The Ruins of Undermountain qualifies as a module. That's the only 2e adventure I can think of that might qualify as a Classic.

    For 3e, I'll agree with comments made below. Necromancer Games' Rappan Athuk & The Vault of Larin Karr. The Freeport series from Green Ronin. 

    The only WotC adventure that comes to mind as being good is The Forge of Fury, which I never read, but had the opportunity to run a PC through. I wouldn't call it a classic, but it was a fun ride, which might have owed more to the DM running it, than the adventure itself. 

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  20. Consider also that the greater the volume of adventures/campaigns/etc being published, the less chance that enough people will have played any given one to elevate it to the status of a "shared communal experience." I think this partly explains the seeming dearth of "everybody played that!" modules in 2e (since there were so many different campaign worlds splitting the playerbase), and it definitely explains the same situation with 3e. With 3e, I think there were many published adventures good enough to be candidates, but the sheer volume of official and 3rd-party adventures made it unlikely that any one was being played by everybody.

    I'm not sure if that's a completely adequate explanation, though; 4e doesn't have the problem of having too many adventures available for it; yet I don't know if any of its adventures have become common points of reference. Maybe "Keep on the Shadowfell" just because it was there first?

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  21. The FRE series of modules, sometimes called the Avatar Trilogy or the Time of Troubles Trilogy, were classic for 2e AD&D. Every gaming group of teenagers I knew in the early 90s had played through at least the first two of the trilogy.

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  22. The majority of my D&D experience was from 1989-2000,  so I remember 2nd edition quite well. There weren't many modules in that era, as I recall, but they did have a few good ones.  Someone else mentioned the "Night Below" boxed set (which my DM converted to 4e) was great and the "Dragon Mountain" boxed set was particulary good (you'll never look at kobolds the same way again...).  My favorite, however, was the retooling of the 1e Castle Ravenloft module, called "House of Strahd" in 2e.  I DM'd that adventure  and loved the tone, the setting, the maps and the brutal lethality of it. Its a bit unfortunate that Wizards decided to turn it into a boardgame, rather than give it the module treatment for 4e.

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  23. I was a bit too young to really play 1ed AD&D but my dad owned many modules.  He mostly read them but didn't play them per se. I remember him owning Keep on the Borderlands, Vault of the Drow (actually the big 3 pack that included Vault), I think he had Against the Giants, and a couple others. I loved reading them too as a kid.
    When I got around to actually playing AD&D, it was the early 90's and I was in the Army. My buddies and I would play for entire weekends, but we never used a published module. Instead, our regular DM had a campaign world that pit us against the evil wizard, Nohmer. A few months after starting the campaign, I met the inspiration for our nemesis. He became our company commander. Captain Nohmer certainly was an evil bastard.
    Nowadays I am writing what might be called open source  modules for  role playing in general. I still use the old classic AD&D modules for inspiration and formatting.

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  24. And still playing them: Like, my mono copy of G3 with "King Snurre" will be in play this very weekend.

    I do think that G/D had a leg up because they were the very first TSR modules ever produced. Due to the limited selection, anyone playing AD&D at that time shares the memory. And since the ground was so fertile, Gygax's best stuff could roll out all at once without treading or referring to prior works. (Similarly, several TV dramas in the past few years have been awesome in their pilot or first few episodes, then slack off in later work.)

    Or you might hypothesize that it's survivor bias: Maybe D&D is as popular as it is because it got lucky with these first few modules being so mind-blowing.

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  25.  I have Thoughts of Darkness. I'm glad you enjoyed, but just to give the opposition equal time: It's my canonical example of what it means to be "railroady".

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  26. It seems that the most popular 3rd edition modules were the Dungeon Crawl Classics series. Make of that what you will.

    As for 2nd edition, I get the impression that the most popular 'modules' were the computer games (Pool of Radiance etc).

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  27.  Re: 2e computers

    That's a very insightful comment. I wasn't really playing much D&D of any sort at the time many of the SSI games were released, but, even so, I still played Pool of Radiance and others like it.

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  28. I have fond memories of  "Fate of Istus" from back in '89.
    In fact it is one of the few modules who's name I can remember! 

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  29. I really enjoyed most of the AD&D adventures until about '83. I mostly always just made my own adventures and everyone loved em. Keep in mind we didnt play them all, but I got most of them anyway because I loved reading them. We never played 2E but I did purchase a couple modules over. I really enjoyed Childs Play. Not quite sure why, but I did. I really enjoyed Dungeon Magazine too. Sometimes it took a little work fleshing some of them out, but that was the fun part.

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  30. You don't know anyone in the U.S. that could have them shipped to them then mail it to you? I'm just a nobody and I do.

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  31. Speaking of these modules I do like the twist that Paul Kidd put on them in his Justcar series.  Which works mainly because everyone knows how these modules are supposed to go, before they get bent all out of shape by a fast-talking faery.

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  32. I'll add my voice to those that have mentioned 2e's classic boxed set adventures.  Night Below, Dragon Mountain, the Ruins of Undermountain, and Return to the Tomb of Horrors all fulfill the criteria of being 'classics' - they are excellent adventures, they make up much of the shared experience of the 2e era, and they lay groundwork that was picked up as a part of the story of what D&D is.

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  33. Of course, part of the official/original intent of the OGL was to allow WotC to not publish adventures, because third parties would.

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  34. During the 3e era, Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil was very widely played (and I thought it was excellent - but opinions on that adventure are fairly evenly split between those that love it and those that hate it).
    What really defined the classics of this edition though were the adventure paths put out in Dungeon Magazine: the Shackled City, Age of Worms, and the Savage Tide.  These adventures spawned the same kind of stories that players trade about the Giants/Drow series and was such a successful format that Paizo based their entire business off of it.

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  35.  The SSI modules were mostly based on 1e, not 2e.

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  36. To answer your question I think The Dungeon of Death is rather fun romp when it comes to 2nd Edition gaming material.
    Out of 3rd Edition stuff I sincerely recommend Burnt Offerings by Paizo, it might might not be for anyone but I had lot of fun with it and single module of Rise Of the Runelords is easy to acquire.

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  37. I'm with Solarion and Luke: Night Below and Firestorm Peak are the 2E adventures that shine above all others and trigger the most recognition and nostalgic sparkle in players' eyes when you mention them. Dead Gods is the favorite of Planescape players, and Golden Voyages rates very high among Al Qadim players. The wealth of material during the 2E years, however, made it difficult for any single title to rise above the pack. The '70s adventures form a common experience because there were so few of them to choose from. The closest analogs these days are iconic MMO quests and raids. Assemble any group of randomly selected WoW players and they can talk about their common experience in Learning the Language, Karazhan, and Ulduar. 

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  38.  That was my impression too. I actually threw Thoughts of Darkness in the trash - I had a decent place to sell used gaming stuff to but I couldn't bear the thought of someone else picking it up and my being partially responsible for it. That's how bad I considered it.

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  39. Red Hand of Doom is good but not in a particularly old-school way.

    Some of Paizo's adventure paths as well as EN Publishing's War of the Burning Sky series are very good 3.x adventures, but again, not the sorts of things old schoolers are typically looking for. Age of Worms and Rise of the Runelords might be okay from an OSR perspective. (I don't get all the praise for Shackled City even though I've run it - some of the individual adventures are very good but the whole doesn't really hang together. It's most notable these days as a dry run for the far superior work Paizo did later on.)

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  40. Meant to pipe in earlier.  I would love to see a strong set of shared adventures for Labyrinth Lord.  Just good ol' dungeon stumping.  There are already a lot of adventures out there for LL.  I don't know if in 20 years, people will be blogging about them, but we'll see.

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  41. 2E:  Evil Tide,  Night of the Shark, Sea of Blood -  Trilogy
    3E:  Nothing really comes to mind.
    3.5E: Savage Tide Adventure Path (My group of old-timey Greyhawkers puts this ABOVE the the G and D series, and we played them all together)
    PF:  I think most would say Kingmaker but we haven't played it yet.

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  42. As others have mentioned, I think Necromancer Games came the closest in 3e era with Rappan Athuk, Grey Citadel, and some others.

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  43. Similarly to Joe, I like the idea of there eventually being some classic LL / OSR type modules out there that form a kind of shared vocabulary for us. Aren't there a few contenders showing up around a lot of people's game tables already? James Raggi's Death Frost Doom? Matt Finch's Spire of Iron and Crystal? Michael Curtis' Stonehell?

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  44. ... some of the best ever published for the game.

    Not really. I'll give you groundbreaking and historically important, but if the G modules were published today they'd be ignored and probably even ridiculed. There's nothing about them in terms of design or content which makes them notable in any regard.

    On the basis of modules that provided a "shared experience" for the community:

    4E: Keep on the Shadowfell
    3E: The Sunless Citadel, Forge of Fury, Death in Freeport, Shackled City, Age of Worms, Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil

    Lesser cases for 3E could be made for Three Days to Kill (which was widely played in 2000, but didn't have legs like Freeport); Rappan Athuk and Crucible of Freya (which have a high play percentage among old-schoolers, but I don't think it translated deeply into the wider audience); and a few others. You could also argue that the "shared experience" with WotC's modules persisted past Forge of Fury, but I've found that it generally seems to be considerably lessened past that point.

    2E is tougher. Dead Gods seems to get brought up a lot in online discussions. A lot of Dark Sun fans talk about the early modules for that setting as a shared experience. Ruins of Undermountain might qualify.

    To a large extent, I think Dancey was right: The multitude of settings during the 2E era fragmented the customer base. There was no common experience.

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  45. I'd agree that DUNGEON magazine was the best source for modules in the 2nd edition era. But I also scoured the gameshops for old 1st ed modules too (they had the added bonus of being cheap!).


    Campaign settings were the big thing with 2nd ed, and most modules were setting specific. But one of the things that I noticed was that most DMs that I played with ran thier own game worlds, and used the supplements, settings, and modules as inspiration, rather than using them directly.

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