Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Retrospective: Bloodstone Pass

When Dungeons & Dragons first appeared in 1974, it bore the subtitle "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures." Nowhere in the game's three little brown books does the word "roleplaying" appear, though, as Gary Gygax pointed out, it was quite common for miniatures wargamers to roleplay the leaders and other important figures of their tabletop armies. And, of course, many roleplayers have, in the course of their adventures and campaigns, turned to miniatures rules to aid them in adjudicating mass battles. These two hobbies are forever intertwined with one another, to the point where it's often difficult to determine with any ease where one begins and the other ends.

I've long had a fascination with miniatures wargaming, though I've never really delved too deeply into it. In my campaigns of old, there were occasional mass combats, but I rarely made use of actual miniatures wargame rules to handle them. Instead, I simply extrapolated – not always felicitously – from the base rules of whatever RPG I was playing (usually some flavor of D&D). That's why I welcomed the appearance of TSR's Battle System boxed set in 1985: I hoped they might save me the trouble of having to figure out a relatively painless way to handle large engagements of men and monsters in AD&D.

For a while in my early teens, I used Battle System often and had a lot of fun with it. Though my affection for it eventually waned, that wasn't before I had the chance to make use of the first module published to support it, Bloodstone Pass. Written by Douglas Niles and Michael Dobson, module H1 is called a "supermodule" and intended for use with characters of level 15 and above. I presume it was called a supermodule because it came in a thin box and was filled with more than 100 cardboard counters and a dozen fold-up buildings, in addition to the expected 32-page scenario (and Battle System unit roster book). It's a fairly impressive package overall, since it provides the referee with everything he needs to run not just the adventure itself but all the mass battles that occur during its events.

That was certainly the appeal to me at the time. Though I owned quite a few miniatures (mostly Grenadier's AD&D line), I didn't have anywhere close to enough of them to field a proper army on the tabletop. Between the original Battle System box and Bloodstone Pass, though, I now had more than enough cardboard counters to handle the hordes of evil humanoids I'd always imagined as the enemies in any fantasy battle. Likewise, though the fold-up buildings weren't as impressive looking as the sorts of models I sometimes saw in hobby stores or at local games days, they nevertheless served their purpose. More to the point, I was able to build them myself without too much trouble, which was their true value. Whatever else Bloodstone Pass was, it was a godsend to a kid like myself, who lacked the skills, patience, and funds to put together a large and attractive collection of miniatures and terrain.

As for the adventure itself, Bloodstone Pass is nothing special. It's yet another riff on the well worn tale of the Seven Samurai, with the player characters being enlisted to protect the mostly defenseless village of Bloodstone against an Evil Army of Evil. It's all very straightforward and clichéd – primarily a backdrop against which to play out some fun miniatures battles. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I remember enjoying myself greatly back in the day; the relative lack of anything more deep probably didn't even occur to me at the time. Even now, I almost feel as if it's a cheap shot to criticize Bloodstone Pass for working as intended. The module was, after all, meant to support the newly-released Battle System and encourage AD&D players to make use of it in their own campaigns. Mission accomplished! 


  1. What _is_that blue humanoid on the cover? A female ogre mage? I briefly looked through the module but can't find anything that might correspond to it.

  2. Battle System and Bloodstone Pas sit in a weird spot in my gaming history. I'd dabbled in minis (mostly fantasy and scifi and some historical naval) pretty steadily from 1976 to 1984, but I was in college in '85 and pretty much missed out on several years worth of minis-related stuff owing to lack of room in the dorms, constrained income, and discovering that sex was a thing. By the time the Warhammer games got my attention again TSR was past their peak of pushing Battle System and my minis purchases started getting aimed at building armies rather than collecting eclectic mixes of figs for RPG use. Did eventually get a copy and enjoyed what time I spent with it (using mostly Warhammer Fantasy figs) but I was late to the party.

    Sure can see where the kajillion counters it came with would be great for someone without an existing minis collection or the desire/money/time to build one, though.

  3. "I've long been fascinated by thing I've not delved deeply into."

    Yup, Grognardia's definitely back! :D