Monday, January 23, 2023

B1 Retrospective and Review

 WARNING:  SOME SPOILERS AHEAD FOR B1


This is the last of a series of posts on B1, "Search for the Unknown."  My players may opt to go back but I think they're ready to move on.

I've had B1 for years and skimmed it a few times but this was my first time running it.  I modified the module, in that I used my own home brew random encounter and treasure tables (heavily based on the 3LBB) to stock the dungeon.  Otherwise I ran it pretty much as is.

THE GOOD

B1 has a good mix of early D&Disms:  There's some combat, a few traps, plenty of secret doors, and a number of interesting "trick" rooms.  The advice for a new DM is reasonable, even a few decades later.  Given that it is intended to train new DMs, I like that the module comes "unstocked."  For an experienced DM, there is plenty to work with here, and if you let the tables be your muse, you can get an interesting dungeon ecology.

The atmosphere in this module is also great.  The players get to see what being a great adventurer is all about -- you build your own place, get some awesome trophies to hang on the wall, build your own throne room, etc.  There's a bit of delightful neutrality and ambiguity here -- the builders on the stronghold were not some goody two shoes types.

THE BAD

It isn't all roses:

  • No hook.  There is a rumor table but there's really no hook, plot or goal for the adventurers in this module other than exploring and looking for loot.  I grafted a bit of a plot onboard with an elvish treasure to recover but there's nothing there if you run it stock.
  • No plot.  Unless you can build emergent dungeon ecology out of the tables, there's not much depth here.  Again, very dependent on DM skill and experience.  I'd contrast this with B2, which has a good dose of basic monster politics and factions baked right in.
  • Little advice for balancing encounters.  The new DM is expected to stock this dungeon but there's little advice on how many creatures should appear.
  • No base camp.  Unlike other introductory modules like T1 or B2, there's no village, castle, or camp here.  I created a safe elf-approved forest camp for the PCs to return to in between delves, but there's nothing stock in the module.
  • No surround/wilderness.  Again, unlike T1 and B2, we get no surrounding wilderness.  B2 doesn't have much but there is at least a bit.  I dropped B1 into the middle of a dark fey-and-goblin infested forest, but this requires some DIY.
On the plus side, B1 can be dropped into your campaign pretty much where ever.  You can drop it next to Hommlet, or the Keep on the Borderlands, or whatever you like.  My B1 is just down the road from the Keep on the Borderlands and B2.

As far as introductory modules go, it would have been nice if there was a rudimentary base camp -- even just a page or two with a remote wilderness outpost -- and the barest sketch of a wilderness hex around this (even just random encounter tables).  I did fine as an experienced DM but if this is truly for new groups then those would be nice additions.

THE UGLY

I've mentioned these before but will hit them again in this summary.

  • Mapping.  I understand in the old school, it was a thing to verbally describe every twist and turn of the dungeon then see if the players could map it accurately.  This dungeon has some of the secret rooms tucked into spaces you'd only find with precise mapping, teleportation trick rooms, warrens of tunnels, etc that thrive on those sorts of mapping games.  I don't love those mapping games.  This dungeon is just a PITA to map.  I ended up simplifying some parts of level 1.  I get how this is a thing but it just wasn't my cup of tea.
  • Room descriptions.  These room descriptions are quite extensive, but they don't make it clear what is player-facing and GM-facing info at a glance.  So as a consequence, I as the GM have to re-skim the whole room description, find the parts the player should know, and then find a way to explain them.  It is not convenient or user friendly.
VERDICT:  B

Overall, I'd give B1 a solid "B" as a grade.  It is a solid old school module with swords & sorcery vibes.  Because you can key it yourself, you can easily drop this into your campaign at literally any level -- there's no reason you couldn't stock the place with monsters and treasures off of any two levels of the dungeon matrices.  Plan on pairing it with a starting location such as B2 or T1.   While it needs a little work, its definitely usable.

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