Between the snow, ice, & Winter weather we've had, its been a very challenging season for talking with fellow gamers & dungeon masters. Now that being said, I was able to get some reading in this morning about four A.M. of B1 In Search Of The Unknown. Now why bother with one of the classics of B/X Dungeons & Dragons? B1 In Search of The Unknown
was written by TSR employee and editor Mike Carr with an out of the box beginner's perspective. It came with every box of Holmes D&D way back when & it filled a function of guiding a beginning dungeon master through stocking their own dungeons.
I reread it because I was scanning the Zenopus website which I do frequently and came across this quote by Dr.Eric John Holmes -
"An excellent example of what the DM is striving for is Gygax's Dungeon Module B2, The Keep on the Borderlands, sold separately by TSR. This beginners' game contains the maps, room descriptions and even the combat tables needed to play the game, plus a variety of hints and advice to the DM. The module is designed to play with the Basic Dungeons and Dragons book and is the best of its type yet produced." (pg 89 of FANTASY ROLE PLAYING GAMES)
"Introductory modules are: In Search of the Unknown and The Keep on the Borderlands previously mentioned. Both contain not only the maps of the areas and dungeon but a lot of helpful advice for the DM. If a gaming group can agree to have only the referee see the module, so that the surprise is not spoiled by somebody buying and reading the Dungeon in advance, these are an excellent introduction to the game. Both are intended to play with these rules in the Basic Dungeons and Dragons game. In Search of the Unknown comes packaged with the basic set." (pg 92 of FANTASY ROLE PLAYING GAMES)
Note: The above quotes make it sound like Holmes himself wasn't aware that B2 had been bundled with the Holmes Basic Set. But the FRPG book also has a picture of the Holmes set with B2. Perhaps he wrote this sentence before early 1980 when B2 replaced B1 in the Holmes set. The book was probably written well in advance of its publishing date. "
I always used In Search of The Unknown as the location of the 'Other' in D&D, that place where something heinous has occurred & there's an air of the alien tragic about the hidden complex known as the Caverns of Quasqueton. I've always associated the legacy of Roghan the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown as two minor powers that discovered something powerful & tragic within the underworld of the module during the age that Robert Howard describes as," there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars. . " This spoke to me about Quasqueton being a more modern complex or castle set amid older forbidden ancient ruins. The reason was our two NPC's who operated during another earlier time of sword & sorcery.
To my young mind this was when these two were at their peak because ," the two drove back a barbarian invasion and gained the support of locals. Eventually, they gathered their own army and went on an expedition against said enemies, where they met their demise." The PC's enter when they have disappeared beyond the pale never to return, the rumors & legends. There's something about the PC's being the barbarians trespassing & treading on the grounds of two warlords one a magus of great power & one a warrior of dangerous aspect.
""Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities . . . there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars. . . . Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand . . . to tread
the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet."
The PC's are there to try & grab some of that gold, faded glory, & bits of the legends of this adventure. I'd place B1 right after B2 Keep Of the Borderlands within the bounds of this order of modules. Once again this is from the Zenopus Archives;"4/22/05 - in response to a question about the order of modules for an "All Gygax, all the time campaign".
"Keep on the Borderlands, Village of Hommlet, Temple of Elemental Evil, Dungeonland, Land beyond the Magic Mirror, Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, Hall of the Fire Giant King, Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure, Tomb of Horrors, Descent to the Depths of the Earth, Shrine of the Kuo-toa, Vault of the Drow, Isle of the Ape, Necropolis (final portion)." (Dragonsfoot forum post)." This gives an excellently rounded out campaign for years of play especially sword & sorcery style Conan adventures.
You know its too bad that there isn't a source book that could save you time stocking B1, reveal some of its mysteries to the DM, be entertaining, and have everything a DM needs to look at In Search of The Unknown in a bit of a new light. Well actually there is.
Demos Sachlas (paleologos of Dragonsfoot) has assembled a mighty B1 Campaign Sourcebook which is half way down the page on the fifth paragraph right over here
I've done a lot with B1 In Search of the Unknown in different style of Holmes D&D including post apocalyptic adventures, sword & sorcery, etc. Yet since 2013 I've always heard in my head Leonard Nemoy of In Search of Fame narrating the adventure. This isn't original either, this is another product of the Zenopus Archives & this blog post.
In fact I've used an NPC narrator/time traveler in several games of Mutant Future where this module was a midpoint.
But this is a good cross point into the fact that this module shares a title with a Robert Chambers story collection. This collection is about a zoologist in search of various cryptids & served as another Mutant Future adventure inspiration. But I digress, B1 In Search of the Unknown makes an excellent reference point for sword & sorcery adventure especially with a Lovecraftian twist. All of the elements are there, simply take your favorite Lovecraftian source book such as Goblinoid Games Realms of Crawling Chaos and add in a Shaggoth or some other Lovecraftian horror.
Alright let's talk about how B1 In Search of the Unknown can add in an interesting twist to a sword & sorcery campaign specifically:
- Because of the repelling of the barbarian horde are their forces still out there waiting to strike at any moment? Well because of the events of B2 and the resurrection & surging of the Elemental Evil cult I've had DM use this as a signal to those hordes to pour down from the hills.
- We know very little about what the hell was happening in the mines of Keep On The Borderlands was the Caverns of Quasqueton part of an underworld lost world or the remains of some lost race's out post to the upper world?
- There's always been some shady connection between the forces operating out of Hommlet & the Caverns of Quasqueton. Perhaps there is some deep weirdness going on between all of the humanoids within the Caves of Chaos & the Caverns of Quasqueton.
- I've used demonic orcs from Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea with half orc thieves and assassins lead by a were demon pig priest as higher level NPC's searching for artifacts within Quasqueton.
- Several PC's over the years have used Roghan the Fearless as a blood relative for their barbarian or fighter characters that they've tried to solve the mystery of his fate for their tribal elders.
- There are several mysterious plot hooks within the Caverns of Quasqueton that can be linked back into the religion of the temple of elemental evil allowing B1 to be used as a foreshadowing of that classic module.