Twenty-four blog posts about old school Dungeons & Dragons? I can hardly believe I’ve done it! Let’s begin right away:
Palace of the Silver Princess (1981), by Tom Moldvay and Jean Wells. This module is one of the true classics, though it has a rather curious history. It was originally written entirely by Jean Wells, and was released with an orange cover:
The orange cover version was pulled from the shelves and almost all of the entire print run was destroyed, and it is now one of the most valuable vintage D&D products. Why was it destroyed?
Stories vary, but it was centered on the artwork. Some say that the existing art was too sadistic, picturing an (illusory) torture; others say that another piece, which seemed to be a caricature of the upper management, was found offensive.
In any case, the module was almost entirely rewritten by Tom Moldvay and that is the version that most people know. Moldvay took a simple dungeon crawl and turned it into an epic quest to break a curse on a peaceful kingdom!
The new story involves Princess Argenta, receiving a mysterious gem that turns out to be cursed, causing her to disappear, her palace to fall into ruin, and monsters to plague the land. The PCs must investigate!
One unique aspect of Palace: it includes an introductory, “choose your own adventure” section to get both DMs and players used to roleplaying games, if they’ve never played before!
The adventure is remarkably well-crafted: in order to break the curse, the PCs must destroy the jewel. There are three distinct ways to do so, and the PCs must find clues to one of these methods to rescue the princess and her mysterious visitor.
The adventure contains plenty of classic style D&D art, including this hilarious illustration of two thieves caught in the act.
The adventure also includes a GLOSSARY. Clearly it was designed to introduce true novices to the fun of Dungeons & Dragons! It is a really charming and fun ride.
PS if you want to read the *original* orange cover, here’s a direct link to a pdf.
Aurora’s Whole Realms Catalogue (1992), by Anne Brown and J. Robert King. This is a curious one: the idea was by Anne Brown, from a Call of Cthulhu game she was running. When players were trying to figure out what equipment they could buy, she gave them an old Sears catalogue.
The catalogue became a permanent feature of that game, and Anne pitched the idea of a D&D equivalent! Whole Realms is written like an old catalogue, entirely in character, with almost every imaginable mundane item, from tools to raw materials to food.
Character classes got minor tools that could help them with skill checks, like this mini-blade for pickpocketing.
Bards have a plethora of musical instruments and performance tools to choose from.
Priests even get their religious trappings, such as this holy water sprinkler. And all material components for wizard and priest spells are given, with costs.
Ordinary laborers can find tools for various trades, from farming to smithing and more.
Clothing is available- both normal items and items from “Boom’s Garden,” which is implied to be more or less a fantasy lingerie store. They have a bit of a joke here about the uber-prevalent at the time chainmail bikinis, which provide NO protection.
Some of the lingerie is practical, however, like Drow swimwear that boosts max swimming distance.
Even toys are present, like these fantasy versions of Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots. Not shown: a message apologizing for an “incident” where some came to life; that supplier is no longer used!
Especially helpful for building game atmosphere is an extensive list of fantasy food and drink, so PCs know what to order at their favorite tavern.
Finally, the book ends with some fanciful and familiar inventions, for those who want a quirkier campaign.
This is a surprisingly fun supplement! I didn’t use it much when I got it years ago, but I could totally see referencing it in future campaigns. Aurora’s functions, incidentally, like a classic mail order business, except your in-store orders are teleported to the main warehouse!
Realms of Horror (1987), by Gygax, Schick and Wheeler. This is an adventure that I, technically, own multiple copies of!
I already own this because it is a reprinting and repackaging of the classic S “special” modules, starting with Tomb of Horrors.
The modules are advertised as a “do-it-all-at-once” campaign, though there isn’t any additional material added to make it a continuous campaign — it’s just four adventures packaged together!
There are some changes, though: all four adventures were updated to the modern module format, including text box descriptions for every room, which became standard after the S-series was published.
Though it feels like a bit of a cash grab, the adventure is packaged well, and includes two separate booklets with all the original illustrations and handouts of the S-series.
This is technically the 3rd time I’ve purchased the S-series: I also bought the anniversary reprinted of the originals released by Wizards of the Coast:
So why buy it again, especially because it’s rare and not inexpensive? Because it’s neat to see how they tweaked the descriptions in the new version, and also because I love the dang cover style!
On the cover, you see: 1) demi-lich (Tomb of Horrors) 2) robot (Barrier Peaks) 3) dracolisk (Tsojcanth) 4) vampire (either Tsojcanth or White Plume?) 5) volcano (definitely White Plume). The vampire is most likely from Tsojcanth, as its climax featured a fight with a particularly deadly female vampire, but might be a White Plume depiction, too, which features a vampire. I may also be overthinking this.
PS I find it funny that they titled the collection “Realms of Horror,” because pretty much only Tomb of Horrors fits the “horror” description! I guess “Realms of Special” didn’t quite have the same ring…
PPS I now own five different versions of “Tomb of Horrors.” 1978 edition, 1981 edition, Realms of Horror, Dungeons of Dread, and 5e Tales from the Yawning Portal.
Shield Maidens of Sea Rune (1982), by Hinnen and Hauffe. Time again for a Judges Guild product!
A little background: Judges Guild, founded in 1976, was a company that made D&D products based on its founder Bob Bledsaw’s own D&D campaign. Their flagship product was City State of the Invincible Overlord (1976), an utterly amazing and at the time unprecedented supplement fully detailing a city and its inhabitants.
(I had a friend who had City State and played in it and it was AMAZING. Still upset that I don’t own a copy.)
After the success of City State, Judges Guild produced a large number of supplements detailing the surrounding campaign world, and Shield Maidens is one of them. These supplements are *incredibly* detailed: they start with the numbered hex grid of their particular region…
… and then each hex is filled in, down to the village level!
The history of the region is covered, of course, and lots of NPCs and encounter areas are covered.
Notice that the stats look non-D&D? Judges Guild originally had an official license to produce D&D products, but lost it in 1982; they switched to producing “Universal Fantasy Supplements,” with their own stats.
So what is “Shield Maidens” about? It focuses on a region that contains an Amazon-like tribe of warrior women who seek to grab power in the City State.
The details hardly matter, though, because the real charm of all Judges Guild products is the insane amount of detail, such as scale maps of fishing craft!
Okay, that’s it for this post! More to come in the future!