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Monday 23 September 2019

'B1' Series: B1 Legacy of the Unknown

The ‘B’ series, the series of modules published by TSR, Inc. for Basic Dungeons & Dragons did not begin with B2 Keep on the Borderlands. That much is obvious, but there is no denying that it feels that way. This is not surprising given that it was packaged with the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set between 1979 and 1983, it is estimated that more than a million copies of B2 Keep on the Borderlands were printed, and for a great many gamers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was their introduction to Dungeons & Dragons. Yet before this, there was another scenario, also part of the ‘B’ series, and also packaged with Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set until it was replaced with B2 Keep on the Borderlands. That module was B1 In Search of the Unknown.

First published in 1979 as an introductory adventure for the first Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set that had appeared the year before, B1 In Search of the Unknown set out to provide an adventure that could be run by the novice Dungeon Master and played by novice roleplayers, both just setting out on their first foray into the world of dungeoneering. Thus it is designed to challenge Dungeon Master and players alike and to be instructive for both, but it is not designed to be particularly deadly as a dungeon for experienced players might be. Yet where in the decades since its original publication B2 Keep on the Borderlands has been visited and revisited, from Return to the Keep on the Borderlands to the Keep on the Borderlands series for the Encounters Program for Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition, the fact is that B1 In Search of the Unknown has been all but ignored by both TSR, Inc. and Wizards of the Coast. Instead it has been third party publishers who have revisited the first entry in the ‘B’ series. Most notably and recently, of course, by Goodman Games with Original Adventures Reincarnated #1: Into the Borderlands, which covered both B1 In Search of the Unknown and B2 Keep on the Borderlands, but before that though, in 2002, Kenzer & Company published B1 Quest for the Unknown. What few publishers have done though, is visit the aftermath of either B1 In Search of the Unknown or B2 Keep on the Borderlands, though it could easily be argued that Kenzer & Company’s B2 Little Keep on the Borderlands is a sequel to B1 Quest for the Unknown. The exception though, is Pacesetter Games & Simulations.

Published in 2012, B1 Legacy of the Unknown specifically explores what happened the two men who constructed Quasqueton as their home, Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown. According to B1 In Search of the Unknown, they left for the north on a great quest, but were never heard from again, leaving their home under what turned out to be poor supervision. Exactly how long ago is not quite clear, but definitely years rather than months. In B1 Legacy of the Unknown, both Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown, along with the former’s girlfriend, Melissa, disappeared some thirty years ago. Having played through B1 In Search of the Unknown, the player characters will have discovered a map and several vague references in Zelligar the Unknown’s journal, all clues pointing to the direction in which the trio travelled and why—a barbarian treasure horde that lay hidden within a ruined city, home to the god which the barbarians worshipped. Except of course, that there are no such clues in B1 In Search of the Unknown, which until its inclusion in B1-9 In Search of Adventure, the collation of the first nine modules in the ‘B’ series, was very much a self-contained module. Those clues, at least hinting to the location of where Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown went, if not why, are to be found in B0.5 Secrets of the Unknown, which is designed to be run as part of B1 In Search of the Unknown and before B1 Legacy of the Unknown.

Both B0.5 Secrets of the Unknown and B1 Legacy of the Unknown are designed to be run with the ‘First Edition’ game rules of your choice. So of course, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition, but more recently, OSRIC, short for Old School Reference and Index Compilation and Advanced Labyrinth Lord. B0.5 Secrets of the Unknown is designed for eight characters First to Second Level, and as well as bridging the story between B1 In Search of the Unknown and B1 Legacy of the Unknown, is designed to ensure that the player characters are of at least Second Level. That said, B1 Legacy of the Unknown is a challenging adventure, and perhaps may even be too tough for characters of Second Level in the numbers suggested, which is between four and eight. That said, B1 Legacy of the Unknown includes several encounters on the trail of Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown, which the Dungeon Master can use to bolster her player characters from First to Second Level. Further, there is no reason why the Dungeon Master cannot add further encounters to the player character’s journey from Quasqueton to the final fate of both Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown.

The encounters along the way include one with a rabid hill giant, some giant snakes, a group of ‘friendly’ Dwarves with their own agenda, and an ancient outpost which is now home to a nest of spiders. Of these, the encounter with the Dwarves is the most detailed and the most challenging, involving a nasty trap. In fact, it might be too tough a trap so early on in the scenario, and the Dungeon Master might want to tone down its lethality. Otherwise, this is a fun encounter, which is actually illustrated on the scenario’s front cover. Hopefully, by the time the adventurers have completed these, the player characters will have accrued enough Experience Points to achieve another Level.

Following the journal and map found in Quasqueton and B1 In Search of the Unknown will get to the ruined city of Shard—also known as the ‘Ruined City’, the focus of the scenario rather than the journey to it. Several millennia old, Shard is actually a satellite of the City of Spire, as detailed in the publisher’s ‘C’ series of modules. Shard is octagonal in shape, divided into eight roughly triangular, walled  sections all the same size, around a central location in which stands a single spire. Although of the same size and shape, each of these eight walled-off sections—or zones—is of a very different character. Some of the zones are occupied, in turn by tribes of Goblins, Gnolls, and Orcs and a band of cultists, whilst others have been left to be taken over by wilderness. Each of the eight zones is discrete physically and in terms of its character, so the Orcs reside in a network of residential towers, the cultists in a repaired and maintained temple, another zone consists of warren after warren of giant rats, and so on. Further, the Demi-Humans are well-organised and disciplined, almost constrained in their actions—unless, that is, they are invaded, and who on earth would do that?

Now there is good reason for this discipline and the constraints upon the various city factions, and that is a Druid—whose name the player characters are likely to recognise—who has imposed order upon Shard through fear. She has also forced them to co-operate to some degree, especially over guarding access to the city of Shard. Interestingly, there is the option here for the player characters to join this set-up, take over one of the empty zones and use it as a base of operations. This though, this is not the point of B1 Legacy of the Unknown, which is to follow in the footsteps of Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown and get into the ninth, central area. To do that though, the player characters will need to explore the various surrounding zones, gathering information and the means to get into the central location. The discrete nature of the zones means that the player characters can strike at each, relatively unhindered, each one essentially working as mini-dungeons in their own right. Overall, the city of Shard, its set-up and its various denizens should provide the player characters opportunities aplenty for combat, stealth, roleplaying, and more.

The finale for B1 Legacy of the Unknown will come once the player characters find their way into the central zone and get into the Great Tower that stands there. Inside they can make their way down—somehow—to the Forgotten City and the Dead Temple where the player characters will learn the final fates of Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown. The Forgotten City itself feels somewhat superfluous as it does not really add much to the adventure, being more of a transition location. The Dead Temple though offers a grand climax, the player characters being offered the chance to fight alongside the mighty heroes against the villain that brought them low thirty years before...

Physically, B1 Legacy of the Unknown comes as a seventy-two page, 23.92 MB black and white PDF with a colour cover. The scenario needs another edit and the artwork varies in quality. Some are a little cartoonish, but there are some really nice illustrations too, for example, an encounter with a pair of Carrien Crawlers and another with a Naga are both well done pieces. The cartography is excellent though. One issue with the writing is the degree of reputation between the area descriptions, so there are an awful lot of barracks, for example, which have the same description, repeated over and over. Much of this could have been edited for clarity and repetition.

As written, the primary issue with B1 Legacy of the Unknown is its hook, what gets the player characters involved in its events, to go on the trail to the lost city and discover what happened to Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown. As a standalone adventure, B1 Legacy of the Unknown lacks a sufficiently strong enough hook to pull the player characters along said trail and into the adventure. It needs the Dungeon Master to really write one. Yet even if B1 Legacy of the Unknown is run as a sequel to B1 In Search of the Unknown with B0.5 Secrets of the Unknown between, then the Dungeon Master may still need to do so as there really is insufficient sufficient information here in terms of a hook given. 

Although the journey to adventure’s main area may need additional content in order to provide the player characters with sufficient Experience Points and be of strong enough Level to face some of the challenges it presents, B1 Legacy of the Unknown is a solid adventure, unique in what it offers. B1 Legacy of the Unknown stands out because it is no mere reiteration or adaptation of B1 In Search of the Unknown, but a genuine sequel, one that explores what happened to the NPCs at the heart of the backstory to B1 In Search of the Unknown

1 comment:

  1. Great detailed review! Thank you. Agreed on the hook, we just used it as a train to the adventure :D
    Be well!!