Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday, 27 September 2019

'B1' Series: In Search of the Unknown Campaign Sourcebook

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. In 2002, Kenzer & Company had published B1 Quest for the Unknown as an adaptation for its own retroclone, HackMaster, Fourth Edition, but before the publication of Original Adventures Reincarnated #1: Into the Borderlands in 2018, B1 In Search of the Unknown was revisited by the fans.

Much like the fans of Masks of Nyarlathotep co-operated in producing the eventual mammoth Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion for Call of Cthulhu, in 2009, fans B1 In Search of the Unknown decided to collate all of the new material that had appeared about the module on sites like Dragonsfoot and elsewhere. The result was the In Search of the Unknown Campaign Sourcebook, available from the Zenopus Archives. The results is a collection of reviews, interviews, thoughts, and more, all available to download for free.

It opens with a review of B1 In Search of the Unknown by the former doyen of the Old School Renaissance, James Maliszewski, at his blog, Grognardia. It provides as much an introduction to the module as it does both an opinion and a recollection of it being run, providing the first of numerous personal takes upon B1 In Search of the Unknown throughout the In Search of the Unknown Campaign Sourcebook. James Maliszewski’s Grognardia is also the source of the sourcebook’s first interview. This is with the artist, Darlene, who provided the front and back covers of the module, but is perhaps best known for her classic map of the World of Greyhawk and the graphic design of The Guide to the World of Greyhawk. Her influence over the look of TSR, Inc. in its early days cannot be ignored and this is a fascinating interview, especially about her time at the company as one of the few female employees during this period. What it nicely showcases is just how good Grognardia was at exploring the early history of the hobby as it was at exploring the early history of Maliszewski’s involvement in the hobby.

Surprisingly, the one person not interviewed in In Search of the Unknown Campaign Sourcebook, is actually with Mike Carr, the designer of B1 In Search of the Unknown. Instead, ‘Q&A with Mike Carr’, Geoffrey McKinney collates a series of questions put to the author at the ‘Original D&D Discussion’ forum. The answers cover where Quasqueton might be in the World of Greyhawk (or not)—a subject that the In Search of the Unknown Campaign Sourcebook returns to in some depth, what the designer thinks of the module’s artwork, how he worked as the ‘TSR Games & Rules Editor’, and how he got started playing Dungeons & Dragons. Now reading it, the piece does not quite flow as the later interview with Darlene does, but there are some good questions here and Mike Carr really takes the time to give fulsome, interesting answers.

Author Rob Kuntz looks back at another artist involved in the production of B1 In Search of the Unknown with ‘Memories of David C. Sutherland III’. This is a lovely reminiscence as much about Sutherland as a friend as an artist and it is fascinating to read of his connection to Professor M.A.R. Barker and Tékumel. Surprisingly, the second review In Search of the Unknown Campaign Sourcebook is not of B1 In Search of the Unknown. Instead, Bill Silvey’s ‘Review: Holmes Basic’ looks at the ‘blue book’ version of Dungeons & Dragons. This is important because this edition, which pre-figured Basic Dungeons & Dragons, was the boxed set in which B1 In Search of the Unknown first appeared.

The website for collecting Dungeons & Dragons, The Acaeum is the source for the sourcebook’s complete printing history of B1 In Search of the Unknown. It strengthens the authority of In Search of the Unknown Campaign Sourcebook, so it feels a little not to appear further forward in the supplement. The supplement then takes a more theoretical turn with ‘Unknown Designs’ by Demos Sachlas, which explores and traces the history of the elements that make up B1 In Search of the Unknown. In particular, its design as an exploratory dungeon rather than as a ‘storytelling’ dungeon which would emerge later as the dominant form, for example with U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh and DL1 Dragons of Despair. It also examines the nature of Quasqueton’s construction as a home as much a dungeon and then the nature of the threat faced by Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown, which explains why they have been missing from their home for all these years. Here Demos Sachlas draws from the works of both Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber to look at the place of barbarians as the other. Much like Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown, these barbarians are very much off-screen, although modules like B1 Legacy of the Unknown do explore both. 

‘Unknown Designs’ is the first of several contributions by Demos Sachlas. The next is ‘Prosopographies’, which applies classical rhetoric to draw forth information about a figure—or in this case, figures—who is not present. Of course, those figures are Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown and here the author has examined clues, signs, and objects left behind by the duo in their underground home. Most obviously in the tapestries, paintings, and frescoes to be found in their private quarters, but Sachlas extracts quite a lot of information about the pair. He continues his examination of Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown with ‘The Question of Alignment’. Now the alignment of the pair is a matter of some debate since it is hinted at in B1 In Search of the Unknown that they might be evil, but then they actually stopped a threat to the nearby civilisation by thwarting the barbarian invasion. The various actions of the men are looked at and compared with Dungeons & Dragons’ Alignment system, from the horned, evil idol they keep in Quasqueton to their rescue of Melissa, the author goes back and forth over what their alignment might be, but much like the debate itself, the author cannot come to any conclusion. The history and backstory to the two men is presented in a literary essay by Jenni A.M. Merrifield. ‘Module B1: Updated for a Mystara Campaign’ which really works as a source of research for the player characters, perhaps before they set out to Quasqueton for the first time. It focuses in particular on the trio at the heart of the module, the idea being to provide background enough from which the Dungeon Master can develop story and roleplaying hooks, with various further rumours being provided to that end. In this, the article is notable for being the only one in the sourcebook to be critical of B1 In Search of the Unknown, even if only ever so slightly. To be fair, the article is written with hindsight of several years experience playing and development in terms of scenario design and play.

The placement of Quasqueton comes into question with another pair of articles by Demos Sachlas. ‘Quasqueton in the World of Greyhawk’ presents a mini-gazetteer of where the dungeon might be located in Dungeons & Dragons’ first game world, whilst ‘The Continential Map: D&D Game Campaign Setting’ does the same for the Grand Duchy of Karameikos and its surrounds. Even though the World of Greyhawk came first and was the Dungeons & Dragons world when B1 In Search of the Unknown was first published, the Grand Duchy of Karameikos feels more appropriate given that it was included in the ‘B’ series collection, B1-9: In Search of Adventure, as the part of that campaign. That said, these articles are the longest in In Search of the Unknown Campaign Sourcebook and not only are they a little dry, they are really only for devotees their respective settings.

Gabor Lux—the publisher of the fanzine, Echoes From Fomalhaut—contributes ‘Dungeon Layout, Map Flow and Old School Game Design Part One – Quasqueton’ continues the sourcebook’s examination of Quasqueton’s design and how that shapes B1 In Search of the Unknown as an exploration dungeon. Now there is by very design an exploration element to every dungeon, since their layout and contents are meant to be unknown and the discovery of both is part of the game’s play. Lux looks at their design as a means to influence player decisions, working through simple layouts, from linear and linear with sidetracks to branching and circular, to show how each works. Then it applies this to B1 In Search of the Unknown to show how sophisticated the design is.

One of the features of B1 In Search of the Unknown is that none of its rooms are populated and it is intended that the Dungeon Master do so herself from the lists of monsters provided. With ‘The Caverns of Quasqueton I’, Geoffrey McKinney offers his own list along with extra little details, whilst C. Wesley Clough offers his own with ‘The Caverns of Quasqueton II’, which is designed for the later Basic Dungeons & Dragons. Aldarron provides ‘The Caverns of Quasqueton III’, which reworks the dungeon’s denizens to emphasise the fact that it has all but been abandoned. 

Whilst the ‘The Caverns of Quasqueton’ series offered options in terms of the dungeon’s contents, Arzon the Mighty, based on original artwork by ‘Mike of Dragonsfoot’ provides a new map of Quasqueton. This contains all of the same locations and rooms, but opens them up to make the map much easier to read than in its original presentation in B1 In Search of the Unknown. Lastly, Shadow Stack maps out and details a whole new area, that of ‘Quasqueton Tower’. In the original module, this has collapsed due to inferior workmanship. Consisting of nine storeys, the write-up of the tower follows that of the original module in not having any monsters given for any of its locations, the Dungeon Master being expected to add these. This is a nice addition, an option that the Dungeon Master can add should she want to expand the original module, if only to a limited extent and only upwards. Lastly, with ‘Remembering Quasqueton’, numerous players and Dungeon Masters give their recollections of playing and running the module. This adds a lovely, personal touch to the end of the supplement.

Physically, In Search of the Unknown Campaign Sourcebook is a fifty-page, 11.29 MB full-colour PDF. The layout is clean and simple, the supplement reads well, and the artwork, much of it sourced from the original module is decent.

In many ways, the publication of Original Adventures Reincarnated #1: Into the Borderlands by Goodman Games has superseded the In Search of the Unknown Campaign Sourcebook, whether that is in terms of interviews, reminiscences, suggested monster options in terms of stocking Quasqueton. Yet, there is an earnest, honest charm to the amateurish nature of In Search of the Unknown Campaign Sourcebook. This is fans examining a module after years of having played it, thought about it, and talked about it and then telling us their ideas and suggestions as what it is about and how to make it better. Above all, the In Search of the Unknown Campaign Sourcebook showcases how appreciative they are of B1 In Search of the Unknown, and there can be no better tribute than that.


  1. Thanks for the in-depth (and kind) review of the B1 campaign sourcebook! The project was indeed a labor of love, back when I was first getting back into gaming with my son.

    There has been so much additional material, along with new insights, that I keep meaning to revisit this project for a "second edition".

    In the meantime, we skipped over B2 and B3, giving B4 "The Lost City" the same treatment. I think it turned out a little better, and was happy to discover that B4 will be the focus of the next Goodman Games OAR release (after S3).

    Demos S

  2. Reviewing both B1 In Search of the Unknown and B2 Keep on the Borderlands and the many works directly inspired by both were labours of love, including your own supplement. Thankfully there are fewer scenarios in the rest of the 'B' series which provided as strong an influence as these two, so there will be fewer titles to review.

  3. David Sutherland is one of my favorite of the old time artists. His art (and DAT's) in B1 captured my youthful imagination. I had completely forgotten that the covers had been redone for the color edition.

    Thanks for the post,