Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Into the Vaults: The Introductory Adventure

Autarch crowdfunding The Sinister Stone of Sakkara prompted me to recall my own experiences with introductory adventures.

I have always considered the “genre sourcebook” such as Aaron Allston's Lands of Mystery (1985) to be the pinnacle of the role-playing game designer’s art.  However, the “introductory adventure” may be an equally influential work of art.  By its very nature, the introductory adventure teaches both players and Judges one way the game may be played.  Similarly, the introductory adventure is often a first, memorable experience that becomes legendary by being a common, shared experience by all that tread its pages.  Again due to its introductory nature, the introductory adventure is often priced low and therefore limited in form.  Much must be accomplished with little.

The following table charts my own experience with both playing and Judging introductory adventures, with the number of times played or Judged indicated.

B2 Keep on the Borderlands (1979)
T1 Village of Hommlet (1979)
U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh (1981)
UK5 Eye of the Serpent (1984)
DL1 Dragons of Despair (1984)
B10 Night's Dark Terror (1986)
N5 Under Illefarn (1987)

B2 Keep on the Borderlands was my first experience with a prepared adventure.  Honestly, the distance of time and my own inexperience at the time has left little memory of the experience.  My one vivid memory is the destruction wrought by a single wight on a party of 1st-3rd level characters, with my character being one of the few to survive that encounter, and claiming a mighty sword +2.

Similarly, I do not recall much of T1 Village of Hommlet beyond the eponymous village.  However, Lareth the Beautiful is an early demonstration that the evil cleric makes an excellent opponent for low to mid-level adventurers.

I wondered whether DL1 Dragons of Despair should be considered an introductory adventure or not, being to some extent just the first of many Dragonlance adventures.  However, if viewed by itself, Dragons of Despair is remarkably akin to other classic introductory adventures and stands on its own as an excellent example of the form.

I found the adventure portions of N5 Under Illefarn to be, on the whole, disappointing, adding to them to suit my tastes.  However, the village of Daggerford is very well presented, and my players had a lot of fun with the gossip and small-time politics of the place.

U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh may be the best introductory adventure for players with no experience with the standard tropes of Dungeon Fantasy.  Being light on setting (Saltmarsh), this adventure’s strength is its rare-at-the-time investigative quality.

As the number of times Judged may demonstrate, UK5 Eye of the Serpent is a personal favorite introductory adventure.  As the Lord of the Rings reverses the classic quest to be a quest to be rid of an item, Eye of the Serpent reverses the classic introductory adventure to be a return to civilization from the wilderness.  Eye of the Serpent is perhaps uniquely a wilderness adventure for 1st level characters, with a host of unusual Fiend Folio encounters (including the first appearance of mephits) and different paths to take which make it almost a new experience every time I Judge it.

B10 Night's Dark Terror does not fit the small form factor of the other introductory adventures I’ve mentioned, but I, at least, consider it a “deluxe” introductory adventure.  Fair comparison or not, Night's Dark Terror may be the best introductory adventure ever published, being in fact a “campaign in a box”, so to speak.

I am looking forward to Judging The Sinister Stone of Sakkara and seeing what qualities it adds to the available mix of introductory adventures!

What are your memories of introductory adventures?

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