Revisiting the Old Modules


My group of four, 40-something-year-old gamers recently revisited B2 The Keep on the Borderlands and U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh in true 1e style after being away for about three decades. The good news is that they had forgotten whatever they might have learned about adventuring so many decades ago and so they stumbled into all the traps. In B2, they took out the spider in the pines, struggled to overcome the lizard men in the mud mound, and suffered at the hands of the mad hermit north of the keep. His victory over the PCs was so complete that the two survivors gave up on the caves, found new recruits, and struck out for Salt Marsh instead. In U1’s haunted house, they fell hook, line, and sinker for that assassin’s story. I think his name was Ned? He steered them into a basement ambush that they actually won. But when it came time to take on the ship, they implemented a mindless frontal assault and lost badly to the NPC spell caster. Again, a pair of players escaped leaving their unconscious fellows behind.

What did we learn? 1e was as much fun as we remember. The concise stat blocks and uncomplicated characters make for a game that’s faster than 5e, even with 1e’s clumsiness. We’ve all played both, and did not miss 5e’s streamlined d20 approach to everything; the clumsy 1e approach of this die for this and that die for that served well enough. I further concluded that the game master must be careful not to overpower the players by permitting them too much input. Sounds odd, I know. But one must limit the players to the same general parameters and “vagueness” as the NPCs while also letting the dice do their work in order to have in an impartial game. For example, initiative is resolved with a die roll. To be fair to both PCs and NPCs, stick to that even if players insist that holding a weapon in hand or anticipating in some way gives them an advantage. I bet the NPCs would be making all those same claims if each of them had a living, breathing individual to speak on their behalf too.

As game master, I couldn’t help but notice how cumbersome were the module write ups. I’m amazed that these documents, B2 and U1, flourished and even profited despite such hard-to-use presentations. But they did pioneer the genre, so one can understand their value added was being first to market with ground breaking ideas. Sadly, those days have passed; now we need “tight” write ups that really facilitate game play. Hence, the value of these forums.
I’ve since (re)read C1 Hidden Shrine of the Tamoachan, and A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity. Again, great ideas, but the presentation needed some polish. It’s moving to realize that decades ago, as a 13-year-old, I was part of something global. Along with that comes a realization that now, just shy of 50, its time to “up my game” by making adventures/modules easier to employ.