Friday, April 19, 2024

Early TSR Modules: A Study in Style


B1 In Search of the Unknown -- Classic dungeon crawl which was designed to train DMs in stocking and to some extent designing dungeons

D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth -- Classic dungeon crawl, loose continuing storyline if DM chooses to enhance

D2 The Shrine of the Kuo-Toa -- Classic dungeon crawl, loose continuing storyline if DM chooses to enhance

D3 Vault of the Drow -- Classic dungeon crawl, loose continuing storyline if DM chooses to enhance

G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief -- Storm/infiltrate the castle crawl, intro to storyline developed in subsequent modules if DM chooses

G2 The Glacial Rift of the Front Giant Jarl -- Classic dungeon crawl, loose continuing storyline if DM chooses to enhance

G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King -- Classic dungeon crawl, loose continuing storyline if DM chooses to enhance.

S1 Tomb of Horrors  -- Classic dungeon crawl (fun-house) representative of "killer dungeon", Tournament Module


S2 White Plume Mountain -- Funhouse dungeon crawl, tournament module

T1 Village of Hommlet -- First village based sandbox w/ small dungeon crawl, designed to lead into Temple of Elemental Evil which was never published in its original form. 


A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity -- Town exploration and dungeon crawl, tournament module, storyline leading into subsequent modules, tournament module

B2 Keep on the Borderlands D&D -- Classic dungeoncrawl with some internal dynamics which require DM elaboration

C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan -- Short Wilderness crawl with classic dungeon crawl, tournament module

C2 Ghost Tower of Inverness -- town intro to haunted house dungeon crawl, storyline background, tournament module

Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits -- Planar crawl/dungeoncrawl with culminating storyline from previous modules

S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks -- spaceship dungeoncrawl, tournament module, funhouse to a degree


A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade -- Island hop to stockade assualt/dungeoncrawl, storyline continuing on from previous tournament module

A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords -- City/dungeoncrawl continuing storyline from previous  tournament modules.

A4 In the Dungeon of the Slave Lords -- Dungeoncrawl/escape, finishing storyline from previous tournament modules, some have continued this storyline into T series and then G and D series. 

B3 Palace of the Silver Princess D&D -- Classic dungeon crawl, story background

D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth -- Classic dungeoncrawl, with storyline continuing from G series.

G1-2-3 Against the Giants -- combine G1, G2 and G3.

I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City -- wilderness crawl with internal dynamics that players can develop with DM enhancement

L1 The Secret of Bone Hill -- Mini setting with wilderness and dungeon exploration available.

U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh -- Town/Haunted house crawl with storyline that continues in later modules

X1 The Isle of Dread D&D -- Mini setting wilderness crawl with island dynamics


B4 The Lost City D&D -- wilderness crawl dungeon crawl with internal dynamics and potential for DM storyline enhancement

I2 Tomb of the Lizard King -- wilderness hexcrawl, dungeoncrawl, internal story elements that DM can choose to enhance

I3 Pharoah -- Classic trap filled dungeon/crawl, internal story elements if DM chooses to enhance

N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God -- Village mini setting with some wilderness exploration and dungeon/crawl, storyline internally with a mystery element

S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth -- Classic wilderness/dungeoncrawl, internal story elements that DM can choose to enhance, tournament module

U2 Danger at Dunwater -- Sea crawl/dungeoncrawl, continuing storyline from previous module.

WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun -- A hasty production designed to be tied to previous storylines, generally a wilderness/dungeoncrawl

X2 Castle Amber D&D -- Planar castlecrawl, funhouse with internal story dynamics and a bit of mystery

X3 Curse of Xanathon D&D -- Town mystery adventuer

Subsequent Adventures that might be included:

EX1 Dungeonland

EX2 The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror

For their fun-house atmosphere.

Modules in blue have elements that presage later storydrive focus, but still retain elements of old school design.

Modules in yellow depart significantly from the norm in style or settling, either because they were rushed to press  (WG4), or made different assumptions than old school design.

While it is somewhat arbitrary, adventures after this period are increasingly story driven, mystery oriented and not what I would call "traditional" AD&D adventures. This does not mean they weren't good or well written. There are some award winning modules after this period such as Ravenloft, Assassin's Knot and others. However, with the advent of Tracy Hickman and others D&D began to be seen differently. The effort seems at delivering a preformed storyline, instead of background story elements that could be used to focus or expand upon. There was a mystery element with a central purpose of solving the mystery. Others, such as the UK series focus on not using violence to solve problems, and we begin to get large campaign style mega-modules that are de facto designed to carry PCs through an overarching storyline. 

While series such as A, G, D/Q did have a storyline connection and internal dynamics that could be utilized by PCs and DM alike, it was not the focus of the dungeon. One could get through the series and not have a strong sense of the unfolding story or dynamics. Many of the adventures were designed with the idea that the DMN would expand upon, flesh out, or focus on certain elements, effectively making the adventure their own. 

No, not all adventures after this period eschew dungecrawl, wildernesscrawl or old school sensibilities. It is a spectrum of course. But my point here is to illustrate that there was a distinct break in style of module creation pre Gary (which I mark at 1982/3) and post Gary. Again, this is not to say subsequent playstyles were bad. Long term story driven campaigns were represented all over old school gaming, but the principle design ethos was that DMs did that work, not game designers. This of course would change too.

And I should acknowledge that pre AD&D, adventure and world design was the particular province of the DMs as well, not designers. It said as much at the end of the 3rd little brown book. But with the huge success of the Original D&D Greyhawk and Blackmoor supplements it was clear that people wanted it. So the designers at TSR, led by Gary, set out the types of dungeons they were running. Those are the modules represented here.

A more thorough analysis remains to be done, but I am satisfied with this preliminary list, which I believe represents an old school design ethos that changed as the game and some of its gamers changed. 

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