Against the Slave Lords – Fanning the Flames of the OSR Revolution!

For many old AD&D gamers (like myself), the old content releases that we've seen in the past eleven months has truly been a blast from the past! And for OSR gamers looking for great new material to use in their favorite game systems, it’s been like trying to sip from a fire hose!

In answer to the ongoing OSR Revolution, Wizards of the Coast has been doing a remarkable thing in releasing more and more of the original AD&D material for sale in PDF format. So many old TSR modules and source books for AD&D (as well as for newer editions of D&D) have been appearing in PDF format at sites like RPGNow and Drive-Thru RPG, supporting a renaissance in fantasy adventure gaming.

Of course, for gamers looking for something more tangible than a PDF, they can appreciate WotC’s new initiative to reprint older edition manuals in some new deluxe hardbound formats. In the past year, since announcing their intentions at GenCon, WotC has released premium editions of a dozen manuals and modules, with a few more on the way before the end of this year.

Last month, Wizards of the Coast released a compilation of the original modules A1-A4, the “Slave Lord” series, in a new book called Against the Slave Lords. Although a minor clerical snafu prevented a review when it initially was released, I’ve recently obtained a copy of this latest addition to the family of premium versions of old TSR content. And I’m delighted to have the opportunity to give a review of this new release, a compilation of some of my favorite modules from my old AD&D days…

Against the Slave Lords

  • Authors: David Cook (A1); Harold Johnson and Tom Moldvay (A2); Allen Hammack (A3), Lawrence Schick (A4); Skip Williams (A0)
  • Illustrations: Nick Bartoletti (cover); (interior art) Jeff Dee, David S. LaForce, Jim Roslof, Bill Willingham, Erol Otus, , Steve Sullivan, David C. Sutherland III, and Jean Wells
  • Publisher: Wizards of the Coast (Original Release: TSR)
  • Year: 2013
  • Media: Hardbound (192 pages)
  • Price: $49.95(now $34.19 from Amazon.com!)

Against the Slave Lords
is a compilation of the famous (infamous?) AD&D Tournament Modules A1–A4, reprinted in a deluxe hardcover edition. The four modules - Slave Pits of the Undercity, Secret of the Slavers Stockade, Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords, In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords - are reproduced in their original text, with all artwork and maps faithfully rendered in the new release. In addition to the reproduction of the classic modules, Against the Slave Lords also has a new module, A0 – Danger at Darkshelf Quarry, written by Skip Williams to serve as an introduction to the series. The original authors of the module series have contributed short essays about their experiences working on their respective adventure, including little known facts and anecdotes.


Product Quality


The production quality of Against the Slave Lords is superb, with a faithful reproduction of the original material, and exceptional work on the new module A0 in re-creating that AD&D “old school” experience.

The cover and binding of the new release looks and feels excellent, with the faux-tome even having a textured surface to enhance the tactile sensation of the book. The pages are thick, have a slightly glossy appearance, and a very smooth almost glassy texture to the touch. The black print and illustrations are heavy and dark, virtually leaping off the pages to the reader’s eye. The overall reading experience was an excellent one.

All of the original illustrations from Dee, Otus, Willingham and the rest of the old TSR artists were kept as they appeared in the earliest release of the individual modules. In particular, I was glad they included Willingham’s seraglio image on page 14 (page 110 in the new release). While a tad racy, it is still a lovely piece of fantasy art, quite evocative of other works of the time period, such as Frazetta and Boris.

While the original maps appeared in that shocking cyan color, the new release has given way to hard dark black inks which actually make the maps easier to read, in this reviewers opinion. And the new maps created for the prequel module have been drawn with similar aesthetic to the older maps, and are excellently rendered.

I do have to register one complaint about maps in the new Against the Slave Lords release – their accessibility. On a whole, they are not easily used from within a hardbound book, as compared to the old module format where the maps appeared on the inside of the outer cover. I think that the inclusion of a perfed tear-out poster with all the maps on it could have been placed at the end of the book. As WotC has done with other releases, this would have made the book a bit more user-friendly for game table use. Arguably, given the “deluxe” style of this new book, some owners might find it hard to bring it to gaming sessions - risking drink spills, snack crumbs, and general wear and tear!

Finally, I was a bit sad that Against the Slave Lords did not include images of the original covers from the individual modules. The original covers were full color and vibrant, and I think it would have been a nice touch to include them as plates in this deluxe compilation. It certainly would have further enhanced the “old school” feel of this book.


Slavers. Must. Die!

As previously mentioned, Against the Slave Lords was originally designed as an AD&D Open Tournament modules used at Gen Con Game Fair XIII. The modules featured pre-generated characters of appropriate levels for the adventures – Elwitta (female dwarf fighter), “Ogre” (male human fighter), Freda (female human ranger), Karraway (male human cleric), Blodgett (male halfling thief), Dread Delgath (male human magic-user), Phanstern (male human illusionist), Eljayess (male half-elf cleric/fighter), and Kayen Telva (male elf fighter/magic-user). Each module had a detailed scoring system to measure the success (or failure) of players competing in the tournament. All of that content, including the pre- generated characters have been included in the Against the Slave Lords compilation, as they were when they were released to the public in 1981.

This new Against the Slave Lords release opens with a series of essays (Forwards) by each of the authors of the module: Skip Williams (A0), David “Zeb” Cook (A1), Harold Johnson (A2), Allen Hammack (A3), and Lawrence Schick (A4). Each of the “Forwards” discusses anecdotes about the modules, guidelines used to create them, and other facts about writing the adventures.

The original adventures have a cohesive storyline, and all are set in the original Greyhawk Campaign Setting. They are designed for characters of Level 4th to 7th (Pre-generated characters are about 5th level on average), and a Dungeon Master could actually run the adventures tournament style for their player. Of course, instead of using the pre- generated characters provided for each adventure in the series, the new prequel adventure created by Skip Williams offers DMs the opportunity to allow players to create new low level characters. In doing this, a D&D group might potentially make a Greyhawk mini-campaign of this release – or even frame it within the context of a larger campaign!

The new module by Skip Williams, A0 – Danger at Darkshelf Quarry, fits very well with the series in both style and writing. The module is for Levels 1st to 3rd, and acts as an introduction to lead the characters into their initial confrontation with the slave lords. Mr. Williams even introduces a new monster in his adventure, the Mudtiger, and its stat block is in perfect synch with AD&D Monster Manual format, of course. Even the artwork in the new prequel module is evocative of AD&D art, making for a perfect lead-in for the main modules. And there are some interesting hints and hooks in A0 that could lead the heroes through A1-A4 and then beyond to other modules – and that’s as far as I’ll spoil that reference.

For many veteran AD&D gamers, these modules represent some of the premiere accessories created by TSR in its day, and will likely stir up nostalgia and memories of their own experiences with the series. Against the Slave Lords feature many diverse combat and dungeon delve situations, creative puzzles and traps, and an assortment of new monsters that have appeared in monster manuals of every subsequent edition – the aspis, cloaker, storoper, and boggles are just a few of the never-before-seen creatures debuting in these old TSR modules.

For fantasy gamers unfamiliar with the adventure series, they represent an excellent opportunity for some exciting OSR play. AD&D itself is a logical choice for OSR rules to use here, but the modules could be adopted to other OSR game systems. Perhaps enterprising DMs might even use Against the Slave Lords to playtest D&D Next.

With regards to formatting the original modules in Against the Slave Lords, there were a few minor adjustments made which are actually quite beneficial. These changes are with respect to maps, which as I mentioned, had been previously released inside the covers of the module folders/jackets. In A1, I found an additional map that splits up he two levels which had appeared all on one map. This additional map makes the module’s text definitely easier to figure out, and is more readable than the original map. In addition, the maps in several modules of Against the Slave Lords have been re-ordered from how they made their appearance in the original releases. But this alteration is often to get a better position for the maps on the book’s pages, as the original releases had them straddling the “fold line”, and would have been confusing to leave that way on a single page.

The final dozen or so pages of Against the Slave Lords feature over 50 illustrations sent in by AD&D fans, using the inspiration of the original A1-A4 series. Quite a number of these renditions are surprisingly good, and demonstrates just how enthusiastic D&D gamers can be about their own “old school” play experiences.


Overall Score: 4.3 out of 5.0


Final Conclusions


Overall, I was very impressed with Against the Slave Lords and think it has merit for any OSR gamers, as well as D&D fans of any edition. The adventures are fun, exciting, and are a good mix of combats, traps, and exploration. The new addition of A0, the prequel module, makes this series quite useful as a mini-campaign for a new set of adventurers to experience. Being AD&D based, it allows for translation into a number of different OSR rulesets (DCC, 13th Age, etc.), or into material for the D&D Next playtest.

The book is designed to feel great and look great, with a gorgeous cover and binding, and excellent quality pages. And its got that decent "heft" to it. It would not surprise me that many old AD&D gamers might pick it up just to have on the shelf, a charming memento of the glory days of TSR.

The price point for this release of Against the Slave Lords is very reasonable, given the price of buying individual modules these days. This compilation is a lovely bit of work, a mixture of old and new, and well worth consideration by any D&D fan.

Author’s Note
: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product from which the review was written.

Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

  • Presentation: 4. 5
  • - Design: 5.0 (Splendid book; beautiful cover; deluxe quality)
  • - Illustrations: 4.0 (Awesome “old school” art by the “old school” artists; new art fits theme perfectly)
  • Content: 4.0
  • - Crunch: 4.0 (Great adventures; great examples of TSR works; new module very well designed)
  • - Fluff: 4.0 (Plenty of descriptions; cohesive story with details; exciting situations for role-playing)
  • Value: 4.5 (Amazing price for a series of five excellent OSR modules all in a hardbound compilation!)
 

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Alphastream

Adventurer
Great review, though you missed a big point when you say "Perhaps enterprising DMs might even use Against the Slave Lords to playtest D&D Next." The current D&D Next playtest packet includes a bestiary for this product! A DM can pick up that bestiary and run the adventure as it is, because D&D Next speaks so well to previous editions.

And this ties to another area where I'll disagree. I don't really see this as being driven by an "OSR movement". Whether enough people are playing versions of D&D previous to 2E to constitute a "movement" aside, this product is more likely first and foremost about bringing classic support for D&D Next. Existing content can be repackaged, modifier or added to slightly, and provided at a premium price. The content revitalizes the sense of D&D being an established and important brand with classic adventures defining the genre. It's a smart move on many levels, but I doubt OSR support is really one of them. That said, I'm sure Wizards prefers that those playing older editions stay in the Wizards family.

That said, this is a very good review and I enjoyed reading it. I own this and the other reprints and they are a great part of my collection. They can easily be used in any editions other than 3E and 4E, though one could take on the task of modifying them for those editions (and campaigns like Living Greyhawk have converted some aspects of the A-series at various points). I really agree with you that it would have been nice to include color prints of the covers. And for the maps I would want them in the book and also as an included insert. However, Wizards did make the Dungeons of Dread illos available as a free download. They might do the same with maps?
 

How does this version compare to the prior collection of A1-4 (Slavers supermodule) published in the late 1E/early 2E era? I thought that included a transition adventure from another adventure -- is it included here?
 

Alphastream

Adventurer
How does this version compare to the prior collection of A1-4 (Slavers supermodule) published in the late 1E/early 2E era? I thought that included a transition adventure from another adventure -- is it included here?
It is a reprint, so it is the same as the 1E adventure series. Yes, it does include a new adventure. (See the mentions of A0 in the review above)
 

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
How does this version compare to the prior collection of A1-4 (Slavers supermodule) published in the late 1E/early 2E era? I thought that included a transition adventure from another adventure -- is it included here?

It reprints the original adventures, not the Scourge of the Slavelords supermodule, so it lacks the extra material they did for the supermodule.

One of these days my reviewing will get up to the supermodule, and I'll look at what Scourge actually added in detail.

(Scourge was printed in 1986, and my reviewing is currently in 1982, so it'll be a little while yet!)
 

Jan van Leyden

Adventurer
It reprints the original adventures, not the Scourge of the Slavelords supermodule, so it lacks the extra material they did for the supermodule.

That means that your comments, e.g. about the linearity are valid for this reprint.

I know that I'm outing myself as imbecile for a certain part of the ENWorld, but I couldn't stand a collection of linear tournament modules in my game. ;)
 

The Scourge supermodule begins with the PCs in Hommlett and assumes completion of the ToEE supermodule. I'm assuming the A0 module replaces this assumption.
 

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Not at all: A0 is an adventure for 1st-3rd level characters. You could run it during T1-4 to have a break from the Temple, or before T1. It's rather interesting: the events in it let the local lords know about the slaver situation, so that a few months or so later when you're ready, you're hired in A1 to take on the slaves.

Cheers!
 

OK, so I gather Scourge and Against the Slavers are fundamentally different designs with different experiences, even though both rely on the core A1-4 module set. Guess I'll wait for Merric's review for the comparison. Scourge is one of a relatively small number of 1E modules I've yet to track down.

So the only new material in Against is A0? Hmmm. I have all four of the originals; not sure if I want to pick up the entire book for just that, but the layout does sound improved ...
 

OK, so I gather Scourge and Against the Slavers are fundamentally different designs with different experiences, even though both rely on the core A1-4 module set. Guess I'll wait for Merric's review for the comparison. Scourge is one of a relatively small number of 1E modules I've yet to track down.

So the only new material in Against is A0? Hmmm. I have all four of the originals; not sure if I want to pick up the entire book for just that, but the layout does sound improved ...

I have all 4 modules and the supermodule. I'm really curious about A0 but not enough to spend 30+ dollars on it. I hope A0 can be sold as a separate pdf someday.
 

Warunsun

First Post
Scourge of the Slavelords adds additional material to the modules with extra quests and connective tissue. It also changes the level of challenge from the original modules to make it more suitable to be played at a higher-level. The new reprint sounds very much like a faithful reprint where Scourge of the Slavelords was expanded & adjusted.
 

vonmolkew

Explorer
Always loved this set. I played in the original AD&D Open that this was the module. Got killed in about an hour by the Anhkeg. Guess that makes me pretty old....
 

Ricochet

Explorer
Nice review. :) Anyone get the chance to run this for 5e yet? I am considering getting it for my 5e group, but I know there has been a lot of changes from DNDNext compatability to 5e's release version.
 

ddaley

Explorer
I just purchased the hard cover from amazon and the PDF from dmsguild... I plan to run this for our 5e group, but it'll probably be a while.

Nice review. :) Anyone get the chance to run this for 5e yet? I am considering getting it for my 5e group, but I know there has been a lot of changes from DNDNext compatability to 5e's release version.
 

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