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D&D 1E [Trying Again] B3, or how to deal with an unstructured module

jayoungr

Legend
I'm thinking of running the original orange-cover version of this adventure ("Palace of the Silver Princess") for my players soon as a one-shot. Some of them have played since the 1E era, and I can almost guarantee this is an adventure they didn't play back in the day (though they may have gone through the widely available green-cover version). I'm looking forward to filling the empty rooms with interesting encounters! But I've never run a module that was this loose before, and I'm not really sure how to structure it. I'd be interested in other people's thoughts and experiences here.

The only part of the adventure that's actually fleshed out is the castle itself, but I would love to do more with the extended setting. For example, I would love for my players to meet the evil baroness or venture into the Misty Swamp. Does anyone have stories or ideas on how to use those elements? Or thoughts/tales of interesting ways to use the NPCs? I'm kind of flailing here...

Edit: I guess the specifics don't really matter here--the main thing I'm asking for is help on how to structure an unstructured oldschool module. As written, it consists of the following elements:

1. A very detailed location (the ruined castle) where some mysterious disaster happened but the module doesn't reveal exactly what it was.
2. Descriptions of the surrounding countryside: its political situation (ruled by evil man-hating baroness), several towns with flavor text, a swamp where magic behaves strangely, some mountains where perpetual storms are said to be caused by an evil mage who lives in a hollow tree.
3. A few NPCs, all interesting but all missing what I would normally consider key information:
A. A tinker and his daughter. The two of them, their shop, and their traveling wagon are described in great detail, taking up an entire page of the module--but no hints are given on how to use them in the story except as sources of information if the PCs have questions.​
B. An evil cleric and his party, who are camping out in the castle; the module refers to the cleric's "evil plans" but gives no hint as to what those plans are (unlike the green cover version, where stopping his ritual is the main storyline).​
C. A female werebear fighter with a legendary sword who has joined forces with the cleric and is worshiped by some berserkers, and all of this is only in the background information! No encounters with her are suggested.​
And that's not even getting to the question of what exactly happened to the princess, the knight, and the dragon!

I'm sure this vagueness is not unusual for a module of this era, but how do you go about putting all this together into a story that will satisfy players who are more used to being able to find answers to the mysteries?

And I guess the only way to show the players more of the setting is to write extra side quests for them to do, but I'm not sure where to start with those either. I guess maybe I should figure out why they'd want to go to the castle in the first place, and start from there?
 
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Esbee

Dungeon Master at large.
I ran it for my 1e group, although I don't have the Orange cover version so I don't know the differences off hand.

I kept the core set up, the Valley of Haven was protected by spirits that kept the humanoid races out, and otherwise was an isolated, idyllic community where anyone who lived there lived in harmony. No tension between elves and dwarves etc. I fleshed out various NPCs etc.

The players were en route because they had been escorting a merchant who'd hired them as muscle. (yup, that ol' trope) Though they'd already been with him for half a year and many adventures, with Haven as the final stop on his tour, where he'd planned to retire after they were done.

When the players arrived, things had already gone to hell, humanoids had already invaded and the local populace had either been turned to stone in the castle, capture by the invading humanoids, or hiding in the wilderness. In the case of the dwarves, they had a stronghold that was fortified and safe, albeit beseiged.

At this point the players were given the lowdown of what had happened as per the module, and the group decided to split up and tackle various issues based on their skillset.

The Ranger, Cleric, and two locals (fighter/thief elf, Human warrior) along with the merchant and his 0-level guards opted to remain in the wilderness tracking and finding refugees and protecting them from raiding humanoids.

The Wizard, Dwarven warrior, and a guest player using a Halfling thief, along with an NPC infiltrated the castle.

With the party split, we had each group complete their tasks on different game days. Everyone was forbidden from communicating with each other until the teams were reunited.

It played out quite well. Both teams came close to the brink but succeeded. The Castle team was literally down to just the dwarf with 3 hit points when he was able to figure out how to destroy the ruby. The wizard and NPC had been turned to stone by a medusa, the halfling was knocked into critical condition and was sitting at -3 HP. (I use the optional death's door rules)

The final twist I added to the scenario was a crypt hidden within the Valley of Haven that harboured the secret to the protective barrier. The Ranger's team had discovered it, and was going to use it to hide refugees until they realized there was something sinister inside, and moved on.

When the main adventure was done, they went back to check it out, but the seals on the crypt had been reaffixed, so they decided to let it alone. Had they opened it they would have found 5 wights chained in a ceremonial chamber, and the reveal that the protective barrier around the Valley of Haven came at a price - that the life force of these people was tied to the negative plane to power the barrier, causing these innocent sacrifices eternal suffering in order to power the shield. A little fun moral quandary that, alas, they never got to play out because they decided to move on. (And far be it from me to railroad such a thing)


That's how I ran it, I hope there are some ideas within that inspire you.

In the castle, I only made one change in that I upgraded monsters to 1e stats from their BASIC D&D presentation, but beyond that played it as written. Everything that happened in Haven itself was original. I like allowing my players maximum agency, so at any time they had the option to walk away... though being of good alignment (and one a Ranger) they weren't likely to leave innocents to their fates.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
I'm thinking of running the original orange-cover version of this adventure for my players soon as a one-shot. Some of them have played since the 1E era, and I can almost guarantee this is an adventure they didn't play back in the day (though they may have gone through the widely available green-cover version). I'm looking forward to filling the empty rooms with interesting encounters! But I've never run a module that was this loose before, and I'm not really sure how to structure it. I'd be interested in other people's thoughts and experiences here.
Um, if you're asking for thoughts on a not-widely-available module that hasn 't likely been played by long-time gamers, you might provide us with some examples or excerpts to work with.

That is, if Esbee's excellent reply didn't fulfill your needs.
 

jayoungr

Legend
Um, if you're asking for thoughts on a not-widely-available module that hasn 't likely been played by long-time gamers, you might provide us with some examples or excerpts to work with.

That is, if Esbee's excellent reply didn't fulfill your needs.
You have an excellent point. I'll edit my OP accordingly.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I haven't tried to do this kind of module since the early 80s and B1 - In Search of Unknown but I do have a PDF download of the orange cover version of B3 (I have a print copy of the green cover version I have run several times - though not since the 90s) and this thread has inspired me to break out the older version and see if there is anything I can do with it for a slightly more experienced set of adventurers (mid-level). One of the things I like about such a format is that it leaves you room to easily bump the challenges up (or down).

I know that is not that helpful, but I promise to come back and give my view once I get a chance to look it over again (hopefully that will not be too late for your needs).
 

ccs

41st lv DM
And that's not even getting to the question of what exactly happened to the princess, the knight, and the dragon!
It's been along time since I last played/ran this one, but aren't they trapped in the magical ruby?
You break/disenchant it, they're freed, the villain is defeated, etc.
Or is that not part of the orange cover edition? (mines got the green cover)

I'm sure this vagueness is not unusual for a module of this era, but how do you go about putting all this together into a story that will satisfy players who are more used to being able to find answers to the mysteries?

And I guess the only way to show the players more of the setting is to write extra side quests for them to do, but I'm not sure where to start with those either. I guess maybe I should figure out why they'd want to go to the castle in the first place, and start from there?
You put it together the same way you would if you were writing your own adventure. Only in this case, instead of starting completely from scratch, you've got a map, a basic plot, and a few ideas to work off of.

When I ran this (in 2007? with 3x, before 4e came out) I had the PCs in "town" for a tournament celebrating the princesses birthday. Festivities, games, a series of jousts, a visiting dragon knight of great renown, an evening ball up in the castle (that the PCs weren't invited to).
The first session was all RP in the town/at the festival, archery contests, betting on the jousts, meeting the white dragon knight, hearing rumors of stuff (plot hooks?) & carousing that evening.
(players figured that somewhere in there they'd learn of a plot hook/be presented with a quest/etc)

And then the castle went up in a magical mushroom cloud of disaster....
"Yep, there it is, there's the plot hook. :)"

All the NPC knights of renown, nobles, important people etc were now trapped/killed/etc in the castle.
(good thing the PCs didn't have the social standing to have been invited to the ball, eh?)
A group of lesser knights launched a hasty response & died as they charged un-prepared into a slowly expanding deadly magical fog.
A fog that was oozing down the hill & would surely engulf the town if nothing was done.
Leaving the PCs to figure out how to get in & then deal with whatever they found.
 

jayoungr

Legend
It's been along time since I last played/ran this one, but aren't they trapped in the magical ruby?
You break/disenchant it, they're freed, the villain is defeated, etc.
Or is that not part of the orange cover edition? (mines got the green cover)

Nope, that's only in the green cover version. The orange cover version only gives you this:

1. A giant ruby was presented to the princess. She held a masquerade ball to show it off.
2. One man at the ball wanted to steal the ruby. He also smiled at the princess, and she, "in her innocence," smiled back.
3. A fragment of a love poem in the castle mentions the princess "taming" the writer's dragon steed.
4. The princess's diary says that a fighter in silver and blue armor came to her home, won her love, and married her. The diary has no entries after the fourth day of their marriage.
5. Several weeks after the ball, a red dragon destroyed the valley. Witnesses said they saw a rider in silver and blue armor on its back.
6. No one knows what happened to the princess, but everyone seems to know that the ruby is still in the palace.
7. There are portraits and tapestries of the Silver Warrior in the castle, as well as a mosaic showing a red dragon with a rider in silver and blue armor chasing a maiden.
8. When the ruby is found, the ghosts of the princess and the Silver Warrior appear and attack the PCs.

Putting all that together into a story is challenging. Was the man who wanted to steal the ruby the same person as Silver Warrior? Why does no one remember a grand royal wedding? If the princess and the Silver Warrior were only married four days, why are there so many portraits of him in the castle? Why are the princess and the warrior ghosts, and why are they haunting the ruby? If the man who wanted to steal the ruby was not in fact the Silver Warrior, why didn't he take it after they were dead? Why would the Silver Warrior destroy the valley? If he did, how and when did he die? If he betrayed the princess, why does his ghost appear alongside hers?

And furthermore, it appears that the evil cleric Catharandamus is completely unconnected to that whole story. Oh, and in the orange cover version, the massive ruby is just a massive ruby. No link to an evil god or anything. And also, nobody gets turned to stone.

Honestly, the green cover version makes a lot more sense, but I'm hesitant to borrow too much from it in case my players know it already. But maybe I'll survey them to see how much they know.

You put it together the same way you would if you were writing your own adventure. Only in this case, instead of starting completely from scratch, you've got a map, a basic plot, and a few ideas to work off of.

I guess that makes sense. It's just weird having to create this much of the story!

And then the castle went up in a magical mushroom cloud of disaster....
"Yep, there it is, there's the plot hook. :)"

All the NPC knights of renown, nobles, important people etc were now trapped/killed/etc in the castle.
(good thing the PCs didn't have the social standing to have been invited to the ball, eh?)
A group of lesser knights launched a hasty response & died as they charged un-prepared into a slowly expanding deadly magical fog.
A fog that was oozing down the hill & would surely engulf the town if nothing was done.
Leaving the PCs to figure out how to get in & then deal with whatever they found.

That's definitely a strong plot hook, but it moves the timeline up by quite a lot. The module is definitely written on the assumption that the disaster happened decades ago.
 

ccs

41st lv DM
Nope, that's only in the green cover version. The orange cover version only gives you this:

1. A giant ruby was presented to the princess. She held a masquerade ball to show it off.
2. One man at the ball wanted to steal the ruby. He also smiled at the princess, and she, "in her innocence," smiled back.
3. A fragment of a love poem in the castle mentions the princess "taming" the writer's dragon steed.
4. The princess's diary says that a fighter in silver and blue armor came to her home, won her love, and married her. The diary has no entries after the fourth day of their marriage.
5. Several weeks after the ball, a red dragon destroyed the valley. Witnesses said they saw a rider in silver and blue armor on its back.
6. No one knows what happened to the princess, but everyone seems to know that the ruby is still in the palace.
7. There are portraits and tapestries of the Silver Warrior in the castle, as well as a mosaic showing a red dragon with a rider in silver and blue armor chasing a maiden.
8. When the ruby is found, the ghosts of the princess and the Silver Warrior appear and attack the PCs.

Putting all that together into a story is challenging. Was the man who wanted to steal the ruby the same person as Silver Warrior? Why does no one remember a grand royal wedding? If the princess and the Silver Warrior were only married four days, why are there so many portraits of him in the castle? Why are the princess and the warrior ghosts, and why are they haunting the ruby? If the man who wanted to steal the ruby was not in fact the Silver Warrior, why didn't he take it after they were dead? Why would the Silver Warrior destroy the valley? If he did, how and when did he die? If he betrayed the princess, why does his ghost appear alongside hers?

And furthermore, it appears that the evil cleric Catharandamus is completely unconnected to that whole story. Oh, and in the orange cover version, the massive ruby is just a massive ruby. No link to an evil god or anything. And also, nobody gets turned to stone.

Honestly, the green cover version makes a lot more sense, but I'm hesitant to borrow too much from it in case my players know it already. But maybe I'll survey them to see how much they know.
Wow, that's way different my copy.
I never bothered picking up the orange cover because I assumed it was just the typical re-cover like the Isle of Dread (mines blue) or alot of the 1e modues that went from mono-chrome to new color art.
I guess that makes sense. It's just weird having to create this much of the story!
There's a fair bit of the old stuff where you need to fill in the gaps. Or could at least benefit doing so.
A few that come to mind;
B1: In Search of Adventure
B2: Keep on the Borderlands
and my favorite; N2: The Forest Oracle - there's so much underdeveloped stuff in this one that you can wring a mini-campaign out of it. :)

That's definitely a strong plot hook, but it moves the timeline up by quite a lot. The module is definitely written on the assumption that the disaster happened decades ago.
Oh I know that. But I've no qualms about remixing adventures.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I'm thinking of running the original orange-cover version of this adventure ("Palace of the Silver Princess") for my players soon as a one-shot. Some of them have played since the 1E era, and I can almost guarantee this is an adventure they didn't play back in the day (though they may have gone through the widely available green-cover version). I'm looking forward to filling the empty rooms with interesting encounters! But I've never run a module that was this loose before, and I'm not really sure how to structure it. I'd be interested in other people's thoughts and experiences here.

The only part of the adventure that's actually fleshed out is the castle itself, but I would love to do more with the extended setting. For example, I would love for my players to meet the evil baroness or venture into the Misty Swamp. Does anyone have stories or ideas on how to use those elements? Or thoughts/tales of interesting ways to use the NPCs? I'm kind of flailing here...

Edit: I guess the specifics don't really matter here--the main thing I'm asking for is help on how to structure an unstructured oldschool module. As written, it consists of the following elements:

1. A very detailed location (the ruined castle) where some mysterious disaster happened but the module doesn't reveal exactly what it was.
2. Descriptions of the surrounding countryside: its political situation (ruled by evil man-hating baroness), several towns with flavor text, a swamp where magic behaves strangely, some mountains where perpetual storms are said to be caused by an evil mage who lives in a hollow tree.
3. A few NPCs, all interesting but all missing what I would normally consider key information:
A. A tinker and his daughter. The two of them, their shop, and their traveling wagon are described in great detail, taking up an entire page of the module--but no hints are given on how to use them in the story except as sources of information if the PCs have questions.​
B. An evil cleric and his party, who are camping out in the castle; the module refers to the cleric's "evil plans" but gives no hint as to what those plans are (unlike the green cover version, where stopping his ritual is the main storyline).​
C. A female werebear fighter with a legendary sword who has joined forces with the cleric and is worshiped by some berserkers, and all of this is only in the background information! No encounters with her are suggested.​
And that's not even getting to the question of what exactly happened to the princess, the knight, and the dragon!

I'm sure this vagueness is not unusual for a module of this era, but how do you go about putting all this together into a story that will satisfy players who are more used to being able to find answers to the mysteries?

And I guess the only way to show the players more of the setting is to write extra side quests for them to do, but I'm not sure where to start with those either. I guess maybe I should figure out why they'd want to go to the castle in the first place, and start from there?
I know nothing about the adventure beyond what you've shared and a quick Wikipedia check: "The module has been described as a low-level scenario, which involves the legends surrounding a ruined palace, a white dragon and a giant ruby. The PCs encounter evil creatures that have taken over the palace. The plot of Palace of the Silver Princess revolves around a country frozen in time by a strange red light. The only seemingly unaffected location and the apparent source of the glow is the royal palace. The adventurers must restore the flow of time and save the country."

Based on those barebones...

The Ruined Palace was ground zero for the Ruby exploding.

The Baroness hates men because the ruby was to be her anniversary gift, and it was the squabbling of men over the ruby artifact that caused the artifact to shatter and freeze the surrounding country in time. She's evil because she feels she is "owed" the ruby and those who suffered its effects received their "just deserves." Paradoxically, she both covets the ruby, but also enjoys the time-stopped state of things. Her henchmen – wicked versions of Robin Hood's Merry Men – make a habit of screwing with time-stopped people (e.g. hooking someone's cheek with a fish hook, tipping plates of food, etc)

Her lair is the Misty Swamp because when her entourage was attacked by those seeking the ruby, during the carriage chase she and several of her henchmen tried to lose their pursuers. Though the ruby was taken (and destroyed), some strange property of the swamp – which is touched by fey magic – protected the swamp inhabitants from the time stop.

The Evil Mage in the Mountains was one of the original men who fought over the ruby. He was able to teleport himself away right when the ruby shattered, so he was partially time stopped. Half of his body doesn't move correctly, his speech is slurred, and he has a devil of a time with somatic and verbal components. Alternately, he might move as if under permanent effects of slow spell. He killed a dryad and took her mystical tree, using its power to sustain himself. While within the desecrated tree – which he hollowed out into a wizard's tower – he can function normally. However, if he leaves, he is once again partially time-stopped. The storms are caused by nature spirits who seek vengeance against the evil mage who killed their dryad sister.

The Tinker and Daughter were hoping to trade for the ruby. His daughter is actually a sophisticated construct that the tinker wishes to give the ultimate gift he has heretofore been unable to grant her – real life. The ruby is said to possess such power. His daughter doesn't know her true nature yet, but is beginning to suspect. The tinker is still looking for traces of the ruby, though he is careful to spin the "just traveling merchants" story to anyone he doesn't know and trust.

Country-spanning time-stopping magic attracted the attention of the church, which sent Evil Cleric and Party to investigate. His accompanying holy warriors do not realize the extent of the cleric's evil heart. Though his mission is officially to lift the "curse" on the countryside, he actually intends to master the "ruby magic" and use it to time stop many more people – namely, enemies of the heresy that he leads, festering within the heart of the church.

The Werebear is the champion of a berserker clan that once inhabited the foothills between the Misty Swamp and the Mountains, but they were driven out by the triple threat of the White Dragon, the Evil Mage, and the Baroness. She intends to lead her people back to their home, and wields a Legendary Sword with tiny bits of the fractured ruby imbedded in its blade. She is being thoroughly deceived by the Evil Cleric and has joined his crusade, believing the best way to get things back to the way they were is to end the time stop "curse." However, the holy warriors view her as a heathen, and her berserkers don't trust the Evil Cleric, making for a tense alliance held together only by the personalities of the leaders.

The White Dragon is a female who was nursing a clutch of eggs when the ruby shattered. Even though she was far away in the Mountains, residual ruby magic causes her eggs remain dormant and prevents them from hatching. Though helpless time-frozen cattle make for a tasty snack, she wishes to see the time stop ended so that her wyrmlings may be born.
 

pming

Legend
Hiay!

I haven't run the Orange cover version, but I have run the original B1 (In Search of the Unknown). To make a long story short...I just picked a couple of rooms I found interesting and had an idea for and put a monster/NPC in it. For all the rest? Pretty much random rolls + on-the-fly stuff that popped into my brain.

This sort of approach might not be the way to go for someone who isn't comfortable with such "on the spot inspiration", or who just isn't that "good" at it and requires more forethought. Not to toot my own horn, but that is easily one of my best traits; I can string together sixteen different things into a coherent, interesting and logical story, all on the spot. Maybe I was just born that way, but I think it also has a lot to do with practice; doing it for hours on end for decades you can get pretty good at something! ;)

The use of the "Dungeon Filling Tools" from B/X/BECMI are on my DM screen whenever I am DM'ing Basic D&D. I use my own "random filling ideas" tables I created for most other games. These tables help me feel less pressured, because I can roll, and then whatever my crazy imagination comes up with when reading the results is often what I go with...with some modification on occasion.

Anyway...that would be how I would run it; pick a handful of rooms that look interesting or I get an idea for when reading it, but for all other rooms... "random imagination rolls", then tie them together as the dice and story unfold through play.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

jayoungr

Legend
I know nothing about the adventure beyond what you've shared and a quick Wikipedia check: "The module has been described as a low-level scenario, which involves the legends surrounding a ruined palace, a white dragon and a giant ruby. The PCs encounter evil creatures that have taken over the palace. The plot of Palace of the Silver Princess revolves around a country frozen in time by a strange red light. The only seemingly unaffected location and the apparent source of the glow is the royal palace. The adventurers must restore the flow of time and save the country."

Unfortunately, the white dragon, the frozen time, and the red glow all come from the rewritten green-cover version, not the original orange-cover version. (The dragon is red in that version.)

Thanks for your scenarios, though! There's stuff I can probably steal in there, but even more importantly, it's a very useful example of how to approach a module that gives you so little information.

There's a fair bit of the old stuff where you need to fill in the gaps. Or could at least benefit doing so.
A few that come to mind;
B1: In Search of Adventure
B2: Keep on the Borderlands
and my favorite; N2: The Forest Oracle - there's so much underdeveloped stuff in this one that you can wring a mini-campaign out of it. :)

The whole reason I was looking at original orange B3 was because I could be reasonably sure none of my players had ever gone through it. I'm not so confident they haven't played any of those (even N2). But again, maybe I should do a survey and find out, because if I could borrow from other adventures or even the green-cover version of B3, that makes my task much easier.

I've no qualms about remixing adventures.

It's not that I have qualms, but practically every room and plot point (uh, such as they are) would have to be replaced if the palace was wrecked yesterday instead of a few decades ago, and at that point, I feel like I might as well just start from scratch. I get the feeling it's easier to make that swap with the green-cover version, which I've only skimmed at this point.
 

jayoungr

Legend
Just bumping this thread to say thanks to all who helped. I've started running the adventure, and after my initial flailing, I'm finding that I enjoy the open-endedness. It's fun to be able to decide the NPCs' motivations for myself, and it's a relief not to have to worry about the players finding ways to circumvent the story that will make the whole thing end with a whimper.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I doubt much of anyone ever played the orange version - it was never released publicly back in its time and wasn’t brought out until I think WotC took over - at least 20 years after it had been written and publication of the BECMI series had been buried and forgotten by the publisher.

I faintly remember playing in the original green cover version, but I find it fascinating how different it was from the released green cover. Let us know how it turned out.
 

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