Today we have been reading more POD BECME era D&D (the one before so-called AD&D that outlasted it). Those box sets and Cyclopedia were as good as it got to me with simplicity and speed and optional complexity and the gazetteers. Its a good and bad thing. The Known World setting of D&D was used so heavily but Mystara as it came to be called was a mix of alternate history and high magic with over a thousand 36th lv wizards in the world running one empire. I guess its the drug addiction that stops them ever helping you when you're saving the world again from a god in Master box adventures.
Both of these have great design, nice art and maps. They are railroads like a choose your own adventure book with fewer choices but I guess lots of kids had money to collect and you need people getting into it to have the latest stuff for noobs to buy not stuff already printed and sold. It's like maybe successful companies and capitalism are not always going to make art. I liked the module as a format and it was very different by 91. The thin box set with cards props and mini-adventures in a booklet never grabbed me as much and the POD versions feel flat.
As I have played with dungeon tropes and the genres for years now (I've written over 100 adventures since I got back to my hometown mostly through patreon over 3 years) Im interested in trying some more mid 80s style adventure writing like the Pharoh Trilogy with modular scenes/locations players can visit and revisit. as part of some bigger plot. I will have more paths though not a straight line pretending to be giving people choices. Maybe calling these railroads cinematic might be kinder vs sandbox modes. I think Barrowmaze and its sequels were fantastic with backgrounds, a village of locals, gods, mini locations, then lots of dungeons then a freaking huge dungeon is a good approach and expands from the Keep on the Borderlands setup. You can also just plunder the bits as you see fit or need. With Highfell and The Forbidden Caverns books you have plenty of wizard towers, barrows and dungeons for games for years even if you can't get a 2-year play the whole book campaign. I also hope the smaller more fabulous scene/episode/location method might be good for blog and Patreon (oops I'm shaped by demands of capital once again). In a way, I have used lots of my 3fold adventures like this in play. Setting them in a mapped area players can explore as they wish with nudges towards what they have the levels for. The NPCs like enemies made in play and local friends help bring out more memorable setting spaces. I will see what comes of my attempt to do a Hickman or Zeb Cook mid 80s adventure but not Dragonlance which my players and friends all said nope to pregens & no cleric spells. No to railroads. And just no way.....
But they did have great art maps and an interesting world just such a railroad goodguys campaign. One day I will run it with young kingdoms sorcerers invading or run a dragonlords campaign where you hunt troublesome heroes and stop their fetch quests. You probably want to read up on boat rules and make up some tokens of boats and monsters for these Nautical adventures. Quagmire and The Isle of Dread would slot in as an ok campaign.
91 I gave up on TSR and Marvel comics for similar reasons. Making too much subpar and lazy work with the space-wasting design. Plus the history fad was nice but I ended up playing Runequest (non-glorantha mostly historic). I ended up just reading a few comics by creators I liked not by company or character and I was doing some comic studio work.
X7 The War rafts of Kron 💓💓💥💥
This is somewhat of a railroad. The Triton race are depicted as all resembling Son of Satan from 70s marvel comics with Namors pants. But is still good. Backstory has you recruited and tested with a chance for an Island and a ship as a reward for 9-12 level characters. Eventually, with a loan naval crew you sail off to investigate the threat and immediately get attacked. So you get lots of interesting marine magic encounters and your ship could get destroyed first encounter. I feel going out in a dingy prepared for being captured might save lots of money. So you end up getting to the underwater Triton city where you can deal or hit them. Most of them are also 5th Lv wizards and lightning bolts are worse in water apparently. This has elaborate underwater wilderness encounters and spell effect rules that I would probably curb because local creatures might want to summon sea snakes or marine invertebrate swarms not have you summon dead animals. Lots of new monsters. A friendly giant. Dolphins apparently can tell you where everything is if you ask which is a first for a useful dolphin in a game. So it turns out the Tritons are not all bad and hopefully, you don't genocide them before finding out but better handled than part 2 of saltmarsh. The factions have like DrWho have a helper ready to help players which is nice. Then visit the war raft of Kron for some more possible reform or destruction. Then its off the real baddy in a sunken city dungeon. Yes its a combat railroad but it has notes to expand sections and you do get to befriend or purge the unclean underwater scum and possible to roleplay more than fight if that's your bag. Deliberately being captured could get you all the way through this and bypass the wilderness travel as badguys escort you around. Actually Id like to play it with different people to see how they would handle it. Its a railroad but your choices have consequences. If you get that Island being hated by underwater people and sea nomads might suck.
M1 Into The Maelsrom 💓💓💓💥
This for level 25-30 which I have never got to really and I think 20th level is time to retire characters to divinity but the Companion and Masters adventures keep surprising me with fantasticness and foes. Yes they feel like a film script sometimes or a choose your own adventure with 2 possible outcomes but this one is pretty wow. So once again you are called on by the ruler of Norwald to get in a fleet and attack a country to enrage an empire vs empire war based on little evidence. Apparently, gods can mess with divination and you cant fact check this invasion plan over who is releasing poison gas over the kingdom from the sea. So you go out with a fleet and possibly get destroyed then sucked into space to sail about strange space islands in a region made by one of the empires with lots of wizards long ago. So you get to visit various islands and meet monster often inspired by mythology which is nice and based on your choices three gods gain or lose points and when they get certain scores they might help you or turn on you. I think I would have 3 bowls with glass bead tokens and use in front on the players next to my hourglass and refuse to explain what they are for. Its a good way to have variable outcomes on a linear adventure. You can even have gods restore lost ships and crew in your fleet or give you stat points. Lots of spectacular weird places and battles and honestly Id like to run it. Sort of proto-spelljammer and I like the fact wizards made the space with elements brought in to make air and land and water. It's mindboggling and would make an ok movie. I do like the idea by this level you are mostly messing with gods giving the DM weird options to deal with not-quite-godlike players. I'm learning from some of these adventures strange things. Maps and art here do a very good job of showing some of the amazing scenes. There are a few moments where I wonder If bad guys cool ships were captured by adventurers what fun they could have with dimensional and phasing warships.
B5 Horror on the Hill 💓💓💓💥
A bit underrated and I had it sitting around before I fully read and appreciated. Its a nice beginners scenario with a skimmed over tavern scene, shopping then straight to the Hill. It is a fairly large cliff and hilly area that is a bit of a maze and probably where you should spend time and level up before getting to the dungeon. Lots of locations and an opportunity for some allies and extra healing if you work through these. There are a great couple of elderly lady spell users who haggle for magic that are quite fun and Id re use in a campaign every time players racked up some loot. The ruins and the dungeon monastery has a level where the plotting monsters are preparing an attack and you get xp bonuses for destroying their stockpiles. There is a bit where you get dumped to level two and find lv three and get out then go back to the monastery to get the monster boss who dumped you below. It is a good intro scenario that gets down to business and has lots of content. Oddly there are two new swarm creatures as if basic swarms were not bad enough. Im quite keen to play some time.
X10 Red Arrow, Black Sheild 💓💓💥💥
This is more a campaign than a module adventure. The bad thing is it's just not a dungeon adventure you can knock of in a day of play. It is a military campaign using the Known World setting of Basic D&D and this one although Expert uses Battlesystem and the combat System in the companion set or cyclopedia. It is a world-spanning quest to visit the courts of the world and convince them to join. If you have finished various adventures in B and X series you will find it easier to get kingdoms on your side. Also the baddies the master of the desert nomads (from x4 x5 who mysteriously look like a religious leader of Iran a fave bogeyman of America in the 80s). Helping you out are the incompetent minions of evil whos diplomatic breaches against the party like assassinations only help the hero. Each kingdom has som event you can help with to secure the support of a kingdom. It's a great way to see the campaign world and as diplomats, you get to meet the rulers of the world. By the end of this characters should be world-famous lords and heroes which is a good position. Actually, a computer game of it would be kind of nice. If you don't use the world it is still a good example of building and running a massive setting war. I like it goes into detail if you don't help or flee you get to see the world burn under the master as he approaches godhood and works to kill everyone over 5th level, not his allies. I like that if you get certain allies on board it hinders your chances to get others. Getting both big empires on the side is tricky. Some rulers ask for your loyalty in future adventures. I'm guessing that as a POD the huge world map will be less impressive and once again I say - please get options to print full-size TSR era maps. If you played the previous two adventures vs the Master this would be icing on the cake. You could stretch this out for your high-level play campaign for years with local adventures in each kingdom. One thing Im liking with these old high level adventures is examples of what high level play looks like. In high expert to companion, you influence nations. By masters set your battling gods and on your own path to immortality. Ad&d has campaign building like this but adventures seemed not to utilise it as much as Basic BECMI D&D in published adventures. There is a hat tip to the old DnD toyline characters. Id do more and have you kill of the badguy ones serving the master and throw in Venger and Tiamat for some reason.