Apparently I’ve started a new series of posts on tournament modules. What the heck, let’s go for it. Actually, there are only two small indications that S4 was a tournament module. On the cover it mentions that it was first run as a tournament at WinterCon V. Inside, there’s a mention that the wilderness portion was not part of the original tournament. And that’s basically it, there-after we hear nothing of it being a tournament or not.
Frankly, I’m a bit surprised that this was a tournament. I’d love to see the original tournament material, because this is no small module, and I can’t imagine they handed all this stuff off to the DMs at WinterCon. The module is so big it’s broken up into two 32 page booklets, the first containing the actual adventure, and the second being a veritable supplement in it’s own right full of new monsters, spells, and magic items. OK, all of these likely saw print in later books so they don’t feel all that new to me, but still, purchasers of this module when it first came out must have been delighted with the huge quantity of content it came with.
That said, I could easily see incorporating this module into a regular campaign. The wilderness part is delightful. Most modules assume you find a map to the location, this one makes you find it. Also, I’m a complete sucker for modules that include an incomplete player map hand-out. I know it’s a bit of a trope at this point, but it’s one that I completely love.
As for the dungeon, it’s a pretty solid one I’d say. It’s broken apart into two levels, connected by a stair that’s somewhat concealed. I’ll touch more on that issue when I review WG4, in which the connection to the second level is even harder to find. My point in reading this module (and WG4), was to answer the question: was there a shift in adventure design in the early 80’s away from Gygaxian Naturalism, or is Gygaxian Naturalism by it’s nature, well, Gygaxian. That is, was it just Gygax’s style, a style that other designers simply never got or emulated?
This module definitely has all the hallmarks of Gygaxian Naturalism. For example, several rooms are full of fungus that crew from the large quantity of bat guano which in turn comes from the large bat population. This fungus attracts giant cave crickets which feed on it, which in turn attracted some trolls who eat the cave crickets. The trolls then start spreading the fungus around further to attract more cave crickets. You get the picture. There’s a real sense of ecology to this module. That said, it’s not like the story of the trolls and the cave crickets is pivotal to the adventure, it’s just there.
That said, I’m not convinced this module, nor WG4, are really good examples of late Gygaxian adventure design. Though this module was published in 1982, it was first run at WinterCon V which was all the way back in 1976. And even that’s not clearly the origin of this module, as you can just tell from the reading that this was adapted from Gary’s home campaign (actually wikipedia tells me it was part of Rob Kuntz’s home campaign, but I think those two shared quite a lot of material with each other back then). I can totally understand how this came about. It’s 1982, the peak of D&D popularity, and there’s a huge demand for more modules. Someone in a board meeting looks at Gary and says “Say Gary, you’ve been running stuff for years now, surely you must have some good stuff that could be printed in a module.” Why yes, yes he did.
Perhaps to really analyze Gary’s later design sensibilities I’ve got to go out and find some Lejendary Adventure stuff. To prove the above theory, I should probably also be on the look-out for contemporary modules from the late 70’s/early 80’s not by Gygax that also exhibit his same design sensibilities. All that said, it really is starting to look to me like this is simply Gary’s style. Sure, plenty of folks in the OSR are now picking it up, and I’d even argue that it really is the best style for reusable adventure design, but that said I’m not positive that anyone back in the early 80’s realized or cared about this kind of distinction. Gygax wrote modules, and Cook wrote modules, and a whole bunch of other guys did too. Some of them were good, some not so much, but I bet nobody really bothered to sit down and figure out what elements made for good vs. bad modules. They were probably too busy pumping them out to stop and think about the process analytically.
Now I’m really deep in the land of conjecture so I guess I’d better stop. I’ll still write up a review about WG4 soon, and maybe also a little high-level opinion piece on why I think Gygaxian Naturalism is the way to go. Now though, it’s time for lunch.