[Review] B7 Rahasia (DnD Basic); Super Dungeons & Dragons

Rahasia (1984)
Tracy and Laura Hickmann (TSR)
Levels 2-3


B7 marks another departure from the style we have seen in the B series thus far. The semi-naturalistic and plausible wilderness locations and cavern complexes with monstrous humanoids are exchanged for a complicated magical labyrinth of riddles, traps, teleporters, key puzzles and illusions. Excessive exposition, occasional railroading, Boxed Text on Every Room galore. Silver Age assumed morality and a somewhat artifical climax might outrage the simulation purist but few could deny the intricacy of its map, the complex fiendishness of its challenges, the compelling whiff of exotic mysticism and the slew of complications that help turn this module into something exceptional. It’s not my brand of choice but I’ll be damned if I won’t try a sip.

Prepare for a long ass backstory. In the forests of the elves [1] the peace is cruelly shattered as a ruthless cleric from a distant land in search of some hot elven poontang enters the stage [2]. The plot is further complicated when he discovers the ruins of a wizard’s tower, the imprisoned spirits of three witches and a magical macguffin stone. Cue days later as raiding parties of charmed elves [3] carry off two fair maidens to the temple, leaving the elven lady Rahasia in search of someone to rescue her sisters and temple. Cue the adventurers.

The opening of Rahasia is probably the weakest part. The PCs find a dead elven courier carrying a message of aid Obi-Wan style. And then this happens.

And then its like, he pronounced a curse like, if I didn’t marry him and I was like ohmygod I literally can’t even

Is that a FULL PAGE of narrative description that is crucial to the understanding and repeated nowhere else but in this handout in the book I see? Anyway, after the PCs hand over the letter to the reading bitch while the rest checks their phones or gets everyone a beer, the PCs presumably set out for the elven village of Kota-Hutan [4], where they are brutally and mercilessly railroaded into either accepting the odious burden of assisting elf tits or they are sent out of the village and get attacked by bands of Seswa (the charmed elven males) with unsaveable sleep gas canisters and wake up in room 49 of the dungeon proper, stripped of equipment. Nice. Subtle too. The proffered reward for accepting the quest is the knowledge that you have done the right thing! It’s nice to see where Hickman picked up his taste for railroading.

There is a strange, oriental whiff to this adventure that I find strangely compelling. The temple, eschewed as it is of any hint of divine iconography [5], comes across as vaguely Buddhist, with its cowled devotees, statues of long-bearded sages in meditative poses, alcoves and incence and cells with worshipful acolytes. The module is further embellished by countless tasteful black-and-white drawings of gargoyles, guardian spirits, raving bandits and fanatical Siswa, professional yet not bleached of all life like later incarnations of Dnd. This atmosphere is then painstakingly concealed beneath bland and technical boxed text.

The tunnel opens into a dark, dry cavern, deep within the mountain. No sound breaks the silence in the cavern. Gray stone walls rise up 60 feet to the cavern’s rock and earth ceiling. This structure appears to be an ancient tower, buried under the mountain. Only the lowest story of the tower is intact. What little of the upper stories is visible are destroyed. Cut stones from walls and battlements lie scattered about the cavern floor. What little remains of the cavern has caved in around the sides of the tower so only the front is visible. Darkly stained doors stand in the tower’s front wall. Unrecognizable engravings cover those metal doors. 

The prose is clear and concise but bland. There’s little concession to atmosphere.

Almost everything after this disastrous opening rocks. Where do I begin! The map! There are 100 rooms, divided across three levels of the temple and two levels of wizard’s tower. While the maps are symmetrical, something of a faux pas in Dnd mapping land, there are multiple means of egress between different floors. There are secret portals to be discovered, enchanted elevators, secret doors and stairways etc. It’s great! If you get captured you get a completely different beginning then if you approach the monastary from the front entrance. There’s a portal ON A ROADSIDE SHRINE. There is not a single floor that does not have multiple means of traversing it. The only question is whether you can sell the concept of casually magical architecture to your players without your game coming across like a bunch of video-gamey nonsense [6]. Have you practiced your speech in the mirror? Are you a bad enough GM?

There is sparse use of monsters on anything but the random encounter table, which is casually murderous for character levels 2-3 even if the encounter density is extremely low. Spitting cobras, black widow spiders, a gargoyle or d10 Level 2 elves without spells. This is further compounded by a great complication. The Siswa have been charmed by an evil curse and may not be killed. The two evil Witches are inhabiting the bodies of Elf maidens and may also not be killed. Doing so COSTS XP BECAUSE YOU ARE SLAYING THE INNOCENT. They can be disabled as long as the PCs declare they are doing sub-dual damage, a merciful concession that is probably a necessity. Most of the encounters are with the Siswa. Once they are unconscious, what are you going to do with them. How long until they are found?

Immediately the PCs are incentivized to sneak about the complex and disguise themselves as Siswa, a strategy that is an absolute necessity to get past an otherwise brutal encounter with a bone golem bursting out of a giant clay statue on the second floor. The module rewards and perhaps necessitates careful infiltration rather then hack and slash…but there are also possibilities to encounter friendly NPCs that are also infiltrating the complex that might mistake them for Siswa. The NPCs proper are a varied lot, marauding bandits, a lone elven warrior, a turbaned warrior, Rahasia’s fiancé, captured elven maiden that is to serve as host if the Rahib can’t find a hotter babe etc. They could have used a little bit more in terms of character but they get the job done. If the PCs play their cards right, you can confront the Rahib with a small army by the time you get there.

This module requires some careful preparation before play because of the plethora of riddles, teleporter puzzles, different motivations and puzzles but since it is 100 rooms long and most of the riddle or pay-off stuff doesn’t happen until the PCs enter the wizard’s tower it’s not excessive. Once the PCs enter the Wizard’s tower, there are several rooms with unique magical effects as well as several complex components that can be resolved in different rooms so making some sort of overview or taking some notes will probably helpful when running this beast. Some of it is arbitrary, a lot of it is good. An illusionary wall gives off a flash of bright light if you walk into it and you always emerge at a 180 degree angle, how do you bypass it?

There’s elements here that work but that can feel a bit artificial or gimmicky, albeit with a sort of charm. These predominate the two floors of the wizard’s laboratory. An amulet discovered on the first floor can only be activated by combining it with a ring kept safe by the Guardian Serpent Ulan-Tamar. The father of Rahasia appears in spirit form to deliver a cryptic warning in rhyming couplets. The Players find enchanted wine that is later used to operate a statue to open a portcullis that leads into a teleporter maze where taking a wrong step means a fight in an enchanted arena and the key is printed on one of the bottles. The complexity is again admirable. Taking the worst path and fucking up (two different riddles) can land you in a situation where you face a Green Dragon in the Arena. At level 2-3. Possibly more then once. Yikes.  Before the final confrontation the PCs pass through a hall of platinum covered statues of former adventurers. For a protracted sort of tournament module its actually cool and the puzzles strike a good balance between challenge and fairness but to anyone who values immersion this might be too much. It’s worse then The Shattered Circle.

There’s some shenanigans with the Rahib escaping automatically the first time you see him but since it happens in the first round its semi-forgivable. The final confrontation is against the Three Witches. The crux is that individually they are quite weak but each has their own special way of avoiding direct confrontation with the PCs. That means that there’s three factors by which the final confrontation can fail to pay off, which is good, but the whole adventure builds up to it, so if the GM wants that payoff he has to railroad or walk a delicate tightrope, since the death of even one of the witches will be enough to prevent them from gaining their power. The fact that the sisters must be disabled because they are possessing the bodies of innocents and cannot be slain outright is a nice welcome complication however, and to its credit the adventure does provide you with an amulet to ward off evil sorcery if you can figure out how to obtain it.

Hickmann clearly knows a lot of tricks to manipulate the perception of the players, including one where he shows the treasure of the Rahib in plain sight but trying to get it means the first character to do so without purifying the gem and in effect completing the adventure is fucking petrified (no save). You build up anticipation…you take away a guy just before the final confrontation. It upps the ante, but its also a dick move. The flow on this thing is good even if the elements don’t always make sense outside of the context of a video game.

Speaking of which, the final confrontation takes place in a temple to the elements of Earth, Wind and Fire (groan). The PCs must answer riddles that they were given clues too throughout the dungeon. If they get the first couple of them right they can ask questions in return, and here they are rewarded for nobility and honesty. Has James Raggi read Rahasia?

A further indication of the craftsmanship is the use of unique monsters. The relatively limited monster roster in the Basic set means after a couple of modules the wonder starts to wear off. The Hickman’s don’t fall prey to rigid thinking, using monsters like a Water Weird, Bone Golem and the witches with nonstandard abilities if it is in service to the enjoyment and novelty of the module. The gemstone and the amulet are unique enough to almost function as artifacts, which is good, although 80-90s era DnD needs to kick its addiction to macguffin stones pronto.

Rahasia still retains many qualities of what make oldschool gaming great and when it works it works hard but the rot is seeping in. Despite its bombastic trappings of halls of petrified adventurers, huge non-linear levels filled with secrets and its dabbeling in oriental mysticism which is kind of exciting, Rahasia also introduces us to many of the scourges that would come to plague the genre, including endless boxed text, railroading, heavy handed chivalry as well as having some funhouse elements, my endorsement comes with a lot of caveats. At the same time, there’s some oldschool trickery and downright great obstacles that must be circumnavigated with THOUGHT AND PLAYER NOT CHARACTER ABILITY I would be betraying my oath if I flunked this. A Low ***.

Darkness, Hickman be thy name! Stop using good modules to subvert our children with railroading practices.

[1] Any suitably secluded elven forest in Mystara would probably suffice.
[2] The mysterious turban-wearing Rahib, whose fondness for panthers and air of oriental mysticism makes him a good candidate for the land of Hume in Mystara
[3] In subsequent editions, elves would be resistant to Charm Person, but not in Basic.
[4] Yikes.
[5] Presumably the subject of fictional religions was too edgy for mid 80’s Red Box Dnd
[6] Here’s a hint, avoid the term ‘teleporter.’

10 thoughts on “[Review] B7 Rahasia (DnD Basic); Super Dungeons & Dragons

  1. Another fine review. I have read this one, but never played it, but I can remember thinking that I would need extensive notes to run it properly. On the other hand, many rave about the module. It is certainly an attempt to do something different, with foes you don’t want to kill. The “fighting to subdue” seems a clunky solution; surely it would have been better to give more chances for sneaking and bluffing, or some rules for disarming and grappling. And making elves the opponents is an unhappy choice; sleep spells are no longer effective. A curate’s egg; three stars seems right.


    1. Yo SW. I think 1-2 pages of notes ought to do it, not much more then you would need if you stocked In Search of the Unknown so that would be okay. The witches, the gemstone and the last level are a bit more intense then the rest. The map is very well keyed so you can figure out what portal goes where which is a godsend.

      Small caveat, I checked, and Elves in Basic do not enjoy any special immunity to anything but Ghoul Paralysis. At first I kind of agreed with you that using subdual damage was too easy but I considered it and its probably fair, I think the most interesting gameplay emerges from the PCs having to find ways to keep the Elves locked up or disabled why they continue their exploration of the complex.


      1. I stand corrected. I shall have to shamefully admit that I default to 1e AD+D (sometimes even 2e) when trying to remember rules. There are some interesting differences regarding undead types turned at various levels by low level clerics between Basic, B/X and 1e, which can make all the difference between a manageable and a killer encounter. OK, for any B7 conversion, humans can serve for the elves.


      2. Hey no worries, I default to Basic since the bulk of my gaming has been basic or basic-derived systems like Lotfp, SWN or ACKS, if only because they were more elegant mechanically. I played Rules Encyclopedia Basic the most I think, which is awesome but magic is too overpowered in it, I always dug the aging and system shock side-effects in AD&D. Turn undead is a doozy, but what about the d4 hd thief, the zero spells 1st level cleric or the race as class rules? There’s a lot of subtle differences between the rulessets that would need to be taken into account if you are going to convert it, but in essence there’s no reason you couldn’t. Good job for pointing out ToD as another game changer in the perilous world of low level dungeoncrawling D&D.

        Another downside is the equipment list. I always felt the equipment section in the Rules Cyclopedia and any other B/X rulebook was woefully inadequate. Little things like costs for animals, basic household goods and other non-dungeoning equipment should have really been included.


  2. Next up, rage of the rakasta! Also I love mystara. My version is mystara outlined in bx, isle of dread and only one Gazetteer, karameikos. And that I can take or leave. I love the three page version of that setting. So open ended.


    1. [Rage of the Rakasta]

      Journey to the Rock 😛


      Aaron Allston’s kickass Gaz1 Karameikos is just what the doctor ordered. Its contained but large enough to jumpstart you through levels 1-3 before any sort of serious wilderness adventures are set to occur, and by then the PCs are about ready to set out.


  3. This takes me back…

    So, the first time I “played” D&D, my slightly older cousin and I just kind of talked about what the adventure would have been like – and we thought that’s how D&D was supposed to go. We finished in about 5 minutes.

    Shortly after that, my much older babysitter and I hurriedly went through the module, this one (Rahasia), looking for monsters to fight and take their treasure. There was nothing else. No story, not even a pretense. We rolled for each side, maybe, or each character and monster. And then probably decided that we won, and proceeded to write down their belongings on our character sheet… which was most likely a blank sheet of notebook paper. We probably played for about 15 minutes.

    It was fun even though I knew deep down that we weren’t actually playing D&D correctly or doing anything meaningful. That’s probably how teenage girls feel about sex with some boy their age who doesn’t know a thing and just wants to get in there and do it as fast as possible. No romance. No foreplay. No technique.

    I think the third time I played (for an hour or so) it was an actual D&D session because it was hard and I died multiple times.


    1. Man I would have given anything for an adult to GM stuff for us when we started after playing too much Baldur’s Gate. My first campaign was a series of poorly interconnected dungeons with all of 2e and converted 3e thrown in. I never even glanced at a module because I was a stupid boy. I think an example at the time probably would have improved our gaming, nevertheless, as we played we got better and learned more about what makes gaming fun (hint: It isn’t playing DnD from 8 o clock in the evening till the sun rises).

      I’ve never seen someone use tentative, akward teenage sex as a metaphor for playing D&D but I suppose if anyone was going to do it then it would be you. I like that detail about you dying the first time you really try. I heard of groups that NEVER let people die. What a boring shitshow.

      Cha’alt came in btw. It looks damn fine. I can’t wait!


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