[Review] B11 King’s Festival (DnD Basic); Hole of Chaos

[Adventure]
B11 King’s Festival (1989)
Carl Sargent (TSR)
Level 1
Summary: (Caves of Chaos)^.25

B11

King’s Festival was the late 80s introductory module for DnD Basic, following in the giant footsteps of B1, a daring raid into the stronghold of two fearsome heroes of renown has been replaced with a minor quest to rescue a cleric from the clutches of several orcs. But wait! There’s more! As they fight the mighty Orc chieftain, they discover that below the dungeon level is a second level with an evil cleric. Yeah! And the adventure lays down the law on killing Orc women and children. Are you excited yet?!?!?

There’s a misconception that I sometimes encounter when people are making adventures for starting characters and players and its that since the characters are of low level their tasks should be minor and unremarkable. Nothing gets the blood going like being told that you must clear out “some bandits” that the NPC that promises you a reward is “too busy” to handle. Even if you are introducing players to DnD, this is a fucking horrible approach. Instead, your adventure should probably be more awesome then average, since its going to be the first experience people have with DnD and they are most likely going to base their decision on whether or not to continue with their game on that experience. Game takes a fucktonne of time too.

B11 is, in many ways, a lobotomized approach at the starting adventure. Gone is the excitement of B1, where a brand new GM is given the tools to go and stock a dungeon together with Mike Carr, and the PCs are given shiny new PCs to fuck around with in the perilous stronghold of their peers, adventuring men that have a long career of exciting adventure long behind them. Instead B11 is frontloaded with pages and pages of GMing advice, which explains in no uncertain terms how to apply the various rules of the game so it doesn’t suck. In this it succeeds excellently, but there is a noticeable drop in the expected age of the player. Still, the hints on using description would benefit some GMs I have known in my time and the admonition to use reason and occasionally use common sense to overrule erroneous results seems apt. Carebear DnD creates the worst of lolrandom, lazy players (and hideous characters) but you probably don’t want your players to die because of a minor error in the first session if you want them to ever come back, unless you do a proper session zero.

All in all, there’s some weaksauce advice on handling your players going off the map, coupled with decent pointers on drawing out shy players, trying actions not covered in the rules and how to backpeddle in case you fuck up. True damage is inflicted when the GM is adviced to handle dysfunctional gamers In game, which is a mistake since dysfunctional play is an indicator of an inability to understand the social contract. Just tell the player that its a team game and if the problem persists try increasingly stringent methods of coercion [1] until they either fall in line or you remove them. On the plus side, even Carl Sargent is against bullshit resurrections and tells you dead is unfortunately dead.

We are at page 11, get a short primer on Karameikos that is, frankly, superfluous for this adventure and we are off.

It is the King’s Festival when people celebrate the death of the Immortal King Halav. Unfortunately, Orcs capture a cleric! The town guard that could presumably guard against such an assault in the town of Stallanford are led down the wrong path and our heroes are asked to follow an old tracking man to a cave 3 hours away from the city…why don’t we get horses and follow the town guard, and bring them with us?

The dungeon proper is 30 rooms divided across 2 levels. This is a starting adventure and it FEELS like a starting adventure. Endless advice on how to handle every encounter, explanation upon explanation for comparatively little.

The map is limited essentially two or three forks with rooms branching off them. Inhabitants consist of often a single Orc, possibly with a pet, in the process of doing something. No random encounters, no rumors, no mystery. DnD in lobotomy mode. There’s a room with a giant Ferret and a baby Giant Chameleon. Even at 3 HD, anything with multiple attacks is a fucking nightmare in DnD. Almost the only scary encounter in the dungeon.

There is one good thing in this dungeon and it is that every inhabitant is either doing something or has some sort of strategy and notes on behavior. Orcs will be drunk, try to circle back, warn others, or surrender if they reach a certain number of hit points or have their pet spider stalk a captive halfling. Its a boring dungeon but its not entirely brainless.

But there’s nothing memorable or standout about the whole experience. No puzzles. No riddles to solve, things to negotiate. A secret door might cause some momentary excitement as it leads down to a lower level, catacombs, skeletons and a carrion crawler. Is this the DnD that we want to showcase to our peers? Where’s the magic fountains, the idols with gemstone eyes, the buried sleeping abominations worshipped by the degenerate remnants of ancient cultures?

In the boxed text? Here is your boxed text.

This bare, undecorated chamber has a few rocks and stones on the floor.
The only unusual thing here is a pile of rotten wood and material of some sort by the south wall. The pile of sacks moves and a creature that looks like a hobgoblin races toward you

That’s really where this thing goes wrong. I can’t recognize a hint of the travels of Faffhrd & the Grey Mauser, the savage fury of the Cimmerian, the ancient decadent civilizations of Merrit or Lovecraft or the wonder of Dunstany in King’s Festival. Nearly all of DnD’s concepts are borrowed, referrals to bodies of fantasy, history and myth, aimed at the emulation of the adventure and fantasy tales of yesteryear. B11 is the DnD you get if you remove all those references and just read the DMG. The evil cleric Petrides is devoted to evil and chaos and has two zombie guards. Gee.

Its a functional adventure, the treasure is boring but not poorly described, gold pieces and potion flasks and boy oh boy there’s a pit trap.

Listen, you aren’t dumb. Even if you are a Gen Z kid reading this you aren’t stupid and GMing isn’t hard. Get a copy of B1. Go to town on it. Read a book. Watch a youtube video on GM tips. Experiment. Learn. Be bold. Challenge yourself.

B11 is an introductory dungeon that feels like the type of dungeon one would make if one was a beginning GM. That’s fucking wrong. Give people something to strive towards. There’s DCC funnels where you take on fucking deities of chaos with a band of illiterate peasants and there’s this. I know what I’d be into.

This is one I reviewed mostly for the sake of completeness. A module so bland I can’t even muster righteous fury, only weary disgust.

It kills the Orcs in the room or else it gets the hose again. **

[1] I like to keep a cup of molten gold that I can throw over players that defy my whim or act out of character next to my GM Screen but different strokes for different folks


16 thoughts on “[Review] B11 King’s Festival (DnD Basic); Hole of Chaos

  1. If your new project is reviewing old TSR B/X modules, I’m totally on-board. I think Bryce did a service for the community by doing the same with Dungeon magazine, but what a painful read. Like panning for gold in a children’s sandbox. This seems more promising.

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    1. My old project is actually kind of gradually working my way through the B series. I’m thinking about doing a deep dive into high level adventures next to tackle Brycean Theorem that high level adventures nearly always suck next, might take a while. All feedback will be taken into account, and there’s always donations, and Palace.

      I have an inkling of how to review a campaign setting for DnD so that might be an upcoming post. Stay tuned and stay healthy.

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      1. I am still wondering if/when you’ll get to Maze of the Blue Medusa. What could be more perverse than reviewing a Zak joint in 2020? That ought to appeal to you…

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      2. It does but I’d prefer a baseline for Megadungeons first. Undermountain? Stonehell? I’ll either have to figure out a poll so I can put it on the options for a deep dive alongside High level adventures, campaign setting shit, underwater adventures or everything from a certain creator.

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      3. Well, if you’re looking for a baseline, I think Stonehell is a good bet. I’ve been running that via PbP on the pub and it feels very canonical old-school. Nothing fancy or gonzo in the first few levels, but it runs butter-smooth.

        Speaking of which, the players completed the first delve just a couple days ago. Three deaths and very little treasure, but they seem to be having fun. The halfling got bit by a cobra and failed her saving throw. The poison takes 1d6+4 turns to kill you, and I rolled the full 100 minutes. So it was fun to throw into my descriptions an occasional note about the halfling’s worsening symptoms taken from WebMD pages about cobra bites.

        Seriously, the best treasure they found was a backpack full of silk dresses. But they’re already gearing up for the next delve.

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  2. “There’s a misconception that I sometimes encounter when people are making adventures for starting characters and players and its that since the characters are of low level their tasks should be minor and unremarkable. Nothing gets the blood going like being told that you must clear out “some bandits” that the NPC that promises you a reward is “too busy” to handle.”

    This nugget right here seems so obvious but that never occurred to me. I thought people were having genuine fun throwing burning oil at rats. The more I think about it though the more the idea of a safe/blanced and steady tutorial and progression seems like bad wrong videogame logic, and from ’89 no less. Also I have to agree that “do my chores because I’m busy” is about the most pitiful call to action of any hero’s journey.

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    1. New players have to be eased in because dying in your first session because you made a forgiveable error sux and DnD is pretty brutal. That being said, there’s no reason the scope of their new quest can’t be exciting. B1 is exciting but pretty forgiving, it doesn’t break versimilitude and it FEELS exciting.

      Throwing burning oil at rats is cool, throwing burning oil at rats because Lord GoldSmack the level 14 paladin wants his cellar cleared out less so. Why not have the heroes spend time in a backwater hovel whilst a giant rat plague ravishes the county. Same concept of rat burning, more peril.

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      1. I never understood the pervasive assumption of “low level PCs = boring adventures”. Even if you want dial back the fantastical elements (as I’ve done at times when introducing players who had little/no background in fantasy media), you can still make it feel special. The town guards aren’t leaving the bandits alone because it’s beneath them, it’s because someone with higher political power is holding them back and so they need outside agents to take the action that they can’t pursue. You’re not trying to solve some murder because nobody else cares, you’re trying to solve it because it’s your best friend who’s being falsely accused by a noble trying to cover up an illicit affair.

        Or, if you don’t care about dialing back on the fantastical, you’re not just checking out that mound of giant termites because nobody else wants to mess with icky giant bugs, you’re doing it because it overtook your home town while you were out on trading trip and now there’s nobody else around to try rescuing survivors from the telepathic alien plant and the arachno-narwhal faerie fighting for control of it. You’re not just asking the witch for some narcotic herbs to treat someone’s toothache, you’re doing it because the village has been crippled by a forgotten plague-curse and you’re the only able-bodied people left.

        Likewise for “low level adventures = small-scale consequences”. Screw that, give them a chance to make an impact on the world. Let them release the undead in Death Frost Doom, or earn the favor/ire of a god in Intrigue at the Court of Chaos, or unleash an ooze-pocalypse from opening a buried sarcophagus in one of my personal introductory adventures. If they don’t decide to keep playing, it doesn’t matter, and if they do decide to keep playing it gives them either immediate investment (if it was the start of a campaign) or a sense that their choices matter (if it was just one-shot intro to D&D).

        Making things feel grand/wondrous/special has nothing to do with stat blocks and HD. It’s mostly narrative, so there’s no need to restrict it based on level.

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  3. Good review. I think this module achieves its modest goal. High ** for beginners finding this sort of advice useful, low two star for others.
    Well made point about the “well, the town guard could have gone instead, but they are terrible at mornings. And the 7th level magic-user is too busy advising on the rose display” problem. I much prefer the beginning of of UK2 The Sentinel: the PCs are begged to help by out of their depth incompetents, unable to even recognise strange writings as magical script. And when combined with UK3 The Gauntlet, the mission soon becomes epic.

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    1. I really have to check out those UK modules. I got UK1 back in the day. It seemed boring to my young mind until I re-read it a couple years later and realized that it was totally awesome.

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      1. I see UK1 as a bold attempt to do something different. My favourites are UK3 and UK4. In the Gauntlet (UK3), the PCs infiltrate a Keep, then the twist is having to defend it from a second force. When a Star Falls (UK4) has an unusual premise: a meteorite has struck a derro lair, and rival plans get put into motion. The series as a whole concerns under exploited themes/areas of the game. As Prince noted in his review of B10, there is an organic mixture of combat, exploration, puzzle-solving and roleplay. The downsides are the use of Fiend Folio monsters (which Prince has noted range from the great to the grim/silly), and some of the artwork may not be to people’s tastes. The maps are great.

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