[Review] B12 Queen’s Harvest (DnD Basic); Night & Day

[Adventure]
B12 Queen’s Harvest (1989)
Carl Sargent (TSR)
Levels 2-3

Queen's Harvest

Color me surprised, looks like I need to put Carl Sargent back on my christmas list. After the carefully studied insult that was B11 I groaned and wailed piteously at the prospect of immediately doing a fucking sequel by the same author. Fortunately for everyone, while Carl Sargent may not be a go too guy when it comes to pedagogy, with this entry he shows that he is certainly a go to guy when it comes to high adventure.

In fact if I did not know any better, I’d swear on my soul that Carl Sargent had read the comments section of my last review, travelled back to 1989 and wrote a sequel to King’s Festival to atone for his mistakes.

Queen’s Festival is a textbook example of getting low level characters embroiled in significant drama without making them feel like wretched stooges forced to do all the grunt work whilst the NPCs are off doing the fun hero stuff. “Great work Kiff! Now you hold off those Othyugs and shit golems whilst I try to revive Princess Scarlet Johanson from this vile enchantment. Only hours of Level 6+ lovemaking will break the curse of Lust that holds her in its fell grasp!

Queen’s Festival is officially a sequel to B11 but the link is threadbare. A note from the cleric Alaric is adressed to the Wizard Kavorkian and the PCs are hired to bring it to him for a miserly 5 gp each. For half a day’s work? I have done a lot more for a lot less! As the PCs arrive at the Wizard’s mansion they discover he died in his sleep, are let in by the butler, and the young wizard’s son with only one arm invites them in and explains his plight over dinner…

This is really the first section of B11 but there is something intriguing about this tiny idosyncracies that Carl Sargent drops in during the adventure that serve to elevate it above its peers. There’s some information to common questions that the PCs might have, it’s all very well and fluffy. The quest he has is literally clearing out the wizard’s basement.

But wait! Don’t close the browser yet. This set up works perfectly! Clearing out a wizard’s basement laboratory is different from clearing out old Man Miller’s basement. It works because the son A) needs two specific things from the basement within 48 hours B) clearly can’t do it himself because he has only one fucking arm and C) only just arrived from his home in Specularum[1]. It all works! Up to 300 gp each, or nothing if you can’t do it within 48 hours. Keep everything else you find. The wizard clearly protected his lab, and some of the nonlethal traps might have gone a little haywire with his death…

Perfect lowlevel setup. It’s not save the world shit but its cool and it makes you feel appreciated.

The dungeon proper is a bit too small to really describe as nonlinear but it IS kind of neat that you can bypass most of the rooms before you get to the last one…but you have items to find! There’s secret doors, doors clearly marked as having dangerous inhabitants inside…and the first trap starts you off on the right foot: the basement is sealed off with impenetrable rock, some guys are dumped in a trap door with one of the wizard’s guardian creatures, a harry potter golden snitch looking motherfucker called a Phase Stinger with a paralyzing sting while a magically created humanoid with Doctor Fantastic arms assails the players. And then you know it…you are in exciting-DnD-land.

A ticking clock, sexy female thieves that have also come to rob the place, each with different personalities (one is wary but kindhearted and therefore obviously the less attractive of the two, the other plays dumb but is a bitch and also hot), A fucking Gargoyle, random monsters in the form of shadows, illusions, more Phase Stingers, zombie kitchen staff that bursts through the door while the dining room candelabra hits you with light spells in your face, a secret door that can actually be found by using your brain and a wizard’s alchemy lab that may be pilfered for bronze alembics and other equipment at the risk of setting something on fire. Great. The monster choice is terrificly nonstandard and varied while never breaking the abandoned wizard’s lab theme. Traps are consistently gentle applications of paralyzing gas, a motherly admonition giving with love and understanding because boys will be boys until the GM rolls a wandering monster check and you are fighting 4 shadows with a party of 3 and the cleric is out.

This section ends with a big fucking fight against other, evil adventurers, again a little hint of detail that make it memorable which we will see throughout the adventure, like a dwarf that proclaims his hatred for elves (‘take that you pointy-eared pile of pigs-droppings!’) [2]. Sargent also takes a shit on the bed by basically telling you to go fuck yourselves if you capture them and try to charm them into giving answers. They won’t talk. Bullshit. If you are going to pull that shit, at least make their eyes bleed and a bore-worm explode from their brain to quickly skitter away. How did they get in if its mostly linear you ask? There was a secret trapdoor elsewhere in the dungeon and the Butler let them in. You see gentlemen, the Butler always did it! This part is fun!

The end is a little jarring in that ren faire 2e type of way; One armed man has been restored by a high level cleric and he offers to resurrect one of the PCs if he fell during the battle. Ugh. Somehow the thought of some NPC walking around with a scroll of raise dead just in case always takes me out of it. I’m okay with raising the dead if it happs in remote mountain sanctuaries accompanied by the droning chants of weird hermits or in the catacombs of some crumbling temple of a forgotten religion but convenient miracles are miracles bled of wonder and mystery.

The adventure continues to surprise by introducing a vastly superior second part, barely connected with the first! The reason is explained in a shitload of boxed text. Booooh! That is confusing. Booooh! But the quest is good. Yaaaaay!

Near the city of Penhaglion, the evil bastard daughter of a baron has built her fortress in the nearby foreboding mountains and after finding the enchanted blade of an ancient bandit queen of chaos, has raised a force of evil humanoids, unscrupulous bandits and assorted ne’erdowells to take Penhaglion and put the only legitimate heir to the sword. The PCs must act swiftly to take the fortress by trickery and hit and run before she marshalls enough forces to trample Stallanford and Penhaglion under her iron fist.

The cleverness sets in when Sargent introduces us to the politics. If she takes Penhaglion the Duke would be forced to accept her (now legitimate) claim or risk angering other nobles, who would use it to stir dissension against him, fearing that others of whose rule he does not approve would be next. The PCs are in the right place at the right time to do something swiftly.

The premise is cool and reminds me a bit of Elric. Some Lady of Chaos finds an artifact of evil and is allying with the forces of darkness in exchange for temporal power. Sargent is a bit on the nose about it. ‘Her name is Ilyana, and she is a fighter of some merit. She is intensely Chaotic and a vicious and evil person.’ All the other flavor in this section is nice. Humanoids belong to different tribes and have some distinct markings, NPCs have rudimentary personalities and motivation that might just pay off and there’s little hints of flavor that make it work. ‘Merkull is 6’1 and strongly built, with black hair and light blue eyes. He has the expressionless face of the true psychopath.’ Hahaha yeah!

The second part is an attack on a fortress. Sargent gives you ALMOST everything you need to run a perfect hit and run scenario. Not just a map but procedures for the first attack, second attack and third attack. At what times the walls are manned. Hunting parties that are put together to attack the PCs in their camp nearby, with a variable chance of finding them depending on distance, whether the dire wolves are still alive etc. etc. A complete deployment of troops if the players attack the front gate. Weaknesses between the various factions of the castle that can be exploited, mercenaries that can be bribed, cowardly orcs that can be turned. And of course, reinforcements in case the PCs are very slow, trinkling in at d8ish and d6ish per week.

The one THE ONE drawback of this section is that it lacks a means of conveniently keeping track of casualties. Some sort of photo-copyable [3] sheet that lists all the different forces, their numbers, maybe some other info that is vital.

The dungeon below is pretty linear and less exciting then the floors above. It’s a straightforward hackfest against powerful opponents. The excuse for none of the powerful inhabitants of that section coming to help out is that essentially, Ilyana’s second in command, a blond fighting guy with a pet chameleon, missing front teeth and a were-tigress in a cage to presumably definitely bang, is basically playing them all out against eachother, and plans to get the fuck out of dodge with a shitload of loot if the PCs make it downstairs, if not, he can look all in control and austre. Whereas the evil humanoids in Queen’s Harvest are possessed of an honest if murderous barbarism, all the human villains are complete degenerates. “These men are untrustworthy and brutal, the scum of the earth.” Perfect.

Now is another good opportunity to bemoan the lack of specific Chaotic deities in DnD Basic, which is a missed opportunity for some flavorful evil. It doesn’t take much. A bull god. A worm god. A twin-headed corpse god. A howling toad god. Something inimical and repellent. Now we are told only the Chaotic cleric worships chaotic deities.

Treasure in this section is another achilles heel of the B series. A smaller reliquary of book magical items coupled with an odd reluctance to include new items means that most of the stuff the PCs will find will be ah la carte, and the mundane treasure, ornate and interesting at best, turns to generic sacks of coins of various denominations towards the end.

For a Basic adventure, Queen’s Harvest more then redeems the sins of its rather generic predecessor. After 11 attempts, most of which involve dungeons where you murder orcs with swords, its nice to see a proper wizard’s layer dungeon together with a properly worked out stronghold for the PCs to assail. The evil princess in the throne room confrontation, while effective, might strike a few grognards as a bit hackneyed, and the lack of a seduce hot evil princess and begin evil takeover of Penhaglion is regrettable, but forgiveable. Sargent’s wrapup is essentially several paragraphs worth of commercials for other DnD Basic products. Thanks G.

For a last entry, this is a fine sendoff. What starts as some nice *** basement crawling takes a turn for the better in the intriguing fortress assault, a low **** if I ever saw one, only to dip back into *** with the lower dungeon proper, which is mostly hacking with possible catlady assistance in between. We shall settle for a ***, but a proud ***, it’s head held high, its flavor subtle but delicious, occasional missteps not serving to dim the luster of its long, flowing golden locks. A redemption for earlier missteps and a good entry in its own right. ***

B series retrospective: Overall a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Most of the modules hold up very well and are filled with classic concepts, solid dungeons and plenty of fun. What they lack is variety. Its telling almost half of the modules involve attacking dungeons populated by evil humanoids, and only B6 and B8 tried to deviate from the established formula, with mixed success. B2, B5 and B10 are all classic examples of proper dungeons and strike at the heart of what DnD is all about, and B1 is still the best introductory module that I have encountered. Highly recommended for anyone interested in classic oldschool Dnd. Stay tuned!

Next up: We are returning to the OSR.

[1] The capital of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos in the Mystara setting
[2] I’ve been rereading Moorcock and I shudder at some of the godawful prose in his first work, the Stealer of Souls. Endless descriptions of what kind of hoses everyone is wearing and where they keep their scimitars are fucking boring. Do a quick description and find a single, meaningful or memorable detail!
[3] That’s scannable for you Millenial badboys out there.


14 thoughts on “[Review] B12 Queen’s Harvest (DnD Basic); Night & Day

  1. “Near the city of Penhaglion, the evil bastard daughter of a baron has built her fortress in the nearby foreboding mountains and after finding the enchanted blade of an ancient bandit queen of chaos, has raised a force of evil humanoids, unscrupulous bandits and assorted ne’erdowells to take Penhaglion and put the only legitimate heir to the sword.”
    Viriconium, is that you?

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  2. “A note from the cleric Alaric is adressed to the Wizard Kavorkian and the PCs are hired to bring it to him for a miserly 5 gp each. For half a day’s work? I have done a lot more for a lot less! As the PCs arrive at the Wizard’s mansion they discover he died in his sleep…”
    I feel like there’s a Dr. Kevorkian joke in there somewhere, if only I was clever enough to find it.

    “…sexy female thieves that have also come to rob the place, each with different personalities (one is wary but kindhearted and therefore obviously the less attractive of the two, the other plays dumb but is a bitch and also hot)…”
    And this definitely says a lot, which is sadly true in my experience.

    “The end is a little jarring in that ren faire 2e type of way; One armed man has been restored by a high level cleric and he offers to resurrect one of the PCs if he fell during the battle. Ugh. Somehow the thought of some NPC walking around with a scroll of raise dead just in case always takes me out of it.”
    Take your complaint to Gygax. The 1E DMG has Raise Dead as a spell service that can be done for a standard fee, and the following quote from pg. 110 implies to me that coming back from death was expected to be a common thing:
    “It is very demoralizing to the players to lose a cared-for-player character when they have played well. When they have done something stupid or have not taken precautions, then let the dice fall where they may! Again, if you have available ample means of raising characters from the dead, even death is not too severe; remember, however, the constitution-based limit to resurrections.”

    “…the lack of a seduce hot evil princess and begin evil takeover of Penhaglion is regrettable, but forgiveable.”
    That’s where a good DM brings their skill into play 😉

    “I’ve been rereading Moorcock and I shudder at some of the godawful prose in his first work, the Stealer of Souls.”
    Aye. As I’ve said elsewhere, Moorcock was basically an author with cool ideas but poor execution, at least for the Elric stories I’ve read.

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    1. [Gygax]

      Ah! but he makes little mention of the context it should be placed in. While Raise Dead should be readily available, it is my interpretation that he meant TO PCs. Lest we forget, raising the dead in 1e comes with serious risk to the caster in the form of magical aging in the year rage, which is potentially fatal, and the availability of 9th level clerics should be rather slim also. So it should be readily available to PCs for game considerations, it can definitely not be commonplace outside of that because of the distribution of high level PCs and the relatively high risk involved with its casting.

      It seems obvious PCs are bound by different rules then NPCs. Only 1 in 100 NPCs even has class levels. I always interpreted the use of raise dead as a necessary component to functional gameplay but a potentially jarring inconsistency in the versimilitude of the setting if not carefully tucked away and restricted. Men returning from the dead should be a rare phenomenon overall, and under 1e it is, with its time limit, 500 gp cost and potentially devastating consequences for the cleric in question, such a ritual will be a rare occurence, done only if the character is in good standing with the church in question, and sometimes only in exchange for a great boon.

      [Moorcock]

      Moorcock was definitely not a genius of prose, and arguably a hack, but there is a period when he’d managed to polish it up to at least semi-readable. The Sleeping Sorceress, Sailor on the Seas of Fate and the Dreaming City and the short non-Elric story ‘The Heart of the Conqueror’ was all good shit, though he is a hack that writes hacky dialog. I’ll probably come over to that article you wrote and disagree with you vehemently on Tolkien, a writer of imagination, genius and vast readability, but this must wait for another time. At least you appreciate Lovecraft and will be spared the disintegration chambers.

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      1. [Gygax]
        I’d argue 500 GP is a pittance in any D&D version using gp as the standard currency. B2 is probably a poor guide for Gygax’s stance on high level NPCs in towns as it was written for a rule book that didn’t go past 3rd level, but at a quick glance, T1’s hamlet of Hommlet had NPCs of levels 6, 6, 6, 7, and 8 (Terjon, Y’dey, Rufus, Jaroo, and Burne, respectively), to say nothing of the Temple’s ability to hire a 10th level assassin almost immediately after Lareth’s death, so the idea of level 9+ clerics just wandering around in Greyhawk hardly seems like a stretch, let alone how much more common they’d be in milieux using Forgotten Realms or its ilk as a baseline. I give reference also to OD&D Vol 3, where wilderness castles have a 1-in-6 chance of being owned by a Superhero (level 8 fighting-man), Lord (level 9+ fighting-man), Necromancer (level 10 magic-user), Wizard (level 11+ magic-user), Patriarch (level 8+ cleric, min. 2 spell slots of 5th level, and recall that OD&D said casters were “assumed to acquire books containing the spells they can use”), or Evil High Priest (level 8+ Chaos cleric, likewise with min. 2 spell slots of 5th level, but it’s debatable whether such an NPC could prepare Raise Death or only Finger of Death).

        That all said, the time limit is certainly a limiting factor in any meaningful campaign, and I’ll concede that “if you have available ample means of raising characters from the dead” doesn’t mean it has to be cast by a cleric. I’m of the school of thought that NPCs over 2nd level should be very rare, but I’ve never been opposed to PCs making deals with devils, fey, or other shady brokers to bring back the dead nor to the occasional reviving fixture (like some limited use Lazarus pit). My comment was mostly to raise an eyebrow the concept of NPCs ready and willing to raise the dead being a “ren faire 2e” conceit when there’s quite some evidence pointing to Gygax’s own proclivities for high magic/high fantasy since the beginning.

        [Moorcock]
        Thanks for the suggestions. Lovecraft and Poe are my literary idols. Tolkien…I like his mythic world-building and admire his depth of information, and I enjoyed the Silmarillion collection, but I just can’t stand the style he used for The Hobbit and LotR. You’re welcome to take debate on that over to my comment section 🙂

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      2. [Gygax]

        I will first observe we have diverged significantly from my initial statement, which was that someone popping out a scroll of raise dead and conveniently raising a lawful PC before going on his merry way was jarring and disrupted my suspension of disbelief, which is certainly not the same as truding to some great temple or secluded fortress and appealing to the mercy of the High priest of some slumbering Elder God for intercession in matters ultramontane.

        What I meant with ‘ren faire 2e’ is that it has been the observation of some that the commodification of magic, that is to say, the streets lighted with continuous light spells, the sphere of annihilations used as garbage disposals and other such commonplace uses of something that should be mysterious and terrifying, often to the detriment of the atmosphere, was something 2e in particular suffered from. Its certainly possible to find enough egregious examples in DnD Basic (Gaz 4 Ierendi or the accursed Book of Wonderous Inventions come to mind) or AD&D but 2e, particularly FR, seems to be the time when it was at its most prevalent.

        Your line of argumentation is predicated on high level clerics being unheard of, my statement was that the availability of high level clerics, coupled with the amount of gold required and any other possible drawbacks like the aging, would make raising the dead an uncommon occurence. Remember the 1e PhB adage that ‘costs in adventuring areas are likely to be distorted in the manner of alaskan boom towns’ and ‘your character is unusual with amount to funds’ and any starting character being unable to meet the price of even a single raise dead, the cost of such spells not being mentioned in the Player Handbook but in the DMG (again, with reason). Let us also not forget that in AD&D 1e (DMG), raise dead costs 1000 gp + 500 per level of the caster, for a total of around 5500 gp at minimum. The 500 gp per raise dead is a conceit of B/X, adopted for 2e and later 3e.

        All this beancounting is, however, not really the point. The magic and treasure tables in 1e and 0e dungeons shows us quite clearly that Gygax meant for plentiful magic items to become available to the players, even at lower levels. He was, however, firmly against magic shops.
        It’s the difference between having a well known patriarch of some lawful church being willing to restore life and limb to those who will swear an oath to vanquish evil versus every city having a Rez-O-Mat machine that you can just dump someone’s corpse in and throw in 500 gp worth of gems and it will return you to life or your money back guaranteed. One preserves the flavor of the myths and stories it was based on if you don’t overuse it. The other disrupts utterly the flavor of the source material it is trying to imitate. That is the injuction against Ren Faire dnd.

        [Debate]

        Gimme a couple of days and I’ll gladly have that talk.

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  3. [Gygax]

    Thanks for the explanation. I see now that there was a mismatch between what you meant by “ren faire 2e” and the connotations that I’m used hearing attached to that phrase. My apologies if I came on too strongly. I got started in D&D with 2E AD&D, and it’s a peeve of mine to see people trash it as the edition that ruined Gygax’s visions or whatever when the specific complaints they raise often originated in 1E, B/X, or OD&D or were a result of WotC’s Player’s Option series.

    I agree with you 100% that the standardization and commodification of magic renders it, well, unmagical. I’d still contend that the practice had its origins all the way back in OD&D Vol 1 including a table of costs and times for magical items in the details of the Magic-User class (pg. 7) and the profusion of magic item and artifact properties that were given “as [spell]” (or which started out as non-standard effects that later became spells, e.g. Web), but I would agree that 2E’s broader inclusion of milieux other than Greyhawk in the PHB/DMG was a major step in the wrong direction (Forgotten Realms being the clearest offender).

    Specific to the point on magic item shops, that’s yet another one of those points where Gygax(*) varies his stance depending on the book (e.g. OD&D Vol 1 pg. 6: “Wizards and above may manufacture for their own use (or for sale) such items as potions, scrolls, and just about anything else magical. Costs are commensurate with the value of the item, as is the amount of game time required to enchant it.”, with the next page including the abovementioned magical item table; arguable that scrolls of Raise Dead aren’t covered by it as the table is exclusive to Magic-Users, but scrolls of Reincarnation would be available for 600 GP and 6 weeks wait, and neither spell had a time limit for resurrection in OD&D).

    (*): Of course, Gygax wasn’t the sole author, neither for OD&D nor for the 1E DMG, but aside from certain obvious sections (e.g. hit locations for aerial combat in OD&D Vol 3, weapon speed factors in 1E DMG), it’s not always clear who was actually writing it, so I default to focusing on him as editor.

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    1. [2e]

      I started on 2e. I think its flavor was overall less strong then 1e but rules-wise it seems a cleaned up game to me.

      [Manufacturing items]

      But manufacturing costs ain’t the same as someone dropping in at Ye Olde Magick Shoppe and asking if they have any of Ole’ Myrthalers Vorpal Swordes still in stock.

      “Thou art in luck,” says the Aasimar shopkeeper as he fondles his suspenders, “a new one came in just 2 weeks ago. That will be 125.000 gp please.”
      “Certainly my good man,” saith Darksglimmer the tiefling Half Dragonborn Sword Saint. “Will that be in Arcanium or do you guys take Mythril pieces?”
      “Ah, sadly we take only Arcanium.”
      “That is unfortunate. I have only 50.000 gp worth of Arcanium.”
      “Not to worry. The enchanter down the alley takes all your unused +1 swords and melts them down into a convenient magical currency that can be used in lieu of all material components for item crafting.”
      “This is most convenient.”
      “Indeed. Hath thou subscribed to AstralCredit(tm) yet? It enables one to deposit valuables from anywhere in the Planes into a single, shared Extra-dimensional vault and that way you can always exchange currencies of the planes against the most favorable exchange rate anywhere in the multiverse.”

      (Projectile vomiting)

      Incidentally, while I like arguing, my favorite treatment of crafting magic items is probably 2e. Want to make an item? QUEST BITCH. Unique ingredients for everything, making it feel significant. Probably not a great idea for potions and scrolls but for permanent magic items hellz yes.

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      1. [2e]
        No argument from me on either count.

        [Manufacturing items]
        It seems a scant step removed, given the symmetry between PC-rules and non-monstrous NPC-rules in the 1900s, but I can agree that that step is a critical one (for what it’s worth, I’d say the “sale value” column in the 1E DMG’s magic item section skirts closer to unwelcome territory than the manufacturing costs in OD&D; even if there’s some passage in there about that column being intended for PCs selling items, that still ought to be a farcical idea if there’s anything truly special about “magic”).

        My preference of late for making magic items is sort of a mash-up of 2E and LotFP: scrolls can be scribed by any have the spell in their spell book (perhaps worth noting I treat clerics and wizards the same for learning spells, i.e. no perfect directory of every spell for the god-botherers), potions can be brewed by any who know the recipe, staffs/wands can be charged by a solo or group effort of casting a reversed Dispel Magic and then casting in the spells to be stored, and permanent magic items are mostly bug-shit quests where I spew some poetic gibberish and the players have to figure out things that fit the descriptions metamorphically. I have a zealous hatred from standard mathemagical items, and I love trying to think up crap like daggers to pin someone in their own shadow, armor made from the flesh of someone with invulnerable skin, or a glove that can store something that’s entirely inside the wearer’s body.

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      2. Minor follow-up, since I just realized that I never actually said what I’d read “ren faire 2e” to mean: I took it as a complaint at the presence of seemingly-idle high level NPCs doing little more than swooping in to bail out the PCs when they get screwed, lending their play a facade of danger without any real bite (insofar as pretend elfgames can ever have any real bite 😛 ) and no need to care about greater scope details. That’s why I focused on examples of high level NPCs (particularly clerics), of affordability of Raise Dead via scroll/commission (assuming no VAT or profit margin and assuming all XP was from GP, 500 GP is affordable less than half-way through level 1), and of the implied frequency of dead PCs being resurrected (commonly if not often, per my reading of that DMG quote). I’m tempted to point out pre-2E examples, but I’ve digressed far enough to trample this dead horse already. No harm no foul; just wanted to clear up why I took things in a different way than you’d intended.

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  4. Good review. From memory, I agree that the dungeon of the fortress in the second part didn’t seem a good fit with the rest of it. B11 was written to be a beginner’s guide; this was a real adventure. I seem to remember a humanoid barracks where they are keeping demi-human trophies, e,g, halfling feet.
    Carl Sargent was a top class author. For 2E, he wrote Night Below, City of Skulls, and the infiltration of the orc city in Five Shall be One is good. For WFRP 1e, Power Behind the Throne and the short adventures With a Little Help from my Friends and Grapes of Wrath are classics. I think Lichemaster is fun as well.
    For me, B1 and B2 were good introductory modules, B4 was a fine shot at some Conanesque action, B5 a B2 plus, and B10 a classic campaign in one module. The fortress section in B12 deserves a mention, if you don’t formulate a good plan you get massacred. In play, I remember a skilled group of PCs needing several assaults to whittle the opposition down.

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