B12 Queen’s Harvest (1989)
Carl Sargent (TSR)
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. 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!’) . 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  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.
 The capital of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos in the Mystara setting
 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!
 That’s scannable for you Millenial badboys out there.