These were the days of brilliant sandbox designs, before the concept of adventure paths took over and railroaded players into pre-determined stories. In the old-school, plotting was mostly left to the DM and stories grew spontaneously in game play. Players could make their own decisions, and DMs were trained to expect the unexpected. In simple terms, pulp fantasy involves morally ambiguous heroes who tend to face personal or localized threats out of self-interest. This is opposite high fantasy some would say cheese fantasy , where heroes are worldly saviors, the most obvious example being Dragonlance which took over the game in Gary Gygax,

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These were the days of brilliant sandbox designs, before the concept of adventure paths took over and railroaded players into pre-determined stories. In the old-school, plotting was mostly left to the DM and stories grew spontaneously in game play.

Players could make their own decisions, and DMs were trained to expect the unexpected. In simple terms, pulp fantasy involves morally ambiguous heroes who tend to face personal or localized threats out of self-interest.

This is opposite high fantasy some would say cheese fantasy , where heroes are worldly saviors, the most obvious example being Dragonlance which took over the game in Gary Gygax, Levels The mother of all killer dungeons is revered by everyone, even victims who insist otherwise.

It gave DMs a license to be punishing off the scales, and players the okay to be masochistically thrilled by impossible challenges. I get chills thinking of them and the disturbing illustrations provided in the special booklet.

Tom Moldvay, The revolving passage on the third tier of the pyramid is a terrific dungeon feature, and the personalities of the cult leaders, their costume attire and masks, are spot on, meshing perfectly with the decadent culture of the Cynidiceans.

I think he thought I was as psychotic as the priest. There is endless potential in The Lost City for follow-up adventures, and at one point I harbored ambitions to develop an entire series out of it. Another Moldvay treasure, but in this one I was the player. They seek anything to relieve this boredom. No other module on this list boasts so many colorful and psychotic characters: the librarian Charles who buried his sister Madeline alive; the soul of Princess Catherine waiting to possess someone; the evil priest Simon; Madam Camilla who is itching to tell fortunes.

Also, no other module offers so much with such effortless economy. I never got proper use out of it for two reasons. First because it falls in the worst place possible in a long series, penultimately trailing five dungeon crawls, and by this point characters are burning to get to the Abyss to which Vault of the Drow serves as a mere doorstop. The second reason feeds into the first.

This is an underground city, not a dungeon, and with enough care can be mostly sidestepped by those not interested in lingering. There are torture parlors, bordellos, and drug saloons, but everything is ironically civilized and disturbingly beautiful. Geoff Dale, This is actually a half module that was completed 34 years later.

Even as a half-product Inferno remains a favorite of mine. The descriptive writing on display is staggering, especially some of the scenes of souls being tortured. Some of the most vile magic items can be found here, many cursed, as well as hidden talismans that can be used against the dukes. Paul Jaquays, Here we have a history of warfare between two priesthoods, the towers of both buried under a creepy village isolated from the rest of the world.

Again we have rival factions warring within enclosed spaces, and this one evokes Red Nails. Lizard men attempt to reclaim their kingdom, strangely reminiscent of the Silurians in Doctor Who; their human rivals evoke the warrior culture of ancient Greece. I really wish there were more modules like Caverns of Thracia.

There are some who decry any injection of science fiction into fantasy, and I tend to be like that myself, but when done just right — when the sci-fic elements are treated as weirdly alien and in a non-glitzy way — it can work.

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks works wonders. I could go on about the mileage I got out of this module, especially as a player in taking over the crashed ship, by acquiring the color-coded cards that key open restricted areas and give one authority over the robots.

The uniquely designed blaster pistols, blaster rifles, laser pistols, laser rifles, needle guns, paralysis guns, various grenades, and powered armor are etched in mind forever, and you pretty much need a lot of this stuff to have any hope in taking on the alien forces infesting the ship. Provided you can figure out how to use them: there are flow-charts determining this, and high intelligence scores are much advised to guard against shooting oneself.

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks represents a clash of genres that only Gary Gygax could have pulled off without it playing like a bastardized version of Star Frontiers. Tracy and Laura Hickman, The black-and-white visuals evoke the mood perfectly.

Beyond doubt, Ravenloft is the best undead adventure ever made. Lisa Smedman, The hut is basically a TARDIS for fantasy instead of science-fiction, meaning that its interior is huge and dimensionally folded to allow seemingly impossible interconnections. The plot can be dramatic, in which Baba Yaga seeks control of daylight and darkness on any world she visits in her quest for immortality, or it could be that she is simply terrorizing random country-sides to kidnap and eat kids. The Dancing Hut is punishing, ruthless, and one hell of a rollercoaster ride.

At first blush this is just a village serving as a base for an expedition to an evil temple described in another module. I love it too, and designed a terrifying module that begins in Hommlet. And I even place it over Keep on the Borderlands, though I have a difficult time choosing between them. Pure classic, this is the module DMs and players cut their teeth on back in the Golden Age, when it came packaged in the introductory boxed set.

But these were the days when DMs took the initiative to develop their own backstories and let them develop organically, by accommodating unpredictable players who could actually decide what they wanted to do without playing into some pre-determined arc.

Sinfully underrated, even unheard of in some circles. This module was a milestone for me in showing the full potentials of role-playing that leans on verbal skills and crafty intelligence. The problem is that the lovers have drunk from a fountain that makes them want to stay forever, and nothing, short of using force or a wish, will persuade them to leave, forcing questions about the ethics of trying to finish the job. And since a day inside the garden translates to two years outside, time is of the essence… or the players will be returning to a much different world.

Beyond the Crystal Cave teaches some serious humility and deserves more recognition than it gets. Resonating with Cthulhu-like myths and Mesoamerican architecture, the Kuo-Toan shrine is the real feature here. The first installment in the D-series is rather bland, which is no doubt why it was eventually released as a package deal with the Kuo-Toa module, under the title of the first and given cover art for the second.

That cover click on the image to expand remains one of my favorite of all time; I love the way the blues and greens and yellows mix, and bathe the lobster-goddess statue in a weird spiritual candor.

The kuo-toa made nearly as much impression on me as the drow of the next module, with their highly regimented society of priests and assassins and brutally exotic culture; as amphibians this makes them even more intriguing. The format copies Tomb of Horrors to a tee, as if the authors wanted to come up with the same kind of thing for lower level characters who at least stand a chance.

Players stumble on an abandoned shrine in the middle of nowhere, loaded with traps, light on treasure, and with few but formidable monsters including a vampire. Douglas Niles, This body-snatching adventure has sharp intrigue, and is even better than I remember. The village of Orlane has Hommlet vibes, but without feeling like a copycat, and fleshed out with remarkable detail. The village drama is nothing less than a horror-mystery thriller, and a superb prelude to the swamp dungeon full of lizard men and crocodiles and the insidious naga with hypnotic powers.

In fact, the villagers are so well fleshed out that I brandish this module as a first-rate example of how to create NPCs with compelling hidden motives. Against the Cult of the Reptile God requires a lot out of beginning players, brains as much as brawn, and the beauty is that any or all of the PCs are fair game for kidnapping and brainwashing — they could well be up against themselves.

David Cook, Like The Lost City, a wonderful homage to Red Nails, this time set in a jungle instead of a desert, with factions split by race rather than religion. The module tends to divide fandom, its detractors emphasizing the lack of cohesion and sections that seem tacked on without much thought.

This is also the module that introduced the aboleth, from which the TV series Stranger Things took inspiration for the Shadow Monster of season 2.

Of all entries on this list, this one is an anomaly in the sense I hardly remember specifics about it as a DM or player, only that it was a lot of fun on both counts. Rereading it today I can see why. Players basically sail off to a tropical island to go treasure hunting, and how things unfold depends entirely on where they choose to go exploring.

There are King Kong homages, notably the village of Tanaroa, and plenty of prehistoric creatures, not to mention pirates waiting to pounce near the coast. The high point is a ruined temple controlled by amphibious mind-controlling creatures, much of it submerged — and this is the part I remember most, especially the underwater corridor with the black pearl.

The Isle of Dread is one of the least plot-driven modules I can think of, a product that almost epitomizes the Golden Age, and the wilderness adventure we cut our teeth on after The Keep on the Borderlands served as our tutorial dungeon. Per James Maliszewski, this island is a perfect setting for Dwellers of the Forbidden City, and no surprise, since David Cook is the author of each.

The temple itself is a two-tiered pyramid with dungeons beneath, and a secret mini-level harboring potent treasures and nasty traps. The idea that characters must enact twisted rituals to progress through the temple is creepy as hell; the temple itself is the chief antagonist, defending itself against assault and penetration in insidious ways.

And while some consider the final room of the Black Cyst to be anti-climactic, I love it for the non-traditional endgame involving a subtle energy force — which of course is Tharizdun himself, trying to manifest and be set free. The possibility of being trapped forever underground is very real. Roger Moore, Did I have a blast with this one. Published in Dragon magazine 90, it takes place on the outer plane of Gladsheim, and has the Norse gods recruiting high level mortals to do their dirty work whilst Odin is MIA.

The hammer, if not destroyed or returned to the forces of good, would usher in Ragnarok, and Loki himself gets involved with the players. Moore supplemented his adventure with two additional articles about Gladsheim, one of which mapped out places like Asgard and Jotunheim, and detailed various things that were invaluable to running a scenario like this. On top of this, the assassin plant in the upstairs bedroom has loads of potential, and if used subtly, can really sow confusion or even discord among the players.

It turns out that a colony of lizard men have been arming themselves, but not to attack Saltmarsh or any human settlement, rather to take back their own fortress from invading sahuagin, who are the true threat to humanity. The Final Enemy is the straightforward module and incredibly deadly. Master of the Desert Nomads is a desert wilderness of horrors, at the end of which waits an abbey run by what appear to be a benign group of monks who in actuality are hideous undead-like creatures who show their true forms when the sun goes down.

The abbey is one of my favorite scenarios ever designed and it plays extremely well, with a lot of nail-biting tension. Temple of Death is a close tie, though against consensus I slightly favor the abbey over the temple. The deception behind the former adds another level of tension, appearing to be a benign sanctuary but in fact a death zone.

There is some troublesome railroading, for example the town of Magden which instead of being a location on the map only becomes a location after the PCs visit one of the three nameless towns; i. The mountain pass into Hule is wild pup fantasy come to life, with alluring caverns of hallucinations, and even a ladder that ascends into a Kingdom of the Moon.

As for the temple of death itself, it can be counted on to kill all but the most shrewd PCs. Such strategies will work against players as often as for them.



The general evolution of tabletop roleplaying games in the last couple of decades has been towards streamlining and speed, abandoning a lot of the number-crunching minutiae of s and s games in favor of simpler and easier systems. Hackmaster goes running in the other direction. This is the game played by most of the characters in Knights of the Dinner Table , which is a sort of barely-veiled parody of Dungeons and Dragons. The result is a fully playable if murderously complex fantasy tabletop RPG with a healthy dose of in-jokes and meta-humor from the "Knights" comic strip. It deliberately eschews streamlining and handwaving; you roll for everything, you keep track of everything, and cutting corners is not allowed. The first actual edition of Hackmaster was published in as the fourth edition of the game, with the "Garweeze Wurld" from the "Knights" strips as its standard setting.



Plot summary[ edit ] In Beyond the Crystal Cave, the player characters are hired to rescue a recently eloped couple that has fled into the Cave of Echoes. Experience points are gained by dealing with encounters verbally and intelligently, rather than through unnecessary violence. It was originally solicited as Yonder Crystal Caverns, but was changed due to substantial lateness in gaining authorisation from Wizards of the Coast. The new version required less talking and more action, making it more typical of the game system. The module was hacked by James Butler, a freelance writer from the United Kingdom. In , Wizards of the Coast updated the module for 4th Edition and added combat situations for their Encounters line of pre-made adventures. Overall, according to Cowie, UK1 is a "refreshing change" which "gives the talkative sort of character a place in the limelight all too often filled by the brutish fighter or the powerful MU".



In the Dragon Magazine Archive software was published where Wizards of the Coast failed to get permission to reprint many of the original articles such as the Knights of the Dinner Table comic in the electronic media archive. As a nod to the fictional version from the comic, this first edition of Hackmaster was published as the 4th Edition. Since its release in , HackMaster has evolved into a full-fledged role-playing game, spawning over forty add-ons, supplements and game aids. The Hacklopedia of Beasts, the Hackmaster version of the Monster Manual, was next released as eight separate volumes.

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