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In Search of the Unknown
D&D Alumni
Bart Carroll

With the release of the Dungeon Master’s Kit, we’re continuing our support for those DMs learning the tricks of the trade—or for any DM looking to drop a classic encounter into his or her next game. This time, we turn to one of the first introductory adventures ever written: B1 In Search of the Unknown. Which, it must be said, is a catchier name than “The Caverns of Quasqueton”—the actual name of the dungeon.

Designed for the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Game, and included with certain sets, B1 provided a prototypical dungeon crawl experience. The background story stated that two adventurers built the place (in essence, their secret headquarters in design as much as any dungeon), but have since disappeared.

Many years ago, rumor has it, two noted personages in the area, Rogahn the Fearless (a fighter of renown) and Zelligar the Unknown (a magic-user of mystery and power) pooled their resources and expertise to construct a home and stronghold for the two of them to use as a base of operations.

The location of this hidden complex was chosen with care, since both men disliked visitors and intruders. Far from the nearest settlement, away from traveled routes, and high upon a craggy hill, the new construction took shape. Carved out of the rock protrusion which crested the heavily forested hill, this mystical hideaway was well hidden, and its rumored existence was never common knowledge. Even less well known was its name, the Caverns of Quasqueton.

The only thing certain is the Rogahn and Zelligar have been gone far too long. If only one had the knowledge and wherewithal to find their hideaway, there would be great things to explore! And who knows what riches of wealth and magic might be there for the taking???

Adventure Advice: Old School Style

B1, composed of a two-level dungeon, made for a fantastic read as much as a play experience. The rooms were elaborately detailed, and it asked the Dungeon Master to assign them monsters and treasure (“keying the dungeon”) from lists provided at the end—the goal being to help provide DMs with design skills of their own.

The adventure also included ample advice for DMs and players—some of which is interesting to consider in how these early games were played. For example:

  • Determining party (or marching) order was a critical step.
  • Players were responsible for mapping the dungeon as verbally described to them by the DM; the DM was counseled to avoid the temptation of correcting players’ maps—good mapmaking being a skill that players were expected to master.
  • The adventure was designed for 3–6 players and nonplayer characters. Retainers (hirelings, henchmen, and so on) were expected members of any party. Learning to treat them well was also an expected player skill.
  • One player had the role of caller, who announced all the party’s actions to the DM.
  • Wandering monsters were a standard part of dungeons; at night, guards had to be posted for good reason—the characters had a fairly decent chance of having a monster stumble across them. Wandering monsters were also drawn by excessive noise, thus discouraging players from having their characters smash a dungeon to pieces to find out where things might be hidden.
  • Part of the adventure’s backstory included a healthy number of rumors: some true, some false.

The Adventure

What made the dungeon so interesting? As stated by Mike Carr, the designer:

The dungeon includes a good assortment of typical features which players can learn to expect, including some interesting tricks and traps:

a) Several one-way secret doors
b) Illusions and magic mouths
c) A wind corridor which may extinguish torches and open flames
d) A room of mysterious pools
e) A room of doors
f) A water pit trap which suddenly drops adventurers to the lower level
g) A portcullis trap where vertical bars drop behind the party in a dead end corridor
h) A pair of teleport rooms to confuse explorers
i) Several magical treasures-most beneficial, some cursed
j) Mysterious containers with a variety of contents for examination

Just by stepping into the entrance, your characters found bodies to loot. Plus you had storerooms with great lists of possible content, a vast cavern filled with sleeping bats, and a wealth of details added to flesh out the dungeon in more interesting ways. Just take this item found in the Wizard’s Workroom:

The larger jar is of clear glass and seemingly contains a black cat's body floating in a clear, colorless liquid. If the large cork lid is unstopped, the liquid will instantaneously evaporate, the cat will suddenly spring to life, jump out of the jar, meow loudly, and run for the door. If the door is open, the cat will dash through and disappear. If the door is not open, the cat will be seen to pass through the door and disappear. In neither case will the feline be seen again. This occurrence has no special meaning other than to surprise and/or mystify the adventurers, as well as provide some fun for the Dungeon Master.

Or this, from the Wizard’s Laboratory:

The tables are bare, except for a single stoppered smoked glass bottle on one of them. If the cork is removed, the gas within will immediately issue forth with a whoosh. The vapors are pungent and fast-acting, and all characters within ten feet must make an immediate save vs. poison or be affected by laughing gas. The gas itself is not poisonous, but will cause any characters failing their saving throw to immediately lapse into uncontrollable raucous laughter for 1-6 melee rounds (check each individually). During this time, the characters will have a 50% chance of dropping anything they are holding or carrying and will rock with spasms of great laughter, staggering about the room, chuckling and bellowing with great glee.

Characters under the influence of the gas will not respond to any efforts by others to snap them out of its effects (even slapping the face will do no more than cause more laughing), although if a dispel magic spell is thrown, it will make them sober immediately.

Running the Room of Pools Today

Want an Example of Customization?

R&D’s Mike Mearls recently ran his own version of the Room of Pools. “In my version, the pools were all a giant alchemical apparatus used to distill the ambient arcane energies that flow through Quasqueton. The characters ended up disrupting the flow of power to the pools and destroyed them, but not before messing with them a bit. No one died, but there were some close calls.”

As Mike recalls, he also made some modifications to the room. For example, he says, “The fish in the pool granted either a bonus or penalty to a random attribute when eaten.”

Last month we presented an encounter from N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God, as well as general advice on how you might design a similar nefarious cult slowly taking over a village. B1, however, was not about story, or memorable villains, or its unique setting—it was a dungeon crawl, plain and simple, designed to help DMs learn to run one, and for players to enjoy the experience.

Instead of offering an updated dungeon for you to key, we’d rather point to B1 as an example of what made an enjoyable dungeon crawl for dungeon crawl’s sake.

For starters, you might consider generating a list of rumors and legend—some false—the next time your characters are researching background information on an adventure. (We’ve provided the original set for B1, below.) When designing a dungeon, every room need not be an encounter; as R&D’s Steve Winter has pointed out, some rooms can (and should be empty)—this does not make them a waste of a room. But fill your rooms with detail. Have fun with them. And remember, the spaces between rooms can be just as interesting to explore, whether they lead to encounters or not. Just take a look at the original map from B1’s upper levels to see what we mean.

As a bonus, we’ve taken one room from the original B1 and updated it to the current rules: #31: Room of Pools (with thanks to Craig Campbell). As you create your next dungeon, you might add it as a memorable puzzle room—one that can offer the key to further obstacles within the dungeon. Or you could make it a memorable diversion for the players along the way. To repeat the Wizard’s Workroom above, elements that surprise and/or mystify the players and provide some fun for the DM—what could be better than that?

The Room of Pools

(634 Kbs PDF)

Legend Table
(F) denotes a false legend or rumor, but the player will not know it is false.

  • The name of the stronghold is Quasqueton.
  • Zelligar had a wizard‘s workshop in the stronghold where he worked on magic stronger than any known to man.
  • Rogahn owned a fantastic gem as big as a man‘s fist that was worth over 100,000 gold pieces; he kept it hidden in his personal quarters. (F)
  • Zelligar and Rogahn had orc slaves to do the menial work, and some lived permanently at the stronghold. (F)
  • The complex has two levels.
  • Part of the complex is unfinished.
  • The complex has a rear exit which is secret and well hidden.
  • No outsiders have ever entered the complex and returned to tell the tale.
  • Troglodytes have moved into the complex in the absence of its normal inhabitants.
  • The place is protected by the gods themselves, and one member of any party of intruders is doomed to certain death. (F)
  • The treasures of Zelligar and Rogahn are safely hidden in a pool of water. (F)
  • The entire place is filled with guards left behind by Zelligar and Rogahn. (F)
  • Rogahn’s trophy room has battle relics and slain monster remains from his adventures.
  • There is a room with many pools of water within the complex.
  • The very walls speak to visitors.
  • An enchanted stone within the stronghold will grant a wish to anyone who chips off a piece of it and places it within their mouth. (F)
  • All treasures of Zelligar and Rogahn are cursed to bring ill to any who possess them. (F)
  • Zelligar and Rogahn have actually returned to their stronghold, and woe be to any unwelcome visitors! (F)
  • There are secret doors, rooms, and passageways in parts of the complex.
  • The complex has more than one level.