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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

M1 Blizzard Pass: Dungeon Design

Today, Grognardia has a retrospective on the module M1 Blizzard Pass by Zeb Cook.

This brought back some of my memories of this module, which was released in 1983. I remember buying it at Kay-Bee Toys in the mall on the same day my sister got the Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle game for our Colecovision.

I enjoyed the solo module, but what I really found fascinating was the "group adventure" at the end, which describes the dungeon (consisting of the single map shown above) in less than three full pages. Not only is it an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the solo adventure, but it is also a rare example of a TSR "mini-dungeon"; i.e., an adventure consisting of a single dungeon page with just a few pages of description. In the early days, we really on saw this kind of short adventure as the sample dungeons in rulebooks (e.g., Holmes Basic or Moldvay Basic). I think it also reminded me of those because it was also in the back of the booklet. One reason I liked this kind of short adventure is that it was closer to the single map-page dungeons I was making myself at the time. Even the adventures that had been published in Dragon magazine were usually longer than this, with at least two different map pages. 

(Warning, below are some spoilers if you plan to play through the dungeon)

As is obvious from the name, the setting for Blizzard Pass is a snowy mountain pass, which immediately gives the dungeon a feel that differentiates from typical sample dungeons. A few of the elements tie into this "icy" setting; for example, the ogre guard at the beginning hides in the snow and then hurls "snowballs" at the party (balls of ice). And there are Snow Apes, a new monster.

According to the ten types of Scenarios outlined in Moldvay Basic, the adventure is #8, Rescuing Prisoners - the same as the The Haunted Keep sample dungeon. 

The dungeon itself is more linear than the one in Holmes Basic, but it makes sense as a defensible lair. It has some neat twists that make the linear design more interesting. Two of these criss-cross over each other, making the map more eye-catching (see above).

The map makes good use of the dungeon features key shown on page B58, which was one of the ways the Moldvay Basic advanced dungeon design over that of the dungeon of Holmes Basic, as I outlined here. It also has a clever and thematic compass rose that uses the head of troglodyte, one of the monsters in the dungeon.

Besides the main entrance, there are two other exits from the dungeon. One of these is via a branch point that leads to a red-herring mini-labyrinth in a second part of the dungeon; the other is the requisite secret escape route for the evil cleric, which is a motif that Gygax used several times (in that post, jump to the section "Evil Human Lair with Escape Route" near the bottom).

It has a few interesting features of verticality; parts of the dungeon are higher than others, which is something also seen in the Caves of Chaos. 

This allows for a chute that leads from one area to another, something that Gygax suggested back in OD&D, Vol 3 (e.g., "mouths of chutes" and "a slide to a lower level"), but didn't turn up that often in published dungeons. This also involves a weird statue/idol, a motif seen repeatedly in early D&D adventures; there's one in each of the Holmes and Moldvay Sample Dungeons, and Gygax provided several examples in the "Trick and Traps: (Additions)" section of the Greyhawk Supplement.

And there is also vertical passage in the dungeon that can only be traversed by climbing; this lets a thief use their climb walls ability (the solo adventure itself is written for a thief character). This is shown via a cross-section inset on the map, and leads to the second section of the dungeon. This part is set off visually from the first by use of half-tone dots, labeled on the key as "Higher Area", also perhaps reinforcing that the temperature is different in this part of the cave system.

Plus it's got pulpy weird toads and apes as the new monsters: the hypnotic Rock Toad (also called Cave Toad) and the Snow Ape.

Rock Toad by Jim Holloway

I like this dungeon enough that I included when I started an annual kids' campaign about five years ago. IIRC, this was the fourth adventure they went through (Holmes Sample Dungeon -  Mentzer Sample Dungeon - Quest for the Silver Sword - Blizzard Pass).

If you'd like to see this mini-dungeon yourself, Blizzard Pass is available on DMs Guild (note: affiliate link), and  with all of the solo entries filled in within the appropriate text so you can actually play through it without the invisible ink pen.

Read the Grognardia retrospective here:

Retrospective: Blizzard Pass

Yesterday's post about solo wargames reminded me of something that I had almost forgotten: that, in 1983, TSR published the first of two solo adventure modules for Dungeons & Dragons. Entitled Blizzard Pass and written by David Cook, this module is, in broad outline, not all that different from a Fighting Fantasy book like The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

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