Friday, 24 December 2021

Thoughts of B1 In Search of the Unknown


“And his eyes will only know darkness,
His ears will only know hatred,
His hands will only destroy,
And from his feet,
Obscurity shall walk.”
― Anonymous


A long time ago, in a decade far, far away….
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. [B1 In Search of the Unknown – 6]

B1 In Search of the Unknown might have begun that way, but it did not.
This is how it really began:
This package forms a special instructional module for play of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® Basic Set, and as such, is specifically designed for beginning players and Dungeon Masters. Due to its special design, it has numerous applications and services a multiplicity of purposes. [B1 – 2]
As it should. It was a teaching tool, after all. But I wish it had begun with more imaginative pizazz. No matter. It began, and to this day “B1” has a special place in the hearts of early gamers, maybe not as much as its antecedent, B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, but it wasn’t distributed as widely as Keep was.
What makes B1 so special? Is it because it was published when it was, at the dawn of D&D? Or is it something else, something attempted only once more in the initial, infamous B3 Palace of the Silver Princess: left a little blank? That might have been intimidating to some, but not all. To some, it was a stroke of genius. Here’s a blank slate. Fill it!
I for one, was a little intimidated. I would not be now. Its very blankness makes it the ultimate plug and play. It can be low level, a warren infested with kobolds. Or it can be very high level, indeed; a dragon’s lair, or the secluded base of an evil cult. It can be whatever you would like. Or need.

It wasn’t so open, to begin with. Not at first.
It began with some very concrete ideas. It was placed in Greyhawk, for one (this being those heady days when there was only one setting).
Note: In the mythical WORLD OF GREYHAWK [...] the stronghold can be considered within anyone of the following lands - the Barony of Ratik, the Duchy of Tenh; or the Theocracy of the Pale. [B1 – monochromatic edition – 6]
Or so it suggested, before it was moved to Molday’s “Known World”, later Mystara. But not then; then it was intended to feature the Northern Barbarians, and says as much:
Some years ago, Rogahn and Zelligar apparently decided upon a joint foray into the lands of the hated barbarians. Taking most of their henchmen and associates along in a great armed band, the two personages disappeared into the forbidding alien lands to the north, far from the hills and forests surrounding Quasqueton. [B1 – 6]
I suppose said barbarians could have been from the Hold of Stonefist, but my head and my heart tell me that the Fruztii were always intended.

So, what do we know about Rogahan and Zelligar? Not much. Maybe a lot.
No one knows what occurrence or coincidence brought these two men together, but tales tell of their meeting and forming a strong bond of friendship, a union that would last for the ages. [B1 – 31]
Where “they” built Quasqueton might shed some light on their character.
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.
Construction of the new complex, it is said, took over a decade, even with the aid of magic and the work of hundreds of slaves and laborers. Vast amounts of rock were removed and tumbled off the rough cliffs into large piles now overgrown with vegetation. A single tower was constructed above ground for lookout purposes, even though there was little to see other than a hilly, forested wilderness for miles around. [B1 – 6]
Both men disliked visitors and intruders. They carved their caverns far from civilization and trade routes. It was well hidden. They were secretive, obviously.
Not much detail is given to the race of said slaves, only that orc slaves did the menial work; but one might suggest that they had human slaves as well. Slaves are slaves, and they would take what was at hand. Those humans were certainly Flan and Fruztii, given the [m]any years ago description, earlier. Their use of slaves sheds some light on their personality (maybe not; the use of slaves as systemic once, if not still), but mention of labourers suggests employment of a skilled workforce, as well. Engineers, artisans, henchmen.

General Sir Pelgrave Ratik of Winetha
How many years ago was [m]any years ago? That depends. General Sir Pelgrave Ratik of Winetha led an expeditionary force to push the Aerdy frontier to the foothills of the Griff Mountains in 122 CY, and would not push north into the Timberway Forest until 130 CY. Ratik has been relatively “tame” since then, so [m]any years ago could be as many as 400 years ago.
I would suggest that is indeed when our personages were active.
Why? Because evidence points to then.
Zelligar kept a library, some of which was left behind:

Book *1 - A historical work, this book, written in the common tongue, outlines the history of the civilized area within 100 miles of the stronghold location. It contains nothing remarkable. [B1 – 10]
This book was “written in the common tongue,” and is thus readable by the PCs.

Book *2 - This tome is apparently an encyclopedia of various types of plants. Although the various illustrations given within provide a clue to its topic, it is written in the language of elves, so it will not be understandable to a reader who does not know the elven tongue (unless a read languages spell is used).
[B1 – 10]
No clue is given to when this tome was penned, or bound.

Book *3 - This volume appears unremarkable at first glance, seeming to be a notebook with many handwritten entries of undecipherable runes and markings. It is actually a diary kept by Zelligar, and it details one of his adventures from the distant past, written in his own hand. The writing is not discernible unless a read languages spell is used. [B1 – 10]
The text is not magical. It would have been a wonder indeed should Zelligar have left it behind if it were. What is interesting is that it is not written in the common tongue, so, it may be surmised that Zelligar spoke languages other than common, besides elven, that is. The runes could be dwarven, but there are other markings as well.

Book *4 - This work, written in the common language. discusses weather. Although well-illustrated with drawings of meteorological phenomena. descriptive text is sparse. Some cryptic notes written in the margins were apparently made by Zelligar, but these are undecipherable without a read languages spell and are actually nothing more than notes such as a student would make in studying the work: to highlight important points.
No mention is made what his notes were, but as they are not describes as runes, I might suggest that these notes were penned in Zelligar’s first language.

They were noted as “noted,” so they were known, their exploits followed, as it were.
Rogahn and Zelligar lived in their joint sanctuary for quite some time, conducting their affairs from within except for occasional adventures in the outside world where both men attempted to add to their reputations as foremost practitioners of their respective arts.
The deeds and adventures of these two characters were never well known, since they both kept their distance from civilization. Some say, and perhaps rightly so, that their motives were based on greed and some kind of vague (or chaotic) evil. No one knows for sure. [B1 – 6]
So, they were vain. They enjoyed being known, but not “known.” Why? Because they were cruel, vainglorious, and evil. And being evil, their exploits would surely have attracted the attention of the druids, the rangers, or the concern of the jarls, all of whom might have found it in their best interest to put an end to their exploits.

Despite being evil, Rogahn and Zelligar were not stupid. They understood that to draw that sort of attention to their selves might not be healthy, so they made themselves “useful,” insofar as their usefulness furthered their ends: seclusion, secrecy, and the fear of those who might disturb them.
What is known more widely is the reputation of each. Despite their questionable alignment, both Rogahn and Zelligar capped their reputation of power when they joined forces to stop a barbarian invasion threatening the great valley below. In a crucial battle at a narrow pass in the hills, the two combined powerful forces and decisively turned back the invasion. Rogahn slew a horde of barbarians single-handedly and Zelligar's powerful magic put their army to flight.
[B1 – 6]
When might that be? Probably when Sir Pelgrave Ratik of Winetha pressed north of Marner.
It's doubtful that Rogahn slew the horde of barbarians single-handedly, but such is legend. Zelligar’s magic might have put them to flight, though. The barbarians are a superstitious lot, and they are not adept in arcane magic, legend suggesting that Slerotin himself set the Houses of Pursuit to flight. Such terror would definitely linger.
A grateful populace rewarded the pair and their henchmen with considerable treasure, after which the two retired to their hideaway. Most of the reward treasure was apparently used to finance the further construction of Quasqueton, although some of it may yet be hidden somewhere.  [B1 – 6]
Who might the grateful populace be? The Kingdom of Aerdy? Certainly not the Fruztii who inhabited Ratik. The Flan population would be pretty sparse, and I doubt they would be pleased to see yet another conqueror lay claim to their ancestral lands.
In any case, the hill stronghold was not completed in its entirety when, years later, the intrepid pair apparently embarked on their last adventure. [B1 – 6]
Were they in residence long enough to excavate such a vast maze? Maybe. Or maybe they too were drawn to this very spot, as were the cultists of our time. I believe they erected the tower, and expanded upon what was already there: the Hall, the Temple, the Throne room.

They ventured north one last time, taking with them their henchmen and associates.
Word just reaching civilization tells of some great battle in the barbarian lands where Rogahn and Zelligar have met their demise. This rumored clash must have occurred some years ago, and there are few details—and no substantiation of the story. The only thing certain is the Rogahn and Zelligar have been gone far too long. […] [B1 – 6]

Long, yes; but not interminably long:
Zelligar's closet lies through a door on the south wall of his chamber. The room is rather large for a closet, but is actually somewhat barren for its size. In one corner of the room, several bolts of cloth are stacked, well covered with dust and partially moth-eaten and deteriorated. These are of no particular value. [B1 – 10]
Not so long for the cloth to disintegrate, as might have happened unless the caverns were sealed, and there are far too many rumours regarding their caverns for that to have been the case.

Did they die? I don’t think so, but I’ll leave that to you to decide.


So, what were Rogahn and Zelligar? I’m referring to their ethnicity, not their callings. Not Fruztii, obviously. The Fruztii are not fond of arcane magic, not are they fond of consorting with its practitioners. Evidence might be hidden within their very names. Of course, that does not rule out their being Suel, what with there being large Suel enclaves up and down the Solnor coast.

Zelligar the Unknown
Zelligar is easy. He is/was a Suel wizard. Why do I say this? Because his name is all too similar to another famous Suel.
5069 SD 
Zellifar-ad-Zol, son of the emperor, mage/high priest of Beltar, breaks with his father and takes over 8,000 Seuloise loyal to himself, and flees the kingdom, eastward. (-447 CY) [OJ1]
5071 to 5093 SD
The Zolites scatter the Flannae before them, and move south to the Tilvanot Peninsula. [OJ11]
5093 SD
The First Division occurs. One of Zellifar's minions, the High Priest Pellipardus, slips away from the Zolites and takes his minor family to the Ratik area, in the North. (-493 CY) [OJ1]
5094 SD 
Zellifar parleys with the Houses of Pursuit. His Arch Mage, Slerotin, unleashes a Mass Enfeeblement on their house mages, and a Mass Suggestion upon the other members of the Houses. (-492 CY) [OJ1]
5097 SD 
Zellifar enters the Griff Mountains alone. None know where he goes or what he does there. (-419 CY) [OJ1]
5100 SD 
Zellifar, last scion of emperors, teleports from the Griff Mountains back to the remains of the Seuloise Empire. He is destroyed by the lingering magics and final throws of conflict in the area. (-416 CY) [OJ1]

Zellifar. Zelligar. The similarity is too striking. Could they be one and the same? Not likely. Zellifar was a priest, not a mage, even if many wizards of the time were referred to as wizard-priests, and frescos within his chambers are described banally, if self-congratulatory.
The east wall is a similar sectioned fresco showing cameos from the life of Zelligar: a boy gazing upward at a starry night sky. a young man diligently studying a great tome, on earnest magician changing water to wine before a delighted audience, and a powerful wizard casting a type of death fog over on enemy army from a hilltop. [B1 – 21]
The images are rather repetitive, and seeing how vainglorious Zelligar seems to be, you’d think there would have been far more and more varied wonders depicted should Zelligar been around for 800 years, give or take.
Zelligar's personal chamber is actually a rather austere abode. The most noticeable feature seen upon entering is a very large and fairly detailed stone carving which runs most of the length of the north wall of the room. Some 70 feet in overall length, the wall carving depicts a mighty wizard (obviously Zeiligar) on a hilltop casting a spell in the air over a valley below, with an entire army fleeing in confused panic. [B1 – 9]
My guess is Zelligar is contemporary Suel. That would make the indecipherable language in his journals, Suloise.

Rogahn the Fearless
Rogahn is not as easy to pin down. Could he be Flan? Personally, I would prefer that he be Flan: a lone warrior a-boil with rage over the Suel Barbarians’ displacement of, and further foul treatment of his people.
Tenh, Tostenhca, Colten…Rogahn. It’s close, but it’s not a perfect fit.
When considering Suel names: Gordegar, Kelson, Renho, Rehno, the disparity widens.
Oeridian names, on the other hand: many Oeridian names do sometimes end with -an: Robann; Strychan; Toran; Renderan. Oeridan is certainly closer than Suel. And structurally, Rogahn is fairly close to Fharlanghn.
Much to my displeasure, Oeridian seems the best fit for Rogahn.
I would have liked to place them in a more distant past, strengthening Rogahn’s possible Flan ethnicity, but evidence is largely against it. Zelligar’s tomes are written in the common tongue, after all (in this case Aerdi) when not indecipherable (ancient Suel).
Rogahn’s ancestry appears set in stone.
Rogahn
He most certainly would have been “contemporary,” as well. His greatest achievement would seem to be the very same as Zelligar’s: the routing of the barbarians.
The west wall is a sectioned fresco showing various events and deeds from the life of Rogahn, and the several views pictured are: a young boy raising a sword, a young man slaying a wild boor, a warrior carrying off a dead barbarian, and a hero in the midst of a large battle hocking barbarian foes to pieces. [B1 – 21]
Like Zelligar, his were simple tastes.
Rogahn's personal quarters are rather simple and spartan. showing his taste for the utilitarian rather than regal. [B1 – 16]
And as one might expect, his desires were less esoteric than were his companions. He had friends, or should I say that he had, at the very least, one friend.
Home for Erig, Rogahn's friend and comrade in arms, is a rather simple room with few furnishings. [B1 – 16]
And he had a mistress.
Rogahn's Mistress


This room is more tastefully decora ted than the rather spartan living quarters found elsewhere in the stronghold. It is the personal chamber of Rogahn's mistress and lover, who apparently lived at the stronghold for some time. But now it appears that she, along with so many others who lived here, has long since been gone. [B1 – 15]

We do know that they did not act alone. They had loyal servants, one very likely an elf.
The walls are barren rock, except for a framed picture hanging over the desk showing two figures standing side by side: a warrior of Impressive proportions, and a wizened magic user in a purple robe. This is actually a full-color painting, beautifully rendered, and in one corner is written in the elvish language the words: "To wise Marevak. worthy advisor and counselor, from a grateful Zelligar and Rogahn". These words are readable only to those who know the elven language (or via a read language. spell), but the signed names of Zelligar and Rogahn will be apparent upon a close examination. In another corner of the painting is the signed name Tuflor – this being the artist who pointed the picture, but this fact certainly not obvious to anyone finding the painting other than through deduction or by a character "asking around" once back in the civilized world. [B1 – 19]
That was unexpected. Who’d have thought that much thought could go into characters who don’t make an appearance in a module?
Mike Carr, apparently.

Time to tackle the module itself.
Do I like it? No. Do I love it? Yes. I love what it can be.
What I don’t like about it is its crazy quilt layout. It appears to have been designed using the random dungeon generator from the 1e DMG. Were I to lay it out, I would have the tunnel and guard nooks as presented, followed by a vast temple, then the trophy/banquet hall, its floor a detailed map that doesn’t quite match what lies outside (rivers would flow other courses, the coastline undulating slightly differently, with only the Rakers standing where they ought to). Storage and sundries would be to the right of the Hall, pantry and kitchens to the left. A “throne room” would follow, with Rogahn’s demesnes behind that and to the right, Zelligar’s to the left.
Rogahn’s would entail training facilities, barracks, guest and rooms, his mistress’s in the far corner, his before hers.
Zelligar’s would entail laboratories, studies, along with the Room of Pools, and the Garden Room. For effect, have the fungi encroaching on the surrounding rooms, roughly 20% less each room out from the epicentre, that way the room is what it ought to be, an experiment gone wrong, or having escaped its initial confinement.
What lies within the dungeon? Whatever you’d like, for much the same reason Mike Carr left it blank, to make your own.
What would I do? I would tie it into B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, or something similar. Evil cultists have found the caves, and are still seeking the motherlode, Quasqueton. That’s what they’re drawn to, why they’ve come. But they didn’t find it, so, they created their own, a stone’s throw away. This is not to say they’ve quite looking, but they have lost a number of their acolytes trying, so, they’ve gone as far as to caste rumours about, baiting adventurers to come and look for them, to clear away the bandits, and blunt those humanoids who have not heeded their call.
I’d remodel the temples, theirs and that within Quasqueton to match those in the Giant and Drow series, to be consistent.

Below lists the rumours. I like rumour tables. They can add insight to any module, if used. But I suggest perusing them carefully, and working out which NPCs know what. Imagine if a fairly well-placed NPC relates something false. Should they do, you can figure out beforehand whether the falsehood was a fib, misdirection, a red herring, or misunderstanding.
These are pretty standard fare for an early dungeon module.
Italics denote a false legend or rumor.
  1. The name of the stronghold is Quasqueton.
  2. Zelligar had a wizard's workshop in the stronghold where he worked on magic stronger than any known to man.
  3. 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.
  4. Zelligar and Rogahn had orc slaves to do the menial work, and some lived permanently at the stronghold.
  5. The complex has two levels.
  6. Part of the complex is unfinished.
  7. The complex has a rear exit which is secret and well hidden.
  8. No outsiders have ever entered the complex and returned to tell the tale.
  9. Troglodytes have moved into the complex in the absence of its normal inhabitants.
  10. The place is protected by the gods themselves, and one member of any party of intruders is doomed to certain death.
  11. The treasures of Zelligar and Rogahn are safely hidden in a pool of water.
  12. The entire place is filled with guards left behind by Zelligar and Rogahn.
  13. Rogahn's trophy room has battle relics and slain monster remains from his adventures.
  14. There is a room with many pools of water within the complex.
  15. The very walls speak to visitors.
  16. 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.
  17. All treasures of Zelligar and Rogahn are cursed to bring ill to any who possess them.
  18. Zelligar and Rogahn have actually returned to their stronghold, and woe be to any unwelcome visitors!
  19. There are secret doors, rooms, and passageways in parts of the complex.
  20. The complex has more than one level.

The Tinkerer
The big take-aways are that Rogahan and Zelligar are not in residence, and the complex is not filled with their guards. It’s filled with orcs, the descendants of those Rogahan and Zelligar had enslaved, and grimlocks, too, in keeping with the descendants’ theme.
And maybe something akin to those unfortunate side affects a la Doctor Moreau. I wouldn’t put it past Zelligar to tinker.
But they have been gone 400 years. Surely, they must be dead.
But then again, Zelligar liked to tinker....










One must always give credit where credit is due. This post is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.
Very special thanks to Mike Carr, without whose imagination, this adventure, and this review, could not have been possible.


The Art:
B1 In Search of the Unknown cover, by Darlene Pekul, 1981
B1 In Search of the Unknown monochrome cover, by David C Sutherland III, and David A. Trampier, 1979
Quasqueton Tower, by Glenn Brewer, from Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, 1999
Wizard's Workroom Illustration, from Into the Borderlands, Goodman Games, 2018
The Borderlands Map, by Todd Gamble, from Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, 1999
Zelligar and the Barbarian Horde Illustration, from Into the Borderlands, Goodman Games, 2018
Upper Level map, from B1 In Search of the Unknown, 1979

 
Sources:
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9023 B1 In Search the Unknown, Monochrome edition, 1979
9023 B1 In Search of the Unknown, Brown cover, 1981
9034 B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, 1980
Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
OJ Oerth Journal #1 & #11, appearing on Greyhawk Online

4 comments:

  1. B1 was my first adventure module...my Elf character died at the end of the first hallway--surprised by some evil humanoids (can't remember exactly which ones after all these years, I would have said orcs but can't swear to it)--but it was the most exciting game I had ever played and I was hooked from that encounter forward.

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  2. "Most of the reward treasure was apparently used to finance the further construction of Quasqueton." That's just good DMing!

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  3. Great analysis, David. You pointed out several things I had never really noticed or thought about. I did always assume that Zelligar's journal and the notes he left were written in a personal alphabet he created to keep his secrets rather than his native language. Interesting speculation on your part. It also opens the line of thinking for me that perhaps some of the Suloise who passed into the north kept aspects of their ancient civilization rather than descending into the barbarism that produced the Northern Barbarian nations.

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  4. This is the first adventure module I ever purchased with my own money. I spent hours and hours filling in the blanks with different themes with appropriate groups of creatures. My first character was named after one of the pregens in this module, Luven Lightfingers... Ah the memories! Thanks for reminding me why it's one of my favorite modules.

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