Trapped in the dungeons of the Slave Lords!
The hardy adventurers must find a way out, with only their wits and courage to help them. But can they do it before everything is destroyed by the dreaded Earth Dragon?
This module was originally used for the final round of the official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Tournament at Gen Con XIII and is the culmination of four related tournament modules.
This module contains a challenging scenario, the tournament scoring system, plus nine pre-rolled, playtested tournament characters. Also included are large scale referee's maps, notes, and background information.
A4 is a complete adventure in itself, but it is also a companion to A1 (Slave Pits of the Undercity), A2 (Secret of the Slavers' Stockade), and A3 (Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords). An adventure for character levels 4-7.
A4: "In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords" (1981), by Lawrence Schick, is the fourth of the "A" Slave Lords adventures. It was published in May 1981.
Origins (I): The Maze of the Minotaur. The Slave Lords adventures were inspired by an adventure run by Harold Johnson, where he captured players and took away their stuff; their challenge was then to escape from a minotaur's maze. This charming (and at the time original) idea became the basis of the entire Slave Lords series. (The other three adventures were designed to get the players to this point.)
Origins (II): From Tourney to Book. Like the previous Slave Lords adventures, "Dungeons" was originally written for the Gen Con XIII (1980) AD&D Open tournament. In fact, it was the final round of the tournament. The tourney round was then expanded to become a module, which went on sale the next year.
It's somewhat ironic that Lawrence Schick designed this final Slave Lords adventure, because he considered tournaments a "distraction from what [TSR] should really have been doing", which was to reach a broader audience. Why was he willing to write it? Because he was more accepting of tournaments when they could be turned into salable modules, as was the case here.
Fortunately, Frank Mentzer was creating the RPGA in 1980, just as TSR was finishing up these tournament adventures, which would get TSR off the hook for work on future events.
Adventures Tropes (I): Captured! "Dungeons" is the first published D&D adventure to use the trope of adventurers being taken prisoner (and then escaping). The idea would become vastly over-used over the years, but in 1980 it was fresh and innovative.
That need to escape leads, of course, to a reverse dungeon crawl as players try to get out of the dungeon. This is played out on a remarkably open floor plan, where the players have three different routes to escape, showing how non-railroading these early adventures could be — even in an adventure that starts with a railroad beginning.
Adventure Tropes (II): Wit! Because the players are sans their gear, they need to figure out how to equip themselves so that they can have weaponry (and thus not have to use AD&D's complicated grappling rules!) and so that they can have light(!). This requires ingenuity and thoughtfulness on the part of the players. This was another trope from D&D's early days, when good play required players figuring stuff out, not characters rolling skills.
Adventure Tropes (III): Wilderness Wanderings. Only the escape from the dungeon was used in the original tournament adventure. However, the published module follows that up with wilderness encounters as the players try to escape a devastated island. These wilderness explorations would foreshadow the D&D Expert Set (1981), which was published by the time "Dungeons" finally made it into print. The primordial state of the wilderness exploration of "Dungeons" is made obvious by the fact that it uses a square grid for its wilderness adventuring rather than the hexes which would quickly become ubiquitous.
Adventure Tropes (IV): A Plotted Finale. In another addition for the printed module, the only way off the island is (of course) blocked by another five Slave Lords. It wasn't unusual for early D&D adventures to have a boss monster at their end, but this particular finale feels quite plotted because it so neatly bookends the Slave Lords fight at the end of A3: "Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords" (1981). This foreshadowed another future developments of D&D, namely the plotted adventures that debuted in the mid '80s, then dominated production in the '90s.
Exploring Greyhawk. "Dungeons" is set beneath Drachen Keep, a tower above Suderham. That means it's still deep in the Drachesgrab Mountains, on the Pomarj peninsula. There's a little bit of additional information on this small enclave, since the adventure includes a map of the entire island and details five more Slave Lords, but as was the case throughout the Slave Lords series, the Greyhawk lore is actually pretty scant — and it's once more of limited use, since there's a volcano erupting right next to Suderham.
Monsters of Note. Four new monsters show up: cave fishers, magmen, myconids, and sandlings. They all reappeared in Monster Manual II (1983) and mostly disappeared after that … with the exception of the fungoid myconids. When creating the myconids, Schick described them to artist Erol Otus as "the dancing mushrooms from Walt Disney’s Fantasia, only sinister". The result was wildly popular, and as a result the myconids have reappeared extensively: in the Underdark, in the Forgotten Realms, and in core books like 3e's Monster Manual II (2003).
One classic monster also gets some strong attention: kobolds. This continued a trend begun in earlier Slave Lords adventures of lowering the level of the antagonist monsters as the PCs themselves leveled up — and you can't get much lower than kobolds! The kobolds were a threat in "Dungeons" in large part because of the characters' lack of equipment. However, the idea of dangerous kobolds would be famously revisited by Roger E. Moore when he wrote about "Tucker's Kobolds" in Dragon #127 (November 1987).
About the Creators. This would end up being Lawrence Schick's last D&D book, though he'd coauthor Star Frontiers (1982) the next year and a decade later would publish the prime work of roleplaying scholarship in the '90s, Heroic Worlds (1991).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.