History Behind the B3 Module, by John D. Rateliff
A Piece of TSR History
Coming smack in the middle of the early classics of the D&D beginner series, after B1. In Search of the Unknown and B2. Keep on the Borderlands, and before B4. The Lost City and B5. Horror on the Hill, this module is unique in that it was the first TSR adventure by a female designer. The early eighties was a time of enormous expansion for the game. According to one TSR veteran, Wells’ hiring was a deliberate attempt by Gary Gygax to expand beyond the all-male perspective that had dominated the design department for the company’s first eight years -- no doubt with an eye toward attracting a female market to match the burgeoning youth market the game had already tapped. And, in fact, if one exempts the original version of "Rahasia", Wells’ module is the earliest written by a woman in our industry.
Why then, of all the modules TSR put out in its glory days, did only this one see a recall? The answer lies in the art. Apparently when the adventure was distributed to the staff at the TSR offices, one of the senior executives flipped through his copy and hit the roof. Not only did he order the copies already sent out to stores recalled, but that night he or a member of his staff went through the employees’ cubes and removed all the personal copies handed out earlier that day. Only the few copies belonging to employees who had taken them home that night escaped the confiscation. The rest ended up in a Lake Geneva, WI landfill, along with all the copies TSR could reclaim from those already shipped out.
What was so objectionable? Take a look at the illustration on page 9, titled "The Illusion of the Decapus." A woman tied by her own hair, being menaced by nine men who threaten her with knives while tearing off bits of her clothing, is hardly wholesome, but rather mild by TSR’s standards. After all, it pales in comparison with the cover of 1976’s Eldritch Wizardry (a nude woman tied down to a sacrificial altar), or the various bits of actual female nudity in the hardcover Deities & Demigods rulebook (1980, just the year before), not to mention the various bare-breasted illos of harpies, mermaids, and even witches that had appeared in various D&D rulebooks over the year.
Perhaps it was a matter of context. After all, Deities & Demigods was part of the ADVANCED Dungeons & Dragons line, whereas D&D itself and the "B" line in particular were theoretically targeted at a somewhat younger audience. (In practice, most gamers made little distinction between the two, typically playing AD&D and adapting the D&D modules to those rules.)
Whatever the reason, this illustration is not the only one cut from the revised version. Both the picture of the tinker’s wagon (page 6) and the PCs in an inn (page 7) were cut when the corresponding text was deleted. The picture of the chained wolf (page 11) was replaced by a more dramatic one of a downed PC trying to keep the same wolf from tearing out his throat (Wells-Moldvay page 28). The scene with Travis (page 15) was replaced by a smaller, characterless one (W-M page 20), while the fighting swords (page 17) and "ubues at home" scene (page 19, by the inimitable Erol Otus) thankfully vanished along with the monsters it illustrated.
Other illos survived but were reduced in size (page 13) or cropped -- see page 20, where the statuette of a woman was replaced by that of a dragon or, more interestingly, page 21, where in a masterpiece of economy the ghosts were removed and the object on the pedestal redrawn, leaving the PCs exactly as in the original. Likewise, in the illo on page 24, the dwarves’ faces were redrawn to make them orcs, the ruby sword was added, the windows were replaced by arcane designs, and the "sign of Arik" was tattooed on the cleric’s and warrior’s foreheads. And of course, many new illustrations were added (17 in all) to fill gaps in the original (providing a picture of the thieves Candella and Duchess, for instance) or to illustrate new scenes added by Moldvay.
The Moldvay Touch
Of course, the two versions of the adventure differ in much more than just art. Most significantly, Wells’ original takes Mike Carr’s B1 as its model, leaving many rooms unkeyed with blank spaces for the DM to write in monster, treasure, and trap (a model followed a few years later by Tracy Hickman in the "Desert of Desolation" series). Moldvay’s version, by contrast, follows Gygax’s B2 and his own X2, Castle Amber (3) in presenting a fully-keyed, ready-to-play dungeon -- the model TSR adopted at its default and has followed ever since.
Other Moldvay touches include the addition of an instructional section at the beginning of the adventure, to show first-time DMs how to run an encounter. The whole premise of the adventure is changed, so that instead of exploring the ruins of the long-dead Princess Argenta’s castle, as in Wells’ original, the PCs are trying to rescue the princess very shortly after the disaster that wrecked the castle. Whereas in Moldvay’s version the mysterious dragon-rider -- the natural suspect for having caused the disaster -- turns out to be noble and good, in Wells’ original he is not only a black-hearted villain but succeeds in corrupting the princess. It’s a shock to those who played the familiar "green cover" version to find out that the ghosts dancing in the upstairs ballroom apparently derive from the princess and her knight!
Other changes follow the refocusing of the adventure. The area map was deleted, along with all the accompanying wilderness encounters. Several areas of the castle are redrawn, adding or deleting rooms, while the entire Tower Level vanishes from the revised version. More significantly, Moldvay fixes a significant flaw in the original, explaining how the princess got upstairs in her own castle by adding a main staircase (area 22 in the "green cover" edition). The encounter with the cleric Catharandamus is refocused so as to make combat with him unavoidable, and his minions change from a pair of dwarves and a werebear (the rightful bearer of the ruby sword) to a troop of orcs and a werewolf.
And, of course, the monsters. By revising the adventure, Moldvay spared us from some really, really lame monsters getting into the canon. There might be some adventurers who want to fight six-legged duckbill rats ("barics") or go toe-to-toe with bubbles (they’re . . . bubbles), but the prize for true weirdness has to go to the ubues -- three-headed, three-armed, oddly gendered creatures who feel as if they’ve somehow wandered out of Gamma World into D&D. Ironically only the decapus, the source of the illustration that caused all the trouble, survived (perhaps because it was featured on the color cover art!).
At any rate, now that the original is made available at last, we cannot only appreciate what Moldvay changed but also for the first time in almost twenty years see the original as Wells envisioned it. Most may prefer Moldvay’s more polished product, but I suspect some will ponder the possibilities of running a "Return to the Palace of the Silver Princess" with some serious surprises in store for those adventurers who thought they’d seen everything…