Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (Green cover)

One the earliest adventures I owned and experienced was this one. It's long past time to take a look at it here on this blog.

If I get a chance, I'll review the Orange cover version, too, from my copy of the free PDF version. Short version is that it's very different and a lot messier, and not in a good way.

For more reviews, please see my consolidated reviews page.

B3 Palace of the Silver Princess

The background to B3 is that some dwarves found a nice gem, gave it to the princess, but it turned out it was an evil gem (Spoilers - it's one of the hundred eyes of Arik, a banish evil chaos god, which is awesome.) A knight on a white dragon came to help, but it was too late, and the kingdom fell under the spell of Chaos. The PCs are let past the evil wards by a magical being so they can save the kingdom.

The adventure takes place in a two-level palace, with an underground level and an above-ground level sticking out of a mountain. The idea is to penetrate the palace, find one of three ways to deal with the evil gem, and then do so. The place is littered with clues on how to solve the plot, and there is more than one way to get most clues or execute what you've learned on the cues. You do need to figure out a puzzle, but you aren't just trying to guess the one path but find one of the paths.

B3 is designed as a beginner module. As such, it has a pre-programmed section. It's a choose-your-own-adventure style setup designed to be run by a GM (so it's more linear and vastly less page flippy.) The idea is that it guides the GM on the kind of things to say, do, and rule and gives the players an idea of the kind of questions to ask and things to attempt. The entrance to the palace has a magical warding and portcullises to bypass, plus a monster or two, and this walks you through making it past. It's interesting, but for an experienced GM it's actually a detriment as you can't see what's in the entrance area at a glance and just run that. For an inexperienced one, it's fine - and I know I ran it. But I don't think we took any lessons home from it.

Also in the beginner module theme, there is a Glossary with general terms (alchemist to tapestry) and one with characters (Arik to Travis.) The module also introduces three monsters I don't recall seeing elsewhere in early-edition D&D products - the Archer Bush, the Decapus (which I always read as DEEK-uh-pus, because I was 9 or 10 and I didn't know "deca" meant ten until long after that), and Vampire Roses.

B3 really suffers from "frost giant in a 10' x 10' room" syndrome. Many monsters are just there and make no sense being there. There is a secret room with a giant beetle in it - no clue or reason why it's there. There isn't really a fully unifying theme of monster placement - many rooms just have monsters that seemed pulled out of the Basic Set and just thrown in there to be there. Much of it just feels like how the dungeons we made up as kids felt; perhaps B3 (and B1, actually) is why we felt this was fine. Cobra, crab spider, giant ferrets, giant beetle in a secret room, etc. - none of it feels like it fits with the "castle suddenly brought down by malign forces" theme. It's just a smorgasbord of monsters to fight, and usually once you've fought that kind you're done with them for this dungeon.

The writing is clear, the boxed text is generally on point (and yes, for people who hate boxed text, it was there in 1981 when I started), and the art is usable and good. The module is well written and page and encounter references abound so you aren't guessing what area to flip to when you need to find connecting detail.

How is it for GURPS?

B3 would actually work pretty well for GURPS, with a few modifications. Most of the fights aren't very large - they don't depend on huge numbers. For Dungeon Fantasy, you'd want to power up some of the foes and add more magical support - too many would just be fodder given the right spells. The lack of alignment means you can more easily do Order vs. Chaos as a theme without the whole "But aren't white dragons Chaotic?" thing bogging it down.

This one was on the short list of modules to use for my Felltower game before it lost out to B2. Inability to sensibly start-stop, start-stop on this, plus the sheer amount of little fixes I'd want to do, caused it to lose out.

War Stories

All of my war stories start and end with the programmed adventure section, really. Almost all. I remember going through it GMed once by my uncle and once by my cousin (at lunch, in elementary school). I know we played it later because I GMed an encounter with Duchess and Candella, two women trapped in the castle when Chaos fell. But that's about it. We certainly never finished it out. It's really too big for an easy pass through, and too random, and it didn't hold our attention long enough to finish it.

Overall: Not a bad adventure, but it mostly earns respect for its interesting plot (save the Kingdom!) and plot details, little touches like evil cultists and multiple ways to solve the plot, and age. If this was a new product, it would be bashed for its weird monster placement, random treasures, and incomplete development. Still, it's a good basis for an adventure although I'd recommend cleaning up the module before running it today.


  1. I don't mind when a dungeon makes no sense. I do mind when the fights are boring or don't pay out. A giant ferret in a room waiting for me to skin it is both!

    1. I think I've learned that I do mind when a dungeon makes no sense. If I'm going to open a secret door and find a Major Clue and a giant beetle just sitting there to fight, no reason why it should be there and no hints that it's there, I'm going to mentally check out of trying to reason and plan. Even if the fight is interesting, the lesson I take away is that it's a waste of time to treat the dungeon as anything but random time-killers.

  2. This mod taught me that even if a plot is very bare bones and not especially coherent, if it has epic set pieces and even the slightest skeleton connecting them, it will seem epic to the players.

    1. I think that if a plot is bare bones and semi-coherent it's better than one that is well fleshed out and entirely coherent. The first means whatever the players bring to the table is what makes it epic, the second means the GM has to communicate to the players why it is epic and how they fit in!

      That's why I'm disappointed by the throwaway random monsters in B3 - if they connected to the plot a little bit better, it would all feel more epic. The PCs would have many more loose strings to weave together into their own idea of what's going on. The totally random stuff (beetle in a secret room, 3 different kinds of monsters in 3 connected rooms with no interaction between them, etc.) undermines that instead of giving them more to pump up in their own imaginations.

    2. Good point about why the plot works so well.

      My recollection from (jeez) 30ish years ago was that the players assumed the monsters were all just part of the curse.


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