Palace of the Vampire Queen
Last February, at TotalCon, I played an enjoyable game of OD&D GMed by Frank Mentzer called Palace of the Vampire Queen. You can read all about it in my post here. Frank billed the game as “the first published D&D module ever”, which is quite true, more history of the module can be found on the Aceum here. Since playing that game, I’ve wanted very badly to read the module. The problem is, it’s highly collectible, with the first printing fetching as much as $1200 on auction. Worse still, apparently nobody has deemed fit to republish or even digitize the thing, despite it not even actually being owned by TSR. TSR, as you may know, has quashed any distribution of their material in digital form, so that avenue is right out for most modules. Despite this, a lot of early TSR material can still be found in digital form through um, other means of distribution (arrr). Still, Palace of the Vampire Queen evaded me, I guess nobody ever felt like scanning the thing.
So I’ve been watching the auctions, and recently a 6th printing (the last one) came up and I dropped a bid on it. As the price climbed, I started debating just how badly I really wanted the thing. I was going to be gone when the auction closed, so I picked a high bid that was about half again what it was currently going for, and the absolute maximum I was willing to pay. I figured either I would luck out and the bidding wouldn’t get that high, or the bidding would soar past it and I wouldn’t feel bad since I knew it would be much higher than I was comfortable paying. When I returned at the end of the weekend, it turns out I won the auction. My maximum bid defeated the next highest bid by 23 cents.
I got over my buyer’s remorse by forgetting entirely about the whole thing. Thus when I got home from work on Friday and saw the slip on the door from the post office saying I had to come to the post office to sign for a package, I had no idea what it was, and was quite delighted to find out the next day that my copy of Palace of the Vampire Queen had arrived.
The module has five levels, including both player and GM maps of each level. The interesting thing is that the players are supposed to start with the map of the first level, and subsequent players maps are actually hidden in locations in the dungeon. The players maps are obviously missing quite a few details, in one case notably missing is the staircase to the next level. The odd thing about 6th printing is that it’s in booklet format. The text part of the module has been reformatted to this page size, but the maps are still full 8.5×11 sheets. Thus if you want to actually use the maps at all, you’ve got to open up the staples and remove the pages. My copy came with the staples closed, but the player maps just loosely contained in the module already separated from the rest of the book.
The staples were old and a bit rusty, so the first thing I did was carefully remove them, separate the pages, and make high resolution scans of every page. I then re-assembled the book with new staples (it didn’t seem worth putting those old rusty things back in there), bagged and boarded the thing, and now am considering how best to store it. I’ve never owned such an expensive collectible. Perhaps I should frame it or something.
Anyway, I cleaned up the scans and printed out a reading copy for myself. It was quite a hoot to read, both for the history of the thing and to recollect my own adventure through the place. According to my old post I kept “copious notes” on our progress. I wonder where the heck I put those. The module itself is incredibly sparse, with only the briefest notes on what each room contains. Briefer even than most one page dungeon room keys being written today. The adventure is pretty bizarre and I’m not sure I’d ever really run it other than for the novelty of playing the first ever written module, much as Frank ran it. I certainly would not drop it into a campaign.
The maps though are beautiful, and I really do love the idea of incomplete player maps used as hand-outs. It reminds me of all the “treasure map” entries in the old treasure tables. I did this once in my own campaign, but of an area the players are no longer interested in, and the player carrying the partial maps since got himself killed and the maps were never recovered. Perhaps I should try to find a way to work this concept in again somewhere else.
Part of me actually regrets reading it such that I can’t explore it myself anymore. Of course the only solution to that is to run it myself. Maybe I’ll bring it home with me for Thanksgiving. My brothers might get a kick out of exploring a dungeon as old as their older brother.