Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Man have you seen the TSR UK Series?

 For some reason, people like to wax poetic about old TSR modules like Keep on the Borderlands (What if nearly-identical monsters lived in nearly identical caves?!?) and the Giants series (What if you fought the same kind of giant 15 times then got to another one and fought a different kind of giant 15 times?) despite the fact they all bite. 

With the bar for appreciating TSR modules so low, I am kind of amazed I've never heard anything about the TSR UK series which--you guessed it--featured artists and the writers from the UK, including, I think, early White Dwarf adventures. They're a mixed bag but as a whole feature off-beat art, excellent maps and some intriguing structures (in The Gauntlet, for example, you have to take over a dungeon, then hold it against an assault).

Do you remember anything about UK1-UK7? Don't be shy in the comments.






30 comments:

  1. I'm not sure, but I probably only own UK1, Beyond the Crystal Cave. It was loosely based on Midsummer Night's Dream and it had that tricky aging effect, wasn't it?

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  2. How do I find these? Is there somewhere u can buy them online or get PDFs or something? The last map looks great, gauntlet sounds really cool too.

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  3. I own most of them and have played one or two. What seperates them from the traditional Advanced Dungeons & Dragons scenarios published by TSR (that is, the American scenarios), is that there is a less of a sheen to them. They are muddier and grittier in tone and you can see this come to the fore in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

    Note that there was a quite a bit of movment by the writers between White Dwarf and TSR (UK). For other scenarios of the period and the same stable, check out Imagine magazine and the Tortured Souls fanzine.

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  4. The UK Series was excellent, as was the U series (also from the U.K.) Additionally, when they can be found, some really great modules were printed in the pages of "White Dwarf" before it became GW's house organ.

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  5. U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh was the very first Advanced Dungeons & Dragons module to originate from TSR (UK) and set a high benchmark. Yes, the scenario is essentially haunted house a la Scobby Doo, but it is atmospheric and it is detailed and flavoursome. The other scenarios in the trilogy are less effecttive, but the first is a great scenario.

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  6. +Tom, i believe these are available on rpgnow/drivethru.

    They produced a solo module for B/X rules for an elf character called Blade of Vengence. It's a very high fantasy adventure with a fairy tale like quality. Armies of hobgoblins, a joust with a centaur. You need to find a magic sword and fight a dragon. This might not be to some of your tastes but it's very well done.

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  7. I vaguely remember playing both The Gauntlet and the Sentinel. Plus the U series, and I ran The Ravager of Time, which had the PCs all aged when the villain makes duplicates of them.

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    1. The Gauntlet and the Sentinel are just about the only published modules I got to play through as a kid (as opposed to DMing). I love the plot of an evil magical gauntlet that can only be stopped by a good magical glove. Also, there was a sequence near the end in which the PCs have to defend a castle from monsters which was a neat inversion of the standard dungeon scenario.

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  9. Wait, what?!? You didn't know about the UK series? How did we let this happen?

    These were the bomb when they first came out; everyone was crazy for _When a Star Falls_ and the shades it introduced (I think half the people I knew who played back then wanted their PC to get turned into one). Myself, I was partial to _The Gauntlet_ because the dungeon is awesome, as is the siege you mentioned. I found the previous installment, _The Sentinel,_ a bit rambly, but it did a great job of creating a world that felt real.

    The joke back in the day was that "UK" was the secret TSR code for "This is the good stuff."

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    1. In UK4 I liked the Maschin-I-Bozorgs... if for no other reason the cool name. Seems like a good candidate monster for some (ahem) Zakking up.

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  10. My favorite TSR UK products were their two Star Frontiers modules: Bugs in The System and Dark Side of the Moon. Ran both of them and they both rocked. Bugs is a claustrophobic mystery set on a tiny gas-mining ship, where it turns out a quasi-sentient energy being is taking over all the computers and robots and murdering everyone. Dark Side is a spy story that pits the PCs against a human-supremacist Bond villain. It features a fight on a train and an elaborate diagram of the villain's corporate holdings, and it often ends with the villain blowing up the moon.

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    1. Dark Side sounds amazing, I have a pdf but havent read it. Time to rectify that.

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  11. Yep. Sentinel and Gauntlet were faves. I recently converted Eye of the Serpent to DCC and expanded one of the areas to a full DCC crawl.

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  12. B10, Night's Dark Terror. Very good stuff. If you look at the credits, you'll see a 'thanks to' section. A fellow by the name of Tom Kirby is there. I think this is the same Tom Kirby that later became head of Games Workshop, and saved it in the mid-nineties only to almost wreck it in the past few years.

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  13. I have always been interested in finding non-US, and even non-English, RPG books and modules, to see what they have to offer -- not just D&D, but any RPG.

    At the vary least (due to language barriers) I want to check out the localized art. The art used in the UK Basic rules had really cool cyclopes and witches presented as monsters. The art in Cyberpunk 2020 is better in European books than the US versions, as they can get away with more things. When Brazil made their own D&D game, 3D&T, they mixed it with the anime style that has been huge over there for quite a while now. I want to see how Traveller form Japan (their first RPG import) differs from the US versions. I have been searching high and low for digital copies of the Japanese Battletech and Mechwarrior books because of the scant images I found floating around the net.

    I really want to see more, but the main problem is not being able to find them on "other channels"... or official ones for that matter. =(

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  14. I've gotten much mileage out of B10 Night's Dark Terror. The amount of ground covered in it's pages is awesome. While the storyline is typically vanilla, the setting itself has many cool locations which can be transformed into great adventures.

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    1. I am currently integrating B10 with Reavers of Harkenwold (4E) to run using 13th Age or Savage Worlds later in the year.. and I concur.

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  15. I suppose this would be pretty much impossible to find now (maybe eBay?) but I think you would really appreciate Imagine Magazine, too (published by TSR UK.
    Grognardia published detailed reviews of a few early issues (http://grognardia.blogspot.de/search?q=imagine+magazine) but IMHO the later stuff was even better.

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    1. In a cruel and mocking way I glance at the full run of Imagine in my gaming library..

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    2. I have an almost complete full run myself (missing I think the first 2-3 issues) but it's 1000km from here atm.

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  16. As a Brit I did indeed know of TSR UK. Many writers from those days become the writers of WHFRP and other typically British rpgs. Like our comics, our stuff is a little more rooted in British fairy tale, quixotic characters and monsters, punk rock and heavy metal, and a very wicked sense of dry (and often very dark) humour. It was a real shame TSR UK was closed down, even tho' I didn't play D&D by then I loved the adventures in Imagine magazine. White Dwarf also has a lot of very good stuff in the early days that you'd like. Try this: https://archive.org/details/WhiteDwarfMagazine
    Also have a look at Dragon Warriors.

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    1. IMAGINE magazine https://goo.gl/Zw4Yoi

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  17. LOVE the UK modules. UK4 was the first D&D module I ever purchased in fact! I wrote up a short review of it on my blog awhile back.

    I collected all the UK and U series modules, as well as B10, and found them all to be of incredible quality with great weird artwork and uncommon design.

    Another great source of UK adventures is pretty much anything written by Willie Walsh (actually Irish I think) in the earlier issues of Dungeon magazine, anything before late 2nd edition era. His adventures never followed troupe and he was clearly a favorite with the editor; for awhile I think he had an adventure in pretty much every issue.

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  18. Yes, my group in Germany played Sentinel and Gauntlet in the late 80s. I don't remember much about the actual sessions, but the modules had a markedly different tone, more low fantasy and European. I seem to remember there was a problem with one of the maps though; a maze without an exit or some such.

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  19. Eye of the Serpent has one of the best opening sequences of any module ever: your first level PCs are grabbed by a roc and deposited in its mountaintop nest.

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    1. Yeah, the UK series really seemed focused on changing up the adventure introductions!

      In UK4, the players find a strange monster, a memory web, which killed a group of monks on a quest. When slain all the stored memories from the monks burst forth and imprint themselves in the players heads.

      There is a page in the module which is a collage of images from the memories, which are reprinted on the upper edge of each page with their respective text description of the memory. I photocopied the page and cut up the images to hand out with the text to each player for a bit of fun.

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  20. I knew of, but didn't really have much contact with the UK series, but Ravager of Time was one of the UK-branded I-series modules and it was atmospherically and structurally so different from what I had previously experienced, it blew my mind and still kind of resonates with me.

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  21. I actually really like Keep on the Borderlands but I've never seen a group of PCs clear out the caves or explore them very far because they end up spending almost all of their time in the castle, a small population of people and visiting NPCs with story hooks that could potentially lead to the caves, but don't have to.
    I've used it as a starting point for a lot of adventures. I'm actually running a new group of players (mostly people who have never played D&D before) in an adventure using the Keep as the main place to rest and they never left the Keep during our first session. There were simply too many people to talk to and too much to do (they were in the middle grave robbing when we left off the first session).

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