Sunday 17 February 2019

[Review] Wee Warriors Reprints, Part I: Palace of the Vampire Queen

The palace on the cover doesn't have much
in common with the maps.
Wee Warriors was a publisher in the late seventies who released all kinds of supplements and accessories for Dungeons & Dragons, which were distributed by TSR itself despite being unofficial. Wee Warriors sold character sheets, cardboard tiles, even a boardgame, but in the old-school community they are remembered first and foremost for publishing the first ever stand alone adventure module (or as they called it, Dungeon Master Kit), Palace of the Vampire Queen. They released two other adventures before vanishing from the market: the dungeon module Dwarven Glory, and the hex crawl The Misty Isles.

Needless to say the original Dungeon Master Kits are nowadays exorbiantly priced collector items. Fortunately, you can enjoy them without selling your kidney: Bill Barsh of Pacesetter Games & Simulations (not to be confused with Pacesetter Ltd) has secured the rights to the Wee Warriors Dungeon Master Kits a few years ago, and revamped them with the intent to support the North Texas RPG Con from the income. The following review is the first part of a series that is meant to give you some idea about what to expect from the PG&S releases of these classics. While there were expansions released for them, I'm not familiar with any of them, thus I will avoid that topic until the status quo changes (i.e. I buy and read them).

V2 Palace of the Vampire Queen is 36 pages long, has a cool front cover about the castle, and an even better back cover with the titular buxom vampire queen enjoying the company of some shady figures and hanging corpses. The book offers two versions of the adventure: both an exact reproduction of the original, and an AD&D conversion done by Bill Barsh. It has the original maps and texts, some sweet new black & white illustrations by Matthew Costanzo, and new text using a solid two column layout with lots of white space, which actually came handy for taking notes.

The adventure takes place on the dwarven island of Baylor. The palace is actually a tomb, raised by grieving shipwrecked humans to bury their beloved queen. Or at least that was the plan, but for unknown reasons the site turned into a nest of evil, and since then vampires and other children of the night have been preying on the locals. One of the latest victims was the dwarf king's daughter. The king promises fabulous riches and land holdings with titles to the rescuers. It is a damn fine offer if you ask me, I have seen adventurers risk their lives for far less.

Despite being the first of its kind, the original module does a great job at setting the tone and telling the backstory in a single page. It also has some sweet old-school maps full of loops, branches, secrets, and even cool illustrated borders - not as busy as in DCC RPG modules, but they are still aesthetic in their simplicity. So far so good! The room descriptions on the other hand are very bare bones. After each map you get a chart with columns for room number, creatures encountered, max damage (i.e. their hit points), and contents of room. And I thought the original Tegel Manor's descriptions were spartan!

The two guys on the sides love hanging out
with the queen.
At least the rooms are colorful, show plenty of creativity behind them, and lack any semblance of game balance, reminding me of Tegel Manor once again. The five levels of the dungeon have a great variety of creatures, traps, treasures, even if they are usually mundane - trolls, skeletons, spiders, slugs, etc. There are some potentially memorable encounters, like a madman with a bunch of cats, an owl that alerts bandits a few rooms aways, a chest that once opened starts spawning wights until closed, the kitchen where ogres are slaughtering dwarven children for blood pudding, and a random balrog guarding a mace of disruption because fuck the player characters. It's a huge horror funhouse, and as such it doesn't have to make sense, but boy isn't it fun to come up with explanations for all its weirdnesses!

The latter is exactly what Bill's version tries to accomplish: expanding the original entries into something more useful and reasonable. Unfortunately while converting PotVQ into an AD&D module, the author took plenty of liberties with the source material, and made the adventure more balanced, and less wacky. Some of the gonzo elements were thrown out, often replaced with yet another boring empty room. The madman with the cats is gone, just like the chest of infinite wights, and the balrog is changed into a lame Type I demon. He also downtoned the disturbing and gory elements, so instead of a room full of dwarven children drained dry we end up with one where dwarven children are hiding from ghouls, and instead of butchering them the ogres are just preparing the children for the cooking. It's not all bad what he does of course. His terse descriptions give some much needed character and purpose to the NPCs and rooms, and sometimes he even turns otherwise boring rooms into interesting ones. E.g. in the original level 4 room 17 has just four mummies hanging around, while in the revision there is a locked sarcophagus with one of the Vampire Queen's minions placed inside as punishment. I think it's obvious whether I would choose a filler encounter, or an NPC that can be turned against the main villain as a DM. Still, I feel too much of the fun stuff was thrown out. Their lack makes the conversion's approach feels workmanlike, unambitious, and while the end result is fine, it feels less exciting than the original.

Which version should you choose if you want to run the adventure? Both. Last November I ran PotVQ on Kalandorok Társasága for four players, using OD&D and some house rules. I printed the pdf, took my pencil, and started taking notes to create a hybrid from the two renderings of the adventure, while also adding my own content and ideas to the mix. It is a Dungeon Master's Kit after all, and it works even better as such with the two variants. The session was a lot of fun by the way, full of careful exploration, parleying with monsters, abusing random magic items, surprising deaths, and shocking near-deaths. In the end the party left some valuable treasure with the Vampire Queen, in exchange for the dwarf princess, and decided to leave the island once they are paid, because they don't want the kind of neighbourhood Baylor has to offer. All in all, I recommend getting PotVQ not only as a historical curiosity, but also as a module worth running.

Tl;dr: You get the wicked cool but overly terse original version, and a tamer but more useable revision of one of the original funhouse dungeon for the price of one. Shake it well before serving.

Where to find it: You can find the module in print and pdf in the Pacesetter Games & Simulations webshop. Some of their modules are alse available on DriveThruRPG in pdf, so I wouldn't be surprised if the above mentioned three would surface there in the near future.

Other parts of the series:
Part II: Dwarven Glory
Part III: The Misty Isles

Disclaimer: The DriveThruRPG links on this site are affiliate links. If you buy something through the link we'll get some credit for your purchase too.


  1. I'm impressed. Let me know if you'd like review copies of my stuff...