30 April 2019

On the Merits of B6

I normally don't have high praises for pre-fabricated adventures or settings. However there are some products that are well made, and some nugget of inspiration can be found in almost anything. In this comment on JB's post in revamping Specularum, he alludes to the poor reviews that B6: The Veiled Society tends to receive. This module is not alone in receiving negative feedback. Many older modules are criticized for various reasons, lack of detail, no motivation for the villain, too cliche, etc, etc. Many of these criticisms are made in contrast to newer modules that promote "story" and "narrative" elements. I am not attempting to say that B6 or any other module is without flaws, yet many criticisms are laid at the feet of such works by those who don't seem to understand the core components of running a game or the inherent nature of a module. Running a module well will take more time and effort than creating your own content for the game; making someone else's content your own so that it fits your game will always be more difficult than creating your own material. Running a module poorly will also take more time and effort than pulling nonsense out of thin air during a session; the DM still has to take the time to read the module.

Back to the Module. As I mentioned, this module is by no means perfect. The building and npc cutouts are really unnecessary and rarely used, evidence of this is confirmed in my interview of my father about this module. It is space that could have been better used. The Radu narration reads like someone failed to become a writer and so snuck in their fiction in this module. The mystery is not fully explained in one single location or how the PCs can unravel the mystery. We can nitpick and point out flaws all day, so why do I think this is an example of a good module, especially for city adventures?

The primary virtue of this module is that it is short, yet also contains a lot of material for adventure. It is concise unlike many other adventures or rule books. We are told the vital information and nothing more. Concordant with this it is set up in such a way that the mystery and adventure unfolds in dramatically different ways every time it is played. It has replayability that unlike that available in a good dungeon. This module is a good example of what a module should be. It is easily placed in any campaign setting, yet still doesn't leave out details in order to be generic.

As far as the mystery goes; it is not difficult for the players to solve. There is no one point at which the players can be stumped and the DM has to take action for the 'plot' to continue. In fact, the PCs don't even have to follow the mystery. There has been only one group which I ran though this module that actually solved the mystery in the expected manner and followed the event structure laid out. There is so much variation of where the adventure could lead; there is no defined single outcome.

Lastly, what happens in this adventure will affect the state of affairs of the city afterwards. The players will be able to see how their actions directly influence the game world. They can ally with a single faction and become enemies with others, or they may stay aloof from all the factions and work for their own benefits. Whatever they choose the balance of power will shift.

And all of this is accomplished in 10 pages of adventure and 2 pages of background/DM advice.


  1. I've owned module B6 since it was originally published. I have a soft spot for it...I don't know why. Perhaps because it's different, perhaps because it's Specularum, perhaps because the concept of the "Veiled Society" is cool (I dig on evil secret societies in fantasy adventure games).

    But I don't think the adventure is very great. And it's not because of the fiction or the gimmicky cut-outs (which I never used) or the presumption of a particular morality...those all these things are pretty bad.

    For me, the main issue is that there is that the characters' actions matter very little to the adventure. The Radu family is having their own "little adventure" and the PCs might take part in it...or they might not. Sure they might get blackmailed into going into the cellar, but whether or not they become interested in the murder makes no difference whatsoever. If they decide not to take the role of bodyguards...or not to join the veiled society...there's no reason for them to take part in the ambush. The riot happens whether or not they become involved, and has no lasting effect on the city whether or not they become involved. And at the end, Anton Radu, the mastermind and leader of the Veiled Society, is murdered by his own brother...regardless of any actions the PCs take.

    The events of this adventure MIGHT affect the state of affairs in the city, but they are events that really have very little to do with the PCs. Why should they? They are some wandering, low-level adventurers, new to the city...why should there word mean diddly-squat against the established noble families?

    The nice thing about the module is some of the background info provided by the adventure in terms of the city and its factions. For a DM who wants the work of filling in the blank spaces, there's ample opportunity, and that can be a fun exercise...I had fun brainstorming different ways to spin and skin things in my April blog posts. But the adventure itself is less than a diamond in the rough. It's a piece of coal, requiring a lot of time and pressure to change it into something of value.

    I'm glad and a little amazed that you and your father have gotten so much mileage out of B6. Other than B2 (which came with my original Basic set) it remains the only B module I ever purchased new. But even in 1984 I was very disappointed with the thing. And for an 11 year old to be disappointed, at a time when I loved and wanted to purchase everything TSR was putting out? That says something.

    I keep it for the sake of nostalgia, and because I'm a collector and because it's part of my gaming history. But it would need to undergo SUBSTANTIAL modification for me to use it in my game. I've said before that I am a big fan of Dave Cook's published adventures. Not this one.

  2. sigh . . . these criticisms are totally valid, yet there is so much more in this module. It's the subtext that makes it good, the actual mystery is fairly simple and the sequence of events can be hamfisted at times. I've had runnings with this module where the PCs followed the expected events nearly to a tee; those weren't my best sessions. The surface text is not what makes it good, it's the underlying potential.

    yes the radus will have their own little adventure if the pcs don't do anything, but that's as it should be. the world is larger than the pcs. Anton's murder is not a guaruntee, neither are any of the events in the module. Everything hinges on the PCs decisions from the beginning; the PCs actions during and following the scuffle at the festival directly lead to everything else that follows.