With WK1 Caves of the Kobold Queen out in the wild, I wanted to look back a bit at the history of this module, as it goes back quite a ways for me. I’ve been writing my homebrew adventures as “module” documents for almost as long as I’ve been playing roleplaying games (over 20 years now!). I still have a lot of my old docs and I cringe every time I go through them – the writing and layout are quite atrocious, though nuggets of good ideas can be gleaned through the unrefined, unwanted, bloated prose. I like to think I’ve been getting better through the years!
For as long as I’ve been playing D&D I’ve been reading Dragon Magazine, and the editorial was always one of my favorite things to devour. It offered a glimpse into the life of a professional publishing materials for a game I loved – sometimes poignant, sometimes poetic, sometimes inspiring, but always interesting. I don’t recall the issue, but one of the editorials in Dragon Magazine written *I think* by Dave Gross referred to a game being run with people in the TSR offices. They were fighting kobolds, and one player couldn’t make it during a climactic session. The next day, the players who were there left a note on the absent player’s desk that said simply: “Love Slave of the Kobold Queen.”
I couldn’t stop laughing, and the idea simply cemented itself in my imagination. A villainous Kobold Queen capturing men to turn them into love slaves? I loved the idea and kept in the back of my brain for later use. When HackMaster 4th Edition came out I picked up all the books and loved the gonzo feel to it, and especially since it was rooted in 2nd Edition’s rules the game felt familiar and fun. I wanted to play, but honestly I felt that the modules they were putting out were too “jokey.” They were all parodies/homages to the classics, starting with Little Keep on the Borderland and moving on to Smackdown the Slavers and Against the Giants.
I decided to try my hand at putting together a professional module on my own for HackMaster 4th Edition. I thought immediately about enemies to use, and settled on kobolds pretty quickly. Low level? Yup. Interesting encounters? Double yup. Main villain? Why, the Kobold Queen herself of course! After some thinking the idea for Caves of the Kobold Queen was born and I sketched out a plot involving captured men and a desperate mayor.
I ran that module for HackMaster 4th Edition roughly in 2004 (2005? 2006?) or so and it lasted only a single session. We didn’t even get to the kobolds – I rolled on the random encounter table twice, with the first result being giant fleas (easily defeated) and the second result being flesh-eating weasels. It was the weasels that killed the party, and though I had a lot of fun we moved on to other games.
But the idea for the module persisted, and so I worked on it off-again-on-again for several years. Something about the adventure didn’t feel right to me with D&D 3rd Edition – it needed a simpler rule set to really call up the feel of those old modules, which is what I was going for. I decided I was going to publish it myself, but before I did anything I needed to finish writing it and the rest of the modules in the series (I love trilogies, and settled on Curse of the Kobold Eye and Revenge of the Over-Kobold as the follow-up modules in the series). It took me longer than I wanted, but I got them all written by the end of 2012.
Originally I wanted to try them with HackMaster 5th Edition, and I playtested them with my group using that system. It was fun, but I like the idea of hordes of kobolds, something HM5E doesn’t do very well (the initiative system is really cool and intuitive but can be a NIGHTMARE for a GM to handle with more than a handful of opponents). We did it, and it resulted in some really fun times, but ultimately it didn’t have the right “feel” for me.
The playtest for D&D Next had me intrigued, though, and once those rules came along enough I decided to convert it over to that. That felt right, and I ran games of it at GaryCon VI (2014) using the D&D Next playtest rules. It was fun, it was quick, and it was memorable, everything I wanted. I eagerly awaited the release of the full ruleset and (hopefully!) a corresponding 3rd party license to publish stuff.
D&D 5th Edition was released in summer 2014 to much applause, and I convert the modules over to it, along with Pathfinder, Swords & Wizardry (as my go-to retro clone), and Savage Worlds. GaryCon VII (2015) sees me running the full trilogy of modules for both 5th Edition and Swords & Wizardry while my personal playtests work through Pathfinder and Savage Worlds. I waited for the third party license and prepared the Kickstarter.
A third party license didn’t appear, however, but the OGL covers most of the material, so I took a gamble and launched the Kickstarter in August 2015. We succeeded (overly!) to get the Wrath of the Kobolds trilogy released along with a special Tower of Skulls module (I’ll talk about the history of that one when we get closer to release). I wanted to get WK1 up sooner but getting the list of backers to thank took longer than anticipated. Interesting enough, I should have WK2 released in the next two weeks or so as the art assets for that one are in and looking fantastic. WK3 is definitely going to be a December release.
For me personally, I think all of the modules work the best using the 5th Edition rules, followed closely by Swords & Wizard (or your favorite flavor of retro-clone, such as OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord). Pathfinder is fine and it works, but I find myself moving away from the crunch of that system. Savage Worlds is always great, and if you’re looking to just throw down on some quick fun that’s a good one to get on with.