TSR released the D&D game supplement AC2: Combat Shield and Mini-adventure in 1984. It contains a DM screen for the D&D Basic and Expert games, and a short, one-session adventure by David Cook for character levels 4-7. I do not own a printed copy of this adventure; I was only able to read the adventure after it was released on the DMs Guild website.
In so doing, I discovered a forgotten gem of the era. The adventure may only be eight pages long, but it presents a beautifully constructed adventure.
The set-up is as follows: In a previous adventure, the adventurers have discovered the testimony of a survivor of a long-ago expedition to find treasure. Using the descriptions therein, the adventurers can retrace the path of the expedition and discover the treasure, as well as the fate of the rest of the expedition.
It’s a brilliant idea. One of the aspects of old D&D that we’ve mostly lost along the way is that instead of finding treasure, adventurers could discover maps to treasure. This would then allow them to set out on further expeditions, and thereby discover more of the world. Consider Thror’s Map from The Hobbit, the map of Treasure Island, or the three parchments in The Secret of the Unicorn. What makes this particular “map” so inspired is that it’s entirely textual: a description of the area where the expedition had explored and the various sights and hazards they’d experienced along the way. The DM’s map of the area the expedition explored is so rudimentary that it is very easy to adapt the adventure to whatever setting you like.
Part of the joy of the adventure comes from the tension between the original descriptions of the locations and their state now. One village lies abandoned. Another is inhabited – but no longer by the friendly natives that aided the original expedition. And some encounters are new and have no correspondence in the testimony. It feels real, and it’s a wonderful way of highlighting some of the histories of the world.
Interestingly, the adventure doesn’t describe how the expedition ended, only what the adventurers can find now. Much is left to the imagination of the DM as to what occurred.
The acquisition of the treasure by the adventurers is indeed possible, although it’s not quite as simple as a straight-up fight with a monster. A fight there may be, but the adventure leaves open a wide variety of approaches as to how it finishes.
The “Combat Shield” is what you might expect: the tables used by a Dungeon Master running the old Basic & Expert D&D sets. As this is a 1984 product, it goes with the Red Box “BECMI” line of products.
This is a superior adventure and one that few know. I highly recommend giving it a look!