O1 The Gem and the Staff, a One-on-One Competition Module for the Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set
O1 The Gem and the Staff, a One-on-One Competition Module for the Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set Playtest Review by Ralph Dula on 28/07/02
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 3 (Average)
A long out-of-print module, ignored by many gamers when it was released because TSR promoted it by hyping the trio of gimmicks that were an integral part of it. Once you get past those gimmicks, however, you'll find a pair of nice scenarios that make the module worthy of inclusion in any old-school D&D fan's collection.
Product: O1 The Gem and the Staff, a One-on-One Competition Module for the Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set
Author: John and Laurie Van De Graff
Line: Dungeons & Dragons
Page count: 32
Year published: 1983
Comp copy?: no
Playtest Review by Ralph Dula on 28/07/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Conspiracy
Reviewer’s Note: This is the first in an irregular series of reviews I plan to do on RPG books that were published that tried to use gimmicks to convince people to buy them. Since a lot of people were put off by the gimmicks and didn’t buy them, I thought it might be nice to let people know what they missed, especially if they’re on a budget and collecting out-of-print gaming books.
I was a young boy and had only been gaming for a short time when The Gem and the Staff was published, but despite my youth I still realized what a bad decision it was for TSR to release the module. While I liked the idea of an adventure designed for the DM and one player, I was turned off by the fact it was only designed for use only with a thief character, and one who was exactly level eight at that. I don’t believe I was the only person put off by the gimmick nature of this module; I recall it sitting untouched on the shelves of every game store I went to, so shunned that no one had bothered to rip off its shrinkwrap to take a look at it.
A few years back I picked up a used copy of The Gem and the Staff, but it wasn’t until recently that I had an opportunity to run the scenarios in this book. I was pleasantly surprised to find the adventures were both well-written and easily adaptable to run a group of players through.
Physically the module consists of two 16-page books, neither of which is attached to the module cover, as was the norm at the time it was published. The interior of the cover has the DM’s maps upon it, while one of the 16 page books is devoted to the player maps; note that those areas which do not merit special attention can only be found mapped out in the player’s map book. The maps are nicely done, and are sized and grided off for use with 25 mm miniatures or the cardboard cutout figures that were included in this module. Yes, you read that right, in addition to the gimmick of being a one-on-one adventure this was one of the first releases by TSR to include cardboard figures for players and DM to move about. Sadly, the copy I purchased was missing the figures, so I can’t comment on the quality of them. Still, the maps are very helpful even to DMs who don’t use miniatures, detailing everything in each area mapped so players don’t have to ask “where’s the bookcase?” “how big is the rug?” and the like.
As for the adventure book, the first page of my copy is missing, but I believe the perforated page contained the pre-generated character the scenarios are designed for, along with credits for writers and artists of the book. I should note that when this book was released none of the ad copy mentioned a pre-generated character was provided, nor was it mentioned on the back of the module; perhaps if TSR had noted this sales of the module would have been better. I know I would have been more inclined to pick it up when it was initially released.
The first scenario finds the PC(s) contacted by a representative for an unidentified party, who wishes them to steal an artifact (the gem mentioned in the module’s title) from a wizard’s tower and replace it with a fake. As written a combination of blackmail and a vast sum of gold motivate PC(s) to become involved, but it will take very little tinkering to fit the scenario into your campaign
The adventure follows the player(s) as they sneak into the wizard’s tower, reach the chamber the item is held in, and escape. Several very dangerous creatures lurk about the tower, but as it was originally written for a single player character, a little smart thinking on the part of player(s) will get them through the difficult parts with little problem. The only thing I find strange in this scenario involves the wizard who owns the tower; to avoid spoiling it, I’ll just say he seems to have a healthy level of paranoia, casting a certain spell on himself before going to bed that apparently lasts as long as its needed as a plot point.
The second adventure links to the first, with the PC(s) now working for the wizard whose tower they broke into; setups are provided both for PC(s) who were successful in the last scenario, and for those who failed. The PC(s) are hired to steal the staff mentioned in the module’s title from the wizard’s rival. This rival, a 14th level Magic User, apparently enjoys living in a dark cave far away from society. The rival is to be out of his cave for 30 minutes (perhaps to use an outhouse, as there is not so much as a chamberpot in the cave lair), during which time the PC(s) must steal the staff. It’s a nice, linear adventure, though at the end it suddenly becomes heavy handed, with the author(s) telling the DM that if the PC(s) fail to complete their mission in the time allotted and end up fighting the wizard they should die, not because the wizard is powerful, but apparently as punishment for failing to complete the adventure in the time allotted; a far cry from the first adventure, where failure was an accepted possibility.
One point against this module as a whole is the third gimmick it contained, one that I’ve refrained from mentioning until now. You see, this module was initially designed to be competition module, with a DM running a player through the first half, and then the player becoming DM and running the former DM through the second scenario. At the end of each scenario the DM was supposed to score the player, and (I presume, since no actual rules are given) the player with the highest score is the winner. The module fails in this area for several reasons. First, each scenario has a different amount of points a player can earn (in one you can earn 33 points, the other 38), and some of the ways to score points depend on dumb luck (such as being dependent on whether you choose the correct door to go through, even though there were absolutely no clues to help you figure out which door was the right one) and others on individual opinion (you’re scored on doing things “immediately,” or “eventually,” with no time frame reference given for either). Also, both adventures have a 30-minute time limit, but in the first scenario there’s no reason built into the adventure as to why this is so; the PC(s) should have all night to complete the task, but to keep it balanced they only have 30 minutes. And this is real time, so if you were to get into an argument with the DM over a roll or anything else the time you spend disagreeing eats into you time to get the adventure done.
I feel that I should mention the artwork of this book. Back when I was a big-time D&D fan I was often disappointed by the artwork. The artwork in this module is excellent, all of it being excellently detailed and clearly depicting the portions of text they are based on, something that today’s game artists often seem unable to do.
So, do I recommend this module? If you aren’t interested in running it as a competition module, and are in the market for a pair of one-night adventures that don’t involve saving a princess, kingdom, or world I recommend it. There’s nothing in it tying it to a specific game world, and can easily used in most fantasy RPG worlds. It’s original cover price was $5.50, but I could easily see it being worth about $9 or so.
And if you find a copy with the character sheet and cardboard characters let me know what they’re like.