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Adapting Classic AD&D Modules to a Mystara Campaign

by Demos Sachlas from Threshold Magazine issue 22

The idea of using AD&D modules for a Mystara-based campaign was originally suggested in GAZ2: “The Emirates of Ylaruam”. In a section titled “AD&D game system supplements easily adapted to a Ylari campaign” author Ken Rolston lists:

I3: “Pharaoh” by Tracy & Laura Hickman (1982), for character levels 5–7
I4: “Oasis of the White Palm” by Philip Meyers, Tracy Hickman (1983), for levels 6–8
I5: “Lost Tomb of Martek” by Tracy Hickman (1983), for levels 7–9.

These were released together as I3-5: “Desert of Desolation” (1987). Rolston states “These first class-adventures are easily adapted to a Nithian setting.” He includes I9: “Day of Al’Akbar” by Allen Hammack (1986), adding “This adventure has a fine atmosphere and an especially nifty full-color fold-out map of an Emirates-like desert town.”

G1-2-3: “Against the Giants”

The G series debuted as tournament scenarios at Origins IV in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1978, where the modules were available for purchase:

G1: “Steading of the Hill Giant Chief” by Gary Gygax (1978)
G2: “Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl” by Gary Gygax (1978)
G3: “Hall of the Fire Giant King” by Gary Gygax (1978)

These were re-published as G1-2-3: “Against the Giants” (1981), for character levels 8-12. Subsequent modules included D1: “Descent into the Depths of the Earth”, D2: “Shrine of the Kuo-Toa”, D3: “Vault of the Drow”, and Q1: “Queen of the Demonweb Pits”. The GDQ series was voted the single greatest adventure of all time by Dungeon magazine in 2004.

The original setting for the G modules is unspecified, but later established to be Greyhawk when the “World of Greyhawk” Folio was published in 1980. The series in general, and G1 in particular, was inspired by the Harold Shea story “The Roaring Trumpet” by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp, recommended reading for anyone running these adventures.

With its strong Nordic connection, GAZ7: “The Northern Reaches”, also by Ken Rolston, is a natural setting for these classic modules in a Mystara-based campaign.

[Map 1: Northern Reaches]

For the “Steading of the Hill Giant Chief” and the “Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl”, there are two areas in the Northern Reaches where giants are known to dwell (see Map 1). The northern area, which is nestled in hill terrain in Vestland, is a fitting location for the “Steading of the Hill Giant Chief”. The southern area, near the Jotunvalk pass in the Soderfjord Jarldoms, is perfect for the “Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl”. The summit of nearby Odharjokull reaches 15,750 feet, high enough to support a glacier.

The volcanic plain in the middle of the Makkres mountains, represented as broken territory with three volcanoes on the map, is ideal for situating the “Hall of the Fire Giant King”. Here is the description of the location of the Hall from G3:

“The plain about is most evil and drab appearing. The sky is gray and filled with sooty clouds. A distant volcano can be seen, and far to the south a glowing river of molten lava moves sluggishly down a slope and out of sight. It is hot, and the air smells of heated rock and metal. The ground is full of cinders and sharp rocks. The place is lit by night with dim red light from flaming gases shooting forth from the earth and from molten rock.”

The prominence of gnolls and trolls in G3 fits well with additional material on these races in GAZ7. Enterprising DMs may wish to substitute Mystara’s Modrigswerg (Moulder Dwarves) or Shadow Elves for Greyhawk’s Drow, continuing the adventure into the subterranean City of Stars and beyond.

As an exciting alternative, high-level PCs could travel between the Nine Worlds (detailed as outer planes on pgs 62-63 of GAZ7). For example, the Steading could be in Jotunheim, the Glacial Rift in Niflheim (using the Marvel Cinematic Universe first “Thor” movie as inspiration), and the Hall of the Fire Giant King in Muspelheim. The elvish prisoners in G3 could be from Alfheim, and the Vault in D3 in Svartalfheim. Q1 and its villainess could be replaced with Hel.

Ideas for a Northern Reaches Campaign

I have previously written about using module B9: “Castle Caldwell and Beyond” (levels 1-3) to launch a campaign in the Northern Reaches (from the Vaults of Pandius).

Part One: The Clearing of Castle Caldwell

Castle Caldwell could be on the outskirts of Landersfjord, a frontier and trade town on the Overland Trade Route in Vestland.

Part Two: Dungeons of Terror

Arnulf Burison, the mayor of Landersfjord, is described as modern in his views on sorcery (which explains why Clifton Caldwell was able to hire an enchantress so easily).

Part Three: The Abduction of Princess Sylvia

The PCs travel to Haverfjord, an important trading centre on the Overland Trade Route, where the town is in an uproar over the recent abduction of the clanhead's daughter.

According to GAZ7, Leif the Lean, clanhead of Haverhold, admires the Ostlanders, and seeks closer ties with the Ostman clan. He has offered his daughter (Sylvia) in marriage to a young scion of that clan (Frederick).

Oliver of Hom has been hired by Asgrim the Bowed, High Priest of Odin of the Court of Cnute, who wishes to prevent the development of ties between the Ostmans and a powerful clan in Vestland. Sylvia is kidnapped by Oliver and his forces while traveling through the forests northwest of Haverfjord. Oliver's fortress is in the hills between Haverfjord and the Uplands.

Part Four: The Great Escape

The PCs travel to Vanger, where they are accepted into the service of Rotolf Kalfson of the Bornbank clan in his petty war against Guthorm Brittle-Bone of neighbouring Soderfjord's Boddergard clan. They are captured during a reconnaissance mission and must escape.

Part Five: The Sanctuary of Elwyn the Ardent

The Church of the Holy Sanctuary is in Norrvik. Elwyn's fortress is in the wilderness south of Trollheim.

There is also an adventure published in Dungeon Magazine #23 called “The Vineyard Vales” (levels 2-4) set in the Soderfjord Jarldoms. Finally, there are three complete adventure scenarios presented in GAZ7, “Falun Caverns” (pgs 37-47), “The Defence of Otkel's Stead” (pgs 47-51), and “The Jarl's Hall” (pgs 51-59).

Module X3: “Curse of Xanathon” (levels 5-7) and X13: “Crown of Ancient Glory” (levels 7-10) are both set in Vestland, and could also serve as adventures leading up to G1-2-3 (levels 8-12). However, while X3 is fully compatible with GAZ7, X13 doesn't mesh well, and was pushed 150 years into the future.

Rolston also worked on the “Vikings” supplement for RuneQuest, together with Sandy Petersen and Greg Stafford (1985), which could be used to further enrich a Northern Reaches campaign. The boxed set includes a 40-page Players Book, a 32-page Gamemaster Book, a 48-page Scenarios Book, a 20-page Vikings Digest, and maps.

Slagovich: City of Adventure

Like the G series, many of the AD&D modules published between 1978 and 1981 were based on tournament scenarios and not originally written with the Greyhawk setting in mind. Some lend themselves particularly well to a Mystara campaign, using the exotic port city of Slagovich as a home base. They are:

I1: “Dwellers of the Forbidden City” by David Cook (1981) for character levels 4-7 – on the Serpent Peninsula in the Wild Lands, originally described in X6: “Quagmire!” and further detailed in the “Champions of Mystara” boxed set (1993).

A1-4: “Aerie of the Slave Lords” (originally published between 1980-1 for character levels 4-7 and revised as “Scourge of the Slave Lords” in 1986) – on the Gulf of Hule, first depicted on the map in X5: “Temple of Death” and further described in the “Red Steel” boxed set (1994).

C1: “Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan” by Harold Johnson and Jeff R. Leason (1980) – in the lost city of Risilvar, originally described in X9: “The Savage Coast” and further detailed as the city of the Wallara in the “Savage Baronies” accessory (1995).*

*The Savage Coast Campaign Book (1996) combines the earlier Red Steel and Savage Baronies material into a unified campaign setting.

The PCs can begin their adventuring careers in the frontier city of Akesoli (the area north of there is a good location for the Indonesian-flavored B7: “Rahasia”) and then join a caravan across the Sind to Slagovich (the caravan encounters in X4: “Master of the Desert Nomads”, such as the Buried Temple, could be used to spice up the trip).

[Map 2: Continental Map]

Gateway to the Savage Coast

The party is provided with four adventure hooks at the beginning of X9: “The Savage Coast”. The first involves rumours of gold along the coast of Orc’s Head Peninsula. The second involves payment of a princely sum (50,000 gp each) for a detailed map the coastline, at the request of the local Cartographer’s Guild. The third (and most intriguing) involves a clerical order known as the Brotherhood of Light buying out the PCs with magic items to spy on their rivals, the Lawful Brotherhood. The fourth and final hook is an offer by the Pure Gold Merchant Company to refine any gold the PCs obtain, in exchange for half of it.

Hints are later dropped that the Brotherhood of Light is actually chaotic, so the PCs are effectively duped into spying on a lawful order by a chaotic one. In my home campaign, I modeled the Lawful Brotherhood after the Spanish missions in Texas, linking them to the Church of Thyatis, based out of Kerendas. Conversely, the Brotherhood of Light is a cult devoted to Atzanteotl, based out of Slagovich. This permits the DM to further exploit Thyatian/Traladaran rivalries, as in GAZ1: “The Grand Duchy of Karameikos”.

Having the Lawful Brotherhood represent the early/frontier church of the later Savage Baronies works extremely well, particularly with respect to the religion of Narvaez (inspired by Spain during the Inquisition). Here is what the Savage Coast campaign book has to say about religion in the Savage Baronies circa 1000 AC (a few hundred years after the events of X9):

“Five Immortals are venerated throughout the baronies: the Ambassador (Masauwu), the General (Thor), the Judge (Tarastia), Milan (Mealiden Starwatcher), and Valerias. Some baronies have local patrons as well.”

“Narvaez also reveres two Immortals: Ixion and the Inquisitor (Vanya). Ixion is the centre of the Church of Narvaez. He is the sun, fire, life, power, and wisdom; citizens of Narvaez see him as the one Immortal worthy of true veneration. Much religious persecution has been carried out in his name. The Inquisitor acts as Ixion's avenging servant. She represents pride and the correctness of beliefs, seeking vengeance against those who do not follow the way of Ixion and punishing those who stray.”

The standard map of the Lawful Brotherhood's temples in X9 conveniently includes seven altar areas (one for each of these seven immortals). It is especially fitting to use Ixion, since he and Atzanteotl are bitter enemies.

Once in Slagovich, in addition to the four standard adventure hooks, the party might investigate rumors of missing caravans in the jungles of the Serpent Peninsula, become embroiled in the A series on the Gulf of Hule, or seek out the hidden shrine of Tamoachan within the lost city of Risilvar.

The Yuan-Ti of Serpent Peninsula

David Cook became instrumental in defining the B/X version of D&D, co-authoring the Expert Rulebook and writing X1: “The Isle of Dread” (with Tom Moldvay), X4, X5, AC2, and B6.

Module I1: “Dwellers of the Forbidden City”, published in 1981, was originally run as the tournament scenario for Origins VI in 1980. The adventure could easily be regarded as a precursor to the X-series. All of the atmosphere in X1 is present here, in spades.

The background presented in the module describes reports of banditry in the jungles of the south. Merchant caravans are being waylaid, and the survivors relate strange tales of phantasmagoric horrors. As no trade goods have been recovered, it is believed that a hoard of treasure is being accumulated at some hidden location.

The party either sets out to discover the source of the raids for themselves or on behalf of a group of merchants. They arrive at a native village, and are told of the snake-like yuan ti, or demon-men, and their minions, the simian tasloi. They learn that the chief’s son has been kidnapped, and the party’s aid is requested.

Cook provides a list of additional reasons for adventuring:

A secret group called the Black Brotherhood seeks to weaken the power of the surrounding lands by kidnapping important people and giving them to the yuan ti. The PCs must discover the group and trace them to the Forbidden City in order to rescue the prisoners. The Black Brotherhood could be operating in Slagovich, Ierendi, Minrothad, and/or Akesoli.

Alternatively, a local ruler claims that his ancestors were lords of the Forbidden City and hires the PCs to enter the city, reconnoiter, and clear it of monsters. This could be the ruler of Slagovich, or perhaps one of the other city states in the Gulf of Hule, seeking to gain pre-eminence over the region.

Finally, a courier carrying papers vital to the security of a nearby kingdom is ambushed while crossing the jungle. A reward is offered for the return of the documents, which are also sought after by rulers of other lands. This could involve Ierendi, and possibly Hule, any of the city states, or even the Minrothad Guilds.

The yuan-ti are great villains, and as serpent folk, could be the reason behind the name for the Serpent Peninsula. Together with other new monsters, including tasloi for the rainforest, bullywugs in the swampy lowlands, and mongrelmen within the ruins of Gwondoya, the Serpent Peninsula becomes a much more exotic locale.

Intriguingly, the Explorer’s Manual from the “Champions of Mystara” boxed set includes a description for a mysterious ruined city:

“The Karimari have named many spots in Ulimwengu that they consider beautiful or worth seeing - waterfalls, curious rock formations, stately and ancient trees, and the like - but only one place is likely to hold much interest to outsiders. This is Onyo Maata, the ruins of a Karimari city more ancient than Shani Kijiji. The Karimarl believe evil dwells in Onyo Maata, and take care not to go within five miles of the site. Their oldest tales tell of a great disaster that befell the city and its inhabitants-supposedly as punishment for their straying far from the natural ways of the world. Evil things sometimes venture forth from the ruins to plague Ulimwengu, including trolls, dragons, and undead creatures.”

[Map 3: Serpent Peninsula]

This would be a perfect location for I1. Cook hints that the original inhabitants of the Forbidden City were human ancestors of the yuan-ti. The mixing of bloodlines with serpents could therefore be the affront to nature for which the city was punished.

The central location and proximity to trade routes depicted in X6 would explain the caravan raids by the Dwellers of the Forbidden City. The mastermind behind the raids is a high level magic-user, Horan, who in Mystara could be an exile from Ochalea.

Once in the Forbidden City, further adventures suggested include:

1. Jungle-ghouls wage guerilla warfare against the last human descendants of the ancestors of the yuan ti. Both groups inhabit the ancient primitive sewer system beneath the city. The ghouls use demonic magic to transform human prisoners into twisted slime beasts. The humans have adapted to their underground existence.

2. The yuan-ti have revived the worship of an extraplanar creature, succeeding in opening a small interdimensional gate in one of the larger temples of the city. The temple is guarded by the orchonos – vampiric orchid-like plantmen. The PCs must interrupt a ceremony summoning this creature and close the gate.

3. The inhabitants of the city have established an extensive wererat spy network throughout the surrounding lands. Information on the network is discovered, but once the PCs attempt to track them down they are framed for a crime by the wererats and must prove their innocence by finding the real murderers.

4. While rescuing prisoners held by the yuan-ti, the PCs discover a long forgotten passage. After encountering many strange monsters, the party enters a misty tunnel and travels back in time to the city in its heyday. They must befriend an intelligent bat-like race and assist in warning the inhabitants of the coming of a great evil.


Armor Class: 6 (5)
Hit Dice: 1
Move: 90' (30')
Climbing: 150' (50')
Attacks: 2 or weapon
Damage: 1-3/1-3 or weapon
No. Appearing: 3-30 (10-100)
Save As: Fighter: 1
Morale: 8
Treasure Type: L (x5)
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 10

These stealthy, arboreal, simian creatures possess a ghoulish liking for human and elven flesh. They can successfully hide in shadows 75% of the time, and surprise on a roll of 1-4 (d6), attempting to capture prisoners alive. Tasloi have golden, cat-like eyes and can be heard in the jungle at night, speaking in their high and whispery voices.


Armor Class: 6 (5)
Hit Dice: 1
Move: 30' (10')
Swimming: 150' (50')
Attacks: 3 or weapon
Damage: 1-2/1-2/2-5 or weapon
No. Appearing: 1-8/2-16 (10-80)
Save As: Fighter: 1
Morale: 7 (8)
Treasure Type: P, Q, S, L (x5) & C (magic only) in lair
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 10

Bullywugs are frog-like humanoids inhabiting rainy, wet places. They can hop forward 30' or upwards 15', adding +1 “to hit” as well as double damage when using an impaling weapon. They have a chameleon-like power, successfully camouflaging themselves 75% of the time, and gaining a 3 in 6 chance of surprising their victims (5 in 6 if hopping to the attack).


Armor Class: 4/0
Hit Dice: 6-9
Move: 120' (40')/90' (30')
Attacks: 2
Damage: see below
No. Appearing: 1-4 (1-4)
Save As: Magic-User: 6-9
Morale: 10 (11)
Treasure Type: C
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: variable

The yuan-ti are a degenerate race of snake-like demon-worshippers who were once human. There are three types of yuan ti: purebloods, halfbreeds, and abominations.

Purebloods are the weakest of the yuan ti (HD 6). They are human-like, except for slight differences - scaly hands, a forked tongue, etc. They can pass as humans 80% of the time.

Halfbreeds are part-snake and part-human (HD 7-8). Their appearance is determined by rolling once or twice on the following table:

  1. Snake head

  2. Torso can bend and move like a snake’s

  3. No legs, ends in a snake’s tail

  4. Has snakes instead of arms

  5. Body is covered by scales

  6. Snake tail is growing from backside

Snake-headed halfbreeds bite for 1-10 points of damage, snake arms will bite for 1-6 points, and a snake tail will constrict for 1-4 points. Snake parts have an armor class of 0.

Abominations are the strongest of the yuan ti (HD 9). They are often confused with lamaras (see AC9 Creature Catalogue, pg 72) and other snake creatures. Abominations are either totally snake-like or only have some human feature (such as a head or arms).

Human headed yuan-ti are able to cast the following spells once per day:

Human headed yuan ti also possess the ability to hypnotize other creatures once per day (unless the victim makes a save vs. Spells).


Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 1-4
Move: 90' (30')
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1-4, 1-6, 1-8, 1-10 or weapon
No. Appearing: 1-8 (1-100)
Save As: Fighter: 1-4
Morale: 8
Treasure Type: C
Alignment: Neutral
XP Value: variable

Mongrelmen are a mixture of different creatures, combining the blood of humans, orcs, gnolls, ogres, dwarves, hobgoblins, bugbears, elves, bullywugs, etc. They are shunned by lawful societies and enslaved by chaotic groups. They possess the abilities of camouflage and mimicry.

When using their camouflage ability, the chance of remaining unnoticed is 60% plus 1% for every turn spent preparing the camouflage after the first, up to a maximum of 95%. Camouflaged mongrelmen will be unnoticed unless the person or item moves or is touched. Mimicry permits mongrelmen to imitate the sound of any animal or monster.

Mongrelmen are accomplished pickpockets (70% chance of success).

5% of mongrelmen use blowguns and poison or paralyzing darts.

Scourge of the Slave Lords

Modules A1-4: “Aerie of the Slave Lords” were likewise first run as tournament scenarios, in this case for Gen Con XIII in 1980. The individual adventures were later published as:

A1: “Slave Pits of the Undercity” by David Cook (1980), for character levels 4-7

A2: “Secret of the Slavers Stockade” by Harold Johnson and Tom Moldvay (1981), for levels 4-7

A3: “Assault of the Aerie of the Slave Lords” by Allen Hammack (1981), for levels 4-7

A4: “In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords” by Lawrence Schick (1981), for levels 4-7

These were reworked as A1-4: “Scourge of the Slave Lords” in 1986, for character levels 7-11.

As already mentioned, David Cook played a key role in defining the B/X version of D&D. Tom Moldvay authored the Basic Rulebook, revised Jean Wells’ B3, co-wrote X1 (with David Cook), and also wrote B4 and X2. Moreover, he and Lawrence Schick were co-creators of the original “Known World” setting.

In Greyhawk, these adventures are set in the orc-infested territory of the Pomarj. Highport is a city teeming with humanoids.

[Map 4: Gulf of Hule]

Module X5: “The Temple of Death” first described the land of Hule, but provided few geographical details. The wilderness map included areas the DM was expected to detail further, including several unnamed towns. One of these, in southern Hule (see Map 4) is an ideal candidate for Highport.

The population of Hule is described to be a mixture of humans and non-humans, mainly orcs, gnolls, bugbears, kobolds, and ogres. The rulers are chaotic and serve chaotic gods, and most of the human populace are either chaotic or neutral in alignment. The various humanoid tribes consider themselves independent, but are allied with the human rulers.

Placing Highport in the Gulf of Hule allows PCs adventuring along the Savage Coast to get embroiled with the Slave Lords, whose activities could be encroaching upon the civilized lands to the East, including Darokin, Karameikos, Ierendi, and Minrothad.

The proximity to Hule itself would serve well as a market for slaves from the Known World, given that slavery is likely a foundation of Hulean society. In fact, the Iron Ring in Karameikos could be allied with the Slave Lords.

Ayskudag works best in Mystara circa 1000 AC, since Highport in the Pomarj is directly north of the Drachensgrab Hills. There are even some choice nearby volcanoes for the City of Suderham.

Gwondoya, to the south of Kladanovic (Mule Beach in X6) might have been razed to the ground years ago by the Slave Lords, providing an impetus for the party to be recruited in order to investigate and destroy those behind the raids, to avoid the same fate.

The Hidden Shrine of Risilvar

C1: “The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan” (1980) by Harold Johnson and Jeff Leason, (with the "able assistance" of X1's David Cook, and “Known World” co-creator, Lawrence Schick) started out as the tournament adventure for Origins V in 1979 and was originally titled “Lost Tamoachan: The Hidden Shrine of Lubaatum”.

C1 was not originally written with the World of Greyhawk in mind. Tamoachan was later described as the capital of the Olman empire, which centuries earlier covered much of the continent south of Greyhawk.

Incidentally, the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan was incorporated into the Savage Tide adventure path, although only a part of the adventure was used. Given that C1 is notable for its Mayan and Aztec/Toltec trappings, it would fit almost seamlessly into module X9. The Mesoamerican references are easily translated into Mystaran equivalents.

The description for the lost city of Risilvar takes up less than 2 pages in X9, and there is practically nothing about the temple. Risilvar was later retconned as the capital of the Wallara civilization, but details remain slim. The culture of the chameleon men is based on the aborigines of the Australian outback, and so wouldn’t fit as the original builders of the city.

Special Adventures

The “Special” series is notable in that three of the first four modules were run as tournament adventures using the original D&D rules.

Module S1: “Tomb of Horrors” by Gary Gygax (1978), for character levels 10-14, was used as the tournament adventure for Origins I in Baltimore, Maryland, 1975.

The 1978 AD&D version suggests a number of possible locations in Greyhawk for the deadly tomb. Mystaran equivalents on the continental map in module X1 might include:

1) The highest hill in the Broken Lands
2) An island (unmapped) in Lake Amsorak
3) In the Alasiyan Desert
4) At the western border of the Republic of Darokin
5) Somewhere in the vast Malpheggi Swamp
6) On an island in the Thanegioth Archipelago

Module S2: “White Plume Mountain” by Lawrence Schick (1979), for character levels 5-10 is the ultimate funhouse dungeon. The stronghold of the wizard Keraptis could be situated anywhere in the vicinity of the Principalities of Glantri. Interestingly, Keraptis was the name of a Thyatian city in the original Known World setting developed by Lawrence Schick and Tom Moldvay, representing a tenuous link to Mystara.

Module S3: “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks” by Gary Gygax (1980), for character levels 8-12 was first run as the tournament adventure for Origins II in 1976. The idea of using a crashed spaceship was probably influenced by an adventure in the City of the Gods run by Dave Arneson for Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz, and the ship could therefore be linked to the spacefaring race that first made contact with Mystara in ancient Blackmoor.

Module S4: “The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth” by Gary Gygax (1982), for character levels 6-10 originally appeared as “The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth” at WinterCon V in Detroit, Michigan, late 1976. The earlier incarnation is not as deadly as the 1982 version, and requires little conversion, as it has fewer new monsters. The caverns can be located anywhere, although since it is by Gygax, I like using the Lost Caverns for the Cave of the Unknown in module B2.

Conversion is fairly straightforward for 1st edition AD&D adventures, although copies of the AD&D first edition Monster Manual and Fiend Folio (for creatures), Player’s Handbook (for spell descriptions), and Dungeon Master’s Guide (for magic items) are necessary.