You're guiding your party through a dense swamp. Suddenly, the jaws of three large crocodiles snap menacingly. The fighter draws his sword, and the magic-user prepares to cast a spell. The crocodiles creep slowly closer.
Time out. Have to find the tables in the rules.
Resolving combat is just a dice roll away if you have the D&D Combat Shield. All the tables you need are included on this handy 3-panel screen: monster hit rolls, saving throws, armor class, variable weapon damage, and several others. Experience tables for each character class are also given. The Combat Shield also comes with an Expert Game mini-adventure: "The Treasure of the Hideous One." The adventure features a ready-to-use treasure "map" that you may introduce into your campaign when your players find clues to a lost treasure. Several interesting "encounters" are thrown in, too, so you'll have plenty of chances to use the Combat Shield.
Three crocodiles? No problem!
AC2: "Combat Shield and Mini-Adventure" (1984), by David "Zeb" Cook, is the second Game Accessory for the Basic D&D Game. It was published in January 1984.
About the Title. This accessory is called a "Combat Shield" rather than the more common "Gamemaster's Screen" (or "Dungeon Master's Screen). It would be the only time that TSR used this name. In fact, implying that combat is the focus of a GM's screen is quite rare, though ICE published a "Middle-earth Role Playing Combat Screen" (1984, 1989, 1993) and a "Space Master Combat Screen" (1988) for some of their own games.
Origins (I): Increasing AC. The "Combat Shield and Mini-Adventure" (1984) is the second gaming accessory for the Frank Mentzer version of the Basic D&D line. Its predecessor was AC1: "The Shady Dragon Inn" (1983), a book of NPCs; the "Combat Shield" was a much more typical gaming accessory for the period.
The "Combat Shield" is also notable for it label of "Basic and Expert Game Accessory" making it the first explicit crossover product for the Basic D&D line. As it happens "The Shady Dragon Inn" supported both of the extant Basic D&D sets too, but it was more subtle in doing so, saying it was "for D&D Fantasy Game".
Origins (II): A History of GM Screens. The first GM's screen in the roleplaying industry was the "Judges Shield" (1977) produced by Judges Guild for OD&D. TSR got into the the act just a few years later with an AD&D "Dungeon Master's Screen" (1979).
Shortly afterward, TSR came up with the idea of packaging a short adventure with their screens and then produced such packages for most of their games, including the "Boot Hill Referee's Screen and Mini-Module" (1981), the "Gamma World Referee's Screen and Mini-Module" (1981), the "Top Secret Administrator's Screen and Mini-Module" (1982), GWAC1: "Gamma World Referee's Screen and Mini-Module" (1983), and the "Star Frontiers Referee's Screen and Mini-Module" (1983). The "Combat Shield" was TSR's first attempt to apply this new methodology to one of their D&D games.
About the Screen. The "Combat Screen" is an interesting example of the design an early GM screen. Though the GM's side has some of the things you'd expect like monster hit rolls, monster reactions, and experience charts for killing things, it also rather surprisingly has most of the player tables, like saving throws, turn undead tables, character hit rolls, and even thief abilities. It's a sign of how much the GM was seen as the arbiter of the game rules in the early days of the hobby.
Meanwhile, the player side of the screen is a bit of a mess. The players get to look at the cover copy and the back cover copy(!), plus a panel of character experience charts. Publishers would resolve this problem in later GM screen releases by putting a flimsy dust jacket over the actual screen, so that the GM could discard the sales copy before he started using the screen.
Adventure Tropes. The mini-adventure, "The Treasure of the Hideous Ones", begins with a tiny six-location hex crawl. Cook then switches things up with a more freeform sort of wilderness exploration, set on a square-gridded(!) map of an island. Since the adventure is for characters levels 4-7, this fits in perfectly with the adventure tropes of the D&D Expert Rules (1981, 1983).
Exploring the Known World. Despite being such a small adventure, "The Treasure of the Hideous Ones" is clearly set in the Known World. It starts in "the small village of Luln", which appeared back on the original map of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos found in the first Expert Rules (1981). The exploratory hex map "does not exactly match any map in the Expert rules", but there's certainly room for it northwest of Luln.
Monsters of Note. "The Treasure of the Hideous Ones" introduces the cay-men, one-foot-tall lizardmen-like humanoids. They'd become one of the unique humanoids of the Known World, appearing in X9: "The Savage Coast" (1985) and later supplements set in that area.
NPCs of Note. Underlying the connections to Karameikos, some of the backstory talks about Duke Stefan the Hermit, who apparently ruled this area a hundred years before. He obviously was intended to be an ancestor of "Duke Stefan Karameikos the Third", who was introduced in the Expert Rules, but his position as a duke is more troublesome, as Traladara only became the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, under Duke Stefan III, as revealed in "GAZ1: The Grand Duchy of Karameikos" (1987). (There are certainly possible retcons and explanations, but in the main this shows how undefined the Known World was before the Gazetteers appeared.)
About the Creators. Cook was the author of the original D&D Expert Rules and one of the co-creators of the Known World, so writing a short Known Worlds wilderness adventure was very much a return home for him.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to email@example.com.