A cloud of dust forms over the horizon as a titanic army of evil threatens the entire civilized world! The Master of the Desert Nomads and his legions are back, and they form the greatest threat that you have ever faced. You must persuade powerful rulers to join you cause, stave off threats to the alliance, and lead your armies to victory!
This adventure contains a full-color map of the D&D Expert Set game world, 200 counters, and a special expansion of the War Machine mass combat rules that allows you to fight the entire war as a strategic wargame! Major battles and engagements can be fought using the BATTLESYSTEM Fantasy Combat Supplement for incredible tabletop action. Never-before-published information on all the nations of the Expert Set game world provides background and detail that will enrich your campaign.
X10: "Red Arrow, Black Shield" (1985), by Michael S. Dobson, is the tenth adventure in the Expert Series for Basic D&D. It was published in November 1985.
The Return of the Desert Nomads. In 1983, David "Zeb" Cook wrote the first great epic for the Known World; X4: "Master of the Desert Nomads" (1983) and X5: "Temple of Death" (1983) told the story of the Master, who planned to invade the Known World with his army of nomads. Two years later Michael Dobson turned Cook's paired adventures into a trilogy with "Red Arrow, Black Shield". The Master is back (with no explanation for how he'd escaped death in the previous adventure), and this time he actually does invade the Known World with huge armies, upping the scale from Cook's already impressive adventures.
However, "Red Arrow, Black Shield" is more than just a follow-up to X4/X5; it's a lynchpin for the entire B/X/CM adventure sequence. The players travel through many lands that were home to past adventures, and their past interactions with those places could affect diplomacy in this new adventure. If they played through the "B" sequence, that could influence the Grand Duchy of Karameikos; while saving the King of Vestland in X3: "Curse of Xanathon" (1982) will surely affect that kingdom's thoughts toward the upcoming war. Shockingly, even XL1: "Quest for the Heartstone" (1984) gets a namecheck, as the action-figure heroes from that adventure are now in charge of Ierendi. One diplomatic mission even suggests the the players emigrate to Norwold, offering a tie to CM1: "Test of the Warlords" (1984) — and the rest of the "CM" series.
A Tale of Two Battle Machines. In 1984, TSR released its first modern mass-combat system: "War Machine", a part of the D&D Companion Set (1984). However just a year later, TSR followed that up with a standalone, boxed game called Battlesystem (1985), which was primarily intended for AD&D.
It would have been natural for Dobson's tale of warfare across the Known World to have exclusive'ly used the War Machine system, because it had been built for Basic D&D. However by 1985, TSR was pushing hard on Battlesystem, which was probably intended to be their answer to Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy Battle (1983). As a result, "Red Arrow, Black Shield" ended up being a hybrid. Though the large-scale, strategic warfare is carried out with War Machine, tactical combat involving the players instead depends on Battlesystem.
A Companion Introduction. By introducing the War Machine rules and a world-spanning political adventures, "Red Arrow, Black Shields" became de facto transition between the wilderness adventuring of the D&D Expert Set (1981, 1983) and the political adventuring of the D&D Companion Set. This sort of transition adventure was a new concept for Basic D&D. TSR would follow-up the next year with a Basic/Expert Transition called B10: "Night’s Dark Terror" (1986).
Adventuring Tropes. "Red Arrow, Black Shield" is a very innovative adventure, unlike almost anything else produced by TSR to date. To start with it's a "campaign adventure"; not only does it have an epic scope, but there's also a lot of room for expansion: many elements in the adventure, such as the diplomatic missions and the tasks they might be require, could be extended into adventures of their own.
Some of the more concrete elements in the adventure are quite innovative too. The game begins with an invasion of the city of Akesoli, which is laid out as a "generic city chase flow chart". A later segment set in a second city is similarly laid out as a "flow chart" rather than a typical city map.
Beyond that, players get to adventure across the length and breadth of the Known World trying to make diplomatic connections, then they get to fight massive wars with the Master and his armies. It's a unique combination of a plot-heavy epic adventure with a large sandbox that gives the players the sole authority to determine the success or failure of the endeavor. By this time the Dragonlance Chronicles (1984-1986) was doing similar work (though in a more linear manner), but otherwise "Red Arrow, Black Shield" was largely unprecedented.
Definitely the '80s. The Master had been previously presented in X4/X5, but a picture on page 42 of "Red Arrow, Black Shield" identifies him as looking like the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran.
Expanding the Known World. What "Red Arrow, Black Shield" calls the "D&D® Expert Game World" had been under construction since the release of the D&D Expert Set (1981) and X1: "The Isle of Dread" (1981). However "Red Arrow, Black Shield" is the supplement that brings it all together. This is in part thanks to the extensive links to the "B", "X", and "CM" series adventures. However, "Red Arrow, Black Shield" also really unifies the geography of the Known World by sending players to so many different countries (and offering details on many of them). There's also a beautiful full-color poster map of the game world. As a result, "Red Arrow, Black Shield" is the second great touchstone for the Known World, following the D&D Expert Set in January 1981.
"Red Arrow, Black Shield" also puts the spotlight on a few new locales. We get details on both the country of Darokin and its city of Akesoli. We also return to Sind for a first look at the city of Sayr Ulan.
Future History. "Red Arrow, Black Shield" could have been the adventure that changed the landscape of the Known World … and if metaplot were popular in the '80s, that probably would have been the case. Instead, TSR decided that the adventure created too much change in Mystara, and so they sort of decanonized it: GAZ1: "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos" (1987) says it "theoretically takes place 200 years in the future of this world". This has an unfortunate side effect of also forcing X4 and X5 into the future, then XL1, then … so one shouldn't think too hard about it. Despite this claim, "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos" credits "Red Arrow, Black Shield" as one of its references because it "showcased the armies and political relationships of most of the nations of the D&D game world".
The Basic D&D series return to the country of Darokin in CM9: "Legacy of Blood" (1987) and GAZ11: "The Republic of Darokin" (1989); meanwhile, TSR also published one more Expert/Companion bridge in X13: "Crown of Ancient Glory" (1987).
About the Creators. Dobson had previously written Dragonlance and Indiana Jones adventures for TSR in 1984. With the publication of "Red Arrow, Black Shield" he became the D&D warfare guy, and would go on to coauthor the Bloodstone Pass series (1985-1988).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.