A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity, an adventure for characters level 4-7, is the first of the series which also includes A2: Secret of the Slavers Stockade, A3: Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords, and A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords. This adventure is complete with original black-and-white interior art.
A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity: It is time to put a stop to the marauders! For years the coastal towns have been burned and looted by the forces of evil. You and your fellow adventurers have been recruited to root out and destroy the source of these raids—as hundreds of good men and women have been taken by the slavers and have never been seen or heard from again!
A1: "Slave Pits of the Under City" (1980), by David "Zeb" Cook is the first of the "A" Slave Lords adventures. It was published in October 1980.
About the Module Code. Why "A"? Lawrence Schick explains that "S" for Slave Lords was taken (by the "Special" adventures), as was "T" for Tournament (by the "Temple" adventures). So instead they picked "A" for "Aerie of the Slave Lords" … which also ensured the these modules would always be listed first.
About the Artwork. Jeff Dee drew some of the covers and interiors for the "A" Slave Lords series. Though his originals were long ago destroyed, he's run kickstarters in recent years to recreate much of his original artwork.
Origins (I): A Controversial Tourney. At Gen Con XII (1979), TSR was busy running "Doomkeep", the Second Official AD&D Masters Tournament, which was reprinted in Dragon #34 (February 1980). Robin Hostetter won that. Meanwhile, Len Lakofka was running "Deep Dwarven Delve", which wouldn't be published for two decades, but was finally released on D&D's 25th anniversary as L3: "Deep Dwarven Delve" (1999).
Oh, and there was an AD&D Tournament too, the first AD&D Open, and therefore the father of the D&D Championship Series that ran through 2013. It was an impressive event, supporting 324 players. But, no one talks about that particular AD&D tournament much. That's probably because the tournament, run by an outside party, was pummeled by heavy criticism at the time. The main problems seems to be that it was too high level to support easy tournament play. It even involved a battle against Orcus!
Given the first Open's problems, TSR came to the conclusion that the tournament hadn't been "up to par" so they decided to write the AD&D Open Tournament for Gen Con XIII (1980) themselves.
Origins (II): A Team Tournament. TSR's 1980 Open Tournament was planned as a three-round tournament. It was also planned as "the largest single AD&D tournament yet staged", supporting over 800 players. This required that play be spread out over multiple days, which caused a problem: early players of the tournament's first round of play could spoil it for others (making it possible for later tournament-goers to do better!). To resolve this issue, TSR's designers created five different first rounds, to fill the five slots of play from Thursday through Saturday: different players delved through different dungeons on different days. Following those five initial rounds of play, there was also a traditional semi-final round and a final round.
There wasn't enough time for a single designer to write all seven rounds, so TSR instead had four different authors each take on part of the work. To be sure that tournament remained linked, the different designers connected their scenarios with a single overarching theme: "slave lords".
Origins (III): A Planned Finale. The entire Slave Lords tournament was actually built around the final round, which would appear in A4: "In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords" (1981). There, players were to begin play captured. Everything else built toward that ending.
Origins (IV): A Planned Publication. However, TSR wasn't interested in just producing a tournament. They wanted to do the same thing they had with the "D" and "G" adventures in 1978, where they released each of the tournament rounds as a published adventure right after the tournament round was played. However, TSR didn't ultimately manage to align the publication of the adventure with Gen Con. A1: "Slave Pits of the Under City" (1980) appeared in October, while the rest of the series would be delayed into 1981.
About the Book. "Slave Pits" contains the first two first rounds. Even with doubling up the rounds, they still needed to be expanded for adventure publication. Though TSR adventures at the time were short, the tournament adventures were even shorter! (Even then, the resulting book was just 24 pages long.)
Adventure Tropes. To keep things fair, the five first rounds were meticulously balanced using a rigid formula. Each of these early tournament rounds had nine encounters, including 2 traps, 1 trick, 1 problem, 1 encounter with the adventure's base monster, 1 ambush by that base monster, 1 encounter with the base monster and a higher-powered ally, 1 encounter with an unintelligent monster, and 1 encounter with a new monster.
It's pretty easy to see this formula in the two rounds of play published in "Slave Pits", a Temple delve and a Sewer delve. Orcs are the base monster, while the new monsters are the aspis and the giant sundew.
Adventure Tropes: Tournament Play. Cook later gave insight into his adventure in "Survival Tips for the Slave Pits" in Dragon #43 (November 1980). He said that the tournament winners tended to have "organization and decisiveness". This let them quickly move through the adventure within their four-hour time limit, maximizing the number of encounters they had, and thus the number of points they scored. This in turn suggests design tropes for early tournaments: they should allow rapid movement through the adventure, perhaps even supporting short cuts.
All of the published "A" adventures included hints for how to run the original, tournament versions of the adventures. To support this, maps shade out portions of the adventures which did not exist in the tournaments — which cuts the 40 encounters in "Slave Pits" to the 18 of the original. Unfortunately, modern electronic reproductions don't always replicate those shadings.
Exploring Greyhawk. "Slave Pits" is firmly set in the World of Greyhawk. The Slave Lords are raiding along the Wild Coast and into nearby lands. The actual adventure is set in Highport, a city south of the Wild Coast, in the Pomarj — a peninsula overrun by humanoids. With that said, there's almost no detail on the adventure's locale, probably due to the its origins as a tournament. Instead, the details all focus on the two delves: a ruined temple and the city's sewers.
Monsters of Note. The ant-like aspis were a favorite in this adventure. Both they and the giant sundew reappeared in Monster Manual II (1983), then in a few volumes for AD&D 2e (1989-2000), but have since faded into obscurity.
Future History.A1-4: Scourge of the Slavelords (1986), which contains several additional pages of detail on Highport, including a small set of geomorphs to describes parts of the city. Wizards of the Coast would return to the setting decades later with "Lowdown in Highport", a prequel to "Slave Pits" found in Dungeon #221 (December 2013).
About the Creators. Cook was an up-and-coming star at TSR, who would soon become well-known for his work on the D&D Expert Rules (1981) and X1: "The Isle of Dread" (1981).
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.