In my A Game Per Year project, my goal has been to read one roleplaying game corebook for every year they’ve been published. However, I soon started to feel that it was hard to decipher how the games were really meant to be played. For this reason, I decided to start a parallel project, An Adventure Per Year, to read one roleplaying adventure for each year they’ve been published.
Although the 1975 D&D supplement Blackmoor contains the adventure The Temple of the Frog, Palace of the Vampire Queen is often regarded as the first published roleplaying adventure because it’s not part of any larger publication but a release of its own.
Designed by Pete and Judy Kerenstan, it was published by a small outfit called Wee Warriors in 1976 for Dungeons & Dragons. It managed to beat D&D publisher TSR to the adventures market because at the time, TSR believed that the roleplaying audience was not interested in buying preplanned adventure modules.
As an adventure, Palace of the Vampire Queen is a simple dungeon. It has rooms, monsters and treasure. The plot is that a vampire queen terrorizes people, so the adventurers have to enter her domain and kill her.
The story is presented in the beginning with one page of text. After that, the adventure consists of maps and room descriptions formatted as tables.
The adventure in Blackmoor was confusing in the sense that I wasn’t sure how it was supposed to be run. How powerful should the characters be, what should be their goals, and so on. In Palace of the Vampire Queen, there’s no confusion. This is pretty much exactly like I imagined an early D&D adventure to be like. I could have run this when I was twelve because it follows a very simple formula. The characters explore and resolve dungeon rooms.
In the end, there’s a small twist where the vampire queen might take a hostage, leading to a slightly more complicated roleplaying situation.