Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Twenty-Eight Adventures, #5: Prism Keep

Welcome to the fifth installment of my tour through the adventures I’ve worked on over the years. Today marks an interesting milestone that dovetails nicely with my recent blog theme—it’s the official release date of Elemental Evil Princes of the Apocalypse, my most recent adventure to see the light of day. Since I’m working through my career in chronological order, I won’t get to PotA for a while. But I will say that I’m happy with the final product, and I think Sasquatch Game Studio can hold its head up high with the effort we put into this book.

I personally wrote the earth and water outposts and temples, and I also knocked out the Fane of the Eye. (I was originally going to knock out the earth and water nodes too, but I just couldn’t make it work in my schedule.) I also wrote the “linking” event-based material in the beginning of each chapter, Dark Dealings in Yartar, many of the monster descriptions, and lots of other bits in the introduction and the appendices. Oh, and I also did a ton of art direction too. Anyway, it’s great to see the book in print—it was a TON of work, but I’m very proud of it.

(Worth noting: Chris Perkins at WotC should get top billing for the overall concept, outline, and story bible. We had a very sound foundation to build Princes of the Apocalypse on.)

Anyway, on to the next stroll down memory lane: Prism Keep!

#5: “Prism Keep”

This was my first publication in Dungeon magazine, appearing in issue 45 [edited, I originally said 47]. The story of how “Prism Keep” came is a little entertaining. Basically, in early 1994 I did my 1993 taxes, and discovered that I owed Uncle Sam $1000. I didn’t really have $1000 at the time, and I needed to come up with some way to earn the money fast. So, I decided that the best way to do that was to write a big adventure for Dungeon magazine, and do it fast.

At TSR, writing for the magazines was a voluntary activity for the designers and editors on the creative staff. We worked on magazine articles after-hours, and we were paid for that work as if we were external freelancers. Since the base pay for being a new-ish game designer in Lake Geneva wasn’t all that great, several of the people who hired on at the same time I did were very enthusiastic contributors to the magazines. I wrote a bunch of Dragon articles early on in my career because that was the only way to keep up with my bills.

(We also had the opportunity to volunteer to take “freelance” assignments to work on D&D products. The Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix II was something I knocked out on my own time, and got paid for on a piece-work basis. So if you like monsters such as the eladrin, the guardinals, the darkweaver, the keepers, etc., that’s where those came from—Rich needed to make a decent living and was vacuuming up all the extra work he could wheedle out of our schedule guru.)

Anyway, Barb Young was the editor of Dungeon at the time. She was sympathetic to my situation and let me shoehorn a big adventure into an upcoming magazine, and I went off to go write “Prism Keep.”

“Prism Keep” in some ways might be the most 2e-ish of all the 2nd Edition adventures I wrote. It’s one of the most puzzle-centric of my adventures, since the heart of the adventure is recovering the shards of the big central crystal, and some require a good deal of problem-solving to figure out. One interesting wrinkle is that many of the monsters you fight are warriors who have been charmed by the enchantress who runs the place. In my original draft, these were all pretty much faceless “Ftr 3” type bad guys, but Barb wasn’t satisfied with that. She suggested that these bad guys needed more personality and variation, so based on her feedback, I created a short roster of Irinia’s collection of charmed minions.

(Just a couple of years ago, I put together a 5e conversion of “Prism Keep” early in the 5e design process. (I was part of the initial 5e team for eight months or so before parting ways with Wizards of the Coast.) I needed some adventure content for our ongoing playtesting and development efforts, and pulled up “Prism Keep” as an old favorite that included plenty of physical challenges, roleplaying, puzzle-solving, and combat in good measure. I think it suits the 5e sensibilities quite well; of course, my update was based on a very early version of the 5e rules, so now I would have to update the update to make it really usable.)

Anyway, I’ve always liked “Prism Keep,” and I think it holds up well in the 5e era. It’s got a little bit of whimsy here and there, something I don’t often indulge in. The villains are interesting, the setting is magical and fantastic, and the puzzle-solving is important without being tedious. It’s worth checking out in my not-so-humble opinion!

Next Week: I think I’m going to skip over the adventure I contributed to the First Quest starter set, because I honestly don’t remember a thing about it. Instead, I’ll go on to Night of the Vampire!


  1. Really enjoying these stories. Just an FYI, Prism Keep is in issue #45 of Dungeon Magazine. Also, can you at least name the adventure in the First Quest box set that is yours?

    1. Doh! You are correct, it was 45, not 47. Good eyes!

      I am pretty sure I wrote the Tomb of Demara. I think I *may* have written the House on Harrow Hill, but I honestly can't remember. I don't have a copy here at hand to jog my memory. It was twenty years ago, and something I worked on only for a few weeks before returning to my normal schedule.

  2. Hello, greatly enjoy reading your reviews of what you did in the past, do you think you might be able to find the time to update it once more and publish it on your web site ?

  3. I love your adventures and recently played Prism keep for my 5th ed game it converted intrestingly , but the demons are quite a bit more powerful in 5th ed !

  4. Hi Richard!!

    I really love this adventure when I was a child.

    I have been searching it about years but never found it.

    Do you have any information about where I can this wonderful adventure?

    I really love the posibility of manage it to my friends.


  5. Paizo sells old Dungeon magazines. Try this address:


  6. Hi! Glad to found your blog!
    looking/curiosing for Prism Keep found it.

    You know my friends and I are really thankfull with your adventure it gave us good memories and moments.

    We found and old Dragon copy traslated to Spanish (not Mexico, spanish, More like Spain Spanish) in a 7eleven store.

    We dont reaaally know why an Spain magazzine was in here, but boughted with no hesitation.

    More than 20 years later i still have that old dust copy that i look with love and good memories.

    thanks for it.