If I was going to give a new Dungeon Master of any edition of D&D, yes even 4th edition, a module to say “hey, here’s how it is done” I have to admit it wouldn’t be from TSR. In fact, it wouldn’t even be a D&D module but a Runequest one. I’d hand him Hellpits of Nightfang by Paul Jaquays and published by The Judges Guild. Fortunately it is available as a PDF for under $3.
Hellpits of Nightfang details a three limestone sinkholes as well as the caves and tombs attached to them. The pits are the home of a pair of vampires, a pack of wolves and other assorted creatures. It has fifteen numbered locations. They are all named as well for added character. While the entire module is thirty-six pages long much of that is white spaced with lines for notes. Major characters (the two vampires and one wolf) each take about a page for stat blocks with note space while minor creatures run as many as five to a page. A very brief history of the two vampires as well as a hero’s tomb in the sinkholes is provided.
What makes Hellpits of Nightfang an ideal model for a new Dungeon Master? First, it is a quintessential location adventure. It has absolutely no plot. In fact, I can summarize the entire background in four sentences. Nightfang is a vampire so old his real name is forgotten even by local villagers. In life he was a priest of a death cult and sacrifices his victims to his god meaning he rarely creates vampires. The one exception was the ugly daughter of a local farmer he has turned and who is now his companion. The sinkholes also include the tomb of a local hero that floods now that the climate is wetter. That’s it. The only mention of anything beyond the pits is a local populace including at one farmer now short an ugly daughter. It is a prime example of creating something and let the player’s action define the story.
Second, Jaquays uses a standard format used previously in Snakepipe Hollow. It creates a much more open feeling than many TSR modules from the same time period. It demonstrates the difference between designed set pieces and more dynamic locations. While some might object to the amount of detail of this key format for a beginner I think adopting this format would be a huge help. It is a prime example of expert created rules that might stifle experts forced to use them but that provide a marked advantage for beginners.
Finally, the adventure has some interesting set pieces. Without giving too much away Nightfang has some interesting items and ways of using them you might not consider. The flooded tomb has a very interesting pool. There are also some interesting traps of a type I’ve yet to see in many OSR discussions.
All in all, this is an excellent adventure. While a classic location adventure it provides a lot of contrast to many modules. It is small enough to wrap your head around the whole thing and see how it is put together. I think it is an excellent first adventures for a new dungeon master, especially of the old school.