Solo Adventures – Beyond the Vale of Madness

March 23, 2020

The first adventure for a generation of roleplayers was Bargle’s underground lair. Featured in the 1983 red box set, this D&D solo adventure did a fantastic job of teaching rules, introducing bizarre monsters (the dreaded rust monster!), and even giving characters a compelling emotional reason to delve into a dangerous dungeon — the murder of Aleena, a iron-tough, beautiful cleric brought to life on the page by Larry Elmore himself.

This first solo adventure was magical. While it was only a slightly more evolved Choose Your Own Adventure experience, it still managed to capture what was special about Dungeons & Dragons. While TSR would write a few more solo adventures over the years, I don’t think any were as authentic as the original.

Years later, when I picked up GURPS, I was equally thrilled that the early editions included a solo adventure, “All in a Night’s Work”. Again, many of my new characters attempted the burglary of that poor merchant’s house (who really should have hired a better guard).

In the 90s, I was working at Avalon Hill authoring a sword-and-sorcery reboot of the RuneQuest RPG. Dubbed RuneQuest: Slayers, myself and co-author Christopher Lawrence were equally nostalgic about our first roleplaying experiences. Thinking of Bargle’s tunnels, I insisted that RuneQuest: Slayers should also feature a solo adventure to teach the rules and capture the dangerous feel of the game. While RuneQuest: Slayers would go unpublished due to the acquisition of Avalon Hill, that solo adventure was one of the parts of the game I most enjoyed writing.

This week, as I obediently shelter in place, I found myself once again reminiscing about Bargle, Aleena, and my burglaries. I thought that maybe other gamers trapped inside — or their kids — would enjoy that old adventure. In a couple of days, I converted “Beyond the Vale of Madness” to both Dungeons & Dragons and GURPS. Enjoy!




If you enjoyed this adventure, all that I ask is that you let me know what you thought and how it went. Comment below or tweet me @SageThalcos

Related: More solo adventures

Also, If you enjoyed this cold and wintery adventure, be sure to check out Cold Bounty, which works as a nice tabletop expansion to this tale.

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  1. Just tried this for the first time and enjoyed! I had a lightly armored character around and decided to use him. Without giving any spoilers, my first attempt ended sooner than I’d hoped!


    1. Glad you enjoyed it — seems like folks have about a 50% chance of getting through it from what I can tell 🙂

  2. That was a fun adventure. Much like grayscale, my adventure ended with the first encounter lol. I am playing a squishy gnome wizard. Second time i was able to complete it, I enjoyed it. Great job!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I haven’t been brave enough to try squishy wizards against that snow monster…

  3. Just played through your adventure, and I really enjoyed it! I did it make through on my first try (I rolled really well). Played a light armored blood hunter. I will play through this again with a different character and let you know how it goes. Thanks for taking the time to create this for those of us who just need a little more TTRPGs in our life. 🙂

  4. I altered this a bit to play with my group! See – our original DM was unable to play with us, so I took over, but I really didn’t want to give up my PC. The solo adventure style let me be both a DM and a player without giving m PC too much of an unfair advantage. All in all it worked out super well and we had a ton of fun.

    1. Cool! Amazingly, I’ve never even thought about adapting a solo adventure to work like that before. Glad you enjoyed it!

  5. My review after play. There is variety in which route you use to gain access to the castle, with different challenges to face and opportunities for gain; this gives replay value.
    Good features: (i) Keeping GP values of various items secret until the adventure is over, with chances to evaluate worth where there is a choice; (ii) Some encounters foreshadow what is to come/build tension.
    Possible improvement: overemphasis on ability checks, sometimes casting a spell or using a magic item should have the same effect , e.g. cure light wounds/healing potion in 37, light spell in 7.
    Depth of the story is appropriate to the number of entries. Links seem to be accurate. A familiar theme, but done with enough style for the reader to conjure a vivid picture. Good effort.
    I’d rate this 4 stars out of 5 and give it a recommendation.

  6. What a fun adventure! I just ran the GURPS version with a 62-point Strong novice from DF:Delvers to Grow and managed to make it out alive by the skin of my teeth but with some loot and a couple of monsters defeated. Super fun and great examples of a variety of GURPS mechanics!

  7. It was a near thing – _very_ skin of the teeth. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone so I won’t go into details but the last encounter was a very near thing. I’m looking forward to trying it again.

  8. OMG I never thought I would get to tell the creator of this beautiful adventure how much I absolutely enjoyed it. I found it elsewhere that I don’t remember now when I was feeling very low about not being able to play with my friends due to Covid and other constraints. This was the first Solo adventure I ever tried. I didn’t get to complete the adventure and had to return to the village but I can’t wait to get back to it and come back victorious! Thank you for all the wonderful content you provide. You’re a hero!

  9. I played this with a Bard character I’ve been wanting to use. I also write solo adventures for D&D, but I’ve been using Twine to create choose-your-path games that you can play in a web browser. A good example of my games is The Saint’s Tomb ( I’d love to adapt your game to this style of play. With your permission and credit, I’d convert the text and links to a web document that I could either send you to host on your own page or I could post on my page. I’m just doing this for fun, not trying to make money off of it, so I’d leave the copyright with you.

    1. Sure, go for it! Would love to see what that looked like. You can DM me on Twitter if you want to chat more too.

  10. Hello!

    I just played this adventure and it’s absolutely fantastic. I came at it with my level 2 Barbarian Dwarf who might be a bit overpowered (18 constitution). I had a great time, and this adventure has inspired me to want to write these kinds of adventurers myself. As a solo-dnd players and forever-DM this was a great experience. I would love content like this, and that includes the quality artwork as well as the stellar writing.

  11. As an older person who gets only sporadic opportunities to game, due to having a spouse and children, and even then gets stuck being DM, this was a blast. It was fun. I created a 2nd-level barbarian, who defeated the blood man and then departed with a bit of treasure. I will send that same character to the Dragon’s Demise next. I wish there were more of these so I could keep going. Thank you!

  12. This was a cute little solo run, and I liked it, but it had my character do a couple of things that I would not have chosen, especially leaving the dungeon before I’ve fully explored it. THAT was annoying.

  13. I found a broken link on your “Complete List of Adventures” page, under the “Beyond the Vale of Madness” fantasy solo adventure. I can download the GURPS version and the French D&D version, but not the English D&D version. This link leads to a 404 page:

    (I would have sent this privately, but I don’t see an email address or anything similar, so I’m commenting here.)

    Thanks for making these available… GURPS is my favorite system by far, but there is so little good content out there for it.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out – fixed it! And glad you enjoy the GURPS adventures, they are always a labor of love for me!

  14. Hello,
    Long time reader, first time commenter here.
    First of all, I would like to thank you very much for the word that You did and are still doing by releasing the adventures. I have some comments about the adventure and stats (especially for King Coppertong), but please don’t think of them as criticism. I love your work, and I’ve recommended Your website to many people who were looking for RPG resources. You are doing really great job 😀
    Also, English is not my primary language, so please excuse any of my mistakes or errors.
    I have run this adventure as a introductory scenario for one player, however I knew he was also more keen on roleplaying aspect of roleplaying games, so I’ve changed a few things. Also I wanted to give him the possibility of experiencing different ways of combat, and some of the changes reflected that.
    Game was played as PBP (play by post) on an internet forum. Rolls were being made by online dice roller, so player saw all the rolls.
    The player chose dwarf King Coppertong as adventurer. The player had some small experience with GURPS 3ed, I had small experience with GURPS 4ed.

    First of all we checked the character sheet. I deduced that You took the race stats from GURPS Banestorm, but there may be three questions.
    Shouldn’t his Dodge be 9? Dodge is basic speed +3 which is 6+3=9. Dwarves have -1 move from Banestorm race, but move is different stat than basic speed.
    Why Foe Flayer has 2d+1 damage? My reasoning was the following: Foe Flayer damage is sw+2+1(for Fine) which for our dwarf is 1d+5. In one of the Pyramid magazines there is an article that allows the conversion of damage where every +4 to damage can be changed to additional 1d. That would give us 1d+5 changed to 2d+1. Is that correct?
    Shouldn’t there be additional -1 in Reactions form delusion (dwarves, when known)?
    And yes, we even calculated wealth and equipment cost, but I think it was ok. (what can I say? We were both trying to better understand the system).

    So after having that out of the way, let’s move forward to the adventure. As I’ve said, the player liked to roleplay, so I’ve cut some of the „decision nodes”, simplifying them a little (I mean some of the choices in exploration) and replacing an NPc. In #37 there is a wounded hunter, I replaced him with the half-eaten corpse of a caravan guard, and two children, brother and sister (as illustrations I used concept art from Plague Tale Requiem). The story was that a caravan was passing by to hero’s hometown, when sudden storm (which happened because of Castle appearing) caused them to get lost and scattered. The snow troll attacked some of the caravansfolk, kids and guard hid in the cave but guard finally died to the troll. The beast also took some of the caravans cargo to its cave. I showed the player how reaction rolls work.

    I made the kids stats and include them below:

    Leilana Bryant
    12 years old tomboy ranger [72]
    Attributes: ST: 8 [-20], DX: 12 [40], IQ: 10 [0], HT: 9 [-10], HP: 9 [+2], FP: 9 [0], Will: 10 [0], Per: 10 [0], Size -1 Basic Speed 5.25
    Advantages: Pitiable [5], Honest Face [1], Language Talent [10], Social Regard (Revered) [5], Absolute Direction [5], Danger Sense [15],
    Disadvantages: Bad Temper (15) [-5], Impulsive (15) [-5], Gullibility (15) [-5], Reduced Move x1 [-5], Social Stigma (Minor) [-5], Susceptible (Disease) x1 (Limitation: No penalty to recover, -50%) [-2].
    Primary Skills:
    Naturalist (H) IQ [4]-10, Stealth (A) DX+1 [4]-13; Survival (mountains) (A) Per [2]-10
    Brawling (E) DX [1]- 12, Shortsword (A) DX [2]-12, Knife (E) DX [1]- 12, Forced Entry (E) DX [1]- 12, Lockpicking/TL3 (A) IQ+1 [4]-11, Fast Draw (arrow) (E) DX [1]- 12, Bow (A) DX [2]-12
    Secondary Skills: Weather Sense (A) IQ [2] -10; Navigation/TL3 (Land) (A) IQ [2]-10; Hiking (A) HT [2]-11; Tracking (A) Per [2]-10,
    Background Skills: (A) DX-1 [1] -11, Throwing (A) DX-1 [1] -11; Traps/TL3 (A) IQ [2]-10; Accounting (H) IQ-2 [1]-10; Diplomacy (H) IQ-2 [1]-10; Merchant (A) IQ-1 [1]-11; Research (A) IQ-1 [1]-11; Savoir-Faire (upper middle class) (E) IQ [1]-12; Speed-Reading (A) IQ-1 [1]-11, Writing (A) IQ-1 [1]-11

    Leon Bryant
    7 years old mage apprentice [76]
    Attributes: ST: 7 [-30], DX: 9 [-20], IQ: 12 [40], HT: 9 [-10], HP: 7 [0], FP: 9 [0], Will: 12 [0], Per: 12 [0], Size -2 Basic Speed 4.5
    Advantages: Pitiable [5], Honest Face [1], Language Talent [10], Social Regard (Revered) [5].
    Magery 3 [35],
    Disadvantages: Bad Temper (15) [-5], Clueless [-10], Curious (15) [-5], Easy to Read [-10], Impulsive (12) [-10], Gullibility (15) [-5], Reduced Move x1 [-5], Social Stigma (Minor) [-5], Susceptible (Disease) x1 (Limitation: No penalty to recover, -50%) [-2], Vow (Never use black magic) [-5]
    Primary Spells:
    Analyze Magic (H) [1]-13, Detect Magic (H) [1]-13, Dispel Magic (H) [1]-13, Identify Spell (H) [1]-13, Ignite Fire (H) [1]-13, Create fire (H) [1]-13, Shape Fire (H) [1]-13, Fireball (H) [1]-13, Lend Energy (H) [1]-13, Recover Energy (H) [1]-13,
    Primary Skills
    Thaumatology (VH) [1]-12, Alchemy/TL3 (VH) IQ-2 [2]-10; Occultism (A) IQ [2] -12; Throwing (A) DX+2 [8]- 11, Innate Attack (Projectile) (E) DX+3 [8]-12
    Background Skills: Accounting (H) IQ-2 [1]-10; Diplomacy (H) IQ-2 [1]-10; Merchant (A) IQ-1 [1]-11; Research (A) IQ-1 [1]-11; Savoir-Faire (upper middle class) (E) IQ [1]-12; Speed-Reading (A) IQ-1 [1]-11, Writing (A) IQ-1 [1]-11.

    When I was building them , my point was to give the player the possibility to experience the use of magic and range combat in GURPS.
    In the area, King also found a shield buried and frozen into ruble, but with skill Rolls was able to recover it.
    The player then decided to go after the troll, not wanting to leave it behind him, chose to take kids with him (both as character’s disadvantage and the player’s good nature).

    The fight with troll was ghastly. King threw his other axe and fought hand to hand with Foe Flayer, the girl was throwing Stones at troll, the boy at first failed to concentrate to fire up his spell, than troll crippled and almost ripped off the dwarfs leg, but got his arm almost cut off with Foe Flayer (I showed the player what happens if you try to parry weapon while unarmed) and finally the boy finished off the beast with his fireball.

    In order not to have a crippled dwarf ending his adventure here, I ruled that in the loot form the caravan, troll took the kids bags, inside was the girls weapons (bow, arrows, dagger etc.) and some potent healing potions that the mage master gave to his apprentice for the trip. They managed to heal the dwarf up to full.

    I think in retrospect that this encounter sobered the player up, he was much more cautious about exploring the castle now, after the troll experience. We commented that with broken leg in the blizzard the exhaustion rolls could kill him on the way back… also there were wolves in the area.
    But he tried to explore a castle (leaving kids behind with the now empty troll cave with orders to either wait for him or to go on their own to town if he won’t come back and girl ranger decides that they have a chance ), found the crossbow (I gave him some more valuables as loot), explored the yard. I wanted to show him some mounted combat, so I added a small scout party of three goblins on wolves who at that time were exploring the castle itself and ran into Blood Man. Only one mounted goblin managed to run away and ran into our dwarf who heard some of the screams and set up an ambush for the goblin. He didn’t immediately attack, however, and I made reaction roll for the goblin, which turned out pretty well, the goblin didn’t want to fight, he just escaped.

    Dwarf explored the castle, but I think he rolled well for stealth and to give him some warning about what he might experience, I showed him the shadow of Blood Man. The dwarf decided its not worth it, and returned to the kids in the cave. Maybe a bit anticlimactic, but really well roleplayed by him. Also as I said, he had a really close call with the troll, without the healing potion, he wouldn’t survive.
    So I narrated how he escorted the kids to their family in the city, and how he improved his position thanks to the loot form the castle and troll cave, and earned reward from kids family members (the same he would have for saving the hunter in the original adventure).

    That was it. We had a blast playing this adventure, once again thank You very much for your work.

    1. Hey thanks for the feedback and the tale of adventure – I enjoyed hearing how you really expanded it! And you are totally right about those GURPS stats being slightly off — I fixed this in the newest version of the adventure I just uploaded.

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