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 While RuneQuest: Slayers would go unpublished due to the acquisition of Avalon Hill, that solo adventure was one of the parts of the game I most enjoyed writing.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.

Only registered users can comment.

  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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.