Palace of the Vampire Queen is generally considered the first standalone adventure module for D&D. Originally published in 1976 by Wee Warriors, and faithfully reprinted in 2019 by Precis Intermedia, Palace is a 34 page pdf, of which 8 can be omitted as they are reference sheets and advertisements, with the front and back covers being optional as well. This brings the adventure page count down to a scant 24 pages.
There’s not a lot of meat to this adventure, with one page of backstory and rooms keyed in a hyper efficient "creature/contents" layout. Despite the minimalist presentation, several room descriptions include neat tidbits to make the dungeon seem a bit more alive. For example, room 1-6 contains a wounded warrior, who will warn the party about an upcoming danger, and even offer to join the party as an NPC if healed. There is one error in the text, room 2-32 does in fact exist (just south of room 2-4) but it is not keyed, however it’s contents can be partially inferred from room 2-3. There is also an unkeyed room on the 5th floor (south of 17) that may be good for hooking this dungeon into the campaign (though it is behind hidden doors). Another oddity of this early book is that the lined grid is 6' instead of the traditional 5' but halls and rooms seem to be aligned to a 5' grid internally.
The extremely limited room descriptions can be a blessing or a curse. As written, this can be a great "Heroquest"-style dungeon crawl, or with a bit of polish/backfill, could be an evocative vampire lair. There are certainly a few factions that could be sussed out of the monster roster (bandits on 1, Orcs and a wizard on 2, Trolls on 3) if needed. Because this is a vampire lair, there’s an emphasis on undead on every floor, so clerics will certainly get their time to shine. Elves and Thieves will also get a lot of milage from the numerous secret doors and traps. While not directly stated, the "Palace" does not seem to have any windows, and the limited background information mentions that this palace is a "tomb", it could be argued that much of this dungeon is underground, and carved of stone, providing Dwarves with as much access to these secrets.
I would suggest that finding secrets is of moderate to high importance, as many of the most valuable parts of the dungeon (including the princess) are behind them. It may be worth telegraphing some of the less valuable secrets to get players looking for them.
A fun aside, the original cover apparently has the vampire queen’s breasts exposed, which is provided as a layer mask in the PDF. There’s no inherent value in this fact, but if you’re into that, go nuts.
Given the urgency behind rescuing the dwarven princess, I’d have to say this is an adventure for characters of level 3-6, and not a first adventure, as the 1st floor lacks sufficient treasure for a party of 6 thieves to reach 2nd level, and facing the number of vampires on the 5th floor below 6th level would be a fools errand.
Home printers are recommended to print this one single-sided, as the PDF includes unkeyed player maps of each floor.
Overall, I’m glad I read this one, and I might run it with the changes I’ve described if I need a distraction while I get something else ready in my home campaign.
Next Week: Under Xylarthen’s Tower
Next week we’ll be looking at "modern" adventure. Jeff Rients’s Under Xylarthen’s Tower.