L1: The Secret of Bone Hill, 36 years later

An oddity of days gone by

L1: The Secret of Bone Hill is an odd module from the classic days of TSR. Actually, the entire L-series has an interesting history, which I will touch on later. Written by Lenard “Len” Lakofka, TSR published The Secret of Bone Hill in 1981 with the code number of 9045. What makes this module different from preceding modules is that this is more of a mini-setting than an adventure. While the Lendore Isles are based in Greyhawk, Lakofka originally set the entire L-series in his home campaign.

Bone Hill is a giant mess of a sandbox. Based around the fishing port town of Restenford, it goes into great detail about the town, as well gives rumors and a few scenarios. However, there is no payoff, no Big Bad Evil Guy, no overall plot. This was a first for TSR, in that previous modules always had a solid plot and ran linear. L1: The Secret of Bone Hill does no such thing, leaving the information for the Dungeon Master to fill in all the plot and order of encounters.

The Secret of Bonehill module, copy signed by artist Bill Willingham

Positive Notes on Bone Hill

Overall, the sandbox idea was an excellent idea for those who like to create adventures. While designed for novice or intermediate players, this allows Dungeon Masters just starting out to see how encounters were built. All one has to do is add a plot and link it. There was plenty of room to work with, and a creative Dungeon Master could add or subtract to L1 as they see fit. There are plenty of encounters to choose from through the text of The Secret of Bone Hill.

Negative Notes on Bone Hill

Unfortunately, there are more down points to The Secret of Bone Hill than there are up points. For starters, some of the content cannot even be used without things that are revealed in L2: The Assassin’s Knot. Remember, this is more of a mini-setting than an adventure. Another issue is the town of Restenford has a large military garrison, but there are an outstanding number of encounters listed in the small area around the town. One must believe that these must be optional encounters for travel to and from Restenford, as no military garrison would let that many evil creatures set up lairs nearby.

Along with these issues, the Secret of Bone Hill has poor artwork. Rumor is that Erol Otus intentionally botched the back cover. The interior art has many maps, and the few illustrations seem to not match any text near them.

Interesting Facts on the L-series

The Secret of Bone Hill gave the L-series its start. L2: The Assassin’s Knot came along not too long after in 1983. The internal shakeup that led to the firing of Gary Gygax in 1985 caused a delay. Finally in 1999, for the 25th Anniversary, Wizards of the Coast released L3: Deep Dwarven Delve. Lakofka has issues with this release, as the final manuscript he sent vanished. “It is about 80% of what the first draft of the module was,” Lakofka spoke in a 2010 interview on dragonsfoot.org.

In addition to speaking on the L-series on Dragonsfoot, Lakofka also released L4: Devilspawn on Dragonsfoot for free in 2010. This has a companion book, L4C: The Lendore Isle Companion. L4 was followed up with L5 in 2013. L5 is set in the town of Kroten in the Lendore Isles, but is split up among three books. The first is a campaign guide, the second an adventure book, the third a campaign companion. Also available is a map pack for L5. All are on Dragonsfoot, and Lakofka is contemplating more L-series modules in the future. All the L5 titles are also available for free on Dragonsfoot.

Final Take on Bone Hill

All in all, if you like to play in a sandbox, this module is a must-have. Anyone who enjoys to make their own story from pieces will love it. The design is perfect for creating your own hooks and encounters. Many prefer this style, however many publishers overlook this demographic.

If you like everything already done, pick-up-and-play style, stay far away from Secret of Bone Hill. You will feel lost, and at times, overburdened. This will teach you the lesson of always pre-reading the module.

L1: The Secret of Bone Hill is available on dmsguild.com. Fortunately, it is available as a print-on-demand title for those who like holding the actual module. Unfortunately for collectors, these reprints are affecting the value of originals. If you must have an original, expect to pay $10-20 on eBay for one, with a lot of L1 and L2 recently selling for $26.

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  1. Christopher Bishop
    Christopher Bishop

    You know the interesting thing about TSR in those days was the conflict of ideals that plagued them. Gary always wanted to encourage DM’s to do their own stuff, just using modules as bones to build upon, which L1 is perfect in that vein. However, corporate TSR could not make revenue off DM’s creating things on their own. This module is the linchpin upon which the original TSR fought against the corporate ideals and sadly, they lost. I think in and of itself that lends an aura of history to this product. Great review, nailed the module as a whole.

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