Between the settled human lands and the orc-filled mountains rests the barony of Honshar. The residents have grown used to occasional orc raids, but now they find themselves facing a full-scale war. As if that wasn't bad enough, the orcs have kidnapped an important political figure from Honshar, along with a crucial magical item?the Silver Key. Unless the key is recovered, it could be Honshar's undoing.
Both the key and the hostage are being held in the orc city of Krimba-Hai, so getting them back will be tricky. However, there is a plan. . . .
For 2 to 6 characters of levels 2 to 8.
"The Silver Key" (1996), by Ted James Thomas Zuvich, is a generic adventure for AD&D. It was published in January 1996.
Origins (I): More Generics. Though most of TSR's final generic adventures were impressive dungeon bashes that recalled the origins of the industry, a pair of adventures slipped through that aren't as well remembered because they focused on the story-focused fare that was more typical of D&D adventures in the '90s. The first of those was "The Sliver Key" (1996).
Origins (II): A Dungeon Creator. Author Ted Zuvich got his start with TSR writing for Dungeon (1986-2013). He submitted a proposal for an adventure called "Fire!" in September 1987 and then actually had to write it when editor Barbara Young requested a complete manuscript. This began a seven-year journey, during which he revised his adventure at least twice a year in response to editorial comments from TSR. He managed to sell two adventures before "Fire!" was accepted, the first of which was "Courier Service", which appeared in Dungeon #27 (January/February 1991). "Fire!" was finally published as "A Hot Day in L'Trel" in Dungeon #44 (November/December 1993). Which all goes to show that it wasn't necessarily easy to get published at TSR, even in those early days of Dungeon magazine.
Zuvich is one of the freelancers of the '90s who was able to turn his Dungeon work into contracts for full books. Nonetheless, the influences of "The Silver Key" can still be traced back to Zuvich's Dungeon writing: his second Dungeon adventure, "The Siege of Kratys Freehold" in Dungeon #33 (January/February 1992), was about an orc assault — demonstrating that the low-levels humanoids had long been an interest for Zuvich.
Though "The Silver Key" was Zuvich's only mass-market D&D book, his Dungeon adventures were clearly influential and remain so decades later. In "Split the Party … Wisely" in Dungeon #177 (April 2010), Mike Mearls wrote a fire-based skill challenge set in Fallcrest … that was based on "A Hot Dey in L'Trel", that adventure Zuvich proposed almost 25 years earlier!
Adventure Tropes. "The Silver Key" is a simple MacGuffin hunt: recover the silver key. The story-focused adventure features a timeline of events, but the encounters themselves are often complex enough to allow some agency. With that said, "The Silver Key" supports a few interesting tropes that make it an innovative adventure:
Become the Enemy. The characters are turned into orcs for the duration of the adventure; unlike some classic adventures that use this trope, this is an option offered to them (albeit, one they must take to continue the adventure).
Infiltrate the Enemy City. It turns out that it's a lot easier to infiltrate an enemy city (a popular trope of the '90s) if you're polymorphed into the enemy!
City Tropes: Flow Charts. "The Silver Key" is also one of several adventures that uses a flow chart to allow exploration of a city. This minimalistic method was probably very helpful for fitting a whole city into a 32-page adventure.
Expanding D&D. The author wanted to allow PCs to be polymorphed into orcs and to literally become orcs if they acted too orcish. It's a nice roleplaying conceit, backed by actual mechanics in the form of "orc points". And it's not at all how the polymorph spell works. So how do you explain the difference? YOu just say that the wand that's used "has a few effects that are slightly different than a normal wand [of polymorphing]" and continue merrily on.
Exploring Generic Lands "The Silver Key" details Honshar and the near-by orc city of Krma-Hai, but it's a generic adventure, set in no land. Unlike many of the other generic adventures of the time-period, it was never tied together with other scenarios, nor was it part of a micro-setting.
However, it seems likely that author Zuvich intended "The Silver Key" to be part of his "Volkrad" campaign, since both the Volkrad adventures from Dungeon magazine and "The Silver Key" are said to take place in a world poor in magic items. If a GM wishes to gather together all the Volkrad adventures to use with "The Silver Key", they are: "Courier Service" in Dungeon #27 (January/February 1991), "The Siege of Kratys Freehold" in Dungeon #33 (January/February 1992), "Old Man Katan and the Incredible, Edible, Dancing Mushroom Band" in Dungeon #41 (May/June 1993), "A Hot Day in L'Trel" in Dungeon #44 (November/December 1993), "The Vaka's Curse" in Dungeon #50 (November/December 1994), and "Caveat Emptor" in Dungeon #58 (March/April 1996). Unfortunately, there are no points of correlation between the maps of Volkrad in Dungeon #27 and of Honshar in "The Silver Key" maps to prove this supposition.
Artifacts of Note: The Silver Key. The eponymous silver key is also called the ca'ega, a magic item that opens gates. It's surely named after the Silver Key from H.P. Lovecraft's Dreamlands fiction, including the equally eponymous "The Silver Key" (1926); Lovecraft's key was also a gate object: it allowed his protagonists to travel to the Dreamlands.
Monsters of Note: Orcs. The big baddies of this adventure are of course orcs. Not only is there a whole city of them, but also a whole set of rules for acting like them.
And how do you make orcs worthy adversaries for characters up to level 8? "The Silver Key" quietly gives some of them class levels, something that wasn't really a thing in AD&D days — but which had been technically possible since PHBR10: The Complete Book of Humanoids (1993).
About the Creators. Zuvich also co-authored the "Savage Coast Monstrous Compendium Appendix" (1996), but since it appeared online, "The Silver Key" remains his only mass-market TSR book.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to email@example.com.