L1: The Secret of Bone Hill and how TSR spent its $ in 1981

AD&D Modules Bill Willingham Erol Otus TSR

Today I’m going to take a look at the TSR module L1 The Secret of Bone Hill. I once had an opportunity to meet writer Lenard Lakofka for breakfast and discussed a bit of his Lendore Isles series [those being all his L modules] which was pretty entertaining over coffee.

He confided in me that TSR had paid him and astounding $11,000 for the The Secret of Bone Hill, a module that didn’t go over well with the editors and was a struggle to even put out. Still, whatever the problems in production, I think it just showed how INSANE TSR was in late 1981! I mean, $11K to write maybe 10,000 words!? That’s over a $1 a word, which is so ludicrous I can’t even comprehend that in today’s market. I mean to put it into perspective, the going ‘pro’ rate is roughly 5 cents a word, and someone as ‘hot’ and marketable as Brandon Sanderson only gets an astounding 25 cents a word, but in 1981 Len Lokofka pulled this kind of change from Gygax and TSR! I mean, Len’s L4 Devilspawn came out a few years ago on Dragonsfoot for FREE! That right there should be the most telling thing about this pay scale and what module writing translates to in the 2000s.

But anyway, back to the artwork.

Simply put, it stinks. Now, the Bill Willingham cover is outstanding, the Erol Otus back cover a stretch, and Willingham does another interior that I really like, but other than that this module is a no show in the art department. I’m not sure how this happened considering the amount of great ‘First Four’ art you find in every other module from 1981, but for some reason the art department just kind of let this one slide. You get the bare minimum of artistic face time and then have to go it alone, even Roslof’s work below his standard.

Still, Willingham’s cover is one of his finest in my opinion, and both the cleavage and the Scarlet Witch homage make me smile every time I lay eyes on it. We also get to see the only wizard duel ever put on a ‘First Four’ module cover, and having someone’s bones light up like a Christmas Tree is a great touch.

So, there is that, and as stated it has a passable Otus, but I’m going to have to give this module a thumbs down for art even if the writing is very solid for a low level adventure and I would recommend it for a beginning DM.

Artistic Rating: 2.5 [out of 5]

Older Post Newer Post

  • Scott on

    Steve: Interesting. I have no problem at all with the adventure and actually like it a lot, but yes, there are a lot of strange things concerning it, and L2 The Assassin’s Knot is even stranger!

  • Steve on

    Hey Scott – according to Heroic Worlds by Lawrence Schick, Otus did not care for the product so he purposefully goofed up the back cover (putting tiny wings on the otherwise ferocious beastie). The product itself always seemed fine to me, but everything I head about it “behind the scenes” is just… Weird.

  • Scott on

    Todd: It sounded to me like they got way too rich way too fast and had no clue what they should have been doing with the money [I.E. not fleet cars, Hollywood, and GenCon at the Playboy club]

  • Todd Lockwood on

    It sounds to me like they blew the art budget before they got to the art.

Leave a comment