Something evil is stalking the parish of Barlox.
Ten years ago, the village's temple burned to the ground and the parish priest disappeared. The temple has since been rebuilt, but life has not returned to normal. A current of fear and discontent now ripples beneath the surface of this once sleepy wine-making community. Old rivalries have turned bitter, and unwittingly unleashed a force of ancient corruption.
"Cleric's Challenge II" is a special One-to-One Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure designed for a Dungeon Master and one player character cleric of 4th to 6th level. It is the eighth in a series of independent adventures focusing on an individual character of a specific class.
HHQ8: "Cleric's Challenge II" (1994), by Paul F. Culotta, was the eighth in a series of "Head-to-Head Quests" for AD&D. It was published in December 1995.
Ending the One-on-One Adventures. TSR started their one-one-one adventures for 2e in 1992 with "HHQ1: Fighter's Challenge" (1992); each adventure in the series supported one GM and one player. Over the next two years, TSR went through the other main classes - wizard, thief, and cleric - publishing a "Challenge" for characters of levels 1-3 of each class. Each adventure in the series was also set in a generic world, so that it could be used in any campaign where a character of the appropriate class needed a bit of a level-up.
Then in 1994, TSR started a new sequence with HHQ5: "Fighter's Challenge II." Though this new, second series of adventures didn't actually carry the "HHQ" code, they were a clear continuation of the "Challenge" series (and were retroactively recognized as such). The main change in the newer adventures was that they were all written for slightly higher-level characters, levels 4-6. "Cleric's Challenge II" fits clearly into this second sequence of adventures.
It would have been easy enough for TSR to continue after "Cleric's Challenge II" with a third sequence of "Challenge" adventures that covered levels 7-9, but they opted not to. Instead, the idea of one-one-one GM and player adventures came to an end, and for good or ill it has never been revived by TSR or (later) Wizards of the Coast. Fortunately, though, the OGL allowed other publishers to create one-on-one adventures. In the modern day, the torch has been best carried by Expeditious Retreat Press, who published a series of sixteen "1-on-1 adventures" (2006-11), first for d20 and later for Pathfinder.
Ironically, TSR was finishing their class (and race) based "PHBR" series (1989-95) around the same time. They would, however, return to the idea of class-related supplements with a series of three guild books: Den of Thieves (1996), College of Wizardry (1998), and Bastion of Faith (1999).
Adapting for Cleric Play. "Cleric's Challenge II" is written specifically for a cleric, but he has to be a very specific cleric. As the adventure explains, "The PC should have access to the spell spheres of healing and combat and be able to turn undead."
Overall, the theming of the adventure for a cleric is fairly strong: there's a burned-down temple, an NPC cleric who needs help, and plenty of undead - everything that an adventuring cleric could possible want! The module also focuses more heavily on roleplaying than on combat.
A Realistic Setting. Most of the "Challenge" adventures are made for low-fantasy settings that feel more realistic and "medieval" than was common for AD&D, even in the 2e era. That's particularly true for "Cleric's Challenge," which centers on a winery.
Adventure Elements for the 90s. "Cleric's Challenge II" uses the same formula of all the "Challenge" adventures: It starts with a well-detailed town (Barlox) and then spins out the adventure from there. As was common with TSR adventures of the era, the adventure contains considerable backstory and also has lots of events that push the story along. Though the adventure does end with a bit of exploration, that aspect is pretty minimal and certainly not a dungeon such as you would most likely have seen in the 70s or 80s.
Player Handouts. Player handouts that feature textual clues for players are common in Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu RPG (1981), but they don't show up very often in other games - and especially not in games outside of the horror/mystery genre. Meanwhile, TSR offered pictorial handouts as early as S1: "Tomb of Horror" (1978), but rarely went down the textual route. "Cleric's Challenge II" is a rare exception: a set of three text handouts help the player to solve the mysteries of the adventure.
About the Creators. Though Culotta was an occasional writer for Dragon and Dungeon, "Cleric's Challenge II" is his only full-length gaming book. He also contributed to a few other TSR releases around the same time.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.