Our Real Life Adventures series takes a look at unique sights, interesting places, and curious landmarks in that most fabulous of realms . . . the real world! Whether they be tours of spots directly related to gaming’s rich history, or places that are just flat out amazing or weird, our Real Life Adventures can serve as inspiration for your own tabletop gaming — be sure to check out the other articles in this series for more!
Real Life Adventures: My Visit to Quasqueton, Iowa
by Tim Wadzinski
Ever since my grandmother bought me a copy of the Basic D&D module B1: In Search of the Unknown back around 1982, I’ve wondered where the name for the dungeon complex—the Caverns of Quasqueton—came from, and how it is pronounced. It’s such a cool and mysterious word. I’m sure many other gamers have had the same questions, since B1 is a seminal module that at one time came packaged with an early D&D boxed set.
While working with Chris Doyle on the Goodman Games conversion of this classic TSR adventure for Original Adventures Reincarnated #1: Into the Borderlands, I became aware the dungeon was titled after a real-life small town in Iowa. B1: In Search of the Unknown author Mike Carr apparently may have driven through the town on his way down from Minnesota to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the name stuck with him, as he then used it in the adventure. See Fred Love’s excellent recap at ENWorld for more on this great story, where he also explains “Quasqueton” is a Native American term meaning “swift, running water.”
In January of this year my family trekked out from the Chicago suburbs to Cedar Rapids on a college visit for my daughter. I remembered Quasqueton was also in Iowa, checked the maps, and upon realizing it was less than 40 minutes north of where we’d be, I made plans to drive through and snap a picture of my copy of OAR #1 next to the town sign. (I did this before at the U.S./Canada border: click here to see a brief report of that excursion.) I was also hoping to find someone there who could tell me how to correctly pronounce the word. (Turns out there are two camps.)
Since I’ve had my beat-up copy of B1: In Search of the Unknown for over 40 years, I was quite excited to finally visit Quasqueton for real. As a result, I totally had gaming on the brain all throughout the college tour. It started when I consulted the oracle . . . er . . . I mean, looked at Google Maps to find a restaurant near our hotel and found a Dragon’s Lair nearby! (Actually a laser tag complex, but let me have my fun!) We then passed the Crab Attack Cajun Seafood Shack on the way to the campus and, naturally, I immediately thought of the giant crab encounter in the AD&D module S2: White Plume Mountain.
We checked in and tromped across campus to our first building which, of course, had a giant globe worthy of a sage’s library and an origami (?) display chock full of polyhedrals.
Another building had a giant d20 as part of a logo on a wall. Dice everywhere!
I swear this street sign said “CAVE”–so I was really rarin’ to get to Quasqueton.
Once the college visit ended, we headed north in search of the unknown. It was a quiet ride through beautiful, snow-capped forests and farmlands. About 30 minutes in, we saw this and I was hard-pressed to not spray paint “THE KEEP” on that upper sign. (Kidding.)
I was hoping to find a “Welcome to Quasqueton” sign right next to the road, but of course, it was not quite that easy. We had to park at the shoulder, carefully make our way down a rather steep, snow-covered embankment, trudge through 3 or 4 inches of crunchy snow, and then hop a barbed-wire fence to get close to the sign. (I believe my daughter has video evidence of me making my Dexterity check to vault that fence, but that shall remain private.)
Proceeding into the city—and going right past the nearest tavern, naturally—I decided I needed to get myself a Quasqueton T-shirt, or a can koozie, or something tangible to prove I’d made it. I also still needed to figure out how to pronounce the word. We stopped at a mini-mart and the cheery woman behind the counter smiled and informed me the town’s name is pronounced “kwa-SKWEE-ton,” but that everyone just says “Quasky.”
Sadly there were no souvenir items available, but she told me to call the Historical Society–which was located just up the road, but closed–as someone might come down and open the building for us. I was reluctant to bother anyone on their Saturday afternoon off, but my wife convinced me to give it a try. After all, we may never get back to ol’ Quasky, right?
The President of the Quasqueton Area Historical Society (facebook link), an enthusiastic woman named Corinne Love, answered the phone and immediately drove right over to open the museum’s main building, which is located at a scenic spot on the Wapsipinicon River. That’s small-town America for you!
We thanked her profusely and she ushered us in for a quick look around. There was a nifty model of the town done in miniature, but what really caught our eye was what appeared to be… a secret room. Ms. Love explained this part of the building used to be a bank and that the room was the old vault. I broke out in a mile-wide grin at the sight of an actual vault within Quasqueton! My inner 12-year-old was ecstatic.
We continued chatting with Ms. Love, and I showed her my old, worn copy of B1. She was fascinated and took a few notes. I wonder if we’ll soon see an exhibit on D&D, Mike Carr, and module B1 at the museum? Then in a fun coincidence, we learned the author of the ENWorld article that led me here is also her son.
She had some T-shirts and bottle koozies for sale—hooray!—and we also picked up a neat little Christmas tree ornament. (The ornament looks like a magic item, perhaps an amulet or a medallion, so I can now truthfully say I have treasure from the vault in Quasqueston!)
Oh, and on a whim, just to double check, I asked how her how to pronounce the word. She said “KWA-skweh-ton.” As I said, two camps. Better stick with “Quasky,” I guess.