Wednesday, 29 January 2020

The Caves of Chaos - complete map

Here we are at the end of our journey through the Caves of Chaos.

Here's a link to a large version of the map. I'm very pleased at how it turned out.

I've had great time blogging again this last 12 days - and I managed to post every day. Here are all the individual lair maps:

A: Kobold Lair
B: Orc Lair #1
C: Orc Lair #2
D: Goblin Lair
E: Ogre Lair
F: Hobgoblin Lair
G: The Shunned Lair
H: Bugbear Lair
I: Caves of the Minotaur
J: Gnoll Lair
K: Shrine of Evil Chaos

I have generated a to-do list of things I want to fix:

- Add in the slopes described in the module but omitted from the map
- Mark which of the alcoves are fireplaces (as specified in, and inferred from, the text) - especially for #9.
- Add text near the entrance to K
- Remove the screen from #59
- Fix the width of the wide corridor top left where it gets narrowed
- Add C for Gelatinous Cube in the two alcoves (all fixes for The Shrine)
- Enlarge the obviously too-small #38
- Join the dead ends in the Goblin Lair with collapsed tunnels

That's two fixes for the map which were apparently lost when they created the map for the original module, two fixes for how I've presented the map, three minor map-improvements and one encounter change. I think it's acceptable to have a couple of minor tweaks that are my own whilst still presenting it as "The" Caves of Chaos rather than "My" Caves of Chaos.

I'm musing over what to tackle next - a review of Gunderholfen or Old School Essentials, redraw the Caves with the fixes, do one of the other B2 maps (the ravine/the wilderness/the keep), complete & publish my redone key for the caves, my look-up tables for on-the-fly extra details, draw a publishable version of my own multi-level Castle Blood dungeon (with all it's complex inter-level connections), or do a map of the fascinating local former Medieval Priests College which I now have a personal attachment to!

Whatever it is, let's not leave it three years until the next post this time...

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

K: The Shrine of Evil Chaos

I love this name. Why does it sound so odd, and the word "Evil" so redundant, when we are all so willing to let "Chaotic Evil" pass without comment?

Anyway, day 11 and our final lair:

This lair is the largest lair, and occupies the entire west section of the map, but only connects to one other - the Gnolls at J - which it almost entwines. It also abut the Hobgoblins (F), and enfolds parts of The Shunned Lair (G) and the Minotaur (I), which makes it (like J) more tricky to spot as a separate lair on the map.

Note that the entrance here, like with the Gnolls and the Bugbears, has a passage directly infront of it - but at a lower level. I think this shows that Gary put a reasonable amount of thought into drawing this map to make it consistent. I'd love to see the original to see how much it was changed by whoever drew the published version (uncredited).

I'd like to fix the wideness of the large corridor when it goes narrower when it's a diagonal - I've done this for other diagonal corridors on the map. This is a common problem on maps drawn on squared paper - but all you need is to make them 50% wider and it works. This needs planning as it would encroach upon the lair of the Minotaur.

On this map in particular I think that the simple traditional "S" for a secret door is much clearer and thus suitable for play than the version on Dyson's map. Similarly I've just drawn boulders filling the corridor which is simple but I think effective.

I've omitted the shape on the west wall in the Shrine - to me it confused the map and it's just supposed to indicate that the wall is made of a special stone. Like the original I've not drawn in the pews on the south wall - in general furniture is omitted - but this means the resultant offset of the shrine remains unexplained.

I have drawn the screen hiding the secret door in #59 though, and I think this is a mistake and I'll remove it.

I think the lair would have benefited from a hidden connection to another lair, but a less contentious change is to give it a more portentous opening. The text describes the "worn path through the copse of obscenely twisted and oddly bloated trees" but this is not marked on the map. I should add some notes to the map for the entrance marking the sense of lurking evil, deathly still corridor, faint groaning, shrill piping, and the black/red stonework. I like the various different types of cavern entrances illustrated in The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia, and might upgrade the entrance to something like the elaborate carved Archway illustrated there on page 41.

My players got the sense of foreboding and knew to be careful here so handled the Wight (oil + flaming torch) and Medusa (using a mirror) well. The Medusa encounter has a bad rep - but note that she has a vial with which she will bargain (in bad faith) to turn people from stone to flesh - so uncautious & unlucky adventurers have a way out. The amulets of protection from turning on the other hand do seem to me to be a poor feature - it's similar to how he filled the Tomb of Horrors with "secret doors only detectable by magic" - like he regretted allowing things in the rules. For a starter adventure he should have confidence in the rules and just presented the undead as is - so I think I would limit the amulets to the undead guard patrol (to make them more special), and I'd make it clearer that there is one group of guards which as a DM you could track. For example, they could patrol the corridor slowly starting at a random position in a random direction.

As I've said before I prefer oddities on a map to have a reason, and there are two odd 10' square alcoves on the map. I'd turn this into a way of improving the otherwise potentially inexplicable gelatinous cube at #63 (where did it come from?). I'd say it it would be lying in wait at one of the two alcoves at random, and when it sensed movement (the players) it would move randomly to (roll d6):
1. outside #64
2. bottom of stairs
3. outside #60
4. outside #62
5. outside #63
6. simply moves to the other alcove
After an hour it would simply return to the other alcove.

Thus we come to the end of the last lair. Tomorrow I'll give the combined Caves of Chaos map.

Monday, 27 January 2020

J: Gnoll Lair

Nearing the end of The Caves of Chaos: Day Ten - the Gnoll Lair
The Gnoll Lair has a problematic map. As part of the greater Caves I could never spot which bit was the Gnoll Lair, but splitting it out has fixed this. Now I can see clearly it's a snaking cave system which is sadly almost linear in nature. As discussed before, there should be a slope every time a cave crosses an above-ground contour, so that means there should be a slope down along the unknown passageway. It could be nicer for the slope to be either side of the corridor outside room #49, which would make it slightly less odd that there's no connection between the entrance and the lower corridor - but I'll probably stick with a slope in the passageway.

I don't know why neither the Natural Cave nor the Unknown Passageway get their own entry number in the key and have to share with another room - very odd - but it's reasonably clear when you add the description of the features onto the map.

The entrance doesn't stand out on the map usually, so adding the labels such as "Gnoll Lair" make it stand out more, especially on the combined map. I used a digital shaded fill - I could easily have shaded it manually but getting it scanned right would be tricky.

I used grey for the fill - I could have used different colours for the different entrances or colours to indicate lit areas. I'm still not sure about the use of colours - in general I prefer it sparingly if at all for a dungeon map. I've used blue for the water, and I may use red when I add the fireplaces.

Finally tomorrow we'll head into the Shrine of Evil Chaos.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

I: Caves of the Minotaur

Have you got your string? Let's enter the labyrinth...

It's day nine and I nearly didn't manage to complete today's post - my group was in the East Wing of Castle Amber having too much fun. One is currently possessed by Princess Catherine, one has been temporarily Feebleminded by picking an unfortunate Tarot Card, and one has been turned into a dog by reading a cursed scroll!

Fortunately there's not much to say about this lair. It was rather complicated to redraw with any degree of fidelity, so I printed out the original to the correct scale and traced it. I might redraw the secret door so it's a slab of stone hiding the alcove. I need to work out where to put in some slopes.

The module says "This labyrinth. houses a number of nasty things, but the worst is a fiendishly clever minotaur who abides herein". I'm not convinced by this - a reasonable sized party should easily be able to take on a single 6 HD monster, whereas the 13 Stirges look highly dangerous. When we ran this adventure I was writing up my notes (Stryal was the name I gave to the Evil priest from the keep), so we'll finish today with that account:
With Curufin healed the party of eight (plus pony) set out early next morning for The Caves of Chaos. Stryal says the best treasure is to be found in a cave at the far end of the ravine, and they creep past the Kobold cave, then through the trees. A foul smelling cave entrance is found, hidden in the trees, which Tuck thinks might be an animal cave. Beyond is the chosen cave, and Shadow takes the shuttered lantern and creeps inside, but immediately runs back out again, suggesting they should instead all go in, probing ahead for traps. It is a natural cave, not worked tunnels like the Kobold lair. Everyone feels slightly dizzy, and Turgon cannot seem to draw his map properly. They take the left tunnel, but half the group is worried and wants to leave. Instead they try the right tunnel, and ahead is a sound of squeaking and hooting – Shadow listens hard and can hear the sound of birds wings.Fearing vampire bats the party retreats and tries the left corridor again – a couple of right turns leads past the squeaks and back to the entrance. Tuck suggests turning left every time to avoid getting lost, and after a couple of turns the corridor widens into a cavern. Stepping inside a fearsome beast charges at them – no, not a beast, a human – no a human body with the head of a bull. The roaring Minotaur catches them with surprise and throws a spear at Baloth then rushes forward and bites him with his jaws. Turgon and Tuck rush to meet the onslaught and Foddy joins the fray, whilst Shadow fires arrows and Bullroarer slings stones at the beast. Curufin blasts the beast with a magic missile, but then cries out and clutches at his eyes, suddenly struck with blindness. The adventurers battle fiercely, but Baloth is gored and drops to the ground. Stryal is nowhere to be seen, but the sound of him running away echoes through the cavern. The monster is hit again and again, with Foddy striking the best blows, but the Minotaur injures Foddy once, twice, and then he too lies unconscious on the floor. Retreat would mean leaving Foddy or Baloth to certain death, so our heroes fight on. How much more can the Minotaur take? The teeth and horns turn their hatred on Turgon, but Tuck strikes a fierce blow with his Mace and the Minotaur drops dead.The victory is hard won – four are unhurt, but two lie wounded, and one is blind. The Minotaur’s spear is taken, then the cavern searched – a boulder obviously covers a recess in the wall, but it is Shadow who finds the right place to apply strength to move it. With the help of all the boulder is moved, and beyond is the secreted treasure of the Minotaur taken from its previous victims. A staff, a casket, two chests and a suit of armour – not all can be carried away together with dragging the wounded. The armour and the heavier chest are hidden again behind the boulder and the party struggle back to the entrance. The magical confusion enchantment has been broken with the death of the beast-man.

Seems like the Minotaur proved tough! Tomorrow is the penultimate lair, the Gnolls.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

H: Bugbear Lair

Welcome to the lair of the Bugbears:

It's day eight of the Caves of Chaos, and what a friendly greeting awaits us.

I like the layout of this lair - it's on three levels, with slopes and stairs. There are many directions to explore - far better in this respect than the lair of the Gnolls for example. I like the fact that the slave pens are located on the lower level - there's some logic to the layout here. These slave pens are infamous for my players as this is where they rescued Torg.

Torg was first spotted being led in chains by the bugbears into their lair along. They ventured into the cave and rescued him - the burly human imprisoned with the Hobgoblins, Gnolls and rebel Bugbear in #41. They also freed the prisoners from #40 - Ryat and Sharl (two humans), Forgack (a dwarf), Ellan and Elland (two elves). Back at the keep there was joy at the return of the prisoners, but in the morning Ryat and Sharl were found dead and Torg was missing.

The next time the party arrived at the Caves they got ambushed by the Gnolls, led by Torg who had come to the caves in the first place to work for the Gnolls who wanted him to help defeat the adventurers. They defeated the Gnolls, and Torg was taken as a prionser back to the keep and handed over to Castellan Narik. Unfortunately Torg is in league with Narik's lieutenant, who killed the jailor and the pair escape.

Torg later re-appeared as one of the Slavers in A4, where he got his just deserts - he was shot on the boat at the end and fell into the water. Unfortunately he was turned by some aquatic ghouls, who then led night raids upon the port of Specularum, until the players killed him for the second time. They really hated him by this point!

This lair in particular suffers from wide corridors but small rooms. #38 in particular looks very small for a common room - it is smaller than the slave pens. I think I may enlarge #38 slightly while keeping it the same shape - there is space on the map for this.

Next up is the Minotaur, so remember to bring some string.

Friday, 24 January 2020

G: The Shunned Lair

Day Seven: Shun not the cavern, yet proceed carefully.

This cavern stinks - so I'm in a quandary as to whether smells and light sources should be marked on these maps. They can make it very cluttered, but on the other hand they can prove useful. The old Judges Guild dungeon maps made great use of sounds marked on the maps - as per this one here.

When we played Keep on the Borderlands, this lair made mapping unenjoyable. It looked very simple on the map, but describing it to the players was rather tricky and unsatisfying - it distracted us from the atmosphere of playing the actual game. For the Minotaur it went one step further, since I had to give incorrect descriptions to the players to simulate the confusion. This module was my first time DMing in 15 years, and trying to solve this problem over the next year or so lead me to my favoured solution - tracing maps for the players.

Next up is the Bugbear lair - the home of our group's most memorable NPC!

Thursday, 23 January 2020

F: Hobgoblin Lair

Day Six and it's the turn of the Hobgoblins:

Drawing this map I was struck by the odd long winding corridor joining #23 to the rest of the Hobgoblin lair, and I'd prefer it to make a feature of it instead of it just being odd.
Then I noticed that there are two sets of stairs leading up from the Goblin lair at the east end, but only one at the western end. Hence it would make a nice feature for #23 to be higher than the rest of the Hobgoblin lair, and make the corridor to 23 slope upwards.
The text says that "corridors slope upwards and downwards between the contours, even when stairways are not shown". I always took this to mean that the corridors slope up and down in a random fashion, but by referring to "between the contours" it's clear that it means that it's no accident that there's often stairs when you cross contours - it's supposed to be tiered in this fashion. So, roughly speaking, there's supposed to be slopes whenever you cross a contour. I'd never noticed but that is indeed where the stairs and slopes generally are (10 are on or just next to contours - only one isn't).

So I'm going to mark slopes on and say all caves are actually level except where slopes/stairs are marked. The stairs are roughly 1 in 1 and go up 25 feet in 20 feet. (One in the bottom right is only one square, one in the middle bottom is 3 squares and I'll assume they're the same steepness). The slopes are generally 30 foot long, and going up more than half this would be incredibly steep, so I say 30' slope = 10' steps.

To make it all match up then, you need something like the following:
- a slope in the corridor going up to #23
- a slope in the corridor going down west of #13
- two slopes between the entrance to I  and #36. It's tricky to place these, so I might put a lot of 10' slopes here.
- a slope going down in the secret corridor north of #50

I'm quite surprised that by doing this I've solved the mystery (or at least mystery to me) of the mention of fireplaces and sloping corridors in the text!

This is the halfway stage - just five more lairs to go now. The next Cave of Chaos is The Shunned Cavern.