Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Lost Caverns of Tsjoconth, Part 3: In the Woods We Go

While it would be easy to simply move on to the actual cavers as the original module does not contain any wilderness encounters it would be a disservice to the sequel if we didn’t look into how it handled those badlands.

Random and Encounters

Unlike a lot of the more modern modules that I have encountered the sequel does not just give you a listing of possible enemies but rather encourages you to mix things up so that it becomes a more interesting encounter:
“. . . There are six numbered areas, shown on both the DM's and the players' wilderness maps. No specific encounters are given for these six areas. The DM should choose an appropriate encounter for each area, using the WILDERNESS ENCOUNTERS CHART in this module. The creatures chosen for the numbered areas should be encountered only once. Do not choose numbers 1-6 simply because the encounter areas are numbered 1-6. For example, 1 could be the stone giants or the wolfwere; 2 could be the wyverns or the hermit; the tribesmen or the dragon could be at 3, etc . . .” (sequel, pg. 4)

I like the way that things are a bit looser in this section of the module as compared to a more modern module, such as Expedition to Castle Greyhawk; but that isn’t to say that everything is perfect here. While you are able to have random encounters the six numbered areas are set encounters where your players are required to have an encounter. Or as the module puts it:

“. . . Encounters in the wilderness will not occur randomly. The party will have encounters at specific points when travelling along the trails. These encounter sites are marked as heavy dots on the DM's map. If the party camps in a hex adjacent to a dot, the DM may decide to give the party a night encounter. Daytime encounters occur whenever the party stops in or passes through a hex with a dot . . .” (sequel, pg. 4)
Yet all the same Gary Gygax has done a remarkable job of encouraging you to stray from the script and expand the game beyond the restrictive boundaries initially described in the module.
“. . . The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth is a module with a great deal of potential, one that can take many sessions to finish. DMs should consider stressing this to their players, because it is possible to have an enjoyable adventure before the caverns are even reached. The wilderness section includes a wide variety of possible encounters.

Some of these can become the basis of several adventures. The gnomes, dwarves, elves, and mountain tribesmen are fully described, and these entries can be used to create communities of mountain dwellers. A sample lair map, usable for the gnomes, has been included, should the DM want to fully develop this community. Befriending one of these communities could be of great value in providing the party with healing, information, or help against bands of raiders. However, gaining the trust of one of these communities usually requires that the party fights against their enemies.

An encounter with a military patrol could be a challenge to the party. A friendly patrol could tell the party how many "dangerous areas" (variable encounter sites) are on the trail ahead, but not the exact locations. Winning the trust of a patrol is very difficult, however, for it is their mission to be suspicious of all armed travellers.

A third possibility is the Craggy Dells. If the party succeeds in defeating the brigands there, they could find (at the DMs option) information that will lead them to the persons buying hippogriffs from the bandits . . .” (sequel, pg. 4)
While these possible encounters described by Gary Gygax could easily be used to fluff up the adventure into a larger and more expansive adventure they could also lead to an expanded campaign where the players make enemies and alliances on the boarder that carry over into their return trip to Bissel.

Looking at this adventure so many years after its publication I find it remarkable how often Gary Gygax is able to provide you with additional adventures, hooks, and campaigns without so much as even wasting half a page in doing so.

Absolutely remarkable.

The Hermit

One of the possible wilderness encounters that your players can become involved in ties back to the original module. If they’re lucky enough to encounter the Hermit and they act like human beings toward him – instead of the murder monkeys they’re likely as not portraying at this point in the adventure – then they can actually be gifted with a single journal page from a solitary survivor of a doomed expedition into the caverns.
“. . . The small cave was the secret, for in back, hidden by (here the text is blurred beyond any reading)... and we descended. There was no certain path, so we (smudged)... and this is told of above, for it is where Yaim and Brelid met their end. Our persistence paid. The right way was beyond and narrow, so (writing covered with dark stain)... -earn lies straight pas(more stains)... -pe the span swiftly to plunge to doom where the wat- (here smudges and stains obliterate several lines) ... They were right. It is more dismal here than above. Only the two of us su- (blotch) ... We pray that the lucky (smudge) is true, for we are now going to attempt entry fo- (large rusty smears have wiped out the next words) ... of no help. I managed to escape. Why did we (here the remaining few words are smeared and unreadable, save for the last word) ... beautiful . . .” (sequel, pg. 7)
This journal extract is actually an expanded version of the original text our adventures had entering into the Caverns, which read:
“The right way is narrow . . . (words obliterated) . . . eam lies the straight pas . . . (more smudged writing) . . . pe the span swiftly of plunge to doom where the wat . . .” (original, pg. 2)
By comparing the two it’s easily apparent that Gygax had grown in his ability, not only as a writer, but as an adventure designer. The original is so sparse in details and discernable information that it’s practically useless for inspiring our imaginations and driving us into the dungeon. Yet the sequel has enough to make you long to enter into those damnable Caverns.

The Gnome Valley and Craggy Dells

There are two more designated wilderness encounters in this adventure that are given the letters A and B to denote their occurrence. A is the Gnome Valley which can easily be a great place for your party to resupply and rest or a death trap if you’re playing with a bunch of savages ass-hats. B, the Craggy Dells, is the sort of encounter that I wouldn’t be able to walk away from as a player. It hits every single one of my buttons and makes me want to savage every last motherless bastard involved.

In the next installment we’ll be entering the caverns properly. Hope to see you there.

Works Cited
 Gygax, Gary  The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth. MDG, USA: 1976. pg. 2

Gygax, Gary S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsjocanth. TSR Hobbies, Inc. USA: 1982. pg. 4, 7.


  1. Great review. I Since I read the linked adventure WG4 Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun before ever reading S4, I always had an appreciation for the gnomes. While they are detailed in the individual S4, the supermodule compilation, S1-4 Realms of Horror, omits a most details on the gnomes other than the map.

  2. By the by, I happened across the following in EGG's final Q&A thread on ENWorld that you might find of interest:

    "Just a typo there. My original spelling was Tsojcanth, a name I made up to sound exotic even in the WoG context."

  3. The whole "illegal hippogriff dealers" thing always struck me as really odd. Why are the renegades doing this - are they renegades because they're raising hippogriffs, or is that just coincidental? What's the problem with rich folks buying hippogriffs? And there is a problem with that, why is it okay for the PCs to rescue hippogriffs and then keep them (or sell them!)

    It's just weirdly unexplained to me. I can think of reasons, but not ones that also allow for the PCs to just keep hippogriffs they find without taxes, licenses, titles, etc. or that really explain the renegades.

    1. I have no idea how to give you an answer to this question Peter, but I'm looking for one.