Monday, January 20, 2014

The Lost Caverns of the Tsojconth, Part 2: Getting to the Adventure

Once we’re through the introduction for the module we come to a major deviation between the two versions: how we came to exploring the caverns.

Getting to the Adventure
You are a member of a group of six adventurers, met by chance some weeks past. Each was seeking the Caverns, each possessed a fragment of information regarding them. Together you have compiled what seems an accurate set of direction to the entrance of these caverns, and you are certain that the Archmange has filled them with fierce creatures to prevent trespassers from gaining their goal. A fragment of parchment you have states: “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 . . .”

Your information indicates that the caverns are on two levels, and that the way to the deeper section can only be gained by a chosen few, for the lacale is strange in yet another fashion. The Caverns of Tsojconth are a nexus in probability, where several alternate worlds touch. Each of you is aware that numerous parties such as yours, each containing six alternate persons like each of you, will be entering that part of the Caverns which manifest itself in their respective worlds. As each group adventures through the upper caverns one of their number will gain a certain aura, and he or she alone will be able to enter the lower level, while the rest will have to turn back (For tournament use only). The chosen from each party will meet – possibly with one or more of their alter egos – when the descent to the lower caverns is made. It is important to get as close to each other as possible to the way down, for the shift by the nexus will throw together those individuals who are relatively close to each other in location in their respective caverns. Those who have not located the way to the lower level prior to the shift will not have certain information.

Aura will be gained by ability – to reason cleverly, to lead, to defeat opponents, to avoid damage or death, to find valuable treasure, to co-operate with your fellows. The gods are watching. Good hunting! (original version, pg. 2)
The prominent parts of this set-up are as follows: (1.) each member of the party possessed a fragment that lead the entire group to the Caverns; (2.) the parchment fragment appears to identify a dangerous environment; (3.) there are only two levels to the caverns; (4.) the caverns are a nexus point where different realities can interact with one and another; (5.) there are multiple versions of your characters running about the caverns; (6.) the final party may have multiple versions of your character in it; (7.) if you don't move quickly enough you may be pulled to the final battle without learning all of the necessary information.

Let’s compare this with the sequel:
Your party has been gathered by agents of the Margrave of the March of Bissel. He tells you that there are "political considerations," which he does not explain, that prevent him from searching for lggwilv's trove himself. However, it is vital that the treasure not fall into the hands of his enemies. Your party's goal is to get the treasure before Bissel's enemies do. The Margrave has provided you with horses and a map showing the most probable location of the Lost Caverns. The Margrave will also give you an escort from Thornwood to a narrow trail leading from the easternmost arm of the Bramblewood Forest northward into the Yatil Mountains-the very heart of lggwilv's old domain. You have pledged to repay the Margrave for your horses, as well as any other equipment he provided, out of the monetary treasure obtained. You will also be required to pay a treasure tax of 15% on all money taken. He tells you that the remainder, as well as any magical items taken, are your reward for undertaking this perilous quest. However, you are warned under threat of dire punishment not to allow any magical items to fall into evil hands.

An examination of your map reveals that the track through the mountains has numerous branches. At the end of each track is a number, evidently standing for something unknown. The agents of the Margrave cannot tell you anything about their significance, except that it is likely that at one of the sites are the caverns you seek. Obviously, the map is incomplete, for from what you know of this part of the world, there are mountains where nothing but blank space is shown on the chart. With this map you must somehow find where the treasure is hidden. The more direct your route to the caverns, the less the likelihood of injury or death from the many perils of the journey. A scrap of parchment with a bit of doggerel on it might be a clue, or it might be of no use whatsoever, save to mislead you.

The verse says

The horn of Iggwilv
pierces the heart –
look over your shoulder
before you start.
How many sorrow?
Foolish men,
because they didn’t
turn back then.

After a journey of a sen'night [seven nights – Charles] your band has reached the foothills of the Yatils without incident. Before you is the winding path leading into the grim mountains; behind is the escort of horsemen riding south for home. Fortunately, you have sure-footed, mountain-bred horses given to you to assure a swift passage to your destination. Vellum map secured safely, there is naught else to do but proceed with the quest to find the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (sequel version, pg. 3)
The salient points from this version of the module are: (1.) that you are agents of Bissel looking for the Caverns; (2.) you have access to a ridiculous amount of adventuring gear and resources – with the caveat that you must pay it back and an additional 15% tax; (3.) you have a map that is badly out of date and possibly filled with a tremendous amount of outright wrong data; (4.) you have a bit of verse to help drive you forward; (5.) you are going to be adventuring out in the wilderness at the start.

Getting to the Dungeon

The original version of the module is a tournament piece and it was limited by time; so the players come into the game with six pre-generated characters, each with a fragment of information about the Caverns, fully equipped, and they start at the Caverns. As a tool for getting to the meat of the adventure it can’t be beat; but when compared to the sequel it lacks the sort of room that a Dungeon Master would look for when molding an adventure for his group.

Yet it would not be a hard decision to choose to include a wilderness adventure for the original module, nor would it be difficult to provide the players with fragments of information on the Caverns. Indeed it might even be preferable as it would provide the Dungeon Master with a greater allowance for his natural creativity to be brought to bear.

Of the two I favor a modified original with a wilderness adventure.

The Nexus of Worlds

While the sequel is, thus far, silent about the nexus of worlds within the Caverns the original module is tantalizing. I have read over its set-up four times in the last couple of days and each time I find myself wrapped up in the idea that it would be incredibly fun to create alternate versions of each character using some of my favorite systems. There is a possibility here that excites me and I could see this adventure being used by a group of Dungeon Masters under the Flailsnails banner, working in concert together, each with a different system, leading towards the ultimate finale.

The Poem and the Fragment
“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)
This fragment is an intriguing string of words that make me want to plumb the depths of the Caverns, exploring its mysteries and uncovering its secrets.
The horn of Iggwilv
pierces the heart –
look over your shoulder
before you start.
How many sorrow?
Foolish men,
because they didn’t
turn back then. (sequel, pg. 3)
Unlike the fragment above this verse does nothing to inspire me to delve into the dungeon and instead fills me with a sense of regret. Which is a strange thing to happen when starting out an adventure that is going to push us farther into the world of Greyhawk and into a game that should challenge us on new and strange levels.

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. 3

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