Friday, February 21, 2014

The Lost Caverns of Tsjoconth, Part 5: The Dungeon Proper, the Lesser Caverns

 

In each version of the module play within the caverns begins at position 1, in the lower center portion of the Lesser Caverns, and while the basic journey of the module is the same the differences are stark. Consider the Main Entrance:
Immediately upon descending the stairs the party will see the narrow passage to the left, and if they enter see “B.”

The large cave is high vaulted (30’ at least), and the roof is hung with some stalactites, but few stalagmites are on the floor. On the right hand wall before each tunnel out of the place there is a face in bas relief. The visage is rather horrid and doleful. When any member of the party comes within 2’ of one of these carvings it will speak with a magic mouth: “TURN BACK, THIS IS NOT THE WAY.” If asked specifically to tell the truth (truth is the key word), all will lie except the right passage: “THIS IS THE RIGHT WAY. (I WARD THE ONLY WAY).” If the stone mouth is watched closely it will be seen that there is a gem inside each. A command to give or yield the gem will not work, but simply stating that the visage should open its mouth will: “AAAAHHH . . .” The first gem taken is worth 1,000 GP; all others are worth 10 GP (original, pg. 6).
By comparison the sequel begins with the following boxed text, which will appear in bold, and then expands further for the Dungeon Master:
After descending the long flight of steps, you pass north about 20' into a natural chamber some 70' wide and 50' deep. You have ignored a narrow passageway to your left (west) in order to enter this area, for your light has glinted off something on the far wall of the place. Now you see that there are weird faces carved in bas-relief around the walls of this cavern. There are, in fact, six such visages hewn from the rock itself. Each face is by the side of one of six tunnels leading off in one direction or another from the cavern to unknown. Although each face is slightly different from its fellows, all are strange and doleful looking: one has doglike ears, another protruding tusks, a third drooping wattles, etc. There seems to be no relationship between the size of the passageway and the stony visage beside it. Nothing else in the chamber seems remarkable. There are a few stalactites on the ceiling above, a few fallen to the floor amid a handful of stalagmites.

Each of these bas-relief carvings has an animated mouth with a permanent magic mouth spell cast upon it. When any party member comes within three feet of one of these faces, the mouth will move and it will say with a bass, mournfully dire tone: "TURN BACK ... THIS IS NOT THE WAY!" This will be repeated endlessly each time the same or another individual comes within three feet. If any member watches the stone mouth, he or she will note that it has something glittering within it. Each mouth has a gem in it. The colors are, from left to right, amber, purple (amethyst), pale blue (aquamarine), deep red (garnet), olive green (peridot), and dark pink (tourmaline). Regardless of which is taken first, the first gem is worth 1,000 gp. The others, although just as large, are flawed and worth but 100 gp each. The stone of these faces is very hard and nearly impossible to break. Each mouth will bite for 1d10+2 points of damage if anyone attempts to take the gem within. A command spell or a demand for the gem will not avail. However, if any character simply asks the face to stick out its tongue, or open its mouth and stick out its tongue, or any similar request, the face will obey. The mouth will open, the sound "AAAHHH" will be heard, and the gem will be on the tongue. If characters attempt to speak with a visage, it will only repeat its deep voiced warning. However, if the word "truth" is used in any question or demand, then each face will lie and state majestically: "MY WAY IS THE RIGHT WAY." Only the visage in the far southeast, beside the 2' wide passageway south, will say anything different. That mouth will speak as follows: "I WATCH THE ONLY WAY!" (sequel, pg. 13).
It is clear that in the intervening years since the publication of the original module and its sequel a lot has changed in the philosophy behind dungeon design. No longer is the cavern described by its height and nebulously sketched out as "large", but instead it is given definitive dimensions. The bas relief faces are no longer uniformly deformed, but now each is unique in its deformities. Additionally the gems are no longer of up to Dungeon Master discretion but instead have been ascribed color and composition. The values of the imperfect gems have also been raised from the measly 10 gold in the original to a 100 gold.

While these differences I’ve just described are minute it is the clarity of the sequel that stands head and shoulders above the original. The original suffers both from a truncated page count and brevity of prose that Gary Gygax could abandon with the sequel; and it’s good that he did.

Take for example the questioning of the bas reliefs.
If asked specifically to tell the truth (truth is the key word), all will lie except the right passage: “THIS IS THE RIGHT WAY. (I WARD THE ONLY WAY).” (original, pg. 6)

From pg. 9 Uncredited Illustration
While it is easy having read the sequel to realize that the parenthetical text is actually the response of the bas relief that tells only the truth, that is not the case here. Had I been running this adventure off the original text I would have boomed the phrase “THIS IS THE RIGHT WAY,” and then whispered as loudly as I could “I WARD THE ONLY WAY.”

Mad as that sounds my assumption would have been that Gary was encouraging me, as the Dungeon Master, to really mess with my players and poke at them in the most enjoyable manner.
. . . if the word "truth" is used in any question or demand, then each face will lie and state majestically: "MY WAY IS THE RIGHT WAY." Only the visage in the far southeast, beside the 2' wide passageway south, will say anything different. That mouth will speak as follows: "I WATCH THE ONLY WAY!" (sequel, pg. 13).
Comparing these two versions of the text there is no doubt that as the Dungeon Master I am supposed to use the separate phrase only for the true way. While this tends to produce a clearer version of the game it does take away a bit of the mad cap nature of the original. 

One final note, before I move on, the only illustration of the bas reliefs occurs not in the sequel - where you would expect to see them - but in the original. Which seems odd considering the expanded descriptions Gary wrote for them and the bigger budget afforded to the sequel.

The Chinese Giants

In the original you’ll find 2 Chinese Hill Giants in location O, in the upper right hand corner of the map who have amazing hearing and the strangest sense of fashion I’ve ever read about. After killing the pair your players will find among the plunder two cloaks and two pairs of boots. One cloak is poisonous, and one of the pairs of boots is a set of Boots of Dancing.

Every time I read about that possible combination I have this image of a twelve-foot tall, transvestite, Chinese, giant who really wants to win the drag ball but hates himself for cheating. I don’t know why he’s a transvestite or why he’s cheating but I really want to play that encounter right now.

They’re gone in the sequel.

Instead they are replaced by formorian giants. Their home is described as the sort of garbage pile hovel you expect some heroin using degenerate to occupy; and while the possessions are the same the humor is gone. Instead of wanting to play this encounter I feel like if I let nature take its course the giants would have died of a drug overdose within the month.

Adding through Subtraction

There are an impressive array of additions in the sequel. As well as the expanded descriptions of each area and boxed text, you’ll find 43 more monsters (well, 2,041 if you count all the individual bats). There are also seven new monsters that have not appeared in other sources at this time. Yet for all of that I feel like I’m missing out as I find myself missing things like the Bronze Dragon who’s no longer there in the sequel and the vague descriptions of each area.


Works Cited
Gygax, Gary  The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth. MDG, USA: 1976. pg. 6, 9.

Gygax, Gary S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsjocanth. TSR Hobbies, Inc. USA: 1982. pg. 13.

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