Friday, November 27, 2015

Retro - Review & Commentary On S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth For Your Old School Advanced Dungeons And Dragons First Edition Game Campaigns

I've been concentrating on Thanks Giving and hoping that yours was excellent dear reader, but to tell you the truth around the turkey and fixings I was quietly thinking about lost worlds and pulp AD&D style gaming. Maybe it was the post Thanksgiving meal  nap or desert but I began to dream about Drelzna, the vampiric daughter of long-deceased archmage Iggwilv. One of the biggest modules that had an impact on me was S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

"In the Yatil Mountains south of Perrenland there is rumored to be a magical hoard of unsurpassed value, a treasure of such fame that scores of adventurers have perished in search of it. Find the perilous Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and you may gain the hidden wealth of the long-dead arch-mage — if you live."
Cover blurb for The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

This was one hell of a module and introduced some of the new major players in the form of monsters, demon lords and more with its thirty two page booklet. It features on of my all time favorite Erol Otus covers which echoes the pulp Weird Tales stories that seem to populate Appendix N."The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth is a revised and expanded version of The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth, a tournament adventure that Gygax wrote for WinterCon V, a gaming convention sponsored by the Metro Detroit Gamers (MDG) in 1976" but the module we all know and love was revamped for our hot little hands back in eighty two. This whole adventure revolves around the players investigating rumors of treasure, having a number of encounters some of which are very deadly, before they get to a two level dungeon and then they face down Drelzna, the vampiric daughter of long-deceased archmage Iggwilv. This is a deadly module and its meant for PC's of six to ten levels and make no mistake they mean it.  This module is set squarely within the world of Greyhawk and brought the PC's face to face with some really weird and wonderful wilderness encounters.

The plot of the module is classic TSR and revolves around several key points of Greyhawk history and has an atmosphere that weaves its own legends and mythology of the adventure's setting whist maintaining a feel that the PC's are both a part of the legends and at the edge of something very, very, dangerous. Here's the plot break down according to Wiki with some (MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD);

"The introduction, with instructions that the Dungeon Master read it aloud to the players, outlines that there is a treasure in the Yatil Mountains south of the Greyhawk realm of Perrenland. The player characters must investigate rumors of a lost treasure that scores of adventurers have perished attempting to find.[2] The treasure is a remnant of the wealth amassed by the archmage Iggwilv,[2] former ruler of Perrenland, prior to her presumed death at the hands of the demon Graz'zt, whom she had "imprisoned and forced into servitude."[3]:2 The players must first traverse a wilderness area with 20 numbered encounters before arriving at the caverns. The encounters have names such as "Border Patrol" (encounter 1) and "Hill Giants" (encounter 10). After the wilderness are two lettered encounters: the "Gnome Vale", which includes a map for their lair, and "The Craggy Dells", where humans and orcs are capturing hippogriffs to sell.
Next, the player characters reach the caverns. They consist of the "Lesser Caverns" with 22 encounters, and the "Greater Caverns" with 20 encounters, each with its own map. The lesser caverns include encounters such as "Stinking Cave" (encounter 5) which contains four trolls and "Underground Lake" (encounter 14). The greater caverns include encounters such as "Uneven-Floored Cavern" (encounter 5) where the player characters face an umber hulk and "Canyon of Centaurs" (encounter 9). The 20th and final encounter is titled "The Inner Sphere". Here, a "woman sleeps on an alabaster slab." She is "armored from toe to neck in gold chased plate mail."[3]:29 The woman is actually Drelzna, a fighter/vampire and the daughter of Iggwilv. After defeating Drelzna, the players are rewarded with treasure, and the adventure ends"

This module for me was Advanced Dungeons and Dragons sword & sorcery at its finest, it introduced a ton of new demon lords, incredible new monsters and brought us face to face with some incredibly complex and dangerous dungeons. There is a weird tales, dark fairy tale feel to S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth as if we the dungeon masters and players were playing our parts in something that had legends had already played out long ago. The former servants of archmage Iggwilv are now pursuing their own agendas some of which later on came to bite my players in the behinds as wholly separate adventures. And now here's where this review is going to dive into other terrority. Recently I've run S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth with Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea. It was a very interesting experience, the monsters, treasure, etc are all there but switching around many of the Greyhawk references were interesting. The module gave Hyperborea or my version of it a much more troubled history. With major demon lords, horrors, and other things crawling through the dungeon levels of S4, the environs are very dangerous indeed. We lost several PC's along the way to two of the wilderness encounters, a dungeon trap, the behir (one of my all time favorite monsters), the Derro claimed one lusty barbarian, and the players not only returned to the table but insisted on bringing another old PC to convert over to take on this beast of a module.

There are a great deal of iconic elements to AD&D players and this module highlights several of them in spades and then wraps the PC's into those for the kill deep in the story line of the adventure.

The Lost Caverns proved several things to me at once, that the PC's were suddenly caught off guard at the levels of the dungeons of S4, the wilderness encounters made the players very, very, nervous and that Gygaxian naturalism is in flux in certain wilderness encounters. Please bare in mind that these games because this module takes up a very long time of real world play. Also this was before many of the Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea modules were out. The players thought that the contents of S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth were the end of the world for their PC's. A fact that many of the demonic entities, Derro, and other horrors of S4 are powerful enough to reinforce this fact. S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth has its own internal logic and horror that highlights many sword and sorcery tropes in ways that the players are pull on and use themselves.

My advice to dungeon masters who are going to S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth with retroclone systems is to make sure that the PC's are robust enough in levels and stats to have a snowball's chance in Hell of getting through this module. The traps, monsters etc. are deadly enough to cause me to recheck several player's PC's and stats before beginning to play in the environs of S4. For me the big draw of this adventure is the entire package, the thirty page monster and treasure book with all of its wonderful little old school goodies including monsters, treasure, etc. but for me it was the adventure itself that wove a web of its own mythology and history that as a dungeon master you could build on to create your own branching campaigns into deeper old school campaign building.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.