Friday, March 1, 2019

The Hidden & Dangerous Corruption of S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth By Gary Gygax For Your Old School Campaigns

"Find the perilous Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and you may gain the hidden wealth of the long-dead arch-mage - if you live!" 

So the Thirty Years War has been raging across Europe, the gates of Fairyland have been flung open a few times & closed again by the machinations of a plethora of adventurers! The whole of the war has been taking on and out of circulation scores of adventurers by design or event. That's where one of the classics comes in! I'm speaking of the classic S4  "The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth," but we're not taking about a simple redo and romp. We're talking about re skinning the classic module so that it now takes on the role of death trap for the Lion & Dragon retroclone system.
Our little adventure goes something like this, the Thirty Years War has been raging on and off across Europe but the Elves are both losing & gaining ground to the humans. The war is taking its toll but the Elves have brought out the big guns in the form of  Drelnza, the vampiric daughter of long-deceased archmage IggwilvShe's been sleeping the sleep of the ages in Fairyland & with clues laid out in T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil the the PC's are going to follow the trail to S4  "The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.

The module's history contains a clue to where it should be placed within the ring of the Lion & Dragon retroclone rpg system.

"The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth is an adventure module for the Dungeons & Dragonsfantasy role-playing game. It was written by Gary Gygax and published by TSR in 1982 for the first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) rules. The 64-page adventure bears the code "S4" ("S" for "special")[1] and is set in the Greyhawk campaign setting. It is divided into two parts, a 32-page adventure, and a 32-page booklet of monsters and magic items. The plot involves the player characters investigating rumors of lost treasure."
Toward the end of the next cycle of conflict in the Thirty Years War the coffers were beginning to run dry in Europe. The French military were facing down the disasters of the conflict & real tolls were taking place on the coffers of Europe. The French were investigating any rumors of treasure now enter the S4 "The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth" which is right on the French borders having been vomited into the real world. Men are desperate & the promise of riches and power is far too much a temptation for the Europeans. But surely there's no Arthurian connection here?

Well let's look into this end of the leg of the Thirty Year War;
"Emperor Ferdinand II died in 1637 and was succeeded by his son Ferdinand III, who was strongly inclined toward ending the war through negotiations. His army did, however, win an important success at the Battle of Vlotho in 1638 against a combined Swedish-English-Palatine force. This victory effectively ended the involvement of the Palatinate in the war.
French military efforts met with disaster, and the Spanish counter-attacked, invading French territory. The Imperial general Johann von Werth and Spanish commander Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Spain ravaged the French provinces of Champagne, Burgundy, and Picardy, and even threatened Paris in 1636. Then, the tide began to turn for the French. The Spanish army was repulsed by Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. Bernhard's victory in the Battle of Breisachpushed the Habsburg armies back from the borders of France.[66] Then, for a time, widespread fighting ensued until 1640, with neither side gaining an advantage." The French provinces of Champagne, Burgundy, and Picardy, and  Paris in 1636 were hot beds of chaos cult activity going all the way back to the time of Arthurian legend. All of these places have some claim of Merlin The Magician and the Devil himself in Arthurian legend. These legends  contrast with Drelnza, the vampiric daughter of long-deceased archmage Iggwilv. As one or more versions of Merlin were supposed to be the anti Christ.

"Several decades later, the poet Robert de Boron retold this material in his poem Merlin. Only a few lines of the poem have survived, but a prose retelling became popular and was later incorporated into two other romances. In Robert's account, as in Geoffrey's Historia, Merlin is begotten by a demon on a virgin as an intended Antichrist. This plot is thwarted when the expectant mother informs her confessor Blase (or Blaise) of her predicament; they immediately baptize the boy at birth, thus freeing him from the power of Satan and his intended destiny. The demonic legacy invests Merlin with a preternatural knowledge of the past and present, which is supplemented by God, who gives the boy a prophetic knowledge of the future.
Robert de Boron lays great emphasis on Merlin's power to shapeshift, on his joking personality, and on his connection to the Holy Grail. Robert was inspired by Wace's Roman de Brut, an Anglo-Norman adaptation of Geoffrey's Historia. Robert's poem was rewritten in prose in the 13th century as the Estoire de Merlin, also called the Vulgate or Prose Merlin. It was originally attached to a cycle of prose versions of Robert's poems, which tells the story of the Holy Grail: brought from the Middle East to Britain by followers of Joseph of Arimathea, the Grail is eventually recovered by Arthur's knight Percival.
The Prose Merlin contains many instances of Merlin's shapeshifting. He appears as a woodcutter with an axe about his neck, big shoes, a torn coat, bristly hair, and a large beard. He is later found in the forest of Northumberland by a follower of Uther's disguised as an ugly man and tending a great herd of beasts. He then appears first as a handsome man and then as a beautiful boy. Years later, he approaches Arthur disguised as a peasant wearing leather boots, a wool coat, a hood, and a belt of knotted sheepskin. He is described as tall, black and bristly, and as seeming cruel and fierce. Finally, he appears as an old man with a long beard, short and hunchbacked, in an old torn woolen coat, who carries a club and drives a multitude of beasts before him.[11] " 

So could the local Chaos cultists be summoning back the temple from S4 
"The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth" to wreck havoc on the countryside of France & Europe itself? Yes I think that many of the cults of Elves listed in Dark Albion's Cults of Chaos would be the perfect vehicle after the fall of the Temple of Elemental Evil.

This would be a great resource for generating the death worshiping Elven witch cults who wish to bring back the temple and begin the times of darkness for which the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth are legendary. The fact is that these caverns were banished to the chaos ridden lands of Fairy by the deaths of a multitude of brave knights & paladins.

Now the adventure environs represent a  pure and honestly dynamically dangerous place of chaos where the forces of the realm come to trap and destroy any adventurers they come across. Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne stories Colossus of Ylourgne, The (1933), Enchantress of Sylaire, The (1941), & Mandrakes, The (1933) have at their core the type of spiritual and mortal corruption just as S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth does as well. 

Should the  S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth be released back into the world of men, it could and will spell the doom of all of Europe. The forces of the adventure are very dangerous and powerful and only a brave bunch of adventurers have a prayer to pull this mission off in the middle of the Thirty Years War.  My advice is to bring lots of extra character sheets for this module has taken more then its share of PC's in my personal experience. 
There are several monsters & avatars of the 'Old Ones' from the Manual of Monsters for Amazing Adventures! rpg by Troll Lord. Monsters that might be left overs from various cults & such that that have been summoned to the Prime Material. 

These monsters are the essence of Chaos itself & perfect foils for the horrors that might be unleashed by doorways being opened into the Dreamlands & Fairyland. These horrors can wreck reality as we know it. 
Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth is a place of absolute terror that could derail a campaign if not used carefully. 

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