The Alexandrian

Posts tagged ‘caverns of thracia’

Legends & LabyrinthsWe’re closing in on $1500 in the Legends & Labyrinths funding project. That’s the level at which all current sponsors will be receiving early access to the Black Book Beta rulebook. If you’re still on the fence, think about testing the waters with a $5 pledge. It’ll push us a little closer to that $1500 mark, which will leave you with plenty of time to take a peek through the Black Book Beta and see if you want to bump your sponsorship level up before the funding project comes to an end.

Earlier today Auroch wrote a reply to “Opening Your Game Table” asking for advice on how to get started. This led me to touch briefly on the fact that L&L’s monster creation system makes it super-easy to convert pre-3E material to L&L. (3E material, of course, can be used straight out of the box thanks to that 100% compatibility thing.)

How easy? Well, since I was talking about Caverns of Thracia, let’s give it a whirl. I grabbed my copy of the module, flipped open my beta copy of Legends & Labyrinths to page 123, and set an egg timer for fifteen minutes. Starting from the top of the module, how many encounters could I convert?


AREA 4 – GIANT CENTIPEDES (CR ½): 5 hp (HD 1d8+1), AC 13, bite +1 (1d4 and poison), Save +3, Ability DC 11, Size Small, Climb 30 ft.

Str 8, Dex 15, Con 10,
1, Wis 10, Cha 2
Skills: Climb +10, Hide +6, Spot +4
DR 5/piercing
Poison (Ex): Small Centipede Poison (1d2 Dex/1d2 Dex)

AREA 5 – LIZARDMEN (CR 2): hp 15 (HD 3d8+2), AC 17, club +4 (1d6+1), Save +5, Ability DC 13, Spd 40 ft.

Str 16, Dex 12, Con 11, Int 11, Wis 8, Cha 9
Skills: Listen +5, Spot +5, Swim +9
Amphibious (Ex): Can breath both air and water.
Darkvision 60 ft.

AREA 6 – GNOLL (CR 2): hp 21 (HD 4d8+1), AC 15, morningstar +4 (1d6+1), Save +5, Ability DC 13.

Str 15, Dex 11, Con 14, Int 8, Wis 10, Cha 10
Skills: Listen +7, Spot +7
Darkvision 60 ft.

AREA 7 – GNOLLS (CR 2): hp 21 (HD 4d8+1), AC 15, longbow +4 or battle axe +4 (1d6+1), Save +5, Ability DC 13.

Str 15, Dex 11, Con 14, Int 8, Wis 10, Cha 10
Skills: Listen +7, Spot +7
Darkvision 60 ft.

AREA 9A – INCARNATION OF DEATH (CR 4): hp 30 (6d8+3), AC 17, touch +8 (energy drain), Save +7, Ability DC 15.

Str 11, Dex 16, Con 10, Int 14, Wis 14, Cha 17
Skills: Hide +12, Intimidate +12, Listen +11, Search +11, Sense Motive +11, Spot +11
Energy Drain 1 negative level and incarnation of death gains 5 temporary hp.
Invisibility Can be seen by any characters within 3 hp of death.
Despair Creatures who can see the incarnation of death suffer a -2 penalty on Will saving throws.


Five encounters in fifteen minutes. A little over three minutes per monster, including the time to type out full stat blocks. That should give you some indication of how easy it would be to whip up monsters on-the-fly during the game session, allowing you to easily keep up with rambunctious PCs and enabling spontaneous bursts of improvised creativity like the one which resulted in the creation of ash wraiths and lycanthropic ghouls.

It also speeds up prep time in general. Even in my full-blown 3E Ptolus campaign, I’ve been transitioning to a mixture of advanced NPC stat blocks and L&L stat blocks. And over time I’ve been leaning more and more heavily on L&L stat blocks because they’re so much quicker and easier to generate.

Once you get your hands on the Black Book Beta, I’d be interested in seeing what happens when you take this out for a spin.

Legends & Labyrinths


My Favorite Character Sheet

January 24th, 2011

I’m re-posting a tale from the Caverns of Thracia which I’ve shared previously here on the site because it provides the context for my favorite character sheet of all time. (This was originally posted as part of OD&D in the Caverns of Thracia. You can just scroll down to the end for the new bit.)

What’s your favorite character sheet? Post it to your blog, link back to here, and throw a link up in my comments.


As Thalmain led them into the Caverns of Thracia, he was able to act as a bit of a tour guide for the new players/characters. (“Here’s where the bridge almost burned down… Don’t open that door… Here’s the pit trap I heroically saved the party from… Here’s the place where I roasted lizardmen…”)

Eventually, however, they began pressing on into unexplored territory. A short while later, they found themselves descending broad stairs of stone…

And that’s when things got epic.

In the Caverns of Thracia, there is a room keyed thusly:

The Burial Crypt of the Cult of the Dark One: The reek of decaying flesh permeates the air here. Lying in ordered rows are rank upon rank of corpses. Most are long decayed and in skeletal form, but many are still fairly fresh, not having been dead for more than a few weeks (if you can call that fresh!). […] If the southernmost pair of columns is approached within 5′ or if the columns are passed between or to either side, 1-4 skeletons will animate and begin to attack intruders. Each additional melee round 1-4 more skeletons will animate as long as there are living intruders to fight, up to a total of 400 skeletons. Skeletons, AC: 7, Move: 12″, HD: 1, Damage 1-6, HP 3.

I decided that the Thanatos cultists that they had killed before would have been moved down here, so there were also about a dozen bodies laid out directly before the leading into this large chamber and covered with fresh linen. (This creeped them out because, of course, it implied that there had been somebody around to move the bodies.)

Caverns of Thracia - Area 27B

Inevitably, of course, the PCs moved far enough into the room to trigger the undead guardians. As the corpses began to stir and wrench themselves free from the cordwood-like stacks of the dead, the party fell back to the entrance.

The two halfings — skilled in ranged weaponry — picked off the first wave. (Aided by the occasional coin-toss from Howard.) But more and more of the dead were beginning to stir, and they realized it would only take a few unlucky die rolls for the skeletons to reach their defensive position.

(Actually, I don’t think I’ve discussed this previously: Halflings are described in OD&D as having “deadly accuracy with missiles as detailed in CHAINMAIL”. These sessions are being run with the conceit that I don’t “have” Chainmail, so we decided that halflings would simply get a +1 bonus to damage while using ranged weapons.)

Against the eminent risk, they quickly rearranged their lines. Brennan and Reeva took the front line. Greenwick switched from ranged attacks to a polearm in the second rank. And then Howard, Thalmain, and Bob lined up in back using their ranged attacks to thin the undead ranks before they reached the melee fighters.

But, more importantly, they also started spreading oil in front of their defensive position. And as soon as some of the undead got close enough, they lit the oil.

Based on my interpretation of the room key, the undead would just keep coming. Each undead had 1d6 hit points. Those that survived the ranged attacks would enter the oil, suffer 1d6 hit points, and frequently die before they even threatened the melee fighters.

After a couple of rounds, it was clear that the 1d4 skeletons per round were just never going to pose any kind of credible threat: The defensive position they’d created was too strong. And while the oil would only last for 1d6 rounds, they had stocked up on it (in large part due to Thalmain’s success with a similar tactic during the last session).


I was in the process of trying to figure out how to make the encounter more interesting (since wittling through 400 undead 1d4 at a time wasn’t particularly exciting) when the PCs made it easy for me:  They decided to try proactively eliminating the undead before they could rise. They tossed a flask of oil onto one of the piles of corpses and then fired a flaming arrow into it.

I ruled that the resulting conflagration was successful in destroying a large number of potential undead… but it also had the effect of rousing them. I rolled 1d10, got a result of 8, and went from rolling 1d4 to rolling 8d4 for the number of undead animating each round.

As the undead rose en masse, the piles collapsed — sending the dead cascading across the floor of the chamber.

It’s a testament to the strength of their defensive position that they managed to hold out for several more rounds against the larger waves of undead without sustaining any injury. I was literally rolling fistfuls of d6’s to calculate the skeleton’s hit points while the players rolled a fistful of d6’s to calculate the damage wrought from the wide moat of fire they had laid down. They would read off the results and I would toss d6’s aside or lower their totals to reflect the current hit points of the skeletons.

Unfortunately, many of them were just 1st level characters. Eventually the law of averages worked against them and one of the skeletons emerged from the flaming oil and with a howl of undead rage managed to rip out Brennan’s throat.

Around this same time, my d4’s rolled high and a wave of 22 skeletons started heading towards them. At that point, they decided that discretion might be the better part of valor. But they weren’t done yet: Howard moved up to the melee line and they held the position for another couple of rounds.

As the wave of the 22 skeletons got close, however, they fell back.

But they weren’t done yet. See, Brennan had been the one carrying most of their (very large) supply of oil. So before they retreated, they rolled Brennan’s body into the flames.

1… 2… 3….


Surprisingly, a couple of the skeletons managed to actually emerge from the far side of the inferno and pursue them a couple of steps up the stairs. (I say a couple of steps, because Thalmain and Bob put arrows through their skulls before they got any further.)

When it was all said and done, I tallied up the dead:

They had killed 76 skeletons.

Killed? It’s probably more accurate to say “slaughtered” or “massacred” on a scale that a bunch of 1st level characters (with the exception of the 3rd level Thalmain) should really not be capable of dealing out.

Of course, they weren’t 1st level any longer. Everybody not only leveled up, but also maxed out their XP for the next level, bumping into the “thou shalt not get enough XP for two levels” ceiling. (Well, except for Thalmain, who bumped into the “thou shalt not advance past 4th level” ceiling for halflings.)

76 skeletons.

It isn’t the largest single-battle slaughter I’ve ever seen in a D&D game, but it’s almost certainly the most impressive. The only battles that rival it in terms of sheer number involved groups fighting large hordes of significantly weaker opponents.

Smart play. Very smart play.

Admittedly, if the skeletons had been smarter they wouldn’t have continued marching into the flames. But, on the other hand, I’m not sure how much difference it would have made: The skeletons had no access to ranged weapons and any possibility of a retreat was cut off by the chasm to the north). Even if they had hung back, they would have simply been picked off by the party’s ranged attacks.


Which brings me to my favorite character sheet, which belongs / belonged to Brennan:

Character Sheet - Brennan

(click for larger image)

As decoated posthumously by Brennan’s player, Katlin.

Go to Part 1


The first four passes through this section of the dungeon had completely cleared out the anubian outposts on Level 1 and heavily decimated their forces on Level 2. I made the decision to allow this section of the dungeon to be temporarily cleared and dropped the chance of random encounters to one check per three turns.

This allowed the next group to pass through relatively quickly through largely abandoned chambers. They were once again tempted by the plaster-chipped door, but decided to pass it by when one of their veteran party members explained what the inscription said. Passing down to area 42 they encountered an ochre jelly (random encounter) who had taken up residence in the rubble pile and grown to a rather impressive size as a result of feasting on the dead rat corpses left behind by the last expedition. (This encounter nearly resulted in intra-party homicide when a particularly dim-witted knight couldn’t figure out that he was not helping matters by constantly hitting the ochre jelly and splitting it into smaller-yet-equally-vicious portions.)

They then continued south of this area, had several other adventures beyond the scope of this section (including rescuing an amazon warrior who had been frozen in ice for a thousand years), and then left.

(Nothing too exciting about this. If there is a lesson to be learned, it’s that you don’t have to cram in fresh content all the time. The importance of negative space — the absence of something to contrast its presence elsewhere — can’t be dismissed as a design principle.)


There was then a lengthy break in the campaign, which was marked in the game world by the pollen monsoon. When the PCs were able to return to the Thracian ruins, I spontaneously decided that an elementalist had moved into this vacated upper level. Accompanying him would be a number of lesser elementals.

And then, when the PCs kicked down the door to area 5, I found myself saying, “… sheets of malevolent flame dance around hearts of molten magma.” When the elementals died, they left behind smoldering, blackened pyrites. If they were struck with cold-based spells, I decided there would be a percentile chance that their magma hearts would explode from the sudden contraction (killing the elementals, but peppering the room with shrapnel).

So, those were pretty cool.

I also knew at this point that the anubians had re-fortified the guardpost in area 43, but the PCs didn’t make it that far during this session.

(This is our first major re-population of a deserted section of the dungeon. Couple things to note: First, I didn’t consult any repopulation tables. Why? Because I was struck by a cool idea. Random tables are tools, but I feel that you shouldn’t feel enslaved by their results.

Second, I’m not spending any time outside of the game prepping this repopulation. At the beginning of a session, I’m jotting down a few notes on how the dungeon has changed during the same time that the players are rolling up new characters, shopping for supplies, and the like. Of course, nothing says you can’t spend some time doing detailed prep work between sessions. But preserving the “I can play this any time” nature of your megadungeon means that you never want to feel like you need to do that kind of prep work before you can play the next session.)


When the PCs next returned to this section of the dungeon, I decided that the elementalist had been killed. (They discovered his flame-scorched body jamming the door to area 5 shut.) The reasons for this aren’t really important (and would be spoilers for my players), but this meant this section of the dungeon (along with 3 others) were depopulated.

I decided arbitraily to check repopulation for each section by making a single 1-in-10 wandering monster check for each “section”. (The determination of “section” was essentially arbitrary on my part.) The check in this section came up positive, and I rolled on the Level Two wandering monster table (on the theory that some group from deeper in the dungeon had moved up to occupy these chambers).

The result was “giant spider”. There’s a minor spoiler here that I’m going to put into black text. My players shouldn’t highlight it, but the rest of you can do so to read it:

(On the second level of the dungeon there is a Shelob-sized spider that is described as having an egg sack of young spiders that’s ready to hatch. I decided that the egg sack had hatched, and some of the young spiders had migrated to this upper level.)

In any case, I decided these giant spiders had moved into the bat chambers. They had strung their webs and were basically feasting on the bats (whose population had been significantly depleted).

The PCs first inkling that something was wrong came when they found the giant spiderweb draped across the staircase leading down to area 2. After they had cleared out the spiders, they found the elementalist’s scorched body, verified that the rest of this section was still deserted, and then moved down to the second level where they engaged in multiple, semi-futile skirmishes with the anubian guardpost (which I had repopulated before the previous session).

(Here we can see how random tables can provide the raw seeds that you can riff off of to develop the megadungeon in interesting ways. This kind of improvisational extrapolation from a simple table entry of “giant spiders” is what makes the campaign come alive.

The wandering monster table is like the audience members who yell out suggestions on an improv show: Simply yelling out “mime” and “airplane” doesn’t make for a comedy show; it requires the improv actors to create a sketch about a mime pilot making an announcement over the plane’s intercom system for that. Similarly, just having random “giant spiders” attack the PCs because the table says so doesn’t make for an adventure; what you need are giant spiders in a particular place for a particular reason and doing a particular thing.

Why use the table at all? For the same reason the improv actors use audience suggestions: It keeps you fresh. It forces you to think outside of your comfort zone. It can give you an idea where you’re drawing a blank.)


At several points during the writing of this essay I found myself thinking, “This is really boring. This is just me giving a litany of fairly simplistic events.”

But maybe that’s the point: There really isn’t any magic here. You keep the dungeon alive by using wandering monster encounters to simulate the activity of the complex. You partially repopulate the dungeon inbetween sessions to keep it fresh. The result is that you can take 10 encounter areas, a couple of tables, and get dozens of hours of play out of it.

With that being said, if these 10 areas were the only section of the dungeon available none of this would work. First, the PCs would be able to “clear” the dungeon and there would be no immediate motivation to return. I could, obviously, repopulate such a dungeon and remotivate them to come back (“the draconian scouts have established their advance base in the same abandoned mines used by the orcish raiders!”), but there would be a greatly reduced sense of building on past successes or contributing to a single, larger goal.

Second, in the megadungeon the PCs aren’t being forced to go back over the same ground. They’re choosing to come to this entrance of the dungeon instead of another. This is important for both tactical and psychological reasons.

But, laying those caveats aside, my biggest point here is the ability to effectively reuse and refresh the megadungeon. This material can be used and re-used many times over without becoming stale. And if it ever starts to become stale, it’s a relatively trivial matter to freshen it back up again: Lizardmen invade the complex from the nearby swamplands. In a mighty, magical earthquake a new ziggurat pushes its way out of the earth leading to an entirely new complex connected in yet unknown ways to the caverns beneath. The black-eyed cultists approach some of the heroes to form an alliance against the aggressive anubians. And so forth.

In many ways, I feel like a megadungeon becomes the DM’s character. And I play my megadungeon much like I would play a PC. Before play begins, I don’t really know what my megadungeon is going to do: But my random encounter tables generate 2d4 anubians just after the PCs raid the depths, and I know the anubians have sent a team of assassins to hunt them down. Black-eyed cultists are holding a ritual on Level 2 and I suddenly know the sin day they’re celebrating. Lizardmen show up in the anubian sections of the dungeon and I know tensions are erupting between their tribes. Then the minotaur shows up to determine why tribute is not being paid and… and… and…

And a story gets told.

Treasure Maps & The Unknown: Goals in the Megadungeon
Keep on the Borderlands: Factions in the Dungeon
Jaquaying the Dungeon
Gamemastery 101

(Re-)Running the Megadungeon

January 19th, 2011

Caverns of ThraciaLast week I talked about the importance of a megadungeon in creating an open game table. Today I want to talk a little bit about how that works in practice. I’m going to be using my own experiences running the Caverns of Thracia as an example. Players currently playing in my campaign may wish to avoid reading this, but there’s nothing here which I feel strongly about “forbidding” you from looking at. Except for the reference map, which I’m hiding behind a link:


The rest of you may want to open that up in a separate tab or window.

An effective megadungeon has three basic components:

1. A map.

2. A starting map key.

3. Wandering monster tables.

The map should be large and thoroughly jaquayed. Jaquaying is crucial in a campaign megadungeon because of the complex and dynamic environment it provides: Players need to be free to choose different experiences each time they return to the dungeon. If you force them to trudge down the exact same path each time, the dungeon will have no effective replay value.

The map key should be flavorful and interesting. It will be frequently rewritten, but the starting key should provide a strong foundation for you to build on and a rich soil in which the dungeon can grow. Most old school bloggers I’ve seen tend to advocate minimalistic keys they tend to de-emphasize memorable geography. (For example, the Castle of the Mad Archmage contains key entries like “ORC SERGEANT. (8 h.p.) armed with sword and flail. He has 12 e.p.” and “SECRET CHAMBER. Great skeleton (3 HD, 15 h.p., turns as a ghoul, otherwise as a normal skeleton). Small locked chest holds 75 g.p.”) But I disagree: The monsters in the dungeon are ephermeral. It’s the geography that’s going to stick around. Minimalist keys are fine, but use them to make memorable locales. (Check out my Halls of the Mad Mage for my own efforts to use a minimalistic key to create interesting locations.)

Wandering monster tables have generally gotten a bad rap in many modern gaming circles. They’re generally considered to be “wasted time”. But when properly employed, wandering monster tables are improv tools and low-tech procedural content generators. Wandering monsters also play an important part in maintaining proper pacing throughout the dungeon complex and help to make the complex “come alive”. In all of these functions, wandering monster tables are playing a vital role in preventing the megadungeon from becoming a place that can be “cleared out”.

Caverns of Thracia, of course, provides all three of these essential elements: Although the reference map I’m using for this essay shows only the small, specific section of the dungeon complex I’ll be discussing in detail, there are, for example, three completely separate entrances into the caverns and the delves described below represent only a fraction of the sessions I’ve run there. Similarly, Paul Jaquays’ map key positively drips with detail — the unique characters of the Caverns of Thracia seem to ooze out of every room description. Jaquays also provides detailed and dynamic wandering monster tables.


Let’s start with the basics. Looking at our reference map, allow me to present a very simplified/summarized version of the pertinent map key:

  1. Walls once painted in brightly color murals. Now home to several hundred bats. The floor is covered a couple feet deep in bat guano.
  2. Columned hall. More bats and guano.
  3. Ruined statue, digging rubble pile turns up the face of Athena. More bats.
  4. Ruined statue of a winged figure. Giant centipedes (x19).
  5. Ruined statues reduced to complete rubble. Lizardmen hunting party (x4).
  6. Spear trap.
  7. Anubian Guardpost. (x6)
  8. Sloping passage.

42. Rubble-filled cavern. Colony of rats in rubble (raise alarm if disturbed).
43. Guardpost and Pit Traps. Anubians (x4). One of the pits leads to a sub-level with a small, hibernating dragon.

In addition, the module provides two wandering monster tables — one for Level One and one for Level Two. There is a 1 in 10 chance per turn of generating an encounter.

Simple enough, right?

Now, let me show you how I’ve used these simple tools to run 20-30 hours of high quality gaming.


The first delve is pretty simple and by the book: The PCs entered the dungeon, held their noses at wading through bat dung as they headed through areas 1-3. They found the lizardmen in area 5 who were nursing a comrade who had been injured by the centipedes in area 4 (as described in the adventure key). They killed the lizardmen and then entered area 4 to fight the centipedes themselves. After a nasty fight, they spiked the door shut, dragged the corpses of the centipedes that they had killed out of the dungeon, and returned to the jungle. That night they feasted that night on roasted centipede meat.

When they returned to the dungeon the next day I generated a surface encounter using the Level One wandering monster tables. It turned out to be a rather tough one, featuring a minotaur along with half a dozen dog-faced anubians. What were they doing there? Guarding the entrance. The party’s wizard tried to use a sleep spell, but it failed spectacularly. He ran back to where the others were waiting, but they all dithered long enough for the minotaur to reach them and then it turned rather abruptly into a TPK.

The heads of the PCs were placed on pikes outside the dungeon entrance (where they remain to this day).


The players rolled up new characters and ended up entering the dungeon through a different entrance. A few sessions later, however, a different set of PCs returned to this area. They discovered a half dozen anubians (minus the minotaur) standing guard at the entrance. (Another random encounter, which also slotted naturally into the “guarding this entrance” concept.) This time the battle went much better for the heroes and they were able to clear away the freshly positioned guards.

Downstairs they returned to area 3. They could hear noises coming behind the door to area 5 and saw that the door to area 4 had been spiked shut. They tried to ambush the anubians in area 5 (which had been generated from the wandering monster tables), but the door squeaked when they tried to open it and the anubians were warned. Despite this, they dispatched the anubians.

With their backs secure, they carefully pried up the spikes. Somebody scooped up some bat guano in a skull and tried to use it to grease the hinges and then they threw open the door.

Angry red centipedes looked up at them.

They slammed the door shut and spiked it again.

Exploring the room where the anubians had been, they found the secret door. They turned left, through area 8, and down to the second level.  They fought some giant rats in area 42, spotted the guards in area 43, and decided to retreat back to the first level and finish it off.

There they fought and killed the anubians in area 7, looted the treasure chest, spiked the door shut from the inside, and spent the night. In the morning there was a loud buzzing coming from outside the door, which turned out to be stirges which were feeding on the corpses they had left outside the door the night before. (The stirges were a wandering encounter; I figured feasting on corpses made the most sense given the circumstances.)


The PC who had been mapping in the previous delve sold their maps to a newly formed adventuring party for a percentage of the treasure liberated on their expedition. (The player of the PC who owned the maps couldn’t play that night.)

This group returned to the tunnels and finished exploring this section of the first level. An elf in the party detected the secret door hidden behind some plaster at area 9A, but when they discovered that the inscription on the door read: “KNOW YE THAT BEYOND THIS PORTAL LIES THE DEMESNE OF THANATOS, THE CURSED, HATER OF LIFE, GOD OF DEATH. SEEK NOT TO PASS THIS GATE FOR IT LEADS ONLY TO HIS BOSOM.” They decided that discretion was the better part of valor and left it alone.

But what the party was really here for was to push through the guard outpost on Level 2. Down they went and got into a huge melee with the anubians. (Complicated by a wandering monster encounter that reinforced the guard post.) During the fight, one of the PCs fell down one of the pits depicted on the map… which led to a chamber where a small dragon was hibernating. (This was all according to the map key.)

There was some abrupt panic, but the PCs rallied and actually managed to kill the dragon. (They were very excited about that.) In the pit they found several ancient Thracian artifacts, which they hauled back to town and sold for a tidy profit. (It was at this point that Himbob Jimblejack bought up all the garlic futures in town and set up his monopoly on garlic sales.)


Up until this points, things may seem fairly standard. I haven’t really deviated from or supplemented the original dungeon key. But the one key factor to note here is the effect that random encounters have had on the game. Half of the combat encounters have been with randomly generated encounters:


  • Lizardmen (Area 5)
  • Centipedes (Area 4)
  • Anubian Guardpost (Area 7)
  • Lower Anubian Guardpost (Area 43)
  • Dragon (Area 43)


  • Minotaurs + Anubian Guards (Delve 2)
  • Anubian Guards (Delve 3)
  • Anubian Guards in Area 5 (Delve 3)
  • Giant Rats (Delve 3)
  • Stirges (Delve 3)

At this point, these generated encounters have accomplished three things.

First, they have slowed the pace of the PCs exploring the dungeon. By providing an additional ablative layer, they have prevented the PCs from delving as far into the dungeon than they otherwise would have been able to. This puts a premium on exploration — their knowledge of the deeper complex is hard-earned and, thus, more appreciated. (Of course, this also presumes that there are interesting and cool things to find down there in the first place. Fortunately, the Caverns of Thracia provide that.)

Second, they prevent a “return to save point” mentality. You can’t just leave the dungeon, come back at a later date, and pick up where you left off. Permanently clearing a section of the dungeon is hard work, and it’s not particularly permanent. (There are not guarantees that something won’t wander back in or that deeper denizens won’t extend their guard perimeter.) This provides a drive to “push on a little farther” because they know that they’ll have to fight hard just to get back to where they are now.

Third, they are keeping this section of the dungeon fresh. In many ways, it really is a completely new dungeon crawl every time they go in. But, on the other hand, their preexisting knowledge of the geography of the place is a reward in itself. (“Oh, I know how to get past these guys. There’s a secret passage a couple chambers to the west that we can use to bypass them.”) That this knowledge is valuable to them is proven by the fact that they were willing to pay cold, hard cash for it.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the next step in managing your megadungeon…

Go to Part 2

The Intemperate Jungle

January 15th, 2011

When I first launched my Caverns of Thracia campaign I was actually planning for nothing more than an experimental one-shot using the original 1974 rules for Dungeons & Dragons. The framing device I chose was relatively straight-forward: The Caverns of Thracia are located beneath a cluster of surface ruins in the midst of a vine-encrusted jungle, so I simply based the PCs out of a small logging village near the edge of the jungle. I arbitrarily decided that the ruins would be located 1d6+2 days of travel into the dungeon and used a 1d8 roll to randomly determine the compass direction from which they would approach the ruins.

As the would-be one-shot developed into an open table campaign, however, additional details began to accumulated. The village has grown into a dungeon-fueled gold rush town and, in the process, it’s been considerably fleshed out by the players: For example, one fellow had the memorable back-story of being the chef at the local tavern. (He dressed up in a suit of plate armor and pretended to be a well-trained knight in order to sign-up with one of the adventuring parties heading to the caverns.) Another PC, a halfling named Himbob Jimblejack, retired from adventuring and used the wealth he’d gained to buy up all the local garlic farms and corner the market on garlic. (HIs player is quite hopeful that my recent interest in Ravenloft will spike the local market for garlic.)

Meanwhile, the once nameless woodland has become the Intemperate Jungle, so named because it has no business being a jungle at all. The land all about this particular jungle is temperate in clime — roughly equivalent to western Europe. But the jungle is, nonetheless, sultry, moist, and unnaturally verdant. (The logging village prospers, in part, because the trees of the jungle regrow at a preternatural rate.)

Rumors abound that the jungle exists due to the same terrible curse that destroyed the Empire of Thracia. But since that curse is, itself, nothing more than a rumor, the truth may be something else entirely.

(From a metagame perspective, the Intemperate Jungle exists because I wanted to place some other old school classics in near-proximity. The Barrier Peaks are now located just north of the Intemperate Jungle, and the Palace of the Silver Princess is actually nestled into Mt. Karnath at the eastern end of those peaks.)


A unique aspect of the Intemperate Jungle are the pollen monsoons. The far western edge of the jungle, where it grows to meet the sea, is filled with massive, flowering trees. When the season is right and the hot sea winds blow in from the coast, massive clouds of pollen are swept east across the jungle and out across the plains beyond. At those times, the logging village is forced to shutter its doors and windows: Visibility is reduced to almost nothing and the thick, cloying pollen can choke a man to death.

(Metagame Perspective: In mid-2010 there was a lengthy hiatus from our Caverns of Thracia games because the Complete Readings of William Shakespeare combined with some other theater projects to mean that virtually every single evening was booked full. When we returned to the game, I made an impromptu decision as the session started that there should be a gap in the chronology of the game world, as well. The idea of a pollen monsoon popped into my head.)


In the aftermath of the pollen monsoon, PCs adventuring deep into the jungle discovered a new danger: Pollen cysts. These pockets of pollen had accumulated in various nooks and grottoes of the jungle, and when disturbed they would send up miasmic clouds of choking pollen into the air.

(Metagame Perspective: Pollen cysts were created during our last session as the result of a wandering monster check during their journey to the caverns.)



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